In 1990, Lucien Bouchard, the Quebec nationalist who had been a member of a conservative federal cabinet in Ottawa, formed a federal party devoted primarily to the pursuit of Quebec interests, to prepare the ground for eventual separation. That was the Bloc Québecois. In the parliament recently dissolved, it held 49 of 75 Quebec seats. It has close ties with the provincial separatist Parti Québecois, which has been in power and is likely to be in power again.
No doubt Americans and others, and some Canadians, asked in 1990 why on earth the Canadian parliament allowed the formation of a separatist party in its midst devoted to the splitting up of Canada. After all, members of parliament are supposed to serve the interest of the country as a whole, not just of one province. The answer is that leaders of opinion thought it was prudent, in view of a recent near-death experience, the Referendum of 1980, to have separatists inside the House and to treat Quebecers as Canadians whether they liked it or not. This view was generally accepted and was not, and is not now, a hot political issue. Experience so far has proved those who welcomed the Bloc right. Separation is not an immediate danger though it may very well become one again in the unlikely case that “winning conditions” – that is the phrase used in Quebec – arise. The presence of the Bloc, and its acceptance as one of four legitimate parties, is testimony to the political maturity of Canadians.
However, aspects of the present campaign are testimony to the very opposite. The Conservatives demonize the Bloc, arguing every day that they need a majority government because if they had another minority their main opponents, the Liberal Party, would form a coalition with the Bloc, a party that would destroy Canada if it could, and with the NDP, the socialist party, which would, if it could, destroy the capitalist system.
The fact that neither party is likely to achieve its objective in the foreseeable future does not prevent the leader of the Conservative Party from demonizing them as though Canada was staring into a gaping, smoking abyss. On the other hand, the leader of the socialists is talking to Quebec nationalists as Canadians, not as potential destroyers of Canada, and seems to be doing very well. This may be partly due to the fact that there is a stronger social-democratic tradition in Quebec than in other provinces.
Once again, political maturity may very well pay off.