A New Approach to the Study of a New Party: The Bloc Québécois as a Party in Parliament

James Irvine Cairns
Political Studies, University of Saskatchewan
August, 2003
 

Abstract


Since forming a parliamentary party in 1994, the Bloc Québécois has been interpreted exclusively as the formal federal manifestation of the Québec separatist movement. Although the party’s raison d’être is well known, less so are its actions in the House of Commons. This thesis begins with two main assumptions: first, traditional characterizations of the BQ are incomplete because they ignore crucial aspects of the party’s actual behaviour; second, conventional approaches to the study of new parties in Canada perpetuate the emphasis on the BQ’s nationalist ideology.



Taking a new approach to the new party, this is a study of the Bloc Québécois as a party in Canada’s Parliament. In order to learn more about the Bloc’s performance in the House of Commons and its committees, this thesis examines the Bloc’s contribution to debate on the formulation of national policy. Contrary to what might be expected of a separatist party, the following case studies show the BQ contributing willingly and substantively to parliamentary deliberation on a wide array of pan-Canadian issues. Moreover, during debate, Bloquistes are rarely found demanding an independent Québec state; instead, they address legislation brought before the House, promoting a liberal, social-democratic set of values. Far from being a maverick in Parliament, the BQ is a full participant. In fact, Bloquistes enhance the quality of parliamentary debate, and counterbalance the views of the right-wing Reform/Alliance party.



Throughout the thesis the Bloc’s surprising parliamentary performance is explained by an analysis of the influence of power and institutions on the actions of political agents. It concludes that by accepting membership in the House of Commons, the BQ has been forced to conform to parliamentary rules and customs. Subsequently, Parliament has limited the party’s ability to advocate Québec secession, and has broadened its perspective to consider all matters of national concern.
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