The final decision to have Selina Robinson resign from cabinet was made by the premier, according to a B.C. NDP source involved in the discussions.
That decision is now facing a backlash from members of the B.C. Jewish community who say a prominent Jewish politician and ally in the fight against antisemitism was treated unfairly.
Premier David Eby said at a news conference at 1:30 p.m. Monday that the decision for Robinson to step down from her role as post-secondary minister was a joint one. However, the MLA for Coquitlam-Maillardville was notably absent.
That’s because Robinson was asked to resign just over an hour before Eby’s hastily called media event, arranged because of public backlash to her comments that Israel was founded on a “crappy piece of land with nothing on it.”
Robinson has apologized for what she said during an online panel on Jan. 30 with other Jewish politicians, hosted by B’nai B’rith Canada.
News of the resignation came hours after Robinson released a lengthy apology at 7:30 a.m. Monday through the B.C. NDP caucus communications and pledged to take anti-Islamophobia training.
Eby said during the news conference that he and Robinson spoke over the weekend about what steps could be taken to repair the harm done.
Robinson had on Sunday and Monday morning told Eby that she would resign if he wanted her to, the premier’s office later said. She could not be reached Tuesday to confirm whether she offered to resign before Eby made the final call.
The plan for Robinson to take anti-Islamophobia training was developed by the premier in response to a request from representatives from the National Council of Canadian Muslims who met with Eby on Saturday.
It quickly became clear that the training pledge was not enough, as dozens of protesters descended on a Surrey hotel and tried to interrupt a B.C. NDP caucus meeting with calls for Robinson to resign. Robinson briefly addressed her caucus colleagues at the beginning of the nearly three-hour meeting and then left while MLAs discussed the issue.
The controversy led the B.C. NDP to cancel a $150-a-plate fundraiser planned in Surrey on Sunday night and to postpone a rental housing announcement planned for 11:30 a.m. Monday morning which was sure to be overshadowed by questions about Robinson’s political future.
Eby was asked at the news conference what changed between the lengthy apology Monday morning and her ouster Monday afternoon.
“What has become apparent is the scope of the work that needs to be done by Selina, the depth of the hurt that she has caused to many British Columbians,” Eby said. “And as a result, we reached a conclusion together that she needed to step back from cabinet so she could focus on that work.”
Robinson issued a statement at 1:38 p.m. Monday, during the premier’s news conference, that said: “There have been many discussions over the weekend with the premier and many caucus colleagues, and together we decided it’s best for me to step aside as minister of post-secondary education and future skills.”
She also announced she would not seek re-election in the riding for Coquitlam-Maillardville, which she’s represented since 2013. She said she made that decision before the current controversy.
On Friday, Eby had condemned Robinson’s comments, saying she had “more work to do,” but expressed faith she could do that work while in cabinet.
Outrage continued to grow over the weekend particularly on social media as people shared Robinson’s clips and the hashtag #ResignSelinaRobinson.
Eby was also grappling with the fallout in the Islamic community, including a letter from 18 B.C. mosques and Islamic associations saying no B.C. NDP MLA or candidate for the next election was welcome in their sacred spaces until Robinson was removed from her role as post-secondary education minister.
However, the political fallout is not over. Eby is now dealing with brewing upset in B.C.’s Jewish community over how Robinson was treated.
The Rabbinical Association of Vancouver released a letter to Eby on Tuesday which expressed disappointment that he “capitulated to a small but loud group of people.”
“You bowed to pressure from the very same groups that have been at the centre of an unprecedented rise in antisemitism and hate directed at the Jewish community since the brutal and inhuman attacks of Oct. 7,” said the letter, which was signed by the association and nine rabbis.
The rabbis said Eby gave in to “bullies for political expediency. We will remember this day the next time you ask for our trust and support.”
Nico Slobinsky, vice-president of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said as the B.C. Jewish community is “confronted by an alarming increase in antisemitism and by frequent pro-Hamas protests calling for the Jews of Israel to be eradicated, the loss of MLA Robinson is especially distressing as we no longer have our strongest advocate — who understands the challenges and sensitivities of the Jewish community — at the table.”
“The community is both offended and hurt by what has happened to a great ally and British Columbian, and it has seriously undermined the confidence of the Jewish community in the Government of British Columbia,” Slobinsky wrote.
Slobinsky noted that when a member of Eby’s staff inadvertently posted a message to social media that said “we stand with the Muslim community” on International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Jan. 27, the Jewish community forgave the premier.
The message about the Muslim community had been prepared in advance and was intended to be posted on Jan. 29, the anniversary of the deadly shooting at a Quebec City mosque in 2017.
Gerald Baier, a political scientist at the University of British Columbia, said the decision to remove Robinson from cabinet appeared to be a response to a “snowball effect” of growing upset which was becoming a “massive distraction” for the B.C. NDP in an election year.
It’s also notable, Baier said, that Eby appeared to cave to pressure from grassroots organizations rather than political opponents.
B.C. United leader Kevin Falcon was silent on the issue, B.C. Conservative leader John Rustad condemned Robinson’s comments but did not call on her to resign and B.C. Green party leader Sonia Furstenau said there should be consequences for Robinson’s remarks but did not call for her to be booted from cabinet.
Protesters vandalized Robinson’s constituency office in Coquitlam Monday night, writing “Free Palestine” and posting a sign on the door that said “no Zionists a.k.a. Jewish supremacists as our MLA.”
Eby condemned the vandalism and “hateful messages.”
“This is wrong. Peaceful protest cannot include spreading hate,” he posted on the social media platform X.
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