Two former Liberal cabinet ministers have announced they will run as independents in Canada’s fall federal election.
In back-to-back announcements on Monday, Canada’s former Minister of Justice and Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould and former President of the Treasury Jane Philpott both called for a shift away from partisan politics.
“The overwhelming message I received was clear — clear how we need to do politics differently,” said Wilson-Raybould, referring to messages of support from Canadians. “That partisanship is trumping principle, that exclusion is trumping inclusion, and the lack of diversity of voices was simply unacceptable and there is too much power in the centre.”
The star Liberal MPs were kicked out of the party’s caucus in April amid the SNC-Lavalin scandal, although they retained their seats in the house.
The Globe and Mail first reported that the Prime Minister and his team had repeatedly pressured Wilson-Raybould to interfere in the criminal prosecution against Quebec construction giant SNC-Lavalin, which was facing bribery charges. When she refused to intervene, Wilson-Raybould was moved to Veterans Affairs in a cabinet shuffle. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he and his staff never improperly pressured her. He decided to kick Wilson-Raybould out of caucus after she secretly recorded a conversation between herself and Privy Council Clerk Michael Wernick she said was evidence of “relentless pressure.”
Philpott resigned from cabinet over the scandal, saying she had lost confidence in the government.
Both Wilson-Raybould and Philpott wore white during Monday’s announcements. “White goes with everything,” Philpott said, explaining that independents will work with everyone. Wilson-Raybould said she believes “independent” doesn’t mean working alone; it means cooperating across party lines.
The similarities in their messages were unmistakable. Both called for action on climate change, giving shout-outs to Green Party leader Elizabeth May, who had asked them to join the Green Party. Philpott and Wilson-Raybould said they intend to work with May as allies if elected. Wilson-Raybould also said that Canada’s reconciliation with Indigenous people must be purposeful and include Indigenous peoples as “full partners in confederation.”
Wilson-Raybould said she had found herself in “uncharted waters” in recent months, and had heard from friends, families and constituents during that time. She said she’d received over 15,000 messages of support and encouragement.
“I take great pride in what we have accomplished over the last four years … but I wonder what more could have been accomplished on big issues, the big issues of our time, if it were a less partisan environment,” she said.
Giving her reasons for running as an independent, Philpott said her constituents asked her to run again. She said parents had approached her to say she had an impact on their daughters, because she refused to back down amid the SNC-Lavalin affair.
“So it’s for those young girls that I want to say, there is a future, don’t ever be afraid to speak the truth, don’t ever be afraid to stand up for what’s right. What lesson would it be for those young girls if I were to walk away? ...We are ready for a new lesson to say, hang in there, speak the truth."
Philpott said her constituents told her they were “really tired of partisan politics.” She said there’s a disconnect between politicians in Ottawa and people on the ground in her community, and party politics is part of the reason for the disconnect.
It will be a tougher campaign for both MPs without the backing of the Liberals and the resources, including money and volunteers, that come with party affiliation. Both candidates called for donations and volunteers. Philpott said she needs donations now, but only donations received after the writ drops will be eligible for tax credits.
Wilson-Raybould had never served in federal or provincial politics before she was elected in the riding of Vancouver-Granville in 2015 among the Liberal wave that swept Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to power. Her background is in First Nations politics, including being elected twice as regional chief of the BC Assembly of First Nations. She is the first ever Indigenous person to be appointed Minister of Justice in Canada.
Philpott, a former family doctor, was also first elected in 2015 in the Ontario riding of Markham-Stouffville. She served as president of the Treasury Board, Minister of Health and Minister of Indigenous Services.
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