OTTAWA (Reuters) - An opposition legislator in the Canadian House of Commons defected to the separatist Bloc Quebecois on Thursday, arguing that it was unacceptable that Canada put conditions on how and when the French-speaking province of Quebec could separate.
The move by New Democratic Party (NDP) Member of Parliament Claude Patry will not have an immediate effect on the balance of power, but it is an important jolt for the separatist cause after its poor showing in the 2011 federal election.
“I voted for the sovereignty of Quebec in the last two referendums and I hoped Quebec would become a country, and I still hope so,” Patry said in a statement.
“Like many Quebec citizens in 2011, I thought the NDP would act differently than the Liberals and Conservatives and that it would truly recognize the aspirations of the Quebec nation.”
The NDP positions taken in recent debates on issues including the Clarity Act - which says Quebec can only separate with a clear majority on a clear question - convinced him otherwise, he said.
The previous Liberal government brought in the Clarity Act after the separatists came within a whisker of getting majority support for sovereignty in a 1995 referendum.
Ironically, last month the NDP proposed replacing that law with one which would make it easier for Quebec to leave by changing the requirement of a clear majority to a simple majority - that is, one vote over 50 percent. This riled the governing Conservatives and the Liberals.
Still, the NDP bill angered the separatists by saying that any referendum question had to be clear. Those favoring independence say Quebec alone should decide referendum questions, without any interference from Ottawa.
Patry’s move to the Bloc Quebecois now brings them to five of the 308 House seats and reduces the NDP to 100, most of them from Quebec. The Conservatives have a comfortable majority of 165 and the next federal election is not till 2015.
Despite the thrashing the Bloc took at the hands of the NDP in Quebec in the 2011 federal election, its provincial cousin, the Parti Quebecois, formed a minority government in Quebec last year.
(This story is corrected by changing day of week to Thursday)
Reporting by Randall Palmer; editing by Christopher Wilson