An article of minor interest appeared in my local newspaper last week, as part of the media’s follow-up related to the national news story that New Democratic Party Leader Jack Layton was stepping down as leader, in order to fight cancer. Layton, announcing his latest struggle with cancer, momentarily brought Canadians of all political stripes together, with wishes and prayers for a full and speedy recovery.
The follow-up story in the Sudbury Star noted that our NDP Member of Parliament, Glenn Thibeault, had to put the pedal to the medal in order to make it from Chicago to Ottawa to be on time for the NDP’s vote to accept Layton’s hand-picked interim successor, Nycole Turmel (see: “Thibeault burns rubber to make key NDP meeting”, the Sudbury Star, July 28/11). Thibeault joined the rest of his caucus to make sure that all of the rules for appointing an interim leader were followed, a process which New Democratic Party President Brian Topp went to great pains to stress to the media, in order to draw a comparison between the NDP and the Liberals (who have sometimes skipped a step or two when identifying new party leaders).
Today, the NDP’s interim Leader, Nycole Turmel, is in the national media spotlight, for all of the wrong reasons. Reports in today’s Globe & Mail, and followed up by other national media outlets, confirm that up until January of 2011, Turmel had been a card-carrying member of the Bloc Quebecois, a political party whose very reason for existence has been the break-up of Canada. Apparently, Turmel joined the Bloc in 2006, in order to support a friend in that party. She had made several hundred dollars worth of contributions to the Bloc over this time period (which, trust me, as a member of a different national political party, really doesn’t amount to much; but still, many members, especially those in a party to support a friend, ever donate anything at all).
The nature of her resignation from the Bloc, though, was itself interesting and newsworthy. Turmel resigned in January, and within a month, she was announced as the NDP’s candidate for the Hull-Aylmer riding. Apparently, Jack Layton convinced Turmel, the former head of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, to carry the NDP’s banner (it should also be noted that PSAC itself, when Turmel headed the union, endorsed a number of Bloc candidates in past elections).
Turmel, apparently, has always identified herself as a federalist, despite her minor economic support of, and membership in, the Bloc. However, when resigning her membership in the Bloc this past January, she indicated to the Bloc’s membership apparatus that she was doing so for personal reasons, and not for reasons related to policy. Now, this rationale for resignation is quite curious for a number of reasons, and not least because it seems to suggest that Turmel hadn’t opposed the Bloc’s policies, which opens the door to the question regarding just why she was supporting a separatist party. Given that the Bloc’s primary reason for being is to implement a separatist agenda, it seems unusual that a committed federalist would have remained a member for 5 years running.
Is it possible? I guess it is. As a member of the Green Party of Canada, I am not in 100% agreement with the policies of my Party, but on the bigger issues, I do tend to see eye-to-eye with the Party. It’s because of those bigger issues that I joined the Party in the first place. As a former member of another national political party, I can tell you that I left that Party because of concerns over its policy direction. For me, anyway, getting the big picture issues right has always been important. Perhaps that wasn’t so for Turmel, though, and she was able to support her friend and the Bloc by putting blinders on about the Bloc’s separatist agenda.
However, I have to say, that seems a bit of a reach. Especially for someone who is now leading a national political party (and Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition at that – and yes, I recall that Gilles Duceppe had at one time been in the same position as Turmel now finds herself occupying, in relation Her Majesty. And I was quite uncomfortable with having an avowed separatist occupy that chair, too). For me, though, that’s not the real story here.
What seems apparent to me is that interim Leader Turmel seems to be somebody who plays a little fast and loose with Canada’s political institutions, opting to move from one party to another whenever it seems to be in her own particular interest to do so. Originally, Turmel had been a member of the NDP (and there today seems to be some suggestion that she never stopped being a member of the federal NDP, even when she was a card-carrying member of the Bloc; if this proves to be the case, it’s yet more ammunition that Turmel isn’t fit to lead any national political party, as it would have defied the NDP’s own internal rules – those same rules that President Topp wanted to make sure were followed to the letter).
Turmel joined the Bloc to support a friend. She stayed on for 5 years, apparently playing little role in that Party’s activities. She resigned when Layton came a-calling, and opportunistically threw her hat in the ring in Hull-Aylmer. That kind of political opportunism doesn’t look good on Turmel.
