'Of course I'm a sovereignist,' Green candidate says after Elizabeth May insists he's not

A day after Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said her star recruit in Quebec is not a sovereignist, Pierre Nantel said Thursday that's simply not true.

'He is not a separatist, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said Wednesday of candidate Pierre Nantel

Former NDP MP Pierre Nantel sits with Green Party Leader Elizabeth May in August as he announces he will be the Green candidate in the Quebec riding of Longueuil–Saint-Hubert. (CBC)

A day after Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said her star recruit in Quebec is not a sovereignist, Pierre Nantel said that's simply not true.

"Of course I'm a sovereignist, everyone knows, and that's always been the case," Nantel said Thursday in an interview with CBC's French-language service, Radio Canada.

Nantel, an MP who recently quit the the NDP to run for the Green Party in a Montreal-area riding, said he meant what he said earlier this week in a radio interview when he voiced support for Quebec independence "as soon as possible."

At her campaign launch Wednesday, May defended her candidate, saying she wouldn't allow someone into the Green fold if they were intent on breaking up the country.

She said if Nantel is steadfast in his separatist beliefs he cannot stand as a Green in the Longueuil-Saint-Hubert riding, but he's not, and thus he'll stay on, she said.

"He is not a separatist; he's a strong Quebecer within the context of Canada," she said at the launch in Victoria.

"We will not have a candidate who thinks they can work to break up our country. That's not on. First and foremost, no other party leader is gonna say this, but are you ready? First and foremost we are Earthlings.

"We won't play footsie with white supremacists, we won't play games about whether people are against Alberta, we are not, we are for Alberta, we won't play games around separatism around Quebec," she said.

Nantel said May has always been aware of his sovereignist leanings — and she is "enthusiastic" about welcoming more sovereignists into the Green Party so long as they don't vocally advocate their position on separation in Parliament.

"The Green Party welcomes nationalists, sovereignists, and people of all stripes with open arms because we believe that the next federal election is like a referendum on the climate. We want people of all stripes for temporary allegiance to the Green Party," Nantel said in French in an interview with Radio-Canada.

When asked for comment, a Green Party spokesperson referred CBC News to a statement from Nantel earlier Thursday in which he asked Quebecers of all political persuasions to temporarily put aside their beliefs and vote Green for the good of the climate. "No issue is more important than that one," he said in the statement.

Nantel said his earlier comments on QUB radio — "Let's separate as soon as possible. But as long as we are here, let's defend Quebec in the Canadian federation" — were taken out of context.

He said his comments came amid a long conversation with a host over English Canada's exasperation with the province introducing a law like Bill 21, Quebec's secularism law that forces public servants to remove religious garb while on the job.

He said if Quebec is tired of hearing criticism from the rest of Canada on the issue, then Quebecers should just go it alone and leave the federation.

Nantel said Thursday it may have been a mistake to promote sovereignty on the program when speaking in his capacity as a Green Party candidate.

He said, as an NDP MP for the last eight years — he was elected in the 2011 "orange wave" that swept many New Democrats from the province to office — he never promoted sovereignty in the House of Commons and he doesn't plan on doing so if elected as a Green MP this fall either, he told Radio-Canada.

"Obviously, Ms. May is very enthusiastic about receiving sovereignists," Nantel said. "However, she does not want us to praise sovereignty in the House of Commons. I understand it and I agree with it, I have never done it," he said.

May has criticized Bill 21 but said she would accept "dissension'' within party ranks on the issue.

Nantel said he made sure before joining the Greens that he could openly support Bill 21, adding that he had told May she needed to "defend the nationalism of Quebecers in Ottawa.''


John Paul Tasker

Senior reporter

J.P. Tasker is a journalist in CBC's parliamentary bureau who reports for digital, radio and television. He is also a regular panellist on CBC News Network's Power & Politics. He covers the Conservative Party, Canada-U.S. relations, Crown-Indigenous affairs, climate change, health policy and the Senate. You can send story ideas and tips to J.P. at john.tasker@cbc.ca.

With files from Radio-Canada's Joëlle Girard and Jean-Sébastien Cloutier, Canadian Press

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