The Bloc Québécois named former PQ cabinet minister Daniel Paillé as its new leader yesterday, and already the party looks to be taking a different approach than it did under the leadership of Gilles Duceppe. It is an approach that puts the Bloc and NDP on a collision course.
Under Duceppe, the Bloc was styled as the defender of the interests of Quebec and the only voice that Quebecers could trust in the House of Commons to oppose the conservatism of Stephen Harper's government. While the Bloc was always sovereigntist under Duceppe, the party's social democratic views and defence of the province's jurisdiction made it a good option for sovereigntists and soft nationalists alike.
And after the sponsorship scandal discredited the Liberals in the province, Duceppe's Bloc was the only real alternative to the Conservatives.
That is, until Jack Layton and the NDP became a legitimate option in Quebec.
The NDP shares many of the Bloc's social democratic positions and the openness the it demonstrated to Quebecers through the Sherbrooke Declaration made the New Democrats an alternative to the Bloc - something that, after 20 years, was a welcome change. Though independence still attracts the support of anywhere from one-third to two-fifths of the population, depending on the survey, Quebecers have become somewhat exhausted with the debate. This, in part, explains the popularity of François Legault's Coalition Avenir Québec.
But judging from Daniel Paillé's statements yesterday after his second ballot victory, the Bloc will no longer simply be sold as a party that defends Quebec's interests. Paillé spoke about sovereignty throughout his allocution, and only mentioned the NDP in response to questions from the press afterwards. His target was the Conservative Party.
And this means the Bloc Québécois and the New Democrats will be pushing competing narratives. Paillé said Quebecers do not see themselves in Stephen Harper's Canada, and he will use that argument to convince the province of the need for independence and for voting for the Bloc.
The next leader of the New Democrats, whoever it will be, will bank on the same assumption, but rather than inviting Quebecers to leave a country they may not recognize themselves in, he or she will try to convince Quebecers to stick with the party that could give them a government that reflects their values.
Jack Layton managed to beat Gilles Duceppe on the same playing field of opposition to the Harper Conservatives. The next leader of the New Democrats will not be able to do the same against Paillé. Rather than make the debate about which party is best placed to defeat the Conservatives, the Bloc leader will force the NDP to talk about federalism - a topic that may be problematic for an NDP leader trying to woo voters both inside and outside the province on his or her quest for 24 Sussex.
But with support for independence at a low point and the Parti Québécois on track to take a pasting in a possible 2012 provincial election, Paillé's focus on sovereignty may not turn the tide for his struggling party.
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.