The first test for the Bloc Québécois was the 1992 referendum on the CHARLOTTETOWN ACCORD (see also CHARLOTTETOWN ACCORD: DOCUMENT), when the party contributed to the No side's 57% victory in Québec. Then, in the 1993 federal election, the Bloc obtained 49.3% of the Québec vote and 54 seats, enough to form the Official Opposition in the House of Commons. In the months leading to the 1995 QUÉBEC REFERENDUM on sovereignty, the party played a critical role in convincing the Parti Québécois of Jacques PARIZEAU to specify in the question that a partnership offer would be made to the rest of Canada. Lucien Bouchard was also a key figure in the referendum campaign, which ended with a 49.4% result for the Yes side.
When he left, Bouchard was succeeded as leader by Michel Gauthier, who was himself replaced by Gilles Duceppe in March 1997. In the 1997 federal election, the Bloc suffered a setback but still obtained 38% of the Québec vote and 44 seats. Duceppe worked extensively during the next 3 years to fight the passing of Bill C-20, the federal Clarity Act. The Act established the conditions under which Ottawa would address a secession vote by one of the country's 10 provinces, a process that could potentially trigger constitutional negotiations. Clearly, the legislation favoured Ottawa's role in deciding Québec's fate, and neither the Bloc nor Duceppe saw the decision as adequate treatment of the separatist cause.
The Bloc's representation dropped to 38 seats in the 2000 election. It was the first time since the 1982 patriation of the Constitution that the LIBERAL PARTY held the majority of seats in Québec. The Bloc spent the duration between the 2000 and 2004 elections promoting its mandate to Québecers and denouncing several key Liberal initiatives. It clarified its support for the Kyoto Accord and for the legalization of marijuana and gay marriage in Canada. Its most significant action during this time was its role in exposing the misuse of federal funds in Québec in what has come to be known as the "sponsorship scandal" (see GOMERY INQUIRY).
Support for the Bloc increased in part because of the decline in popularity of Jean CHAREST's provincial Liberal Party and the rise of the Bloc's provincial equivalent, the Parti Québécois. Moreover, the Bloc served as an outlet for disgruntled Québecers upset by the federal Liberals' subsequent defence of its actions in the sponsorship scandal. The scandal greatly determined the Québec vote in the subsequent two elections, 2004 and 2006.
The Bloc's 2004 federal election campaign focused on offering Québecers an alternative to what party members believed was a corrupt federalist system, and its slogan Un parti propre au Québec (literally "A party specific to Québec") reinforced that it served the best interests of the province. Ultimately, the party won 54 seats in the House of Commons, its highest number since 1993. Along with the NEW DEMOCRATIC PARTY, it solidified its position of power in a minority government, potentially giving it the most influence it has had over federal policy. Duceppe maintained that the Bloc would not participate in a coalition government.
Similarly, the Bloc's 2006 election campaign centered around providing an alternative to possible federalist corruption, bolstered further by the findings of the Gomery Commission. With its slogan, Heureusement, ici, c'est le Bloc ("Thankfully, the Bloc is here") the Bloc hoped to obtain over 50% of Québec votes and more than 60 seats in the House of Commons. Ultimately, Bloc candidates obtained 6 seats previously belonging to the Liberals, but the resurgence in the CONSERVATIVE PARTY's popularity in Québec resulted in a loss of a total of 3 seats from 2004, leaving the Bloc with 51 seats and 42% of Québec support. Though a minority government continued to exist in the House of Commons, Duceppe insisted that he would not unite with any federal party although he would support a federal party in order to serve the best interests of Québec. He was presented with the opportunity to do just that in 2004 when Stephen Harper requested Bloc support.
The Bloc maintained their political mandate leading up to the 2008 election, pressuring Prime Minister Harper to address the fiscal imbalance that existed between the provinces and, in particular, Quebec. In addition, leader Gilles Duceppe petitioned Harper to recognize Québec as a nation.The Bloc's platform leading into the election centered on Québec's ability to deal with its own culture and economic stability, and its own approach to the penal system and the system's young offenders. On October 14 the Bloc secured 51 seats in what Duceppe called a victory "toward real progress" and a main factor in denying a Conservative majority government.
Mere weeks following the general election Harper's Conservative government launched a series of controversial economic proposals, stirring the three opposition parties - the Bloc, the Liberals and the NDP - to begin talks of a coalition intended to bring down the Conservatives in a vote of non-confidence. On December 1 the three party leaders signed an historic accord, intending to introduce a non-confidence motion as early as the following week. Ultimately, Harper's request to prorogue government was granted by Governor General Michaelle JEAN and the durability of the coalition became questionable.
After a leadership race in the autumn of 2011 Daniel Paillé was elected leader of the Bloc Québécois on 11 Dec 2011.
Author ALAIN NOËL Revised: MYRIAM FONTAINE
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