Quebec sovereignty rears its head on campaign trail amid NDP-Green rivalry – Times Colonist

Quebec sovereignty rears its head on campaign trail amid NDP-Green rivalry - Times Colonist
NDP recruits former Quebec Green Party leader to take on NDPer who defected to Greens
Incumbent candidate is former NDP MP, now running for Green Party. Hes taking on former Green Party leader, now running for the NDP

Party switchers in the Longueuil—Saint-Hubert riding, from left: Éric Ferland, former Quebec Green Party leader, now an NDP candidate; Pierre Nantel, former NDP MP, now a Green candidate; and Réjean Hébert, former Parti Québécois cabinet minister, now a Liberal candidate. Photo illustration / Green Party of Canada, NDP, Montreal Gazette

In the riding of Longueuil—Saint-Hubert, federal candidates are switching sides faster than hockey players in the waning hours before the NHL trade deadline.

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NDP Nabs Former Quebec Green Party Leader To Run Against Defector

Incumbent Pierre Nantel, who ran successfully under the NDP banner during the Orange Wave of 2011 and again in 2015, was ejected from the NDP in August after they learned he was in talks with another party. Green Party leader Elizabeth May confirmed soon afterward he would be running for her team in Longueuil—Saint-Hubert in the federal elections Oct. 21.

Former Quebec Green leader, environmentalist Eric Ferland to run for federal NDP

Nantel said he chose the Green Party because it had the strongest climate change platform. But it was his comments about being an avowed separatist and Mays ungainly attempts to quash them that drew more attention last week.

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh and Eric Ferland laugh as he is introduced as an NDP candidate in the riding of Longueuil-Saint-Hubert during a campaign stop in Longueuil, Monday Sept. 16, 2019. Adrian Wyld / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Not to be outdone, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh announced Monday that Eric Ferland, a former leader of Quebec’s Green Party, will be running for the NDP in Longueuil—Saint-Hubert to take on their former MP.

The Greens and NDP have been locked in a fierce battle for third place in public-opinion polls as each seeks to attract progressive voters unhappy with the governing Liberals and worried about climate change. That battle has included several candidates jumping between the two parties.

Meanwhile, Réjean Hébert, a former health minister for the Parti Québécois from 2012 to 2014, announced he will run for the federal Liberals in the riding.

LONGUEUIL, Que. — The feud between federal New Democrats and Greens took a strange twist on Monday, as NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh announced environmentalist Eric Ferland will be his partys candidate for the Quebec riding of Longueuil-Saint-Hubert near Montreal.

To have the incumbent NDP MP running for the Green Party while the NDP is pitting a former head of the Green Party against him is “highly unusual” said Daniel Béland, director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada. But it is also a reflection of the highly fluid nature of Quebec politics and voting patterns.

“The fact (Nantel) is running for the Green Party tells you a lot about how the situation has changed in Quebec,” Béland said. In the last elections, the Green Party only won 2.5 per cent of the votes in the riding. Now the two parties are running neck-and-neck. “The Green Party is now perceived as a significant player, even if they don’t have any seats in the province. The NDP won 16 seats in the last election, and 59 in 2011.” The fact that both parties, and the Bloc Québécois, are all vying for the environmentalist vote is a problem for all three, he said.

"Basically for me the NDP had the best environmental plan," Ferland told reporters during Mondays campaign event. "Theyve got a really coherent plan. It fits perfectly. … For me it was obvious to make the change to the NDP."

Nantel’s nomination brought more attention last week when he told a radio host he would like Quebec to separate from Canada “as fast as possible.” This led May to proclaim her candidate for a federalist party was not a separatist. But that was refuted by Nantel the next day. “Of course I’m a sovereignist, everyone knows, and that’s always been the case,” he told Radio-Canada.

Singh described Ferlands decision to turn New Democrat as evidence that his partys environmental plan "is the most complete," even as he sought to underscore what he described as the main differences between the NDP and the Greens.

Nantel pointed out that he never promoted sovereignty in the House of Commons since being elected an NDP MP in 2011, and promised to maintain that stance. But his bluntness on the topic, coming at the same time the Green Party is dealing with the anti-abortion stance of another of its candidates, was politically maladroit, Béland said.

The NDP has struggled in Quebec since that high-water mark and there have been questions over whether Quebecers, the majority of whom support the provinces controversial ban on religious symbols, Bill 21, would vote for Singh.

