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New Brunswick MP Jenica Atwin announced Thursday she has left the Green Party to join the Liberal caucus mainly because of ongoing internal rifts among the Greens over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"It's been really difficult to focus on the work that needs to be done on behalf of my constituents," she told a news conference in her Fredericton riding. "It certainly has played a role."

The defection leaves the Green Party with just two lawmakers in the House of Commons.

Atwin made history in the October 2019 general election when she became the first Green MP to be elected east of British Columbia. But last month, she openly challenged Green Leader Annamie Paul’s position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

On May 11, Atwin posted a message on Twitter saying a statement from Paul calling for de-escalation of the conflict was "totally inadequate."

"I stand with Palestine and condemn the unthinkable airstrikes in Gaza. End Apartheid!" Atwin wrote.

Three days later, Paul's senior adviser, Noah Zatzman, expressed solidarity with "Zionists" in a Facebook post that accused some unnamed Green MPs of antisemitism and discrimination. Paul had attempted to remain above the fray, saying party debate is healthy.

On Thursday, federal Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc, also a New Brunswick MP, introduced Atwin as the newest member of the Liberal caucus. In her opening statement, Atwin said she had "been at a crossroads" for the past month.

"It's been, in a word, distracting," she said. "So I'm going where I can do my best work."

#Greens lose MP Jenica Atwin to the federal #Liberals #cdnpoli

The new Liberal said she had not been promised any particular role with the Liberals in exchange for crossing the floor. "We haven't discussed anything like that," said Atwin, a mother of two and a teacher who helped run an Indigenous education centre before entering politics.

The Greens' stance on environmental and social policy often aligns more closely with New Democrat positions, but the NDP electoral prospects in Atwin's riding of Fredericton appear bleak. The party won less than six per cent of the vote there in 2019.

Atwin's aisle-crossing marks a small win for a Liberal Party looking to tout its environmental credentials and shore up the ranks of its minority government. But the change deals a much bigger blow to a Green caucus that was struggling to stay afloat even before the loss of its Atlantic beachhead.

Paul said Atwin had first reached out to Liberal brass before the fracas over Israel in mid-May, suggesting Atwin was already growing dissatisfied with her party.

Paul, who first heard the news Thursday, told reporters she was "disappointed" in Atwin's decision and regrets her departure.

"I still haven’t heard it directly from her," she said at a news conference.

“I will always try to improve relationships between members, but sometimes I will be successful and sometimes I won’t, and I have to have the humility to accept that I won’t necessarily always be successful."

Asked about the party's standoff on the Israel-Palestinian crisis that helped spur Atwin's departure, Paul said she continues to advocate for a "peaceful, lasting and inclusive resolution" but respects a diversity of views.

In a joint statement, Green MPs Paul Manly and Elizabeth May — former party leader — said they are "heartbroken at the loss of our dear colleague Jenica Atwin from the caucus."

They were blunter than their former colleague about the impetus: "Unfortunately, the attack against Ms. Atwin by the Green Party leader's chief spokesperson on May 14th created the conditions that led to this crisis."

Zatzman said Thursday he has "left the fold" as a result of online harassment, following a vote by Green executives not to renew his contract with the party.

David Coon, leader of the New Brunswick Greens, said he knew Atwin felt abandoned by Paul.

"I am profoundly disappointed that she decided her only option was to cross the floor, after the voters of Fredericton and Oromocto had elected her as a Green, to be the kind of strong and independent voice in Ottawa that the Green Party encourages," he said in a statement. "She will discover that her principles will not find a home with the Liberals."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued a brief statement Thursday noting Atwin's "tireless and effective advocacy on priorities like climate action, mental health, reconciliation, and making life more affordable for families."

When asked about her previous criticism of the Liberals over electoral reform and climate change, Atwin said: "If you looked at my voting record, my comments in the House of Commons, everything that I've said and done still stands … To the voters, I would say, 'I'm still me.' "

LeBlanc said the Liberal Party welcomes divergent opinions, even when it comes to Israel.

"In the Liberal caucus, there is enormous room … for differences of opinion," he said. "Our caucus discussions will be that much richer."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 10, 2021.

— With files from Michael MacDonald in Halifax

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This dispute highlights a difficult position for Canada's Green Party. Our Greens have long supported equity, control of their own land, and non-discrimination for Canada's first nations. I would expect a similar support for Palestinians, who have been conquered and kept stateless for 50 years, are treated like second class citizens in Israel, and have been pushed into isolated little Bantustans in Gaza and the West Bank through Netanyahu's connivance with his aggressive settlers. Personally painful as it may be, Annamie Paul needs to resolve this contradiction if Canada's Greens are to be credible.

Admittedly Canada's first nations have been maltreated for 250 years, compared with only 50 years or so for Palestinians. But I would like to see our Greens develop a coherent policy that leads Canada in the right direction in less than another 200 years.

I'm sympathetic to Jenica Atwin, but a little doubtful that she'll persuade the Liberals to show more leadership here than they have in the last 15 years. I hope to be proved wrong.

Does this mean that the Liberal Party of Canada also "stands with Palestine"?

My impression is that the Liberals if anything hold a similar position to Paul if not strongly supportive of Israel. As with most politicians this MPP thinks she has a better chance of keeping her seat if she joins the Liberals. That's what this is all about.

I've never understood why MPs are allowed to "cross the floor." If Ms Atwin feels she can no longer represent the party she was elected to represent she should step down and run as a Liberal in a by-election and see if her constituents still want her. This whole "crossing the floor" business is an insult to the voters who elected her as a Green and makes a mockery of elections, and thus democracy.

Not exactly. The voters will have their say in the next election regardless.

I've never understood the addiction to party affiliation. If partisanship was strictly upheld over our history, then there would never be minority or coalition governments, and no public healthcare, CPP, EI and so forth, policies borne of inter-party co-operation.

The electorate are not all party animals, so why should parliament be?

The line "The Greens' stance on environmental and social policy often aligns more closely with New Democrat positions, but the NDP electoral prospects in Atwin's riding of Fredericton appear bleak". The NDP is nowhere near the Greens on environmental and climate change policy. On social policy? The NDP hasn't had an innovative, modern social policy since universal health care and pharmacare. The Greens are way ahead of the game in this regard too. The Greens have been promoting a Guaranteed Livable Income for years; then the NDP recently came out with its Universal Basic Income. Hmmm. If the NDP is the standard for being progressive in Canada, it's a very low bar.

'Specially since Guaranteed Livable Income means something very different from Universal Basic Income.
I, for one, am not in favor of the reduction of income support benefit amounts, pretty much far below any Livable Income measure, in order that this smaller amount for those who need it the most would instead be divvied up equally amongst a much larger number of people.
Why on earth do bank presidents and industry execs need to be dipping into that pot too?