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By Rhonda Spivak

Heather Stefanson, Progressive Conservative M.L.A. introduced a Private Member’s Resolution on behalf of the P.C. Caucus and Hugh McFadyen, P.C. Leader of the Opposition which called on the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba “to urge the provincial government to denounce Israeli Apartheid Week as divisive, promoting intolerance and undermining a balanced debate of the Israeli-Palestinian question.”

According to the rules of the Manitoba Legislature, a Private Member’s Bill does not automatically come to a vote. Accordingly, the P.C Caucus asked the Speaker of the Legislature to grant leave for such a vote, which would have occurred if the NDP government had agreed to such leave.

The NDP government refused to grant leave, and later ran out the clock on the resolution by “speaking it out” until 12 noon.  Despite Stefanson’s request, the government refused to extend the clock on the resolution past noon and allow it to come to a recorded vote. 
“By speaking out the resolution, the NDP killed it,” McFadyen, told the Winnipeg Jewish  Review in an interview following the event.

In the Legislature, Gord Mackintosh, Minister of Family Services and Consumer Affairs,    said that while applying the term “apartheid” to Israel was “profoundly unhelpful” and “unwelcome speech” it was speech “likely protected” by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

As he said,The resolution asks the government to take a formal role in 'denunciating' the speech of certain Manitobans…[the]  resolution is speaking outside, then, of the existing civil and criminal laws and the Human Rights Code of Manitoba.”

He rejected the notion that it is the “new function for provincial governments of the day in Canada to formally denounce and chill unwelcome speech… I am then at risk of being their next target.”

In the Legislature, Steve Ashton, Minister of  Infrastructure and Transportation, who noted he had been to “Israel” and “Palestine”  said  “… I would say to the students who are debating this very contentious issue: We should never, in any way, shape, or form, do anything other than encourage freedom of speech.”

In an interview with the Winnipeg Jewish Review, McFadyen said regarding the issue of free speech:

“If proponents [of IAW] can make a statement advocating it [IAW], then why can’t we as a House be able to make a statement condemning it… Had the resolution been voted on and passed, it would not have had binding legislative effect on a university.  It would not have prevented anyone’s free speech. But it would have sent a powerful declaratory message about what we as a legislature think about the event.  It would have been our statement.”

In the Legislature, David Chomiak, Minister of Innovation, Energy and Mines, said that he did not agree to granting leave for the resolution to be voted on because he did not want to give the IAW event credibility. After saying that the “A-word” [apartheid]   does “not apply to Israel in no shape or form,” Chomiak said IAW in Manitoba was  “a non-event” and that by “voting on this… we give a platform for those who failed.”

McFadyen, however, told the Winnipeg Jewish Review, that “it’s not as if we are talking about two eccentrics on a street corner” who are putting on IAW. He said that IAW is an organized national event by those with a “clear agenda to undermine the right of Israel to exist as a state.”

In an interview, Stefanson noted that a “similar motion in Ontario was supported by politicians of all political stripes [including the NDP].”

When asked if there was a difference in the wording between this resolution she put forth and the one that was passed in the Ontario Legislature, Stefanson responded:

“ There are different rules about how resolutions are brought forward so it's slightly different, but the main concepts are the same.”

Stefanson said that the words of  the resolution supported by all parties in the Ontario Legislature put forth by P.C. Peter Shurman  were "I Move that in the opinion of this house, the term ‘Israel Apartheid Week’ is condemned as it serves to incite hatred against Israel, a democratic state that respects the rule of law and human rights and the use of the word ‘Apartheid’ in this context diminishes the suffering of those who were victims of a true apartheid regime in South Africa.”

Jon Gerrard, the leader of the Liberal party in Manitoba, and the MLA for River Heights said that he supported Stefanson’s resolution, although he would have worded it somewhat differently:

“… I can appreciate that Israel Apartheid Week is attempting to have a dialogue on difficult issues. I can appreciate that the University of Manitoba–there were indeed Jewish speakers, like Mordecai Briemberg. And I've heard the calls for many for free speech and open dialogue and I, too, believe strongly in free speech.

 “ But in my view, open dialogue does not start with unhelpful labels, like the labelling of Israel as apartheid. We need to start from the view of seeing the positive qualities in each other, whether Christian, Jewish, Islam, Buddhist, Druze or Baha'i, or any other religion. And we need to emphasize the need to build bridges, to have tolerance and understanding among peoples.

“ And for this reason, though I would have worded the resolution somewhat differently, I support the principle of this resolution, and I support this resolution today.”

In an interview following the event, Marty Morantz, the Conservative candidate for River Heights said:

“It is a very sad day for our Province when its government refuses to take a stand against  groups such as IAW who promote the completely false notion that Israel is an Apartheid state. Not only were  the NDP unsupportive of the resolution, but the Government used the parliamentary tactic of "running out the clock" to prevent the resolution from even being brought to a vote. Although the PC opposition asked for an extension of time in order to complete debate and bring the matter to a vote, the NDP refused to allow debate to continue. I also wish Liberal leader Jon Gerrard had stood up for our community by  joining with the PC opposition in demanding that the resolution come to a vote."

Both McFadyen  and Stefanson told the Winnipeg Jewish Review that the Tories and the NDP were in negotiations for a couple of weeks trying to agree on wording for a resolution, but that notwithstanding this process, an agreement was not reached. Both said they were “surprised” that an agreement wasn’t reached.

“What happened today tells me that the NDP here is being driven by the radical left-wing of their party,” McFadyen said
Premier Greg Selinger was absent from the Legislature when the matter of the resolution was debated.  When asked by the Winnipeg Jewish Review about his absence,   spokesperson for the Premier, said at the time “he was out of the building at a scheduled event.”

Brian Letour, IAW spokesperson in Manitoba, told the Winnipeg Jewish Review that

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.