View From the Hill by Keith Beardsley – Nycole Turmel Great Summer Theatre – August 10, 2011

CFN – For the past week the public (those who are actually interested and paying attention) has had an opportunity to watch our federal political parties bickering and occasionally slashing away at each other over Nycole Turmel’s party memberships.

It makes for great political theatre, but other than inside the Queensway, how many Canadians are paying attention?

When the story first broke it made for an interesting political hit. It had the NDP scrambling for answers and they were slow of the mark. When the NDP were forced to hold a press conference, Turmel’s public performance was pretty weak. As the interim party leader for the NDP, Turmel’s lack of skill in answering political questions was evident. Turmel’s poor performance did raise quite a few questions about her competency to head the NDP over the next few months and potentially into the next session of parliament. By not revealing her ties to the Bloc and Quebec Solidaire, Turmel screwed up big time. Score one for the Conservatives and the Liberals.

However, on August 2nd the NDP did produce a reality check that looked at Denis Lebel’s past connections to the Bloc, but initially it didn’t get much play. At that point, at least for the Conservatives, it was best to leave the story alone. Then for some reason, someone gave the Prime Minister talking points on August 3rd that had him questioning Turmel’s and the NDP’s commitment to Canada.

“I think it’s very disappointing. I don’t know that I have a lot to say but I do think Canadians will find this disappointing.”

“I think Canadians expect that any political party that wants to govern the country be unequivocally committed to this country, that’s the minimum Canadians expect.”

At that point the Conservatives handed the NDP some pretty substantial pushback material and they have now successfully turned the issue around and put it back onto the Conservatives. One would have thought that someone in PMO was following the NDP pushback material and that before using that talk point, PMO would have checked with their own Quebec caucus members to verify the NDP claims and to make sure that there wouldn’t be any blowback. It is not as though they have so many Quebec MPs that a few calls wouldn’t have warned them that two of their present ministers might become the subject of an NDP counterattack and fall under media scrutiny.

The August 2nd NDP reality check is now seeing the light of day. Denis Lebel, the Conservative Transport Minister and a senior member of the Conservative team in Quebec, has now admitted that he had been a member of the Bloc from July 1993 to April 2001 and the Conservatives are now left to explain how his situation is different to Turmel’s. By taking the issue one step too far, the Conservatives are now left parsing their answers and trying to explain their own weaknesses around the issue.

For all of the parties and for each MP, it should really boil down to a simple question. Do you still support separatism? Yes or no? No waffling allowed. If you can’t give a straight unequivocal answer to the effect that you no longer support separatism, then you are fair game in federal politics. If you have renounced separatism, you should be made welcome into the federalist tent.

Keith Beardsley is a senior strategist for True North Public Affairs in Ottawa, as well as a blogger and political analyst. He can often be found running or cycling on his favorite bike trails.

Best Western


  1. All MP’s should be made to answer that same question! If they support separation then they cannot be a federal MP.

  2. I think it be wise for every political Party to ask MP’s about previous/current alliances and thus to be with awareness. That being said there are major differences between Turmel and Lebel. Certainly it is not as similar as you attempt to portray

    Denis Lebel was not a member of the Bloc and the Conservative Party at same time. He was a Bloc member until 2001 and became a Conservative in 2006 after PM Stephen Harper endorsed Quebec as a Nation. Turmel on the other hand was a NDP member for twenty years and at same time a Bloc member from 2006 – 2011. In addition she held membership in a separatist Party with strong(radical) separatist leaning(Quebec Solidaire) even as she was intern leader of the NDP. She only cancelled that membership after the proverbial s_ _ t hit the fan. The Quebec Solidarity membership she gave up one week ago was a forced resignation after media scrutiny and not voluntary.

    Another major difference is Nycole Turmel is current NDP intern leader with control of over 100 MP’s. Lebel on the other hand accepts control from his leader the PM.

    Turmel created a major gaffe as did Layton. I believe it has put onus upon the NDP and created doubts much more so than Denis Lebed who was a member of only one Party at a time. With five years between his leaving the Bloc and joining the Conservatives perchance his ideology has been with genuine change. Whereas Nycole Turmel kept her Bloc and Quebec Solidaire memberships active until most recently and as a 20 year member of the NDP, I suspect her ideologies have not changed.

    As you say they were both members of the Bloc… but there remain some glaring differences outside that similarity.

  3. Question: Which convert to federalism once talked in separatist terms about building a firewall around Alberta?

  4. A response to the inability of the Reform party to elect candidates east of the prairies, Harper co-authored what is typically referred to as the “firewall” letter. The letter urged Alberta Premier Ralph Klein to fully exercise Alberta’s constitutional powers. This would allow Albertans, like Quebecers, to become “maitres chez nous,” limiting the extent to which a “hostile federal government can encroach upon legitimate provincial jurisdiction.”
    The letter has been referred to as the Firewall Letter from its use of the phrase “build firewalls around Alberta,” a reference to the computer software programs which block unwanted intrusions from outside sources.
    Its main recommendations were:
    -Allowing the province’s contract with the RCMP expire in 2012, establishing a provincial police force to take the RCMP’s place. Alberta had a separate until 1932.
    -Withdrawal from the Canada Pension Plan and establishing a separate Alberta Pension Plan. Many Albertans believe that given the province’s youthful demographics, staying in the CPP makes little sense since a separate “APP” would provide higher benefits for a lower premium.
    -Separate collection of the province’s income tax, as opposed to letting the Canada Revenue Agency handle tax collection. Alberta already collects its own Corporate tax.
    Contrary to the image conveyed by the word ‘firewall’ it had nothing to do with Alberta separatism.

