The federal NDP and Greens traded accusations Thursday over the apparent defections of some former New Brunswick NDP provincial candidates, capping off two days of squabbling between the progressive parties over the extent of the NDP exodus and the motivations of those involved.
Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh accused the Greens of spreading misinformation about the number of defections from the provincial wing of his party, while Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said Singh's party used "strong-arm tactics" to push some would-be defectors to stay in the party fold or risk putting Singh in a bad light.
In a strongly worded statement sent to reporters Thursday, May said seven of the 14 former provincial NDP candidates will stay with the New Brunswick Green Party after making the swap on Tuesday, as most of the group have since "rejected these strong-arm tactics and will continue to support the Greens."
A spokesperson for the NDP said they used no such tactics, as some of the so-called defectors were never prepared to leave the NDP in the first place.
The spokesperson said a number of the supposed defectors gave interviews to CBC News denying they were leaving the party before ever speaking to NDP operatives.
"This is false," Melanie Richer said of the Green accusations. "Most people we spoke to told us they were shocked and angered that their name appeared on a list without their consent. It's troubling that instead of admitting their mistake and apologizing to these people, the Greens are continuing to push false information."
On Tuesday, provincial Green Party Leader David Coon appeared at a press conference with former New Democrats who claimed that 14 candidates for the provincial NDP in the last provincial election, along with federal executive member Jonathan Richardson, were jumping ship, unhappy with Singh's lack of focus on Atlantic Canada.
However, the New Brunswick NDP said Thursday that five of its 15 members alleged to have left the party for the Greens are doing no such thing.
May also rejected a suggestion made by former federal NDP executive member Jonathan Richardson that racism might be undermining support for Singh, who is Sikh.
"Indeed, it may be a horrible reality that some people will not vote NDP because they are racist. I condemn these attitudes. But it is quite wrong to attack anyone who is disillusioned with the NDP by saying that the only reason they are disillusioned is because they are racist," May said in the statement.
May also took aim at Singh for never setting foot in the province since being elected federal leader of the NDP — including during the last provincial election.
"Mr. Singh must understand that the first rule of leadership is to show up. I have visited New Brunswick three times since Mr. Singh became leader. In fact, I have visited every province and one territory in the last seven months. I would like to ask Mr. Singh, since he had no seat for the first 18 months of his leadership — therefore freer than me — why he was absent.
May said Singh also skipped the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) annual general meeting, which was held in Fredericton last July.
"No wonder New Brunswick NDPers were disillusioned," May continued. "Being a federal party leader is hard work. And you have to show up. It is for Mr. Singh to determine his priorities. I will not attack him. But it certainly would discourage his membership to never see their leader."
When asked Thursday why he's not spending time in New Brunswick, Singh said he's on a tight schedule.
"There's a lot of places that I wish I could visit. It's a really big country," Singh said in an interview with CBC New Brunswick, adding he spent time as a child in Newfoundland and Labrador.
"I'm going to continue to do my best to visit every part of this beautiful country. I'm going to keep on trying."
Francis Duguay, who ran for the NDP in Tracadie-Sheila in the New Brunswick election a year ago, told Radio-Canada on Thursday that he was stunned when he learned from a journalist that his name was on a declaration of support for the Green Party.
"I'm shocked because it was done without my knowledge," Duguay said in French.
He said New Democrat Joyce Richardson, a former provincial candidate for the party herself, contacted him on Monday night — mere hours before the defections were announced — to float the idea of merging the two left-leaning parties in the province.
Contacted by CBC News, Joyce Richardson said she was clear in her conversations with NDP members that she was talking about joining the Greens, not merging the parties.
"It was very clear because we weren't merging," she said. "It wouldn't have told them something that wasn't it. My understanding is that they misunderstood me. So I'll leave it at that."
On Tuesday morning, Jonathan Richardson, the federal NDP's executive member for Atlantic Canada and Joyce Richardson's son, announced that he and 14 former NDP candidates would be supporting the Green Party provincially and federally.
Richardson also claimed racism in some regions of New Brunswick was affecting perceptions of Singh, a Sikh, and undermining the party's chances in the region.
"That was always going to be an issue," Richardson said. "I remember bringing that up a lot of times during the election planning committee — how are you going to deal with, first of all, the racism. There is an undertone of racism that exists in this country and that's just inevitable."
Duguay said he never agreed to cross over or to sign a declaration of support for the Greens.
"Then I learn my name is on the list, without having signed any paper," said Duguay, who is still president of the NDP association for the provincial riding of Tracadie-Sheila.
He said no one from the Green Party contacted him directly.
"When I started thinking about that, I thought, something's wrong there, because there were all last-minute tactics, and we weren't consulted," Duguay said.
Jean-Maurice Landry, who ran for the NDP in Bathurst East-Nepisiguit-Saint-Isidore, said he too was contacted by Joyce Richardson this week.
Landry was the party's most successful candidate last September, winning 30 per cent of the vote in his riding. He said he expected the announcement this week to be about a merger.
"What was explained to me … was that the press conference was to announce the merger of the NDPs and the Greens," he said.
He said he was shocked to be named among the NDP defectors, and to hear discontent with Jagmeet Singh cited as the reason for the exodus.
"I was totally not in agreement with that," he said.
Landry and three other NDP candidates — Hailey Duffy, Madison Duffy and Betty Weir — issued a press release Thursday afternoon confirming they still support the NDP.
"We are disappointed that our names were added to this letter without our consent," said the statement.
"We were proud to represent the New Brunswick NDP in the last election as candidates, and continue to be proud to support the NB NDP — both provincially and federally."
The racism claim
At a campaign event in Toronto on Thursday morning, Singh was asked about the defectors.
"The Green Party wasn't as accurate with their information as folks would have liked them to be," he told reporters.
"It turns out that some of their information was not true. I think, really, (federal Green Party Leader Elizabeth) May has a lot to answer for."
Singh also said Richardson's comments about race would be troubling to Canadians.
"And I think that he's counted out New Brunswick," Singh said. "It's not my experience when I speak with people from Atlantic Canada."
Landry said he was uncomfortable with Richardson's comments about race, though he admitted he has encountered '"a bit" of racism in New Brunswick against the leader.
"In such situations you don't leave your leader, you get behind your leader," he said. "In leaving, what you're doing is you're basically in agreement with those that are using racism as a way to play politics."