“It creates an effect for May that is confusing and it was a diversion for her campaign.”

He has also repeatedly refused to commit to joining any court challenges of Bill 21, which would prevent Singh himself from working as a teacher or a police officer in the province. As a Sikh, he wears a turban.

It also allows the separatist Bloc Québécois to say “why not vote for the real thing?” Béland noted.

The party-hopping reflects the tendencies of voters, particularly francophones, to shop around, switching between the various federal or provincial parties. Provincially, voters have alternated between the Liberals and the PQ before opting for the Coalition Avenir Québec last fall, led by François Legault, a former PQ minister. In the 1990s, members of the National Assembly left the Liberals to sit with the Action démocratique du Québec.

"I think during this campaign time period people are going to start really paying attention. And as they pay attention they'll see that we've made Quebec a huge priority," Singh told Daybreak host Ainslie MacLellan.

On the federal scene, many nationalists and sovereignists voted for the federal Conservatives of Brian Mulroney in 1984, with PQ leader René Lévesque urging voters to take “le beau risque.” Quebec Conservative and Liberal MPs later left their parties to create the Bloc Québécois.

“Quebec politics are fluid, and there are a lot of surprising twists,” Béland said. “I think there is a volatility that is present at the provincial level that is now happening at the federal level.”

Singh reiterated an NDP government wouldn't intervene in the court challenge against Bill 21, but he said the fact he is running in the election, wearing a turban, is itself an act of defiance.

Party swapping may cause cynicism among voters and undermine confidence in the party system, Béland said, but people choose to run for ideological reasons as well as politically pragmatic ones. Support for ideas like sovereignty or environmentalism can fluctuate over time.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is hoping to win over Quebecers by promising more powers to the province on issues like the environment, language and immigration.

In Longueuil—Saint-Hubert, however, the political shifts between NDP and Green are likely a moot point, Béland notes. Both parties are running at around 10 per cent in terms of voter intentions, far behind the Bloc Québécois and the Liberals.

“If you look at the polling, the odds are none of these two candidates are likely to win in that riding,” he said.

The party was reduced to 16 MPs in 2015 and many of those are thought to be up for grabs in the Oct. 21 election.

The NDP has recruited a former leader of the Green Party of Quebec to run against a former New Democrat MP who defected to the Greens. Éric Ferland will run in the riding of Longueuil-Saint-Hubert to unseat Pierre Nantel, who left Jagmeet Singh's NDP to join Elizabeth May's Greens.

The tit-for-tat move comes as strong Green support in opinion polls has it competing with the New Democrats for eco-friendly votes on the left.

On Sunday, Singh unveiled his party's Quebec platform, which attempted to build on Layton's legacy.

Nantel was first elected to the House of Commons in the NDP "Orange Wave" of 2011 and held his seat by a narrow margin in 2015.

He was ousted from the NDP in August after the party learned he was talking to the Greens about switching parties. He briefly sat as an Independent.

When he joined the Greens, he said May was the only leader willing to tackle the climate change challenge.

However, Nantel caused May to face some awkward questions last week when he declared Quebec should become Independent "as fast as possible." When May said he wasn't a separatist and she wouldn't allow candidates that advocating breaking up the country to run for her party, Nantel told reporters: "Of course I'm a sovereignist."

Earlier in September, some former New Brunswick provincial NDP candidates and members issued a statement and held a news conference to announce they were joining the Greens and supporting the federal Green Party.

However, some of those named in the statement said they had not agreed to the move. The controversy touched off an exchange of accusations between the parties.

Ferland led the Quebec Greens from 1994 to 1996. He ran unsuccessfully for the federal Green Party in a 1995 byelection and was later elected as a town councillor in Frelighsburg, Que. He also founded his own green technology company, Ecosphere, with the aim of helping communities reduce their environmental footprints.

Singh will make the official announcement of Ferland's candidacy Monday at an event in the riding.

Before Nantel took Longueuil-Saint-Hubert in 2011, the area was predominantly held by the Bloc Québécois.

The last Conservative to hold the riding was Nic Leblanc, who resigned from the PC caucus after the failure of the Meech Lake Accord and joined the Bloc in 1990.

The Liberals (who haven't held the riding since the early 1980s) hope to woo voters by running Réjean Hébert, a former provincial cabinet minister for the Parti Québécois, as their candidate.

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