Politics

Elizabeth May says there's 'no room' for racism in Green Party after NDP defector's comments

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May issued a statement Wednesday saying "there is no room for any kind of racism" in her party after a recent convert made comments about NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh.

Jagmeet Singh says Green leader has a lot to answer for after accepting candidates from NDP

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is a practising Sikh and wears a turban. (Christopher Katsarov/Canadian Press)

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May issued a statement Wednesday saying "there is no room for any kind of racism" in her party after a recent convert made comments about NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh.

On Tuesday, more than a dozen former New Brunswick NDP candidates threw their support behind the provincial and federal Greens. One of the defectors — Jonathan Richardson, the former federal NDP executive member for Atlantic Canada — said racism was one of the reasons for the party's lack of success in finding candidates with an election call imminent.

He said he travelled around the province to meet NDP members and found there's "a bit of racism undertone," particularly in the northern part of the province.

"From when I was up in the [Acadian] peninsula, I would say that a lot of that region that most people would be a bit worried about somebody who wasn't, you know, wasn't Caucasian, and that's going to take some time to show people that, you know, Canadians come in all cultures and diversities," he said. "But for right now I think that that racism still exists."

Singh is a practising Sikh and wears a turban.

Singh said all national party leaders should be celebrating Canadian diversity and that May needs to explain why she has let the former New Democrats into her party. 

"She's taking in candidates that have kind of openly expressed their concern around someone looking differently and that being a challenge," Singh said in Toronto on Wednesday evening. "If she is accepting people that are suggesting things that are not accepting of people's diversity, then the Green Party has a lot to answer for."

"I think our political leaders should embrace the diversity of our country and should be willing to say you can look like whatever you are as long as you share the values and beliefs that are going to make peoples' lives better."

NDP MP Charlie Angus tweeted that "the fact that some N.B. NDP jumped ship because they wouldn't run under a progressive leader who comes from another religion is sickening."

Karl Belanger, a former national director of the NDP, also weighed in, tweeting that it's "not a good look, New Greens."

May issued a statement Wednesday saying Richardson's comments "were taken out of context and have led to accusations of racism against the party."

"One of the core values of Greens around the world is respect for diversity and human rights," she said.

"There is absolutely no room for any form of discrimination in the Green Party. We have zero tolerance for sexism, Islamophobia, misogyny, homophobia or hate speech of any kind. Canada's strength lies in its diversity."

David Coon, the MLA for Fredericton South, suggests New Brunswick cooperate with the other Maritime provinces to open residential rehabilitation centres across the region to help people recovering from crystal meth addiction. (CBC)

New Brunswick Green Party Leader David Coon said he hasn't had a chance to speak to Richardson since he made the comments, but he contends they've been "overblown" and "exploited" by people trying to "blunt the impact" of 14 NDP candidates joining the Greens all at once.

"What I heard him say basically was he ran into some people who had ignorant attitudes and held prejudices against people of colour or people of different religions," he said.

"It's not a news flash racism and prejudice exists in Canada, and it's abhorrent and we need to work to stand up to it and stamp it out."

Coon said he travels the province regularly and, in his experience, "most" New Brunswickers are "very accepting."

Jonathan Richardson, the federal NDP's former executive member for Atlantic Canada, joined 14 former NDP candidates in jumping ship Tuesday from the increasingly beleaguered party. (CBC)

The NDP hasn't held a seat in the New Brunswick legislature since 2005. Its last MP in the province was Acadie-Bathurst's Yvon Godin, who retired in 2015.

Richardson told CBC News Tuesday there are other factors behind NDP's diminished standing in New Brunswick — including the fact that Singh hasn't set foot in the province since winning the leadership in 2017, the election planning committee's focus on "urban areas that are diverse," and a lack of staffing.

Coon said he doesn't believe racism has played a role in the NDP's troubles in the province. He contends the NDP has been struggling in New Brunswick since Elizabeth Weir stepped down as provincial party leader in the mid-2000s.

"So it's been a long process where they've found significant challenges in resonating with the people of our province. And so I think that it's not just one issue," he said.

New Brunswick Liberal Leader Kevin Vickers said he "couldn't disagree more" with Richardson's comments, which he said imply that New Brunswickers are "inherently racist."

"The New Brunswick I know welcomes and embraces people of all backgrounds," he said in a statement.

"These comments are wrong, embarrassing for the province and should be embarrassing for Green Party Leader David Coon."

Coon, whose Green Party is enjoying a boom in support, securing three seats in the 2018 provincial election, said Richardson will have to take responsibility for his words. "It's his point of view and he's the one who's going to have to defend that."

Late Wednesday, Richardson posted the text of his speech on Facebook, "for those out there who are wondering and asking questions."

Richardson said he will not be answering questions from the general public or media, but would be "happy to have a conversation" with any of his friends.

With files from Harry Forestell, Information Morning Saint John and the Canadian Press

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