Green Party MP Jenica Atwin is crossing the floor to join the Liberal Party, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc confirmed on Thursday.
She was elected to represent Fredericton, N.B., in the 2019 federal election, defeating the Liberal incumbent MP Matt DeCourcey.
The news, which was first reported by the Toronto Star, comes amid months of infighting within the Green Party, which has recently focused on the different views of members on the conflict between Israel and Hamas. Speaking Thursday, Atwin called this infighting a “distraction.”
“It’s a good day. I think this is a positive thing for my community. The past month I’ve been at a crossroads. It’s been, in a word, distracting. So I’m going where I can do the best work for my community,” she said.
“This is about not backing down. It’s not about being other than who I am…. I have the same priorities and values that I’ve always had.”
The Liberals did not offer her anything to try to coax her to join the party, she added, calling the decision her “free will.”
The rookie MP was the first Green Party MP to ever be elected on the East Coast, a victory that had many eyeing her as a potential leadership candidate when Elizabeth May stepped down as leader. Atwin quickly ruled out the possibility, calling instead for the party to focus their energy on “bringing in new voices.”
In late April, the Green Party had acclaimed Atwin as its candidate in Fredericton for the next federal election — meaning it had expected she would be running for the party once again come election time.
“We’re thrilled that Jenica is running for re-election in Fredericton,” Green Party Leader Annamie Paul said in a statement issued at the time.
“At this critical juncture in our history, the Green Party and Canada will benefit enormously from her continued presence in the House of Commons.”
The party’s infighting has been ongoing for months now. Global News obtained a letter sent to the party’s governing body, its federal council, at the end of November 2020 that alleged a “pattern of poor governance” within the Green Party.
Former interim party leader Jo-Ann Roberts, 2019 national party campaign director Jonathan Dickie, a past president and a past vice-president were among those who signed that November letter.
“They’re having these internal conflicts and it’s really stopping a lot of their momentum,” Dickie said in an interview with Global News in February.
“I could see the downsides going into the next election where it may be more difficult for Annamie to position the party.”
Tensions over different views among party members on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict also spilled over into the public sphere on Tuesday, with some members claiming Paul’s senior advisor Noah Zatzman had been fired “due to his anti-Palestinian statements.”
“Party leader Annamie Paul should make it clear that Noah Zatzman’s reprehensible views don’t reflect her outlook on Palestinian rights by publicly expressing her support for the Green party’s official policy, which repeatedly calls for pressuring Israel to comply with international law,” Green Party of Canada member Yves Engler said in the press release.
However, when contacted by Global News, Zatzman denied that he had been fired.
Atwin has also been outspoken about the conflict on social media. In May, she called a statement from her party’s leader on the lives that had been lost in a burst of Israeli violence in Gaza “totally inadequate.”
“Forced Evictions must end! I stand with Palestine and condemn the unthinkable air strikes in Gaza. End Apartheid!” she wrote.
When pressed on whether the party infighting over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict had a hand in her decision, Jenica said it did. She added, however, that she did not speak to Paul about her decision and wishes the leader “the best” going forward.
“I hope that we can be friends in the future,” Atwin said.
Meanwhile, speaking at her own press conference, Paul said she trusts that Atwin’s decision wasn’t about her leadership.
“I take Jenica at her word. She was asked that question today and she said that her decision had nothing to do with me,” Paul said.
“Myself and my leadership was not a factor at all in her decision.”
Paul added that Atwin’s conversations with the Liberals pre-dated the flare up of tensions in Israel and Gaza.
“The conversations…have been going on for numerous weeks,” Paul said.
Despite her imminent new party banner, Atwin said that none of her political positions have changed.
“My comments do still stand and I’m hoping again to have those difficult conversations,” she said.
“Part of this journey is working through those conversations. My opinion is supported, in that there’s a diversity of views.”
When pressed on whether the party is supportive of her stance on Israel, LeBlanc said the prime minister “has always sought to create a space where colleagues can advocate for issues and concerns they have in a respectful, thoughtful way.”
“In the Liberal caucus there is enormous room for respectful conversation, for differences of opinion,” LeBlanc said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau welcomed Atwin to the party in a statement issued on Thursday.
“With her tireless and effective advocacy on priorities like climate action, mental health, reconciliation, and making life more affordable for families, Jenica Atwin is respected by her constituents and all of her colleagues as a champion for real change,” he said.
“I’m looking forward to working even more closely with Jenica to continue delivering support for the people of Fredericton and building a stronger, better, and more resilient Canada.”
— With files from The Canadian Press