The Bloc Québécois is a federal political party in Canada that is primarily devoted to promoting sovereignty for the province of Quebec. It also holds the goals of "defending the interests of all Quebecers in Ottawa". The Bloc is a broad coalition of those who want Quebec to obtain sovereignty. Although its leader, and its platform, espouse social democratic principles, it is not a homogeneous party that can be easily labelled with a specific ideology. In fact, many of its members and supporters came from both the centrist Liberal and centre-right Progressive Conservative parties, and the party attempts to attract sovereigntist voters from across the political spectrum.
The BQ is supported by organized labour in Quebec. Members and supporters of the BQ are sometimes called Bloquistes [blɑˈkist], a word formed on analogy to Péquiste (a Parti Québécois supporter).
The idea of a party with candidates running for seats in the House of Commons only in Quebec is not new. The term "Bloc Québécois" was seen as early as 1926 in L'Action Française magazine, where an article calls for a party of Quebecers defending the Quebec nationality in Ottawa.
From March to May of 1941, L'Action Nationale magazine renewed its calls for such a party, especially to oppose plans for conscription. In October 1941, the Bloc Populaire was created with those very objectives.
In September of 1971, there was another similar plea in L'Action Nationale to counter the federalism of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. One year after the October Crisis, a desire for peace in the streets and a desire to express frustration through democratic means was visible in the magazine: "The time has come to play hard; and it is necessary that it happens at the parliamentary stage to avoid other forms of violence." 
The Ralliement des créditistes was another rural Quebec-only federal party worth noting. Social credit ideology was based on the ideas of the British engineer, Major C.H. Douglas.
The Union Populaire was a minor party that tried to build on the success of the Parti Québécois at the provincial level by nominating candidates in the 1979 and 1980 federal elections on a sovereigntist platform. The PQ, however, had rejected participation in federal elections and provided no support to the party, which achieved little success.
The Parti nationaliste du Québec was founded in the 1980s as an alternative to federalist parties (i.e., those opposed to independence for Quebec) and can be seen as a modest predecessor.
Finally, the Rhinoceros Party, founded in 1968 by Doctor Jacques Ferron, renowned Quebec writer, won many votes from people who disapproved of federalist politicians. Jacques Ferron, the poet Gaston Miron , and the singer Michel Rivard challenged the seat of federalist Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.
The old Bloc Québécois Logo
The founder of the Bloc Québécois, Lucien Bouchard
Guy Bertrand , a former PQ candidate, had a plan to create a federal party in favour of Quebec independence, a "Bloc Québécois", in the 1970s. René Lévesque, the leader of the Parti Quebecois did not believe it to be the right time to do so. The fact that Lévesque noted this in his autobiography was brought up by Canadian Prime Minister Kim Campbell, having read the work, to her previous Tory colleague Lucien Bouchard in the leader's debate during the 1993 federal election. After decades of reflection and failed attempts to launch a sovereigntist party at the federal level, members of a sovereignist party were first elected on the federal level during the 1990s.
The Bloc Québécois started in 1990 as an informal coalition of Progressive Conservative Party (PC) and Liberal members of the Parliament of Canada from Quebec, who left their original parties around the time of the defeat of the Meech Lake Accord. The party was initially intended to be temporary, and was given the goal of the promotion of sovereignty at the federal level. The party aimed to disband following a successful referendum on sovereignty.
This coalition was led by Lucien Bouchard, who had been federal Minister of the Environment until he quit the PC caucus. He was joined by Liberals Gilles Rocheleau and Jean Lapierre and Tories Nic Leblanc , Louis Plamondon , Benoît Tremblay , Gilbert Chartrand , and François Gérin . The first Bloquiste candidate to be elected was then-union-organizer Gilles Duceppe in a by-election for the riding of Laurier--Sainte-Marie on August 13, 1990.
In the 1993 federal election, the Bloc won 54 seats in Quebec. Because the opposition vote in the rest of Canada was split between the Reform Party, the PC Party and the New Democratic Party, the Bloc narrowly won the second largest number of seats in the Canadian House of Commons, and therefore became the official opposition.
The election of a great number of Bloquistes in the 1993 election was the first of The Three Periods, a plan intended to lay out the way to sovereignty created by future Premier of Quebec Jacques Parizeau. Parizeau became Premier of Quebec in the Quebec election of 1994.
Referendum for independence
In 1995, the PQ government called the second referendum on independence in Quebec history. The Bloc entered the campaign for the Yes side (in favour of Sovereignty).
The Yes side's campaign had a difficult beginning, so the leadership of the campaign was shifted from Parizeau to Bloc leader Bouchard. Bouchard was seen as more charismatic and moderate, and therefore more likely to attract voters. A number of media following the campaign attributed the progress of the Yes side to this change of strategy.
A "tripartite agreement" mapping out the plan for accession to independence was written and signed by the leaders of the Parti Québécois, the Bloc Québécois and the Action Démocratique du Québec on June 12, 1995. It mentioned a subsequent association proposition to Canada to be tied to national independence in the referendum question. This provision was inspired by Bouchard, and reflected René Lévesque's convictions on the matter. Parizeau previously wanted a vote on simple independence. The option of sovereignty was narrowly defeated, with just 50.6% of voters rejecting the sovereignty plan.
Lucien Bouchard (L) and Jacques Parizeau (R) embrace on the stage of a Yes rally in 1995.
The day after the referendum, Quebec premier Jacques Parizeau stepped down (which he had privately committed to do in case of defeat). Bouchard left federal politics and was acclaimed the new leader of the Parti Québécois. According to the rules of the Westminster system, he became premier of Quebec on January 29, 1996.
