Senator warns of Newfoundland separatism

Politics

The Canadian Press ~ The News
Published on March 5, 2009

A Liberal senator is threatening to push for a separatist movement in Newfoundland and Labrador if the Harper government continues to discriminate against the province.

Senator George Baker not only refused to back down Wednesday from separatist musings earlier this week - he turned up the rhetoric.

OTTAWA -

A Liberal senator is threatening to push for a separatist movement in Newfoundland and Labrador if the Harper government continues to discriminate against the province.

Senator George Baker not only refused to back down Wednesday from separatist musings earlier this week - he turned up the rhetoric.

"I will keep saying it, that if this keeps up then you're going to see a separatist movement in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador - and I'll be encouraging it."

What's more, Baker said if Liberals support another Conservative budget that penalizes Newfoundland, no one will have to kick him out of caucus - he'll quit.

Newfoundlanders are angry at the federal Tories over a budget they say will cost the province up to $1.6 billion in transfers.

Baker said this year's federal budget robs his province of 20 per cent of its revenue, after taking a 15 per cent hit last year.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff has echoed much of Baker's criticism of the budget, but has nevertheless decided to support it rather than force an election in the midst of an economic crisis.

He gave his six Newfoundland MPs special dispensation to vote against a preliminary motion giving the budget approval in principle. But he has instructed the Liberal-dominated Senate to quickly pass the budget implementation bill, which will land in the upper house today after winning Commons approval in record time.

Still, Baker said he intends to vote against the bill "at every stage."

Radio musings

Baker first mused about a rise in separatist sentiment in his province during an interview Monday with VOCM radio in St. John's.

Officials from Prime Minister Stephen Harper's office handed out transcripts of Baker's remarks to reporters Wednesday.

"I think that you will find that a great many young people will soon be advocating, you know, that we can't remain in the Confederation in which we're discriminated against and not respected," Baker was quoted as saying.

"How much are we going to put up with? You know, this should be reason enough to, to have a Bloc Newfoundland and Labrador running in the next election if this keeps up - and a real campaign to get them all elected."

A spokesman for Harper demanded that Baker be expelled from the Liberal caucus.

"There's no place for someone who holds those views in a party that purports to be in favour of national unity," Kory Teneycke said.

"You can't advocate for the creation of a Bloc Newfoundland, modelled after the separatist Bloc Quebecois, and sit in our caucus. So I don't think that should be the case in the Liberal caucus, either."

The Tories accused Ignatieff of "tolerating" separatists in his party, first by endorsing an agreement to form a coalition propped up by the separatist Bloc Quebecois, and now refusing to punish Baker, a former MP and cabinet minister and one of the longest-serving Liberal parliamentarians.

Ignatieff shrugged off Tory calls for Baker's expulsion.

"That's too ridiculous to discuss," he said.

Similar statements

Newfoundland MP Gerry Byrne said Baker's remarks are similar to Harper's call for Alberta to set up a "firewall" to minimize the federal government's presence in the province. Harper made those comments during a hiatus from politics, before becoming Tory leader.

Baker insisted he's not promoting separation for his province, simply predicting that separatist sentiment will rise if the federal government continues to penalize Newfoundland as part of Harper's continuing "vendetta" against Premier Danny Williams.

"Why would our young people today put up with that nonsense from a national government? No. It is Stephen Harper's fault if we end up with a Bloc Newfoundland and Labrador party that will be extremely successful, I predict, if he keeps this up."