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The Bloc Québécois (BQ) is a federal political party in Canadamarker that defines itself as devoted to both the protection of Quebec'smarker interests on a federal level as well as the promotion of its sovereignty. As such, it campaigns only within the province during elections.

The Bloc Québécois is supported by a wide range of voters in Quebec, from large sections of organised labour to more moderate rural voters. Members and supporters are known as "Bloquistes" (Bloquists). The party itself is sometimes known as the "BQ" in English-speaking media. English-speaking Canadians commonly refer to the BQ as "the Bloc".

The Bloc is currently the third largest party in the Canadian House of Commons. The party has a close relation with the Parti Québécois (PQ, whose members are known as "Péquistes"), the provincial party which advocates for the separation of Quebec from Canada and its independence, but the two are not linked organizationally.

History

Origins

The Bloc Québécois was started in 1991 as an informal coalition of Progressive Conservative and Liberal Members of Parliament from Quebec, who left their original parties around the time of the defeat of the Meech Lake Accord. The party was initially intended to be temporary and was given the goal of the promotion of sovereignty at the federal level. The party aimed to disband following a successful referendum on separatism (sovereignty) from Canada. The term "temporary ad hoc rainbow coalition" is now used by the Liberal Party of Canada to refer to the group of MPs who founded the Bloc Québécois, primarily in reference to Jean Lapierre, who was once part of that group but had since renounced separatism and rejoined the Liberals under the leadership of Paul Martin.

The initial coalition that led to the Bloc was led by Lucien Bouchard, who had been federal Minister of the Environment. However, after a commission headed by Jean Charest recommended some changes to the Meech Lake Accord, Bouchard left the Progressive Conservatives (May 1990), feeling that the spirit and objectives of the accord were being diluted. According to The Secret Mulroney Tapes he was fired by then Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. Bouchard was joined by several of his fellow Tories, such as Nic Leblanc, Louis Plamondon, Benoît Tremblay, Gilbert Chartrand, and François Gérin, along with two Liberals, notably Gilles Rocheleau and Jean Lapierre. The first Bloquiste candidate to be elected was Gilles Duceppe, then a union organizer, in a by-election for the Montrealmarker riding of Laurier—Sainte-Marie on August 13, 1990. He ran as an independent, since the Bloc had not been registered as a federal party.

First election

Logo of the Bloc Québécois in the 1990s.
In the 1993 federal election, the Bloc won 54 seats in Quebec. Because the opposition vote in the rest of Canada was split between the Reform Party, the Progressive Conservative Party, and the New Democratic Party, the Bloc narrowly won the second largest number of seats in the House of Commons, and therefore became the official opposition. The election of such a relatively large number of Bloquistes was the first of The Three Periods, a plan intended to lay out the way to sovereignty created by PQ leader Jacques Parizeau. Parizeau became Premier of Quebec in the Quebec election of 1994 (the second of the Three Periods).

1995 Quebec referendum

In 1995, the PQ government called the second referendum on independence in Quebec history. The Bloc entered the campaign for the Oui (Yes) side (in favour of sovereignty). The Oui side's campaign had a difficult beginning, so the leadership of the campaign was shifted from Jacques Parizeau to Bloc leader Lucien Bouchard. Bouchard was seen as more charismatic and more moderate, and therefore more likely to attract voters.

A "tripartite agreement" mapping out the plan for accession to independence was written and signed by the leaders of the Parti Québécois, the Bloc Québécois and the Action démocratique du Québec on June 12, 1995. It revived René Lévesque's notion that the referendum should be followed by the negotiating of an association agreement between an independent Quebec and the rest of Canada. This provision was inspired by Bouchard. Parizeau had previously wanted a vote simply on independence. The difference became moot when 50.6% of voters taking part in the referendum rejected the sovereignty plan. An overwhelming "Non" vote in Montreal tipped the balance.

The day after the referendum, Parizeau stepped down as PQ leader and premier of Quebec. Bouchard left federal politics and succeeded Parizeau in both posts on January 26, 1996.

New leaders for the Bloc

Following Bouchard's departure from Ottawa, Michel Gauthier became leader of the Bloc. In the wake of the referendum defeat, Gauthier proved unable to hold the fractious caucus together and resigned as leader just one year later. Gilles Duceppe, who had served as interim leader after Bouchard stepped down, became leader of the Bloc in 1997 and remains leader today, making him the longest-tenured current party leader among the four major Canadian federal parties ( ).

Gilles Duceppe announced on May 11, 2007 that he would run in the Parti Québécois leadership race to replace André Boisclair, who resigned on May 8, 2007 after the poor performance in the March election in Quebec and internal dissent forced him to step down. However, in a surprise move, Duceppe announced the next day that he was withdrawing from the race, and that he would support Pauline Marois who had also announced her intention to run. All this action has led to some speculation regarding the leadership of the party .

Declining fortunes

In the 1997 federal election, the Bloc Québécois dropped to 44 seats, losing official opposition status to the Reform Party. The 1997–2000 term was marked by the Bloc's fight against the passage of the Clarity Act, the attempt by Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien (himself a Quebecer who represented a strongly nationalist riding) and Stéphane Dion, a Quebec minister in Chrétien's cabinet, to codify the Supreme Court of Canadamarker's 1998 decision that Quebec could not secede unilaterally.

