Canada Marni Soupcoff: What Jane Philpott's loss tells us about the shallowness of voters
In swing riding, ex-Liberal Jane Philpott hopes to defy odds and win as Independent
Jane Philpott, who gained political fame for resigning as Liberal cabinet minister over the SNC-Lavalin affair, is hoping to defy the odds and win re-election in her Markham-Stouffville riding as an Independent MP. But will she retain her support of the past, or end up splitting the vote?"They're running against me," says the incumbent Independent MP.
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Amid all the disappointments of this week’s election results, and they were perversely unifying results in the sense that they offered something disappointing for everyone, the saddest was that Jane Philpott lost her seat. And it wasn’t even close — the former health minister, who was running as an independent, came in third in the contest in her Markham-Stouffville riding.
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A number of veteran politicians won’t be returning to the House of Commons next term, after losing to determined opponents on their home turf. Where the Liberals earned some strategic wins in Ontario, the Conservatives dominated out west, bumping out some of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s former cabinet ministers. And while Jody Wilson Raybould narrowly won as an independent, another high-profile incumbent wasn’t so lucky. Jane Philpott TheWhere the Liberals earned some strategic wins in Ontario, the Conservatives dominated out west, bumping out some of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s former cabinet ministers. And while Jody Wilson Raybould narrowly won as an independent, another high-profile incumbent wasn’t so lucky.
It is not a coincidence that Philpott was one of the small handful of candidates who have displayed exceptional integrity. It’s precisely because she took a principled stand that she lost. Her constituents may have appreciated her doing the right thing when she resigned from the Liberal cabinet during Justin Trudeau’s disgraceful handling of the SNC-Lavalin affair. I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they appreciated it, because it’s too depressing to think that they would have preferred to have been represented by a Liberal sheep willing to look the other way during the bullying of a close friend and colleague. But when election night came around, most of these constituents just couldn’t bring themselves to cast a vote that wouldn’t directly steer the fortunes of a major party.
The unfulfilled promise of Jane Philpott
After enduring a loss, Jane Philpott wanted to be brave. If not for herself, for the young women who looked up to her.Jane Philpott deserved better.
And what does that tell us about what Canadians value?
The first lesson is that the talk of wanting to see more strong, intelligent women in politics is cheap, of more value only than empty words about being ready for a change in Ottawa from business as usual.
Trudeau made it clear how meaningless these ideas were to him — as they are likely to be to anyone who thinks establishing a neat cabinet gender quota is the right way to solve the problem of inequality in Parliament — when he fired Jody Wilson-Raybould and Philpott from caucus for standing up for themselves and speaking the truth. It was the voters of Markham-Stouffville who had the chance to show that those not living in the Ottawa bubble — non-politicians who are not swayed by the perks of political power — have a stronger moral compass and will start demanding that their representatives in Parliament develop the same. When the voters of Markham-Stouffville threw away that chance to hold politicians to account for the ethics of their behaviour, that was a message that even those Canadians who don’t directly benefit from the lapses of honourable conduct so typical of those in government, still don’t care enough about ethics to insist on their leaders playing clean. Or to jump at the chance to be represented by a politician who has proven she will act according to her conscience even when it’s extremely inconvenient to do so. Apparently, it’s a little too inconvenient for the voters themselves.
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They may now be the not-so-famous five. An unprecedented 97 women were elected to parliament Monday night , up from 88 in the 2015 federal election — still constituting less than 30 per cent of elected MPs — but five high-profile women were defeated. What, if anything, does it mean? “It’s always a surprise when high-profile members lose their seats, but it happens every election,” said Stephen White, an assistant professor in Carleton University’s department of political science. He points to Ralph Goodale, the longtime liberal MP unseated Monday in Regina-Wascana by Conservative candidate Michael Kram.
There is no reason to cry for Jane Philpott. She has probably received the better end of the deal than her friend Wilson-Raybould, whose satisfying victory as an independent candidate in Vancouver-Granville means she must now return to the amoral purgatory of Ottawa and attempt to make policy progress in a crowd of people who are, at heart, indifferent to any progress but that of their own political careers.
At some point in the future, there will be scandal. A case of an elected leader or set of elected leaders exerting undue influence or skirting the rules or giving a friend an unfair break. How will a country that booted out Jane Philpott and re-elected Justin Trudeau be able to claim that it didn’t tacitly give its OK to such behaviour? Any outrage or shock from the electorate will, at that time, seem awfully rich.
The disappointments of this week’s election aren’t reserved to what voters did — turfing the competent, rewarding the shallow — but also why they did it. Markham-Stouffville got rid of Jane Philpott not because they doubted her abilities as a parliamentarian but because it seemed expedient for them to veer clear of a non-affiliated candidate. And they will get what they deserve.
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“Citizens ‘don’t feel safe’ as hate fills Edmonton’s streets,” proclaimed the Toronto Star on April 20, in reference to a gathering of Albertan white supremacists. In the lead paragraph, Star reporter Omar Mosleh grimly noted the ironic nature of the venue, Edmonton’s Churchill Square, “a place named after a world leader instrumental in defeating the Nazis.” The article was widely shared on progressive social media, where tales of Canada’s supposed slide into neo-Nazi extremism are now common currency.
We might find it similarly sour that Maxime Bernier lost his seat in Quebec not because his position on immigration came across as racist but because he dared run on a platform of taking away the unfairly sweet deal dairy farmers enjoy under supply management. And that Andrew Scheer was rewarded for not having the guts to do the same. After all, it doesn’t bode well for future platforms when voters confirm politicians’ assumptions that voters will mark their ballots based almost entirely on what goodies they might get from government.
It’s too bad Jane Philpott seems like someone with too much grace to say I told you so.
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