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Bloc's Stranglehold on our Politics will End

Canada is entering its sixth year of leadership under the minority governments of, consecutively, Paul Martin’s Liberals and Stephen Harper’s Conservatives.

If the most recent polls and punditry is to be believed, even another election in the fall (the fourth in five and a half years) is unlikely to change that.

The first reason for this is widely accepted: The reconciliation of Canadian conservatives following the fissure of the 1990s between the Reform Party and the Progressive Conservatives has created a powerful single force.

While its permanence, given history, is not to be taken for granted, its bond appears firmly fixed. Despite governing in the midst of the nation’s worst recession in more than a generation, the Conservative Party of Canada’s standing in the polls remains little different if not better today than a year ago.

Under the fresh leadership of Michael Ignatieff, the Liberal party has rediscovered its traditional base in Quebec and once again is a strong candidate for power in the fall.

But neither the Conservatives nor the Liberals, who b e t w e e n t h e m represent the inclinations of 70% or more of Canadians, are likely to achieve a majority.

The largest single reason for this is the enormous campaign advantage the Bloc Quebecois and its leader, Gilles Duceppe, enjoy due to the party’s narrow ambitions and the public funding of campaigns.

The Liberals, Jack Layton’s NDP, Elizabeth May’s Green Party and the Tories must deploy campaign efforts strategically 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 w ell as Montreal, Toronto, various areas of Ontario and all across the West.

Ditto for Ignatieff.

In fact, the Conservatives have seats in nine of the 10 provinces and one territory, as do the Liberals, while the NDP is close behind with MPs from eight provinces and one territory.

All of Duceppe’s eggs are in one convenient basket, making his task much simpler.

The enormous northern ridings of Abitibi-Temiscamingue and Manicouagan are Bloc strongholds. Other ridings in eastern Quebec are also safe, which allows Duceppe to focus on contentious ridings.

When the risks and opportunities are broken down, he only needs to focus on about 24 ridings and while other leaders are flying coast to coast, the Bloc leader sleeps at home.

Then there’s the media advantage. Duceppe’s constituency is almost entirely francophone, which means he can target advertising primarily through Quebec francophone networks where advertising rates are less expensive than national buys.

Because he is able to spend all his time in one province, the Bloc leader is guaranteed prominent if not dominant play on Quebec’s election newscasts and front pages.

His image and messages appear more frequently while, unburdened by a record of governance, he is free to attack and diminish others without having to worry about effective and repetitive counterpoints or defensive strategies.

No such luxuries are afforded leaders of national parties whose supporters must simmer in the knowledge the Bloc finances campaigns entirely through the federal funding for political parties, leaving private sources to its ideological confreres in the Parti Quebecois.

Absent an unlikely change in the funding structure, little will change until 2014 when, due to population shifts, B.C. will get seven more MPs, Alberta five and Ontario 20.

Were those in play in the 2008 election, for instance, the Conservatives might have 18 more seats, the Liberals eight more and the NDP six more.

The Conservatives might still have been shy of a majority in a 340-seat House of Commons but in the future a majority will be much more within reach as Quebec’s electoral value declines in proportion to the rest of the country.

Significantly, B.C., with 43, and Alberta, with 33, will have a combined total of 76 MPs — one more than Quebec’s 75, which due to stagnant population levels will not increase.

Then and in all likelihood only then will the Bloc Quebecois’s stranglehold on Canada’s politics be released.