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Gilles Duceppe’s return changes election dynamic in Quebec and outside it: Hébert

MONTREAL — By the looks of it, the long-awaited NDP-Liberal battle for Quebec next fall is on ice.

With Gilles Duceppe back in the game, the upcoming federal campaign is turning into a replay of the 2011 fight between the Bloc Québécois and the NDP.

A CROP survey published last weekend gave the NDP (38 per cent) an eight-point lead on the Bloc among francophone voters. A Leger Marketing poll done a few days earlier reported an even closer two-way battle across francophone Quebec.

Watching from the sidelines, Justin Trudeau’s Liberals and Stephen Harper’s Conservatives split the difference.

Notwithstanding their actual order in voting intentions, none of the four main parties is really where it would like to be in Quebec.

Province-wide, the party’s current score is almost identical to its 2011 election night result. In short, Duceppe has brought home the voters that stuck with his sinking party four years ago and gave it four seats that did not include his.

Not all sovereigntists welcomed his return. Many are torn between their desire to see the Conservatives out of power and their loyalty to the cause. Some are angry at the notion that the veteran Bloc leader may facilitate the re-election of a Conservative government by further splitting the opposition vote.

Like most non-Conservative voters, those who switched from the Bloc to the NDP four years ago are more motivated than ever to seek regime change on Parliament Hill. With the NDP on the rise outside Quebec, the incentive to continue to support Thomas Mulcair’s party is strong.

A more divided opposition vote could help Harper hold on to his handful of Quebec seats and — possibly — win back some of those that were swept up by the orange wave four years ago. But that presumes a second NDP wave is out of the question. Is it really?

Last year’s polls showed that the Liberals have room to go up; the results of the last campaign suggest they could just as easily slip further. Four years ago, Michael Ignatieff led the party to a 14 per cent finish in Quebec. Its losses ended up as gains in the NDP column.

It is a well-established pattern of Quebec political life that in the face of a serious sovereigntist threat, the federalist vote tends to coalesce behind the strongest alternative on offer. The Liberals long benefited from that trend. But in 2011, the advantage shifted to the NDP where it remains now that Mulcair is back in the lead.

To wit, more than half a dozen candidates are vying for the privilege of taking on Liberal MP Marc Garneau for the NDP in the federalist stronghold of Westmount-Ville-Marie.

But a more combative Bloc brings with it the necessity for the NDP to talk up positions such as the party’s contention that it would accept a simple majority vote for Quebec independence that are controversial in the rest of Canada.

Duceppe could end up doing more harm to the NDP outside Quebec than in his own province.

Chantal Hébert is a national affairs writer. Her column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.


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