The Bloc Québécois was left in shambles after seven of its ten MPs decided to leave the party early this month. The seven departed members decided to form a separate parliamentary group. The split in the party is the result of disagreements over the leadership of Martine Ouellet, claiming that her leadership is authoritarian. The seven members presented an ultimatum to Ouellet to step down. However, Ouellet persisted in her position, telling reporters “I am staying on as leader.”
Louis Plamondon, who has spent the last 25 years as a Bloc MP said, “I’ve witnessed many crises within the Bloc Québécois and this is no doubt the deepest.” The Bloc Québécois has, since its conception after the Meech Lake Accord, been vulnerable to the disagreements between hawkish sovereigntists and moderates. Nonetheless, this crisis might be the tipping point for Canada’s only sovereigntist party, dealing a critical blow to Quebec’s independence movement. The current status of the Bloc Québécois is a far cry from 1993 when the party secured 54 seats in the election and formed the country’s Official Opposition.
While Ouellet’s opposition disagrees with her leadership, they remain committed to Quebec’s independence. Much of the contention among the party stems from the strategy. Another departed Bloc Québécois Member, Rheal Fortin said, “Ouellet would like us to talk and talk about sovereignty, about the independence of Quebec, I will say, in every and all sentences. We believe that we have to make the real promotion by explaining why Quebec should be independent, what’s the problem with the actual federal Constitution with that government and that system.” Many members would like to see the Bloc Québécois address the systemic problems affecting Quebecers. However, Ouellet insists on promoting sovereignty at every turn.
The split of the seven members was backed by 21 former Bloc MPs, including ex-leader Gilles Duceppe. Duceppe led the party through several successful elections in the early 2000s by focusing on defending Quebec’s interests in Ottawa. The former leader accused Ouellet of imperiling the party’s future with her hardline strategy. In an open letter, Duceppe wrote, “Ouellet weakened the voice of Quebec in Ottawa at the very moment that it needs a strong voice.”
Ouellet, in a statement to the press, said she hopes the MPs will return to caucus. In a sign of optimism, she has decided not to strip them of their party memberships. “The door remains open,” said Ouellet.
The divide in the Bloc Québécois is perceived to impact the results of the 2019 Canadian election. According to the CBC Poll Tracker, the Bloc would only have an eight percent chance of winning the 12 seats needed to obtain official party status in the House of Commons, which provides more resources and privileges. The Liberals are best positioned to pick up the support lost by the Bloc in this crisis. Moreover, the New Democrats are unlikely to win the support of the Bloc voters under the leadership of Jagmeet Singh. Polls suggest that Quebecers are the least likely to vote for a party led by a leader wearing visible religious symbols.
With this major crisis to the Bloc Québécois, it begs the question: are these the dying days of Quebec’s separatist movement? Or one of the booms and busts of political parties? Regardless of the answer, one thing is clear, Quebec’s current political climate has no room for hardliners like Ouellet.
Ballingall, Alex. “Seven of 10 Bloc Québécois MPs quit caucus in protest of leader Martine Ouellet.” Thestar.com, 28 Feb. 2018, http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2018/02/28/seven-of-10-bloc-quebecois-mps-quit-caucus-in-protest-of-leader-martine-ouellet.html.
Grenier, Éric. “How the Bloc’s split will affect the 2019 election | CBC News.” CBCnews, CBC/Radio Canada, 1 Mar. 2018, www.cbc.ca/news/politics/grenier-bloc-divide-1.4555592.
Montpetit, Jonathan. “’We had a tough week’: Martine Ouellet vows to stay on as Bloc leader amid growing revolt.” CBCnews, CBC/Radio Canada, 3 Mar. 2018, http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/bloc-leader-martine-ouellet-announcement-1.4561003.
Tunney, Catherine. “7 of 10 Bloc Québécois caucus members quit over leader’s style | CBC News.” CBCnews, CBC/Radio Canada, 28 Feb. 2018, http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/bloc-quebecois-ouellet-1.4555185.