Every July 4, millions of Americans celebrate Independence Day. If two members of Parliament are successful this fall, millions of Canadian voters could one day celebrate Independents Day.
Former Liberal ministers Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott were at the centre of the SNC-Lavalin controversy earlier this year that turned the federal government upside down. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau eventually booted them out of caucus on April 2 and they sat in Parliament as independent MPs.
They’ll be running as independents this fall, too.
Although some Canadian MPs served as independents in the late 19th century, it’s a risky move in modern politics. Less than a third of MPs who leave a political party to run as an independent have been re-elected. Some recent exceptions include former Liberal MP John Nunziata (1997), former Canadian Alliance MP Chuck Cadman (2004), radio host André Arthur (2006, 2008) and former Conservative MP Bill Casey (2008), who now sits as a Liberal.
What’s different about Wilson-Raybould and Philpott running as independents is their approach. They’re both trying to push the idea that running as an independent is the best and most desirable route to reforming Canadian politics.
As the former said at a community centre in her Vancouver Granville riding, “I know that it will not be easy to run a campaign as an independent. There will be challenges but with your support, I am confident that running as an independent is the best way to … go about it at this time and the best way to transform our political culture.”
That’s what Change UK – The Independent Group recently set out to do. Founded in February, this party is composed of former Labour and Conservative MPs who were furious at the way the old, established parties were handling Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union, or Brexit. They attempted to create a new, middle-of-the-road political home for disgruntled British voters with the slogan, “Politics is broken. Let’s change it.”
It didn’t work.
After getting shut out in last month’s European Parliament election, six of the 11 Change UK MPs quit to sit as independents. This included interim leader Heidi Allen and spokesperson Chuka Umunna, who joined the Liberal Democrats on June 13.
Umunna told the BBC he was “wrong” to think “millions of politically homeless people wanted a new party,” and he “massively underestimated just how difficult it is to set up a fully fledged new party without an existing infrastructure.”
Wilson-Raybould and Philpott’s best strategy would be to move further away from the party system and attempt to change the domestic mindset about voting. The former has earned the admiration of Canadians due to her honesty and integrity during SNC-Lavalin, and has a good chance of getting re-elected. Philpott is in a much tougher political battle, but the praise she’s earned for standing by her friend could help her survive.
That being said, neither MP is strong enough to move mountains. It would take an enormous effort to change Canada’s traditional voting behaviour, even if people are more frustrated with politics and politicians than ever.
But it’s a unique political experiment and one worth watching. It fits with the mindset of a growing number of Canadians who, like others around the world, are getting tired of the traditional parties and politics as usual, and are looking for something new.
If Wilson-Raybould and Philpott can tap into this wave of voter frustration, they could transform into unique voices who want to change Canadian politics for the better.
Who knows, maybe they’ll be celebrating Independents Day before long.
Michael Taube, a Troy Media syndicated columnist and political commentator, was a speechwriter for former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper.