Turmel turmoil a tempest in a teapot

Peter Jackson
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Break out the tar and feathers. Nycole Turmel is a separatist.

Well, not exactly a separatist.

But she was a member of separatist parties in Quebec.

Well, she didn’t endorse their separatist roots. She just liked their social policies.

Actually, she only joined to support a couple of friends.

The whole controversy should be a tempest in a teapot. But to hear the cries of foul from partisan politicos and hacks over the past week, you’d think she turned out to be a murderer or pedophile.

Outrageous! Imagine, a Quebec politician having flirted with separatists. It’s unthinkable.

Never mind that almost half the Quebec population actually voted to leave Canada in the last sovereignty referendum.

Rite of passage

Fact is, nationalist fervour is a rite of passage for most Quebecers. As a colleague puts it, separatism is as Quebec as three cigarettes on the jungle gym and a couple of large Labatts at the strip club.

Some hang on to it till the bitter end, while others move on to more pressing issues like health care and jobs.

Turmel held a membership in the somewhat obscure Québec solidaire, a fringe party which echoed many of her socialist views.

She also joined the Bloc Québécois, but insisted she opposed their separatist plank and turned down an offer to run under the Bloc banner.

In recent years, the Bloc has been about as separatist as the NDP is a party of farmers.

It’s like a badge members wear when they’re around the hardcore hangers-on.

Give or go

In Parliament, the Bloc demands more federal health-care funding.

We want more money for infrastructure, they say.

We want our equalization.

We want our subsidies for Bombardier.

Oh, and by the way … we’re separatists.

It’s a joke, and the puffed-up indignance surrounding Turmel is but a farce in light of it.

To take it seriously, you’d anticipate a McCarthy-esque tribunal in the near future to ferret out those who have dared experiment with the separatist scourge.

We could call it the House UnCanadian Activities Committee.

“Are you now, or have you ever been, a separatist?”

“No, sir.”

“Have you ever painted the fleurs-de-lys on your face?”

“No, sir.”

“Do you have a life-size poster of Charles de Gaulle in your bedroom?”

“Definitely not, sir.”

“Do you cry when you hear Gilles Vigneault songs?”

“Only once, sir.”

More comedy

What makes it even funnier is the revelation Tuesday that a federal Conservative MP also had ties to the Bloc Québécois. And not just any MP.

The Globe and Mail reported that Tory Transport Minister Denis Lebel was a member of the Bloc during his time working for various organizations in his home town of Roberval.

Perhaps former Harper speechwriter Michael Taube had wind of this fact when he tried to downplay the so-called Turmel scandal in The Ottawa Citizen last week.

Taube noted that the NDP and Bloc have been interchangeable in the minds of many Quebec voters because of the two parties’ similar social policies.

Separatism rarely enters into the equation.

“Let’s all calm down,” wrote Taube.

“Turmel’s temporary reign of terror will likely be a short footnote in Canadian political history. She can then return to obscurity and be a federalist, separatist, or whatever the heck she wants.”

Peter Jackson is The Telegram’s

commentary editor. He can be contacted at pjackson@thetelegram.com.

Organizations: Bloc Québécois, NDP, House UnCanadian Activities Committee MP.The Globe and Mail Ottawa Citizen

Geographic location: Quebec, Canada, Roberval.Perhaps

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Recent comments

  • baieboy
    August 10, 2011 - 19:54

    CV stands for curriculum vitae (Latin for "course of life"), a summary of academic and professional history and achievements. Douggie. Ms. Turmels cv. Academic achievments. None I know of. Professional achievments. Since 1979 has been involved in the public sector union movement. However most important, what makes Turmel a terrible choice is that she belonged to the BQ, Quebec Solidaire and the NDP all at the same time. You can't be separatist and federalist at the same time. Turmel even belonged to Quebec Solidaire after she became the NDP leader!!! Canadians want, and need, former sovereigntists to join the ranks of federalist parties. But they also want the leadership of federalist parties to be unequivocally federalist. Good news for Torys & Grits.

