Resisting the pull of cynicism since 1969.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Why the Liberals should be secretly rooting for the Bloc

The Liberals may have lost three by-elections on Monday, but there's plenty of evidence to suggest that the big losers were actually the Bloc. Conservatives and New Democrats are understandably happy about this--they profited from it directly in Roberval and Outremont, respectively--but Liberals are claiming this as a silver lining, as well. Stéphane Dion said that he was "pleased" to see that "most voters voted for parties that believe in Canada," and Liberal bloggers are echoing this sentiment. When it comes to holding the country together, a strong Bloc is seen as the enemy of Canada, and so any federalist party will do in a pinch.

The problem is that when it comes to partisan politics, a strong Bloc is also the very direct enemy of Stephen Harper's Conservatives, and a weak or absent Bloc (counter-intuitive as it may seem) is a thorn in the side of anyone who can only stomach Harper as long as he's held to a minority. Why? Because it is the Bloc that is standing in the way of Harper and his pals being able to form a "majority" government.

Now, before the partisan Liberals start dragging out the faulty "vote Liberal to stop Harper" line, let me make it crystal clear that this isn't about them--this is about the way our voting system works. Our first-past-the-post voting system is designed to manufacture a
"majority" government for a winning party that didn't actually get a majority of the vote, but with the Bloc seats removed from the national gameboard altogether, it's much harder for that system to do its job. Put those seats back into play for the parties that also have seats elsewhere, though, and first-past-the-post starts working as it's supposed to again. This means that if the Bloc vote really does collapse completely in the next federal election, it won't matter if a few of those seats go to Liberals, or to New Democrats, or both. Even dividing those seats up equally between the three federalist parties--an unlikely scenario at best--would manufacture a "majority" for Harper unless something goes desperately wrong for the Conservatives in the rest of the country.

I'm sure we won't be seeing any partisan Liberals openly supporting the Bloc anytime soon, but being the only party who didn't benefit from the Bloc's losses in Monday's byelection must put them in the strange position of secretly hoping that Québec sovereigntists manage to hold on to a good chunk of those seats. (Of course, there's always the alternative--but the federal Liberals have never shown much interest in pushing for that, now, have they?)


rabbit said...

Short sighted. Very short sighted.

There are worse things than a Conservative majority. Quebec separation is one of them.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


I actually kept my own opinions out of this piece (in large part because they're so conflicted in so many directions that they'd make for a really crappy blog post), so I hope it's not me you're calling short-sighted. Mostly I just want proportional representation so that none of this strategic calculating has to be an issue at all.

But just to play devil's advocate, how exactly would hoping the Bloc holds onto enough of their seats to prevent a Harper majority increase the likelihood of Québec separation from what it is now? The Bloc still loses seats in that scenario, and sovereignty still isn't the issue it once was.

rob said...

I would much rather focus on picking up Bloc losses than on cheering for the Bloc.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


And that needs to be your goal, of course--it only makes sense. But we all need to be aware that if there are too many Bloc losses, Harper gets his majority. Even if the Liberals do manage to find a way to profit from those losses.

Ugh. Thinking about that kind of breaks my brain.

Unknown said...

Anyone who knows anything about Stephane Dion knows that he would never want any Quebec separatist party to do well. As a left-leaning Liberal he thinks Harper is very bad for Canada, but even this doesn't match his sentiments on Quebec separatism. That just isn't Dion--ain't going to happen.

Candace said...

Since Harper has been running the country pretty much as if he had a majority (with all 3 opposition parties trying desperately to prop him up rather than face the voters with empty bank accounts, although the NDP just got some serious wind beneath their wings so maybe there are only 2 trying not to make the gov't fall), what has he done that concerns you?

Even if he were to win a majority tomorrow, the Liberal senate has made it pretty clear that if they don't like something that's been passed, they'll sit on it until the cows come home.

So what's the concern?

As for Harper & the Bloc, a big part of the Bloc's problem in the by-elections was the fact that they have been propping the gov't up, so voters see minimal difference in voting for them or the CPC. Electing a CPC member gets your MP in the gov't, something that Bloc voters haven't had for a very long time.

