Separatists could decide on who governs Canada

Thu Apr 7, 2011 10:53am EDT
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By Randall Palmer

LAVAL, Quebec (Reuters) - A party that seeks independence for the French-speaking province of Quebec has assumed a disproportionate role in the politics of Canada, the country it would like to see broken up.

The perennially strong electoral showing of the Bloc Quebecois in the province has made it all but impossible for rival parties to win a majority in the federal Parliament, allowing the separatist party to play the role of kingmaker.

"The Bloc has been very good in having Quebeckers believe that they are defending their interests," said Thierry Giasson, political scientist at Laval University in Quebec City, noting successes that included C$3.3 billion ($3.4 billion) in payments as a price of Bloc support for the Conservative federal government in 2007. "They do have a track record."

That sort of campaigning is clear in the industrial Montreal suburb of Laval, where popular Bloc candidate Nicole Demers is running for a fourth term in the Canadian Parliament ahead of the May 2 federal election.

Her campaign focuses on extracting the best possible deal for the province, rather than campaigning on the party's official separatist program. She says other parties have forgotten that as they try to win seats in Quebec.

"They defended Ottawa in Quebec. They didn't defend Quebec in Ottawa," Demers said in her campaign office, located above a strip mall on one of Laval's main drags, across from several blocks of low-rent housing.

The Bloc was the third largest party in the outgoing Canadian parliament with 47 of the 308 seats. The Conservative government had 143 seats, not enough to rule without support from at least one opposition party.

The Bloc's support for independence gives it a stigma nationally and among those Quebeckers who want their province to stay in Canada. But Montreal-based pollster Jean-Marc Leger said about 20 percent of Quebec federalists -- people who believe Quebec should stay part of Canada -- see the Bloc as a safe vote that will be good for the province.   Continued...