“Election vote in Quebec should cause renewed worry in sovereigntist ranks” (The Toronto Star)

Chantal Hébert (The Toronto Star):

Let it not be said that Quebecers did not have plenty of opportunities to use the ballot box to signal their determination to revisit the issue of their political future over the two decades that have passed since the closely fought 1995 referendum.

Instead, seven post-referendum federal elections and six provincial ones have resulted in ever diminishing returns for the Bloc Québécois and the Parti Québécois.

After 1995, the PQ — under four different leaders — never managed to earn a mandate strong enough to consider sounding out voters on sovereignty for a third time.

[…]

The return of the Liberals under Justin Trudeau to a majority of Quebec seats for the first time since 1980 was widely noted on election night. But it is another feature of the 2015 federal vote in Quebec that should cause renewed consternation within sovereigntist ranks on this anniversary week.

For the first time ever, the province was the scene of a real four-way federal battle and while the Liberals came out on top, the NDP and the Conservatives both won more Quebec seats than the Bloc.

As is now par for the course in such circumstances, sovereigntist strategists were quick to assert that the Bloc’s latest lacklustre showing did not reflect the actual standing of their cause in Quebec public opinion.

And yet it is hard not to note the symmetry between the new normal in both the national assembly and the House of Commons.

Where there used to be two Quebec factions — one sovereigntist and one federalist — represented by PQ/Bloc and the Liberals, there are now four distinct parties in each legislature and federalists make up a majority in both houses.

About 40 per cent of Quebecers continue to tell pollsters that they would support sovereignty in another referendum. But from one election to the next, more and more 1995 yes supporters stop treating the province’s political future as a ballot box issue. These days, the pro-Canada camp wins every Quebec battle just by showing up for it.

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