  • Carl
    August 10, 2011 - 14:37

    The issue here is not that Turmel once belonged to the Bloc Quebecois and Quebec Solidaire. Many members of all three federalist parties were separatists at one time, and I'm glad they changed their minds. What makes Turmel different is that she belonged to the BQ, Quebec Solidaire and the NDP all at the same time. You can't be separatist and federalist at the same time. Turmel even belonged to Quebec Solidaire after she became the NDP leader! This situation is very different from Denis Lebel, who left the BQ seven years before running as a Conservative candidate.

    • Geoff
      August 10, 2011 - 22:31

      "Turmel even belonged to Quebec Solidaire after she became the NDP leader!" Well, yeah, most New Democrats in Quebec vote QS, regardless of their views on secession, and I'd expect the leader of a federal party to be in good standing with its provincial comrades. Jack Layton is a member of the Ontario NDP "at the same time" as he led the federal NDP. How is that different?

    • Carl
      August 11, 2011 - 12:39

      @Geoff: Turmel's situation is very different from Layton belonging to both the Ontario NDP and federal NDP in two important ways: First and foremost, Quebec Solidaire is a separatist party, whereas the Ontario NDP is not. Pretty simple. And like I said before, you can't be both separatist and federalist at the same time. And second, the provincial NDP parties exist at the pleasure of the federal party, and are subject to its constitution. In contrast, Quebec Solidaire has no formal affiliation with the federal NDP, and has a very different (even more radical) platform.

    • Geoff
      August 15, 2011 - 15:34

      Not different at all: those of you making this criticism are ingorant of the political scene in Quebec: *none* of the major parties have "formal" ties to their federal counterparts, and only the Liberals take a straightforwardly federalist position. Harper's buddies in the ADQ (there hasn't been "Conservative Party of Quebec" since Duplessis - that's why when Charest) only recently downgraded their stance from secession to "autonomism." Formal or not, the fact remains that QS is the organizational successor to the NDPQ, and as the united party of the left encompasses Socialist Quebeckers on all sides of the national question - for example, the avowedly federalist Mme Turmel. Essentially what you're saying is that federal pols from QC must renounce their provincial party memberships (except maybe Liberals) because none lines up "exactly." And besides, the idea of separatist politicians being quarantined in a separate federal party only dates to the founding of the Bloc in 1989. I was one at the time, so assuming you're at all older than me you should remember that until then separatist MPs sat in the Liberal and Conservative caucuses just like almost everyone else. Bouchard, after all, was a Mulroney cabinet minister before he helped form a new party for separatists of all political persuasions. In any case, the constitutional reforms socialists advocate are much more overwhelming than whether the current Canadian state should be one capitalist country or divided into two, so the debate over separation is less germane in QS. Though the anglo media have branded it a "provincial separatist party" it is in fact a coalition made up of groups with widely varying views on Quebec's constitutional status - some collectives within QS explicitly support union with Canada, putting the lie to your accusation that Mme Turmel is trying to be two things at once.

    • Carl
      August 15, 2011 - 23:02

      Let's not over-complicate this. I am NOT suggesting that separatist politicians should be "quarantined in a separate federal party." I am suggesting that separatist politicians do not belong in the federal parliament as members of ANY party. And I am also saying that you cannot claim to be a federalist party when your leader belongs to two organizations that want to break up Canada. It's a ridiculous, untenable position.

  • Politically Incorrect
    August 10, 2011 - 12:40

    I seem to recall Mr. Harper championing a "firewall" around Albertl." And the less said about his part in in the Northern Foundation the better (for Conservative apologists).

  • Reality
    August 10, 2011 - 11:16

    Oh wait, she joined two.

    • Alex
      August 10, 2011 - 12:48

      She joined, ran for, and is the intrem leader of a federalist party. Do you think she's going to sneak into the NDP back room with a bottle of liquid paper and change the Party's constitution? If you read the article, you will notice that the not all Tories have been life-long Ruling Class Heroes.

  • Reality
    August 10, 2011 - 11:15

    You join a separatist party, you're a separatist.

  • Douggie
    August 10, 2011 - 10:44

    What reasons do we have to believe that this woman is not up to the job, Baieboy? She has a rather impressive CV.

  • baieboy
    August 10, 2011 - 10:07

    If this lady is the best canidate the NDP can offer for PM, its good news for the other parties???