CANADA

A present for the NDP

MICHAEL ROSE December 29 1986
CANADA

A present for the NDP

MICHAEL ROSE December 29 1986

A present for the NDP

It was, declared New Democrat Leader Ed Broadbent, “a Christmas present.” After seven months in political limbo, former Conservative MP Robert Toupin—who quit the Tory caucus last May to sit as an independent-announced last week that he would join the NDP, becoming its firstever member from Quebec. But Toupin, who supported the Quebec Liberal party before becoming a Tory in the 1984 federal election, was accepted into the NDP caucus only after careful scrutiny by Broadbent and the Quebec wing of the party to make sure that he would fit in with the NDP’s social democratic approach. Broadbent insisted that he was satisfied Toupin’s move was sincere. Said Broadbent: “I don’t think there is a credibility problem at all.” Still, there were persistent questions about Toupin’s motives. The 37-yearold notary and tax expert claimed when he left the Conservatives that he had serious differences with the party over policy, culminating with the government’s decision last December to allow the closing of the Gulf Canada refinery in east-end Montreal. But by then Toupin had also seriously antagonized key Tory organizers in his Montreal-area riding of Terrebonne. And shortly after he left the Tories the Liberal association in Terrebonne declared that it did not want him as a candidate. That left Toupin with the choice of remaining an independent or moving to the NDP. Terrebonne Conservative association president Jean-Marc Robitaille told Maclean’s last week:

“Robert was never a team player. Now, as an NDP member, he can skate the whole rink in Quebec by himself.” Toupin’s move to the NDP began in late June, when a friend of his with NDP leanings arranged a meeting with Broadbent’s principal secretary, William Knight. Knight suggested that Toupin take more time to consider his choices. In late October, Toupin had the first of a series of secret meetings with Broadbent. On Dec. 8, Broadbent and Toupin met with senior members of the NDP’s Quebec wing, including its leader, Jean-Paul Harney, and last Monday night Toupin was questioned for more than two hours in Montreal by the Quebec wing’s executive. Only then was he allowed to sign a membership card. Toupin himself said last week that he could work with the NDP because it is “a party that really works and aims for social justice.”

Although winning a high-profile convert in Quebec was a coup for the NDP, party officials conceded privately that it carried some risks. Said an aide to Broadbent: “It would just be catastrophic to let Toupin sit in our corner only to find out that he was totally out of place.” The party is at an all-time high in popularity—a recent Angus Reid poll gave the NDP 32-per-cent support—in a province where it has never been treated as a real alternative. A poor performance by Toupin, or confusion among voters about what the NDP stands for, could endanger those gains.

MICHAEL ROSE