NDP 'unease' surrounds Turmel's Bloc secrecy

There's a serious unease in the NDP over interim leader Nycole Turmel's memberships in two Quebec sovereigntist parties, a party staffer said Thursday.
Most NDP MPs didn't know about Nycole Turmel's memberships in two Quebec sovereigntist parties when they voted her in as interim leader, a party staffer says. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

There's a serious unease in the NDP over interim leader Nycole Turmel's memberships in two Quebec sovereigntist parties, a party staffer said Thursday.

The staffer, speaking anonymously to RDI's La période des questions, said it shows a lack of integrity that Turmel held memberships in the Bloc Québécois for four years — until weeks before she announced her NDP candidacy — and in provincial party Québec Solidaire.

Turmel said Tuesday she would "let go" of her membership in Québec Solidaire, a move that was made official on Friday.

RDI, CBC/Radio-Canada's French-language news channel, confirmed the staffer works for the NDP but agreed not to name him.

Turmel didn't reveal the memberships until her Bloc allegiance surfaced in the media.

Turmel said she bought the Bloc membership to support an MP friend and that she backs the two parties' policies on unions and other social justice issues. She said she never supported their policies on separating from Canada.

But the NDP staffer said there's unease in the party now because the people who selected Turmel as interim leader didn't know about her memberships in sovereigntist parties.

"The profound unease that's taken over the party is that there was a large number of people, the majority of people, who voted didn't know then. And that's a very, very serious unease, because it's a crisis of confidence.

"When we take a party membership, it's not a sign of friendship.... It's a commitment, it's an adherence to a philosophy," he said.

"You can't lead a federalist party when you were sufficiently involved in a separatist party or parties."

Turmel, who had been NDP caucus chair, won unanimous support from the party's MPs last week to take over from Jack Layton, who stepped down temporarily as leader to fight cancer. The party's federal council, the deciding body, made it official the next day.

Asked about the staffer's comments, Turmel said she's pleased to keep repeating that she's a federalist. She said she was out in her riding of Hull–Aylmer, across the river from Ottawa, on Thursday, where people said they support her.

"We worked hard last week. The people in the caucus, the MPs, backed me and still back me," Turmel told RDI.

'Don't add up'

Liberal interim leader Bob Rae, who was an NDP premier of Ontario before switching allegiance to the Liberals, said the issue isn't that Turmel changed parties.

"If you change parties, from one party to another, for reasons of principle, I think we all recognize that happens in politics," he said.

Rae said it doesn't make sense that Turmel would take out a membership to support a friend.

"You don't join a separatist party, a party that wants to break up the country, for five years because you're trying to help somebody out," he said.

"These answers don't make sense. If you follow them through, they just don't add up."

Liberal MP Stéphane Dion, who wrote the federal Clarity Act, which imposes strictures on any potential Quebec sovereignty referendum, said Turmel owed it to voters to be open about a recent allegiance with another party.

She was asked about support for the Bloc during the spring election campaign, but didn't mention she took out a membership.

Writing in Montreal's Le Devoir newspaper, Dion said Canadians should question Turmel's judgment. "The NDP run candidates in every riding in Quebec. Did Ms. Turmel judge the Bloc's social issues platform superior to the NDP's?" he wrote in French.

"It's one thing to vote for the Bloc without being a sovereigntist. It's another to become a member of the party whose reason for existing is to get Quebec out of Canada."