Monday, December 16, 2013

Paillé and the Bloc Québécois

Daniel Paillé has announced he is resigning the leadership of the Bloc Québécois, a position he has held for two years after defeating Maria Mourani (now an independent MP) and Jean-François Fortin (one of the Bloc's four MPs) in the December 2011 leadership race. Paillé is resigning for health reasons related to his suffering from epilepsy. All the best to him in coping with these health issues, which he thankfully says are under control. One cannot blame him for wanting to step down because of these problems, based on some of the reports of the symptoms.

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But the last two years have undoubtedly not been easy on Paillé, as he has struggled to keep the Bloc Québécois relevant. The party put up weak numbers in the Bourassa by-election and a recent poll by Léger suggested that almost half of Quebecers did not know who Paillé was. Another 20% had no opinion of him. This has been a major reason for the difficulty the Bloc has had in competing with the Liberals and New Democrats in the province. The leaders of those two parties are, by comparison, hyper-present.
The chart above shows the evolution of support in Quebec since January 2009, when the Bloc Québécois was unchallenged for supremacy in the province. Indeed, throughout 2010 and until the 2011 election campaign the Bloc enjoyed a 10 to 20 point lead over the Liberals, who were running second in the province at that time. A large lead for the BQ had been a feature of Quebec polling going back to the fall of the Liberals in the wake of the Gomery Inquiry.

Between Gilles Duceppe's resignation and the leadership victory of Paillé, the party was treading water at around 20%, slightly below where the party ended up on election night. After Paillé was named leader, the Bloc did indeed gain in the polls but it is difficult to determine whether this can be credited to Paillé or the opportunity provided by the lack of leadership of the NDP. Polling at the time suggested that the NDP's support in Quebec would collapse with any other leader than Thomas Mulcair, which was a possibility before that party's leadership campaign came to an end in March 2012. Just before Mulcair became leader, the Bloc had maneuvered itself back into first place.

But since Mulcair's leadership of the NDP, the Bloc has been stagnant. It has wobbled back and forth between the low and high 20s, with no clear discernible trend in either direction. This suggests that the supporters the Bloc had in the 2011 election are still there, but that the party has not progressed past its apparent floor. And now with the arrival of Justin Trudeau on the scene, the Bloc has moved from second to third in the province.

The chart above shows support among francophones since 2011 and the kind of trouble the Bloc Québécois has fallen into. The party did move ahead among francophones against the leaderless NDP, but afterwards fell into second place and are now in third behind the Liberals and NDP. This must be hard to swallow for a sovereigntist party, especially considering that its provincial counterpart holds a 10-point lead among francophones.

The party's support in the regions of Quebec mirrors that among francophones, which is problematic since this is the part of the province where the Bloc's four seats are located and is where the Bloc has the best shot of winning new ones.

The ability of the Bloc Québécois to win new seats can be inflated by seat projection models, suggesting a better health for the party than exists in reality. This is not because the seat projection models are wrong - it is simply because with the NDP moving down and the Liberals moving up, the Bloc is in a good position to win five to 15 seats new seats simply by default - often with little more than 30% support in any one of them. This is an anomaly of our election system, and one that the Bloc would certainly be happy to accept if it gets them back into official party status in 2015. But it should be taken into account when looking at the seat projections on this site, which frequently have the BQ in double-digits in seats.

What of the future for the Bloc Québécois? The obvious successor to Paillé is Fortin, who came in third (and last) in the leadership race. The person who came in second - Mourani - is no longer in caucus. Fortin also represents a riding in a region of the province, the Gaspésie, that should be considered one of the better ones for the Bloc Québécois. He would, on paper, have the best chance of re-election in 2015 among the Bloc's four MPs, though the region is susceptible to a Liberal rebound.

André Bellavance did not show interest in the leadership in 2011, and Louis Plamondon is at the end of his political career. Claude Patry, the MP who crossed the floor from the NDP, would have a hard time mounting a serious campaign. That leaves Fortin - unless someone from outside of the small caucus decides to take a run at the leadership. It is hard to imagine a serious contender who would, considering that a candidacy with the Parti Québécois in the upcoming provincial election is a much safer bet. And after the experience of Paillé, who had so much trouble making himself known from outside the House of Commons, it would seem to be a mistake for the Bloc to go for another leader outside caucus. Unless, of course, they could find someone better known than Fortin to run for the job.

Update (Dec. 17): I may have been too hasty to consider Fortin the front-runner. This report in Le Devoir seems to lean more towards Bellavance as being the most likely leader to emerge from caucus - if Gilles Duceppe does not return!

