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Politics Celina Caesar-Chavannes quits Liberal caucus, will sit as independent MP

Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Development Celina Caesar-Chavannes rises during Question Period in the House of Commons, on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa, on May 25, 2018.

Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

Celina Caesar-Chavannes has informed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that she’s leaving the federal Liberal caucus and will sit as an independent MP.

The Whitby, Ont., MP has been a vocal supporter of Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott, two cabinet ministers who resigned over the SNC-Lavalin affair.

In an interview with the Globe and Mail last week, she also accused Trudeau of yelling at her angrily when she informed him that she would not be seeking re-election this fall – an accusation the Prime Minister’s Office has denied.

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In a tweet Wednesday, Caesar-Chavannes said that interview “has had unintended effects on those I care about. Although that was not the intention, it was the consequence, and I am sorry. I no longer want to distract from the great work my caucus colleagues are doing. Love and hugs, C.”

But Conservatives pounced on the defection, arguing that Caesar-Chavannes’s exit, added to the departures of Wilson-Raybould and Philpott from cabinet, prove that Trudeau is a “fake feminist.”

Conservative House leader Candice Bergen said the “good old boys” in the Prime Minister’s Office wanted Wilson-Raybould to avert a criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin and when she refused, “she was promptly fired and silenced.”

“The prime minister is really good at yelling and screaming at women, as the member from Whitby knows, and he’s also a very good actor. But, Mr. Speaker, he’s a fake feminist,” Bergen told the House of Commons.

Trudeau said he’ll take no lessons on feminism from Conservatives who “still want to challenge a woman’s right to choose” to have an abortion.

Raft of parliamentary moves keep spotlight on SNC-Lavalin scandal

Caesar-Chavannes, first elected in 2015, has been a relatively high-profile backbencher, primarily as an advocate for the rights of black Canadians. She’s gotten into several Twitter wars with Maxime Bernier, leader of the People’s Party of Canada, who once accused her of thinking “the world revolves around your skin colour.” On another occasion, she apologized to Bernier after telling him to “check your privilege and be quiet” when he questioned funding for minority groups.

She also made news in 2016 when she openly talked about her battle with depression.

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At the time, Caesar-Chavannes, who was initially named parliamentary secretary to the prime minister, praised Trudeau’s understanding of mental illness but she has since soured on his leadership.

Throughout the SNC-Lavalin saga, she has used social media to send messages of solidarity – accompanied by a clenched-fist emoji – to Wilson-Raybould and Philpott.

In January, she used a speech at Parliament’s annual dinner tribute to Scottish poet Robbie Burns to take a swipe at Trudeau for moving Wilson-Raybould out of the prestigious justice portfolio to Veterans Affairs in a small cabinet shuffle earlier that month, to be replaced by Montreal MP David Lametti. Wilson-Raybould resigned from cabinet a few weeks later, although both she and Philpott, who resigned subsequently from cabinet, remain members of the Liberal caucus.

Had Burns been an MP, Caesar-Chavannes said, Wilson-Raybould would have been asked to remove him from Parliament.

“If she didn’t succeed, she would have been fired. If she succeeded in removing Robbie Burns, she would have been fired. You can’t have an Indian doing that to the white man. Lametti can, you can’t. The lads are better at that sort of thing,” she said.

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