NDP leader Thomas Mulcair
Credits: JOEL LEMAY/QMI AGENCY
Some people, including my friend and colleague Brian Lilley, were shocked this week to learn this the hard way.
The NDP had to show its true colours in the House of Commons last Monday when it put on the table its "unity bill" to repeal the Clarity Act.
Mulcair's party had to introduce such a piece of legislation after the Bloc Quebecois proposed to scrap the Clarity Act altogether.
As you'll recall, the Clarity Act has never been popular in Quebec.
Based on the advice of the Supreme Court, the act specifies that the federal government would only have to negotiate the breakup of the country if a clear majority of Quebecers voted "Yes" on a clear referendum question.
In the last federal election, the NDP made a historic breakthrough by courting Bloc Quebecois supporters.
New Democrats told voters that their party's national unity program, known as the Sherbrooke Declaration, stipulated that 50% plus one is a sufficient majority for Quebec to secede.
By the end of the campaign, when the NDP was skyrocketing in the polls, then-party leader Jack Layton even publicly flirted with the idea of reopening the constitution. Like it or not, the NDP's strategy succeeded.
Bloquistes were seduced and La Belle Province had a huge Orange Crush.
Even if it took the NDP half a century to win a single seat in a general election in Quebec, the party founded by Tommy Douglas now has a "clear majority" of its caucus in Quebec, where it won
59 seats in May 2011 compared to 44 in the rest of Canada.
Some of its most prominent MPs are now people with a long track record of separatist activism who still refuse, to this day, to tell us if they are in favour or not of Quebec's independence.
Mulcair cannot backtrack today on the Sherbrooke Declaration without risking an implosion of his caucus and a freefall in the polls within his new stronghold.
No matter whether he personally agrees with it or not, he is condemned to wade into the constitutional swamp with the 50% plus one rule still present in his "unity bill."
Some could laugh at him, as did the father of the Clarity Act, Liberal MP Stephane Dion, because the internal NDP constitution requires a two-third vote to be amended - even to simply drop the word "socialism" from it as we learned at the latest party convention - while for the party, just a vote of 50-plus-one is enough to break up the country.
It sounds completely stupid and incoherent when you put it this way. It comes across as if the future of the Canadian federation is less important for the NDP than its pet socialist ideal.
But, like the Conservatives in Brian Mulroney's days, the NDP is today a coalition that includes Quebec nationalists and this requires a few acrobatics.
Politics is the art of contorting to convince more people to vote for you, not the science of being consistent.