One week after her resignation from the NDP, Sana Hassainia, the MP for Verchères-Les Patriotes in Quebec, speaks about why she left and the direction of the party under Thomas Mulcair’s leadership.
“For many weeks I thought about my involvement with the NDP. Before my resignation, I was thinking of simply not running in the 2015 election because the NDP no longer shared my values,” says Hassainia.
The MP didn’t resign only because of the party’s position on the Israeli attacks against Gaza that have occurred over the last few weeks. Hassainia, originally from Tunisia, also cites the lack of support she received from the party when it came to balancing her work and family.
As the mother of two children in the space of three years, Hassainia felt the party did not accommodate her efforts to reconcile her new life as a young mother with her role as an MP. In response to accusations of absenteeism, she says, “The NDP has one of the youngest caucuses in Canada, and it has the most women. We promote the value of work–family balance, but as soon as someone inside the party has to deal with both, as I had to, it’s less clear, especially when there’s no maternity leave. We have to apply the policies that we defend internally as well. As a mother, I had to make choices, and I sacrificed voting hours [in Parliament]. I was attacked because I participated in only 22 of 200 votes, but those [other] motions mainly involved time allocation [for debate], matters of little importance. I would do the same again if I had to,” says Hassainia, who holds a master’s degree in the French language.
Hassainia feels the NDP has moved away from social democracy since the 2012 election of Mulcair as party leader. During the leadership race, the MP from Montreal’s South Shore switched her support from Mulcair to Brian Topp near the end of the campaign, in part because of the former’s position on Palestine and Israel.
The fiercely independent Hassainia contends that “for a social democratic party, it is not appropriate to say that we are only for peace and that we simply want both parties to sit at the negotiating table. It is not the role of a social democratic party that finds itself in the official opposition to take such a position. It’s all well and good to say that we want peace, but we need to have the courage of our convictions, and we need to defend them. This is not what the NDP is doing. It is trying to avoid the issue, and to me this is not honest.”
Hassainia adds that the party’s position is not consistent with the image of a progressive party. “It’s dishonest to say that the Israelis are the oppressed in the present conflict. Israelis die every day, but we must realize that they have more resources than the Palestinians (who are dying in greater numbers), and above all they have the backing of world leaders. If the NDP were a true social democratic party, not one moving to the centre and even towards the right, it would have stood up and declared loudly and clearly, ‘Israel has gone too far this time and must stop the massacre.’”
According to Hassainia, the personal stance of the party leadership leaves many of her former colleagues uneasy. “I think that since Mulcair’s election in 2012, no one has dared challenge the leader. When Jack Layton was there, the party atmosphere was one of honesty and camaraderie. Today I think the family is ill at ease because there are things that cannot be said, points of view that cannot be expressed in caucus. Without wanting to give names, there are people from Québec Solidaire, people who have supported the Palestinian cause for years, who cannot agree with the internal politics of the NDP today. It is not possible,” explains Hassainia. She believes that many MPs are waiting for the 2015 election before expressing dissent, out of fear of compromising their re-election.
The NDP did not respond to Ricochet’s requests for an interview. Hassainia is the fourth MP to quit the NDP caucus since the “orange wave” of 2011. Lise Saint-Denis joined the Liberal Party, Claude Patry chose the Bloc Québécois and Bruce Hyer left to sit as an independent before joining the Green Party.
Hassainia has yet to decide her political future. “If I decide to run for election in 2015, it will be for a party that defends all of its values, or at least mine. If there isn’t such a party, maybe I will run as an independent candidate, or I will do politics differently, maybe at the provincial or municipal level. Maybe I will get involved in a humanitarian cause. I still have a desire to fight. I still have a desire to defend against injustices, to say aloud what almost everyone thinks deep down.”
Not one NDP MP has commented on Hassainia’s departure from the party. She’s not surprised.
“That’s exactly the party’s problem. Strategically, it’s better to shut up, because you want to stay in politics and you think that Mulcair will be the winning horse in 2015, so you say nothing. I am certain, without giving names, that there are at least a dozen MPs who are on my side, and who agree with what I think and say. I’m sure there are more. In fact, I dare to hope so, because it would be sad if in the end the majority of NDP MPs had right-wing values. In that case, join the Conservatives or Liberals instead,” concludes Hassainia, who will finish her term as an independent.