Already at odds with provincial New Democrats in Alberta, federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is facing further confrontation with NDP members in another western province ahead of an important strategy session this week.
A former Saskatchewan finance and health minister says Mr. Singh's handling of the Erin Weir situation could lead to political trouble in next year's federal election.
“We were hoping to increase our numbers. I think that will be problematic now given how many New Democrats feel about what happened to Erin [Weir],” said Pat Atkinson, speaking for 66 other former Saskatchewan MPs and MLAs who have signed a letter denouncing Mr. Singh’s punishment of Mr. Weir over allegations of sexual harassment.
As NDP MPs gather in Surrey, B.C., their ranks include two MPs from Saskatchewan. Mr. Weir was to be the third but was recently barred from running for the party in 2019.
The letter's signatories include every living former NDP MP from Saskatchewan.
"It has an impact on people being prepared to work in elections and people being able to support the party financially," said Ms. Atkinson, a member of the Saskatchewan Legislature from 1986 to 2011.
Mr. Singh has been at odds with Alberta Premier Rachel Notley over his opposition to the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline from Alberta to the Lower Mainland of B.C.
Ms. Atkinson and the signatories are disputing the process used to review the allegations against Mr. Weir, and are calling on Mr. Singh to allow him back into the party.
"We're hoping that cooler heads will prevail and that, while Mr. Singh has this position now, there's a way for Erin to rejoin the caucus because that's what he wants to do. He wants to be a candidate for us in the next general election, and we want him to be," Ms. Atkinson said.
"We're having a dispute amongst friends and we're optimistic that cooler heads will prevail if people really think about it."
Former NDP MP Lorne Nystrom was even more blunt Monday.
"Why Singh would alienate the provincial section of the NDP in Saskatchewan is beyond me," he said in an interview, adding the NDP Leader's stand appears likely to result in the NDP forfeiting a riding. "I've never seen anything like this before."
Mr. Nystrom, who spent 32 years as a Saskatchewan MP, said party people in the province are "very angry and very dismayed" about the situation.
He noted that Mr. Singh has "backtracked" on other matters and hopes the NDP Leader does the same on this file. "We don't think there was fairness here. We don't think there was due process. We think Erin Weir should be brought back into the caucus, and if he's not, it's not going to be helpful to the party."
Mr. Singh's press secretary, James Smith, said Monday that the leader had no further comment on the issue. In a recent letter explaining his decision not to reinstate Mr. Weir to caucus or approve his candidacy for the NDP in 2019, Mr. Singh said he was not satisfied that Mr. Weir had shown a genuine understanding of how his behaviour needs to change. "I am not confident that the harassing behaviour will not be repeated," he wrote. "My decision is final."
The remaining two NDP MPs in Saskatchewan – Sheri Benson in Saskatoon West and Georgina Jolibois in Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River – were unavailable for comment and did not return calls Monday seeking comment.
Reached in Saskatchewan, Mr. Weir declined comment.
On Tuesday, the NDP caucus members in Surrey will begin three days of discussions of political strategy to see them through to the next election. They will also report on what they have heard in their ridings over the summer.
Among the party's challenges: problematic polls and finances, the fact Mr. Singh does not have a seat in Parliament and the news that several veteran MPs, including the party's sole Alberta member, Linda Duncan, will not be running in next year's election.