When Gilles Duceppe hit the campaign trail in 1997, he had only been Bloc Québécois leader for two months. His inexperience showed early—and often. In one memorable photo, Duceppe was caught wearing an inelegant plastic hairnet at a cheese factory. This time out, Duceppe, 53, has avoided major blunders, while performing solidly in last week’s televised debates. In a bullish mood before the sparring matches, he told reporters: “I think there is no other party that is doing as well as us.”
But are Quebecers paying attention? A poll published last week by Léger Marketing found that more than half of Quebec respondents—54 per cent—answered “none” or “don’t know” when asked which party was staging the best campaign in their region. “One out of two are just not tuning in to the election,” says Christian Bourque, vice-president of the Montreal polling firm. He says that lack of enthusiasm extends to voters’ views of Duceppe and the Bloc’s campaign. “There is sort of an undercurrent in the Quebec population,” says Bourque. “People are asking, why vote for the Bloc again?”
The Bloc’s answer is that it is the only defender of Quebecers’ interests in Ottawa. And Duceppe predicts his party will improve on its 44 Quebec seats. (The Liberals held 29 going into the election.) But the electoral debate in Quebec remains highly polarized between the two parties: the Léger poll showed them running neck and neck with 43 per cent each. However, even at those levels the Bloc would win the majority of Quebec’s 75 seats because its support is more evenly distributed across the province than the Liberals’.
Duceppe maintains that the election results will be a gauge of sovereignty’s popularity, and he has called the vote a crucial stage in the march to independence. The Bloc and its sovereigntist supporters are also wooing soft federalists, hoping to capitalize on the antipathy some francophones feel towards Jean Chrétien. As Premier Lucien Bouchard put it last week: “We must know that every Quebec vote for the Liberal party will be interpreted by Mr. Chrétien to hit Quebec even harder.”
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