Former federal Liberal cabinet ministers Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott have decided to run as independent candidates in the October federal election, following a tumultuous few months that saw the rising stars break with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government over the SNC-Lavalin affair.
The first-term MPs made the co-ordinated announcements in their respective ridings on Monday. Ms. Wilson-Raybould, the former justice minister and attorney-general, was in Vancouver-Granville, while Ms. Philpott, former health minister and Treasury Board president, was in her Toronto-area riding of Markham-Stouffville.
Both women said they had several discussions with Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, and also spoke with NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh about their political futures. They said they were seriously considering joining Ms. May’s Greens, who recently elected a second federal MP.
But they said they ultimately decided to run as independents because they didn’t feel tied to any party and believed it was the best way to change the partisan political culture in Ottawa.
“I know that it will not be easy to run a campaign as an independent,” Ms. Wilson-Raybould told her supporters at a community centre.
But in doing so, she said she will “be truly free” to listen to her constituents.
“I will not have to try and convince myself that just because the way it has always been done means it must continue to be done that way."
Speaking at a produce market in her riding, Ms. Philpott also said that running as an independent would be liberating and vowed to collaborate with MPs from all parties. “I didn’t lose my voice, I found my voice,” she said.
She said there will not be a political party telling her what to say or a political staffer telling her how to vote. “There are no longer corporate lobbyists that are influencing the direction that I would go. The only people that are the boss of me right now are you.”
Both resigned from cabinet earlier this year after revelations in The Globe and Mail that Mr. Trudeau and top officials put pressure on Ms. Wilson-Raybould when she was attorney-general to abandon the bribery and fraud prosecution of SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. In early April, both were ousted by Mr. Trudeau from the Liberal caucus.
Another former Liberal MP, Celina Caesar-Chavannes, told The Globe on Monday she is also considering a run as an independent in her Toronto-area riding of Whitby, although she initially said she would leave politics. Ms. Caesar-Chavannes quit the Liberal caucus in March after she said she was met with anger and hostility in private talks with Mr. Trudeau. The Prime Minister said the conversations were emotional but there was no hostility.
In the 2015 election, Ms. Philpott won 49 per cent of the vote, with the Conservatives coming second with 42 per cent of the vote. Ms. Wilson-Raybould won Vancouver-Granville with 44 per cent of the vote in 2015 – the first time that an election was held in the newly created riding. The NDP and Conservatives finished with 27 per cent and 26 per cent, respectively.
Independents, however, have rarely gained traction in Canadian politics. Those who have succeeded had previously gained a profile as members of established parties.
The last such candidate was Bill Casey of Nova Scotia, kicked out of the Conservative caucus in 2007 after he voted against the government’s budget, but elected as an independent in 2008. In 2015, after a break from politics, he ran and won as a Liberal.
Hamish Telford, a political scientist at the University of the Fraser Valley, said he has never seen two high-profile former cabinet ministers decide their political futures together. Both, he said, will face respective challenges.
Vancouver-Granville is made up of areas where members of other parties have been popular, so Ms. Wilson-Raybould will have to draw from their supporters to win, he said. “It’s going to be tough to appeal to all segments of the riding and pull together a winning coalition.”
Ms. Philpott, he said, wouldn’t have stood a chance of winning her riding as an NDP or a Green. “It’s just a classic Liberal-Conservative swing riding,” he said. “I think she will just split the vote with the Liberals and allow the Conservatives to win it quite easily.”
Ms. May said she didn’t fully understand why Ms. Wilson-Raybould and Ms. Philpott chose not to run for her party, but she respected that they both want to continue working with the Greens.
She told The Globe that it will be up to the two local riding associations to decide if they want to run a “nil” candidate, which means someone who does not actively campaign.
“In Jody’s words, we are ‘natural allies,’ ” Ms. May said. “I’m grateful for the fact that they took it so very seriously and we will continue to want to work together.”
With a report from Janice Dickson