In the 2000 election, the Bloc dropped further to 38 seats, despite polling a larger percentage of the vote than at the previous election. One factor was the forced merger of several major Quebec cities, such as Montrealmarker, Quebec Citymarker and Hull/Gatineaumarker. The merger was very unpopular in those areas, resulting in Liberal wins in several of the merged areas. This was still more than the number of seats the Liberals had won in Quebec. However, the Liberals went on to win several subsequent by-elections during the life of the resulting Parliament, until the Liberals had held the majority of Quebec's seats in the Commons for the first time since 1984. From then to the subsequent election, the Bloc continued to denounce the federal government's interventions in what the Bloc saw as exclusively provincial jurisdictions. The Bloc credits its actions for the uncovering of what has since become the sponsorship scandal. Among other things, the Bloc supported the Kyoto Accord, gay marriage and marijuana decriminalization, and opposed Canadian participation in the War in Iraqmarker in 2003.

Comeback

The Bloc continued to slide in most of the 2003 opinion polls following the 2003 Quebec election which was won by the federalist Quebec Liberal Party led by Jean Charest. However, things changed during the winter of 2003, partly because of the unpopularity of Charest's government and the rise in support for independence in Quebec (49 per cent in March). However, in February 2004, the Auditor General of Canada uncovered the sponsorship scandal.

For the 2004 election the Bloc adopted the slogan Un parti propre au Québec, a play on words that can be translated either as "A party of Quebec's own" ("a party proper to Quebec") or as "A clean party in Quebec". The Bloc won 54 seats in the House of Commons, tying its previous record from the 1993 campaign. For the 2006 election, the Bloc used the slogan Heureusement, ici, c'est le Bloc! ("Thankfully, here, it's the Bloc!"). The Bloc were expected to easily win more than 60 seats at the start of the campaign, and they did in fact take six seats from the Liberals. However, the unexpected resurgence of the Conservatives in parts of Quebec, particularly in and around Quebec City, led to the Bloc losing eight seats to the Tories. Coupled with an additional loss to an independent candidate, the Bloc recorded a net loss of three seats compared to the last campaign.

Speculation has been ongoing about the possibility of the Bloc forming alliances with other opposition parties or with an eventual minority government. Duceppe, whose leadership was confirmed after the election, has stated that the Bloc will continue to co-operate with other opposition parties or with the government when interests are found to be in common, but insists that the Bloc will never participate in a federal government.

On May 2, 2006, a poll revealed that for the first time, the Conservatives were ahead of the Bloc in the Quebec's vote intention (34% against 31%). Duceppe announced the Bloc would support Stephen Harper's budget the very same day. But in October polls showed that the Bloc was up to mid forties whereas the Conservatives fell into the teens behind Liberals in their poll numbers in Quebec.

Present situation

The Bloc has made slight gains following the 2008 federal elections as they won 49 seats, one more than the amount they had before the previous parliament was dissolved. In that election, they used the slogan "Présent pour le Québec" (Present for Quebec). Although they made small gains in relation to the amount of seats at dissolution, they fell by seats 2 to 49 in comparison to the 51 they received in 2006. Also, the proportion of popular votes in the province is down 4 points to 38.1%, the Bloc's lowest score since 1997.

In a speech in front of his supporters following the election, BQ leader Gilles Duceppe claimed to have achieved his objectives, adding: "without the Bloc Québécois tonight, Mr. Harper would have formed a majority government".

At the end of November 2008, the Bloc indicated that it would support a possible Motion of No Confidence against the governing Conservatives by the two other opposition parties, and would support the resulting Liberal-NDP coalition government at least until June 2010, without actually being part of the government.

Relationship to Parti Québécois

The Parti Québécois has close ties to the Bloc and shares its principal objective of independence for Quebec. The two parties have backed each other during election campaigns, and prominent members of each party often attend and speak at the other's public events. In addition, the majority of each party's membership holds membership in both parties. However, on an organizational level the parties are separate entities – the Bloc is not simply the federal wing of the Parti Québécois, nor the PQ simply the provincial wing of the Bloc. Gilles Duceppe has recently helped Pauline Marois campaign in the Quebec Provincial Election of 2008, however, she did not win and the Liberals gained a slight majority.

Party leaders

Picture Name Term start Term end Riding while leader Notes
Lucien Bouchard July 25, 1990 January 16, 1996 Lac-Saint-Jean First leader
Gilles Duceppe January 16, 1996 February 17, 1996 Laurier—Sainte-Marie Interim leader
Michel Gauthier February 17, 1996 March 15, 1997 Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean
Gilles Duceppe March 15, 1997 Laurier—Sainte-Marie


Election results

Election # of candidates nominated # of seats won # of total votes % of popular vote (Canada) % of popular vote (Quebec)
1993
75
54
1,846,024
13.5%
49.3%
1997
75
44
1,385,821
10.7%
37.9%
2000
75
38
1,377,727
10.7%
39.9%
2004
75
54
1,680,109
12.4%
48.9%
2006
75
51
1,553,201
10.5%
42.1%
2008
75
49
1,379,628
10.0%
38.1%


See also



References

External links




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