Though announced suddenly on Thursday, former Green party MP Jenica Atwin’s decision to cross the floor and join the Liberals comes following months of turmoil and chaos within the Green party.
Green party Leader Annamie Paul told reporters on Thursday afternoon that she takes MP Jenica Atwin “at her word” as the reason why she crossed the floor earlier in the day to join the Liberal party.
Atwin was elected as the Green MP for Fredericton in 2019 by defeating incumbent Liberal MP Matt DeCourcey. Atwin told reporters on Thursday the events of the past month and the division within the party over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “certainly played a role” in her decision to switch parties.
“(This) past month has been a distraction…. This is a day I did not anticipate,” Atwin said.
However, negotiations to cross the floor began before the inner party strife around what was happening in the Middle East began.
Last month during the Israel-Gaza conflict, Atwin tweeted that she stood “with Palestine (to) condemn the unthinkable air strikes in Gaza,” and called for an “end (to) apartheid.”
MP Paul Manly also tweeted last month that “What is happening in East Jerusalem right now is ethnic cleansing.”
Noah Zatzman, Paul’s senior adviser took to Facebook on May 14 and called out the two MPs for those tweets. “Appalling anti-Semitism and discrimination from a range of political actors beginning with Jagmeet Singh and Dimitri Lascaris and many Liberal, NDP and sadly Green MPs. We will not accept an apology after you realize what you’ve done. We will work to defeat you,” Zatzman posted.
Both Zatzman and Paul are Jewish. Paul did not condemn Zatzman for his Facebook post, despite calls from many within the Green party to speak out against him and support Manly and Atwin.
Dimitry Lascaris, who ran against Paul for leadership of the Greens last year, told iPolitics on Thursday that something has changed within the party over the past few months.
“(There is) no question that the party is going through an extraordinarily difficult time… and it is imperative for the leader to get ahead of this… and support her MPs,” Lascaris said.
Doug Tingey, president of the Green Party Fund, the party’s chief agent and treasurer, announced that the party’s executive council had terminated Zatzman’s contract with the party last week. Tingey responded to a party member’s email about Zatzman’s position within the party which called on the fund to have him removed.
In an interview with iPolitics, Zatzman said Tingey’s email was wrong. Instead, Zatzman said he and the executive council “mutually agreed to not renew this contract” when it ends on July 4.
“It was agreed by both sides. Any suggestion to the contrary is false,” Zatzman said.
Zatzman has a six-month contract with the Green party which began on Jan. 4.
Meanwhile, David Coon, leader of the New Brunswick Green Party, said in a statement on Thursday that he was “profoundly disappointed” that Atwin decided to cross the floor.
“I know Jenica felt abandoned by her leader in Ottawa, and this was a source of unbearable stress for her,” Coon said.
Green party MPs Paul Manly and Elizabeth May also released a joint statement shortly after Paul’s press conference late Thursday afternoon.
“Unfortunately, the attack against Ms. Atwin by the Green party leader’s chief spokesperson (Zatzman) on May 14 created the conditions that led to this crisis,” May and Manly said in the statement.
Atwin’s decision to leave the party is part of a larger problem that some Green party insiders, who spoke to iPolitics on background, say includes the leadership at the executive council and the fund.
The Greens’ executive council, which governs the party and consists of 18 positions, is currently looking to fill 13 of those roles by Aug.19.
In one resignation letter sent by a former executive council member last month, said the council was “dysfunctional” and that he had “seen good people propose good measures only to be personally attacked, browbeaten and abused.”
Meanwhile, in early May, the party received the results of its staff survey. Most of the additional comments in the survey referenced the drama filtering down from the executive council as having an impact on their moral.
Respondents’ additional comments “expressed serious concerns about the future of the (party) if the issues of leadership and lack of morale are not addressed.”
The summation included many respondents wanting “the internal situation to stabilize so that staff could focus on winning elections.”