This does provide an opportunity for the Bloc Québécois to renew itself again and hope for a rebound in the polls, but the party is not in an enviable spot. It will be interesting to see how things will unfold here - and whether the Bloc will wait until the next provincial election is over before holding its own leadership race. Quebec remains in flux, then, and the final list of the leaders who will contest the 2015 election is again unknown.


  1. With all due respect to those who aspire to Quebec's independence (and I want to stress that they have every right to hold that aspiration, contrary to what many loudmouth rhetoricians would have you think), when a handful of longtime BQ members/volunteers in Montreal published an open letter in the final week of the 2011 campaign arguing that it's become futile to keep voting for the BQ, they were absolutely right.

    Sovereignty must first and foremost be won in Quebec City, not Ottawa. And for as long as it's not won in Quebec City (and in recent years it's been looking increasingly unlikely that it'll happen anytime soon), Quebeckers are basically sabotaging themselves by voting in federal MPs who are inherently condemned to opposition status, and worse, split the House in such a way that the most disliked federal party by Quebeckers, the CPC, ends up benefitting and forming government.

    My best wishes to Daniel Paillé in coping with his illness.


    1. With all due respect Dom I think you do not quite understand the Independentist strategy concerning Canada.

      That strategy is predicated on demonstrating that Canada doesn't work for Quebeckers; hence, an obstructionist and permanent opposition party, or the Rhinocerous party treating Canada as a joke. If one is an independentist you do not want a say in government except to express the opinion that Canada should remove itself from matters affecting Quebec. If Quebec had a strong voice in government and that government listens and responds to the needs of Quebec that would demonstrate Canada does work well. If Canada works well what is the need for Quebec separation?

      Also as the last election demonstrated as well as Chretien's majorities voting BQ only marginally affects who becomes government. The Tories win only a handful of ridings in Quebec so splitting the vote in Quebec has almost no impact on the Conservative's ability to form government. As we saw in 2011 even with a strong NDP showing in Quebec they did not have the pan-Canadian support to win a government. The Liberal governments of Chretien and Martin were elected not through their strength in Quebec but, their strength in Ontario. Likewise if the Liberals had won 60 Quebec seats in the last election they would not have formed government. So I must disagree with your conclusion that voting BQ "splits the House in such a way that...the CPC ends up forming government". Frankly, if the BQ folded I think the likely result would be the Tories winning more seats in Quebec.

    2. Technically speaking the Conservatives got more votes than the Liberals and the Greens in Quebec. Just saying.

    3. Bede: I'm quite aware of the strategy you speak of. I was in fact pointing out that for the first time last federal election, a large number of sovereigntists finally came around to thinking that it simply isn't paying off and should no longer be pursued.

      "Splitting the House" was maybe a bad choice of words. What I meant more generally was that Quebec definitely has enough seats to have a strong influence on who forms government, even though the rest of the country didn't end up aligning with them last time around. For instance, they kept putting Trudeau in power all those years. What's certain, however, is that by giving most of those seats to the Bloc, they're essentially relinquishing their sway over who forms government.

      Ryan: The CPC got a bit more votes than the Liberals last election, but that was when the Bloc was finally abandoned and a large number Liberal supporters decided to team up with the former Bloc supporters and vote NDP. The only other time since Mulroney that the CPC got more votes than the Libs in QC was 2006, but they have lost support in each election since.

    4. Fair enough Dom.

      I do think it is arguable however, that by voting BQ they still indirectly choose or at least strongly influence who forms government. The Tories have long held the vast majority of seats in Western Canada and have always held a significant base in Ontario and the Maritimes. Quebeckers know that if the don't vote Liberal (or some may argue NDP nowadays) the likely outcome is a Tory government. To me such a vote is just as determinant as voting for the party that forms government.

      From a strictly strategic point of view any "sovereigntist" that advocates voting for a federalist party is not doing "their movement" any favours in my opinion. My reading of history leads me to believe that independence movements are more successful during times of crisis or stress. It would seem to me that a Canada that works well with a government or Parliament that has significant Quebec federalist representation is not one of the "winning conditions" for separatists.

  2. Just going to throw this out there... tell me if it's crazy or not but... what about someone from the Quebec Solidaire side of things? Like Françoise David?

    1. From the perspective of David, leaving QS to run BQ would be a demotion. After just winning her seat, after fighting for it over several elections, it is impossible to see her abandon it to run the BQ.

      And I'm not sure just how much overlap there would be between BQ and QS, especially when you consider that all four of the Bloc's MPs are from outside Montreal.

