Yves-François Blanchet running for Bloc Québécois leadership

A TV political pundit and former PQ cabinet minister is launching his bid to lead the Bloc Québécois.

Former Parti Québécois cabinet minister becomes frontrunner in nascent race

Yves-François Blanchet was environment minister in the Parti Québécois government of 2012-2014. He announced Monday his bid to lead the federal Bloc Québécois. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

Yves-François Blanchet, a former provincial cabinet minister and television pundit, has thrown his hat into the ring for the leadership of the Bloc Québécois, making him the current frontrunner to lead the beleaguered sovereignist party.

The Bloc has been without a permanent leader since June, when Martine Ouellet was defenestrated by party members in a confidence vote. If his campaign is successful, Blanchet would become the fifth leader of the Bloc since 2011.

Blanchet announced his candidacy in Ottawa on Monday afternoon, after meeting with the party's caucus. Blanchet has the support of a majority of the Bloc's 10 MPs — including former interim leader Rhéal Fortin, former permanent and current interim leader Mario Beaulieu and Louis Plamondon, the longest serving MP in the House of Commons.

A two-term Parti Québécois MNA, Blanchet served as environment minister in the short-lived government of Pauline Marois from 2012 to 2014. After being defeated in the 2014 provincial election, Blanchet became a political pundit on Radio-Canada's 24-hour news channel as a panel member on 'Les Ex', a daily political talk show featuring former politicians.

A media-savvy leader with a decent profile would be a change for the Bloc. Beaulieu won the party's leadership in 2014 but gave up the job a year later due to his lack of profile and inability to bolster the party's support. In his place, Gilles Duceppe returned for his seventh campaign as leader.

Ouellet — like Blanchet a former PQ cabinet minister — had a higher profile but was combative with the media. Her abrasive leadership style led to a split in the party, with seven of the Bloc's 10 MPs bolting to form a party of their own.

Only after Ouellet was ousted did the seven MPs come back into the fold.

Bloc facing a steep climb

The once-dominant party — which won a majority of Quebec's seats in every federal election between 1993 and 2008 — has struggled since its catastrophic 2011 election campaign, which saw the party drop to just four seats. The Bloc did improve its representation in the House to 10 seats in 2015, but saw its share of the popular vote in Quebec drop to just 19.3 per cent.

The CBC Poll Tracker, an aggregation of all publicly available polling data, shows the party has slipped another five points to just 14.2 per cent support. That puts the party in fourth place in Quebec, 24 percentage points behind the first-place Liberals.

While even that polling number is an improvement over the party's post-Ouellet low point in support over the summer, the Bloc is in danger of being shut out at these levels of support. The Poll Tracker suggests the Bloc is in contention in as many as 14 ridings, thanks to three- and four-way splits, but is favoured in only two — and by narrow margins.

Martine Ouellet resigned the Bloc's leadership in June after losing a confidence vote among members. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

If Blanchet wins the Bloc's leadership vote and runs as a candidate in his old stomping grounds, he might give the Bloc a chance to win at least one seat in the Centre-du-Québec region currently held by the New Democrats. The ridings of St-Hyacinthe–Bagot and Drummond overlap with the ridings Blanchet represented as a PQ MNA. Both were won in very close four-way races by the NDP, with the Bloc finishing in third place in both ridings.

The only other candidate to announce his intention to run for the leadership is Christian Hébert, who ran for the PQ in the October provincial election. He finished fourth in the Quebec City-area riding of Portneuf.

Bloc MP Michel Boudrias also is reportedly considering a run.

Prospective candidates have until Jan. 15 to enter the race. The party's members will choose their next leader on Feb. 24, eight months before the next federal election scheduled in October.


Éric Grenier

Politics and polls

Éric Grenier is a senior writer and the CBC's polls analyst. He was the founder of ThreeHundredEight.com and has written for The Globe and Mail, Huffington Post Canada, The Hill Times, Le Devoir, and L’actualité.