Green and growing

My story about being a Green politician in Canada, and why it was the best thing I ever did.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

On the politics of fear

There have been recent press articles about the interim leader of the NDP, Nycole Turmel, belonging to the Bloc Quebecois in recent years. Detractors say this represents poor judgment on the part of the NDP leadership or at worst a shift towards separatism in the party.

I say this is nonsense. People change. Times change. The things that we once thought were the best of ideas can lose their luster, and when that happens, we need to change.

In the last decade or so, and up until the general election this year, support for the BQ was as much based in getting the best federal-provincial deal for Quebec as it was about sovereignty. In truth, many of the voters in my riding in Ontario are only concerned about what we can do for them specifically, or for the province. They see the election system as a way of selecting a champion who will go to Ottawa to fight for their share (or even, perhaps, more than their share) of government funding. I used to believe myself that this was the role of the federal politician.

But I have changed. While it is important to represent the interests of your constituency, it is equally important to contribute to the greater economic and social wealth of our country. Much as a rising tide lifts all boats, we all benefit from programs which assist everyone. Economic studies have show, for example, that improvements to education create a net benefit to society which far exceeds the net benefit to the individuals being educated!

So why is it such a big news story that Nycole Turmel used to belong to the BQ? Well, I submit to you that it is a smattering of what they call news on a slow day. It had the elements which make for good sensationalization, as it raised a spectre of fear. "Oh my god, what if the NDP has a hidden agenda?" the reader asks when presented with this "revelation". What nonsense. This type of story serves only the political elite who benefit from trashing the official opposition. Makes you wonder who owns the news media, doesn't it?

Let me be clear that I am Green Party member and candidate, and I would like everyone to vote Green. But this baseless attack on the NDP is an insult to our intelligence, and demonstrates how low the news media have sunk. We need to give Canadians more credit.

Congratulations to Nycole Turmel for being elected interim leader. Good luck to you.

(Opinions expressed are my own.)


At 3:52 PM, Blogger Sudbury Steve said...

Jim, I have to disagree. I find myself in the unusual position of having to defend the mainstream media, but I really do think that they’ve got this one right, although clearly there have been some over-the-top unsupportable assertions made in the MSM about Turmel. We know some of the facts right now, but not all of them. We know that she was a card-carrying member of the Bloc for a period of 5 years, and that 3 days after resigning her membership (citing personal reasons and emphasizing having no concerns with the Bloc’s policies), she became the NDP candidate for Hull-Aylmer.

We also know that, up until yesterday, that Turmel was a member of the left-wing separatist political party, Quebec Solidaire. And we know that back in 2006, when she headed PSAC, both PSAC and she endorsed a number (4, I believe) Bloc candidates in the federal election.

There has been some speculation that she may have retained her federal membership in the NDP while also being a member of the Bloc. That has yet to be cleared up. It’s also unknown whether Jack Layton knew of her membership in the Bloc at any point, although Turmel has speculated that she thought Jack did. We don’t know whether the NDP caucus was advised of her past membership in the Bloc or current membership in Quebec Solidaire before they voted to make her interim leader.

We do know that Turmel has, for the past number of years, consistently identified herself as a federalist. At this time, there is no hard evidence that she was ever a separatist. Some in the MSM have lept to the conclusion that her word can’t be trusted, and that her being a member of the Bloc and Quebec Solidaire actually speaks louder than her words.

Now, admittedly, if you believe that this whole episode is a “tempest in a teapot”, concocted by the other parties on a slow news day, than none of this matters. I appreciate that.

But it does matter to me.

Can people change? Sure they can. For Turmel, there might not have even been that much of a change, as she claims to always have been a federalist, despite her party memberships. Although I think 3 days is a bit of a quick turnaround for anybody and smacks of opportunism. She’s not the first politician to have been accused of that, though. And frankly, regular people often make opportunistic decisions too.


At 3:53 PM, Blogger Sudbury Steve said...


Moving from the Bloc to another party, though, isn’t like Liberals and NDP members changing allegiance. In our current political environment, the Bloc has been and remains a toxic party to a majority of Canadians outside of Quebec. Their expressed reason for existence is the break up of our country. Some might see this as a big deal. I do. I’m passionate about my nation. I’m all for working with Bloc members on specific issues, but on some matters, such as succession or sovereignty or however you want to express the concept of an Independent Quebec, there’s just no seeing eye-to-eye. And individuals who knowingly or unwittingly support a party which wants to succeed, well, those individuals can often provoke an emotional reaction in others.

The MSM is right to point this out, and Canadians are right to question why the NDP made Turmel its interim Leader.

Here in Sudbury, when Elizabeth May, Leader of the Green Party, agreed to support the Stephane Dion “New Libs on the Bloc” coalition after the 2008 election (the one which didn’t ultimately happen), we lost members over May’s eagerness to throw her hat in with the Bloc. Now, again I’ll stress that I think that was going too far, but it’s indicative of the kind of anger which the Bloc brings to Canadian politics. Ignoring the anger, or trying to delegitimize it by claiming it’s misguided, isn’t going to move anybody. In fact, it’s only likely to provoke even more of a reaction.

And that’s what we’re seeing playing out today. With the NDP trying to claim that there’s nothing wrong with Turmel, and blaming the other parties (but mostly the media) for creating this “non-story” on a slow news day, they’re failing to acknowledge that this really is a story, and that Canadians do care about it.

So this isn’t a tempest in a teapot. The story isn’t going to go away. In fact, it’s likely to grow, as no doubt every other Quebec NDP MP is now going to be under scrutiny for their party membership. For me, that’s going too far, but Canadians have a right to know who and what our decision makers are. I suspect many NDP supporters are also troubled by this, as well as a few MP’s.

Eventually, the NDP will have to decide to fight it out and accept the damage, or if they should find a new interim leader. If they choose the latter, it’ll show that the story actually did matter to them, and give put paid to the partisan rhetoric coming out of the NDP today that there’s really no story here.

"Sudbury" Steve May


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