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With Wilson-Raybould and Philpott, the Commons' crew of Independent MPs enters uncharted territory

With Wilson-Raybould and Philpott, the Commons’ crew of Independent MPs enters uncharted territory


If a group of crows is called a ‘murder’, an assembly of ferrets is a ‘business’ and a collection of owls is a ‘parliament’, what do you call a row of independent MPs?

A ‘schism’ of independents? A ‘motley’, perhaps? How about an ‘insurrection’?

With the ejection of Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott from the Liberal caucus this week, the number of independent MPs in the House of Commons has exploded. Coupled with the other MPs representing an array of ‘unrecognized’ parties ranging from the secessionist to the populist and the extinct, the number of MPs in the House who do not belong to officially recognized parties is at an all-time high.

There are now seven Independents in the House. Along with Wilson-Raybould and Philpott, the list includes former Liberals Celina Caesar-Chavannes, Raj Grewal, Darshan Kang and Hunter Tootoo, as well as Tony Clement, a former Conservative.

That’s not an abnormally high number for the tail end of a majority government’s term. There were eight independents when the House was dissolved ahead of the 2015 federal election. There were nine just before the 2004 election.

The number of Independents hit a modern high in 1990 as well, when there were 11 of them in the House — the bulk of them former Liberal or PC MPs who eventually would form the Bloc Québécois.

But any party with less than 12 seats in the House of Commons goes “unrecognized” — which means it isn’t guaranteed slots in question period, seats on committees or the extra resources that are awarded to larger parties. Instead, these parties need to share their speaking time in the House with other Independents; in the current Parliament, that means 14 questions a week are divvied up between the 20 MPs from unrecognized parties or sitting as Independents.

Those unrecognized parties are the Bloc Québécois (10 MPs), Greens (Elizabeth May) and the People’s Party (Maxime Bernier).

Then there’s Erin Weir, who was booted from the New Democratic caucus last year. He is sitting as a self-appointed member of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, a forerunner party to the NDP that has not existed for more than half a century.

Weir wants more speaking time for independents

Weir has been pushing Speaker Geoff Regan for more questions for the growing crew of Independents.

“The independent group is by far the fastest-growing parliamentary caucus,” Weir said in a statement following Caesar-Chavannes’s departure from the Liberal caucus in March. “We need more spots in question period to reflect our numbers.”

He repeated that call this week when the cohort of Independents grew by two.

In an October 2018 ruling, Regan said that the 14 questions awarded to Independents was already high, adding that “never have independent members been recognized as much during question period.” He also reminded the House that question period is only supposed to last 45 minutes and the additional questions given to Independents are already routinely pushing question period well beyond that duration.

Small parties only began receiving recognition in the House in 1963, during a period of minority governments when the New Democrats and Social Credit held a lot of sway in the legislature. At the time, the bar of 12 seats was set to give leaders of these smaller parties a bump in salary, like the one given to the leader of the Official Opposition. The threshold of 12 seats then evolved to become the benchmark for a number of other parliamentary privileges.

Watch Vassy Kapelos explain what it means to be an independent MP.

Vassy Kapelos walks through some of the drawbacks to being an MP outside of an official party. 1:19

Less than the sum of its parts

Theoretically, Weir could acquire these privileges by getting his unrecognized colleagues to form a caucus of their own — like the Independent Senators Group in the Senate.

Of course, that would mean somehow uniting Caesar-Chavannes, Philpott and Wilson-Raybould with Kang, Tootoo, Clement and Grewal — Independents who are alleged to have committed, or have admitted to committing, various improprieties. It also would require finding common ground between May and Bernier and getting the Bloc on board.

Parliament has seen plenty of caucuses divided against themselves, but such an Independent caucus would set a new bar for internal turmoil. Obviously, it isn’t happening.

But the numbers make it possible — which is pretty remarkable on its own.

Former NDP MP Erin Weir is sitting in the House of Commons as a member of the defunct CCF. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

At the end of the last Parliament, the total number of Independents and MPs from unrecognized parties just ticked over the 12-seat threshold. But that also was a group of MPs with unreconcilable differences — representatives of the Greens, the Bloc and Strength in Democracy (remember them?), along with a clutch of cast-off Independents.

Before that, you have to go back to the 35th Parliament that sat between 1994 and 1997 and included nine New Democrats and two Progressive Conservatives. Add the handful of independents at that time to the mix, and you could have had an unrecognizable — but nevertheless ‘recognized’ — party.

Former cabinet ministers in the ‘nose-bleed’ section

But while it’s a bit odd to see so many MPs in the House who don’t belong to a recognized party, it’s far from unprecedented. What is unique about this group is the large number of them who have held high office in the past.

According to the database maintained by the Library of Parliament, only 18 former cabinet ministers have ever appeared in the Commons as Independents. Of those, four (five if we include Bernier, who briefly sat as an Independent before changing his affiliation to the People’s Party) are now sitting in the House of Commons. That’s twice the largest number of “honourable members” that ever sat previously as independents at the same time.

That’s a coincidence, of course: very little connects former cabinet ministers Tootoo and Clement to Philpott and Wilson-Raybould, apart from the bad view they now have in the House. But it’s another reminder, if any was needed, that the last two months have nudged federal politics into uncharted territory.



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Trudeau takes tough questions from young women in House after expelling Wilson-Raybould, Philpott

Trudeau takes tough questions from young women in House after expelling Wilson-Raybould, Philpott


Prime Minister Justin Trudeau faced some tough questions in the House of Commons today — not from opposition MPs but from young women participating in a special event promoting political leadership.

Dozens of the 338 delegates, representing every riding in Canada, turned their backs on Trudeau as he delivered his opening remarks — just hours after he expelled two women from his Liberal caucus.

