The NDP and Quebec

The likeliest route to a revival of the Bloc Québécois is a replay of those heady days in 1990

When Gilles Duceppe became the first MP elected as a member of the Bloc Québécois in 1990, he went to Ottawa to join a Bloc caucus that already had 8 MPs in it. Which sounds like quite a trick until you remember (or a blogger informs you) that in its earliest days the Bloc was made up of people who’d abandoned other parties’ caucuses: Lucien Bouchard and five other Progressive Conservatives, and Jean Lapierre and another Liberal.

Only two days after Monday’s election, it’s already becoming obvious that the likeliest route to a revival of the Bloc Québécois is some kind of replay of those heady days in 1990. NDP Caucus Services will have its share of challenges over the next little while, but one item on its to-do list should be the preparation of a contingency plan for the bright morning when a dozen or 20 of its Quebec MPs decide Canadian federalism has failed some arbitrary test of its flexibility and it’s time to join the Bloc.

(This sort of fracture of the Quebec NDP caucus is not guaranteed to happen, but it would clearly be handy to plan. Newly-elected NDP MPs are making the sort of deeply unserious comments about which country they live in, or would like to, that we haven’t seen since, well, the days of Lucien Bouchard and Marcel Masse. Here’s one now, allowing as how if “the project” of a seceding Quebec “is interesting,” she’ll “probably” be in favour. Let’s put Mme Latendresse down as undecided.)

On the other hand, Jack Layton is actually getting some very serious reinforcements on this whole question of secession, in the person of Romeo Saganash, his new MP from Nunavik. Saganash has long served on the executive of the Grand Council of the Crees of Northern Quebec, whose 1996 book Sovereign Injustice is a masterful survey of the legal literature and political debate on secession. The book is linked, in several sections, from this page; the introduction, by Saganash’s colleague Matthew Coon Come, is here. The Cree, with the Solicitor General of Canada and the (NDP) government of Saskatchewan, had the most direct influence on the Supreme Court of Canada when they wrote their 1999 decision on the Secession Reference. Saganash will know, or be able to recall from the dusty recesses of memory, more about these issues than anyone in Parliament except perhaps Stéphane Dion and Stephen Harper. One hopes his expertise won’t be needed during the life of this Parliament.