Former Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe briefly made waves a month ago when he announced his return as party leader. As a sign of how desperate the Quebec separatist party was to get out of its political doldrums, the then current leader just stepped aside, held out the reins of power to Duceppe and said, "Here! You take it!". That, or something close.
Though the Bloc Quebecois were devastated in the 2011 election, falling from 49 seats in 2008 to just 4 at the hands of a surging New Democratic Party that had been polling in just the teens months beforehand, and though Duceppe himself had lost his own seat in the onslaught, political pundits said, "Whoa! Watch out! The Bloc will be nipping at the heels of this new NDP stronghold."
Fair enough, Bloc support has increased, with some polls placing them as high as second, but Duceppe's bump has been far from inspiring. They continue to have the support of less than a quarter of Quebec voters, while the NDP sits comfortably in the upper thirties. More recent polls have shown the Bloc wave to be ebbing. But what I find most significant is what's happened to the new party, Strength and Democracy since Duceppe's return: absolutely nothing.
Okay, maybe that doesn't sound like much, and you'd be right. For one thing, you've probably never heard of Strength and Democracy before, have you?
But you should note that the Bloc Quebecois now sits not at four seats, but at two, achieving the Kim Campbell level of parliamentary irrelevance. The Bloc had a bit of a breakdown following the 2011 election. Though they gained one MP from the New Democratic Party, one sitting MP was expelled after criticizing the Parti Quebecois' controversial Charter of Quebec Values. Then there was another leadership vote in 2014 that elected a separatist hardliner that didn't have a seat in parliament, resulting in two more MPs jumping ship and one of the two remaining announcing that he wasn't seeking re-election in 2015.
One of the two Bloc MPs who quit was Jean-François Fortin, previously the Bloc's interim House leader. He joined forces with Jean-François Larose, a New Democratic Party MP who quit his party, to form Strength and Democracy, or, as I like to call it, the Party of Men Named Jean-François (POM-Jean). Now, to their credit, they set themselves up as a post-separatist, aggressively constituent-representing party, claiming that the mainstream parties were simply focused on power, and not listening to the voters of each of their ridings. Though the party remains small, they recently announced their first federal candidate for a riding outside of Quebec: Toban Leckie, running in the Peterborough-Kawartha area northeast of Toronto.
While that announcement happened before the announcement that Gilles Duceppe would be taking over what's left of the Bloc Quebecois, you would have thought that following this up with an announcement that former Bloc House Leader Jean-François Fortin was returning to the fold would have helped build momentum and show that the band was getting back together -- except that now it's August, and Fortin seems to be quite happy sitting where he is.
The other former Bloc Quebecois MP, now independent, is Andre Bellavance (whom I wrote about on this blog earlier). He doesn't seem to be coming back, either.
If Duceppe can't even call his own MPs back into the fold, how is he going to do that to his voters?
Will the Last Bloc MP Turn Out the Lights?
The Bloc Quebecois currently have two sitting MPs: Claude Petry and Louis Plamondon. Patry is the one who says he'll not be running in the next election. That leaves Plamondon, and he has a remarkable history. He was first elected to the House of Commons, in the riding of Richelieu, in September 1984 as a Progressive Conservative MP under Brian Mulroney. He has been serving his area ever since, making him the longest-serving sitting member of parliament, and thus Dean of the House of Commons.
He was also among the first MPs who quit the Progressive Conservative party with Lucien Bouchard to form the Bloc Quebecois following the failure of Mulroney's constitutional accord. By all accounts, he is a hard-working and well-liked member of the House who has presided and been at the centre of a fair amount of Canadian history in the past thirty-one years. It would be ironic, and somewhat fitting, if one of the first Bloc Quebecois MPs turns out to be the party's last.