New Democrats were divided Saturday about whether to set up a Quebec wing of their party that would add a left-leaning, federalist voice to the provincial political arena.
There was no clear consensus as Quebec party delegates debated the issue at a weekend meeting in Montreal.
Some argued setting up a provincial party cousin would provide voters with a much-needed alternative to the sovereigntist parties that occupy the left end of Quebec’s political spectrum. Others worried it would steal away resources that could be used to beat the federal Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
One thing appeared certain, though: it won’t happen any time soon.
“If ever we decided to create a Quebec NDP, it won’t be for today or tomorrow or in six months or a year,” Helene Laverdiere, a Montreal MP for the New Democrats, said in an interview.
“Everyone is clear that the priority is 2015 and beating Stephen Harper.”
Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet, another Montreal MP, said ultimately the decision would be up to party members.
“There’s a committee being formed to study what was heard today and we’ll wait to hear what they say about that,” she said.
Party leader Tom Mulcair floated the idea of a provincial New Democratic Party during the Quebec election campaign in August. At the time, Mr. Mulcair said the NDP would set up a Quebec wing before the next provincial election.
But Mr. Mulcair put that commitment on hold after the Parti Québécois’ minority victory on Sept. 4, saying resources should be devoted to the next federal election.
Another consideration, though, may be allegiances at the provincial level among card-carrying New Democrats. Some party members are also involved with pro-sovereignty parties provincially, such as the left-wing Quebec solidaire.
NDP president Rebecca Blaikie acknowledged that dynamic “complicates things.”
“We have situations in other provinces where folks vote one way federally and they vote another way provincially, so that’s not unique to Quebec, but the circumstances and the differences between the parties are unique to Quebec,” Ms. Blaikie said.
“I think that’s something that is a consideration and there has to be some serious thinking around. And that thinking has to be done by Quebecers.”
Louis-Raphael Pelletier, the head of a Montreal riding association and a member of Quebec solidaire, didn’t rule out the possibility of a provincial NDP eventually morphing into a sovereigntist party — something that has happened before.
“If it’s a true democratic party, it’s not impossible,” he said, quickly adding he doesn’t believe such a transformation is likely.
“I think that the advantage of having a Quebec NDP, though, is that it would offer a place for a lot of progressive, federalist voices in Quebec.”
For now, he said the focus should be on solidifying gains made in the 2011 federal election that propelled the party to Official Opposition status.
The New Democrats now hold 58 of the province’s 75 seats after nearly sweeping the sovereigntist Bloc Québécois completely off the map.
While discussions about forming a Quebec NDP will continue, Ms. Blaikie said everyone agrees the priority should be winning the next federal election.
“What was most important for me was regardless of how people feel about a provincial party, what they are really worried about is making sure we win in 2015,” Ms. Blaikie said.
If the NDP ever decides to form a Quebec offshoot, it wouldn’t be the first time.
A party called NDP-Quebec ran candidates in several provincial elections, but not in a general election since 1994. The party had 41 candidates under its banner that year and earned less than one per cent of the total vote.
Following that election, the provincial party’s support for Quebec independence led to a split with the national NDP.