Who says political summers need to be boring? A well-timed leak to the Globe and Mail about new NDP interim leader Nycole Turmel certainly livened things up, with the revelation that Turmel was very recently a member of two Quebec sovereigntist parties, quitting the Bloc Quebecois just weeks before she became an NDP candidate for the last election, and only promising to quit the other yesterday.
Party-switching is certainly no rarity these days in Canadian politics, and that’s fine. The key for me is to explain how you got from A to B and let the people decide. As long as the people have the information, they can make an informed decision on the person’s motivations. For me, I’ll accept a well-reasoned ideological move but frown on a move motivated purely by political opportunism or expediency. In Turmel’s case, it’s hard to argue in the context of the time that being an NDP candidate in Quebec was the expedient choice. But everyone has their own criteria.
This apparently was an issue discussed in Turmel’s riding during the campaign to some extent so that test may be met, although I find the explanations she’s offering now (she joined and donated to help a friend), her overlapping BQ/NDP memberships, and the membership in Québec solidaire, somewhat less than compelling. I’ll let others dwell on them, though.
What would primarily be an issue for the people of Hull-Alymer gained national import when Jack Layton made her his pick for interim leader of the official opposition. It's a position of national leadership. But for me, this is less about Turmel (who is essentially a placeholder until either Layton returns, or doesn't) and more about the fuzziness of the NDP’s position on Quebec, and its approach to federalism.
There are many Turmels in the new NDP caucus, many MPs who were either avowed sovereigntists or, like Turmel, at least members of sovereigntist parties, and recently so. This flirting with Quebec nationalism is dangerous; just ask Brian Mulroney. And I was no fan of the approach Jean Lapierre brought to my Liberals. As I’ve written previously, the NDP seems determined to promote one vision of federalism in Quebec, and one in the rest of Canada. They continue to ignore the undeniable gulf between their Sherbrooke Declaration and the Clarity Act.
I’m less concerned about Turmel’s membership cards (a symptom) than I am the underlying condition: where does the NDP stand on federalism and Quebec nationalism, are they consistent in that position across the country, and is all of their caucus onboard with defending and promoting that position? Until they’re clear on these issues, they’re going to have to continue to deal with flare-ups like this one, because the underlying questions will linger.
And another thing
It has been painful to watch the NDP spin in response to the Turmel story. I found their strategy puzzling from a communications perspective (in their case, I’d have said something like many former BQ/LPC/CPC supported the NDP in Quebec in the last elxn because we were the only party to address their concerns, and then pivot to issues), as it seems to only prolong and elevate the story.
But more than tactics, the most striking thing was how the NDP and its supporters is their utter inability to take a hit. They’re the Official Opposition now. They’re going to be a target and under scrutiny like they never had before. Some times the criticism will be valid. Often, it won’t be. Either way, they’re going to need to grow a thicker skin and learn to role with the punches, or it’s going to be a long four years.
You can defend Turmel’s actions, and feel they are perfectly above-board. But raising the questions raised yesterday is absolutely fair. It is a legitimate story, and the people have the right to an explanation. Provide it, and then move on to your issues. But don't cry that it was raised in the first place. If all is above-board the defensiveness is unnecessary. I read some Turmel defenders cry McCarthyism yesterday, which is beyond ridiculous.