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Interim NDP Leader Nycole Turmel speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on March 6, 2012. (Sean Kilpatrick/Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)
Interim NDP Leader Nycole Turmel speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on March 6, 2012. (Sean Kilpatrick/Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Turmel hits leadership milestone as Dion blasts NDP on national unity Add to ...

Nycole Turmel returns to the job of rank-and-file MP when the House rises for a week-long break on Friday after spending eight months as the Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition.

Ms. Turmel eclipsed the tenure of Deborah Grey, who held the post for the Canadian Alliance, by a few weeks and has become the longest-serving woman in Canadian history to occupy the office.

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The rookie politician will turn the reins of the New Democratic Party over to a new leader who will be selected at a convention in Toronto on March 24.

Hundreds of NDP staff members gave Ms. Turmel a five-minute standing ovation Monday for the job she has done since July, when cancer forced former leader Jack Layton to name her as his interim successor.

Mr. Layton said at the time he intended to return to the post in September when his health was better but he died in August, leaving Ms. Turmel in the job for much longer than she had anticipated.

George Soule, who was Ms. Turmel’s executive assistant in the Opposition Leader’s Office, presented her with a digital picture frame stocked with photos of her time at the helm.

Mr. Soule told the crowd that “when Jack realized that he had to step aside, he chose another fighter to be our captain.”

Ms. Turmel led the fight for equal pay for equal value when she was head of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, Mr. Soule explained. “I said I was honoured to have been able to serve with her and not only is it clear that Jack made the right the right choice but I am sure that he would be proud of the work that she has done.”

Ms. Turmel’s term was not without controversy. Shortly after her appointment she promised to cut her remaining ties to the Quebec sovereigntist movement after it was revealed she had cancelled her membership in the Bloc Québécois only in January of 2011.

But some members of opposing parties have continued to suggest there are links between the NDP and the separatists.

Writing Monday in the National Post, former Liberal leader Stéphane Dion warned the NDP is now endorsing Bloc positions that are harmful to Canadian unity.

“Just like the Bloc, the NDP argues that in a referendum based on a question selected by a secessionist government, a majority of a single vote would be enough to trigger Quebec’s secession, however unclear the question or uncertain the majority,” Mr. Dion says.

“The NDP should admit,” he writes, “that such a serious and irreversible decision must not rest on an uncertain majority. You can’t justify erecting new borders between citizens on the basis of a judicial recount.”

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