Politics

Eby goes from deflection to contrition as he takes in Robinson resignation

Opinion: Expect the premier to move to defuse any fallout of antisemitism complaints, then rush to bury them

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VICTORIA — Premier David Eby was not prepared for Selina Robinson’s resignation from the NDP caucus to sit as an independent MLA and his first stab at a response showed it.

He patronized: “Clearly, she is hurting and carrying a lot of pain.”

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He blamed: “Selina made a mistake, and she was doing the work to address the harm that was caused.”

He deflected: “My focus remains on taking action for people on the things that matter most to them.”

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He dissembled: “I have deep respect and gratitude for all of the work she has done ….and her advocacy for the Jewish community.”

He claimed that given the chance, he could have fixed the problems she chronicled in her five-page letter of resignation:

“I wish she had brought her concerns to me directly so we could have worked through them together.”

There was “no working through them together” between her and David Eby.

After accepting Robinson’s apology for some ill-advised comments about Palestine, Eby pushed her out of cabinet to placate a backlash from the Muslim community, NDP financial backers and some members of the government caucus.

Then, when a contrite Robinson proposed a bridge-building exercise between the Muslim and Jewish community, Eby’s chief of staff squelched the notion as “too political.”

At no time in Eby’s statement Wednesday did he acknowledge Robinson’s detailed accusations of antisemitism in the NDP. Nor did he address her claim that she’d been judged by a double standard.

Instead, the premier closed by wishing “Selina nothing but the best.”

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Hard to believe given her rough treatment at his hands and that of his staff.

That was it for any comment from the premier on Wednesday. Instead the New Democrats sent out Ravi Kahlon, their house leader and minister of housing.

He did little more than echo the premier’s insinuation that Robinson was in an overly emotional state.

“Selina is clearly hurting,” he said. “I certainly hope she finds peace as she moves forward.”

When Eby emerged to talk to reporters on Thursday morning, he’d improved his remarks in consultation with the lawyers and strategists in his office.

Gone was any blaming of Robinson or the suggestion that she was overwrought. In its place, a pose of contrition.

“Even though I disagree with Selina’s characterization of a number of my colleagues, I have to accept as a leader, that as a Jewish woman, with these unique experiences in our caucus, she didn’t feel safe,” said the premier.

“She didn’t feel safe with me to bring forward her concerns and she felt she had to resign. So, I’ll examine that.”

Then, as he headed into a meeting with the caucus of NDP MLAs and cabinet ministers, he suggested that they, too, might have to think things over.

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“I’m going to go into that caucus room with a bunch of colleagues who are also hurting right now and we’re going to reflect on this together and move forward to ensure this is a safe province for everybody.”

Yet when the premier turned up in the legislature for question period an hour or so later, there was no evidence that the caucus session had done anything more than stiffen his resolve to put the matter to rest as expeditiously as possible.

He also provided a show of mock sympathy for Robinson, who was not in the house to be nauseated by it.

“It was incredibly hard for her to give up her cabinet position,” he said. “I know that was so hard for her.”

Then came another show of contrition.

“Obviously, I didn’t create the space where she was able to bring these concerns forward to me. That’s not her fault. That’s my responsibility — to create that space for her to bring that forward,” said Eby, sounding more like the leader of a therapy group than a premier.

But at no time did he acknowledge any need to get to the bottom of her indictment of his government.

She named names, detailed lapses, cited sins of commission and omission.

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Some of the accusations were more solid than others.

But altogether, it was as if she had lifted the lid and exposed what had been slithering just below the surface of the NDP government and party for some time.

Robinson closed with an accusation that the NDP she had long served as a member, MLA and cabinet minister “is now a party that puts politics and re-election before people.”

The right response would be for the New Democrats to do what they did when confronted with allegations that staffers in a hospital emergency room (or rooms) were betting on the blood-alcohol level of Indigenous patients.

The government ordered an independent investigation.

The Robinson allegations deserve no less, especially because they originated with a former cabinet minister and MLA of long experience, drawing on what she saw and felt inside the government and party.

But David Eby won’t order an independent inquiry for fear of what it might turn up.

Rather he gives every sign of moving to defuse the Robinson bombshell, then bury it as quickly as he can.

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