Former Liberal cabinet ministers Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott have earned plaudits for putting their principles ahead of their political careers in recent months.
In October, the two women will find out if their reputations for integrity will manifest itself in actual support at the ballot box.
The pair announced Monday they will run as Independents in the next federal election in their respective ridings — Wilson-Raybould in Vancouver and Philpott in the Toronto area.
It’s a bold move by the two, who are choosing to tackle a more challenging route in their bid to return to Parliament. Others before them have opted to run without the benefit of a party banner but few have been able to do it successfully.
A recent story by The Canadian Press notes that since Confederation, at least 93 MPs have sat as Independents in the House of Commons, with the vast majority of them elected as members of a political party before either leaving the party or being forced out. But very few have been able to run under the Independent flag and gain election, and fewer still were actually able to wield any real influence.
Perhaps the poster boy for Independent candidates was Chuck Cadman, who originally entered the House of Commons as a Reform MP in Surrey, B.C. in 1997. In 2000, he was re-elected as a member of the Reform party’s successor, the Canadian Alliance. In 2004, he lost a nomination bid for the merged Conservative party and ran instead as an Independent — and won.
The government featured a Liberal minority government led by Paul Martin, and Cadman wielded significant power, with his vote in favour of the 2005 budget rescuing the Martin government from defeat. He died in July 2005 after a two-year battle with cancer.
Another successful Independent was John Nunziata, who was elected as a Liberal MP in 1984, 1988 and 1993 in the Toronto riding of York South-Weston. In 1996, he was booted from the Liberal caucus for voting against the government’s budget in protest over the government breaking its promise to rescind the Goods and Services Tax. But he ran again as an Independent in 1997 and won, but then lost in the 2000 election. More recently, Andre Arthur, an outspoken radio host in Quebec, was elected as an Independent in 2006 and again in 2008, but lost in 2011 to the NDP candidate in his riding.
The positive reputation Wilson-Raybould and Philpott have built might serve them well enough to help them get re-elected in their respective ridings, but unless the election produces a minority government, their influence will likely be limited.
As former cabinet ministers, both have plenty to bring to the table. Wilson-Raybould served as justice minister and was briefly in charge of veterans affairs, while Philpott handled the health and Indigenous services portfolios before serving as Treasury Board president.
Most ridings would likely appreciate MPs who have the treasured combination of experience and principles. However, in our parliamentary system, MPs without a party behind them are generally limited in what they can actually accomplish in the House of Commons. It remains to be seen how Wilson-Raybould and Philpott will fare in their bids to return to Parliament Hill.