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Claude Patry, former NDP MP, now Bloc MP

CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS

During the last federal election, Jack Layton courted Quebec voters with a number of intemperate promises, including extending Quebec language legislation into areas of federal jurisdiction, and advocating more seats for Quebec in any riding redistribution, even though its population does not justify them. The NDP's strategy worked wonders in the election, when they won 59 out of 75 seats in the province, and the prize of official opposition in Ottawa. It should have been enough of a good thing.

Sooner or later, playing footsie with separatists in Quebec was going to harm a federalist party, and it has. Thomas Mulcair, the current leader, took the bait in the form of a mischievous Bloc Québécois motion to change the rules for Quebec secession by pledging to repeal the Clarity Act.

The Bloc motion was handily defeated on Wednesday, but that wasn't the point. It was a strategic win, because they succeeded in weakening the NDP nationally by exposing the unacceptable NDP position, which is that a bare majority of 50 per cent plus one in a referendum vote should be enough to trigger negotiations on Quebec secession. "The side that wins wins," Mr. Mulcair declared.

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Under the NDP plan, it would be easier to trigger negotiations over the breakup of the country than it would be to amend the New Democrats' own party constitution, which requires a two-thirds majority. With the party so clearly catering to Quebec nationalist and soft-sovereigntist sentiments, the defection last week of Claude Patry, the MP for Jonquière-Alma, to sit with the Bloc rump, must have been a stinging blow.

When he announced his defection, Mr. Patry made it clear that he is a longstanding supporter of separatism: "I voted for Quebec sovereignty in the last two referendums. I hoped that Quebec should become a country and I still hope for that."

Remarkably, the MP said he decided to change parties as a result of Mr. Mulcair's position, which is widely seen as too weak outside Quebec but too strong for people like Mr. Patry, who rejected the idea that any referendum question should be deemed satisfactory by the federal government. He said this "demonstrates unequivocally that the party favours Canada's interest over those of the Quebec nation."

It is astonishing that someone in the New Democrats' Quebec caucus could have been led to believe otherwise. Clearly, Mr. Mulcair needs to stand up for more than social-democratic values.

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