08/17/2014 10:46 EDT | Updated 08/17/2014 10:59 EDT

Bloc Québécois' Shift Under New Leader Should Help Liberals, NDP


The strategy adopted by new Bloc Québécois leader Mario Beaulieu, to put the push for Quebec independence front and centre in the next federal campaign, threatens to marginalize the party even more than has been the case since the crushing defeat of 2011.

In its place, the Liberals and New Democrats are poised to fill the vacuum.

Jean-François Fortin, MP for a riding in eastern Quebec, left the party this last week due to the direction Beaulieu is taking it. Fortin's departure reduces the Bloc's caucus to just three, and one of them was elected as a New Democrat three years ago.

Fortin explained that Beaulieu's rigid, one-dimensional focus on independence to the detriment of all else, including the party's former role in the House of Commons, will lead the party nowhere. He is likely right.

The Bloc Québécois was at the height of its influence between 2004 and 2011. Though the party did form the Official Opposition in 1993 in the run-up to the 1995 referendum, it faced a majority government. Between 2004 and 2011, however, the Bloc had a tremendous amount of weight in a minority legislature.

At the time, the Bloc had many more seats than the New Democrats. This made the Bloc the largest social democratic party in the House. Though the party primarily pushed issues important to Quebec, the BQ was also a reliably left-of-centre voting bloc.

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In the 2005 vote on same-sex marriage, for instance, the Bloc's 43 votes in favour were essential in passing the law. Without those votes, the 93 Conservatives and 32 Liberals (along with one New Democrat, five Bloc MPs, and two independents) who voted against same-sex marriage would have carried the day.

In a majority legislature, the Bloc's influence would have been greatly reduced even if the party had not been bulldozed by the NDP. But with three strong national parties, another majority government may be unlikely in 2015. By turning the Bloc away from its traditional role and towards a position of independence-and-only-independence, Beaulieu has surrendered the usefulness the party once had in Ottawa.

Beaulieu says that he will still run on the Bloc's platform, but he will have a difficult time convincing Quebecers to vote for him by focusing his campaign on independence. His own strategy will distract voters from the other things the party stands for.

This opens up a great opportunity for the Liberals and New Democrats to ensure the Bloc does not re-emerge as a major force in Quebec federal politics. It may even make it hard for the party to get 23 per cent of the Quebec vote, as it did in 2011.

Beaulieu is giving Quebecers the choice between a sovereigntist party that is powerless in Ottawa to do anything but talk about sovereignty, or two federalist parties that will be promoting policies that many Quebecers support and can actually be implemented at the federal level.

Voting for the Bloc in the 2004, 2006, and 2008 elections was a relatively easy decision to make. The Bloc could not force a referendum and the party reflected the values of most Quebecers. It was a reliable watchdog for the province in Ottawa — for many voters, it was the best choice out of the Liberals of the sponsorship scandal, the Conservatives (too right-wing for Quebec), or the unknown NDP.

But now the Liberals have been reborn under Justin Trudeau and the New Democrats have roots in the province like never before. If independence is not a top of mind issue for a Quebec voter — and enthusiasm for the project is particularly low at the moment — why vote for Beaulieu's Bloc?

Jean-François Fortin recognized how Beaulieu's strategy will limit the Bloc Québécois' ability to return to its glory days. It is not a party he sees himself in anymore.

He will probably find he is not alone.

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

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