    2. Not totally outside the realm of possibilities but, the BQ is a strange mixture of conservative nationalism and social progressives from both urban and rural Quebec. Off the top of my head I think David would alienate the conservative-nationalist-rural element of the BQ coalition, so, pwerhaps not the best leader to maximise seats.

  3. Also Francoise David has totally condemned the PQ's xenophobic charter of Quebec Values and there is a lot of crossover between QS and the NDP in Montreal. The BQ is essentially a subsidiary of the Parti Quebecois, there is ZERO chance that they would pick a leader who was anything less than 100% in lockstep with the policies of the Marois government. David is viewed as a heretic by the PQ so they would never allow her anywhere near the BQ leadership (if she even wanted it)

  4. @bede, the 2006 Conservative minority was won on the strength of the Liberal/Bloc split in seats: CPC 124 seats, LPC 103 seats, BQ 51 seats. The 2004 Liberal minority is the same: CPC 98, LPC 135, BQ 54. This site's prediction of seats for 2015 has a Liberal minority based on polling numbers. If a super-majority (63%+) of BQ support went to the Liberals, that minority government could turn into a majority government.

    The BQ was formed due to the failure of the Meech Lake Accord (1987), not to thumb their noses at Canada, but to promote Quebec interests and were to disband after a successful independence referendum (1995). That referendum failed and the Clarity Act (1999) is now accepted as the default parameters for Quebec independence, polling for which suggests only 35% rather than 50%+1 support. Unless the BQ change tactics to win greater Quebec autonomy, their initial purpose out outdated and chances of success diminishing as 1 in 3 Quebec immigrants do not speak French, 1 in 3 Quebec immigrants are multilingual, and 1 in 7 Quebecois are immigrants with roughly 1% new population per year (100K). By 2020, those that speak only French will no long represent the majority in the province.

    1. Mapleson,

      The BQ was formed to promote Quebec independence as M. Bouchard stated during their founding news conference; "We work in Ottawa for sovereignty of Quebec"(Lucien Bouchard, CBC, June 17, 1990).
      Their manifesto went on to say: "our national allegiance is to Quebec. The territory we belong to is that of Quebec, home of a people of French language whose sovereignty we intend to promote." Then go on to disavow any linkages to Canada; "We consider the Quebec National Assembly to be, in law and in fact, the supreme democratic institution of the Quebec people. It is through it that their sovereign authority should express itself." (CBC Archives, 1990).

      I think the idea of a Liberal/BQ vote split is at best ephemeral. I understand the notion but, it is akin to saying the Liberals could have won the 2006 election had they swept Alberta. Such statements are true but, do they increase our understanding of events in any significant way? The Grits and BQ are diametrically opposed on the fundamental issue in Quebec politics. To me such contrast is not a vote split but, divergent viewpoints and politics.

      Had the Liberals not lost 24 seats in Ontario during 2006 (most of which went Tory) they would have remained in office. The same holds true in 2004 when the Liberals lost 23 seats to the Tories once again in Ontario. I feel this is a better comparison than explaining the loss in 2006 and the reduction to minority in 2004 as the result of a BQ-Liberal vote split.

  5. I really don't see the Bloc Québécois in its coming back into relevance anytime soon. In fact, I could see it cease to exist as a political entity before the end of this decade.

    For years the Bloc managed to thrive under Gilles Duceppe, a relatively likeable leader, who focused more on defending Quebec interests in parliament than promoting Quebec sovereignty. It worked from 2004 -2011 during successive minority governments.

    What are they going to campaign on in 2015? Sovereignty? Are they going to campaign like its 1995?

    The Bloc Québécois has no money to mount serious campaigns in the future. The party relied on
    per-vote subsidies for federal parties and now it is gone.

    Future federal elections in Quebec will be mainly between the NDP and LPC, with the CPC having pockets of support in certain regions. The only way the BQ has a chance of retaining any riding is if the federalist vote gets split in a way that the BQ could win a couple of ridings with less than a third of the vote.

    The NDP is here to stay in Quebec. Thomas Mulcair has a 60% approval rating in that province, higher than any current federal or provincial leader. Justin Trudeau's party have also shed the baggage of previous LPC scandals and should do better there too. Never count the CPC out too, they will do their best to improve their fortunes in their weakest province.

    1. Mulcair may have 60% approval but, the NDP is polling less than half that amount.

      I don't know what will happen but, I do not expect the BQ to disappear entirely. Political parties often have surprising logevity, who would have though the Progressive Conservatives would last 10 years after their 1993 loss? Before the merger with the Canadian Alliance the PCs were polling second to the Liberals. So I think it is a little early to write off the Bloc just yet.

  6. Do you think the Liberals or the NDP would benefit more in terms of seat count from further declines in the Bloc support?


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