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Globe editorial: Which side is the NDP on in Quebec?

The federal New Democratic Party has long played footsie with Quebec separatists, but recent statements by the new leader, Jagmeet Singh, suggest that the party has become more audacious in its advances.

The fluently bilingual Mr. Singh last week told reporters in Alma, Quebec, that, if a majority of Quebeckers voted to secede from Canada in a third referendum, he would "respect the decision of the people, without fail and without a doubt."

"[The right of self-determination] is so fundamental, and if people choose their future, I am completely in agreement with their decision," he said.

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Mr. Singh first made this position known while campaigning for the party leadership. "It's clear to me that Quebec is a nation," he said during a debate in September. He added that he would "immediately work to support" independence if Quebeckers voted for it.

This is troubling. Since 2005, the NDP has held the unacceptable position that a bare majority of 50 per cent plus one in a referendum would be enough to trigger negotiations on secession – making it easier to destroy Canada than to amend the NDP party constitution, which requires a two-thirds majority.

But no NDP leader before Mr. Singh has expressed so much enthusiasm for the principle of Quebec self-determination, his weak platitude that he "would love us to stay together" notwithstanding. His suggestion that he would work on the Quebec side of the table during negotiations to break up Canada is astounding. Who needs the Bloc Québécois?

Canada was almost lost in the 1995 referendum, when the No side eked out a 50.58-per-cent victory. That prompted the federal government to adopt the Clarity Act, which gives Parliament the power to decide whether or not a referendum question is straightforward, and the right to insist on a super-majority for the Yes side before undertaking negotiations.

Parliament, like Mr. Singh, acknowledges the possibility of secession. But unlike Mr. Singh, Canada insists on a high standard of integrity and clarity in the process of achieving it, and would otherwise be under no obligation to negotiate its own demise.

Quebec is rich in votes, and other federal leaders have flirted with the independence movement. But at some point, you have to choose a side. Canadians and Quebeckers need to hear more about this from Mr. Singh.

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