08/10/2011 04:04 EDT | Updated 10/10/2011 05:12 EDT

The Nycole Turmel Issue Is Good Political Theatre

For all of the parties and for each MP, the issue of Bloc Québécois membership should really boil down to a simple question. Do you still support separatism? Yes or no? No waffling allowed.

For the past week, the public (those who are actually interested and paying attention) has had an opportunity to watch our federal political parties bickering and occasionally slashing away at each other over Nycole Turmel's party memberships.

It makes for great political theatre, but other than inside the Queensway, how many Canadians are paying attention?

When the story first broke it made for an interesting political hit. It had the NDP scrambling for answers and they were slow of the mark. When the NDP were forced to hold a press conference, Turmel's public performance was pretty weak. As the interim party leader for the NDP, Turmel's lack of skill in answering political questions was evident. Turmel's poor performance did raise quite a few questions about her competency to head the NDP over the next few months and potentially into the next session of Parliament. By not revealing her ties to the Bloc and Québec solidaire, Turmel screwed up big time. Score one for the Conservatives and the Liberals.

However, on August 2 the NDP did produce a reality check that looked at Denis Lebel's past connections to the Bloc, but initially it didn't get much play. At that point, at least for the Conservatives, it was best to leave the story alone. Then for some reason, someone gave the prime minister talking points on August 3 that had him questioning Turmel's and the NDP's commitment to Canada.

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

At that point the Conservatives handed the NDP some pretty substantial pushback material and they have now successfully turned the issue around and put it back onto the Conservatives. One would have thought that someone in PMO was following the NDP pushback material and that before using that talking point, PMO would have checked with their own Quebec caucus members to verify the NDP claims and to make sure that there wouldn't be any blowback. It is not as though they have so many Quebec MPs that a few calls wouldn't have warned them that two of their present ministers might become the subject of an NDP counterattack and fall under media scrutiny.

The August 2 NDP reality check is now seeing the light of day. Denis Lebel, the Transport Minister and a senior member of the Conservative team in Quebec, has now admitted that he had been a member of the Bloc from July 1993 to April 2001 and the Conservatives are now left to explain how his situation is different to Turmel's. By taking the issue one step too far, the Conservatives are now left parsing their answers and trying to explain their own weaknesses around the issue.

For all of the parties and for each MP, it should really boil down to a simple question. Do you still support separatism? Yes or no? No waffling allowed. If you can't give a straight unequivocal answer to the effect that you no longer support separatism, then you are fair game in federal politics. If you have renounced separatism, you should be made welcome into the federalist tent.

Keith Beardsley's political blog can be found at

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