Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Duceppe Rumours Not Going Away Quietly

Nor will Gilles Duceppe

Writing in a blog post on the National Post's Full Comment blog, Adam Daifallah addresses the rumour that Gilles Duceppe may resign as leader of the Bloc Quebecois.

A meeting Duceppe has scheduled with his aides for August 13th has fuelled rumours that Duceppe may step down as BQ leader. Naturally, the BQ has denied that Duceppe is planning to resign.

Daifallah draws an interesting conclusion from these rumours: if Duceppe decides to leave the Bloc, the Conservatives could break through in Quebec in a future election.

That such a "breakthrough" would, in Daifallah's words, merely be a "respectable" showing in Quebec still speaks volumes about the current state of the Conservative party. In the wake of a backlash against Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Quebec over arts funding, a Mulroney- or Diefenbaker-style Quebec landslide is clearly out of the question.

But Daifallah is right about a great many things: the Canadian electorate's honeymoon with Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff seems to be coming to a conclusion, and there may be room for the Conservatives to grow in Quebec.

Duceppe's departure from the Bloc Quebecois could only help the Tories in that regard.

As Daifallah notes, Duceppe may be for the Bloc Quebecois what Elizabeth May publicly fantasizes about being for the Green party -- it's greatest asset:
"Duceppe is the Bloc's best asset by a country mile. He's universally respected, even outside Quebec. He has now fought five elections as party leader and knows the ins and outs of campaigning. He performs well in debates and has shown a knack for pushing the right buttons at the right time. Quebecers are comfortable with him -- they know what they are getting. Predictions that his and the Bloc's support would suffer after his embarrassing botched attempt to leave Ottawa and run for the Parti Quebecois leadership proved to be utterly wrong."
Daifallah also notes that the Bloc lacks a credible successor to Duceppe:
"What's worse for the Bloc is that there is no obvious successor to Duceppe with the credibility to keep the party strong. The most likely next chief is Pierre Paquette, a socialist economist whose profile has steadily increased in the last couple of years. But Paquette has nothing close the same level of charisma as the current leader."
With the well-liked and well-respected Duceppe out of the picture, Daifallah muses, Quebecers would likely reconsider the Harper Conservatives.

But Gerry Nicholls disagrees. He notes that many had predicted the BQ's political demise after Lucien Bouchard left the party. More than ten years later, the Bloc remains as strong as ever.

Nicholls surmises that the Bloc endures simply because its supporters don't consider themselves to be Canadian, and thus have "have no emotional connection to either the Liberals or Conservatives" who, he notes, are viewed as being "led by outsiders".

For the hardened Quebec separatist, this may certainly be true. Even Stephane Dion could be viewed by such individuals as an "outsider", being allegedly tainted by his authoring of the Clarity Act (or, rather, his re-authoring of Stephen Harper's similar proposed legislation).

But Quebec's provincial political climate seems to put the lie to Nicholls' sentiments. In the 2008 federal election, the Bloc won 49 of 75 seats in the Province -- a disheartening 65% of its ridings.

Yet in the Quebec Provincial election held later that year, the Bloc's provincial counterpart, the Parti Quebecois, won only 51 of 125 seats in the National Assembly -- the 41% of ridings won is still less than encouraging, but not as bad as the federal results.

If Stephane Dion could be branded an outsider for the clarity act, Jean Charest could be viewed as every bit the outsider for his involvement with the Charlottetown Accord -- which was rejected by 56% of Quebecers. Yet Jean Charest has not only not been branded an outsider, he's been Premier of Quebec since 2003.

And even as rumours that Duceppe is preparing to resign the leadership of the Bloc Quebecois, rumours also abide that Jean Charest is planning a return to federal politics. The combination of a Duceppe departure and Charest return would certainly make for some intriguing results.

But even in the here and now, a Duceppe departure would have tremendous implications for Canadian politics. As Gerry Nicholls admitts, Adam Daifallah may be right to predict big gains for the Conservative party should such an event transpire.

But, as it remains, the rumour of Duceppe's impending departure is precisely that -- a rumour. It isn't going away quietly. Nor would Gilles Duceppe.

Other bloggers writing about this topic:

Far and Wide - "Duceppe Leaving?"

Chucker Canuck - "The 24-Hour Retirement of Gilles Duceppe"

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