Threatened with a second-place finish for the first time in more than a decade, the Bloc Québécois has made a last-ditch campaign shift aimed squarely at convincing Quebec sovereigntists to go out and vote in the May 2 federal elections.
The new strategy flows from the fact the Bloc failed to coalesce the anti-Harper vote in this campaign, which has been shaken up by a clear rise in NDP support in Quebec.
The Bloc is lowering its expectations and is now relying on the nationalist electorate to hold on to as many of its 47 seats as possible. It's a sudden change for the party that largely rode waves of anger flowing from the sponsorship scandal and cuts to cultural programs in the last three elections.
Standing side by side at a campaign rally with former Parti Québécois premier and separatist icon Jacques Parizeau, Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe took aim at the NDP, arguing the party always acts like the Liberals and the Conservatives in "moments of truth."
In a 25-minute speech, Mr. Duceppe lashed out at a number of Conservative-Liberal-NDP joint positions, such as offering federal loan guarantees for a hydroelectric development in Newfoundland, despite widespread opposition in Quebec.
With his hold on the left-wing vote evaporating, Mr. Duceppe argued the election is no longer a battle between progressives and conservatives, but rather between federalists and sovereigntists. Mr. Duceppe said all the other federal parties will fight against the Parti Québécois in the next election and will be in the "No" camp if ever there is a third referendum on Quebec sovereignty.
"The choice is between parties that always think of Canada first and foremost, and a party that only thinks about Quebec," Mr. Duceppe said at a stop just south of Montreal. "When we ask [federalist leaders]what is their country, they answer Canada. For us, our real country, the one in our hearts and our guts, is Quebec."
In their successive speeches, Mr. Parizeau and Mr. Duceppe both said the road to Quebec sovereignty is long and painful, but now is not the time to give up. PQ Leader Pauline Marois has won overwhelming support in a recent confidence vote, and Mr. Parizeau urged all sovereigntists to participate in the federal elections.
"I'm sending out a message to the supporters of the Parti Québécois, to unite and mobilize with all of your energy to support the Bloc in this last week," Mr. Parizeau said, explaining the sovereignty movement is in play. "It will take the time that it takes, but it will be done," he said, expressing his regrets at his failure to win the 1995 referendum.
This election is shaping up as one of the toughest in Mr. Duceppe's 20-year career in federal politics. The last election in which the Bloc's hold on Quebec was threatened occurred in 2000, when the party won 38 seats, only two more than the Liberals.
In addition to having a tough time in the polls, Mr. Duceppe is increasingly criticized for his dour demeanour, especially in contrast to NDP Leader Jack Layton's sunny disposition. As such, Mr. Duceppe's campaign stops on Monday included a visit to a greenhouse and a separate stop to buy tulips, which he gave out at a seniors' residence.
While he is calling on all sovereigntists to unite behind the Bloc, Mr. Duceppe refused to speculate that the final results next Monday will provide a clear sense of the overall strength of the movement in Quebec. However, he is far removed from the days in 2004 and 2006 when the Bloc hoped to win more than half of the popular vote in Quebec.
Now 80, Mr. Parizeau appeared at events designed to provide a jolt among sovereigntists in Quebec. Mr. Duceppe called on all nationalist Quebeckers to unite behind the Bloc, saying it is the only party that makes up its policies based on Quebec's interests.
"The three [federal leaders]play on the same team, which is Canada. Jack Layton's on the left wing, Michael Ignatieff plays centre and Stephen Harper is on the right," Mr. Duceppe said. "They've been on the power play for too long, it's time to play at even strength, nation to nation."