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Les Leyne: Eby can't call the shots on antisemitism response

A judicious, rigorous, independent look at this would go a lot further in convincing people that the rubble from Robinson’s bombshell letter isn’t just being smoothed over.
Premier David Eby: time for reflection. Ethan Cairns, THE CANADIAN PRESS

Calling for a “full ­independent inquiry” is a tired move used by critics whenever a ­government gets in trouble. The phrase ­routinely rolls off the lips of Opposition critics when ­governments get into trouble.

But the call this week for an inquiry into former finance minister Selina Robinson’s­ ­accusations of antisemitism in the NDP government is ­warranted and makes a lot of sense.

Her chapter and verse ­denunciations need to be explored fully and either ­countered or acknowledged and dealt with publicly.

An obviously rattled Premier David Eby is embarking on some kind of closed-door learning experience that involves personal, private reflection. It looks designed to cope with Robinson’s wounding allegations as best they can and get past them as soon as is decently possible.

But he’s the last person who should be conducting the ­exercise.

Eby shouldn’t get to write his own prescription on how to make things right, when he’s the one ­automatically ­responsible by virtue of his job for how they went wrong. ­Particularly when he’s ­disputing the central ­premise of the ­complaint — that there is ­systemic antisemitism in his caucus and government.

A judicious, rigorous, ­independent look at this would go a lot further in convincing people that the rubble from­ ­Robinson’s bombshell letter isn’t just being smoothed over.

It doesn’t have to be a series of lengthy hearings with a parade of expensive lawyers. B.C.United Leader Kevin Falcon said the NDP itself provided a model earlier for how to ­handle it.

After accusations of systemic racism against Indigenous patients in the health system surfaced four years ago, an appropriate individual (Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, prior to her downfall) spent a few months digging into the complaints and recommended changes.

It would be a gamble. ­Governments don’t like to order inquiries unless they know they can handle the findings.

But it is just as big a risk to assume that some quiet ­consultations and private, ­internal thinking is going to quell this week’s eruption of pent-up tension.

Robinson met Eby this week for what sounded like a mutual update on where each of them stood, following her forced ­resignation. She lost her ­cabinet job earlier over dismissive remarks (“a crappy piece of land”) about the Palestinian region on which the state of Israel was built.

The entire Middle East is holy to one group or another. It was a bad mistake.

She apologized but after mounting pressure her resignation was arranged.

She was still working on ­representing the ­Jewish ­community and fighting ­antisemitism ­during the ­meeting, lobbying for an ­initiative Eby’s office couldn’t back.

Hours later, she blindsided him with her “You broke my heart” letter, four pages of bitter personal anguish about perceived slights from the NDP team.

“Your collective decision to silence me is antisemitism and you don’t even know it.

“I don’t need your hugs and emojis. What my community needs however, is for you to stand up to antisemitism.”

Eby was still trying Thursday to fix a bridge between them that had burned to the ground.

“She didn’t feel ­comfortable bringing the concerns that she outlined in her letter to me; I feel like we could have addressed them together.

“And for me moving forward … it’s a humbling moment to know that I didn’t create the space for her to be able to bring that forward and I’ll have to reflect on that.”

Many in B.C. are just sitting back watching this as a ­political spectacle. But one look at the faces of the NDP caucus this week — Eby’s in particular — confirms that the people ­running this government are badly shaken. That can’t help but affect their performance across the board on all issues.

His government appeared to be focused on all the jobs at hand up until Wednesday ­afternoon. Now it is preoccupied with angry denunciations of several NDP MLAs by a former leading light who has quit the team in frustration.

One example — Eby’s sched­ule Friday included a lengthy ­meeting with Jewish leaders.

They emerged to denounce systemic antisemitism in many institutions.

The way Robinson was treated has “sent a chilling ­message that antisemitism is ­tolerated in B.C.,” they said.

They thanked Eby for the meeting, but warned: “Now he must make amends for the harms he has caused.”

The person they hold ­responsible for the harms shouldn’t be responsible for investigating them.

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