Stripped of its status as an official party in the House of Commons, the Bloc Québécois is still smarting from the electoral pasting it received on May 2 that has left the sovereigntist party leaderless and its future in limbo.
Still, the Bloc will be the first of the three opposition parties to hold a leadership convention. Unless the date is put off — and some influential figures in the Bloc Québécois argue it should be — the Bloc will name its next leader in December.
There may not be many candidates.
For six consecutive elections between 1993 and 2008, the Bloc Québécois was one of the most successful parties in the House of Commons, winning a majority of Quebec’s seats in every election. Had Gilles Duceppe resigned after a seventh consecutive majority, the list of claimants to his throne would likely have been long.
Now that the Bloc’s survival is in question, the list is very short. Daniel Paillé and Pierre Paquette, shoe-ins for a leadership run before the Bloc’s defeat at the hands of the New Democrats, have both declared their intention to stay out of the race. Another bright light of the party, Bernard Bigras, has declined a leadership run and has been in talks with former PQ minister François Legault, who may launch his own bid for provincial office as head of a new party.
Only two names have circulated as likely candidates for the Bloc leadership, both of them sitting in the House of Commons. Jean-François Fortin, rookie MP for the riding of Haute-Gaspésie – La Mitis – Matane – Matapédia in eastern Quebec, has the most buzz going for him. At 37, he is young but has some minor experience in a leadership role as former mayor of the small town of Sainte-Flavie. Fortin is also the only one of the Bloc’s four MPs to win his riding by a relatively comfortable margin.
The other is Maria Mourani, MP for Ahuntsic on the island of Montreal. Mourani has held the riding since 2006, but has never won it by more than 834 votes. Though she has been with the party longer than Fortin, she has not been a high profile member of the Bloc’s caucus and would likely be the underdog in a two-way race.
The Bloc’s defeat in the 2011 election, however, is not the only reason for the lack of interest in filling the job vacancy at the top. The sovereignty movement in Quebec is currently in a state of flux. Though polls from Léger Marketing and CROP show that support for independence is still within historical norms, the Parti Québécois is sinking in the polls. The party has lost some of its most influential MNAs, the sovereigntist Québec Solidaire is drawing away support, and a new sovereigntist party, the Nouveau Mouvement pour le Québec, could be formed before the next provincial election.
Gilles Duceppe is unlikely to provide anything but moral support. Duceppe’s public interventions since his defeat have been few and far between, and he seems far more interested in the provincial scene than the goings-on in Ottawa. He is rumoured to be in talks with some of the former leaders of the Parti Québécois, putting out feelers for support in case Pauline Marois does not stay on as head of the PQ. He is also apparently in contact with Jocelyn Desjardins, a former Bloc staffer who heads the NMQ.
Sovereigntist politics in Quebec have always been fractious, but Duceppe ran a tight ship. With the sovereigntist movement’s internal squabbles, the likely defeat of its provincial cousins in the next Quebec election, and with few resources for the federal party in Ottawa, being the leader of the Bloc Québécois is not what it used to be – and few want the job.