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Wilson-Raybould, Philpott independent in politics and beliefs

Michael Taube: unwilling to commit to a different party, are they simply biding their time in case Trudeau loses the election - and leadership of the Liberal Party?
Art Babych /

They’re running as … independents.

That’s what former Liberal cabinet ministers Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott told the nation on Monday during separate press conferences in their respective ridings.

When their media releases were sent out on Friday, most political commentators believed they were joining Elizabeth May and the Green Party. (Last month, I predicted Wilson-Raybould would make this move.)

It seemed to be the most natural shift for these two high-profile ex-Liberals. They’re both left-leaning, but have some realistic positions when it comes to private enterprise and building pipelines.

The Greens have also experienced a political surge as of late. There are 15 provincial Green politicians, including eight who form the official Opposition in Prince Edward Island. Meanwhile, Paul Manly just became the second-elected Green MP when he won a byelection in the B.C. riding of Nanaimo-Ladysmith.

The only lingering doubt was the timing.

Institute for Research on Public Policy (IRPP) president Graham Fox suggested to me on Twitter, “Wouldn’t it have been better to announce on Sunday and be in Ottawa for the swearing in of the 2nd elected Green MP?”

I agreed but replied that “[m]aybe they wanted the spotlight to remain focused on Manly in Ottawa.” They could have jointly made their announcements on Monday and joined their new colleagues on Tuesday.

This bubble was burst on Sunday evening, however, when CBC News’s Hannah Thibedeau tweeted, “Wilson-Raybould, Philpott won't run as Greens in fall election.”

The two MPs reportedly met with May on several occasions. She apparently offered to step down if one of them wanted to be party leader, although they both declined. Something had clearly held them back. Perhaps May’s comment to the Huffington Post’s Althia Raj on May 20 that she would back Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in a minority government situation turned them off.

Wilson-Raybould and Philpott obviously weren’t going back to the Liberals. They had both been mistreated, booted out of caucus during the SNC-Lavalin controversy, and they remained critical of Trudeau’s leadership.

The Conservatives were an unlikely home, since they both disagreed with the party’s political direction. The NDP was a possibility, but they weren’t a natural fit on issues related to foreign policy and the environment. Shifting to a smaller political party made little sense.

Hence, it became apparent the two independent MPs were going to run in this fall’s federal election as independents. Wilson-Raybould confirmed this decision in her Vancouver Granville riding and Philpott followed suit 30 minutes later in her Markham-Stouffville riding.

It’s an enormous risk.

Only about a third of MPs who left a political party to run as an independent have ever been re-elected. If they win, they won’t be able to afford a large staff. There will be no dedicated research money in their budgets. Speaking opportunities in Parliament will be severely limited. They’ll have little to no influence in our multi-party system.

So why are they doing it?

They’ll still have plenty of media focus, which is highly unusual for independents. They’ll make alliances with parties like the Greens but didn’t feel comfortable joining them. They acknowledged feeling stifled by our political system and party discipline, so they may try to convince more Canadians to think, act and vote independently.

Yet my sense is they’re simply biding their time in hopes of Trudeau losing in October and leaving federal politics.

Wilson-Raybould and Philpott still believe in the Liberal Party but not the Liberal PM. The next party leader (as long as he/she isn’t a Trudeau loyalist) could be open to bringing them back in the fold. If so, this would enable them to go back from whence they came – and rebuild their political careers with their original party of choice.

Is that the plan?

Stay tuned.

Troy Media columnist and political commentator Michael Taube was a speechwriter for former prime minister Stephen Harper.

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