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NDP motion regarding Palestinian statehood passes after major Liberal alterations

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A motion from the federal New Democrats initially calling on Canada to recognize the "State of Palestine" passed amid widespread acrimony on Monday, after the Liberals drastically altered its wording to see the government simply work towards that aim as part of a two-state solution.

After appearing destined to fail when the governing Liberals vowed Monday to not let the opposition sway its foreign policy, Government House Leader Steven MacKinnon shocked MPs on both sides of the aisle when he rose in the final minutes of debate to advance a nearly 500-word motion that rephrased considerable portions of the NDP motion.

After generating considerable international attention and division among MPs during a nearly day-long debate, the non-binding but symbolic NDP motion ultimately passed 204 to 117.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and almost all Liberal MPs voted in favour, alongside NDP, Bloc Quebecois and Green MPs. Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre and his party voted against the proposal.

While nearly every element of the motion was altered, arguably the biggest change came in the final line. 

That line originally asked the House to call on the government to "officially recognize the State of Palestine," but was rewritten to say: "work with international partners to actively pursue the goal of a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East, including towards the establishment of the State of Palestine as part of a negotiated two-state solution."

"We have forced the government to move in a certain direction," said NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, speaking to reporters just ahead of the vote, claiming victory while facing questions about why his party didn't write the motion differently to begin with if Monday's outcome was what they intended.

Speaking to reporters following the vote, Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly said Canada was sending a "strong message" to the world. Asked if the measures in the motion should now be considered the government's official position, Joly said it is "clearly the intent of this government."

"The two-state solution definition was really important, as of course we know that Canada, as a G7 country, is sending a message to other G7 countries," Joly said.

Last-minute change acrimony

The last-minute move — endorsed by the NDP — sparked fury in the House, seeing the Conservatives raise procedural concerns about tabling such substantive amendments regarding Canada's foreign policy on such short notice that when it was presented, the Liberal proposal seemingly had yet to be translated to French.

A few Liberal MPs, who balked at being given virtually no time to debate the elaborate amendments, shared these frustrations.

"This was tabled after the entire debate had concluded. How could you have such a substantive amendment that nobody has the chance to see or debate at all?" questioned Liberal MP Anthony Housefather, who joined caucus-mates Marco Mendicino and Ben Carr in voting against the motion.

While asking for Deputy Speaker Chris d'Entremont to rule the amendment out of order, Conservative House Leader Andrew Scheer said that "at the very least," he should have deferred the vote until Tuesday to allow time to absorb the massive "back of a napkin" alterations.

Citing an agreement made weeks ago to call the vote Monday night, the Speaker said his hands were tied.

The motion originally called for nine steps the federal government should take, including demanding an immediate ceasefire and the release of all hostages; suspending the trade of all military goods with Israel while doing more to stop illegal arms trade to Hamas; and advocating for an end to the occupation of Palestinian territories.

The motion also implored the Canadian government to lift the 1,000-person limit on temporary resident visas for Palestinians looking to flee Gaza; ban extremist settlers from Canada; and maintain Canada's recognition of Israel's right to exist and to live in peace with its neighbours.

Every one of these lines was altered in some way through the amendments, including inserting wording about Hamas laying down its arms, Canada's humanitarian aid and resettlement offerings, and condemning settler violence.

NDP denies playing politics

Opposition day motions are a chance for the non-governing parties to force votes on topics of their choosing. While usually centred on hot political files, they don't typically prompt this degree of deliberation.

After months of calling for a ceasefire, the NDP took the position that recognizing Palestine as a state could help accelerate a deeper diplomatic process.

During a lengthy address laying out the left-of-centre party's stance, hours before agreeing to accept the Liberal government's wording, NDP foreign affairs critic Heather McPherson said the time had come to "recognize Palestine."

Insisting the New Democrats did not intend to use this motion as a "gotcha" political tactic, she called the choice to not do more to aid starving children who "are not Hamas" political.

Talks had taken place between the Liberals and their supply-and-confidence deal NDP partners behind the scenes leading up to the debate about the wording of the motion and potential amendments.

"We've seen the complete failure of the international community to stop the unfolding carnage in Gaza, and we are dismayed by the failure of Canada's Liberal government to stand up for what is right," McPherson said.

Speaking to reporters on Monday evening, McPherson doubled down, stating that eight of the nine calls to action the NDP made, were approved in some form. "Frankly, we wanted this to pass. This was never supposed to be a wedge issue … this was always to get help for the people of Gaza," she said. "This will move the government."

Joly defends Canada's position

The pivot came after Joly outlined in her speech on the motion earlier in the day that the federal government was taking the position that its response to the conflict is balanced and would not be swayed by a flawed opposition proposal.

"We can't change foreign policy based on an opposition motion," Joly said. "Our position has been clear, it is a position that many G7 foreign ministers have been expressing across the world, which is: we need a hostage deal, we need to make sure that we get to a humanitarian ceasefire, humanitarian aid must go into Gaza."

Joly said Canada continues to take the position that a path towards lasting peace can only be achieved through a "negotiated political solution."

Last week, Joly visited the Middle East where she met with representatives, including Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli President Isaac Herzog.

"These conversations are not always easy. We don't all share the same perspective, but we all share the goal of peace and stability in the region. And so, we must be pragmatic and find a way forward together," she said.

The tensions surrounding the issue were exemplified through Monday's debate, hours before its acrimonious end, with Deputy Conservative Leader Melissa Lantsman telling McPherson that she "should be ashamed of herself" for advancing a motion that does not hold Hamas accountable "in any way."

Later, Conservative MP and foreign affairs critic Michael Chong said Conservatives support the longstanding position of a two-state solution, "but this cannot be achieved through some sort of unilateral declaration in the House of Commons."

Pressure from both sides

Ahead of the vote, Israel's Ambassador to Canada Iddo Moed spoke out against the initial version of the motion, stating that the "one-sided recognition of a Palestinian state rewards Hamas — a listed terrorist organization by the Government of Canada — for its sadistic attack."

"Empowering terrorists will only evoke more bloodshed and jeopardize any peaceful resolution to the conflict," the ambassador said in a statement.

Echoing this, member of Israel's war cabinet Benny Gantz, who said he spoke to Trudeau on Monday, warned that "unilateral recognition" of Palestine would be "counter-productive to the mutual goal of long-term regional security and stability."

In his office's readout of the call, it said the prime minister "shared his concern around Israel's planned offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah," and "also stressed the need for continued support from Israel in facilitating the exit of Canadians and their families from Gaza."

Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME) advocated for MPs to vote "yes" on the initial NDP motion, citing a campaign that saw thousands of Canadians email their MPs asking for their support, suggesting many of the measures proposed are already ideas governing politicians have endorsed.

"Today's vote is a historic test for all MPs on perhaps the most significant international issue of the day. Many Canadian voters will keenly remember where their MP stood on this vote when it comes to future election campaigns," CJPME president Thomas Woodley said in a statement.

"Canadians have been asking whether the cabinet is on the side of genocide or justice. Today's vote by government ministers will make that abundantly clear."

The war began on Oct. 7 when Hamas militants attacked Israel, killing 1,200 people and taking another 240 hostage. Since then, amid ongoing retaliatory strikes by Israel, the conflict's death toll has surpassed 30,000 in Gaza, there have been mass displacements and a widespread humanitarian crisis continues to worsen.

Recognizing Palestinian statehood is a step that, so far, no member country of the G7 has taken, though there have been indications that the U.S. and the U.K. are looking into it.

On March 8, Canada became the first G7 nation to restore funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), citing the "catastrophic" situation in Gaza. 

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