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Rob Shaw: Eby's weak response to antisemitism crisis threatens NDP government

'It's gaslighting.'
B.C. Premier David Eby | Photo: Government of B.C./Flickr

Premier David Eby says a humbling failure of his own leadership led former cabinet minister Selina Robinson to quit the B.C. NDP with a scathing resignation letter this week, after he and his top officials failed to recognize her growing concerns about antisemitism within the party.

“She didn't feel comfortable bringing the concerns that she outlined in her letter to me; I feel like we could have addressed them together,” Eby told reporters Thursday.

“For me, moving forward, it's an opportunity for me as a leader. It's a humbling moment to know that I didn't create the space for her to be able to bring that forward, and I'll have to reflect on that.”

The surprisingly frank admission on Thursday capped the worst 24-hour period the premier has faced so far during his 16 months in power.

But it did not appear to come with any actual action.

The NDP rejected BC United’s suggestion of an independent inquiry into antisemitism. It did not follow through with antisemitism or anti-Islamophobia caucus training, as Robinson proposed.

And there were no consequences for Eby or top officials in his office who, over a series of days, repeatedly rejected Robinson’s pitch for a Jewish-Muslim consultation process, couldn’t anticipate her angry response, and otherwise thoroughly botched the handling of the situation until Robinson exploded with a five-page resignation letter Wednesday.

“For me, it's a real day for examination of what the opportunities were, where I could have potentially intervened and address some of the concerns Selena had,” Eby told reporters.

But there was little of that on display.

Eby did not reach out to any members of the Jewish community or Robinson to express his contrition on Thursday. He reviewed some speeches, met with some mayors on local issues and delivered some sort of speech to the BC Tourism and Hospitality Conference (reporters are rarely told about the premier’s speeches beforehand, mostly to prevent them from attending, so who knows what Eby said).

Crisis? What crisis? It appeared to be, oddly, just another day at the office.

To be fair, Eby does have a meeting schedule with the Rabbinical Association of Vancouver on Thursday.

But to be doubly fair, it was scheduled long before the Robinson resignation, and is more a function of fortunate timing than genuine outreach from the NDP to the Jewish community.

“It’s going to be a difficult conversation,” said Rabbi Jonathan Infeld, chairman of the Rabbinic association.

He said he’s “extremely concerned” with the NDP government’s behaviour.

He backed Robinson’s assessment that several current and former NDP MLAs had their apologies accepted by the Jewish community after making antisemitic comments in recent years, but Robinson, for some reason, was considered irredeemable when she made a mistake.

“This is something that the government, with its double standards, facilitated, and has quite frankly made worse by enabling the loudest, most violent voices to win, instead of saying no this isn’t acceptable,” said Infeld.

“I understand why Selena resigned from her caucus, because she needs to be an independent voice to call out the antisemitism that we clearly now know exists in the NDP.”

To be clear, nobody in the NDP is willing to actually say there is antisemitism in the caucus.

In fact, Environment Minister George Heyman, who described himself as a non-practising member of the Jewish community, went so far Thursday to deny any antisemitism had happened at all, dismissing Robinson’s concerns as “her interpretation of what she’s experienced.”

“The implication was made that there’s systemic antisemitism in our caucus and in our government,” said Heyman.

“I simply want to say that as a Jew who has been part of this caucus for almost 11 years, that’s just simply not my experience.”

Heyman’s comments “made my stomach turn,” said Ezra Shanken, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver.

“Instead of the BC NDP caucus working together to come up with plans on how it is they could address Selina Robinson’s lived experience, they trotted out a Jew to disagree with another Jew’s lived experience,” Shanken told CKNW’s Jas Johal.

“It shows how much work we have to do with this caucus to get them back to where they need to be.”

Is there any sign the NDP is doing that work? No.

To go even further, there’s no actual sign the NDP even recognizes that any current MLAs (paging Mable Elmore) are issues of anti-Jewish concern, as are documented in Robinson’s letter.

“It’s gaslighting,” said BC United Leader Kevin Falcon.

“Those are more weasel words from the premier. This is a moment where the premier needs to be a leader and to acknowledge what she has said, because nobody is contradicting her.

“Her statements are public, they’re on the record. And the problem is he’s not addressing her accusations directly.”

In the end, there are two main takeaways from the 24 hours in which the Robinson situation imploded.

The first is that while Eby’s all-powerful premier’s office might be good with crafting policy, it clearly is less skilled in managing actual people.

That might be a knowledge gap worth addressing, if for no other reason that when the NDP polling numbers inevitably start to dip, and people start grumbling, the premier’s office might have to do some actual caucus management instead of lecturing everyone from up high.

And the second is that the Robinson affair shows just how quickly a scandal can come out of nowhere and engulf what looks like an otherwise invincible government.

It only took a day to plunge the NDP into a full-blown crisis, with emergency caucus meetings, open letters and resignations.

There’s eight months until the election.

Plenty of time for things to go completely sideways, as the last 24 hours have shown.

Rob Shaw has spent more than 16 years covering B.C. politics, now reporting for CHEK News and writing for Glacier Media. He is the co-author of the national bestselling book A Matter of Confidence, host of the weekly podcast Political Capital, and a regular guest on CBC Radio.

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