New Brunswick MP Jenica Atwin announced Thursday that she is crossing the floor of the House of Commons to join the Liberal Party. Her departure means that there are currently only two Green lawmakers in the House of Commons.
During the 2019 federal election, Atwin accomplished a historic feat by winning the first seat in Atlantic Canada for the Green Party. Her departure from the Greens is a setback for the party that has long sought more influence in Parliament.
Infighting over Israel-Palestine conflict
When announcing the news at a press conference alongside federal cabinet minister Dominic LeBlanc, Atwin declared that there were too many ”distractions” in the Green Party. She claimed that by switching parties she hopes to work in a more ”supportive and collaborative” environment.
Indeed, the move comes amid internal rifts in the Green Party due to different views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
On May 14, senior adviser to federal Green Party Leader Noah Zatzman expressed solidarity with Israel on a social media post in which he accused many politicians of discrimination and antisemitism, including unnamed Green MPs. His comments led to the realease of an Open letter to Leader Annamie Paul demanding Zatzman be removed from his post. It was announced on June 8th that the Federal Greens won’t renew Zatzman’s contract.
Moreover, two party executives, including vice-president on the party’s governing body John Kidder, recently revealed they would step down early.
Further tensions within the party were also revealed when Atwin directly challenged Paul’s conservative stance on the violence in the Middle East. Indeed, in a Twitter post from May 11, Atwin expressed her indignation over Israel’s lack of accountability for its excessive use of force by calling Paul’s statement “totally inadequate”.
Before Atwin went to the Liberals, Paul assured that her team is actively seeking internal dialogue and resolutions. However, according to CTV News, two Green Party sources have claimed that not much has been done to support reconciliation.
Reactions from the Green Party
In an interview with CPC, Annamie Paul stated that while she accepts Atwin’s change of caucus, she was disappointed.
Paul also showed her concern for NB Green Party members. ”I’m sure there are members of the Green Party in Frederiction who worked really hard to get the first MP elected…. I’m sure it’s going to be tough for them too,” she said.
Paul added that she wishes they had the opportunity to speak about it in advance, so that she could’ve provided her the reasons why she’s a better fit for the Green Party.
Moreover, New Brunswick’s Green Party leader David Coon also expressed his displeasure with Atwin’s move.
According to a the CBC News article, ”Provincial Green leader ‘profoundly disappointed’ in Jenica Atwin joining federal Liberals”, Coon said: “I am profoundly disappointed that she decided her only option was to cross the floor, after the voters of Fredericton and Oromocto had elected her as a Green, to be the kind of strong and independent voice in Ottawa that the Green Party encourages.”
He added that he doubts Atwin will find her place with the Liberals, refering to former Liberal MPs Jody Wilson-Raybould and Celina Caesar-Chavannes who left the Liberal party to sit as independents.
What does the change mean for Atwin’s political views?
Even though Atwin will stand for a different party in the upcoming election, she affirmed that her political views haven’t changed. “This is about not backing down. It’s not about being other than who I am….I have the same priorities and values that I’ve always had,” she declared at the press conference. She clarified that she was never particularly partisan, saying that ”it was always difficult to choose which party flag to fly over my head.”
She declared that will continue to fight for climate change and use her voice to oppose projects such as the Trans Mountain pipeline, which have a significant environmental impact.
She added that the Liberals did not offer her anything to persuade her to join the party and wasn’t promised a cabinet post either.
“We haven’t discussed anything like that,” she said. “One step at a time.”
When questionned on whether the Liberals were supportive of her views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Leblanc stated that the Prime Minister “has always sought to create a space where colleagues can advocate for issues and concerns they have in a respectful, thoughtful way.”
He added that “In the Liberal caucus there is enormous room for respectful conversation, for differences of opinion.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau welcomed Atwin in a statement praising her relentless advocacy on priorities such as ”climate action, mental health, reconciliation, and making life more affordable for families.”
“I’m looking forward to working even more closely with Jenica to continue delivering support for the people of Fredericton and building a stronger, better, and more resilient Canada,” he declared.