08/03/2011 02:05 EDT | Updated 10/03/2011 05:12 EDT

Nycole Turmel Criticized By Stephen Harper For Separatist Connections

HAMILTON - Prime Minister Stephen Harper is questioning the NDP's commitment to Canada following revelations interim leader Nycole Turmel is a former card-carrying member of the separatist Bloc Quebecois.

Joining the chorus of criticism against Turmel, Harper said today that Canadians expect that any political party that wants to run the country be "unequivocally committed" to it.

Turmel confirmed Tuesday that she was a member of the Bloc for more than four years before returning her membership in January, a few months before the federal election.

She also said she was a member of provincial sovereigntist group Quebec Solidaire, but plans to send her card back.

While Turmel says she's never been a separatist, Harper says he thinks Canadians will be disappointed to hear of her association with the groups.

Turmel was named last week as Jack Layton's replacement while he fights cancer.

Harper made the comments Wednesday after announcing the recipients of the 2011 Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships at McMaster University in Hamilton.

"I think it's very disappointing," Harper said when asked about Turmel after the announcement. "I don't know that I have a lot to say but I do think Canadians will find this disappointing. I think Canadians expect that any political party that wants to govern the country be unequivocally committed to this country. I think that's the minimum Canadians expect."

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 Tuesday.

Turmel, 68, 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.