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Political amoebas

Nick Van Der Graaf, in the Mark, suggests that the uproar about Turmel's membership in the Bloc and Quebec Solidaire reveals the "dangerous nationalist underbelly of Canadian politics." How dare anybody suggest that Turmel's membership in a party that explicitly hopes to assist Quebec's secession from Canada is a problem? "Intolerance!" he cries. Then there are the Andrew Coynes and Christie Blatchfords of the world who perceive a genuine problem in Turmel's seperatist ties.

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Topics: Leadership
Political amoebas August 4, 2011  |  By Brian Dijkema
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The Canadian chattering class is all divided on whether or not the dual political allegiance of Nycole Turmel, interim leader of the New Democratic Party, is actually a problem.

Nick Van Der Graaf, in the Mark, suggests that the uproar about Turmel's membership in the Bloc and Quebec Solidaire reveals the "dangerous nationalist underbelly of Canadian politics." How dare anybody suggest that Turmel's membership in a party that explicitly hopes to assist Quebec's secession from Canada is a problem? "Intolerance!" he cries.

Others—Martin Patriquin from Maclean's—are less dramatic about it. A politician from Quebec with ties to the Bloc? Meh; happens all the time. That's Quebec.

Then there are the Andrew Coynes and Christie Blatchfords of the world who perceive a genuine problem in Turmel's seperatist ties.

What does this say about the state of Canada?

First, it shows that the most interesting discussions in Canadian politics will be those occurring within political parties. Our political system increasingly appears to be moving away from, rather than towards, parties based on clear ideological convictions. The Turmel affair is a dramatic illustration of this. Witness one of the more telling defences of her alignment with the BQ and Quebec Solidaire (paraphrased here): "They are the party most closely aligned with my social values; who else would I join?" That the NDP could attract, and insert as a leader, someone with such flexible political persuasions only underscores the fact that parties are amoebas; constantly changing shape and form. The same applies for another of the NDP's leaders—Tom Mulcair, who met with the Liberals and Conservatives before settling on the NDP as a partisan home. The diversity within parties is not unique to the NDP either, I should add.

Second, the division among Canada's commentariat indicates that Canadians do not yet have a common language by which we can comprehend these shifting and sometimes illogical tendencies within our political culture. Which framework helps us understand all these contradictory statements?

Cardus has offered one framework. The Quebec issue looks like the first volley in a decade of dissensus that is already upon us. Nationalism is by nature an exclusivist ideology, notwithstanding verbal massage therapy intending to fit multiple "nations within a united Canada". There is no squaring nationalist circles.

It appears that dissent is no longer on deck. It's up to bat.

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