Magazine article Canadian Dimension

Road Bloc or Building Bloc? Social Democratic Futures in Quebec

Magazine article Canadian Dimension

Road Bloc or Building Bloc? Social Democratic Futures in Quebec

Article excerpt

The Bloc Quebecois is on a roll. For the last year, polling has predicted a major setback for the BQ in the coming elections owing to Paul Martin's popularity and the Parti Quebecois' defeat in the April, 2003 provincial election. Yet, the sponsorship scandals have given the BQ a bounce by adding the injury of self-serving corruption to the insult of the sponsorship program, which believed national grievances could be overcome by papering Quebec with the Canada logo. While it is too soon to predict the election outcome, the Bloc should more or less match its 2000 electoral results. It certainly will run its biggest and most expensive campaign yet, as the new electoral-financing legislation provides a public subsidy dwarfing the small union and corporate donations it used to collect.


Despite the rise from the ashes in public opinion, however, it has not set hearts racing. This is true both in the sovereignist movement, which is more concerned with renewing the PQ, and on the Left, where energies are engaged in taking on the Charest government. While the BQ finally gave Quebec's social democrats representation in Ottawa, these representatives have not established their relevance to any of the transformative projects being promoted by progressive actors in the women's and community movements.

The Bloc is not fully to blame for this state of events: Quebec progressives have long lacked a coherent federal electoral strategy, focusing their demands on the Quebec state, even if important economic and social levers (Employment Insurance, old-age security, macroeconomic policy) fall under federal jurisdiction. Yet, it is worth underlining that what excitement there is on the federal scene centres around attempts to revive the NDP. For instance, a number of riding associations of the Union des forces progressistes have backed local NDP candidates, and Andre Frappier, CUPW regional director for Metro-Montreal, is running for the party in Papineau. That these energies are invested in what are likely to be losing efforts, rather than in remaking the Bloc, is indicative of the latter's irrelevance as a vehicle for advancing social-democratic politics.

Stumbling Blocs

The lack of enthusiasm for the Bloc thus goes deeper than a lack of interest in federal politics. The media often blames the leadership, noting Gilles Duceppe's lack of charisma, and the tight control that his close advisors hold over the parliamentary caucus. Pierrette Venne was expelled from caucus for criticizing the leader, not, it is worth noting, for her opposition to same-sex marriage. Duceppe's organizers likewise ensured that Jocelyne Girard-Bujold, who supported Venne, failed to win her renomination.

This points to a second reason for progressive disengagernent: that beneath a largely social-democratic veneer, the party remains an ideological grab-bag with a significant conservative wing. The party did purge Ghislain Lebel for arguing that the PQ's agreements with First Nations would leave the non-Aboriginal people with a postage-stamp-sized territory. Its conservative leanings nevertheless showed in the support several MPs gave to the Alliance's motion on the definition of marriage, and in a lack of attention to the place of women in the party, including the decision to oust veteran MP Madeleine Dalphond-Guiral in favour of former PQ cabinet minister Serge Menard.

More fundamentally for the Left, the Bloc has not been able to elaborate a coherent policy with regard to the United States. The sovereignist movement has used the success of the anti-war demonstrations in early 2003 to show that Quebec has a different outlook from the Rest of Canada. In their view, it follows that protecting that difference requires sovereignty, so Quebecers can set their own foreign policy.

This sovereignty claim sits uncomfortably next to an embrace of existing forms of economic and military integration, and calls for yet deeper relations through the adoption of a common currency, a free-trade agreement of the Americas and a continental security perimeter. …

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