The NDP is accusing the Harper Conservatives of hypocrisy as the Tories try to defend against revelations that one of their own was also once a member of the separatist Bloc Québécois.
Reports Tuesday noted that Denis Lebel, the Transport Minister and a senior member of the Conservative team in Quebec, had been a member of the Bloc from July 1993 to April 2001. Some Tories, however, are arguing this is much different than the situation of NDP MP Nycole Turmel, who was a member of the Bloc for four years before she turned to federal politics.
A senior Conservative source said Tuesday morning that as Mr. Lebel is not head of the party a different argument would be applied.
Ms. Turmel has taken over as the Interim NDP leader and official opposition leader while Jack Layton battles a new cancer diagnosis.
So the Tory defence that is emerging is this: if you were once a separatist but are a lesser member of the team, you have less influence over party policy. However, Ms. Turmel does not sit around the cabinet table as does Mr. Lebel. Given there are only five Conservative MPs from Quebec -- four of whom are in cabinet, including Mr. Lebel -- his influence could be quite pronounced.
Paul Dewar, the Ottawa Centre NDP MP and a senior member of the NDP caucus, dismissed this argument, asserting the Conservatives are hypocrites.
“It would appear the Conservatives have a double standard here when it comes to former BQ membership,” he said Tuesday morning. “When it’s a New Democrat MP it’s a problem. When it’s a Conservative MP it’s somehow a virtue.”
“Some would call that hypocrisy,” he argued.
Last week, Ms. Turmel was criticized by the Conservatives for her former ties to the Bloc Quebecois.
Even Prime Minister Stephen Harper waded into the controversy, condemning her allegiance and questioning her commitment to the country.
“I think it’s very disappointing. I don’t know that I have a lot to say but I do think Canadians will find this disappointing,” the Prime Minister told reporters last week.
“I think Canadians expect that any political party that wants to govern the country be unequivocally committed to this country,” he said. “That’s the minimum Canadians expect.”
And Mr. Lebel?
The NDP were way ahead of the game.
A “reality check” release issued last week -- to counter the accusations being thrown at Ms. Turmel -- noted that Mr. Lebel and junior cabinet minister Maxime Bernier both had separatist connections.
It accused the Conservatives of feigning “righteous indignation” over Ms. Turmel’s separatist ties.
“Conservative spokesman Dimitri Soudas called the NDP ‘not up to the job of governing Canada,’” the release said.
Not only did the NDP go after the Conservatives but party strategists also took on the Liberals, noting that former Paul Martin cabinet minister Jean Lapierre, now a popular broadcaster in Quebec, had been a founding member of the Bloc.
The Liberals had also strongly criticized Ms. Turmel’s connections.
“We wonder why these comments are not applicable to their own organizations,” said the NDP. “After all, people in glass houses should not throw stones ...”