The day that many in the Canadian political scene has been waiting for has come. Both Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott held press conferences in their ridings, announcing their intentions for their futures, what they would do and where they might land. The answers that came back were interesting, in not exactly what was assumed to happen:
If we had betting on everything under the sun like they do in the United Kingdom, we would say that the bookies had this one called wrong. The speculation that was taking hold out there was that both former Cabinet Ministers would join up with the Green team, running for them in the next election. And despite kind words of friendship for Elizabeth May, both decided to say no to them. They ended up saying no to everyone, deciding to go out on their own and try to get their re-election that way. It’s an approach that is the more unconventional route, one that is probably the least likely to succeed, but there is an honesty to it that I will come back to later.
For the parties though in the House, this news is a mixed bag; yes neither MP landed in their caucuses, but they didn’t land in someone else’s either. So, no party gets the boost that Wilson-Raybould and Philpott would give to their parties going into the election, but their decision to go it alone also sends a message to those parties as well. Being snubbed isn’t a good thing, because it’s basically a rejection of your party.
For the Greens, being rejected does fly in the face of the momentum they’ve supposedly had. Obviously there was something there to keep either or both MPs from joining with them; maybe it was a policy difference, maybe it was the election of an MP with discredited and vile opinions. We don’t know and to say otherwise is to speculate. For the New Democrats, this rejection is another brick in the wall when it comes to their current state. What’s probably worse is that in the whole discourse around where there two members might go, the NDP was hardly mentioned at all, less than an afterthought in the discourse. That’s bad, especially when typically the NDP would be the most likely party an MP in their position might join.
For the Liberals, while this move might be good because it won’t boost another party and hurt their standing further, the bad news comes on the local level in Vancouver-Granville and Markham-Stouffville, where their odds of holding those seats just went through the floor. In Vancouver-Granville, Wilson-Raybould has a good shot of holding that seat and a strong showing by Wilson-Raybould would surely mean that even if she didn’t win, it wouldn’t be a Liberal winning the seat. In Markham-Stouffville I would argue it’s even worse. In that riding, it’s typically been a Liberal/Conservative fight, with no strong third-party presence to speak of at all. If Philpott and decided to run for the Greens or NDP, she probably wouldn’t have won, but she likely wouldn’t have given either party a big boost in their result. Running as an independent though, she is more likely to be able to draw a bigger slice of the vote as she’ll be able to run on her name and not have the partisan baggage. But even with that advantage, I’d argue that the likelihood of her holding the seat is slim and the betting odds are that her Independent candidacy will likely swing the riding for the Conservatives.
Really the only party here who is coming away from this smiling is the Conservatives. No only does Markham-Stouffville because a big target to swing into their column, the decision to go independent makes it easier for them to speak of Wilson-Raybould and Philpott to bolster their case against the Liberals. If either or both had joined another party, it would have been harder for them to use their names and examples to go after the government because they would then be boosting another party. Now that they will stay as Independents, that barrier will be gone and will open the flood gates. Finally for the Conservatives, the fact that neither MP joined another party makes it less likely that disgruntled progressives will coalesce around a single party. That will likely mean a more fractured progressive electorate and a better chance for the Conservatives to form government. If either Wilson-Raybould or Philpott had joined another party, that would have been a big signal for progressives to support that party and give enough clout to go up against the Conservatives. But that didn’t happen here, and that has to make the Blue Team happy.
But as I said above, this was probably the most honest answer they could have given. If you watched their press conferences, you could tell that they were ready to trade in one party for another, so to do so would have been harder to explain. And while I respect their decision, I have to say that I came away from their press conferences disagreeing with a big part of the rationale behind it. Both made comments about “not perfectly fitting” in a party and that partisan politics is flawed because of that. Personally, I have to disagree with for a simple reason; it’s impossible for any party to perfectly match all of someone’s beliefs and it’s impossible for any MP to present all of the views of each and every single constituent all the time. The same is true with governing for a whole country.
In the end, we need to be able to compromise to some level to reach a consensus; that’s true of being a member of a party, being in government and being an MP. That’s also true in life in general. In the end, it’s not a matter of if you need to make some compromise but a matter of how much compromise do you make? In this case, I believe that both MPs were right in not compromising in the SNC-Lavalin scandal; that was an extreme case. But I don’t agree with the comments they made today that not finding a party that perfectly fits them is a bad thing. Being in a party is not always easy, but that doesn’t mean that parties are bad. Parties can be better and they need to do that.
In the end, while today’s big news won’t have the big impact that it could have, it will still be of note in the political history in Canada. Over 10 years later, we still remember the likes of Chuck Cadman, who proved that Independents can have a big impact on our politics. But to do that, they need to get elected first. That just became a harder task for both of these MPs as they go out on their own. We’ll see if they will be able to buck history and earn their way back to the House of Commons after the Fall election.