NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair says the fact that the Parti Québécois was limited to a minority in Tuesday's Quebec provincial election means the separatist government will be limited in its ability to press for sovereignty.
If that proves to be the case, it may make the road ahead less challenging for Mr. Mulcair’s New Democrats.
PQ Leader Pauline Marois has said she will move quickly to demand more powers for Quebec from Ottawa. But Mr. Mulcair, who is attending a two-day meeting of his caucus in St. John’s, said he does not foresee a “rattling” of the sovereignty cage anytime in the near future.
“There are cycles in Quebec electoral life,” he told reporters at a morning news conference on Wednesday. “Yesterday, Quebeckers voted to change their government, gave a short minority to the Parti Québécois. It’s now going to be called upon to govern in the interests of all Quebeckers. “
Because 60 per cent of the federal NDP caucus is made up of MPs from Quebec - some of them with sovereigntist leanings - the New Democrats may have difficulty opposing demands of the Parti Québécois government that are meant to challenge the sincerity of Ottawa’s recognition of the Québécois as a nation.
And the NDP is prepared to support the handover of some powers to Quebec that are not granted to other provinces.
Mr. Mulcair said the NDP’s Quebec policy established in 2005, a document know as the Sherbrooke Declaration, allows for "asymmetrical federalism that takes into account the differences between regions and the very specific differences between Quebec and the rest of Canada in terms of its civil law, its majority French language, its cultural differences, these are all things that can be worked on.”
If a national program needs to be defended, the New Democrats will do that, he said. But “as these issues arise, we will work on our priorities.”
The two-day caucus meeting - a staple of the summer agenda for all federal parties - was overshadowed by the horrific shooting Tuesday night at the victory celebration hosted by Ms. Marois which left one person dead and another injured.
Alexandre Boulerice, the New Democrat who represents Rosemont-La Petite-Patrie in Quebec, said “It’s really hard this morning” as he entered the meeting room.
Mr. Mulcair said his caucus was in a state of shock. “We all live in that world” he said. “These were workers, they went onto the job yesterday morning - one driving a bus, the other working as a technician with a company that was setting things up. One of them lost their life and our own thoughts are for them and for their families who are close to them right now.”
But, with the Quebec election is behind them, the New Democrats are preparing for the fall session of Parliament.
Mr. Mulcair said the discussion in the House of Commons over the coming months will focus on the changes made by the Conservative government to Employment Insurance and to Old Age Security benefits as well as to environmental legislation.
“We will always be a largely resource-based economy,” he said. “But we lost the balanced economy that we had built up painstakingly since the Second World War. It’s become destabilized as we put more and more eggs in the resources basket.”
The New Democrats are also starting to work toward an election campaign that, by law, should take place in 2015 but which Mr. Mulcair says could come sooner.
“We want to be ready, completely ready, in 2014,” he said. “Theoretically, the next federal election’s fixed date is October 19, 2015 but, as you know, since that legislation was enacted, we have never once respected the fixed date timetable in the Canadian system so we are counting on the past to guarantee the future.”
Mr. Mulcair said the party is putting down roots in ridings across Canada, is teaching its members how to fund raise, and is working on its policy platform.
But, after the Quebec election, it is not moving ahead as quickly as it had hoped with building a new wing in that province because a minority government means the next election could come at any time, said Mr. Mulcair.
“When we said that we wanted to form a provincial party in Quebec, it was presumed that there was a four-year horizon,” he said, “bearing in mind that our first priority is to defeat the (federal) Conservatives in 2015. So it would be a real challenge for us and we don’t want to start dividing our energies or our forces or our resources, whether it’s financial or in terms of personnel or information.”