Opinion: Other Quebec voices fill Bloc’s void

In a book timed to cause a stir in Quebec’s overheated pre-election season, Radio-Canada journalist Michel C. Auger tackles what he identifies as 25 myths that feed the province’s political conversation.

Among others, his contention that Quebec is winning the battle to ensure it remains a French-language society, and his take on the need to do more to retain immigrants to the province rather than reduce their numbers run against much conventional wisdom and more than a few urban legends.

One myth Auger did not get around to busting is the notion that only with a strong Quebec-only party in the House of Commons can the province rest assured its interests are defended in the federal arena.

That myth resurfaced with a vengeance this week as the seven-member caucus that broke away from the Bloc Québécois earlier this year pronounced their former party dead and announced they would replace it with one of their own.

According to the group, rarely has the need for Quebecers to count on a federal party devoted exclusively to their interests been more acute than it is now.

That rationale certainly has the merit of offering a self-serving justification for the defectors’ enduring presence in Parliament beyond next year’s election. It would help if it were also backed by facts. As it happens, the evidence suggests the opposite.

The Bloc has not been a full participant in the Commons since it lost its official party status in 2011. Given the opportunity to correct the situation in 2015, even fewer Quebec voters opted for the sovereigntist party.

Since then, there has been scant evidence of buyers’ remorse. In a byelection held last year in the former Bloc stronghold of Lac-St-Jean, the party finished third, 15 points behind the winning Liberals.

With the BQ relegated to the sidelines in the Commons, other Quebec voices have filled the vacuum.

Quebec MPs make up the largest provincial contingent in the NDP caucus and a Quebecer leads that party daily in the House.

The province accounts for a bit more than 10 per cent of the Conservative parliamentary group and, if that sounds small, keep in mind that the last time the party was in opposition, it had zero Quebec represent-ation.

Far from falling by the wayside since the BQ was relegated to the sidelines, top-of-mind Quebec issues have been high on the radar of both the opposition parties.

Quebec has been taking the lead in trying to ensure that foreign internet giants operate under the same obligation to collect sales taxes as their domestic competitors.

Under the province’s impetus, the NDP made that policy part of its program at its last convention. That response to an emerging Quebec concern was a reversal from the stance the party defended in the last election.

The advent of a Senate more independent from the government has also provided Quebec with more avenues to advance its demands.

Earlier this week, one of the upper house committees studying the federal cannabis legislation recommended the provinces be left to decide whether to allow individuals to grow small amounts of marijuana at home.

That has been a key Quebec demand.

The NDP and the Conservatives fought long and hard to establish a foothold in Quebec. In his farewell speech as leader, former prime minister Stephen Harper singled out the election in 2015 of a dozen MPs from the province as one of the accomplishments he took the most pride in.

The 2011 orange wave was a watershed moment in the history of the NDP, an event that made its aspiration to one day form a national government look like more than a distant pipe dream.

If only to have a shot at beating Justin Trudeau next year, neither party will abandon those footholds without a fight. The Liberals will more than ever need a strong footing in the prime minister’s home province in the next election.

With the sovereignty issue on the back burner in Quebec, it is tempting to put down the Bloc’s ongoing crisis to one of relevance. But its more fundamental problem may be redundancy.

Chantal Hébert is a national affairs writer.

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