With the Conservatives at the helm since 2006, Québec now only contributes eleven members to the governing party in Ottawa. With the prospect of a Conservative majority government, and perhaps even less cabinet representation, the province seems to be heading for even more isolation.
Many people believe the Québécois crafted their own demise by electing Bloc Québécois MPs en masse and voting themselves out of power for so many years. The basis for this rationale is that a government with more Québec representation would serve Québec's interests better. A vote for the Bloc is a vote wasted... so they say.
Recent history somewhat disagrees with this perspective. You see... before the Bloc entered the House of Commons, Québec had a fairly good handle on federal affairs. During the last 50 years, the Canadian Parliament hosted many Québécois Prime Ministers and many cabinet members ensured appropriate Québécois representation in most governments.
Still... the 60s saw the rise of Québec nationalism, culminating to the October Crisis and the institution of martial law. The 70s saw the election of the Parti Québécois 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 despite appropriate Québec representation in the federal cabinet and 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.
Some people associate the Bloc's success with a withdrawal of the Québécois from Ottawa's affairs. Others see in the Bloc's success a reaction to Ottawa's disengagement in addressing the Québécois' concerns. Which one is it?...
Over the years, Bloc leader 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 that 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 unmistakable reality.
Without the Bloc, chances are the two solitudes would prevail even more. By heightening Québec's different needs on the federal radar, the Bloc contributes to making the Canadian federation work. And any blow to that delicate balance might entail fueling the sovereignty movement.
Ironically, the Bloc's success is depriving the sovereignty movement of important arguments.
Reworked from a previous blog entry "The Bloc Québécois is useless", originally published February 8th, 2009.