Give the Bloc Québécois this much: The party lasted longer than anyone expected. Its arrival in 1990 was a surprise, born out of the tectonic shifts of the Meech Lake crisis, the fracturing of the Progressive Conservatives and the magnetic pull of Lucien Bouchard. It wasn't supposed to be a permanent party. It was supposed to be a pit stop on the way to an imminent referendum on sovereignty. That referendum came and went 19 years ago. The Bloc has been marking time ever since. And now its time appears to be up.
After the departure earlier this month of disaffected MP Jean-François Fortin, the Bloc is down to just three members. Last year, MP Maria Mourani left the party over her opposition to Quebec's proposed Charter of Values – and later said she has become a federalist. On Tuesday, MP Claude Patry announced that he will not run in the next federal election. That leaves the party with just two MPs planning to stand for election – and speculation that internal infighting could send the number to zero.
The party was founded on impossible contradictions, which are finally tearing it apart. The BQ claimed it could best represent Quebeckers in Ottawa – but it was obvious that voting BQ could never be anything other than a protest vote. It meant electing MPs to the opposition benches, guaranteed. The party existed to further Quebec sovereignty – but it was never clear how going to Ottawa advanced that goal. And the less interested Quebeckers became in independence, the more the party soft-pedalled the cause. In its early days, it appealed to both hard nationalists and the generally disaffected. Since 2011, when its support abruptly shifted to other parties, especially the NDP, it has increasingly appealed to neither.
Democratic politics is often about building coalitions through compromise. But some compromises just can't hold. You can't be both a sovereigntist and a federalist party; you can't simultaneously want to leave Canada and stay for a bigger piece of the pie; you can't embrace your sole reason for existence while simultaneously ignoring it. The party was born out of anger and frustration, but Meech Lake was a quarter-century ago. Quebec and the country have moved on.
To revive its fortunes, the BQ this summer selected Mario Beaulieu as leader. He has made his career on the extreme nationalist wing of Quebec politics, obsessed with sovereignty and imagined threats from the English language. That hardline brand, and his plan to focus on independence as the party's raison d'être, quickly cost him more than half of his MPs. As he took his leave earlier this month, MP Fortin said that the party he joined "no longer exists."
The sovereignty movement isn't dead. It probably won't ever be. The same cannot be said of the BQ.