POLITICS

Bloc Quebecois Leadership: Race May Not Be As Insignificant As It Seems

11/25/2011 08:19 EST | Updated 01/25/2012 05:12 EST
CP

The votes need to be in the mail by Monday, but it will not be until December 11 before the ballots will be counted and the next leader of the Bloc Québécois will be announced.

At one time a prestigious post, the leadership of the Bloc Québécois is not what it used to be, with only four MPs in the House of Commons and fundraising slowing to a trickle. Nevertheless, three candidates are vying for the job.

Daniel Paillé, Maria Mourani, and Jean-François Fortin are the three names that will be on the preferential ballot, and it seems likely that it will take at least two rounds before one of them will be named the winner.

Paillé, a former Parti Québécois cabinet minister and finance critic when he sat as a Bloc MP, is seen as the frontrunner in the race. He has the most endorsements from former Bloc MPs, he is the most experienced of the three candidates and he has the highest profile in Quebec, though it is still relatively low.

Mourani has run more of an outsider’s campaign, banking on grassroots support for her proposals to move the Bloc away from its ties to the PQ and instead embrace all of the sovereigntist parties that now exist in Quebec. But considering that many members of the Bloc are also members of the PQ, that may not be such a winning proposition.

Fortin is also pushing for more changes in how the Bloc has been run. Having been elected for the first time in May, he has the least amount of experience. However, he has performed well at the three debates.

It is possible that one of these candidates could get more than 50 per cent of the votes from the Bloc’s current roster of 36,000 members, and if it does go to only one round of voting then Mr. Paillé is likely to take it.

The result is far less certain if it goes to a second round. In a face-off between Mourani and Paillé, both Montreal-based, regional voting blocks are unlikely to benefit either candidate. If the second round pits Mr. Paillé against Mr. Fortin, the latter has a good chance of capturing the “anti-establishment” vote, though many members might also opt for the more experienced candidate.

Of course, if either Fortin or Mourani finishes ahead of Mr. Paillé or if he is dropped after the first ballot, the second round could go in any direction. The result on December 11 could be a surprise.

And the prize may not be as insignificant as it appears. The latest polls out of Quebec show that the New Democrats have fallen below the 40 per cent mark, with Léger Marketing/Le Devoir putting the NDP at 37 per cent to 27 per cent for the Bloc Québécois. That is the closest gap since the election. Among francophones the race is even closer, at 40 to 33 per cent.

The Bloc’s gains have likely stemmed from the actions of the federal government and the perceived inability of the New Democratic opposition to do anything about them. Only 18 per cent of Quebecers agree with abolishing the long-gun registry, while 80 per cent believe the registry records should be transferred over to Quebec. On the omnibus crime bill C-10 and the appointment of a unilingual auditor general, the Conservative government is hugely offside with the sentiments of Quebecers.

Once the Bloc’s leader is chosen, there will only be a few months for him or her to get the party back into the spotlight in Quebec before the NDP’s leadership convention in March. But the fate of the Bloc Québécois might depend less on the vote of its own members than the choice the New Democrats make.

Éric Grenier taps The Pulse of federal and regional politics for Huffington Post Canada readers on most Tuesdays and Fridays. Grenier is the author of ThreeHundredEight.com, covering Canadian politics, polls, and electoral projections.

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