MONTREAL — Probably the most upbeat place to be in Quebec on Monday night was the historic Théâtre National in Montreal, where Bloc Québécois candidates and supporters gathered to watch the sovereigntist party surge back to relevance after years of infighting, poised to eclipse the NDP as the third party in the House of Commons at the end of the night.
The Bloc Québécois’ resurgence likely played a role in reducing the Liberal government to a minority, as the Liberals had been counting on picking up seats in Quebec and ended up losing a few instead. The Bloc also dashed the Conservatives’ hopes of making gains in Quebec, and contributed in large part to the NDP’s near-collapse in the province.
However, it remains to be seen how much influence the Bloc Québécois will have in a minority Parliament. The Bloc was hoping to hold the balance of power, but the Liberals and NDP will together have more than the 170 seats needed for a majority of the votes in the House of Commons.
Leader Yves-François Blanchet, who arrived at the theatre to thunderous applause around midnight, hailed the results as an unmitigated success and a rebirth for a party that has flirted with irrelevance for the last eight years. “We’re coming back from far away,” he said. “But we’ll go even further.”
By the end of the night, with some races still too close to call, the Bloc Québécois had won 32 of Quebec’s 78 ridings, while the Liberals were leading or elected in 35. The Conservatives had won 10 ridings, and the NDP had been reduced to a single seat. Across Canada, the Liberals were leading or elected in 156 seats, the Conservatives in 122 and the NDP in 24.
The results represent another major shift in a province known for large swings from one election to the next. At the dissolution of Parliament, the Liberals held 40 seats in Quebec, while the Conservatives held 11, largely in and around Quebec City. The NDP held 14, down from the 59 they claimed during the Orange Wave that swept across Quebec in 2011 under former leader Jack Layton, and the Bloc Québécois had 10.
The Bloc Québécois’ surge was one of the most unexpected twists of the 2019 election campaign. After being reduced to just four seats in the Orange Wave of 2011, the Bloc struggled for years to find its feet, but effectively positioned itself as a defender of Quebec values under Blanchet’s leadership. On Monday night, Blanchet insisted the Bloc will have the power to promote Quebec’s interests in Parliament.
“The Bloc Québécois can collaborate with any government. If what is proposed is good for Quebec, you can count on us,” he said. But if not, he added, “the Bloc will stand in the way.”
The crowd of about 450 supporters at the event in Montreal was boisterous, periodically interrupting Blanchet’s speech with chants of the Bloc’s slogan, “Le Québec, c’est nous” (Quebec, it’s us) and “On veut un pays!” (we want a country).
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau easily won his own Montreal riding of Papineau, as did Blanchet in his riding of Beloeil—Chambly on Montreal’s South Shore, defeating the NDP incumbent. The Conservatives held on to several seats in and around Quebec City, their traditional stronghold in Quebec, and the Liberals retained most seats on the Island of Montreal. But neither party managed to pick up many seats elsewhere in the province, with the Bloc taking many of the seats between Montreal and Quebec City, north of Montreal and on the South Shore, several of which were previously held by the NDP. All 10 of the Bloc’s incumbents were re-elected, and the party took several battleground ridings that were three-way races with the Liberals and Conservatives, including Trois-Rivières.
The Bloc struggled for years to find its feet, but effectively positioned itself as a defender of Quebec values under Blanchet’s leadership
“Quebec is waking up!” shouted Bloc incumbent Mario Beaulieu from the stage as the first results were coming in.
For the Conservatives, one bright spot in an otherwise disappointing night in Quebec was the defeat of People’s Party Leader Maxime Bernier in the Beauce, south of Quebec City. Bernier had previously been elected by a wide margin as a Conservative, but lost his seat to the new Conservative candidate, former mayor Richard Lehoux. The People’s Party did not win a single seat across the country.
Heading into the campaign, the Bloc Québécois was not expected to make big gains in Quebec, and both the Liberals and Conservatives were hoping to capitalize on the declining fortunes of the NDP. But Blanchet, who was acclaimed in January, led a strong campaign, aligning his party closely with the priorities of the popular provincial CAQ government, led by Premier François Legault.
Blanchet has echoed Legault’s demands for greater autonomy for Quebec on immigration and taxation, and has positioned the Bloc as the only federal party that supports the popular secularism law, Bill 21, banning religious symbols for some public-sector employees, including teachers, judges and police officers. Though most other federal leaders have said they will not intervene in a court challenge of the law — Trudeau has left that door open — Blanchet has said the Bloc supports the law, where the other leaders only “tolerate” it.
Blanchet has also avoided making this campaign about sovereignty, recognizing that most Quebecers aren’t interested in independence in the immediate future. He has focused instead on presenting the Bloc as the party that will defend Quebec’s interests in Ottawa.
“He’s on the ground seven days out of seven, 24 hours a day, more or less. If you ask me, Yves-François Blanchet is the best news of this year. My 2019 is Yves-François Blanchet,” Bloc incumbent Rhéal Fortin told reporters.
The Bloc’s resurgence, as well as a late-campaign surge in the polls nationwide for the NDP, helped dash the Liberals’ hopes of a majority government. The Liberals needed to gain seats in Quebec if they were to keep their majority, to compensate for losses elsewhere.
The Bloc’s election night event was held in the Montreal riding of Laurier—Sainte-Marie, a battleground riding that was held by former Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe from 1990 until he was unseated by the NDP’s Hélène Laverdière in 2011, who did not seek re-election this year. However, the former Bloc stronghold was one seat the party didn’t manage to reclaim — instead, it went to star Liberal candidate Steven Guilbeault, a prominent Quebec environmentalist.
Throughout the campaign, polls were projecting a near-complete collapse of NDP support in Quebec, with not a single safe seat in the province. At the end of the night, only Alexandre Boulerice, the party’s Quebec lieutenant, had managed to keep his seat in Montreal.
Leader Jagmeet Singh was not well-known in Quebec heading into the campaign. The fact that he is a turban-wearing Sikh presented an additional challenge in a province where secularism is a live political issue.