Why Quebecers still vote for the Bloc Quebecois

Photo: QCT archives

The Wolfe-Montcalm obelisk: A symbol of dialogue and compromise between French and English Quebec.

As I returned home from guiding in Old Quebec on a particularly chilly October day, I couldn’t help but be reminded of how much we carry our heritage with us in Quebec, and how the recent federal election results underscored this tendency.

Once again, Quebecers massively rejected the mainstream federalist political parties, and elected a slate of fifty Bloc Québécois candidates. What does this say about the state of the nation, you might ask?

Although we have a Liberal government in Quebec City, which is cleverly and efficiently brandishing the flag of Quebec nationalism, neither the federal Liberals nor the Conservatives have been able to break the post-Meech Lake/Charlottetown Accord jinx that still haunts them.

During that period, the Conservatives in particular had promised to address Quebec’s desire for recognition of its collective identity within Canada, something that it had been denied in the 1982 patriation of the Constitution under Pierre Trudeau.

The Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords attempted, each in their own way, among other things, to address this issue, and were each voted down. Ever since then, the Bloc has been representing Quebec in the federal parliament, and nobody seems able to dislodge them.

However, if one just took a walk around Old Quebec, as I do with my tourists, and witnessed everywhere the legacy of French-English interaction and compromise, one would quickly see where we have to go.

For example, take the Wolfe-Montcalm monument. Never before in history has a country honoured both the victor and the vanquished on a common war memorial. When it was erected in 1827, there was already talk of Quebec separation, or having us annexed to the U.S. So, as a gesture of reconciliation, the British put both names on the monument.

Most Quebecers see the Battle of the Plains of Abraham as neither a British victory, nor a French defeat, but rather the beginning of a dialogue between two peoples – one that needs to be revalidated by each generation of French- and English-speakers in this country.

This brings to mind the closing lyrics of the French O Canada, which, by the way, was written before the English one: “Et ta valeur, de foi trempé, protègera nos foyers et nos droits” (“And your courage, strengthened by faith, will protect our homes and our rights”). Which basically means, “O Canada, you will stand on guard for us,” as opposed to the English version’s conclusion, “O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.”

This, in my mind, sums up quite succinctly Quebecers’ attitude towards Confederation: That it’s a pact that we made with the Crown back in 1867. That in exchange for our support for this pan-Canadian nation-building project, our homes and rights would be protected.

For many Quebecers, this means some sort of recognition of collective rights in the Canadian Constitution. Until such time as one of the mainstream federal political parties adequately addresses this issue once again, despite the current economic mess, Quebecers will continue to vote for Gilles Duceppe and the Bloc.