But it looks worse on an NDP caucus who hastily convened a meeting to confirm her (interim) coronation, on the advice of Jack Layton. What were all of these NDP MP’s and Layton thinking when they gave Turmel the nod to lead their Party?
I suspect that they weren’t thinking very much at all about her membership in the Bloc Quebecois. Did my MP, Sudbury’s Glenn Thibeault, even know that he was supporting a former member of a Party which wants to break apart Canada when he cast his vote to confirm Turmel? Did he think that Sudburians would be ok with his support? These are questions which Thibeault and other MP’s are going to have answer at some point, because it was their vote which elevated the former Bloc member to the position of interim Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition. With voting comes responsibility.
And if Glenn Thibeault and the NDP didn’t know that Turmel had supported a separatist party as recently as this past January, why wasn’t he and the rest of the NDP caucus told? Surely Jack Layton must have known about Turmel’s involvement with the Bloc. And that calls into question Layton’s endorsement of Turmel to lead the Party in the first place. It’s not as if the NDP doesn’t have a couple of qualified deputy leaders to choose from, in the form of Thomas Mulcair and Libby Davis. What was Layton thinking?
If it turns out that the NDP and Layton entered into this whole process with their eyes wide open with regards to Turmel’s involvement with the Bloc, I’m sure that I won’t be the only Canadian shaking his head. Right now, these difficult questions will need to be answered by Layton and Thibeault and the entire NDP caucus.
Look, it’s not unusual for a federal political party to have within its ranks members who were once members of other parties, including former Bloc members. People do often leave one political party in favour of another. Turmel herself, in response to these recent revelations regarding her former membership in the Bloc, was quick to point out that Bob Rae, the current (interim) Leader of the Liberal Party, was once a member of the NDP. That’s very true.
But what’s different between Rae and the Turmel is that Rae’s shift from the NDP to the Liberals, which is well-documented, happened over time. Rae agonized over leaving his former Party and joining the Liberals, and the whole process took several years. Turmel, unlike Rae, might have considered her options for a few weeks, at best. And that smells of political opportunism.
And unlike former Bloc members of other parties, how many current elected members of parliament in those other parties were once card-carrying Bloc members? To my knowledge, the answer is none. The NDP, however, have a handful of former Bloc members sitting as MP’s at this time. Did some former Bloc members stand for election for the Liberals, Conservatives or Greens this past May? I don’t know, but likely they did. What were their circumstances for leaving the Bloc, and joining a different Party?
I don’t have such a big problem with those scenarios, because those individuals would have stood for a local election only; they did not seek to lead a national political party. Although I confess that if they subscribed to a separatist viewpoint, I would not be comfortable with their presence. I would want to know more about the specific circumstances before I said one way or another.
Again, though, the difference with Turmel is that she’s now the Leader of the Official Opposition. She can, as Leader of the NDP, claim all that she wants to that she’s been a federalist all of her life, but the fact that she was a member of a separatist Party for 5 years is going to be a problem for her, and a problem for all NDP MP’s who supported her in caucus. Did they know of Turmel’s specific circumstances? If so, why did they support her? And if the didn’t, why not?
Some might suggest that there are bigger issues happening in Canada at this time. They’re right, there are. But that doesn’t mean that Canadians also shouldn’t be concerned about Turmel’s opportunism and involvement with the Bloc, and with their own NDP MP’s rationale for supporting her (and with Jack Layton’s endorsement of her in the first place). Canadians care passionately about our nation, and many of us have had a pretty big axe to grind with the separatist agenda of the Bloc. I don’t think that we’re going to stop caring now.
Perhaps my MP, Glenn Thibeault, voted the way that he did at the caucus meeting because he was in a rush and wasn’t given the full picture of Turmel’s history. I’d very much like to know what Thibeault knew about Turmel when he cast his vote. For now, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. And I’ll hope that he is amongst the first to call for Turmel’s resignation as interim Leader of the New Democratic Party, and as Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition. For Turmel isn’t fit to lead a national party.
Better yet, Turmel needs to resign before it gets to that point. Canadians deserve better from the federal NDP than having a separatist in sheep’s clothing lead the Party. Until Turmel is gone, she herself will become the side-show issue which prevents the NDP opposition from doing anything over the next few months, until Layton returns. And when Layton does return, no doubt he’s going to face some very tough questions about his own judgement.
(opinions expressed on this blogsite are my own, and should not be interpreted as being consistent with those of the Green Party of Canada)