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Canada Svend Robinson warns NDP to learn from Green victory in Nanaimo

Svend Robinson speaks during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on Jan. 24, 2019. Mr. Robinson said the results of the Nanaimo-Ladysmith by-election are a wake-up call for the NDP, which needs to be bolder on issues such as climate change if it wants to avoid being skipped over by concerned voters.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Svend Robinson, an NDP stalwart who has plans to run in the next federal election after a years-long absence from Ottawa, says his party needs to learn some hard lessons from the Green win in the Nanaimo-Ladysmith by-election.

Mr. Robinson criticized his own party on Twitter, saying it misstepped when it refused to give Paul Manly the green light to run for the NDP. Mr. Manly instead ran for the Greens, defeating the NDP in the Nanaimo-Ladysmith riding in Monday’s by-election.

“I think that never should have happened,” Mr. Robinson said. “That treatment was unacceptable and I think it’s not too late for the party to recognize that and do the honourable thing and apologize.”

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Mr. Robinson also said the results of the by-election are a wake-up call for the NDP, which needs to be bolder on issues such as climate change if it wants to avoid being skipped over by concerned voters.

In 2015, Mr. Manly said the NDP blocked him from running for expressing his disappointment to the party for not speaking out in support of his father, former MP Jim Manly, who was detained by Israel in 2012.

“My dad was on a boat to Gaza with members of Parliament from around the world – including Jewish members of Parliament from Europe, Israeli former Defence Forces people,” Mr. Manly said. “He was on a peaceful mission to Gaza, seized illegally in international waters, held incommunicado for five days.”

When Mr. Manly’s attempts to contact his MP as well as the foreign affairs critic for the NDP went nowhere, he said he sent an e-mail to caucus asking why they wouldn’t speak out for an elder statesman of the party.

The e-mail was later leaked to the media and when he got a phone call asking whether he was disappointed with the party, Mr. Manly said he was. Because of that, he said he wasn’t allowed to run in the 2015 election.

Mélanie Richer, a spokesperson for the federal NDP, said that the reasons for Mr. Manly’s rejection are confidential and those who did the vetting don’t work for the party anymore.

“What has been public is that he had certain views, but that’s not necessarily why he was rejected. There could have been a big problem, so that doesn’t warrant an apology,” she said.

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Jim Manly, a former United Church minister who served as an MP for eight years in the 1980s, was a week shy of his 80th birthday when he was taken into custody after the Israeli military boarded the Estelle. The ship was carrying opponents of an Israeli maritime blockade imposed after Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in 2007. The Israelis said the blockade’s aim was to prevent weapons smuggling.

The protesters said the measure created intense hardship for the 1.7 million people living in Gaza.

Mr. Robinson, who served for 25 years as the NDP MP for Burnaby, said he fully accepts Paul Manly’s account.

In January, Mr. Robinson announced his return to politics after a 15-year hiatus.

While he said he had confidence in NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, Mr. Robinson said Mr. Singh’s support for a $40-billion LNG Canada project in northern British Columbia was a bad look for the party.

“The NDP Leader has made strong statements since [a previous statement in support of the LNG project] that clearly say that we would not support LNG, but it’s important that leadership comes from him directly, and that there is a strong statement, and I’m confident there will be,” Mr. Robinson said.

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Ms. Richer, the NDP spokesperson, said that the party “recognizes that the current B.C. government has put together one of the most comprehensive climate change plans in the country and is doing the hard work to reduce emissions.

“Jagmeet’s position has been consistent,” she said. “Like he said in his speech in the House of Commons on our plan to put people ahead of rich corporations and end subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, a plan that both the Liberals and Conservatives said no to, he wants to move towards a future where we are no longer fracking or burning.”

Political scientist Hamish Telford of the University of the Fraser Valley said Mr. Robinson has been frustrated in the past by previous NDP leadership that he says tried to out-liberal the Liberals. After the recent setback in the Nanaimo-Ladysmith by-election, Mr. Robinson is using his high profile to push the party to take a more radical stand on the environment, Mr. Telford said.

“It’s very difficult for Jagmeet Singh whose control, or authority, over the party is perhaps not as full as he might like it to be, [and] now has a party stalwart challenging the basic position of the party,” he said. “Svend will have a lot of supporters in the party, including in the caucus and this is going to make it difficult for Jagmeet Singh to assert his authority on the party and the direction he wants to take it.”

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