Politics

Tom Mulcair says Quebec independence risks hurting middle class

Federal NDP Leader Tom Mulcair criticized Quebec sovereignty on Tuesday but also brandished the nationalist card by promising Quebecers a special status in Canada if his party forms the government in this fall's election.

NDP's Sherbrooke Declaration 'remains at the heart of our approach with Quebecers'

Tom Mulcair enjoys a beer with local candidate Annick Papillon while touring a microbrewery in Quebec City Tuesday, the eve of St-Jean-Baptiste Day, Quebec's national holiday. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

Federal NDP Leader Tom Mulcair criticized Quebec sovereignty on Tuesday but also brandished the nationalist card by promising Quebecers a special status in Canada if his party forms the government in this fall's election.

Quebec separating from Canada would hurt the middle class, Mulcair told reporters after a visit to a Quebec City microbrewery one day before Wednesday's Fete nationale, a celebration often used by sovereigntists to rally support for their cause.

Independence is "a vision that risks really hurting the middle class," Mulcair said, adding his goal in politics is to "help families" as opposed to "making them suffer through constitutional wrangling."

But Mulcair, who was environment minister under a previous Quebec Liberal government, reminded reporters of his party's so-called Sherbrooke Declaration of 2005, a document that stated Quebec should be granted "specific powers and room for manoeuvring."

With that declaration, the party endorsed the principle of recognizing a referendum victory by the sovereigntist Yes side, even if it were by a majority of 50 per cent plus one.

That clashes with the federal Clarity Act, which calls for the need for a "clear majority."

Moreover, the declaration offers "asymmetrical federalism," meaning Quebec would be given the right to opt out of federal programs that touch on provincial jurisdiction. Quebec would also receive "full compensation."

'Worst kind of politics': Trudeau

Mulcair reiterated that the Sherbrooke Declaration is his party's official position vis-a-vis Quebec's relationship with Ottawa.

"It's clear this political offer remains at the heart of our approach with Quebecers," he said.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau responded by accusing Mulcair of pandering to Quebec nationalists.

"On the St. Jean Baptiste, Quebec's national holiday, that Mr. Mulcair would decide to make this announcement about repealing the Clarity Act and making it easier to break up the country is just the worst kind of politics," he said in an interview.

"The fact that he's choosing to bring this up as an effort to pander to votes in Quebec, I think is exactly the wrong thing."

In his travels around Quebec, Trudeau said he's found people want to talk about jobs, the economy, the environment and health care, not the legal requirements for secession. And he said he shares their priorities.

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