Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Tough Questions for Sudbury MP Glenn Thibeault over Support of Former Bloc Member Nycole Turmel’s Ascension to NDP Leader

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)


Sudbury Steve said...

Update: this story just keeps getting worse and worse for Turmel and her NDP caucus supporters. It looks like that up until today, Turmel was also a member of the provincial separtist party, Quebec Solidaire. Apparently, she resigned that membership earlier today. I guess she didn't see any contradiction between leading a national federalist party and being a member of a provincial party which wants to break up the country.

leftdog said...

So now we get to see into Green Party policy. Any former member of the Bloc Quebecois, who wishes to re-engage with Canada is NOT welcome!

I think your illustrious leader needs to explain this policy in more detail.

Unlike the Greens, New Democrats take great pride in reducing the Bloc Quebecois to the dustbin of history and welcoming back into Confederation, those who previously were in its ranks.

Shame on the Green Party of Canada.

Dr.Dawg said...

What leftdog said.

janfromthebruce said...

What Dr. Dawg and Left Dog said!

Malcolm+ said...

There being no provincial NDP in Quebec, the only progressive political party at the provincial level is Quebec Solidaire.

I shouldn't be surprised that a member of the Green Party should believe that Quebec federalists should only affiliate with the far right Quebec Liberals. After all, your leader has rendered you a wholly owned subsidiary of the corrupt and reactionary Liberal Party of Canada.

leftdog said...

What Malcolm said!!!

Sudbury Steve said...

Welcome to my blog, NDP partisans! You guys are always good for a laugh when you're parroting the party line. When you're being thoughtful and critical, I love to engage you; but when you're misrepresenting what I've said, and equating my own comments with my Party's policy, you're just being shameful. I thought you guys knew a thing or two about "shame": I've been to a number of your rallies here in Sudbury you know...

Fact is that no one in the Green Party, Liberal Party, or Conservative Party who has aspired to LEAD the party was a former supporter of a separatist party like the Bloc (or apparently an active member of Quebec Solidaire - active in this case means only that she had a paid membership, but still).

I think it's great that your Party has incorporated a number of former Bloc supporters into its ranks. I can tell you that I would have never voted for anyone who gave money to the Bloc. The good people of Hull-Aylmer, in their wisdom, didn't seem to share my concerns. That's what's great about democracy: we're able to disagree, and can exercise our opinions at the ballot box.

I can not and will not support separtism, or the break up of my country in any way. For others, I do understand: it's not really a big deal. They'll even join parties whose primary goal is the demise of Canada as we know it. Lack of other viable options, I suppose.

The good people of Hull-Aylmer elected Turmel to represent their riding. That's fine. That's their responsibility. Last week, though, there was another election, and the NDP caucus, composed of MP's elected from across Canada, voted Turmel, the former (and not-quite former) supporter of a separtist political party to be their Leader, and by extension, the Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition. They, like the good people of Hull-Aylmer, had a choice.

My MP, Glenn Thibeault, had the ability to vote in this internal election. I want to know why he cast his ballot the way that he did. Did he know that Turmel was affiliated with separtists? If not, why wasn't he told? If he did know, why on earth did he support a card-carrying member of the Bloc (up until January, 2011), and apparently a card-carrying member of Quebec Solidaire?

I'm curious whether his party kept him in the dark about Turmel, or whether he has poor judgement.

And that's no one's policy but my own. Sorry. I tend to get a little passionate about threats to my country.

Jim Johnston said...

What leftdog said.

Except ... Steve's blog does not represent Green Party policy. The Green Party has welcomed members from all other political parties and will continue to do so.

As a three time Green Party candidate, I believe that people change, and that democracy is the expression of these changes. We all learn from our experiences.

The current issue is a tempest in a teapot.

Jim Johnston,

Jim Johnston said...

And I should have clarified .. this opinion is mine alone, and should not be construed to represent anyone else.

ck872 said...

Too bad, Steve, you have such difficulty with BQ, QS etc. I'd mentioned several times how BQ is in some ways a natural counterpart to the Greens, as viable "postmodern" regionalist party. See eg my blogging about that old bumper sticker, "My Canada includes Quebec". Because of that kind of blogging, I somehow actually got mistaken by some in the BQ for the prev. GPC leader; and after I mentioned something about a St. Lawrence bio-regionalism, that Quebec journalist who joined GPC bolted to BQ to take up some position overseeing St. Lawrence issues, something like that! Sorry you don't see the affinities, it is an issue of deeper "green" principles I wish guys like you'd get into. (cont.)

ck872 said...

