Coopting Québécois Nationalism

Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe (wikimedia)

Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe (wikimedia)

A very interesting Globe and Mail article by Lawrence Martin about the paradoxical success of the Bloc Québécois in Canada does a good job of illustrating some of the ideas about political legitimacy, reconciliation, and cooptation that you see a lot in counterinsurgency talk these days. His point is that the BQ, seen as short-lived novelty party when it was launched in 1990, has actually been wildly successful:

Since its debut election campaign in 1993, the Bloc has never been beaten by a federalist party. Not in six elections. The demise of the Bloquistes is often predicted. It never happens. They are entrenched. In the next campaign, they are on course to rout the Liberals and Conservatives in Quebec again.

But this success has actually wound up undermining the cause of Québec nationalism. The BQ does such a good job of wielding influence at the federal level that people are losing interest in separatism:

Benefiting from the shrewd leadership of Gilles Duceppe and a smart, disciplined caucus, the Bloc has been able to address many of Quebec’s grievances. But its steady progress now sees it scraping the barrel in search of meaningful injustices to fortify its underlying pathology (witness its current election advertising planning).

This sort of dynamic is precisely what makes Canada a successful, stable, liberal society rather than a war-torn wreck of a country. As Francophone Canadians grew increasingly disgruntled with federalism, a new separatist political party was formed. But rather than separatism swiftly sweeping the province and taking over, the separatist party sent a bunch of MPs to Ottawa and has been able to robustly represent Québécois interests there. Consequently, people aren’t as interested in seceding as they once were.

But this only works because the Anglophone community in Canada is politically divided. If there were some kind of Anglo-Canadian nationalist party that had as much appeal outside of Québec as the Bloc has in-province, then it would achieve a position of permanent electoral dominance. Then suddenly the BQ’s relatively good electoral showings still wouldn’t leave it in a position to accomplish anything. And Québec nationalist sentiment would find its energies channeled in the direction of secession. But that’s not the world we live in. Of course we also live in a world where Canada is a wealthy liberal democracy with a long tradition of political stability, and basically no tradition of political violence. So what works in Ottawa may not have such hot prospects in Kabul.