The Conservative government and the Opposition New Democrats are trying to taint the other as being soft on sovereignty – a political tit-for-tat that portends an acrimonious fall in the House of Commons.
On Tuesday, the Conservatives were scrambling to declare that an affiliation between Transport Minister Denis Lebel and the Bloc Québécois had ended long ago. Last week it was Nycole Turmel, the interim leader of the New Democrats, who was distancing herself from her own more recent membership in the separatist party.
The Tories and the NDP both say they have no desire to perpetuate the war of words.
If accusations of “separatist” are lobbed across the floor of the Commons when Parliament resumes after the summer break, “it won’t be the Conservative government that’s doing that,” said Andrew MacDougall, a spokesman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The government’s focus has been, and will continue to be, the economy, said Mr. MacDougall.
Brad Lavigne, the principal secretary for the New Democrats, said his party has other points of disagreement with the government that it hopes will dominate the discourse.
But “we have watched for the last number of years the Conservatives beat up the Liberals [when the Liberals were the Official Opposition]and the Liberals’ failure to fight back,” said Mr. Lavigne. “We will hit back just as hard if not harder on the Conservatives, particularly when they impugn the reputation or the commitment to this country of our leader or of any member of our caucus.”
Shortly after The Globe and Mail broke the story last week about Ms. Turmel’s previous membership in the Bloc Québécois, Dimitri Soudas, a spokesman for Mr. Harper, declared the revelation to be “another worrying example of the NDP not up to the job of governing Canada.”
Within hours, the New Democrats issued a news release detailing Mr. Lebel’s own former ties to the Bloc – information that was largely ignored by English media until this week.
Mr. Lebel quit the separatist party in 2001, a year after he became mayor of Roberval in the heavily separatist Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region of Quebec.
As for Ms. Turmel, she became a member of the separatist party in December, 2006, the year she retired as president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, and then quit on Jan. 19 of this year before running for the NDP.
“What is at issue is the hypocrisy that the Conservatives displayed when they were commenting on Madame Turmel’s former membership in the Bloc,” said Mr. Lavigne. “They did this at the same time they themselves have members of their cabinet who are former members of the Bloc Québécois.”
Mr. MacDougall retorts that Mr. Lebel’s membership in the Bloc ended long ago, while Ms. Turmel remained an active member in Québec Solidaire – a provincial separatist party – until just last week.
Meanwhile, Vivian Barbeau, a former Bloc MP who is now interim leader, said the repudiation of the Bloc Québécois is an insult to Quebec voters.
“In Quebec we have the Bloc Québécois and also the Parti Québécois whose aim is sovereignty,” she said. “That doesn’t mean that we don’t belong. We do what we have to do and people don’t have to treat us the way they are doing now.”