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Rob Shaw: BC United want 'emergency debate,' NDP proposes 'statements' on attacks in Israel

Parties condemn the Hamas attacks but are divided on how to express that when the legislature resumes next week
BC MLAs want to make their views known formally on Hamas attacks on Israel when the legislature resumes next week but so far can't agree on the format.

When B.C. politicians return to the legislature from Thanksgiving next week, one of their first orders of business will be to speak in solidarity against Hamas’ terrorist attacks and violence in Israel. Exactly how, though, is still being settled.

The Opposition BC United has proposed an emergency debate, which would allow multiple MLAs from each of the four parties to make speeches of up to five minutes in length on the issue.

“It is our duty as elected officials to provide a platform for a meaningful dialogue on this sudden and tragic terrorist attack, as well as show our solidarity with the Jewish people of British Columbia and our support for Israel and its right to defend itself and its citizens,” BC United house leader Todd Stone wrote in a letter to Speaker Raj Chouhan on Tuesday.

“The urgency of this matter cannot be overstated.”

It’s Chouhan’s call whether to grant the emergency debate, and if so for how long. Typically, it’s an hour.

Emergency debates in the legislature are relatively rare, with one of the last to occur being in November 2021 over flooding and landslides caused by an atmospheric river.

They also aren’t really debates. In reality, they are more like a series of speeches by MLAs, with government ministers having full discretion over whether they want to address any of the points made if and when they deliver their own speeches.

The BC NDP is considering the emergency debate idea, though its initial position is that a “ministerial statement” — which allows one person from each caucus to say a few words — might be a better structure.

Stone said a full debate would give more members freedom to speak about constituents, family members and British Columbians impacted by the violence.

“This is about evil murderers who are terrorists,” he said in an interview. “If you can’t stand shoulder to shoulder in solidarity with the Jewish community on this, then I don’t know when the hell you can.”

So far, all B.C. politicians who’ve spoken publicly since the Hamas attacks in Israel have condemned the torture, rape and killing of hundreds of innocent people, including a Vancouver man who was visiting the region for a concert.

“I unequivocally condemn the attacks from Hamas on the people of Israel,” Premier David Eby posted on social media.

“Thousands of rockets fired at civilians during a Jewish holiday. The people of British Columbia stand with Israelis and their right to live in peace and security.”

BC Conservative leader John Rustad said the violence “must be universally condemned” while BC United leader Kevin Falcon called them “heinous terrorist attacks by Hamas.” Both pledged to support Israel in defending itself. And both denounced small pro-Palestinian protests that have popped up around the province.

Only BC Green leader Sonia Furstenau appeared to fumble the initial response.

“Acts of violence against civilians are profoundly troubling and should be unequivocally denounced,” she posted.

“My heart is with the victims of these acts of violence in Israel and Palestine. I fear for what lies ahead. BC Greens wish for the safety and security of the people in the region.”

Her failure to call out Hamas as a terrorist group, support Israel against the violence, or mention the atrocities being committed against the Jewish community didn’t go unnoticed, and within two hours Furstenau had a new statement.

“I’ve been speaking with my friends and leaders in the Jewish community this morning hearing abt (sic) family members and loved ones running for their lives because of the atrocious events taking place in Israel. I wholeheartedly denounce the actions of the terrorist organization Hamas.”

With all four parties (mostly) on the same page, it’s true that an emergency debate wouldn’t be much of an actual debate. But allowing MLAs to speak for at least an hour about how this major international event has affected their communities and constituents, seems like exactly what the legislature is supposed to do in a time like this.

Rob Shaw has spent more than 15 years covering B.C. politics, now reporting for CHEK News and writing for Glacier Media. He is the co-author of the national bestselling book A Matter of Confidence, host of the weekly podcast Political Capital, and a regular guest on CBC Radio. [email protected]