Nycole Turmel flop a rude NDP awakening

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Sun Media, Friday, August 5, 2011

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

When Jack Layton stepped aside as NDP leader for health reasons that were obvious to all Canadians, he recommended Nycole Turmel to replace him as interim leader of the opposition.

She seemed like the perfect placeholder — a fluently bilingual caucus chair from Quebec, where the NDP now has 59 of its 103 members in the House; a former president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, in touch with the trade union movement which co-founded the NDP half a century ago; and a 68-year-old rookie MP, one with no leadership ambitions of her own in the event Layton was unable to return.

That was last week, when Canadians of all political persuasions admired Layton for his courage and class, and wished him a speedy recovery.

This is this week, when Canadians were informed Turmel was a card-carrying, dues-paying member of the Bloc Quebecois for four years, until January 2011, when she resigned only two weeks before announcing her candidacy for the NDP.

By the way, it also turns out she was a member of Quebec Solidaire, a separatist party whose leader, Amir Khadir, advocates pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli positions on the Middle East.

David Lewis, the leader who made the NDP synonymous with support for Israel, must be spinning in his grave.

How could Turmel be in both the federalist and separatist camps?

Bad favour

An NDP member since 1991, she says she joined the Bloc as a favour to a friend, former Bloc labour critic Carole Lavalee.

That’s a pretty feeble rationale, as she has since acknowledged: “It was a mistake to sign that card.”

Was the NDP aware of her belonging to the Bloc since 2007, as well as their own party since 1991? According to the National Post: “She disclosed her Bloc and Quebec Solidaire memberships to the NDP on her candidate questionnaire.”

So the question is whether she was properly vetted, not only before the campaign, but before she was named interim leader. Apparently not.

With the NDP in full damage-control mode, she declared: “I want to make it clear to Canadians that I am working for them. I am not a separatist, I am a federalist.”

What were Layton and his entourage, a very smart and tight team, thinking when they recommended someone so obviously vulnerable to attack in English-speaking Canada?

Shocked and appalled

The English-language editorials have been unanimously shocked and appalled, questioning not only Turmel’s allegiance to the country, but more to the point, the NDP’s competence to govern it. For the NDP, trying to move from opposition to government-in-waiting, this has been a very bad week in English-speaking Canada.

In Quebec, it’s different. It’s not just about changing votes, or party membership, from one election to the next. Everyone does that.

For example, Jean Charest voted Yes in the 1980 Quebec referendum, ran for the Mulroney Conservatives in 1984, chaired a constitutional report on Meech Lake in 1990, became known as “Captain Canada” in the 1995 referendum, and has been the federalist premier of Quebec since 2003.

More to the point, Quebecers understand these divisions, because they are so painful, because they divide their families, and so they don’t argue about them.

For the NDP, this week has been a rude welcome to the majors. For all of us, it’s been a reminder of Canada’s two solitudes.

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