Liberal MP ‘reflecting’ on place in caucus after NDP Palestinian statehood motion debacle

The late-night Liberal watering-down of an NDP motion regarding the recognition of Palestinian statehood on Monday prompted anger and disappointment among both pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian advocacy groups.

And, it has left one Liberal MP saying he felt “isolated” and is now “reflecting” on his place within caucus.

On Monday, a contentious motion from the federal New Democrats initially calling on Canada to recognize the “State of Palestine” passed – but not until after the Liberals drastically altered its wording at the 11th-hour to see the government simply work towards that aim as part of a two-state solution.

The non-binding but largely symbolic motion sponsored by NDP MP Heather McPherson also included considerably amended language about several aspects of the ongoing Israel-Gaza war.

This included calling for an immediate ceasefire, for Hamas to release all hostages, for further transfer of arms exports to Israel to cease, and for enhanced humanitarian aid and resettlement offerings. 

The NDP took the position that recognizing Palestine as a state could help accelerate a deeper diplomatic process, and despite the extensive changes, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said he’s now “forced the government to move in a certain direction.”

After stating in the House of Commons that an opposition motion would not sway the federal government’s foreign policy, Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly told reporters post-vote that it is “clearly the intent of this government to make sure that we follow what is written in this motion.”

Housefather reflecting on role

Amid discontent over the last-minute rewriting, three Liberal MPs voted against the motion—Anthony Housefather, Marco Mendicino and Ben Carr—alongside Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre and his caucus.

Housefather says the way the vote went down has left him and his two dissenting peers feeling “somewhat isolated.”

“It’s the first time in my parliamentary career that I’ve had a reflection like this, where I truly felt last night that a line had been crossed. When my party members got up and cheered and gave a standing ovation to Heather McPherson and the NDP, I started reflecting as to whether or not I belonged,” he said.

While Housefather said Liberal MPs are “trying to show me a lot of love right now,” he said it’s hard feeling like his identity and concerns about Israel are not being understood by his fellow MPs.

“It was a very hard time for me, last night’s vote, what happened. I will be very honest, I felt that the message that I put through about how disturbing the original motion was, clearly didn’t prevail.”

While he agreed the amended version was better than the initial draft, Housefather called it “bad parliamentary form” for the government to bring forward the amendments minutes before the end of the debate.

“Parliamentarians have a right to know and understand what they’re voting on in all cases,” he said.

Also speaking with reporters on Parliament Hill Tuesday, Carr said that, while he doesn’t feel the same isolation, he thinks “it would have been more desirable for us to have had a negotiation on amendments, a little bit earlier on.” 

Carr said he’s “sure there will be lots of conversations in the caucus tomorrow.”

Minister of Foreign Affairs Melanie Joly speaks to reporters in the Foyer of the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on Monday, March 18, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Spencer Colby

Asked last night what her message was to caucus-mates who were displeased, and how the government intends to maintain unity within caucus, Joly said she and her colleagues are “one big family” and that they “always work together.” 

Groups voice anger, disappointment

As swiftly as the governing Liberals advanced sweeping alterations to the NDP opposition motion, stakeholders have come out to condemn, question, and in some cases, applaud the language passed by a majority of MPs.

“By adopting such a one-sided and irresponsible motion, the House has expressed an appalling degree of disregard for Israel’s right to defend itself,” said B’nai Brith Canada’s director of government relations David Granovsky, in a statement.

“Canada must not stand in the way as Israel works to neutralize the terrorists who are preventing the implementation of a sustainable peace.”

Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs CEO Shimon Koffler Fogel said the community he represents is “angered and deeply disappointed,” in the Liberals for choosing to “effectively sub-contract Canadian foreign policy to anti-Israel radicals within the NDP and the Bloc Quebecois.”

“While the removal of the very problematic clause calling for unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state is an important result of the substantial mobilization of the pro-Israel community, the fact that the NDP failed to achieve its core objective is of little comfort,” he said.

NDP member of Parliament Heather McPherson and NDP leader Jagmeet Singh hold a press conference in the foyer of the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, March 18, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Fogel added that by backing the motion, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was demonstrating “a failure of moral leadership,” and voiced concerns about knock-on effects in Canada, such as emboldening antisemitic protests.

Speaking on Parliament Hill, National Council of Canadian Muslims CEO Stephen Brown said Canadians should be proud after Monday night’s vote.

“We witnessed many members of Parliament affiliated with different parties vote in the House of Commons to pass an historic motion affirming Palestinian human rights and standing against the slaughter of innocent civilians. This represents an important moral commitment to work with allies for peace and justice in the region,” Brown said.

“We recognize that no motion can be perfect and meet the concerns of all Canadians, but the other option was to do nothing.” 

Ahead of the vote, Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME) advocated for MPs to vote “yes” on the initial NDP motion, calling it a “historic test for all MPs.”

Reacting to the result, CJPME vice-president Michael Bueckert said the vote did not go “nearly as far” as the advocacy group had hoped, saying the watering down of the motion weakened the significance of Parliament’s vote in a way that’s left his organization “deeply disappointed.”

“A last-minute backroom deal between the Liberal government and the NDP leadership means that the motion no longer contains several of the strongest provisions originally proposed,” Bueckert said.

“While imperfect, this is a tangible victory on the road to a Canadian two-way arms embargo with Israel. The NDP must not rest on its laurels and continue to fight,” he said.

“The Trudeau government must immediately implement the democratic will of Parliament by adopting these demands, and ignore the backlash from those who seek to vilify this motion.” 

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