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The bizarre backstory behind the great Green defection that wasnt for NDP

nbndp.ca Joyce Richardson and her son Jonathan ended up being the only NDP defectors to the Green Party. Willy Robichaud, from Miramichi, got the call about two weeks ago. Joyce Richardson from the NDP was on the line, he said. She wanted to know what he thought about going Green. Robichaud had run for the NDP in last year’s New Brunswick election. He wasn’t planning to stand for anyone in the federal campaign. But he told Richardson he would think about the Greens and they agreed talk again. “I said I was going to look into it,” Robichaud said. “But I never went further than that.”Last week, Robichaud got another call, inviting him to a press conference in Moncton on Tuesday. He said couldn’t make it. He couldn’t get the time off work. And then, he said, he didn’t think much about the call again. Robichaud didn’t watch the press conference live. He didn’t hear about it on TV. It wasn’t until he checked Facebook later that night that he found out his own name was in the news, on a list of public defectors to the Green Party from the New Brunswick NDP. “I saw on the internet that I was signed in and I was never even there,” he said this week. “It’s a great big mix-up there. I don’t know what’s going on with that.”By last Friday, six of the original 14 names on that list, announced with much fanfare by the Green Party, had publicly confirmed they were still with the NDP. By the end of the week, only two of the 14 — Joyce Richardson and her son Jonathan — had formally resigned their memberships in the party, according to interim New Brunswick NDP leader Mackenzie Thomason.I don’t know how it got all mixed upAll week, meanwhile, all across Twitter, in press releases and media appearances, Canada’s fractious left was, as usual, tearing itself apart. New Democrats were accusing Greens of racism. Greens were calling New Democrats bullies. Actual federal leaders were fighting over the fate of former no-hope candidates for the fifth most popular party in a province roughly as large, by population, as the City of Mississauga.It was the great defection that was, then wasn’t, then was again, sort of. It was the first real bun fight in a federal campaign that had almost officially begun and it was fought between two progressive parties in a place where between them they’d be blessed to win a single seat.Story continues belowThis advertisement has not loaded yet,but your article continues below.But the real story of the New Brunswick 14 is even stranger and smaller and more personal than the one that leaked out last week in dribs and drabs. It features a spurned leadership, a mother-son political duo, some late-night texting and the final proof, in case any more was needed, that all politics really is incredibly, minutely, mind-numbingly, local in the end.All in all, “it was a pretty embarrassing week,” said JP Lewis, an associate professor of political science at the University of New Brunswick.The two sides in New Brunswick’s Great Political Migration don’t agree on much. But they do agree on this. It all started with Joyce. Some former New Brunswick NDP candidates deny they left party to join the Greens In New Brunswick, being leader of the struggling NDP is a fourth job for 22-year-old Following mass defections to Green party in N.B., ex-NDP official blames voter racism against Singh Joyce Richardson joined the New Brunswick NDP about five years ago. A lawyer by training, and the former owner-operator of a daycare, Richardson was a candidate in the last provincial campaign. She lost, badly. But that’s not unusual for New Democrats in New Brunswick. The party hasn’t won a provincial seat in that province since 2003.In the aftermath of that campaign, in which the party finished with just 5% of the vote, Jennifer McKenzie, the incumbent leader, was pushed out. Richardson put her own name forward for the leadership. She was the only one who did. (In fact, she only did it, she said, because no one else would.)The provincial party, operating at that point with a skeleton crew of staff and volunteers, outsourced Richardson’s vetting to the federal party. Researchers there looked into Richardson’s past and found something that bothered them. In 2010, the Law Society of New Brunswick sanctioned Richardson for, among other things, practising law in Ontario and New Brunswick while her license was suspended.Richardson said there were mitigating circumstances behind that charge. She was suspended, she said, for failing to pay her law society dues while in what she described as an abusive relationship. She also thought she didn’t need her license to practice in small claims court in Ontario. But the law society sanction wasn’t the only thing the vetters flagged, Richardson said. They