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Why the Orange Wave is still rolling across Quebec

When the NDP stunned the political world in the 2011 federal election, winning the largest number of seats in its history and forming the Official Opposition, analysts in Quebec were mystified. The only rational explanation seemed to be voters' irrationality.

If 59 of the province's 75 seats in the House of Commons went to the New Democratic Party, it was because of Jack Layton's appeal, they said. It was about emotions. Who in Quebec had read even one line of the party's platform? How else could you explain the election of such a gang of nobodies, including Ruth Ellen Brosseau, who did not even bother to cancel her vacation to Las Vegas during the campaign?

I wonder how many people read any political platform at all. If voters suddenly fire traditional parties, if they challenge pundits' wisdom, they must be irrational.

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Four years later, it seems the wave of irrational voting has reached the plains of Alberta. And almost a month after the election of an NDP government in Stephen Harper's home province, support for the NDP in Quebec is stronger then ever.

A poll on Monday by CROP showed support for the NDP in the province rose 11 percentage points from last month, from 31 per cent to 42 per cent. And since the party has support from 47 per cent of francophone voters, it would "easily" keep all its seats, pollster Youri Rivest said.

Four years after their election, very few rookie NDP MPs from Quebec have embarrassed party leader Thomas Mulcair. Sure, there was the case of Sana Hassainia, nicknamed the Ghost MP, who did not care to show up much to Parliament or her riding office. But she resigned from the party in 2014 over Mr. Mulcair's policy on Israel.

There is little chance that attack ads against "Angry Tom" will have any effect in Quebec, where Mr. Mulcair is well-known as a provincial politician. Moreover, his anger against the Conservatives rings true and resonates in a province where many people are genuinely angry at the Harper government.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has so far failed to establish himself as a credible alternative. Only 16 per cent of Quebeckers see him as the best choice for prime minister, a mere two points more than Mr. Harper, compared to 37 per cent for Mr. Mulcair. Now messages are coming from the rest of Canada that the NDP might be the voters' choice to oust the Conservatives.

The core of support for the Orange Wave that swept Quebec came from former Bloc Québécois voters. For 18 years, the Bloc was the dominant political party in Quebec, even gaining Official Opposition status in 1993.

But in 2011, only four Bloc MPs were elected. Even Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe, arguably the most popular figure in the independence movement in Quebec, lost his seat. He blamed erroneous polls published during the campaign for the huge shift.

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A more credible explanation is that for a vast majority of Quebeckers, the Bloc had reached its expiry date. After all, its founder Lucien Bouchard intended it to be a temporary party, until a victorious referendum that never came.

If sovereignty becomes an elusive dream or an indefinitely deferred project, what is the Bloc's purpose? New Parti Québécois Leader Pierre Karl Péladeau even said last fall that the Bloc had "legitimized federalism" – a declaration he withdrew a day later.

The message of the 2011 election results was very rational: For the first time in a generation, the sovereignty vs. federalism debate is not at the centre of political life in Quebec. The historically poor result of the PQ in a provincial vote three years later said the same thing.

In this context, shifting allegiances from the left-of-centre Bloc to the left-of-centre NDP and reaching for power in Ottawa suddenly makes sense.

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