By Chris Alcantara
The NDP surge in Quebec was the key storyline of this election campaign, culminating in an unprecedented number of seats captured by the NDP on Monday.
Surprisingly, nobody has been able to provide a convincing explanation for why the NDP was so successful in Quebec this time around.
Many commentators seem to think that the performance of Jack Layton was key, pointing specifically to his positive demeanour, his appealing command of the French language, his love for the Montreal Canadiens, and the sympathy he received due to his health problems.
Others suggest that Quebecers finally realized that their views were in fact consistent with the social democratic values of the NDP.
Finally, others argue that the rise of the NDP had more to do with the campaigning failures of the Conservative, Liberal, Bloc Québécois, and Green parties of Canada.
All of these factors may collectively be true, but I think a different explanation is more convincing.
First, I think it’s accurate to say that much of the blame for the NDP’s surprising gains in Quebec should be placed at the feet of Gilles Duceppe and the Bloc Québécois.
But not for the reasons that are normally given.
Instead, the backlash toward the BQ had more to do with its changing role and status in Parliament.
In previous Parliaments, the other federal parties saw the BQ as a potential ally to pass or defeat legislation and even as a partner in a coalition government.
But these images of the BQ as ally and coalition partner are no longer politically acceptable in Canada.
Indeed, all of the major federal parties in this campaign went out of their way to accuse each other of cooperating with the BQ in the past to form some sort of coalition government.
The implication was that cooperating with the BQ was not what a federal political party should be doing.
As a result of these accusations, the main federal political parties can no longer cooperate with the BQ anytime in the near future, which means the ability of the BQ to represent the interests of Quebec in Ottawa are severely hindered.
Quebecers realized that this new reality existed and voted for the only party in Ottawa that was willing to address Quebec’s demands and had the power to turn them into policy.
Second, the surging support for the NDP in Quebec makes sense for another reason.
If Quebecers toss out Jean Charest and elect a PQ government in the upcoming provincial election, it makes even more sense that Quebecers voted for the only federal party that had expressed a willingness to reopen constitutional negotiations to restructure the Canadian federation.
As a result, history was made when Quebec went orange on Monday.
(Published in the Toronto Star on May 5, 2011.)
Christopher Alcantara is an assistant professor in the department of political science at Wilfrid Laurier University. His latest book, Negotiating the Deal: Comprehensive Land Claims Agreements in Canada, is forthcoming from University of Toronto Press.