MP Housefather 'reflecting' on future with the Liberals after Middle East motion vote

OTTAWA —  Quebec Liberal MP Anthony Housefather said Tuesday he is "reflecting" on his future in the Liberal party after a heavily amended NDP motion on Palestinian statehood passed in the House of Commons on Monday.

"I think it's the first time in my parliamentary career that I've had a reflection like this," a sombre Housefather said Tuesday as he arrived on Parliament Hill.

Housefather was among three Liberals who voted against the final motion, which passed Monday night with a vote of 204 to 117 after extended negotiations between the Liberals and the NDP.

The original version, put forward by NDP MP Heather McPherson, called for Canada to "officially recognize the state of Palestine." The amended motion adjusted that to recognize Palestinian statehood as part of a two-state solution within a peace process in the Middle East.

It also added language calling for Hamas to lay down its arms, identified it as a listed terrorist organization in Canada and replaced language calling for Ottawa to "suspend all" military goods and technology trade with Israel with a paragraph calling for Canada to stop approving the transfer of "arms exports" to Israel.

The final version was very close to Canada's existing Middle East policy.

Housefather, along with most major Canadian Jewish organizations, decried the original motion as one-sided, saying it rewarded Hamas for its Oct. 7 terrorist attack in Israel.

He said the amended version was better but still not one he could support.

Housefather added he doesn't think his colleagues fully appreciate what Jews around the world are facing amid a "strong wave of antisemitism," or realize that Israel, the only Jewish state, is the last refuge for Jews "when they're exiled or thrown out of countries."

"I didn't feel like some members of Parliament, or a lot of members of Parliament, understood the existential threat that Israel faces and the fears of Jewish Canadians as a result of what's happening domestically, what's happening abroad," he said.

The Liberals could have chosen to vote against the flawed NDP motion, he said — but "we did not do that."

"And then we give a standing ovation to the NDP member who sponsored the original motion, and I have to reflect now," he said.

Housefather added he will have more to say soon.

The other two Liberals who voted against the motion were former public safety minister Marco Mendicino and Manitoba MP Ben Carr.

Both said Tuesday they are not looking to leave the Liberal party even though they could not support the motion.

Mendicino said he did not agree with making more than a dozen "substantive" amendments to a motion at the 11th hour without proper time to reflect and debate.

"Canada must play a constructive role in the Middle East but our foreign policy should not be negotiated on the back of an NDP motion," he said.

The original NDP motion called for "the unilateral recognition" of the state of Palestine "absent a peace process, which would have been inconsistent with Canada's well established support for a two-state solution," he said.

The original motion did call for Canada to work toward a two-state solution, but not alongside its demand that Ottawa recognize the state of Palestine. The final version of the motion bridged the two together.

Last week, Carr said he wouldn't support the motion because it contained many elements he could not back, including that unilateral recognition.

Carr said you cannot have peace as long as Hamas remains in charge of governing the Gaza Strip, as it has since 2007.

He added many of the amendments reflected his concerns, but there was not enough time to think them through and decide whether to change his vote.

Liberal House Leader Steven MacKinnon said the amendments came after lengthy negotiations on a "complex, delicate and emotional" topic.

He did not apologize for the fact they were introduced so late in the process.

"It took the time it took," he said.

"I am very proud that almost two-thirds of the Parliament of Canada was able to back something of that level of complexity, and I think that Canadians should be very proud that there was a uniquely Canadian position taken yesterday by their Parliament."

He said the Liberals are reaching out to Housefather.

"He's a colleague that I have enormous respect for and who has been an incredible spokesperson for his community, and we're going to continue talking with Anthony," said MacKinnon.

Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne said the Liberals need a voice like Housefather's in the caucus.

"I have enormous respect for him and the community he represents and I think we all benefit from having people like Anthony among our caucus, so I certainly wish that he would stay with us," said Champagne.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 19, 2024.

— With files from Stephanie Taylor.

The Canadian Press