Kicked out of the party, but not out of politics: Ex-Liberal Jane Philpott holding her own as independent
|National Post 10 Oct 2019 at 05:47|
MARKHAM, Ont. â It was perhaps no coincidence that Liberal leader Justin Trudeau was campaigning Wednesday in the riding once held by former trusted, high-profile Cabinet minister Jane Philpott.
Philpott, the former Liberal Treasury Board president, was turfed by Trudeau from the party after she publicly said she had no confidence in the prime ministerâs handling of the SNC-Lavalin affair.
Now Philpott, well-known and well-liked in the Markham-Stouffville riding, is standing as an independent and is more than holding her own.
Philpott believes that there is a grassroots, anti-establishment phenomenon of sorts taking place in this riding â a largely white, middle-class suburb north of Toronto â that is simply not being reflected in mainstream polling data.
In fact, she and her team were so sure about this that they recently commissioned Oracle Poll Research to conduct a survey of 301 voters in the riding, which showed Philpott in the lead, with 38 per cent of decided voters saying that would chose her as their MP. The poll showed Liberal candidate Helena Jaczek coming in at 35 per cent, and Conservative candidate Theodore Antony at 10 per cent.
âWe have been tracking that I have a three to one advantage amongst decided voters. Thatâs not what most polls are saying, but thatâs what weâre hearing after talking to thousands of people,â Philpott said, in an interview with the Post, this past Saturday, just minutes before hitting the road for yet another day of door knocking.
Days after releasing the poll results on her blog, Trudeau descended upon Markham, campaigning with Liberal candidates in the area, including Jaczek.
Since the writ drop, Philpott says that her campaign has knocked on 26,868 doors in a riding with a population of 126,000 people. They have less than two weeks, and roughly 16,000 doors left to go. But with over 350 volunteers, and more than enough cash till election day, thereâs a palpable feeling of optimism in her campaign office, more than one would expect of a candidate running as an independent in a Westminster system, where party brand reigns supreme and party loyalty runs deep.
It was this aspect of caucus politics â party discipline â that caused Philpott to clash so publicly with her leader, citing an incompatibility between the conventions of Cabinet solidarity and her own loss of confidence in Trudeauâs handling of the SNC affair. And it was similarly this rejection of party discipline, that ultimately pushed Philpott to run as an independent, free from the structural rigidity of party messaging.
âThere seemed to be unwritten messages and rules about how much youâre allowed to disagree with the party. If people disagreed in certain formats, there would be negative consequences,â Philpott said. âI feel sad about the circumstances that led to me being kicked out. I donât regret what I did by standing up and saying SNC-Lavalin was wrongâŚ but I shouldnât have been kicked out of the party for saying that.â
I donât regret what I did by standing up and saying SNC-Lavalin was wrong
While door knocking, Philpott, the incumbent, is repeatedly praised for breaking with tradition and taking a stand on SNC. âYouâre a champion. You go get them,â said one voter, excitedly embracing the former health minister.
It helps that Philpott spent a good chunk of her career as a family doctor in Stouffville.
âI just want to tell you that Iâm so proud of what you did, and youâre definitely getting my vote,â said another voter on the same street, a former patient of Philpottâs. âCan I put a sign on your lawn?â Philpott asks tentatively, not wanting to take up too much time, mindful that it was still relatively early on a weekend morning.
At another house, there was some confusion and concern about what an independent MP will be able to accomplish in Ottawa. This sentiment was expressed often, by numerous constituents, but Philpott had her talking points ready to go: independent MPs will be able to speak solely on behalf of their constituents, unlike partisan MPs who have to follow party messaging; politics can be different and improved by more independents who can freely represent their constituents, and freely collaborate with other MPs.