As for the Liberals, they HAVE always been rooting for the Bloc - it allowed them the "Captain Canada" position on unity. Take away the Bloc, and the unity question goes away. Take away the unity question (which seems to be happening) and the Bloc loses relevance and will continue to fade away. Since the Liberals appear incapable of creating solid, clear policies without 85,000 opinion polls, and those policies morph as soon as they are deemed even vaguely unpopular... they're kinda hooped, doncha think?

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


You really want a laundry list? The current government has done an awful lot of things I don't agree with--this shouldn't be terribly surprising to you. I don't like their environmental legislation (whether we're talking about the first version, which was horrific, or the suckup version, which was merely awful). Their democratic reform process was a sham, and an expensive sham at that. I don't like the way they stopped funding already inferior Liberal programs, and then introduced some version of them all over again later. I don't like they way they cut the Status of Women. I don't like the way they've (not) addressed native issues. I don't like the way they protected the likes of Rob Anders in a really dubious riding battle. I think their "childcare plan" was anything but. I don't like the way they rammed the Afghanistan mission down our throats without a real debate in the House of Commons. I don't like the way they ignore legislation that's passed the House if they don't like it. I don't like the way Harper appointed a Senator to a controversial cabinet post. I don't like how they treat the media, or their hyperpartisan rhetoric in the House, or Harper's tight controls on his own MPs, or the fact that they won't work in any substantial way with the other parties even in a minority government. And all this has happened when they've had to suck up to an electorate that's still really wary of them and overall a lot more left-wing than they are.

Do I think a Conservative majority would represent the end of the world as we know it? Of course not, because I am not stupid. But do I think Harper and Co. would do a lot more things I disagree with (and things I disagree with a lot more strongly) if they had a manufactured majority? You betcha. Add to that the fact that I don't think any single party should be getting a majority of the seats without a majority of the vote, and you've got a scenario I wouldn't like one bit.

Bleatmop said...

Wow, if you're saying that you'd rather have the Bloq representing Quebec rather than the CPC get into power, then I've just lost a lot of respect for you. You may find Harper to be "hyperpartisan", but I can find no more partisan statement than one condoning electing a party that is dedicated to the destruction of the country rather than see a political opponent form a majority government.

If your point was that you'd rather see a proportional system of government, then I can think of much better ways than a post suggesting electing a separatist candidate would be preferable to anything, least of all having one party form a majority government.

I've read your blog for some time now, and I may not have always agreed with your views, but I at least respected them as being well thought out. You have disappointed me with this one. Try to remember, that while the CPC, LPC, and NDP may be political opponents, it is the Bloq that is the enemy of a united Canada.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


Wow, if you're saying that you'd rather have the Bloq representing Quebec rather than the CPC get into power, then I've just lost a lot of respect for you.

Well, then I've just lost a lot of respect for your reading skills, because I said nothing of the sort.

As I said to rabbit in the second comment on this post, I kept my own personal viewpoint out of this post, in large part because it's all over the map and wouldn't make for a nice tidy little editorial piece. I was simply pointing out that if the Bloc vote really does completely collapse, then the thing that's preventing our electoral system from giving the Conservatives a manufactured majority will be gone. And the Liberals, at the very least, should feel pretty conflicted about that at this point.

Anonymous said...

Personally, as much as i hate everything the Bloc stands for, i'd rather have the Bloc keep their seats in the House than lose them to the Cons, simply because the Bloc on its own is completely impotent. The Bloc hanging on to 50 or so seats will not result in Quebec separating because the Bloc can't do anything about that. It can't initiate a referendum. It's a completely pointless, impotent party.

A Conservative majority on the other hand, esp. one that includes a lot of nationalist Quebec MPs, will be anything but impotent and their view of Canada is equally repugnant to me.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


Wow. Coming from someone who hates the Bloc as much as you clearly do, that's a very strong statement.

Anonymous said...

