There's no room in Quebec for a new chip off the old Bloc
Ex-Bloc MPs pledge to start a second sovereignist party, but they've got a limited pool of voters
À deux c'est mieux? Maybe for a picnic — but probably not for the Bloc Québécois and its former MPs who announced this week that they will look at setting up a second sovereignist party to compete with the Bloc in next year's federal election.
There just isn't enough of the shrinking sovereignist voter pool in Quebec to go around between two parties.
The plan to create a new party was announced on Tuesday by the seven MPs who left the Bloc's caucus on Feb. 28 in protest over the leadership of Martine Ouellet.
With only three MPs left — including Mario Beaulieu, the president of the Bloc who this past weekend withdrew his support for Ouellet — the Bloc was already teetering on the brink of annihilation before the seven démissionaires made it clear that their departure from the party would be definitive.
According to the CBC Poll Tracker, an aggregation of all publicly available polls, the Bloc currently stands at 14.2 per cent support in Quebec, within the 12.7 to 14.6 per cent range the party has averaged over the two months since the split.
In the previous two months, the party was scoring between 15.5 and 18.1 per cent in the Poll Tracker. As recently as October, the Bloc briefly reached the 23 per cent the party managed in its disastrous 2011 federal election campaign (the party's support dropped to 19 per cent in 2015).
That puts the Bloc's support at a historic low. Never in its 27-year lifetime has the party's support fallen to such a level — miles away from the dominance the party once enjoyed on the federal scene in Quebec, which elected a majority of Bloc MPs in every election between 1993 and 2008.
Ouellet's own popularity has also taken a hit. In a four-week poll ending on Feb. 23, Nanos Research found that 7.9 per cent of Quebecers chose Ouellet as the best person to be prime minister (despite how implausible that scenario sounds). In the most recent survey ending on Apr. 27, that figure had dropped to just 2.4 per cent.
And while 28 per cent of Quebecers thought Ouellet had the qualities of a good leader the week before she lost a majority of her caucus, that figure has since dropped to just 19 per cent.
Ouellet has refused to relinquish her leadership despite her three predecessors — Beaulieu, Daniel Paillé and Gilles Duceppe, along with former Parti Québécois leader Bernard Landry — calling for her to step down. Instead, she has agreed to a June referendum on her leadership and the future role of the party, one which would ask whether the Bloc should focus primarily on defending Quebec's interests or promoting independence.
No country for divided sovereignists
Rhéal Fortin, speaking for the "Quebec Parliamentary Group" of former Bloc MPs, said that the new party (it doesn't have a name yet) will unite sovereignists — and maybe even include federalist MPs if they want to put Quebec's interests first.
But whether the New Bloc would supplant the Old Bloc among sovereignist or nationalist voters in the province, it wouldn't take much of a division of the Bloc's already-diminished voter pool to keep both the old and new parties shut out of the House of Commons entirely.
At current levels of support, the Poll Tracker estimates that the Bloc is likely to win no seats at all in the 2019 election — but would be in enough close races to have a shot at winning as many as eight seats. It estimates the Bloc's chances of winning the 12 seats needed for official party status in the House — which comes with extra resources and speaking time — at about one in 20.
But give the New Bloc just four percentage points' worth of the Old Bloc's support (or vice versa, if the New Bloc becomes the more popular option) and, according to the projection model, the number of seats in play for both the old and new parties suddenly drops to zero.
Pool of voters still exists
There is still a voter pool for sovereignist parties in Quebec. It just isn't very big.
Nanos has found that 28 per cent of Quebecers would consider voting for the Bloc Québécois. The party's recent turmoil hasn't had much of an impact on that figure, which was 30 per cent in Nanos's last poll before the split on Feb. 28.
That aligns with the combined support for the Parti Québécois and Québec Solidaire, the two main sovereignist parties at the provincial level. That support stands at about 28 to 30 per cent, according to recent polls.
If one sovereignist party is able to attract at least two-thirds of the available voter pool, it might have a better than 50-50 chance of winning enough seats to obtain official party status.
That would be no easy feat, however. Nationwide, only the Liberals and Conservatives are converting (barely) two-thirds of their potential supporters into votes, according to Nanos. The New Democrats, Greens and the Bloc currently aren't even reaching half of that benchmark.
The next election was looking tough for Martine Ouellet when she was going to be the only sovereignist option on the federal ballot. But split the Bloc into two, and both the new and old halves will be less than the sum of the party's warring parts.