DANIEL LEBLANC - MONTREAL — Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe cranked up the nationalist rhetoric in a speech Wednesday that shows he is banking on Quebec's politics of identity to beat back the surging Conservative forces in the next election.
Speaking to about 200 students at the University of Montreal, Mr. Duceppe blasted the “Canadian ideology of multiculturalism” and accused the federal government of failing to protect the French language in Quebec. Over all, Mr. Duceppe said, the other federal parties “are Canadian” and not up to the job when it comes to defending Quebec culture.
“The difference is that the Bloc is a party that is truly from Quebec, only from Quebec, totally from Quebec,” Mr. Duceppe said.
The Bloc's new strategy is based on the fact that many of its old warhorses, such as the fiscal imbalance and the recognition of Quebec as a nation, have been addressed by the Conservative Party since Prime Minister Stephen Harper came to office last year.
The Conservatives showed their newfound force last month by winning a by-election in a traditional Bloc stronghold in the riding of Roberval-Lac-Saint-Jean.
Since then, the Bloc has strived to distinguish and distance itself from the Conservatives. For the longest time, the Bloc positioned itself as the sole protector of “Quebec's interests” on the political scene. Now, the Bloc argues that its job in Ottawa is also to defend “Quebec's values,” suggesting that Conservative values are foreign to the province.
Mr. Duceppe acknowledged that the Conservative government has recognized Quebec as a nation within a united Canada, but he added that it's time for Mr. Harper to “walk the talk” and give meaning to the gesture.
“If the Canadian parties are coherent with this recognition, they must understand that the Quebec nation and the French language go hand in hand,” Mr. Duceppe said. “The first concrete action that must follow is the recognition that Quebeckers form a francophone nation in America, not a bilingual nation.”
The Bloc, Mr. Duceppe announced, will present amendments this fall to the Official Languages Act and the Canada Labour Code to extend the reach of Quebec's Bill 101 in areas of federal jurisdiction.
Bill 101 already ensures that the main working language in most big Quebec businesses is French, but the Bloc now wants that to apply to banks and telecommunications companies, which are federally regulated. The Bloc also wants the preamble to the Official Languages Act to recognize that French is Quebec's only official language.
Before Mr. Harper became Prime Minister, he stated that he did not agree with all the elements of Bill 101, Mr. Duceppe went on to point out.
“It's clear that Mr. Harper's openness to Quebec, so far, has been political marketing. It's nothing but words, and we are worth more than words,” he said.
On the issue of immigrants, Mr. Duceppe said they must “integrate” in Quebec's francophone culture, a position that is incompatible with Ottawa's multiculturalism policy that promotes the preservation of various ethnic heritages.
The Conservatives shot back that unlike the Bloc, they obtain concrete results for Quebeckers.
“Mr. Duceppe's statement is yet another example of the Bloc trying to justify its existence in Ottawa. They can issue a news release every day, but why should Quebeckers continue to support a party that has delivered nothing, accomplished nothing and done nothing for the past 17 years?” said Pierre Lemieux, Conservative parliamentary secretary for official languages.
University of Sherbrooke political scientist Jean-Herman Guay said the Bloc, like the Parti Québécois on the provincial scene, needs to refocus its message after acknowledging there is no hope of a referendum on Quebec sovereignty in the near future. He said that speaking about issues such as the French language and the Quebec nation is a way for Mr. Duceppe to reconnect with Quebec nationalists who are attracted to the Conservative Party and the provincial Action Démocratique du Québec.