NDP Leader Jack Layton (right) is greeted by Alexandre Boulerice as Thomas Mulcair looks on during an election campaign visit to Montreal in April. (Marie-Claude Forest, QMI Agency file photo)
MONTREAL - Quebecers elected a good number of separatists when they voted en masse for NDP candidates in the May 2 federal election - perhaps without even knowing it.
Alexandre Boulerice, the NDP's new MP for Montreal's Rosemont-La Petite-Patrie riding, proudly confessed to QMI Agency he continues to campaign for Quebec Solidaire, the provincial leftist party that promotes independence.
Quebec Solidaire holds one seat in Quebec's legislature.
Cree leader Romeo Saganash, the NDP MP for the northern Quebec riding of Abitibi-Baie-James-Nunavik-Eeyou, has also openly supported the sovereigntist cause, as has former union activist Claude Patry, the new NDP representative for the Jonquière-Alma riding.
Gilles Rheaume, Quebec independence activist and spokesman for a group that claims to fight "Canadian francophobia," said he isn't surprised by the number of Quebec NDP MPs who are separatists or who had professed support for sovereignty.
"(The NDP) was infiltrated by sovereigntists since the beginning of the 1990s," Rheaume said.
Rheaume estimated at least a dozen new NDP MPs voted yes in the 1995 referendum, or had supported the sovereigntist movement in some way.
Boulerice said he doesn't see any tension between his sovereigntist roots and his position in a federalist political party.
His position on Quebec independence has evolved, he said. He now considers himself an "autonomist" rather than a "sovereigntist."
The term was introduced into the political vernacular in the mid-2000s by Mario Dumont, the former leader of Quebec's provincial ADQ party.
Dumont told QMI Agency the term "autonomist" refers to someone who wants to defend Quebec's interests short of demanding independence.
"In 1995 I voted yes," Boulerice said. "But now we are in 2011 ... Right now, it's social and environmental issues which are vital. Even the Parti Quebecois said that it won't hold a referendum on sovereignty (in the short-term) while that question isn't the order of the day."
The NDP's Quebec candidates were given many instructions before the electoral campaign, Boulerice said, but none of the rules included avoiding the question of Quebec independence.
Boulerice's comments were backed-up by NDP spokesman Karl Belanger.
"We have people from all the provincial parties on our team," he said, and added the NDP didn't choose candidates based on their position on the independence question.