Bloc Québécois Forms Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

A new political party was created to contest Canadian general elections on the exclusive issue of sovereignty for the province of Quebec.

Summary of Event

The creation of the Bloc Québécois was a direct result of the constitutional turmoil that gripped Canada in the 1980’s. Canada had adopted a new constitution in 1982, but the French-speaking province of Quebec refused to accept the constitution’s legitimacy, primarily because the constitution failed to give Quebec adequate powers to protect its French language and unique Québécois culture. In order to secure Quebec’s assent, Brian Mulroney, the Canadian prime minister, and all ten provincial leaders met at Meech Lake, Quebec, in 1987, and crafted a series of constitutional amendments favorable to Quebec. However, it became increasingly apparent that not all the provincial legislatures would ratify the Meech Lake Accord by the deadline date of June 23, 1990, no doubt accurately reflecting English-speaking Canada’s belief that the accord granted too many concessions to Quebec. Bloc Québécois Quebec sovereignist movement [kw]Bloc Québécois Forms (July 25, 1990) Political parties;Bloc Québécois Bloc Québécois Quebec sovereignist movement [g]North America;July 25, 1990: Bloc Québécois Forms[07830] [g]Canada;July 25, 1990: Bloc Québécois Forms[07830] [c]Government and politics;July 25, 1990: Bloc Québécois Forms[07830] [c]Organizations and institutions;July 25, 1990: Bloc Québécois Forms[07830] Bouchard, Lucien Bourassa, Robert Duceppe, Gilles Parizeau, Jacques Dumont, Mario

Faced with impending defeat, a number of members of Parliament (MPs) from Quebec, regardless of party affiliation, began to lose hope that the federal government would grant their province enough concessions to justify their remaining within the Canadian federation. If federalism would not work, then full political sovereignty for Quebec was the only plausible alternative. Lucien Bouchard, minister of environment in Mulroney’s Conservative government, resigned on May 21, 1990, citing a loss of faith in the way the government had handled the crisis. Other defections, from both the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party, followed. Soon there was talk of forming a bloc of Quebec MPs whose principal task would be to fight for Quebec’s sovereignty. Bouchard later claimed that Robert Bourassa, the Liberal premier of Quebec’s provincial government, encouraged him to embark on such a project.

On July 25, 1990, the newly formed Bloc Québécois (BQ) announced its manifesto. It stated that the BQ’s primary allegiance was to the nation of Quebec and recognized the province’s legislature, the National Assembly, as the supreme democratic institution of the Québécois people. The BQ’s mission was to defend Quebec’s interests in the federal parliament and to promote sovereignty within Quebec. All BQ members would be given a free vote in the Canadian House of Commons; there would be no party discipline, save on the exclusive issue of sovereignty for Quebec. In June, 1991, the BQ transformed itself into a political party at a conference held in Sorel-Tracy. Now sovereignists could be consistent in their voting patterns. On the provincial level, they could vote for the Parti Québécois, a nationalist party established in 1968, and they would vote for the Bloc Québécois in federal elections.

Lucien Bouchard was personally responsible for much of BQ’s success. Born in the ultranationalist region of Lac St. Jean in northern Quebec, he was trained as a lawyer and practiced law in Chicoutimi. He voted in favor of the 1980 provincial referendum on the issue of sovereignty, although it was defeated by a decisive margin. After serving on numerous high-profile commissions related to labor relations, Bouchard was appointed as Canada’s ambassador to France, in which capacity he served from 1985 to 1988. In 1988, he was elected to Parliament as a Conservative, and the following year he was appointed minister of environment. Handsome, charismatic, and a fine speaker, Bouchard tended to be more intellectual than emotional, although he knew how to tap the impatience and frustrations of the Québécois people. Serving him well was an extraordinary ability to stay in tune with public opinion. From the time the BQ was founded, opinion polls consistently showed him to be by far the most popular politician in Quebec.

Significance

The Bloc Québécois experienced a good deal of electoral success in its early years. Shortly after it announced its new manifesto, a federal by-election was held in east Montreal on August 13, 1990. The BQ put up an attractive candidate in Gilles Duceppe, a former labor activist. He captured 66 percent of the vote to become the first sovereignist candidate elected to the Canadian parliament. In 1992, another attempt was made to appease Quebec on the constitutional issue. The Canadian prime minister and the provincial premiers hammered out a series of concessions to Quebec at Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. Similar in scope to the Meech Lake Accord, these proposals had to be endorsed in referenda held in every province. The Bloc Québécois took the position that the Charlottetown Accord did not go far enough in meeting Quebec’s minimum demands and campaigned against it. The accord was voted down in six out of the ten provinces, and the vote in Quebec was 57 percent against. Mulroney, Brian Political parties;Bloc Québécois