(part 2 of 2)
As for NDP-ers missing something big, their leader's & his wife's cancers are doubtless related to their exposures to much ambient radiation & from their communications devices. They could lead the charge to recognition of this greatest of health & enviro. issues of our time. (See that other post of yours I commented on, so you could put that link as said, thanks.) As for the BQ, it was the most responsible of all parties re the EMF issue, surpassing GPC, as it brought the issue to committee hearings, reacted with responsibility to citizens' petitioning, called for more local say in the HESA report -- and according to one astute Quebec-watcher in this field, suffered greatly electorally for it: right when they issued a formal statement in the campaign on their preference for local overriding federal say on telecom matters of placement of dangerous cell towers, a strange poll apppeared in Quebec, much publicized in telecom-connected main media in Quebec, which then pricked along the orange surge, our very own manipulative colour revolution of sorts, if you get the drift...

Daryl Vernon (ck872)

leftdog said...

Steve ... your comment ... "Sorry. I tend to get a little passionate about threats to my country" needs to be challenged. Are you saying that Turmell is a 'threat' to your country because she once held membership in the BQ? She has said she is a federalist. It is simplistic for non-Quebecers to assume that every member, supporter of voter for the BQ is about separation. That is naive. It is the fodder of Harper's hordes but not of those who actually have a brain and know how to use it.

Sudbury Steve said...

@ck872. Not sure where you're going with the "natural partner" idea. If the Green Party really did feel that the BQ was able to represent our policy interests in Quebec, I don't think that the GPC would have run candidates in each and every riding there in the last election.

As for working with the BQ on a case-by-case basis in parliament, that absolutely makes sense. The BQ have proposed a number of measures which would benefit all of Canada. Their stance on climate change-related matters, and support for the NDP's (admittedly flawed but better than anything else preceding it) Bill C-311 has been an important contribution.

However, the BQ's reason for existence is to break up the current composition of the nation. On that matter (which is a pretty big one for the BQ), I can't see Greens "working with" the Bloc. Which is probably why we ran candidates in Quebec in the last election.

@leftdog: if you had bothered to read what I had previously written in my blog rather than simply try to slag me, you'd have realized that I've never suggested that Nycole Turmel is a "threat" to Canada. Clearly, I was referring to the BQ, a party which she was recently a member of. Of course, I would add the PQ and Quebec Solidaire, two other separtist political parties, to that list. I understand that Turmel was, until yesterday, a member of one of those as well. She herself claims to be a federalist - I indicated that I accepted that response, despite her financial and membership support of separtist parties. I understand the nuance. You're trying to oversimplify my comments in a pretty lame effort to avoid the real issue: that the NDP caucus unanimously elected Turmel to lead them - and that they were in all likelihood not informed of her separtist past.

@Jim Johnston: I agree that people change, and I suspect that our Party has amongst its members more than a few former Bloc supporters. I don't have a problem with that. I don't even have a problem with Turmel having been elected to represent the NDP by the residents of Hull-Aylmer. I wouldn't have voted for her if I had lived there, not even if she was running for the Greens. If she had a change of mind, apparently it was a pretty quick thing - 3 days by some accounts between when she resigned her BQ membership and was made the NDP candidate.

My point has always been that she's now the interim Leader of the NDP. This isn't a tempest in a teapot issue - our MP here in Sudbury voted for a former separtist party supporter to lead his Party as Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition. Sudburians would like to know why. Did he know about her past? If so, why did he vote the way that he did?

Legitimate questions for any NDP MP to answer, I think.

leftdog said...

NO Steve ... your post was intended as a cheap political shot at your local NDP MP. Period. Even other Green candidates are stepping back from your tactics and position. Have a nice day.

Sudbury Steve said...

@leftdog...again, had you bothered to read the post, you would have noted that I'm not casting any blame on Thibeault. I just want to know if he knew about Turmel's past associations with a separtist party. I didn't even suggest that Jack Layton knew about it when he endorsed her as interim leader. I just want to know. I didn't realize that asking admittedly difficult questions was somehow a partisan attack. I guess when everything is viewed through a partisan lens, it might look that way, hence your comments.

I suspect, but I don't know, that my MP was unaware of the fact that Turmel was a member of the Bloc up until a few days before becoming an NDP candidate. I suspect that this information might have been withheld from the NDP caucus. If that's the case, I certainly can't blame my MP for his vote. But I don't know.

If he knew, on the other hand, that's a real problem. And that's when I suspect that a "political shot" of some sort would be deserved. If he knowingly supported a former Bloc-supporter, the shot will hardly be a cheap one.

In comparison to where the mainstream media is at with this story today, with its insinuations of Turmel's simultaneous membership in both the Bloc and NDP, and with the suggestion that Layton knew that she had been a Bloc member, and that so did the NDP caucus, my still wanting to ask questions about these issues looks like I'm treating this with kid gloves.

I haven't made up my mind about who knew what. I've only made up my mind that I believe it's inappropriate for this former Bloc member and supporter to be leading a party which claims to be federalist, which the NDP has always done and continues to do.

I hope you enjoy your day too. It must be difficult times for NDP partisans right now. My advice: stop trying to justify the unjustifiable, and dump Turmel as interim Leader.

ck872 said...