Trudeau raised the matter right off the top, insisting there will always be disagreements in politics.

“There was never going to be an absolute one side or another. There are always going to be multiple voices we have to listen to,” he said.

Representatives of the Daughters of the Vote deliver messages of hope in the House of Commons. 6:09

Trudeau was grilled on a range of topics, from halting the spread of white nationalism to reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.

The young women are in town for the annual Daughters of the Vote summit, an event organized by Equal Voice Canada which works to get more women elected to all levels of political office across Canada.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addresses the Daughters of the Vote in the House of Commons, and answers questions from a number of participants. 18:38

A number of participants also walked out during a speech by Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer.

This year’s Daughters of the Vote day lands less than 24 hours after Trudeau expelled Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott from the Liberal caucus, saying that trust with the two former cabinet ministers has been irreparably broken.

This political drama has been unfolding since Feb. 7, when the Globe and Mail reported that Wilson-Raybould had faced inappropriate political pressure on the SNC-Lavalin criminal prosecution decision. Wilson-Raybould and Philpott both later resigned from cabinet to protest the government’s handling of the SNC-Lavalin file.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer addresses the Daughters of the Vote in the House of Commons. 7:42

Trudeau said Tuesday he approached the issue with “patience and understanding” but eventually concluded the two MPs could not remain in the caucus.

A number of participants in today’s event already have tweeted their support for the two women.

“We are here in Ottawa as young women participating in a conference and we wholeheartedly condemn you ejecting Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott from caucus,” tweeted DeannaAllain, representing the riding of Hamilton Mountain.

“Respect the integrity of women and indigenous leaders in politics. Do better.”

Without mentioning Philpott or Wilson-Raybould by name, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh gave a nod to the scandal in his speech to the crowd.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh addresses the Daughters of the Vote in the House of Commons. 9:40

“If anyone ever suggests that you’re being difficult by speaking truth to power, you’re not being difficult, you’re being courageous,” he said to thunderous applause.

“Being a team player doesn’t mean following the team, it means being willing to lose it all, because of your principles and your values and having the courage to do that.”

Both Wilson-Raybould and Philpott were spotted in the House of Commons’s gallery for the start of the Daughters of the Vote speeches, which included an address by former prime minister Kim Campbell.

“It was an extraordinary experience to be in there and to hear these women speak,” said Philpott.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May addresses the Daughters of the Vote in the House of Commons. 11:03

“I want to salute all of the leaders who are in the room today who spoke and the Daughters of the Vote organization for choosing just such an incredible array of bright women who are speaking on some of the most important topics of our country. I was deeply moved by their passion, their enthusiasm and the wisdom that was displayed.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau faced some tough questions in the House of Commons today — not from opposition MPs but from young women participating in a special event promoting political leadership. Host Vassy Kapelos spoke to some of them. 6:49





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Philpott says clear apology from Trudeau could have quickly contained SNC-Lavalin scandal

Philpott says clear apology from Trudeau could have quickly contained SNC-Lavalin scandal


Jane Philpott was “stunned” to be turfed from the Liberal caucus, and says the SNC-Lavalin controversy could have been contained much earlier with an apology from the prime minister for alleged political interference in a criminal trial and a promise that it would not happen again.

In an interview with CBC Radio’s The Current Thursday morning, Philpott said she learned as a medical doctor that when bad things happen and mistakes are made, the sooner you deal with it, the better.

“Without malice, sometimes errors take place, but you need to own up to the people who may have been harmed and you need to find out why it happened and make sure it never happens again,” she told host Anna Maria Tremonti.

“I think those lessons could be transferred quite easily into the political sphere, and this could have been taken care of and addressed in a forthright, honest way much earlier.”

Philpott and Jody Wilson-Raybould, both former senior ministers in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet, were expelled from the Liberal caucus Tuesday.

‘Respect the decision’

Philpott told The Current she was “stunned” since she hadn’t been given the opportunity to explain her actions. She was advised earlier on Tuesday during a brief meeting with Trudeau, and said she had not had a discussion with him from the time she resigned from cabinet a month ago.

Jane Philpott suggests that the whole SNC-Lavalin affair could have been avoided if the Prime Minister had just taken ownership and apologized for trying to interfere. 1:21

“I respect the decision that was made, and I told the prime minister that I do wish him the best,” she said.

Trudeau broke the news during a special national caucus meeting Tuesday night, which was open to the media and televised.

“The trust that previously existed between these two individuals and our team has been broken, whether it’s taping conversations without consent, or repeatedly expressing a lack of confidence in our government or me personally as leader,” Trudeau said.

“It’s become clear that Ms. Wilson-Raybould and Dr. Philpott can no longer remain part of our Liberal team.”

Philpott resigned from cabinet March 4, citing lost confidence in how the government was handling the SNC-Lavalin affair. She remained in the Liberal caucus and said she intended to run in the fall election under the Liberal Party banner.

CBC News reported Wednesday that Wilson-Raybould had a list of at least five conditions to end the SNC-Lavalin controversy, including three staff changes and an apology from the prime minister.

Jane Philpott says that she chose to resign from Cabinet because to her the truth is more important than anyone’s political success. 1:16

Sources told CBC News she also sought assurances that her replacement as attorney general, David Lametti, would not overrule Director of Public Prosecutions Kathleen Roussell and direct her to give SNC-Lavalin a deferred prosecution agreement.

The first three conditions involved staff changes in the senior levels of government. The sources said Wilson-Raybould wanted Trudeau to fire his principal secretary, Gerald Butts, who has since resigned, along with Clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick, who has since announced his retirement, and PMO senior adviser Mathieu Bouchard.



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