Teamwork not in the cards for leaders of new Quebec political parties targeting English voters

Quebec’s two new political parties might be vying for the same swath of voters, but Colin Standish, leader of the Canadian Party of Quebec (CaPQ) and Balarama Holness, leader of Bloc Montreal, will not be collaborating anytime soon.

On Wednesday, while being interviewed on CJAD 800, Holness issued a sort of invitation to Standish, not to merge parties but to work together.

"What it would be is a non-aggression pact," he said initially. Later, in an interview with CTV News, he described it as more of a "collaboration pact."

"We select a given number of districts that we run in and the Canadian Party of Quebec selects their number of districts and we do not run in them," Holness said.

"And I think if we do that, we will tell Montrealers that we are the individuals that will unite Anglos in Quebec."

In other words, they would each target the ridings where they thought one of the parties had the best chance of success.

Holness’ strategy stems from the very real difficulty both contenders will have to win enough votes to win seats, and a desire to not split the vote, he said.

"Let's actually divide and conquer and not have both of us try to vie for the anglophone and allophone vote in a given district; let's actually win," Holness said.

STANDISH SHUTS THE DOOR

But Standish said teaming up that way is not in the cards.

"It’s not something we’re entertaining at this time. We’re confident we have a vision for Quebec and we’re going to win seats," he said.

He added that while the two parties are indeed looking at provincial issues from the perspective of a similar block of voters, they are approaching the election in different ways.

"Mr. Holness — great respect for him and what he’s doing — but it’s very much a Montreal-centric party, Bloc Montreal."

Empowering Montrealers is a great idea, but "Montreal is part and parcel of Quebec and Canada, this is something I firmly believe," Standish said.

"Mr. Holness wants to found a regional party. We’re a provincial party for the future."

When it comes to their criticism, however, of Bill 96 and Bill 21, and their views on human and Indigenous rights, social and affordable housing — both leaders’ visions are closely aligned, they said.

BRING ON THE COMPETITION

In response, Holness described the CaPQ’s lack of interest in collaborating as "a poor decision" that's "short-sighted."

"So Colin is going to get no one elected, he’s going to significantly impact my base because my base is effectively his base and that’s simply going to help the Liberal party."

But it won't stop Bloc Montreal. "It’s going to be very, very difficult now but we’re up for it," he said.

"If they want to compete we’re going to have our boots on the ground and as of Monday, we’re going to have 10 candidates already announced," Holness said.

"So we're very confident we’re moving forward. They’re about 10 candidates behind at this point."

The CaPQ is in the candidate-vetting stage, said Standish, adding they have "lots of candidates and donors ready to come forward," and he believes success is within reach.

"It’s not based on reckless hope. It’s based on core metrics that we can win seats in this election, particularly in the Montreal area, in the Eastern Townships and in the Outaouais region," he said.

BOTH IN A TIGHT SPOT: ANALYST

Having two fledgling parties fight for the same vote is "not really a good idea," said Daniel Beland, a political science professor at McGill University, who also laid out all problems associated with any kind of partnership.

"The Equality party won four seats back in 1989 but they were the only game in town in terms of anglophones and representing anglophones that were unhappy with the language politics in the province," said Beland.

"You want the protest vote to be concentrated and funnelled in a certain direction, and the risk will be that it will be divided," he said.

As for the proposed collaboration, Beland points out that the lessons of the past may be weighing on one candidate in particular.

"Colin Standish might be thinking about what happened when Balarama Holness worked with another party during the [last] mayoralty campaign. Ralliement pour Montreal merged with Mouvement Montreal, and that didn’t work so well,” he added.

Political alliances are often fraught with challenges and disagreements.

"If they work together it will be hard," Beland said, "and if they don’t work together it will be harder."

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