Chips off the old Bloc


Friday, August 08, 2003
It's summer or something like it, but there seems to be no shortage of backroom intrigue in the wonderful world of politics. Rumour has it that even the nearly invisible Bloc Québécois has entered the maelstrom of a possible leadership putsch.
One crucial reason for the putsch talk is the mounting anger within party ranks over the decline in the number of Bloc seats in the House of Commons. Ten years after its first federal election in 1993 when it formed the official opposition with more than 50 seats, it's now gone down to a mere 34 MPs.
As the Bloc stands to lose even more seats in the general election expected next spring, some party members are growing weary of passively whistling through the graveyard. Tired of current leader Gilles Duceppe, whom they hold responsible, and fearing a potential Paul Martin effect on Quebecers, some Bloquistes have launched a petition calling for Duceppe's resignation and a quick leadership race.
Rightly or wrongly, Duceppe is perceived by a growing number of party members as a bland yet overly authoritarian leader surrounded by a small clique of control freaks who stifle debates within the caucus and the party. Sort of like Lucien Bouchard but without the charisma.
Yet chances are Duceppe will survive these rumblings, if only because those who want him out would rather have him be responsible for a further loss of Bloc seats in the next election than sacrifice a new leader in front of Paul Martin. The reality is this: If the Bloc plummets further in the next election, Duceppe will have no choice but to resign anyway. He would then suffer the normal political death brought on by the polls, and not the painful, ugly putsch his predecessor, Michel Gauthier, had to endure.
In the meantime, life goes on. The Bloc backroom boys are getting busy while leadership contenders discreetly prepare for what they see as Duceppe's inevitable exit next year. The usual suspects are being talked about: Pierre Paquette, Yvan Loubier or the young Bernard Bigras. Now that Bernard Landry has said no to a Parti Québécois leadership race in the near future, even the notoriously ambitious François Legault has been seen courting some high-profile Bloc MPs.
By some coincidence, Jean-François Lisée, former Bouchard adviser and Legault supporter after Bouchard resigned, has let it be known he's coming back to Quebec, after a year in Paris, as a "citoyen engagé." Like Legault, a former businessman who's now posing as a born-again social democrat, Lisée is reinventing himself as a "left of centre reformist" - whatever that means. Given that Legault was brought into the PQ by Bouchard, with whom he shared a complete lack of interest in pushing for sovereignty, and given that Lisée penned a book (Sortie de secours) that suggested the PQ give a last chance to federalism, they could make a perfectly happy political couple. And that's regardless of whether Legault runs for the Bloc leadership next year or decides to wait out Landry.
The Legaults and Lisées are but a symptom of what's been eating at the Bloc and the PQ since the last referendum: the virage away from sovereignty as the main focus of both parties. So they continue to suffer from decreasing support of many sovereignists who no longer see them as credible defenders of their option.
Gone are the days when Jacques Parizeau called the Bloc the "spearhead" of the sovereignist movement. In the summer leaflet sent to his constituents, Duceppe pledges his full support to Jean Charest in the fight against fiscal imbalance and mentions sovereignty only at the end of his message.
Glued to the PQ, which itself is stuck with a leader who also prefers debating fiscal imbalance, the Bloc follows in the footsteps of its provincial Big Brother. Both parties are inextricably taken with federal-provincial matters instead of promoting their own option. Some PQ spokespeople are even publishing articles that debate Charest's Council of the Federation by mourning Robert Bourassa's more "autonomist" position, all the while not saying a word about sovereignty. That might be fine for a political science assignment, but it fails Politics 101.
As for the Bloc, although some of its MPs remain strong sovereignists, the party has become a good little opposition party that learned to play by federal rules. It has traded a forceful defence of its option for the more traditional nationalist rhetoric of the "defence of Quebec's interests." In a message posted on the Bloc Web site, Duceppe even underlines what he calls the "many successes" his party has had this year "because many of the positions we have defended for a long time have been adopted by the federal government." Thus, the Bloc rejoices in helping the Liberals govern Canada just a bit better.
Oh, well, it just goes with the awful summer we've been having.

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