Search of a new leader
Following Bouchard's departure, Michel Gauthier became leader of the Bloc.
Although the party tends to represent the social democratic side of the political spectrum, it has no particular unifying ideology apart from promoting Quebec sovereignty. In the wake of the referendum defeat, Gauthier proved unable to hold the fractious caucus together, and resigned as leader just a year later.
Gilles Duceppe became leader of the party in 1997, and remains leader of the Bloc today.
In the 1997 federal election, the Bloc Québécois dropped to 44 seats, losing official opposition status to the Reform Party. The 1997-2000 term was marked by the Bloc's fight against the passing of Bill C-20, engineered by Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and Stéphane Dion, a Quebec minister in Chretien's cabinet.
In the 2000 election, the Bloc dropped further to 38 seats, despite winning more votes than at the previous election. This was still more than the number of seats the Liberals had won in Quebec; however, the Liberals went on to win several subsequent by-elections, marking the first time since the 1982 patriation of the Constitution that the Liberals had held the majority of Quebec's seats in the Commons.
From then to the subsequent election, the Bloc continued to denounce the federal government's interventions in exclusively provincial jurisdictions. Its actions led to the uncovering of what has since become the sponsorship scandal. Among other things, the Bloc supported the Kyoto Accord, gay marriage and marijuana decriminalization, and opposed a Canadian participation in the 2003 war in Iraq.
Numerous opinion polls in Quebec signaled a continued slide of the Bloc Québécois in most of 2003 following the 2003 Quebec election which was won by the federalist Parti libéral du Québec led by Jean Charest. During the long run-up to Paul Martin's becoming leader of the federal Liberals, the Bloc's popularity continued to decline.
However, things progressively changed during the winter of 2003, partly because of the unpopularity of Charest's government and the rise in support for independence in Quebec (49 per cent in March). The tide took its sharp turn when, in February 2004, the sponsorship scandal (uncovered in considerable part by the Bloc) hit the federal Liberal government.
A crowd of Bloc supporters during the 2004 campaign.
For the 2004 election, the party adopted the slogan Un parti propre au Québec, a play on words which can either mean "A party belonging to Quebec" (a reference to the party's explicit objective of representing Quebec's interests in Ottawa) or "A clean party in Quebec" (a direct reminder of the sponsorship scandal).
The party succeeded in attracting its largest number of votes ever (1.67 million), and won 54 seats, tying its previous record from the 1993 campaign.
Speculation has been ongoing about the possibility of the Bloc forming alliances with other opposition parties or with an eventual minority government, be it Liberal Party, Conservative or NDP to promote its goals of respecting provinces' autonomy. Leader Gilles Duceppe has stated that the Bloc, as before, would co-operate with other opposition parties or with the government when interests are found to be in common but that the Bloc would never participate in a coalition government.
Sovereigntism in Ottawa
There is an on-going debate inside and outside of the sovereigntist forces on the usefulness of a party in Ottawa that, in practice, cannot take power because it runs only in the 75 Quebec. ridings.
Gilles Duceppe during the 2004 campaign.
Supporters contend that without the Bloc, most of the 75 Quebec seats would be occupied by Liberals, and that the presence of Quebecers in cabinet has never prevented governmental acts judged detrimental to the interests of Quebec. Examples given include:
- the patriation of the Canadian constitution, which reduced the powers of the National Assembly of Quebec) without Quebec consent, and
- the passing of Bill C-20,
- the democratic importance of the opposition and its influence over government,
- the necessity of an unbound, Quebec-minded and nationalist voice to be heard about what is under federal jurisdiction and on the international stage,
- electing sovereignists in Ottawa helps the cause of sovereignty. (This is the essence of the Three Periods strategy of Parizeau.)
Detractors from other political beliefs (especially the Liberal Party of Canada, the harshest critics and opponents of the Bloc) often say that the presence of the Bloc robs Canadian citizens in Quebec of a chance of strong representation and influence in government. Opponents of the federal Liberals say it prevents the emergence of a united opposition capable of challenging the Liberals. Some supporters of the left in Quebec and the rest of Canada (like New Democratic Party Quebec "lieutenant" Pierre Ducasse) contend the Bloc makes it more difficult for a clearly social democratic party to come to power in the House of Commons. Some sovereigntists in Quebec share that belief and support the NDP (Ducasse voted for the PQ in 2003 and for independence in 1995) or even other parties, but a vast majority are behind the Bloc.
Polls show that a majority — around 60 per cent — of Quebecers think that the Bloc's presence in Ottawa is relevant and legitimate.
Relationship to Parti Québécois
The Parti Québécois holds close ties to the Bloc, and shares its principal objective: independence for Quebec. Further examples of this close relationship include the sharing of political candidates, the parties backing each other during election campaigns, and a similar militant voter base. Prominent members of each party often attend and speak at both organizations' public events.
However, the Bloc Québécois is not simply the federal wing of the Parti Québécois, as it is sometimes portrayed in the media -- although the two parties maintain a close relationship, they are distinct organizations.
The current Bloc leader, Gilles Duceppe, is also the son of Jean Duceppe, a famous Quebec actor who helped found the PQ and the Quebec NDP. The latter party subsequently was expelled from the federal NDP, declared itself to be in favour of sovereignty, and subsequently joined with other left-wing parties to form the Union des Forces Progressistes.
See also: Bloc Quebecois leadership elections
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See Bloc Québécois Shadow Cabinet
Politics of Quebec - Politics of Canada - Parti Quebecois