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Columnist Doug Cuthand Liam Richards / Saskatoon StarPhoenix Jody Wilson-Raybould and Dr. Jane Philpott are back in the news and this time they announced that they will run in the next federal election as independents. These two ladies are not a couple of flakes bent on revenge. Both have […]
Jody Wilson-Raybould and Dr. Jane Philpott are back in the news and this time they announced that they will run in the next federal election as independents.
These two ladies are not a couple of flakes bent on revenge. Both have enough education and life experience to skate circles around the prime minister and Conservative leader Andrew Scheer.
Dr. Philpott practised medicine for three decades, spending her first 10 years in the West African country of Niger. In 1998, she moved with her family to Stouffville, Ontario, where she served for 17 years as a family physician. She was Chief of Family Medicine at Markham Stouffville Hospital and an associate professor in the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Medicine.
Wilson-Raybould had an impressive career in law and politics before she was elected to the House of Commons. She was a Crown prosecutor in Vancouver for four years, followed by seven years as the Treaty Commissioner for British Columbia and then two terms as the regional vice chief for the Assembly of First Nations.
Both ladies held senior cabinet positions — Philpott was the Minister of Health and Indigenous Affairs and president of the Treasury Board. Wilson-Raybould was the Minister of Justice and Attorney General until she was demoted. She was offered Minister of Indigenous Affairs, which was an insult, and in a very rare move in Ottawa she turned the appointment down.
In party politics in Canada, when you get elected you basically lose control of your life. You become part of the Conservative, Liberal or NDP political machinery. You must adhere blindly to party policy and the leadership. When our people get elected, they get submerged in the party apparatus and the important issues of Metis rights, First Nations treaty rights, sovereignty and meaningful answers to complex problems are either ignored or watered down.
Wilson-Raybould also put down the blind partisanship that permeates Ottawa politics. She comes from a tradition of First Nations consensual politics, where yelling and name-calling are considered very bad form.
The jump from an Indigenous world to partisan politics is a jarring experience. In the 1970s, Wally Firth was the member of parliament for the NDP from the Northwest Territories. He was an Indigenous man and we were friends. He told me that he couldn’t get over the heckling and bad manners in the house. “Back home you never interrupted anyone who had the floor,” he told me.
Question Period is the time when the political junkies flock to see what gems of wit and wisdom will come that day. It’s a time for the Opposition to ask rhetorical questions couched in righteous indignation followed by non-answers, insults and speaking points. Meaningful dialogue is impossible.
In Canada we inherited our parliamentary system from Britain. The British believe that out of conflict comes resolution, so they have a tradition of heckling and insulting the opposition party. The benches between the opposition and the government are two sword lengths apart to prevent them from killing each other.
But Canada is no longer a British country. We have a rich mix of cultures that have little in common with the old way of doing business. People with ties to mother England are now scattered among the rest of the population.
They have been the objects of derision by some pundits who fail to see beyond the Ottawa bubble, but if they are re-elected, Wilson-Raybould and Dr. Philpott have the potential to operate independently from the restricting party machinery.
Neither of these two women strikes me as a career politician wanting to grow old in parliament and make a comfortable pension. Both have successful careers to fall back on. They don’t need to sit in parliament as much as parliament needs them.
Now we have the potential of an independent First Nations voice in parliament, free from the PMO boys in short pants and the bullies from the colonial office. Maybe she won’t have a power base to make meaningful change, but what Aboriginal member of parliament ever did?
Maybe more independents should run in Indian country. We have had more than 150 years of settler government that has got us where we are today.