At least once a week, one of her volunteers Naftali Nakhshon drives across the Greater Toronto Area â all the way from the western Toronto suburb of Etobicoke to the north-eastern district of Stouffville â to canvass.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau speaks at a campaign stop in Markham, Ontario. Liberal candidate Helena Jaczek is at the far right. Stephane Mahe/Reuters
Nakhshon, a middle-aged Israeli-Canadian who has a certain candour to his demeanour, isnât even able to vote for Philpott, because he doesnât reside in her riding.
In fact, he admits he will probably end up voting Conservative. âI always vote Conservative, but itâs because we donât have a strong independent like her running in my riding. Sheâs brave,â Nakhshon told the National Post, shortly after canvassing Philpottâs riding.
It was this very intrigue with an alternative form of federal government representation beyond the main political parties that got Nakhshon interested in Philpottâs campaign.
To a large extent, with her commitment to advancing reconciliation, advocating for a national pharmacare plan, and the condemnation of Bill 21 âQuebecâs ban on public service employees wearing religious symbols â Philpottâs platform has the sound and feel of the Liberal Party. She admits that she was courted by both the NDP and the Green Party in the aftermath of being ousted from the Liberal caucus, but did not feel it was âfairâ to herself or to her constituents to âwrap myself in another whole party colour and say thatâs who I am now.â
That honesty, says Nakhshon, is exactly what is appealing to him about Philpott. âI donât think most people in this campaign office will agree with where I stand politically, but look, weâre all sitting here together.â
Philpott characterizes her actions this past spring as one that placed loyalty to the country above the party. âI was trying to uphold the rule of law and say politicians should not interfere with criminal cases. That should not be a reason to be kicked out of your party, especially by somebody I served with complete loyalty for three and a half years. But I canât dwell on that, I have to move on.â
Philpottâs campaign manager, Jennifer Hess, who was also involved in her 2015 campaign, admits that there are âchallengesâ to not having the backing of a big party in running a campaign. But the campaign has surpassed expectations on two key aspects â the number of volunteers, and donations. âWe have more money than we can legally spend. We were in the incredibly fortunate position to stop accepting donations.â
The conventional rhetoric about Markham-Stouffville is that Philpottâs candidacy will end up splitting the Liberal vote, but both Philpott and Hess believe that that logic might not hold up on Oct. 21.
âThere are a few very loyal partisan constituents who will vote for the party they have always voted for. But Iâve had people tell me that they feel politically homeless, that they canât find a party they feel they belong in,â said Philpott. âThere are definitely people who are interested in voting for an independent because they feel like it is an option for them and will demonstrate something outside of partisanship.â
Pollster Philippe J. Fournier of 338canada.com, whose own data suggests that Philpott will end up in third place with just 18 per cent of the overall vote, rejects the idea that Philpottâs anecdotal account of support sheâs getting at doors could indicate her chances of winning.
âWith all due respect to Ms. Philpott (and I mean this sincerely), lawn signs and what people tell candidates when door knocking are the most unscientific indicators. They absolutely donât mean a thing. Itâs spin at best,â Fournier told the Post over email, prior to Philpottâs team conducting the Oracle-commissioned survey. Philpottâs gold and black lawn signs are evident throughout Markham-Stouffville â there are either as many signs as both the Conservative and Liberal candidates respectively, or even more.
âAny candidate of any party would never say on the record that things âarenât going well on the field.â They just never would,â Fournier added.
But at least on the surface, and perhaps unlike her former boss, Philpottâs own determination to win does not come from the desire to further her personal political ambitions. âI donât think of myself as having a political career. I think of using politics as a tool to serve Canadians. I really would not be doing this if I thought I couldnât accomplish something for good.â
Enough of the endless parade of talking heads, can we skip the campaign and go directly to the vote?
Kevin Howard says the lawsuit against his wife s lover â a family friend â is about respecting the sanctity of a marriage
At a time when the world is safer than any in history, children are being taught that they live on the brink of a variety of existential threats
Such a solution seems to be a bit â well â nuts! Ending global warming at the expense of the human race seems loopy to William Reville, a former prof ...