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Bloc's grip on Quebec puts province on the outside looking in

Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe addresses a campaign rally in Montreal on April 10, 2011.

Christinne Muschi/Reuters/Christinne Muschi/Reuters

The federalist parties are hoping to make gains in Quebec, finally breaking the chokehold of the separatist Bloc Québécois. There is little reason to believe they will. There is also little reason to believe Quebec will have much of say in the outcome of this federal election. La Belle Province will have to watch while Ontario and British Columbia decide who will form the next federal government.

In election after election, the Bloc has taken the majority of seats in Canada's second most populous province, contributing to a string of minority governments as the Conservatives and Liberals struggle to dominate in English Canada. At this point, it looks as though May 2 will produce the same old, same old.

In 2008, the Bloc took 49 seats with 38 per cent of the popular vote. The Nanos Research daily tracking poll shows the Bloc currently enjoying 37 per cent support, exactly the result recently reported by Ipsos Reid. Ekos has them trending lower; Harris-Decima has them doing better.

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All in all, barring a major shift, the Bloc should do about as well as it did in previous campaigns. The chokehold continues.

Within that context, the number of battleground seats in Quebec is relatively few. The Conservatives hope to retain the 11 seats they currently enjoy, though several are in jeopardy. The Liberals hope to keep the 14 seats they control, while maybe picking up one or two more. The NDP could double its current seat count, which would then bring it to two.

In other words, barring a sudden collapse of the sovereigntists, only a handful of Quebec's 75 seats could move in one direction or another.

The pickings are much richer in Ontario, where the Conservatives have targeted about 20 seats that they think they could take from the Liberals or the NDP. The Liberals believe there are at least a dozen seats that they could scoop up, and the NDP has designs on at least three.

In British Columbia, the Tories are looking for gains of six or more; the Liberals could pick up at least three; and the NDP, three. Add the two provinces together and somewhere between 45 and 50 seats could change hands. Those seats will determine the outcome of the election.

The day may come when Quebeckers decide they've had enough of electing MPs who have no hope of ever being a part of the government. But for now, they appear not to mind having little say in who actually governs Canada. Let's hope it's not because they just don't care.

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About the Author
Writer-at-large

John Ibbitson started at The Globe in 1999 and has been Queen's Park columnist and Ottawa political affairs correspondent.Most recently, he was a correspondent and columnist in Washington, where he wrote Open and Shut: Why America has Barack Obama and Canada has Stephen Harper. He returned to Ottawa as bureau chief in 2009. More

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