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Deputy NDP leader Thomas Mulcair speaks with a supporter while campaigning in Montreal on May 2, 2011. (Graham Hughes/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Deputy NDP leader Thomas Mulcair speaks with a supporter while campaigning in Montreal on May 2, 2011. (Graham Hughes/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

The NDP's Quebec tightrope Add to ...

One of the NDP's main selling points for its new shadow cabinet is that 42 per cent of its members are Quebeckers.

After winning 59 seats in Quebec in the last election, NDP Leader Jack Layton has made a big deal of pointing out his party is now the main political force on the federal stage in the province.

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That's why the NDP raved on Thursday that 18 of its 43 critics are from Quebec, that its national caucus chair, Nycole Turmel, is from the province, and that its deputy leader, Thomas Mulcair, will continue acting as the Quebec lieutenant.

Mr. Layton also imitated Prime Minister Stephen Harper throughout many of his appearances on Parliament Hill this week, starting off with long portions of his statements in French.

"On May 2, Quebeckers sent a message to Ottawa that they want a seat at the table. Now they certainly have a seat at my shadow cabinet table," Mr. Layton said in the news release that unveiled his front line in the House of Commons.

Still, the situation poses a clear challenge for the NDP, which is walking a political tightrope. Given its surprise haul in Quebec, it now acts as the federalist voice of a province that has long been used to having the separatist Bloc Québécois defending its interests in Ottawa.

But the NDP also has long-standing support in the rest of Canada, where there is much uneasiness with attempts to pacify nationalist Quebeckers. Mr. Layton has been repeatedly hounded in recent days about the party's 2005 Sherbrooke declaration, which states that a straight majority of 50-per-cent-plus-one is enough for Quebec to secede from Canada in the event of a third referendum on sovereignty.

The position is controversial in English Canada, and on Tuesday Mr. Layton refused to repeat that the NDP would settle for a straight majority. However, provincial parties in the National Assembly slammed the NDP's equivocation the following day, forcing Mr. Layton to publicly revert to his traditional position on Thursday.

"What constitutes a majority is 50 per cent plus one," Mr. Layton told reporters. "That's been crystal clear for five years as the official policy of our party."

Mr. Mulcair, a veteran of provincial politics who was the only NDP MP in Quebec before the election, will be expected to act as a guide for the party's wave of new members from the province. However, the NDP will also call on its veteran MPs to act as mentors for its rookies, most of whom are from Quebec.

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