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Harper and Rae pile on as Mulcair's dual citizenship raises eyebrows

Quebec MP Thomas Mulcair announces his candidacy for the NDP leadership in Montreal on Oct. 13, 2011.

Ryan Remiorz/Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press

Stephen Harper has only one passport. It's Canadian. And that's the way he likes it.

Thomas Mulcair, the Quebec MP and NDP leadership contender, carries two passports. One is Canadian, the other is French.

"Obviously, it's for Mr. Mulcair to use his political judgment in the case," the Prime Minister observed in Saguenay, Que. "In my case, as I say, I am very clear. I am a Canadian and only a Canadian."

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Mr. Harper was responding to a question about the ethics of a potential Official Opposition leader holding dual citizenship. It was prompted by a Sun Media report Tuesday in which Mr. Mulcair vows to keep his French citizenship even if he becomes prime minister.

Bob Rae, who also holds only a Canadian passport, marvels at the hypocrisy of the NDP – and the hole they've dug for themselves on this issue.

The Interim Liberal Leader was referring to criticism by the late Jack Layton of Stéphane Dion, the former Official Opposition leader who is also a dual citizen of France and Canada.

In 2006, Mr. Layton said he "would prefer that a leader of a party hold only Canadian citizenship, because one represents many Canadians, and for it's better to remain the citizen of one country."

Remarked Mr. Rae: "There is a terrible sense of irony that while Mr. Layton didn't hesitate to take a run at Mr. Dion in 2007, he didn't seem to have the same view about his candidate or member from Outremont, Mr. Mulcair."

A former cabinet minister in Jean Charest's Liberal government, Mr. Mulcair won his federal seat in Montreal in a 2007 by-election.

"Mr. Mulcair and the NDP will have to decide whether their invented rule in Stéphane's case applies now, or whether there has been a miraculous change of heart," Mr. Rae told the Globe.

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He argued New Democrats are now "stuck with either being completely inconsistent, or knuckling under to the Harper line, which in my view is too rigid."

And there is nothing legally preventing Mr. Mulcair from holding two passports, the Interim Liberal Leader added.

"I've no idea how many dual citizens there are in Canada but I'd hate to see any Canadian denied a chance to run for office or even become prime minister because they have a dual heritage or passport," Mr. Rae said. "Surely, we're bigger than that as a country."

Mr. Mulcair himself took up that same point after the Prime Minister and the Liberal chief weighed in.

The Quebec New Democrat told The Canadian Press that Mr. Harper appears to be suggesting the hundreds of thousands of Canadians with dual citizenship are somehow lesser Canadians or have divided loyalties. This, Mr. Mulcair added, is a reflection of the Prime Minister's "profoundly parochial and insular thinking."

But as Mr. Harper noted in his remarks, this issue is not new. Former governor-general Michaëlle Jean provoked controversy when it came to light that she also held French citizenship. She revoked it just before she was sworn-in because it caused such a stir.

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And in last May's federal election campaign Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff's wife, Zsuzsanna Zsohar, came under attack by right-wingers because she was still a Hungarian citizen. As a result, she couldn't vote for her husband.

However, Ms. Zsohar had applied for Canadian citizenship and was waiting for it to come through. She called the attacks – which were also stoked by Sun Media – "hurtful."

One of Mr. Mulcair's rivals for the NDP leadership, meanwhile, was blunt. "This is a non issue," Ottawa MP Paul Dewar told The Globe. "Tom is as Canadian as the rest of us. End of story".

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

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