Yves Boisvert is a columnist with La Presse
If unions had a major impact on election results, the Bloc Québécois would not have gone through a near-death experience in 2011.
That year, as for almost every other election since its foundation, the Bloc could count on the active support of the biggest federation of unions (Fédération des Travailleurs du Québec, the FTQ, which represents almost half of all union members in the country's most unionized province). It did nothing to stop the Orange wave.
So this week, when the FTQ officially dropped the Bloc and subtly threw some weight behind the NDP, why did Leader Gilles Duceppe even bother to comment? "The FTQ is not endorsing any specific party," Mr. Duceppe said. "It will support candidates in 10 ridings. We've known that for a year."
A nice attempt to shrug it off, but this is just more evidence about the lack of relevance of the Bloc in the eyes of a solid majority of Quebec voters. Voting tactically to defeat the Conservatives will hardly lead anyone toward the Bloc. Not surprisingly, day after day, Mr. Duceppe is being asked whether voting for the Bloc is not just helping Conservative Leader Stephen Harper.
The Bloc Leader's line? "It's not Quebeckers who elected the Conservative majority; we, at the Bloc, have always defeated the Conservatives."
In other words, it's up to "Bloc Canada," as he says, to get rid of that government. This well-crafted sophism does not seem to be helping the Bloc's fortunes so far: if the polls are correct, the Bloc is in third place at around 20 per cent.
More importantly, though, behind this union move lies the trend in Quebec politics: the constitutional issue is not the main driving factor anymore. This does not seem to have sunk in for Liberal leader Justin Trudeau. The FTQ is "an openly and officially separatist organization," and no wonder they do not support the Liberals, he said Tuesday. The point Mr. Trudeau missed is that a very "separatist organization" will help the very federalist NDP. Precisely because the debate has slowly but steadily shifted in Quebec in the last 10 years.
The Bloc challenges are also of great interest for the new Parti Québécois leader, Pierre Karl Péladeau, who has tried to create a renewal in sovereigntist fervour. Just before the campaign started, the media were invited to follow a bike tour with Mr. Duceppe and Mr. Péladeau, two avid cyclists. Photo opportunities in picturesque parts of Quebec of the two leaders were meant as a show of unity, good shape and optimism. Mr. Péladeau had to backpedal last fall after saying the Bloc had only helped "justify" the federal system. Now, they ride together toward an independent Quebec… So far.
But as every serious cyclist knows, it can be a very dangerous sport, especially while going downhill. If the Bloc remains stalled or worse in public opinion and ends up with poor results, Mr. Péladeau will have to dissociate himself again from his political teammate, if he doesn't want to crash.
Granted, a campaign that is longer then the Tour de France is only in its prologue. The two French debates could turn into the mountain portion of the race. And if one leader can turn things around on these occasions, it is Mr. Duceppe, the most seasoned of the peloton.