NEWS
08/03/2011 01:20 EDT | Updated 10/03/2011 05:12 EDT

Nycole Turmel Bloc Controversy: Hints Of Red Scare As Media Prepares To Declare NDP Dead

CP File

It's barely been two months since Canadians elected a new majority government and a new Official Opposition, but the country's media appeared ready Wednesday to declare the opposition dead.

The prognosis came in the wake of the Globe and Mail's report Tuesday that Nycole Turmel, the new interim leader of the NDP, was a member of the Bloc Quebecois until January of this year, when she decided to run as an NDP candidate in Quebec.

Wednesday's headlines were unequivocal. "At the very least, Turmel's naivete hurts NDP's credibility," stated Graeme Hamilton at the National Post, a theme echoed at the Globe and Mail.

Sun Media went further, and declared that the revelation "may be [the] death knell" of the NDP.

"The last thing a federalist party like the NDP needs is a former card-carrying separatist at the helm whose grasp of the English language is limited, and who is as charismatic as pain blanc," the newspaper chain declared.

The term "card-carrying separatist" or "card-carrying member of the Bloc Quebecois" appeared in numerous articles on Turmel today, from Sun Media to the Canadian Press to the Toronto Star.

It appeared without a hint of irony, despite the fact its popularity is due to its being used during the anti-communist Red Scare in the US in the 1950s, when people were persecuted publicly for being "card-carrying members of the Communist Party."

Yet for all the colourful turns of phrase and sweeping assertions, some political analysts doubt the controversy will cause long-term damage to the New Democrats, pointing out that Canadians tend to be forgiving of politicians who switch allegiances.

EKOS Research head Frank Graves told the Globe and Mail that the revelations about Turmel likely won’t change the NDP’s support levels.

"We already knew that the NDP rise was the mirror image of the BQ decline and that their constituencies were highly similar," says Mr. Graves. "The issue of nationalist/sovereigntist sympathies within the NDP in Quebec was already on the table in English Canada where it is more of an exposure."

That sentiment was echoed by Nik Nanos of Nanos Research, who noted that "many Quebeckers themselves were former BQ supporters."

The Globe, in an editorial, argued that picking Turmel as interim leader to replace the ailing Jack Layton is a sign the party is incompetent.

"NDP interim leader Nycole Turmel is not the first Canadian politician to have changed her stripes, but the decision to invest a long-standing sovereigntist with the interim leadership of Canada's Official Opposition is a serious political miscalculation that speaks to an incapacity in the NDP, beyond whatever form of cancer ails Jack Layton," the paper declared.

That argument didn't fall on deaf ears in the NDP, with Turmel spending the day shoring up her federalist credentials, and vowing to sever all ties with the political party she says she joined five years ago simply to help out a politically active friend.

"I am a federalist," she told the Globe. "I want to reassure people about my allegiance to the NDP, my allegiance to Canadians, and reassure them that we are getting ready for the fall sitting of Parliament to work on their behalf."

Few in Canada's news media were buying that line Wednesday.

"The NDP was already battling a perception that it is too cozy with Quebec separatists," the Post's Hamilton wrote. "With a platform promising constitutional change to enshrine Quebec's distinctiveness, the party appealed in the last campaign to the soft nationalists who had traditionally supported the Bloc.

"If she is the best person the party has to replace the leader, the NDP is going to have a tough time establishing itself as a credible government in waiting."