OTTAWA — Jagmeet Singh has retracted the punishment meted out to a veteran New Democrat MP after facing a backlash from NDP caucus members.
The NDP leader announced late Tuesday that he's decided to return Hamilton MP David Christopherson to his role as vice-chair of a powerful House of Commons committee.
Singh had stripped Christopherson of the post last week after the MP broke ranks with the party to vote in favour of a Conservative motion. The motion condemned the Liberal government's new policy of requiring any group applying for funding under the Canada Summer Jobs program to attest that their core mandate respects charter rights, including a woman's right to have an abortion.
Although the NDP is officially pro-choice and Christopherson himself is a longtime supporter of a woman's right to choose, he said at the time that he couldn't support what he believes is an unconstitutional policy that requires churches and other religious groups to disavow their beliefs to qualify for funding.
Singh's decision to punt Christopherson from his role as vice-chair of the procedure and House affairs committee shocked many senior New Democrats, including at least three MPs who went public with their unhappiness.
Charlie Angus, runner-up to Singh in last fall's leadership contest, tweeted Friday that New Democrats "hurt themselves" by punishing Christopherson.
"Nobody knows procedure and rules better than (Christopherson). He is a fearsome force for good when it comes to respect for parliamentary rules and this is essential when you're the opposition," Angus tweeted.
I think the correct tweet was that the party hurt themselves. Nobody knows procedure and rules better than @DaveChrisMP— Charlie Angus NDP (@CharlieAngusNDP) March 23, 2018
He is a fearsome force for good when it comes to respect for parliamentary rules and this is essential when you're the opposition.
Former MP Dan Harris tweeted in response: "Yeah, this was unnecessary."
On Tuesday, Angus was even more critical in an interview with the Globe and Mail and was joined by fellow MP Romeo Saganash.
A few hours later, Singh issued a statement retracting the punishment.
"I have had several productive conversations with David Christopherson and various members of caucus," Singh said.
"Upon reflection, I have decided David will return to his role as vice-chair of the procedure and House affairs committee."
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Singh cast his reversal as a matter of listening to his caucus.
"Lively and democratic debate is a hallmark of our party. I will always keep an open line for dialogue within our caucus," he said.
"My approach is to encourage feedback and constantly seek to improve our decision making processes, rather than simply disregard voices with varying impacts."
Singh added that "all New Democrats remain united and are completely opposed to any measure which seeks to infringe on a woman's right to choose."
Christopherson issued his own statement, affirming his continued faith in Singh's leadership.
The 2nd time in 2 weeks Singh has bowed to caucus
He said he and leader had a number of "in-depth conversations" about the issue over the last few days and "through this process I believe Jagmeet has shown himself to be a strong leader, willing to listen to all viewpoints and come to a fair resolution."
"I have complete trust in his leadership."
The reversal marks the second time in two weeks that Singh has bowed to a backlash from his caucus.
Last week, he clarified his position on separatist Sikh extremism after his caucus held an unscheduled meeting to discuss what some MPs felt was Singh's unsatisfactory response to a video that showed him attending a pro-Sikh separatist rally in San Francisco in 2015 and another showing him in 2016 sitting next to a Sikh youth leader in Britain who said violence is a "legitimate form of resistance" for oppressed Sikhs in India.
After initially equivocating somewhat on whether violence was an appropriate form of resistance for Sikhs, Singh last week categorically condemned political violence of any kind.
"Let's make it really clear. I think it's an important question. I condemn political violence absolutely, no question about that. It's something that's unacceptable. It divides people, it hurts people, it does not advance justice, it does not build a better society," he said.
"I have never attended an event where the goal was to advance political violence, nor would I ever. That's not my response. That's not my values, it's not what I believe in."