Quebecers, like this young woman carrying the flag of the province, benefit from the economic pull (Andrej Ivanov / Reuters)
Beatriz Navarro | Washington
10/23/2019 11:26 PM Updated on 10/24/2019 1:12 PM
And a year later, he resurrected … “I would say we are still alive,” congratulated Yves-François Blanchet, leader of the Blocque Québécois (BQ) after hearing the results of Monday’s federal elections in Canada. They will have 32 deputies, 22 more than in the last legislature. The result – impressive for a party that a year ago was considered dead, a victim of internal divisions on independence – has a lot to do with Blanchet’s leadership and his ability to understand what the real concerns of the inhabitants of Québec are.
Almost a quarter of a century after the last independence referendum in the French-speaking province, the percentage of Québécois who support secession is around 35%. The cause has lost support, especially among young people. In this context, the insistence of the former leader of the BQ, Martine Ouellet, to defend independence in the federal parliament led to the resignation of seven of its ten deputies a year ago. In the end, Ouellet left.
With the party shattered (“corpse”, some said), there were no more candidates to succeed than Blanchet, former Minister of the Environment in the regional government and exmanager of the biggest Québec rock star, reinvented as a television commentator. “Defending the interests of Quebec in Ottawa or defending the independence of the province in Quebec City is not very fashionable” but “for me it is essential not to give up ideas that are important,” he said before being proclaimed leader of the party in January.
Almost a quarter of a century after the last independence referendum in the French-speaking province, the percentage of Quebecers who support secession is around 35%.
His rivals distrust the honesty of the strategy with which Blanchet launched the reconquest of the space lost by the BQ. To remain relevant, he concluded, the party had to park the demands for independence to respond to the real concerns of the Québécois . Mainly, the defense of the environment and its national identity against what they perceive as attacks by other provinces, especially those in the west of the country, which require Ottawa investments and fewer obstacles to exploit the country’s oil resources.
“In Quebec there are between 30 and 35% of the population that is not recognized in federalist political parties, (…) voters less linked to Canada but who want to send a message of opposition to federal policy,” explains François Rocher, political scientist at the University of Ottawa. Under Blanchet’s new leadership, the BQ has been able to assume the most nationalist elements of the discourse of the Avenir Québec Coalition, which are summarized in identity issues ”, leaving the question of Quebec status“ completely out ”of the debate until the end of the campaign, says Rocher.
“We understand the depth of our mandate but also its limitations,” Blanchet said Tuesday at the party headquarters. “Our job is not to make Canadian federalism work but neither to create problems. The big difference between the sentiment of the nation of Canada and that of Quebec is that it does not need to be exacerbated, ”he added. “We want a country!” The crowd responded. “Me too … But sovereignty is not in our mandate,” said Blanchet, who only spoke of independence in the campaign at the behest of his rivals, who said that a vote for the BQ was a vote for the return to debates of the past.
The ideological orientation of the BQ has changed throughout its history but in recent years it had tilted to the left. Blanchet, however, has brought it closer to the regional center-right party Coalition Avenir Québec, responsible for the law on religious symbols that wants to guarantee the secularity of the public administration. Very popular in this territory, the rule is in open opposition to the multiculturalist tradition of Canada and the rest of the country’s parties consider it unconstitutional; his attacks on the law made part of Blanchet’s work in Quebec.
The new BQ defends seamlessly this and other measures taken by the province to ensure that immigrants and refugees speak French. After years of medium speed due to the uncertainty of the independence debate, the recovery of the Québec economy has increased the demand for labor, as well as the anxiety of many citizens about the future of their national identity as the only Francophone territory in North America . Blanchet has convinced them that the BQ will defend them. “One day, when the Quebecers want it and as they want, they may consider again becoming a country” but, it will not be the BQ who decides. “One day, at the moment that the Quebecers decide and as they decide, they may consider becoming a country again” but it will not be the BQ who decides when to launch another independence referendum, says Blanchet, who has promised to be a voice for the “consensus” in the new parliament.