When a general election was called for October, 1993, the BQ fielded candidates in all of Quebec’s seventy-five constituencies. This was a daunting task, given the fact that the BQ was still a small group, consisting of only eight MPs. In some cases, the BQ encouraged legislative staff from the Parti Québécois to run for office. While the Liberals and Conservatives in Quebec campaigned on the issues of jobs and employment, the BQ was the only party to speak consistently on the sovereignty issue. The BQ won a stunning victory, capturing 49 percent of the vote in Quebec and winning 54 seats. The BQ did very well among former Conservatives, took 60 percent of the French-speaking vote, and had strong appeal among trade unionists and the educated urban elites. Nationwide, the Liberal Party under the leadership of Jean Chrétien Chrétien, Jean won easily, gaining 177 seats, but because of the complete collapse of the Conservative Party vote, the Bloc Québécois emerged as the second-largest party in Parliament and therefore earned the formal status of Official Opposition.

Canadians understandably found it disconcerting that the Official Opposition was a party dedicated to the breaking up of Canada. Compounding the problem was that many MPs of the BQ were new to Parliament and had little interest in pan-Canadian or foreign affairs. Nevertheless, Bouchard had stated he would responsibly fulfill his role as the government’s chief critic and act on behalf of all Canadians. So successful was Bouchard that he elicited respect in formerly hostile quarters, and some political analysts suggested that the BQ was more protective of mainstream Canadian values than were some of the more established federal parties. Although the BQ never developed a detailed party program, it emerged as a party that tended to be fiscally conservative and left of center on social welfare issues. It gained popularity by opposing the cuts in popular benefit programs proposed by some economy-minded MPs. Ironically, the electoral success of the BQ and the respect it generated within the House of Commons increased Quebecers’ interest in federal affairs.

In 1994, sovereignists in Quebec scored another victory when the Parti Québécois was elected to power in provincial elections. The victory was undoubtedly more a result of the unpopularity of the outgoing Liberal Party than of any dramatic upsurge in sovereignist sentiment. Nevertheless, the new Parti Québécois premier, Jacques Parizeau, promised to hold a referendum on sovereignty during his term of office. In preparation for the forthcoming referendum, a new sovereignist alliance was forged that included the Parti Québécois, the Bloc Québécois, and the Action Démocratique Party, a small splinter party led by Mario Dumont. On June 12, 1995, they agreed that if the sovereignists won the referendum, there would be a year’s time in which to negotiate a new political and economic arrangement with the rest of Canada. If those talks failed, Quebec would issue a unilateral declaration of independence.

The promised referendum was held on October 30, 1995. Prior to the voting, opinion polls showed the sovereignists trailing, but when Bouchard was in effect put in charge of the campaign instead of the heavy-handed Parizeau, there was an upsurge in support. More than 92 percent of Quebec’s electorate voted, and those opposed to sovereignty won by a narrow margin of 50.6 percent to 49.4 percent. Fewer than 54,000 votes out of a total of 4,700,000 separated the two sides. On the day after the election, a disappointed Parizeau announced his intention to resign as Quebec’s premier, and on January 29, 1996, he was succeeded by Lucien Bouchard. Because Bouchard had to resign his seat in the House of Commons, Michel Gauthier was chosen to be leader of the Bloc Québécois. Although the sovereignists were defeated, their response was one of total defiance; they were confident that the next referendum would finally yield the desired result. The referendum of 1995 thus essentially settled nothing, and both Quebec and Canada faced an uncertain future. Political parties;Bloc Québécois Bloc Québécois Quebec sovereignist movement

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bouchard, Lucien. On the Record. Translated by Dominique Clift. Toronto: Stoddart, 1994. The leader of the Bloc Québécois discusses his career, the founding of the new party, and the aspirations of the Québécois people.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Dickinson, John, and Brian Young. A Short History of Quebec. 3d ed. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2003. Concise history provides political, social, cultural, and economic context for the events that took place in Quebec at the end of the twentieth century. Includes tables, illustrations, chronology, bibliography, and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Johnson, William. A Canadian Myth: Québec, Between Canada and the Illusion of Utopia. Montreal: Robert Davies, 1994. Presents a readable, informative account of Quebec politics in the early 1990’s. Marked by a strong anti-Québécois bias.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Noël, Alain. “Distinct in the House of Commons: The Bloc Québécois as Official Opposition.” In Canada: The State of the Federation, edited by Douglas M. Brown and Janet Hiebert. Kingston, Ont.: Institute of Intergovernmental Relations, 1994. Argues that the Bloc Québécois behaved responsibly during its first year in Parliament and was frequently more in tune with mainstream Canadian values than the more established parties.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Valaskakis, Kimon, and Angéline Fournier. The Delusion of Sovereignty. Translated by George Tombs. Montreal: Robert Davies, 1995. Argues that sovereignty would be detrimental to Quebec’s economy and culture. Includes bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Young, Robert. The Secession of Quebec and the Future of Canada. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1995. Thoughtful and scholarly analysis focuses on the impact that Quebec’s secession would have on Canada and Quebec and concludes that it would not be catastrophic for either.

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