Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Jack Layton's choice

Did Jack Layton make a mistake recommending the appointment of Nycole Turmel as interim leader? Her status as a former Bloc Quebecois party member may not cause concern within Quebec. However, outside Quebec, her recent switch from the Bloc to the NDP will cause discomfort to those who question her Canadian identity even though she calls herself a federalist. Also, until today, Mme. Turmel was a member of the Quebec Solidaire party that is supposedly lukewarm to Canadian federalism. Her membership in this party would be akin to an interim NDP leader from Ontario having a membership in Tim Hudak's Progressive Conservative party. The optics do not look good. Only in a couple of provinces is it OK to be a member of two different parties if they share similar poliical leanings--for example in British Columbia, the federal Conservatives or Liberals and the BC Liberals. Because of Mme. Turmels's recent past affiliation, Mr. Layton made the mistake of recommending that his caucus appoint her as interim leader.

Next, Jack Layton made a mistake in recommending the appointment of a neophyte as leader. While Nicole Turmel has plenty of experience in her leadership position with the PSAC union, a parliamentary leadership position requires an understanding of how Canada's parlamentary institutions actually work. He should have either recommended someone with more experience in parliament or just let the caucus members decide on their own. The fact that he recommended Mme. Turmel's appointment meant that his caucus had no choice but to approve his recommendation or else the NDP MPs would have had to question Mr. Layton's leadership. The caucus could have instead quietly chosen a more experienced MP who did not have recent Bloc baggage.

Finally, Mr. Layton is going through another battle with cancer. I wish him well, and I hope that he recovers soon. However, Mr. Layton should have done the honorable thing by offering his resignation as leader to his party. The NDP cannot afford to have an interim leader on-and-off over the next four years. The party needs a strong leader who can get the party ready for the next election within four years. It cannot afford to have its tires spinning in the snow (even though it is summer).

I wish Mme. Turmel well in her position as interim leader. Not only will she need to demonostrate that she is a strong federalist, she will need to show Canadians living outside Quebec that she is a proud Canadian. Being a proud federalist and a proud Canadian are not exactly the same.  I remember the late Robert Bourassa, former premier of Quebec, stating that he was a proud federalist.  He had a difficult time stating that he was a proud Canadian.

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