The defection of former federal Green MP Jenica Atwin to the governing Liberals hasn’t quite materialized into the triumph her new party might have hoped. Sure, the floor-crossing created enormous turbulence within the Green Party, and it may have succeeded in whittling down the Green caucus by a third – but based on this party’s history, a slight breeze is capable of the same.
It doesn’t even guarantee that Ms. Atwin’s Fredericton riding will remain red after the next election. She won her seat as the Green candidate in 2019 narrowly – by about three percentage points over the Conservative candidate, and six over the incumbent Liberal – which doesn’t leave her a whole lot of room to lose constituents among those who might not take kindly to her opportunistic pivot to the centre. After all, a principled environmentalist looking to jump ship might opt for, say, a spot in the other major political party that opposes pipelines – not the one that purchased one while in government.
And a social-justice activist who is genuine in her beliefs might not change her position on Israel from “There are no two sides to this conflict, only human rights abuses! #EndApartheid” (as she tweeted last month) to “Palestinians are suffering. Israelis are also suffering,” as she said in a new statement this past week. Perhaps the other side of the conflict Ms. Atwin didn’t previously recognize was hiding under a handbook detailing MP pension eligibility this whole time.
Still, the floor-crossing was enthusiastically celebrated by the Liberals until the party brass realized they might have to address their new MP’s previous anti-Israel position. “The position of the Liberal government is extremely clear on the question of the ‘apartheid’ label. We reject it, categorically,” Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau said in the House earlier this week. The Liberals also hastily convened an emergency summit on antisemitism for later this summer. In any case, it seems Ms. Atwin’s move has at once irritated supporters of the Palestinians, who’ve watched her formerly clear position on the conflict morph into a Liberal-approved blend of temperate ideas, and supporters of Israel, who are wondering why the Liberals would celebrate a new MP who views Israel as an apartheid state. It’s not exactly the big win the Liberals might have initially thought it would be.
But another major unintended effect emerged Wednesday, when Green Party Leader Annamie Paul spoke during an afternoon press conference. The previous evening, the party’s federal council came up with an ultimatum for the besieged leader: She was either to repudiate comments from former senior aide Noah Zatzman – who took to Facebook back in May to accuse unspecified MPs, including Green ones, of antisemitism and to vow to replace them – or face a confidence vote in July.
But Ms. Paul emerged defiant on Wednesday, introducing herself to Canadians who otherwise might not have noticed her as unwavering, resilient and outspoken. “Collaboration and collegiality does not mean bowing down. It doesn’t mean being brought to heel,” she said.
And then, as politicians do, Ms. Paul pivoted to the attack. “Today, I am here to say that I am one woman that he will not push out of politics, and he can believe it,” she said of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whom she accused of being a fake ally and a fake feminist. “To the people of Canada, I ask you directly: How many times will we allow Justin Trudeau to get away with pushing strong, competent, capable women out of politics when they’re seeking to serve?”
For many Canadians, this was likely their first time hearing directly from the new Green leader, who showed she could land blows on Mr. Trudeau’s feminist and progressive credentials with more credibility than the suited men leading the other parties. Indeed, Ms. Paul – who speaks French far better than her predecessor Elizabeth May, doesn’t appear prone to the same gaffes and mishaps, and whose prepolitics résumé arguably outshines those of all of her federal counterparts – speaks from personal and professional experience, which makes her sound like a person, not a political-catchphrase machine. Ironically, Ms. Atwin’s floor-crossing presented Ms. Paul an opportunity to showcase that.
Granted, Ms. Paul has work to do. She handled the discord within her party clumsily, and it goes without saying that a senior adviser cannot publicly vow to purge party heretics without the leader articulating a clear response. Her decision to run in the staunchly Liberal riding of Toronto Centre, too, effectively broadcast that she was not interested in having a seat in the House of Commons at all.
But if Ms. Paul can find a way to calm the internal conflicts in her party – and if the Greens can shelve the self-sabotage until after the next election – Ms. Paul could emerge as something of a force. The Liberals, in the interim, will be walking a tightrope on Israel-Palestine thanks to their ephemerally exciting new caucus member. After Ms. Paul’s attack, and Ms. Atwin‘s embarrassing backtrack, the Liberals have likely already put the balloons and confetti away.
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