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A regretful Stefan Jonasson says he is a ‘disappointed’ by the swift action taken by federal NDP officials over a social media gaffe.
Jonasson says he was given little choice but to resign as the NDP candidate for Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia—Headingley, after a tweet from 2012 emerged in which he compared the practices of an ultra-orthodox Jewish group to the Taliban.
"The party asked me step down pretty precipitously, I didn’t talk to Tom Mulcair, I wasn’t even asked to explain the context," he said. "I am disappointed that the party couldn’t even spend half a day processing before coming to the conclusion."
Meanwhile, he is "outraged" by the actions of True North Times, a blog whose stated goal is to capitalize on "scandals, politicians who are more ridiculous than cartoon characters and a highly contested election on the horizon, where there will surely be blunders and comedic moments."
"It is simply a malevolent piece, with a dishonest headline," he said, referencing the blog posted Thursday morning which began the controversy.
The blog referenced the 2012 tweet in which he said, "Much like the Taliban and other extremists, the Haredim offer a toxic caricature of faith, at odds with the spirit of the religious tradition they profess to represent."
The headline on the blog stated, "Orthodox Jews are ‘Much Like the Taliban’ – NDP Candidate Stefan Jonasson."
Jonasson, who is an ordained Unitarian minister, maintains he was troubled by various extreme religious groups’ treatment of women, which provoked the outrage in the tweet.
"My regret is that in hindsight, I wish I hadn’t invoked the Taliban," he said. "I was insensitive to the fact of how it would play out with the particular group that I was dealing with."
When the blog was first posted Thursday morning, Jonasson said he was called by a local party organizer to who told him "there was a problem," and to lay low.
However, Jonasson had a candidates’ forum to attend that night and told the organizer he wasn’t going to skip it.
Then a senior party official called him back "pretty quickly."
"He simply indicated that this is a serious problem, I was expecting that I was going to be expected to withdraw my remarks and apologize," he said. "But instead he walks me through the points of what was obviously going to be a letter of resignation."
A spokesman for the NDP refused to comment on the decision and refused to confirm the party asked Jonasson to step down.
Jonasson’s gaffe comes after a 2009 video surfaced this week in which Conservative Winnipeg South candidate Gordon Giesbrecht compared abortion to the Holocaust and 9/11.
The Conservative party did not react to the video’s release and Giesbrecht has stayed off the radar since the news broke. Earlier this week he officially declined attending a debate that was to be held at the University of Manitoba on Oct. 5 – the very school where he teaches.
Paul Thomas, professor emeritus at the University of Manitoba, noted the difference between how the NDP and the Tories handled their controversial candidates could simply come down to their chances of winning a seat,
"I don’t know what calculations go into this in a back room of a party, in terms of how competitive they are in a particular riding, the question is, can you sacrifice somebody?" Thomas said, noting the difference in Jonasson, who was facing off against incumbent Conservative MP Steven Fletcher in a traditionally Tory stronghold.
"I don’t think anyone was going to beat Mr. Fletcher, so that may have been part of the party’s calculation," he said.
Giesbrecht, however, was running in an open race to replace Conservative MP Rod Bruinooge, who opted not to run for re-election this year.
"So it may depend whether you are running in a riding you are competitive in, or whether it is a lost cause and they can just throw the candidate overboard," he said.
When Jonasson was asked if he would ever run for politics again — last year he ran unsuccessfully for council in the civic election — his answer was clear and direct.
Updated on Friday, September 25, 2015 at 6:20 PM CDT: Write-through
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