Fad­ing NDP could res­ur­rect Bloc Québé­cois

Toronto Star - - CANADA - Chan­tal Hébert

MON­TREAL— For a taste of the chal­lenges that could await Thomas Mul­cair’s suc­ces­sor in Que­bec, con­sider the fol­low­ing: On Tues­day, Longueuil-Saint-Hu­bert MP Pierre Nan­tel told le Devoir that he and pos­si­bly oth­ers might pre­fer to sit as in­de­pen­dents than to serve in the House of Com­mons un­der any of the non-Que­bec can­di­dates vy­ing for the NDP lead­er­ship.

In an open let­ter pub­lished Thurs­day, Nan­tel — who cur­rently serves as the party’s her­itage critic — writes that it was Jack Lay­ton’s prom­ise of a party re­spect­ful of Que­bec’s na­tional char­ac­ter that drew him along with many of the prov­ince’s vot­ers to the NDP in 2011.

From his per­spec­tive, the fact that Char­lie An­gus, Niki Ash­ton and Jag­meet Singh have all spo­ken out against Que­bec’s plan to pre­vent in­di­vid­u­als wear­ing face cover­ings from dis­pens­ing or re­ceiv­ing pub­lic ser­vices amounts to a breach of that prom­ise.

The bill cur­rently de­bated in the Na­tional Assem­bly would es­sen­tially im­pact the mi­nor­ity of Mus­lim women who wear the niqab and the burka. MP Guy Caron — the only Que­bec can­di­date in the run­ning — has said that while he dis­agrees with the bill, he would, as fed­eral leader, re­spect the will of the Na­tional Assem­bly on the mat­ter.

Ash­ton, Singh and An­gus have ar­gued that Que­bec’s sec­u­lar char­ac­ter should not be af­firmed at the ex­pense of con­sti­tu­tion­ally pro­tected re­li­gious free­doms.

In his let­ter, Nan­tel warns that un­der a leader set on a col­li­sion course with the Na­tional Assem­bly on sec­u­lar­ism, the NDP could lose its ten­u­ous con­nec­tion with na­tion­al­ist Que­be­cers and, by the same to­ken, set the cause of fed­er­al­ism back in the prov­ince.

Nan­tel will sup­port Caron in the lead­er­ship vote, but there is more at play here than the jostling that of­ten at­tends the last stretch of a com­pet­i­tive po­lit­i­cal con­test.

In­deed, this MP’s cri­sis of con­fi­dence in some of his party’s val­ues pre­dates the en­try of any of the cur­rent lead­er­ship as­pi­rants in the cam­paign to suc­ceed Mul­cair.

In the last cam­paign, Nan­tel was one of a hand­ful of Que­bec New Demo­crat can­di­dates who broke ranks and came out in sup­port of the pro­posed Con­ser­va­tive niqab ban at cit­i­zen­ship cer­e­monies.

Back in Jan­uary, the lo­cal me­dia in Nan­tel’s Mon­treal South Shore rid­ing re­ported that he was con­sid­er­ing a run for the Parti Québé­cois (PQ) in next year’s Que­bec elec­tion. On Wed­nes­day, he de­scribed that sce­nario as “hy­po­thet­i­cal.”

Nan­tel is a pop­u­lar, hard-work­ing MP. He would be a catch for a mo­men­tum-hun­gry PQ for more rea­sons than one.

His fed­eral rid­ing in­cludes much of the pro­vin­cial rid­ing of Va­chon. That hap­pens to be the seat cur­rently held in the Na­tional Assem­bly by Mar­tine Ouel­let, the lat­est leader of the Bloc Québé­cois. She is ex­pected to va­cate it to run fed­er­ally in 2019.

In the last fed­eral elec­tion, Nan­tel kept his fed­eral seat with a slim 700-vote ma­jor­ity. The Bloc ran sec­ond with 27 per cent of the vote. If he were to make the jump to the pro­vin­cial arena and a solid PQ rid­ing, he would in the process pro­vide Ouel­let with as clear a fed­eral run in Longueuil-Saint-Hu­bert in 2019 as she could hope for.

In terms of raw politics, this could be de­scribed as a win-win quid pro quo.

That be­ing said, there is more to Nan­tel’s la­ment than an iso­lated case of po­si­tion­ing in the pos­si­ble hope of a more promis­ing po­lit­i­cal fu­ture un­der a dif­fer­ent ban­ner.

There is a wide­spread fear among the party’s rank-and-file in Que­bec that the na­tion­al­ist-friendly terms set out by Lay­ton and Mul­cair to bring the prov­ince un­der the NDP tent will be­come moot un­der a less Que­bec-savvy leader.

And that as a re­sult, the prov­ince’s New Democrats will no longer be com­pet­i­tive.

In his let­ter, Nan­tel read­ily ad­mits that, in con­trast with Caron, he is not a life­long NDP sup­porter but rather a Lay­ton con­vert. But the New Demo­crat predica­ment in Que­bec is that the party has more sup­port­ers like Nan­tel than like Caron.

Justin Trudeau’s Lib­er­als as­sume that they would ben­e­fit from a fad­ing NDP pres­ence in Que­bec. That as­sump­tion is al­most cer­tainly right when it comes to rid­ings such as Mul­cair’s Outremont that hap­pen to be home to a di­verse and solid fed­er­al­ist con­stituency.

But in other ar­eas of the prov­ince, it could give a breath of life to a mori­bund Bloc Québé­cois. Chan­tal Hébert is a na­tional af­fairs writer. Her col­umn ap­pears Tues­day, Thurs­day and Satur­day.

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