OTTAWA - Interim NDP Leader Nycole Turmel says she was indeed a card-carrying member of the Bloc Quebecois and is still a member of a provincial sovereigntist group, but insists she was never a separatist.
It was revealed Tuesday that Turmel was a Bloc member for more than four years and returned her membership in January, just weeks before running under the New Democrat banner in the spring federal election.
"I was clear (in the past) that I was not supporting the sovereignty and the position for sovereignty of the (Bloc) party," she said in an interview.
"I am a member of the Quebec Solidaire ... and I will send back my card as well."
Party spokesman Karl Belanger leapt to his leader's defence, insisting Turmel "never shared the views of the Bloc on the future of Canada."
"She even co-chaired the NDP's social democratic forum on Canada's future," he added.
Turmel was named last week as Jack Layton's replacement while he fights cancer.
She said she got a Bloc membership card in support of friend Carole Lavallee, a Bloc MP who was defeated in the May 2 election after representing the Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert riding since 2004.
The Conservatives and Bloc Quebecois have been having a field day over the revelations about Turmel, but the New Democrats say the Tories are in no position to criticize anyone.
"Knowing that ... Conservative minister Denis Lebel was an active member of the Bloc Quebecois and that Maxime Bernier was a political aide to former premier Bernard Landry who made all employees declare their loyalty to an independent Quebec, we wonder why politicians who live in glass houses are throwing stones," the party said in a news release.
The NDP never had an issue with Turmel having held a membership in the Bloc because she was actively involved with the New Democrats for two decades, Belanger said.
"She's never been an active member of (the Bloc Quebecois) and was merely supporting a friend. We can understand that," he said.
"She has been a member of the NDP for over 20 years. She served as associate president of the party in the '90s and she always believed that the NDP was the best political vehicle to build a better Canada."
Turmel, 68, defeated Liberal Marcel Proulx in the Quebec riding of Hull-Aylmer and was elected NDP caucus chair soon after arriving on Parliament Hill. During the campaign, Proulx accused her of having sovereigntist ties.
She was confirmed as interim party leader by the NDP caucus and federal council last week after Layton recommended she be given the position.