Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The NDP’s Dangerous National Unity Game: The Triumph of Talking Points Over Truth

What’s going on with Canada’s New Democratic Party lately? It seems to me that the NDP has decided to imitate Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party, at least when it comes to secrecy. Given that the NDP likes to trumpet that it’s an “open and transparent” political party, ever since Tom Mulcair took over as Leader, it certainly looks as if the NDP is trying to hide a few things from Canadians.

First, with talk of a provincial Quebec election in the air, and the prospect of a separatist Parti Quebecois provincial government, the federal NDP have been going to great lengths to remain silent about their MP’s support for provincial separatists. During the recent student protests in Montreal, NDP MP’s from Quebec were kept in line by the Party. Although many MP’s agreed with the position of the student protesters, including the radical CLASSE student union, MP’s largely failed to speak out or otherwise show support to the students.  This was reminiscent of Stephen Harper’s ban on Conservative MP’s supporting the PC or Wildrose Party in the recent Alberta election, only Mulcair proved that when it comes to truly silencing the backbenches, he can teach Harper a thing or two.

On the one hand, the NDP likes to claim to be a champion of the oppressed, but when push came to shove in Montreal, party discipline won out over doing what many NDP Quebec MP’s thought was the right thing to do. And now, with a provincial election on the horizon, it looks like the NDP is going to contort itself into yet another pretzel in order to distance itself from the separatists. They’ll likely be less successful with this exercise, given that there are direct links between the NDP and separatist provincial political parties in Quebec. For example, it’s well-known that former NDP Interim Leader Nycole Turmel was a member of the socialist Quebec Solidaire even while she was leading the NDP (see: “Turmel: Separatist, communist and who knows what else”, by Sun Media’s Brian Lilley, August 14, 2011)

Turmel herself admitted that former NDP Leader Jack Layton was “well aware” of her ties to Quebec Solidaire and her membership in the federal Bloc Quebecois when she agreed to run for the NDP in the 2011 federal election (see: “NDP credibility under attack after Turmel’s Bloc ties revealed”, the Globe & Mail, August 2, 2011)

Recently, Conservative MP Pierre Poilievere, questioned NDP MP and Labour Critic Alexandre Boulerice in the House about a donation made to Quebec Solidaire earlier this year (2012). As usual, the NDP tried to deflect the question, calling it “old news” and claiming that Boulerice no longer supports separatists. (see: “NDP MP accused of supporting separatists”, Canoe.ca online, Sun Media, June 12 2012). Look, I’m not a fan of Pierre Poilevere by any means, but the question to Boulerice doesn’t appear to me to have been satisfactorily answered. Rather than trying to sweep the answer under the rug, why didn’t the NDP just come clean about their MP’s obvious continuing support for Quebec Solidaire and separatist causes? It’s well past time that the NDP stopped playing these games with the truth.

Look, if some of the NDP’s Members of Parliament continue to support separatist causes, that’s their business.  I might think it looks bad, but ultimately those MP's have to answer directly to voters in their home ridings (or at least in the ridings which elected them). What troubles me about the NDP’s flirtation with separatists goes a lot deeper than who their MP’s might have, or continue to, support at the provincial level in Quebec.

I’m much more troubled by the NDP’s Official Party policy on Quebec separation, known as the “Sherbrooke Declaration”, which is essentially a repudiation of an Act of Canada’s parliament. NDP Leader Tom Mulcair has refused to acknowledge the primacy of Canadian legislation, known as the “Clarity Act”, when it comes to establishing a threshold regarding a vote for separation, amongst other matters.

The NDP’s Sherbrooke Declaration will allow Quebec to separate from Canada with a “50%+1” level of support, in contrast to the Clarity Act, which was based on the government of Canada's earlier "secession reference" to the Supreme Court of Canada, made in 1998. The Supreme Court has a different idea of what democracy means when it comes to the break up of our nation. “Democracy means more than simply ‘majority rule’” wrote the Court.  Despite the Supreme Court’s ruling, the federal NDP have established a low-ball threshold for the break-up of Canada – a threshold, by the way, which the NDP doesn’t even use to amend its own Party constitution.

Former Liberal Leader and current MP Stephane Dion (who will be speaking at the Green Party of Canada’s convention later this August) recently wrote a very important piece about the NDP’s dangerous flirtation with Quebec nationalists (see: “NDP’s separatist pandering threatens national unity”, Stephane Dion, the National Post, March 12, 2012). In part, it was Dion’s waving the red flag about the NDP which inspired me to write about this in April (see: "What does Tom Mulcair’s Leadership of the NDP Mean for the Green Party of Canada?”). Back then I indicated that Mulcair was going to have to walk a fine line while trying to convince Canadians that the NDP had all of Canada’s interests at heart. That was written before Mulcair stepped into it on the national stage with what were perceived as divisive comments about Alberta Premier Alison Redford and Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall being the provincial mouthpieces of the Conservative Party of Canada, when the two premiers chastised Mulcair for otherwise pertinent comments about Canada’s dependency on the oil sector.

With the NDP’s popularity remaining at historic high levels, I can’t help but wonder if Canadians understand the true extent of the threat to national unity posed by the NDP’s policy positions and continued support for Quebec separatist causes. I’m curious as to where Sudbury MP Glenn Thibeault and Nickel Belt MP Claude Gravelle stand on the Sherbrooke Declaration? Do they support NDP policy over an Act of Parliament based on the direction given by our Supreme Court? I think voters in Sudbury and Nickel Belt should get some straight answers from Thibeault and Gravelle on this.

Should the next Quebec provincial election produce a separatist government in the form of the Parti Quebecois, it looks like PQ Leader Pauline Marois is promising to “create a crisis” between Quebec and Ottawa, and use the manufactured crisis as a starting point for an ultimate referendum on separation. If Marois is running Quebec, and Tom Mulcair becomes Canada’s next Prime Minister, it could very well be that Mulcair will also be the last Prime Minister of Canada as we know it given the dangerous game his NDP is playing with Canada’s national unity.

Yet the NDP just doesn’t want to talk about any of this.

And finally, while this doesn’t have to do with national unity, I came across this article in the Toronto Star today regarding the NDP’s refusal to disclose how much money it had returned to Union advertisers in contravention of Election Canada’s rules (see: “NDP stays mum on money returned to unions after advertising fracas”, the Toronto Star, July 31, 2012). The NDP has been very critical of the Conservative Party of Canada with regards to its over-spending in the past several elections. Yet now that it’s come to light that the NDP has also violated Elections Canada rules, it refuses to be transparent with Canadians regarding the extent of the violation. And that’s just very unfortunate, as I’m sure that the NDP’s discretions pale in comparison to those of the Conservative Party. When the matter was brought to the attention of Elections Canada, rather than play hardball like the Cons have done in the past, the NDP admitted to the mistake and corrected itself. Which makes me wonder why the NDP isn’t being completely honest now with regards to the extent of the correction. What does the NDP have to lose by telling Canadians the amount of money it had to give back to its union backers?

The NDP clearly wants to be able to control the conversations with Canadians in which it engages. Whether it’s an MP denying continued financial support for separatist causes, or whether it’s the Leader of the NDP refusing to support an Act of Parliament in preference to party policy, or whether it’s trying to distance itself from it’s continued financial support of labour unions, for the NDP, it looks like talking points triumph over doing what’s right for Canadians.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own, and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views of the Green Party of Canada)

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