"natural partner"? I said rather, "natural counterpart", although possible partner on all kinds of issues, sure, as you seem to say. BQ displayed commonality in various ways with GPC, Eliz. I think even recognized as much.

Running candidates was more for $ & perception, no, where there is no hope of winning? I do not think the raison d'être of the BQ was to break up as much as to reconstruct. My main green political point, is that attention to pre-modern identities is essential to getting over modernist madness, and to the extent that the BQ politically expresses such an identity to an extent, and has more humble regional focus, even bio-regionally translatable, it sure makes sense in a postmodern scheme of things. Cons. are also postmodern & are in essence regionalist as well, but their postmodern aspect is one of gross kitsch, based on accurate perception that much of what ruled the modernist immediate past (from Ottawa with Libs. as pre-eminent modernist party, meeting its expecetd postmodern demise; NDP enduring albeit as modernist, but for their primary position as historic dissenters to the modernist others; PCs already dead), and their prescriptions are worse than modernist ones.

leftdog, I don't see Steve's remark as cheapshot, it seems genuine, albeit making something out of not very much even from his nationalist viewpoint. But, Steve, "unjustifiable" -- she surely was chosen for experience, pretty much irrelevant her even immediate & overlapping political past.

Chris KN said...

The thing is, Steve, if we're going to move forward as a country and put the idea of Quebec separation to bed, we will need to welcome former BQ members into the fold. Even if someone was a former separatist, he/she would still have the right stand up for office and be elected to any office in the land.

Besides, all the hyper-partisan rhetoric around Ms. Turmel's past political ties is quite silly (and more than a little pointless) because it makes a mountain out of a molehill.

Your headline alone is very misleading. You say that she ascended to "NDP Leader," but let's get real; she is the interim leader, and was given the job precisely because she has absolutely no ambition to become NDP leader, post-Layton.

She will either hold the position over the summer break (when politics is so boring that bloggers and pundits have to make a big deal about her background...yawn) before Jack comes back, or she will oversee an open and democratic leadership race to replace Layton, if he is unable to continue the job.

That's it. That's all. She's an elected member of parliament and is very accomplished and capable. That's really the end of the story.

Sudbury Steve said...

@Chris KN - I appreciate that there are many out there who would like this to be "the end of the story", but as long as Turmel is occupying the Leader's position in the NDP, even on an interim basis, the story isn't going to go away. Her past and apparently continuing association with separtist parties will remain problematic for her, the NDP, and all the NDP members of caucus who voted for her to lead their party.

Yesterday, apparently two NDP MP's came forward, and expressed surprised at her past involvment with separtist parties. To me that suggests that her previous party affiliations were generally known amongst the NDP caucus, although it is within the realm of possibility that everyone else was aware. But that's probably not likely.

As far as other parties embracing former Bloc supporters, members and even MP's, I agree that there's benefit in doing so. But pole-vaulting from a 5-year card-carrying member of the Bloc Quebecois to interim leader of the NDP between January and July seems more than a little wrong-headed, no matter how warm a party might want to embrace former separtist party supporters.

The point is that many (including me) believe that the NDP made a big mistake with Turmel. Those responsible should explain their actions. That includes Layton and Glenn Thibeault, who put her into the position of Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition (even if only on an interim basis).

Chris KN said...

Even if one were to think that it was a poor decision for her to become interim leader (and I don't) we should really put this whole thing into context.

Jack Layton found out that he has a cancer and is clearly quite ill. In the midst of this very difficult time, he recommended that she become interim leader, and the party went along with it (as well they should since he is the leader). Perhaps, instead of suggesting that Mr. Layton and the party should explain themselves, everyone can get cut a little slack.

If it was poor judgment (and, again, I don't think it was) perhaps the circumstance that the decision was made under is explanation enough.

But that being said, Ms. Turmel is a capable person with a track record of success who was fairly and democratically elected in the last election, and has every right to be interim leader of the NDP. She has said that she isn't a separatist and that should be enough. She should now be judged on the job that she does as interim leader of the opposition.

Anonymous said...

S.S said: "The point is that many (including me) believe that the NDP made a big mistake with Turmel."

This sentence only makes sense if by "many" you mean the Harperites and their echo-chamber in the corporate media and rightist blogosphere.

I -heartily- support your distaste with the NDP's (and Turmel's) 'political opportunism' but when you start echoing Harper's separatist-baiting (however nuanced you seem to think you are about it) you lose me.

And Glenn Thibeault keeping his head down and voting the party line is not pretty but ain't unusual (see your post on Libya) - and it definitely isn't "BIG NEWS".

Plus your passive-aggressive comment that "Sorry. I tend to get a little passionate about threats to my country" does make the hairs on the back of neck go up. 'National Security' is a killer, man...

I really respect your writing and many of your stances - but I don't rationally understand why you are propping up this fairly minor Con-driven smear narrative?

Luther B.