Monday, August 23, 2010

The Bloc

A lot of English-speaking political pundits don't like the Bloc or anything that keeps it winning seats in Quebec. The story in the Globe is a case in point. Here, the blame has been spread around so that the provincial Liberals are also under fire. The host of sins laid at the feat of the Bloc are many. Extreme comments paint them as a treasonous, and suggest that they should be dealt with in that way. Less extreme but still fairly strong views suggest that if only Quebec's political elites didn't play with separatism to get what they want out of federalism, the Bloc would have withered and died. John Ibbitson in Open and Shut goes so far to suggest that Canada cannot get a majority federal government as long as the Bloc is about and that maybe a test -- say, an oath of Loyalty to the constitution -- should be brought in for MPs.
My view is that this perspective is more an ill-considered expression of frustration that severely misses the mark in terms of what might be wrong with Canadian democracy, then it is a reasoned critique of the Bloc. Let me be clear: democracy is not about electing majorities. Democracy, as Rosa Luxemberg once said, is democracy for the other. It seems really easy and almost reasonable to limit other people's choices so that they might support yours. It is undemocratic. The people in Quebec are Canadian citizens; they have every right to form political parties like any other Canadian and vote for whom they please like any other Canadian. The fact that someone may not like their choices .... has little to do with anyway. To deny them their choices is to deny democracy. Or, to put this slightly differently, to cast aspersions on their choices or to try to find a sneaky way to eliminate their choices is no more democratic than to suggest that the folks in Saskatchewan are somehow doing something wrong by electing the Saskatchewan Party.
One can have reasoned disagreements with Saskatchewan Party policy (or, say Wildrose policies if one is in Alberta) and that is fair enough. Reasoned debate is the stuff of democracy. But, to suggest that a choice is illegitimate because one does not like it or because it impedes the abilities of one's favoured choice to gain a majority is not.
And, let us be clear, the Bloc is not a radical party. I don't support their aims. Anyone who has read this blog knows I'm a federalist. But, the Bloc's policies do not include ethnic cleansing, say, or something revolutionary. Indeed, in some ways, their policies are pretty staid, if one compares them to other ethnic or language based separatist movements in other parts of the world. They are responsible; do their job in Parliament, and play by the rules of the federal political game.
Finally, blaming the Bloc also misses the point. The Liberal majorities of the Chretien era were, potentially, artificial because of the nature of the first past the post electoral system. The Bloc did not stop the Liberals, however, from winning three straight majorities. The Conservatives have not been able to gain a majority because the majority of Canadians don't like their policies and don't want to see them in government. The same might have been true of the Chretien Liberals -- although I am less certain about this -- but what we can say is that a larger majority of Canadians don't like the Conservatives then did not like the Liberals. Canada, in other words, does not have a majority Conservative government because something close to 2/3rds of Canadians --  depending on which poll you read -- don't want the Conservatives in office. That is their problem; not the Bloc.
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