Gilles Duceppe is a capable politician, but his reputation as a cagey campaigner is enormously exaggerated given that his is the easiest job of all the party leaders. While Stephen Harper, Stephan Dion, Jack Layton and Elizabeth May were all trying to support candidates and win votes across the country on Oct. 14, Duceppe only had a handful of candidates to worry about.
The other parties were flying their exhausted leaders across the world’s second largest nation. Duceppe could spend most nights in his own bed. The Liberals, NDP and Tories must deploy their efforts strategically in order to spend the most amount of time in areas of the greatest opportunities and threats. The Conservatives, for instance, need not spend as much time in Alberta and Saskatchewan where their seats are relatively safe, but must keep a high presence in Vancouver, southern Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes where threats and opportunities abound. Layton also has seats in Atlantic Canada he has to defend and seek, as well as Montreal, Toronto, various areas of Ontario and all across the West. Ditto for the Liberals. In fact, the Conservatives have seats in nine of the 10 provinces and one territory, as do the Liberals while the NDP are close behind with MPs from 8 provinces and one territory.
Duceppe’s task, on the other hand, is a walk in the park. The enormous northern riding of Abitibi-Temiscamingue is a Bloc stronghold as is the case with Manicouagan, the second largest geographical riding. This means the Bloc can focus entirely along the St. Lawrence and Ottawa valleys. But wait – it gets easier.
Other ridings in the eastern end of Quebec such as Gaspesie-Isles-de-la-Madeleine and Rimouski-Neigette--Témiscouata--Les Basques are also safe and require lip service only, allowing Duceppe to focus only on contentious ridings while writing off the anglophone west end of Montreal. When the risks and opportunities are broken down, Duceppe only needs to aim his energy and resources at about 24 ridings.
It then gets even easier. Duceppe’s constituency is almost entirely francophone, which means he can target advertising primarily through francophone television networks TVA, TQS and SRC where, because of the relatively small audiences advertising rates are less expensive.
And, because he is able to spend all of his time in Quebec, the Bloc leader is also guaranteed prominent if not dominant play on the election coverage broadcasts and front pages of Quebec media. Not only will his image appear far more frequently, so will his message which means that no matter how thin the gruel served up by his opponents, he may constantly attack and diminish them without having to worry too much about effective and repetitive counterpoints.
It is not difficult to imagine that if Harper had the luxury of spending five weeks campaigning exclusively in Quebec and Atlantic Canada he wouldn’t have improved his party’s standings there, but it would have come at the expense of seats in Ontario or British Columbia. Similarly, if Dion were to have spent the bulk of his campaign in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, the Liberals would have better representation in those regions but would have fared even worse overall.
Duceppe may have a winning record as a coach, but he is behind the bench of a team that gets to play its entire schedule on home ice. Little wonder then that they win most of their games and ensure that there is little chance either the Conservatives or Liberals can win a majority.
But in 2014 the world will begin to change. Due to population shifts, B.C. will get 7 more seats, Alberta 5 and Ontario 10. Were those in play in the election just past, that would roughly work out to 14 more seats for the Conservatives, 5 more for the Liberals and four more to the NDP. The Conservatives would still be shy of a majority with 157 of the 166 required in a 330-seat House of Commons. But for the first time in the history of Confederation a majority will be within reach with only a handful (12-15 seats) required from Quebec. British Columbia, with 43, and Alberta with 33 will have a combined total of 76 seats – one more than Quebec’s 75.
Then, no doubt, we will discover how good a team the Bloc Quebecois really is.