also objected to the fact that she still describes herself as a lawyer on social media, even though she no longer practices and they highlighted several cases where her conduct as a lawyer had been criticized by a judge.In any case, the party vetters felt they had enough to reject Richardson’s candidacy. She appealed that initial decision and lost. And in March, Mackenzie Thomason, a now 22-year-old furniture salesman and newspaper deliveryman, was elected to the interim leadership in her place.Richardson said that rejection came as something of a relief. “I didn’t want the NDP to fail,” she said. “I would have done the work if necessary.” But she was happy enough to leave it someone else.Still, not long after her aborted leadership run, Richardson began exploring the idea of switching parties. In August, she told her son, Jonathan Richardson, that she wanted to defect to the Greens. Jonathan, a New Brunswick organizer with the federal party, eventually agreed to join her, she said.What happened between that decision and last Tuesday’s announcement remains a matter of some dispute. Everyone does agree Richardson began reaching out to former NDP candidates in the provincial party in late summer to gauge interest in a mass switch.I’m leaving the partyShe texted Betty Weir, a bus driver and candidate in Albert, in the lead-up to the press conference last Tuesday.“I won’t be running next election either,” Richardson wrote in one text.“Can’t say as I blame ya,” Weir replied. “NDP NB is beyond broken.”“I’m leaving the party,” Richardson continued.“I already left,” Weir wrote. “They just won’t take my stupid page down off Facebook.”Richardson eventually asked Weir if she could count on her support. When Weir appeared to say yes, she added her name to the list, along with the names of Weir’s daughters, Madison and Hailey Duffy, also former candidates for the provincial NDP.After the press conference, though, Weir backtracked, publicly. She now says she never intended to leave the NDP. She said she was confused by what Joyce Richardson was asking her in the texts. It’s a busy time of year for Weir. She’s working overnights as a truck driver and mornings as a school bus driver. “It was a complete blunder on my part,” she said Monday. “I completely screwed up. It was all on me.”Still, Richardson did add the Duffy sisters, who are 23 and 21 respectively, to the list without checking with them personally. That doesn’t sit well with Madison Duffy. “It makes me uncomfortable,” she said. “It’s no little thing, you know what I mean?”Richardson said she thought it was fine to add the Duffy sisters after getting the all clear from their mom. She also said she thought she had the OK from Willy Robichaud. The only reason he didn’t come to the press conference, she believed, was because he couldn’t get the time off work. Robichaud remembers it differently. “I don’t know how it got all mixed up or how they did that,” he said, “but I’m not running for the NDP or the Green Party.”I think I was pretty clear about exactly what we were doingWhen the dust settled, six of the original 14 had publicly disavowed the Great Defection. The Green Party, in a press release, accused the NDP of using strong-arm tactics to get them back into the fold. But in the case of the four who spoke to the National Post, all that pressure amounted to was a phone call from a party organizer asking them if they were serious about switching teams. “The only thing they want(ed) to know is if it’s true,” said Robichaud. “There’s no pressure at all.”Last week, Jennifer Mckenzie the former New Brunswick NDP leader, accused Joyce’s son Jonathan of masterminding the whole affair. “He orchestrated to try to put his mother in as leader, and this is what he’s doing because that didn’t work out for him,” she told Global news. But Richardson insists that she and she alone contacted the candidates and put together the list.When she spoke to the National Post Monday, Richardson sounded exhausted and kind of disgusted by the whole affair. “It’s pretty embarrassing when you go and say that many people came and then all of a sudden, blang! then they’re saying it didn’t happen,” she said. “It was pretty embarrassing because I’m the one who handed in the names.”She still believes, though, that no one misunderstood what she was asking of them. “I don’t think they were confused at all,” she said. “I think I was pretty clear about exactly what we were doing.”As for Lewis, he thinks the whole thing was remarkably overblown. If you added up the votes of the Greens and the NDP in most parts of New Brunswick, he said, the combined party would still be in third place in the province. “We’re still talking about the third and maybe fifth place parties,” he said. “It’s bizarre.”• Email: [email protected] | Twitter:


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