Nycole Turmel: It’s not a crime to change your mind

Better a leader with a wealth of perspective, than a pittance

I took the Quebec referendum very seriously in 1995, maybe because I was six years old and believed that separatism was exactly what it sounded like: Quebec would literally cut itself off of Canada with a giant machete and float away, taking the Maritimes and the United States with it. Unfortunately I was wrong: not only would the French province remain Canadian (and wholly responsible for prolonging interruptions to in-flight movies) but the ghost of separatist past would linger on, and spawn a uniquely Canadian kind of McCarthyism—the sort that dug the sovereign skeleton out of Nycole Turmel’s closet. Because what we’ve learned from this past week of parliamentary theatrics, is that Jack Layton’s choice for NDP Interim leader (Turmel—GASP—a former member of the Bloc Quebecois and current member of Quebec Solidaire) was simply not cool. Or as Prime Minister Stephen Harper put it, “disappointing”. Forget that Turmel tore up her Bloc membership prior to running for the NDP, promised to tear up her Quebec Solidaire membership this very week, and publicly denounced the notion that she ever held separatist sentiments in the first place; her apparent shift in allegiance was a death knell. But if Dumbledore could forgive Professor Snape for his darker indiscretions, can’t we forgive Nycole Turmel her Sovereign past? Or, do we even have to? Maybe we should be congratulating her instead, for having the temerity to change her mind.

For starters, Turmel isn’t unique in her willingness to lean one way before gaining office, and another way after. She has a fellow leaner in, hey, Stephen Harper. Harper has both endorsed and opposed gay marriage in his political career (his promise to reopen the issue in 2005 remains unfulfilled), and his signature on the infamous Firewall Letter of 2001, must have been equally disappointing to any self-avowed Federalist. The letter, which Harper signed on Alberta’s behalf as president of the National Citizens’ Coalition, states: “It is imperative to take the initiative, to build firewalls around Alberta, to limit the extent to which an aggressive and hostile federal government can encroach upon legitimate provincial jurisdiction.” Such “hostilities” included the Royal Mountain Police and the Canada Pension Plan. Separatism, anybody? The salient point here is, Stephen Harper apparently came to the same conclusion that Ralph Waldo Emerson did:  “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds”.  Harper changed his no- longer-little-mind (or appeared to) and it’s a good thing for Canada that he did.

Blind Steadfastness can be a virtue of the slow. Consider Ronald Reagan. In March of 1981 he was shot and wounded by his would-be murderer John Hinkley—an assassination attempt that also left White House Press Secretary James Brady with permanent brain damage. Brady and his wife subsequently sponsored a bill to change laws regarding the purchase of handguns in the U.S. (the gun that Hinckley used was a classic “Saturday Night Special” purchased at Rocky’s Pawn Shop in Dallas, complete with exploding bullets). Reagan, on the other hand refused to change his stance on gun control until 1991. It’s possible that he was already in the opening stages of Alzheimer’s, but this is hardly an exoneration of ideological consistency. It just makes his refusal to reconsider his stand, pathological instead of stubborn. Someone should have told him earlier that it’s not a crime to stand corrected.

Apparently though, in this country it is: Nycole Turmel has been asked to account for her political past in almost every major Canadian newspaper, and the The Toronto Star’s National Affairs columnist Tim Harper (no relation to Steve) wasn’t merely incensed by the Interim leader’s alleged turncoat behavior, but practically spooked: “The Bloc,” he wrote in his Tuesday column this week, “is unlike any party, given its ultimate goal”. That “ultimate goal” is of course, sovereignty, which according to Harper (not Steve) renders any politician who’s had the slightest brush with it is automatically unfit for Federal duty. Turmel claims she only joined the BQ to support a friend who belonged to it (a strange explanation, probably made to quell the backlash and avoid further reproach) but it’s entirely possible that sovereignty no longer agreed with her, and so she chose instead to join a party committed solely to endeavors of the lefty, socialist ilk, minus the often distracting and counterproductive “national question” engrained in Quebecois politics. If so, it’s not as though she switched sides in a war. She simply saw things differently. Better a leader with a wealth of perspective, than a pittance.
At the end of the day, however, it doesn’t matter if Nycole Turmel is, in her heart of hearts, a reformed separatist, self-loathing Federalist, or woman with a secret evil plan to realize the “ultimate goal” of sovereignty. The truth is that her feelings towards our great nation are most likely irrelevant, because it’s not the personal politics that dictate a politician, but the party line. Turmel is NDP Interim leader and come Canada Day, it won’t matter if she was a Black Panther, or card-carrying member of the Bloc Quebecois, because she’ll be waving the Canadian flag in a Roots windbreaker with the rest of them.

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