Friday, December 12, 2008

The problem with the Bloc

The Bloc Quebecois is a legitimately elected parliamentary party in Ottawa. There is nothing treasonous or fundamentally wrong about them electing MPs to the federal parliament. The problem comes with what their worldview is and how dramatically different it is from the other MPs in Ottawa.

The Bloc is a separatist party, pretending it is something else is trying to ignore the fundamental reasons the Bloc exists. The Bloc exists because a large proportion of the people in Quebec do not consider themselves Canadians and no one ever asked them to be part of Canada. The Bloc represents the concept of Quebec as a nation and the Quebecois as a distinct nationality like a Swede, Korean or Kurd.

The problem comes in the parliament when the majority of the MPs assume everyone is there for Canada and the best interests of Canada. The Bloc has the best interests of Canada at heart about as much as it has the best interests of the US or Germany at heart. The idea of Canada is something they see as a foreign nation and really none of their business. To have close to 1/6 of the MPs in the parliament view the 233 MPs from outside of Quebec as foreigners is a problem.

For the vast majority of Canadians outside of Quebec, the worldview of the Bloc is a bordering on treasonous. Most people can not overcome the idea that Gilles Duceppe is not a Canadian and never will be a Canadian. Somehow they assume that he is simply look for some extra goodies for his province and will eventually embrace the idea of Canada.

Let me put this in clear terms, Gilles Duceppe considers himself as much of a Canadian as Barak Obama or Goerge Bush do. There is nothing that can be done that will change this. No amount of special privileges or deals will ever make the members of the Bloc decide they are Canadians.

Imagine if instead of 49 Bloc MPs, we had 49 American MPs instead. These MPs would be doing what they could to improve things for the US and not for Canada, which is only reasonable given their loyalties. The sooner people see the Bloc MPs as representing a nationality other than Canadian, the sooner they understand the inherent problem of trying to govern with them in Ottawa. Canadians have to come to terms with the reality that there are about 3 000 000 people in this country that do not consider themselves Canadians - they identify as Quebecois.

Governing with the explicit support of the Bloc is political suicide in Canada. The general public in Canada have a love for all of Canada and do not accept the idea of Quebec as a nation or having a special status in the country. Anyone giving them a defacto veto over governance is playing with political fire. Yes, the Conservatives considered a deal with them in the past, but it was a fundamentally dumb idea and thankfully they were spared the doom it would have brought to the party.

Only the Conservatives have enough seats in Ottawa that they can govern without the explicit agreement of the Bloc. They have had the Bloc vote in favour of the government from time to time, but there are times where the interests of Canadians and Quebecois do overlap.

Nothing that Stephen Harper has done in Ottawa has inflamed separatism, it was always there. Harper has not made the 3 000 000 people in Quebec want to be independent, that is where they have been at for forty years now.

There is a governance problem in Canada when you need 155 MPs to have the confidence of parliament and have to find that from only 259 MPs. The Bloc effect means either the Conservatives or Liberals have to gain the support of 60% of the MPs in Ottawa that are Canadians.

At the moment of the Conservatives have a healthy majority of the Canadian MPs in Ottawa, 143 out of 259. If there were no Bloc, Stephen Harper would have a majority.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your argument is that when the Conservatives deal with the Bloc from time to time, they are just being pragmatists. When the Liberals deal with them, they are being traiters or being soft on traiters. There is some good political analysis on this site, but you should try to keep the CPC hackery in check.

The problem is that the people in Quebec (usually about 40% of the electorate) voted for Bloc MPs. You can't magically subtract the votes of duly elected MPs if you don't like them.

You can pass a law making it illegal for a political party to advocate separatism. You could expel any separatist MPs as soon as they are elected, and declare their areas unrepresented. If you want to lose Quebec for good, be my guest.

You could also have all the federalist parties run on a common electoral ticket in Quebec, which since a majority of Quebec voters are at least soft federalist, will reduce the number of Bloc MPs to around twenty. Or you could have the Conservatives and Liberals form a coalition so neither has to deal with the Bloc. Actually I think the latter approach makes alot of sense but the federalist politicians have opted not to do this. And since Harper is the leader of the largest federalist party, the onus is more on him to make this approach (which has to involve things like concessions to the other federalist party) than the new Liberal leader.

Separatist parties in other countries have successfully be turned into parties essentially trying to get extra benefits from the center for their regions, see Spain for example, and this is usually done by including them in governing coalitions. I would suggest that the root cause of the problem is that a tenth of the electorate feels insufficient loyalty to "Canada" that they feel its OK to keep voting for separateists. Good luck with fixing that.