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Politics Former Quebec music agent aims to stage a Bloc Québécois revival

Yves-Francois Blanchet, who is running for the Bloc Québécois leadership, is photographed in Ottawa, Dec.12, 2018.

Blair Gable/Blair Gable Photography

Unless your name is Gilles Duceppe, being the leader of the Bloc Québécois is a thankless job.

Since Mr. Duceppe quit in 2011, the party has had eight acting or permanent leaders, none of whom managed to last more than two years (including Mr. Duceppe, who briefly returned to lead the party during the 2015 general election).

Yves-François Blanchet, a former top agent in Quebec’s music industry, is the latest politician who wants to try breaking the negative spell that has engulfed the separatist party. Since it was nearly wiped out in Quebec by Jack Layton’s NDP seven years ago, the Bloc has been struggling to find its raison d’être or recapture its traditional levels of support. From 1993 to 2008, the party took a majority of seats in the province, but it is now struggling with less than 20-per-cent support in recent polls.

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The 53-year-old Mr. Blanchet, known as YFB in Quebec, has already scored a victory since he decided in November to enter the race to run the Bloc, uniting nine out of 10 members of the Bloc’s caucus around his candidacy. Unless another candidate appears before Jan. 15, he will win the leadership race by acclamation.

Between 2008 and 2014, Mr. Blanchet was a Parti Québécois MNA, including a two-year stint as the province’s environment minister. Before the PQ formed a minority government from 2012 to 2014, he was known in political circles by the nickname “the goon” for his strong defence of then-leader Pauline Marois against her internal rivals and dissenters.

Mr. Blanchet acknowledges he can still come off as arrogant, but insists that he has mellowed. His first priority as Bloc leader would be to unite the party and the sovereigntist movement. The Bloc nearly collapsed under the leadership style of Mr. Duceppe’s successor in 2016, Martine Ouellet, and the PQ is coming off a disastrous provincial election on Oct. 1, in which it took only 17 per cent of the vote.

In a recent interview in Ottawa, Mr. Blanchet said his main line of attack against the governing Liberal Party of Canada would be on the environmental front. He opposes the federal government’s investment in the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline or any federal spending to facilitate the rail transport of bitumen.

“I am fundamentally an ecological activist at least as much as anything else,” Mr. Blanchet said. “We must return to the notion that the economy and the ecology are the same thing, which requires a sense of urgency that does not allow for any political delay.”

Still, he said the Bloc must continue to work with other federal parties in the House of Commons. For example, he said he liked the Liberals on social-democratic measures and the Conservatives on the issue of transfer of powers to the Quebec government over culture or immigration.

“The Bloc is not looking to be in power, the Bloc cannot be in power. The test of the party’s relevancy is being able to recognize what the pan-Canadian parties are doing right. Otherwise, we have no credibility,” he said.

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The Bloc is heading into the next election with the potential to be competitive in ridings that feature three- or four-way races against the Liberals, the Conservatives and/or the NDP. Win or lose, the Bloc will have an influence on the final results in many of Quebec’s 78 ridings, pollster Jean-Marc Léger said.

“Who will emerge as the alternative to Justin Trudeau?” asked Mr. Léger, who is predicting a tight battle between the Bloc and the Conservatives. “It could be either of the two ‘blue’ parties.”

Although Mr. Blanchet earned a degree in anthropology and history, he went into business after university, starting in the world of sports before branching out into the music industry. As a leather-coated, long-haired agent, Mr. Blanchet was most famous for overseeing the career of Éric Lapointe, Quebec’s pre-eminent rocker who sold more than a million albums and drew massive crowds to concerts across the province.

After being defeated in the 2014 provincial election, Mr. Blanchet became a political pundit with regular gigs on television, radio and in print. As he works on a political comeback, Mr. Blanchet said the Bloc must work with all provincial parties in Quebec, including the fiscally conservative Coalition Avenir Québec of François Legault that won a majority in the past election.

“I am clearly more of a left winger, but I think it would be my responsibility to navigate in the centre of the political spectrum,” he said.

For now, Mr. Blanchet is focusing on securing the Bloc leadership, before getting ready for the federal election that is scheduled for Oct. 21, 2019.

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“I will reproduce the model of a concert tour, which I know well,” he said. “We will be going across Quebec to fill the party’s coffers, meet with Bloc supporters, set up organizations where needed and start working to attract strong, well-known candidates. … Once we have done that, people will know who we are and see that the Bloc is back.”

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