The most significant outcome in Quebec of the 2004 federal election is, unfortunately, the easy victory of the Bloc Quebecois. It had an important impact on the general outcome in Canada since it determined a minority government for the Liberal Party. In December, Paul Martin was expecting to get more than 50 Quebec seats but on election day his party got just 21 seats compared to 54 for the BQ.
The victory of the BQ is, however, closely linked to recent political circumstances. Six months ago, the BQ had just 20 per cent in the polls. After the sponsorship scandal became public in February, it got 50 per cent. Still, the BQ has a fundamental existential problem. Is Ottawa the right place for a separatist party? Even its founder, Lucien Bouchard, called it a temporary party, until a quick victory for Quebec independence. After more than 10 years and no sovereignty referendum in sight, what is the meaning of this party in Ottawa?
The presence of the BQ in Ottawa frustrates the federal political system, but it also prevents any breakthrough and unity of the Conservative Party in Quebec. The results of the CPC in the federal election in Quebec were disastrous: 8.8 per cent support and no MPs. This is even worse than the results of 2000 with the Alliance under Stockwell Day and the PCs under Joe Clark. About ten pro-life and pro-family candidates were in the CPC in Quebec, but they were all defeated. The best result, Gary Caldwell in Compton-Stanstead, was a little bit more than 10 per cent. The best result for the CPC among the Quebec candidates was in Louis-Saint-Laurent, an eastern suburb of Quebec City, where Josee Verner, an anti-life and pro-gay marriage candidate, got more than 30 per cent, second place behind the BQ. Why such a disaster? No preparation, particularly at the organizational and intellectual levels. The cultural war has not yet really begun in Quebec and Stephen Harper was not particularly strong in his position on same-sex marriage. He did not condemn pro-lifers, it is the only good thing he did, but it is not a great defense of our civilization.
The most important reason for this defeat is the presence of the BQ. There are few social conservative MPs in the Bloc (like Gérard Asselin in Manicouagan and Odina Desrochers in Portneuf), but they can not do anything under their Marxist leader Gilles Duceppe. The favorable election results and the recent purges within the party (Ghislain Lebel, Pierrette Venne, Jocelyne Girard-Bujold and others) show that Duceppe is now strongly established as the head of the party. No right-wing dissidence will be tolerated. At the foundation of the party, Lucien Bouchard was very authoritarian, but he had a natural charisma and a great political intelligence. Duceppe is now dominating the party with terror and a centralized organization. The BQ would have had a wonderful occasion to form a coalition government with the CPC, but its rigid separatist and left-wing agenda prevented it.
Stephen Harper has shown that he cannot create this sort of unity among conservatives in Quebec. His strong support of the Clarity Bill and of Quebec partition is a political mistake. He is in fact one of the intellectual fathers of this Bill that Quebecers will never accept. The next step necessary is another leader for the CPC, probably Bernard Lord, of New Brunswick, but born in Quebec. To manage to speak French is not sufficient; a national leader must understand the political mentality of Quebecers. Harper should have, for instance, proposed the abolition of the federal ministry of Health. He would then have shown that his decentralization philosophy was serious and would have consequences. Instead, he just repeated the same old big-government rhetoric about the importance of following the norms of Health Canada Act.Social conservatives must be present in the reorganization of the party in Quebec. The next step will be an important breakthrough in Quebec, but they must not abandon their strategic and intellectual positions to careerists who will try to marginalize them as left-wing Tory Senator Pierre Claude Nolin has already attempted to do since the election. They must be “wise as the serpent and prudent as a dove.” That is the condition for victory of the culture of life in Quebec and in Canada.