Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe (left) and Parti Québécois leader Pauline Marois. With the Bloc trailing the NDP by as much as 20 points in the polls, Marois on Saturday called on Quebecers "who believe the future of Quebec is sovereignty" to support the Bloc. Photograph by : Christinne Muschi, Reuters file photo
MONTREAL - Pauline Marois sounded for all the world like someone whistling past a graveyard in her comments on the Bloc Québécois meltdown in Monday’s federal election.
She maintained that the debacle suffered by the Parti Québécois’s Ottawa subsidiary was of no consequence for the sovereignist cause because sovereignty wasn’t an issue in the election. This is perhaps true in part, but only to the extent that a vast majority of Quebec voters resisted Gilles Duceppe’s strenuous efforts to make it one.
It was an effort in which Marois herself was complicit, giving Duceppe a podium at the PQ convention in mid-campaign to lay out a roadmap for the accession to sovereignty, a plan with which she was in full agreement at the time. It was predicated on the re-election of a strong majority of Bloc MPs from Quebec, followed by the election of a PQ government in the impending provincial vote, followed by another referendum, this one carried by the Yes side thanks to the combined strength of the two sovereignist parties.
Well, so much for Phase 1 of that plan. Down to a paltry four MPs from the 49 with which the party went into the election campaign, the Bloc presence in Parliament doesn’t even amount to a respectable rump. More like a boil on the backside of the Canadian body politic. Irritating, but of negligible consequence.
Despite this, Marois claimed the sovereignty movement is just as alive as it ever was. This is further self-delusion. It isn’t dead by any means, but it looks decidedly crippled by this latest blow to its credibility and support mechanism.
There is scant comfort for sovereignists in polls that show support for the option holding at around 40 per cent. For starters, that’s just something people tell pollsters, which is easy to do. It’s something they might ideally like to happen, but that support tends to dwindle sharply when people are asked if they want another referendum that could actually bring it about, or suffer the consequences that a rupture with Canada would entail.
Federalists should rejoice at the turn this election took in Quebec, but avoid gloating or kidding themselves that the sovereignty movement is vanquished. Quebecers, as this election showed above all, are given to sharp political mood swings, and a wrong-headed approach at this time could potentially trip a revival of sovereignist fervour.
Hopefully Stephen Harper meant it when he pledged that his newly elected majority government will redouble its efforts to win the confidence of Quebecers. And hopefully the newly enshrined opposition NDP, fortified with unprecedented Quebec support, will moderate its pandering to Quebec nationalist sentiments by not pushing for a renewed constitutional debate.
The way to keep the sovereignty movement down and consolidate the federalist gains is to come up with sound economic measures, progressive social policy and responsible environmental initiatives that will equally benefit all Canadians, Quebecers included.
And that responsibility applies equally to all parties in the new Parliament