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ROBERT SILVER

The NDP's 'federalist' interim leader Add to ...

Here are some of the defences being raised for the fact that Nycole Turmel was a card-carrying member of the Bloc Québécois as of this January -- just six months ago:

"People quit political parties all the time." "Look at Bob Rae, he switched parties." "Are we really surprised she was a member of the Bloc?" "As a Quebecker, I can assure you I don't care that she switched from the Bloc to the NDP."

It's all a load of crap. The Bloc was never a political party like the others. Never. At its core, it had two guiding raisons d'etre:

1. Quebec independence.

2. To serve Quebec. As Gilles Duceppe said about 50,000 times: if a policy is good for Quebec, they were for it. If it was bad for Quebec, they were opposed to it.

Everything else - every other policy - was simply details. Ms. Turmel wrote in January: "Enclosed is my Bloc Québécois membership card, which I wish to cancel. I wish to state that my request has nothing to do with the party's policies, I am doing this for personal reasons." The obvious follow-up question is what policies was she referring to that presumably she still agrees with (given that the Bloc policies are the same today as they were in January)?

Their support for Quebec independence? No, no, no. Ms.Turmel is today and always has been a dedicated "federalist", the NDP will tell us.

The fact that if a policy is good for Quebec, it should be supported without question or national context and if it is bad for Quebec, it must be fought at all costs? No, no, no. Ms. Turmel is now leading a national party and was always dedicated to Canada, the NDP will claim.

Right.

The Bloc is not a party like all others. It is in no way analogous to Bob Rae quitting the NDP, being a member of no party for a decade and then joining the Liberals. Why aren't they analogous? Here are two reasons:

1. Mr. Rae quit the NDP explicitly for policy reasons, not for "personal" reasons. (Ms. Turmel's "personal" reasons is code for, "I'm running for the NDP and I can't be a member of two parties at once per NDP party rules.") I have no problem with someone quitting a party for principled reasons and then joining another one. None. This is not that.

2. The Bloc is a party dedicated to breaking up the country. The NDP is not. Sort of. Maybe. We'll see.

But if being a member of the Bloc is no big deal - if it is indeed a party like all others - then why did all of us, led by the NDP, celebrate when the Bloc was wiped out in the recent election? Why did we say it was "good for Canada" that they got decimated?

Yes, lots of federalist Quebeckers have voted Bloc. And yes, this may not hurt the NDP one bit in Quebec. Good for them.

This should be devastating news for the NDP. It casts a clear light on the dangerous game they've been playing in Quebec from the Sherbrooke Declaration on down the line. It raises a whole host of other questions:

1. Was the NDP leadership aware of Ms. Turmel's recent Bloc membership?

2. Did they ask her about her support for Bloc policy?

3. Why did they decide not to disclose her Bloc membership when she was appointed interim leader?

4. She has claimed recently that she supported Bloc candidates in her capacity as a union leader. How does she reconcile that claim with the revelation she was a card-carrying Bloc member?

5. With which Bloc policies does she agree?

6. Are there any Bloc policies with which she disagrees?

7. Which other NDP caucus members have been members of the Bloc?

8. Which NDP caucus members have been members of the Parti Québécois?

If the NDP's biggest challenge is to demonstrate competence - that they are ready for prime time and capable of running the country - nothing about today's revelations should give any of us (in English Canada, at least) any confidence that they are even close.

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