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Chantal Hébert: Gilles Duceppe is Out-Hawking Stephen Harper on ISIS

Chantal Hébert: Gilles Duceppe is Out-Hawking Stephen Harper on ISIS

Can a dove be reincarnated into a hawk? The metamorphosis of Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe would suggest as much.

In his previous life as the leader of the third party in the House of Commons, Duceppe vehemently opposed the notion that Canada should join the U.S.-led 2003 Iraq War.

He initially supported Canada’s military operation in Afghanistan but then spent five years opposing every extension on the grounds that the mission should be focused on reconstruction rather than combat.

Based on that track record, no one was surprised when the Bloc’s two remaining MPs twice joined the Liberals, the New Democrats and the Green party over the past year and voted against Canada’s military involvement in the war against Islamic extremists in the Middle East.

But that was before Duceppe returned to lead the BQ. Lost in the shuffle of the Conservative travails over the refugee issue last week, the Bloc’s position underwent a major shift. The party now fully supports the Conservative position.

It is not a half-hearted embrace.

On this issue, Duceppe is currently out-hawking Harper — venturing on rhetorical ground that the Conservative leader dares not tread.

On Sunday, the Bloc leader compared the ISIS offensive to the rise of Nazi Germany. “Waving a white flag is not an option. Those who initially did in the face of Adolf Hitler did not last long,” he told Radio-Canada.

Unlike Harper, he also believes Canada should not exclude joining allies such as France or Great Britain should they decide to take on the Islamic State in a ground war.

Duceppe’s support for the mission predates his return to politics. He came out for Canada’s participation in airstrikes on ISIS positions in the Middle East in his Journal de Montréal blog last year.

At the time he also argued that anyone caught expressing sympathy for the ISIS cause should be placed under arrest. “In a war situation, anyone engaging in propaganda in favour of the enemy can be brought to justice and eventually condemned,” he wrote.

Last fall’s attacks at Parliament Hill and St.-Jean-sur-Richelieu and the murderous attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris have resulted in a hardening of Quebec’s traditionally pacifist public opinion, and Duceppe’s writings reflect that evolution.

But his fighting words also reflect a significant change in the audience he is courting in this campaign.

Over Duceppe’s four-year absence from the scene, the Bloc has lost many of the constituencies that used to make up its left flank.

For the first time in decades, Canada’s largest trade union — the Fédération des Travailleurs du Québec — has declined to back the party. Instead, the FTQ is supporting the local candidates it feels are best placed to beat the Conservatives. That, for the most part, means the NDP.

Many of the progressive voters who supported the Bloc in the past similarly feel that in this election seeking regime change is job one.

The federal party’s support for the Parti Québécois’s secularism charter has also scorched quite a bit of earth for the sovereigntist party, in particular but not exclusively among Quebec’s cultural communities.

The voters Duceppe is most likely to woo are diehard pro-charter sovereigntists who take their cue from PQ leader Pierre-Karl Péladeau.

But there is also a personal undertone to Duceppe’s hawkish rhetoric. Since the campaign began, his heart has clearly been more in his attacks on Mulcair and the party that forced him into political retirement four years ago than in his denunciations of the Conservatives.

As an aside, the Bloc’s realignment on the anti-ISIS mission is hardly the only 180-degree turn of this long campaign.

On Sunday, former prime minister Jean Chrétien slammed the NDP for its contention that Quebec’s secession could be set in motion by a simple majority referendum vote. He claimed that the New Democrats would be poor keepers of Canada’s unity.

And yet it was not long ago that Chrétien was the top advocate of the Liberals joining forces with the NDP.

That was some time after the party, under Jack Layton, had taken a stand against the Liberal Clarity act.

Prior to Sunday’s call to arms against the NDP’s unity stance, Chrétien had dismissed suggestions that their difference on the central unity issue could be an impediment to a merger of the two parties.

Chantal Hébert/Toronto Star/September, 2015