  5. The optics were separatist, nevertheless, and the letter consistent with Harper’s now familiar divide-and-rule tactics.

  6. Furtz please explain why the Conservatives tried to remove this video? There’s certainly nothing wrong with it! Are you just Con-bashing again?

  7. The video was shot at a private party and posted on YouTube. The PMO found it embarrassing so they had it pulled. Now somebody else has re-posted it. It’s been all over the news.

  8. Author

    of course that could be spin to draw more attention to it….

  9. Author

    furtz never underestimate spin

  10. Embarrassed to be seen laughing and relaxed, when they are supposed to be uptight and tough?

  11. Maybe embarrassed to be seen gloating.

  12. There’s United Workers, Furtz, and there’s United Porkers. Maybe that’s the embarrassment.

  13. I’m pretty sure that the person who shot and posted the video is experiencing the full wrath of Harper by now. This was a private back-slapping orgy that was never meant to be made public. I know for a fact that the Provincial Libs are loving it right now.

  14. I doubt if Harper would bother with such, certainly not directly, however I imagine many others have chastised this person and rightly so. I think this naive person has learned a life lesson and something about etiquette…. also how something they viewed as innocent can be exploited for ulterior gain. Yes indeed they have been educated about another of the many facets of politics. What would posses a person to attend a closed and private event and then to post a portion publicly on the internet… naivety I assume. I do not see anything wrong with the video and place it in the context of a BBQ composed of Party faithful making partisan comment, rallying and motivating. Comments in such context and private setting are logical and normal. Seems totally normal and logical to me. A quiet media day and those of the politically correct far left grasping for a noisemaker…. simply political gamemanship.

  15. Holy Jumpin, Garfield. You’re using some pretty fancy prose just to say that a private party is a private party, and one of the guests didn’t know the rules. For sure Harper and Hudak are pissed off about the “leaked” video. The Ontario Libs and NDP will be making good use of it. Memo to Cons: No video cameras at private events, upon pain of death!

  16. Author

    or have public statements like at the Williamstown fair?

    McDonell banner at Williamstown fair

  17. It’s called “Freedom of Speech”. It’s everyone’s right to speak their mind (even if they don’t have one).
    Was this at the Williamstown fair or on someones private property?

  18. I have yet to talk to anyone who views the video or comments as a big deal. It’s a non-issue to those I’ve spoken with. Reminds me of federal election in that the Libs and NDP were stuck inside their bubble in belief events they viewed as major would also resonate and be viewed as such by the populace. Fact is it was not. Such political noise making over minor trivialities does not distract from the dismal history of Premier Pinocchio McGuinty. This is big stuff for those inside the bubble, but for the rest of us it is not.

  19. I am sometimes accused of being negative, well after watching the video link posted by Furtz, maybe “good” things can come in 3’s! Many people know how much Ontario’s debt and defict are, and it is obvious that the present government is not helping. The increase each year and the world slow down can not be blamed on Harris logically.

    Sorry I missed that sign at the Williamstown Fair, but did see some ribbon winning bags of hay on display that made me think of licensed medical maryjane discussion on this site…..

    To get back to the article, finding a politician to give a yes or no will not earn or keep votes. Of course, I would love to see someone actually taking a stand on something, but all parties do not do that.

  20. What short memories we have. Recall back to the 2003 election when Flaherty declared that Ontario’s books were balanced. McGuinty (who I am not a fan of) foolishly made some promises based on Flaherty’s bald-faced lie. Shortly after the election it was found that Ontario was 5 BILLION in the hole. This is why the Libs passed legislation that requires a provincial financial audit before each election.

  21. I’m afraid I am confused by the picture. Isn’t Jim McDonell the mayor of South Dundas? If that is the case then is this banner promoting moving him from municipal politics to provincial as a way of getting rid of him, a real life example of the Peter Principle?

  22. Sorry, I meant South Glengary when referring to Jim McDonell.

  23. Furtz, looking back also shows Ontario was spending 64.3 billion in 2003/04 and now are spending well over 115 billion per year. There was a few years for the McGuinty govertment to get on track before the 2008 recession.
    Also, McGuinty was not new to politics and had access to the numbers, which by the way, failed to incorporate the whole year.

  24. Shortly after the election we were found to be 5 bilion in the hole, I would think any good politician would have know that well before the election.

    Finding lost ills after an election is a common ploy used by liberals to eliminate election promises.

    Government spending under Mr. McGuinty was $64.3 billion in 2003/04. Spending in 2010-2011 iwas projected at $115.9 billion. This is an increase of $51.6 billion in seven years – an increase of over 80 per cent – above 11 per cent for each year of the McGuinty government…..s

    Where is the money being spent health care lines growing showing a need for more services. Despatie closes beds eliminating spending in this area alone.
    employment is on the decline, education enrollment is on the decline ……where is this money being spent?

    You may not like the conservative but atleast they hold education, Health care accountable for the money they bill. It is a fresh look to the put your money where your pen is.

    We simply need to reduce social programs running as they currently operate. The administration getting rich and ther services deminishing.

    Harris said he would do it hi did it and everyone cried foul…Now we have unchecked liberal spending and the debt to prove it

  25. Without an audit, how would anyone (politician or otherwise), except for the finance minister, know what shape the books were in? As I said above, this is why the Libs passed legislation that requires a provincial financial audit before each election. The fact that Flaherty was caught lying through his teeth seems to have the usual shorts tied in knots. Sorry if the facts offend. I can’t help that.

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