It may not be the path Jane Philpott imagined for herself in 2015, but the former Liberal health minister says she is humbled by the positivity that has surrounded her campaign to seek re-election as an independent candidate in the riding of Markham-Stouffville.
Both Philpott and Jody Wilson Raybould made headlines when they resigned from cabinet over the Prime Minister’s handling of the SNC-Lavalin affair. Both were later removed from the party’s caucus. The issue, setting a tone for their new campaigns as independents.
READ MORE: Canada election results: Markham–Stouffville
“After the circumstances of this past spring, I had to decide whether I would run again. I talked to hundreds of people in my riding, and the advice I had was ‘we still want you to represent us,'” said Philpott, who declined to join the Green Party.
“I heard from young people, older people. Everyone said ‘thank you for what you did. You’ve made us proud. You stood up for us, and we hope that you run.'”
But even if voters respect Philpott’s integrity, political science professor Nelson Wiseman said she may lose support based on her ability to effect change.
“People know how parliament works. And parliament is driven by parties. Independents are like a wolf, crying off in the wilderness. They just don’t have much impact. They don’t get to ask questions during question period. They don’t get to serve on any committees. They have no influence in policy making,” he said.
It is rare for independent candidates to win. In fact, it’s been more than a decade since it last happened in a federal election. But Wiseman said Philpott does have a unique advantage.
“She’s not your typical independent candidate,” he said. “Most independent candidates haven’t been cabinet ministers. She has been. So she has a higher profile.”
Still, Wiseman said it is unlikely that Philpott will end up winning her seat this time around, as she takes on Liberal Helena Jaczek, Conservative Theodore Antony, NDP Hal Berman, Roy Long from the Green Party, and PPC candidate Jeremy Lin.
“I think Philpott will run third in her constituency, and the votes that she garners will probably come from the Liberal column, giving the Conservatives a great advantage,” said Wilson. “Although a lot can happen between now and Election Day.”
But Philpott has a more optimistic take on her positioning.
“I learned when I went to Ottawa that if you’re an MP with a party, you’re told what to say, what not to say, how to vote. You don’t actually have the freedom to speak freely for your constituents,” she said.
“This is a great opportunity for our community to know that they’ll have a member of parliament who is not going to be dictated to by a party leader, and be able to truly, freely represent the views of the people.”
– With files from Melanie Zettler