Tom Mulcair says NDP relations with Quebec disarmed separatists' argument

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair says his party’s approach to federal fiscal relations with Quebec had disarmed separatists of one of their more potent arguments.

NDP leader plays unity card as party insiders warn

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair speaks in front of a K'Omoks nation totem pole at a rally Sunday, October 11, 2015 in Courtenay, B.C. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair says his party's approach to federal fiscal relations with Quebec had disarmed separatists of one of their more potent arguments.

And a return by voters to the Liberals or Conservatives would endanger the sovereignty peace Canada has enjoyed since the 2011 election, NDP organizers warned.

The NDP leader said Sunday he and his predecessor Jack Layton went looking for a way to bring Quebecers on board with the NDP project, and found one in a plan to address the problem of the federal spending power in Quebec.

The question of whether Quebec could be forced to accept a federally designed and managed program in order to qualify for program funding was a long-standing sore point, Mulcair said, that the NDP addressed in its Sherbrooke declaration.

"Full compensation with the right to withdraw in the case of Quebec, with no conditions," Mulcair recalled. "It takes away the argument that the only situation is to break away from Canada."

Mulcair made the remarks before a large rally of supporters in Nanaimo, urging them to get to work to help the part win seats in British Columbia. It's there, and on Vancouver Island in particular, where the NDP's hopes are most buoyant.

But the fight that worries organizers most is the one in Quebec, where, the bulk of the party's current seats are held.

The Bloc Québécois is fighting hard there pulling some support from the New Democrats, as are the Liberals and even the Conservatives.

Today Mulcair warned the Canada he and Layton were offering Quebecers to join with was in danger.

"I know that the Canada that Stephen Harper has created over the past 10 years, is more closed, war-like and on the world stage, is a polluter, is seen as one of the worst players on the world stage in terms of the environment," he said.

"I would love nothing more than to be able to complete the work that Jack started with progressives here in B.C. working with progressives in Quebec, on the environment, to create good jobs, to make sure that we work for peace."

Mulcair first raised the spectre of a resurgent Bloc Saturday in a pitch to voters in Duncan, B.C.

Mulcair was rehashing the events of the last election; trying to make the case his party was still the best choice.

"Remember, in 2011 for the first time in a generation we not only became -- for the first time in our history -- the official opposition, we got rid of the Bloc Quebecois," he said.

"We defeated the separatist Bloc Quebecois with a vision of what we could accomplish by working together."

Mulcair refused to say Sunday whether he believed sovereignty would rise were Justin Trudeau's Liberals to form government.

But, separately, a party source warned that was the case.

"It is under the Liberals' watch that we saw the rise of the PQ and two referendums, including one that [Jean Chrétien] almost lost. And the last time the Bloc was on its way out, they were revived with the sponsorship scandal," the source said.

"The Clarity Act approach is nearly unanimously rejected in Quebec. Trudeau's been using unity as a hot button (…) always a dangerous game."

In September, Trudeau campaigned alongside former prime minister Jean Chrétien, who warned the NDP had the wrong approach to separatists.

Trudeau himself cautioned Mulcair "wants to roll the dice" with Quebec. 

"He wants to put separation back on the table, and turn the clock back 20 years," the Liberal leader said.


James Cudmore covered politics and military affairs for CBC News until Jan. 8, 2016.