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‘Wrong side of history’: Is Jagmeet Singh’s stance on pipelines splitting the NDP?


‘Wrong side of history’: Is Jagmeet Singh’s stance on pipelines splitting the NDP?

OTTAWA—It’s hard to get more “NDP” than Joy Henderson.

The 43-year-old works with marginalized youth in Scarborough and joined the New Democratic Party at 15. Her mother, Betty Hubbard, was Jack Layton’s office assistant when he was a Metro Toronto councillor. The late NDP leader even praised Henderson in his 2006 book, “Speaking Out Louder,” when describing an effort to build a community clinic near Regent Park in the downtown east end.

But Henderson says she’s now done with the NDP.

In an interview with the Star, Henderson said she is renouncing her party membership over how the NDP reacted to the recent arrests of anti-pipeline demonstrators on Wet’suwet’en traditional territory in northern British Columbia. While federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh expressed concerns about the RCMP’s use of force, Henderson wanted to see a stronger stand against construction of the natural gas pipeline without the consent of the nation’s hereditary leaders.

“It’s not enough anymore,” Henderson said by phone this week. “If I wanted incrementalism I would have gone with the Liberals. I think a lot of people are feeling that way.”

The dispute over the Coastal GasLink pipeline in B.C. has exposed — and perhaps deepened — a fissure that cuts through the New Democratic Party. There is a faction that wants the NDP to stake a more radical position on climate change and reconciliation, issues that many see as intertwined. Though it is difficult to measure this disaffection, the arrests of Wet’suwet’en demonstrators have brought concerns into the open.

At least 25 federal NDP riding associations, three MPs and several former candidates have now signed a statement circulating online to express “distress” with the federal NDP’s response to the situation. These include climate campaigner Avi Lewis, who ran for the NDP this year on the B.C. coast, as well as former NDP MP Romeo Saganash, and current MPs Leah Gazan, Lori Idlout and Matthew Green.

For Anjali Appadurai, a signatory in B.C. who narrowly lost the recent election for the NDP in the riding of Vancouver-Granville, Singh’s NDP has a problem on climate change and reconciliation.

“I don’t think anyone has taken enough of a stand — Jagmeet included,” said Appadurai, who wants the federal NDP to call for a halt to construction of the Coastal GasLink.

“There’s a moral and a policy choice made there, and this choice is on the wrong side of history,” she said.

Appadurai also said the federal NDP is too soft on the Trans Mountain expansion — a government-owned oil pipeline project that is also opposed by many affected First Nations as well as New Democrats.

The official party position, however, is that the NDP wouldn’t necessarily cancel the project if it took power. Singh reiterated that stance in November, despite how veteran NDP MP Peter Julian gave notice of a motion in Parliament to call for construction on the project to stop.

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As it stands, Appadurai said she isn’t prepared to say whether she would run again for the NDP she represented in a federal election just three months ago. And with the recent turmoil in the federal Green party, she said pressure for stronger climate action on the federal stage must fall on Singh’s shoulders.

“It has become a political problem for the NDP because that’s the only vessel that many progressives in this country can hope for in terms of a way to create the systemic, deeply radical, emergency-level action that we need on the climate right now,” she said.

Speaking to reporters on Parliament Hill Wednesday, Singh said he’s “not worried” about a split in his party and that “all” New Democrats are concerned about justice for Indigenous peoples.

He also said that he has met with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, elected band councils, workers and others in the region, and that it’s clear there is no “consensus” on the pipeline. He called the situation “complex” and denounced the deployment of “militarized” police officers to arrest demonstrators in the region.

“I want to be an ally in supporting the communities right to make a decision, but it’s clear, there are differing opinions on the ground. And so we’re focusing on making sure the RCMP are reformed, that seeing those painful images of violence should never happen. And we want to see this federal government play a role in answering serious questions around land and title rights,” Singh said.

Singh’s appeal to the complexity of the situation with the Coastal GasLink goes back almost two years, when the dispute sparked a national solidarity movement that saw Mohawk demonstrators block rail lines in Quebec and Ontario. At the time, Singh said the dispute over the pipeline was too complicated for him to simply call for the project to be cancelled.

The stance came months after a feud inside the NDP family over the Trans Mountain expansion project that was supported by the Alberta NDP’s Rachel Notley but opposed by the B.C. NDP in Victoria. Notley openly disdained Singh’s opposition to the project, and told the Star in 2019 that the federal NDP had placed climate concerns above fossil fuel workers and that Singh’s party needed “to go back to the drawing board and think about working people.”

Since the election this fall, in which the NDP campaigned for stronger climate action such as the elimination of fossil fuel subsidies, the party has called on the Liberal government to put up money to help workers transitioning from the oil and gas sector into clean energy jobs.

But those stances don’t go far enough for people like Stewart Phillip, the Grand Chief of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs who signed the online statement along with his wife Joan, a two-time federal NDP candidate.

“The NDP is the only answer. We just want them to claim their primary leadership role,” he said. “Quit being so damn polite.”

With files from Raisa Patel

Alex Ballingall is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @aballinga

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