NDP leader Jagmeet Singh has backed down from his decision to punish a senior New Democrat for breaking ranks with the party after facing significant public criticism from within his own caucus.
Mr. Singh’s decision to reinstate NDP MP David Christopherson to his role as vice-chair of the powerful procedure and House affairs committee comes after two New Democrats publicly criticized their rookie leader, raising questions about Mr. Singh’s control over his caucus.
The unusual break with party solidarity follows concerns among NDP MPs about Mr. Singh’s handling of the issue of his attendance at a Sikh separatist rally in 2015 and a panel discussion in 2016, where speakers endorsed political violence as part of an effort to create a Sikh homeland separate from India. Mr. Singh says he has always opposed acts of terrorism or violence.
The decision to reinstate Mr. Christopherson, who has been an elected New Democrat for three decades, came after veteran Ontario MP Charlie Angus and Quebec NDP MP Romeo Saganash, the party’s reconciliation critic, publicly lashed out at their leader and called on him to reverse course.
Mr. Angus, who came second in last October’s leadership race, said the fallout in caucus from Mr. Singh’s decision to remove Mr. Christopherson from committee has been “intense.”
“People are really stunned, because they don’t understand what the political agenda is by publicly attacking such a senior member of caucus,” Mr. Angus said in an interview early Tuesday.
“It’s not how you treat someone who’s given so much of their life to the party and to building solidarity in the caucus. It shows a lack of respect.”
Mr. Angus, the NDP ethics critic, said fellow MPs didn’t officially learn Mr. Christopherson had been removed from committee until the changes were read out in the House of Commons on Monday.
“It just doesn’t look right. [Mr. Singh] is at the Junos, and Dave Christopherson is hearing, along with everyone else … that they’re removing him from his committee role,” said Mr. Angus, who, like, Mr. Christopherson, was first elected federally in 2004.
“It’s just doesn’t look good. It’s not a way of building solidarity.”
Mr. Saganash said he agreed with Mr. Angus about Mr. Christopherson’s treatment by the leadership.
“I find that regrettable,” Mr. Saganash said outside the House of Commons on Tuesday.
“I’ve taken positions contrary to my party in the past, and I didn’t get that kind of sanction. So, it’s unfortunate.”
Mr. Christopherson was removed from committee after he supported a Conservative motion that protested the Liberal government’s new funding requirement for Canada Summer job grants, which require groups to sign an attestation that their core mandate respects rights and freedoms, including abortion rights.
Mr. Christopherson, who is pro-choice and was first elected to the Ontario legislature as a New Democrat in 1990, previously said he voted against his party because Canadians have the right to disagree with the law.
Although the NDP is officially pro-choice and Mr. Christopherson himself is a longtime supporter of a woman’s right to choose, he said at the time that he couldn’t support what he believes is an unconstitutional policy that requires churches and other religious groups to disavow their beliefs to qualify for funding.
In a statement released Tuesday evening, Mr. Singh said he had “several productive conversations” with Mr. Christopherson and caucus members and upon reflection decided to reinstate him to his role.
He said the resulting debate from the government’s changes to the Canada summer jobs program “has been contentious and unfortunately it evolved beyond the contents of the recent motion raising legitimate concerns about its impacts.”
“Lively and democratic debate is a hallmark of our party. I will always keep an open line for dialogue within our caucus. My approach is to encourage feedback and constantly seek to improve our decision making processes, rather than simply disregard voices with varying viewpoints,” Mr. Singh, who is currently on tour in British Columbia, said in a statement to The Globe.
“All New Democrats remain united and completely opposed to any measure that seeks to infringe on a woman’s right to choose.”
In a statement, Mr. Christopherson said he and Mr. Singh had several in-depth conversations “addressing all aspects of this issue.”
“Through this process I believe Jagmeet has shown himself to be a strong leader, willing to listen to all viewpoints and come to a fair resolution. I have complete trust in his leadership,” Mr. Christopherson said.
In a statement on Tuesday night, Mr. Angus said he was pleased Mr. Singh worked the issues out with Mr. Christopherson.
“This is a very positive move and is very much in keeping with the caucus solidarity we have always prided ourselves on,” Mr. Angus said.
In January, NDP MP Nathan Cullen, also criticized the controversial jobs grant rules, but later apologized.
The Canadian Press