As for the Liberals, they HAVE always been rooting for the Bloc

Is there evidence to support this? I've come across some strange things, but Libs rooting for the Bloc is not one of them.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


I haven't really seen it, either, actually. I'm not sure whether that's because they really are principled enough that the loathing of separatism comes first, or because they think openly rooting for the Bloc would be unseemly so they keep it to themselves. I've seen "what's good for the Bloc is good for the Liberals" mentioned sarcastically among Liberals (and in a self-deprecating, pained "voice"), but never seriously.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the response, IP. When some sentiment becomes sufficiently represented in a party, it doesn't remain secret. I've written before about my dismay, as an NDP voter, at those NDPers (not you) who prefer Harper/Cons over Dion/Libs, and now, in Ontario, I am witnessing those who equate McGuinty with Mike Harris. These views are not hidden. As for Libs and Blocs, things could change in the fallout of the by-elections, but it would be surprise to see this under Dion.

PALGOLAK said...

I don't understand how the Deepers winning Outremont is taking away from the Bloc, rather than the Liberals.

AFAIK the Bloc never had a significant chance of winning Outremont.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


Read the Coyne column that's the first link in this post. There were three byelections Monday night, not just Outremont.

Jason Townsend said...

I trust you'll accept my bona-fides as a goddamned game-theorizing number-obsessed strategic vote-advocating electoral realist?

I would definately prefer, from a pragmatic point of view, for the Bloc to continue to do poorly even if the spoils go to the CPC in the near term. Reason being that the only ways out of the current excess-party electoral deadlock are either A: federal electoral reform or B: the removal of a political party, especially a sectionally located one like the Bloc.

The problem, of course, is that a CPC majority could result, and that cure might or might not be worse than the disease of CPC-Bloc dominated deadlock as we've experienced since 2004. But the demise of the Bloc is the easiest single scenario for First Past the Post politics to start working even remotely like it was intended.

That is, there is a narrow fantasy path we can imagine here; Bloc loses badly in the next election without the CPC winning a majority (this is the very tricky part.) Bloc then falls apart (this is the other very tricky part.) The LPC then regains its strength in Quebec and wins a majority or a strong minority. (This is the last very tricky part.)

If that all sounds a bit Jules Verne, well, at least it's more likely than electoral reform. I cry when I say that. I'm going to start blogging for MMP this week so I can feel less guilty when it loses.

Ben (The Tiger in Exile) said...

Other thought: the road to an NDP majority probably goes through a CPC majority...

Idealistic Pragmatist said...


I'm not interested in a manufactured majority for any party, including my own.

Anonymous said...

I agree with radical centrist that the Bloc can't do anything about breaking Canada and that it's not a threat to anyone.

I've said before that because of this the Bloc is like the empty chair: if you don't find any other choice appealing, vote for the Bloc since it's the less harmful choice. Not every Bloc voters wants an independent Quebec, and I'm pretty sure many independentists would consider voting for another federal party if they found the program appealing.

In fact, it happend in the last general election with the Conservatives. I'm also pretty sure the NPD could do something similar next time on the left part of the political spectrum, especially now that the Liberals are so weak in Quebec.

Anonymous said...

As a Quebecker, I would be quite happy to see the Conservatives and the Bloc knock each other off and stronger Liberal candidates slide up the middle. It will be a tough slog but I think Dion and a stronger Quebec brain trust will start pronto to identify Grit candidates for the next general election, a far different kettle of fish than the by-elections earlier this week.

Ryan said...

As much as I have a distaste for the Bloc, I too don't see them as a threat to Canada, since they can't form a majority. Asides from the separation issue, they share a lot of progressive Canadian values ie social democracy. I don't think they would ever vote to give corporations free reign, integrate Canada further with the United States, nor dismantle the social safety net. Unfortunately, I fear that Harper is perfectly fine with these things. Sure, the Bloc is greedy and has Quebec tunnel vision, but Harper is willing to give Quebec all of the lopsided favours that the Bloc ever would. Harper cares about Canada as much as the Bloc does.

The Harper Index is a good resource for Steve's true political nature. There are plenty of juicy quotes regarding Canada as a nation.

The Bloc wants to separate, but Harper doesn't believe in Canada any more than they do. This isn't the PC party of Joe Clark, Robert Stanfield, or Dief the Chief. This is the neo-conservative integrationist party, run by someone with a contempt for Canada on economic and social grounds.