The last 50 years have been good for Québec politicians in Ottawa. The House of Commons staged many Québécois Prime Ministers. Many cabinet members ensured appropriate Québécois representation in most governments.
2006 marked a brutal shift. In both the 2006 and 2008 federal elections, Québec sent only ten members of the governing party to Ottawa. This sudden turn of event deprived the party at helm of a majority and it drastically reduced Québec's weight in the government's mix.
Many observers on the Canadian political scene questioned Québec voters' political acumen. Cabinet representation, they argued, is important to ensure proper leverage; lack of it will contribute to isolating the province. Recent history somewhat disagrees with this statement.
The 60s saw the rise of Québec nationalism, culminating to the institution of martial law. The 70s saw the election of the PQ and the creation of the Charter of the French Language (a.k.a. Bill 101). A referendum for sovereignty was held in 1980. The "No" side's victory led to the patriation of the Constitution in 1982 without Québec's support.
In 1984, René Lévesque helped Mulroney's Conservatives win the federal elections and took what he called "le beau risque". The Meech Lake Accord was drafted in 1987 to reintegrate Québec in the Canadian constitution "in honor and dignity". Unable to meet the final ratification date, the Accord unraveled in 1990. Mulroney tried a second time in 1992 with the Charlottetown Accord. Both Québec and the rest of the country rejected it for opposite reasons.
This constitutional drama took place while there was appropriate Québec representation in the federal cabinet. It paved the way for the Bloc Québécois, a sovereigntist party that managed to grab official opposition status in its first election in 1993. Since then, the Bloc has held the majority of the province's 75 seats.
Over the years, Gilles Duceppe has proven to be a formidable politician. His inability to become prime minister gives him great latitude and contributes to his integrity in representing the population who elected him. Oddly enough, it allows him to do the job he is supposed to do, i.e. defend the interest of those he represents. His stance is obviously very egotistical for Canadians in other provinces, but many still recognize his qualities as a politician.
"We are different," says Duceppe. "Everyone in Québec knows that Québec is quite different from the rest of Canada. Not better, not worse, plain different." With its significant deputation, the Bloc in Ottawa is a constant reminder of this inevitable reality.
Since the 1995 referendum, the Bloc has mostly been surfing on Ottawa's faux pas (e.g. the adscam). In 2003, the Liberals took the helm in Québec. And, notwithstanding sovereignty, the Bloc has been remarkably in synch with one of the staunchest federalist premiers the province has ever had.
Ironically, by heightening Québec's different needs on the federal radar, the Bloc is making the Canadian federation work and is depriving the sovereignty movement of important arguments.