Yesterday, Fredericton Member of Parliament Jenica Atwin announced that she left the Green Party to join the Liberal Party. While floor-crossings are relatively common in federal Canadian politics, the impact of this move is a massive one on the tiny Green caucus, now reduced in size by one third. Where this leaves the Greens, the Liberals, and Atwin’s principles are all set to be major topics of discussion.
Needless to say, the Greens have not had the best run in recent months. While they never manifested a ‘green wave’ in the 2019 federal election as some early polling indicated, they were able to win multiple seats for the first time ever, and Atwin’s narrow victory in New Brunswick represented their first outside of southwestern British Columbia. When combined with good provincial results in New Brunswick and especially in Prince Edward Island, it seemed like the Greens formed the nucleus of a burgeoning national party.
But it came crashing down rapidly. With Elizabeth May stepping down from the leadership, the party had an opportunity to go in an eco-socialist direction with Dimitri Lascaris, but May and the establishment aligned behind Annamie Paul, who took positions in support of anti-Indigenous and anti-socialist coups in Bolivia. She also undertook a foolish run in Toronto Centre—and is planning to do so again—rather than seek a more plausible riding. At a time when many people were considering the Greens, the leadership failed to inspire, and endemic infighting between Paul, the caucus, and the party structure were making headlines.
This all came to a head a few weeks ago, as the Greens issued a pitiful statement regarding the Israeli genocide of Palestinians. Whereas Jagmeet Singh and the NDP took a historic stand, the Greens took a ‘both sides’ approach that failed to grasp the reality staring Canadians in the face. To her credit, Atwin took a stance against her own party, saying: “I stand with Palestine and condemn the unthinkable airstrikes in Gaza. End Apartheid!” After this, a top adviser in Paul’s office—Noah Zatzman—posted on social media that Singh, Lascaris and implicitly Atwin were anti-Semitic, and that he would “work to defeat” Atwin and Paul Manly (another Green MP sympathetic to the idea that Palestinians are human beings).
This occurred nearly a month ago, but appears to be the impetus for Atwin’s departure. While Paul’s office has rejected this claim, both May and Manly said that “the attack against Ms. Atwin by the Green Party leaders’ chief spokesperson on May 14 created the conditions that led to this crisis.” Put another way, the steadfast commitment to anti-Palestinian politics has cost the Green Party a young, dynamic voice.
But we should be clear that Atwin’s move was not made without cynicism on her end. Her decision to leave the Greens is fully defensible, and the correct action morally. But by joining the Liberal Party—who also deny the humanity of Palestinians and crush internal dissent from women who speak candidly—she’s clearly making a play for her personal political future. This is further evidenced by the fact that, at her press conference announcing the move, Atwin acknowledged the 215 children found in a mass grave as a call to build a better Canadian society, but it’s curious that she’s joining a government hellbent on fighting Indigenous children in court. Atwin’s 2019 victory came in the face of a weak Liberal performance and a decent Conservative one. And with Erin O’Toole’s polling very poorly, a Liberal comeback in Fredericton was a real possibility. Atwin likely locked up her seat (and maybe her pension) by joining the Liberals, because even if only a fraction of her 2019 Green supporters follow her, it should be more than sufficient.
Neither should we feel sympathy for Elizabeth May. She may place the blame on the leaders’ office, and she may claim to be “heartbroken,” but she endorsed Paul over Lascaris and whined about a left-wing takeover when he began to find success. The party’s current failure sits on her shoulders more than nearly anyone else. This is on top of the fact that May never took the opportunity to step down from Parliament and allow Paul to run in her riding—the only truly safe Green seat in all of Canada. If she truly passed the torch, perhaps the current leader would have been able to better assert her priorities and get the shambolic organization in order.
As I noted when Elizabeth May departed the leadership, this would be a pivotal test for the Greens in determining what their values are, and if they are viable as a political party at the federal level. What we’ve seen is a party that turns a blind eye to human rights abuses abroad, and which cannot manage a caucus of three individuals. What would be best for Canada—and for progressive voters in particular—would be for the Green Party to fade off into the sunset. The best of what it stands for can be found in the NDP, and the worst can be found in the Liberal and Conservative parties.
Christo Aivalis is political writer and commentator with a PhD in History. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, Globe and Mail, Maclean’s, and Passage. He can be found daily on YouTube and at his new podcast Left Turn, Canada.