Former cabinet minister Selina Robinson resigns from NDP caucus

Selina Robinson is pictured during a news conference on Jan. 29, 2024. On March 6, 2024, the former B.C. minister of post-secondary education left the B.C. NDP caucus. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
Selina Robinson is pictured during a news conference on Jan. 29, 2024. On March 6, 2024, the former B.C. minister of post-secondary education left the B.C. NDP caucus. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

Former B.C. minister of post-secondary education Selina Robinson has resigned from the NDP caucus.

The MLA, who is Jewish, will sit as an independent representing the riding of Coquitlam-Maillardville.

Robinson confirmed her resignation while speaking to reporters at the B.C. Legislature Wednesday afternoon.

In her remarks, Robinson said she felt unsupported as a Jewish woman in her party, and that there are antisemitic voices in the NDP caucus.

Robinson, first elected in 2013, had already announced her retirement and said she won't be running again in the provincial election this October.

Minister claims double standard in caucus

Robinson resigned her cabinet post as minister of post-secondary education last month after saying modern Israel was founded on "a crappy piece of land."

Speaking Wednesday afternoon, Robinson said there is a "double standard" within the NDP over how different groups are treated.

"There have been numerous colleagues of mine, intentionally or unintentionally, who have said antisemitic things," she said. "The Jewish community heard apologies from them, they were accepted and things carried on."

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

In contrast, Robinson said she faced continued backlash despite apologizing on multiple occasions and committing to taking anti-Islamophobia training.

"There's a double standard," she said, describing herself as the "lone voice," providing the perspective of Jewish British Columbians within the provincial government.

Robinson also said her decision to step down as a cabinet minister was based on feedback from the premier that he did "not see a way forward" for her to continue in the role.

Asked for a specific example of antisemitism within the party, Robinson cited recent remarks from Burnaby North NDP MLA Janet Routledge. During a debate on the throne speech in February, Routledge compared accusations from opposition party members that the NDP government was incompetent to Nazi propaganda.

"The Holocaust ended in death camps," Routledge said, attributing her words to a Holocaust survivor in England. "But it started with words. Words are powerful, so let's use them to bind us together as a civilized society, not tear us apart."

Robinson said that comparison diminished the reality of the Holocaust, when the Nazis systematically murdered six million Jews.

"To her credit, she apologized right away," Robinson said, adding she accepted Routledge's apology — but that same acceptance had not been granted to her.

She also cited comments from Mable Elmore, the parliamentary secretary for anti-racism, whom Robinson said had "outraged the Jewish community'' with remarks about the Middle East conflict in November.

"She didn't lose her role as a result of those comments that were hurtful to that community, but I did lose my role, I was asked to step down,'' she said, without further describing Elmore's remarks.

Robinson said she had asked Premier David Eby if she could work with Muslim and Jewish communities to promote dialogue between them.

She said she wanted to work with the two communities that were "in agony and pain and suffering and fear, and reduce the division that we are seeing because I think that's the role of government.''

"The premier's office said they weren't interested in doing that and that really shattered my heart,'' she said.

"If government's not interested then I can't be part of a government that chooses to be silent while people are suffering.''

Robinson, who has also previously served as finance minister, said she hadn't heard from Eby or any other members of the B.C. NDP caucus since informing them of her decision.

NDP house leader denies claims

Speaking to media Wednesday, NDP house leader Ravi Kahlon denied Robinson's claims of antisemitism or double standards, and said the concerns Robinson voiced during her resignation had not previously been raised by her in caucus.

In his written statement, Eby said Robinson had "made a mistake, and she was doing the work to address the harm that was caused."

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

Kahlon said both the premier and other parties had spoken out on several occasions against instances of antisemitism, including as recently as the past week.

"What we can do is make sure B.C. continues to be a welcoming place for everyone," he said.

He also highlighted the good Robinson had done in caucus.

"I have a great deal of respect for her work she's done advocating for the Jewish community," he said.

Controversy over Middle East remarks

In February, Robinson resigned from her post as a cabinet minister following comments she made about the Middle East which sparked backlash from some members of the public and some federal NDP MPs who called on her to step down.

Speaking as part of a panel of Jewish public officials, Robinson had referred to the region where Israel was settled as "a crappy piece of land with nothing on it."

WATCH | Robinson's remarks made during a public online panel:

Robinson later posted an apology online but faced mounting criticism from several individuals and organizations, including more than a dozen mosques and Islamic associations which said they would not welcome any NDP MLAs or candidates in their sacred spaces until action was taken against her.

This was followed by Eby saying Robinson had volunteered to leave her cabinet position, along with a commitment to undertake anti-Islamophobia training.

He also said he found her comments unacceptable, and that she agreed.

"We are in positions of authority, responsibility and power," he said during an unrelated news conference on Feb. 2.

"That brings with it an expectation on the part of all British Columbians that when we take on these roles, we do not use them to belittle or dismiss anybody or any community."

In a written statement sent out Wednesday, Eby said he was "saddened" by Robinson's decision, saying "clearly, she is hurting and carrying a lot of pain."

'A teachable moment'

Richard Robertson, director of research and advocacy at B'nai Brith Canada, says Robinson's comments on the panel were "poorly thought out."

"We hope that she remains a strong voice for her constituents within the legislature and that she continues to be an ally for the Jewish community," he said.

Haroon Khan, director of Al Masjid Al Jamia mosque in Vancouver, says he was shocked by Robinson's resignation as they previously had a "great" conversation in which he says she committed to doing work to understand how her comments were hurtful.

He said he will still hold her to that promise.

"People make mistakes. And part of reconciliation and forgiveness is to take real and open criticism and learn from it. It's a teachable moment, and it still is," Khan said.

"I've got her cell number, so believe me, I'll give her a call."