Cloudy future for former ministers

Justin Trudeau’s Liberal caucus may be done with Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott, but that does not mean either of the former ministers is done with politics.

Each has accumulated enough political capital over the course of the SNC-Lavalin affair to have alternative options to explore.

But with a federal election looming, time is of the essence. And while they have been joined at the hip over the recent crisis, they may well end up on separate paths going forward.

What is certain is that in little more than a few weeks or months, each will have to decide whether she wants to run again and, if so, under which — if any — party banner.

Green Leader Elizabeth May has been the most welcoming. She says she would love either former minister to join her ranks.

But while May hopes her party is on the cusp of a big electoral breakthrough, simply winning the 12 seats needed for official party status would count as a big victory for the Greens next fall.

And while Wilson-Raybould could likely get re-elected to her Vancouver seat regardless of her partisan affiliation, the same is not true of Philpott.

Her Greater Toronto Area riding tends to alternate between the Liberals and the Conservatives. In 2015, Philpott beat Conservative party incumbent Paul Calandra 48 per cent to 42 per cent. Between them, the Greens and the New Democrats won less than 10 per cent of the vote cast in Markham-Stouffville.

By comparison to May, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh was noticeably more reserved. That reserve is not just based on the fear of rejection, or the NDP rule that anyone seeking to join its caucus must first have been elected under its banner.

At this late stage in the life of the current Parliament, the latter is little more than a formality. But for all the good words expended on the two former ministers by the New Democrats over the past two months, the party has for the past three years been highly critical of some of their signature achievements.

That starts with the medically assisted death law Wilson-Raybould and Philpott co-authored early on in the Liberal term. The NDP feels it puts limitations that border on cruelty on the capacity of terminally ill Canadians to seek medical help to shorten their suffering.

But life in Canadian politics is not limited to Parliament Hill.

Should Wilson-Raybould have leadership ambitions, the fact that she does not speak French would severely limit her federal prospects. Her lack of proficiency in one of Canada’s official languages would not be an impediment on the B.C. scene.

But perhaps the most intriguing post-SNC-Lavalin scenario involves Philpott and the notion that she could parlay the virtually unanimous positive reviews of her ministerial tenure into a bid for the leadership of the Ontario Liberals.

If this were the Quebec Liberal party, it would be a no-brainer. In that province, the two wings of the party are so independent of each other, that no one blinked two decades ago when Jean Charest — a federal Tory leader — was crowned Quebec Liberal leader.

But there are a lot fewer degrees of separation between Trudeau’s federal Liberals and their Ontario counterparts.

It would be at the very least awkward and potentially embarrassing for the prime minister — should he remain in that post after this fall’s election — to have a former MP he evicted from his caucus as an Ontario Liberal counterpart.

And yet one would think Trudeau and Philpott’s unqualified opposition to Premier Doug Ford’s agenda would go a long way to putting them back on the same page.

In Canadian politics, stranger things have been known to happen.

Chantal Hebert is a columnist with Torstar Syndication Services.

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