Self-interest is almost always a factor in the decision to cross the floor but the Hill can also be a lonely place and more than one MP has become estranged from his party for lack of camaraderie or, in the case of French-language MPs, linguistic isolation.
It is too early to tell whether jumping ship will improve Patry’s chances of surviving the next election. By then, the Parti Québécois could be back in opposition in the National Assembly, or going through pre-referendum manoeuvres on the basis of a governing majority.
Jonquière—Alma has been out of the Bloc fold for the better part of a decade. The riding switched to the Conservatives before falling to the NDP. It can no longer be considered a sovereigntist stronghold.
What is certain is that Patry is going back to his comfort zone. His decision to run under the NDP banner in 2011 pitted him against the Bloc-aligned local union leadership and his spell under a federalist banner apparently did not dent his sovereigntist convictions.
Perspectives on the so-called unity debate are strikingly different in the federal capital and in the nationalist stronghold of the Saguenay. The transition from one venue to the other often involves a rude awakening.
In the immediate, Patry’s defection looks more like a paper cut than a puncture wound for the NDP. There is not currently on the Quebec radar a simmering anti-NDP backlash over the issue of referendum rules, or solid signs of an imminent revival of the Bloc Québécois.
But Patry’s move is still a stark reminder to his former New Democrat colleagues from Quebec that the luck of the draw has more to do with their positions in the Commons than their merits.
With only a few exceptions, there will be no safe NDP seats in Quebec in 2015 and indeed precious few safe seats of any kind at all.
While the NDP membership numbers improved to 12,300 during the federal leadership race, there are not a lot of NDP members in Quebec. There are actually more NDP members in Saskatchewan than there is in Quebec despite the population difference which makes me wonder if the NDP can hold on to their gains in Quebec, especially is Justin Trudeau’s numbers hold and with a resurgent PQ holding power (and assuming providing organizational support). My feeling right now is that you could see Quebec losing most of the seats it gained in Quebec in the next election and the reduced to third place in the House of Commons.
I don’t think Patry’s defection is a serious threat to Mulcair but the bigger problem for the NDP is building the political machine needed to hold these seats.