OTTAWA — Former Liberal cabinet ministers Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott will run as Independents in the upcoming federal election, they declared Monday.
The pair made their plans known through separate but co-ordinated announcements in their ridings — Wilson-Raybould in Vancouver and Philpott outside Toronto. Both dressed in white, pointedly eschewing any party's colours.
"I know you're all wondering what colour I was going to wear today," said Philpott, standing on a riser at a farm store, a wide grin on her face.
"I am going to run in the federal election as an Independent candidate for the people of Markham-Stouffville. We are going to do it together. Yes. All of us, all of us together."
At a small community centre in her riding of Vancouver Granville, Wilson Raybould told her supporters she's heard an "overwhelming" message about the need to do politics differently, adding she believes running as Independent — the political version of a free agent — is the best way to achieve that goal.
"I know that it will not be easy to run a campaign as an Independent," she said. "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."
Philpott acknowledged some will be surprised by her decision but she said running on her own is the most honest thing for her to do.
"There's probably a few of you who were wishing for something different," she said. "That's OK. I heard a whole range of advice."
Julia Reesor, a 61-year-old family friend at Monday's event, said she thought Philpott running as an Independent candidate is a "great fit."
"She said she has more work to do and I know she’ll deliver and get things done," Reesor said.
Monday's announcements put to rest political speculation about next steps for the two former Liberal cabinet ministers, who were removed from their party caucus in the House of Commons following the SNC-Lavalin controversy.
Wilson-Raybould served as Canada's first Indigenous justice minister before Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shuffled her to the portfolio of veterans affairs in January.
She later revealed she thought the decision to move her out of Justice was motivated by her refusal to intervene in the criminal prosecution of the Quebec engineering giant SNC-Lavalin. She ultimately resigned from cabinet.
Trudeau denied any wrongdoing but conceded there was an "erosion of trust" between his office and Wilson-Raybould.
Philpott, who served as health minister, Indigenous-services minister and then president of the Treasury Board, also resigned over Trudeau's handling of the controversy.
Both were subsequently removed from the Liberal caucus in early April and sit as Independent MPs in the House of Commons. Trudeau barred them from running again as Liberals.
It's been a challenging five months, Wilson-Raybould said.
"I find myself in a place that I never expected to be for, as I've said, doing my job and speaking the truth," she said. "I regret that it has come to this place."
There were issues that could have been resolved sooner, she said, but she has had time to reflect on her choice.
"I am really pleased and happy with the decision that I've made," she said.
With few resources as a legislator and none of the authority she had as a minister, Philpott said, she hasn't lost her voice — she's found it. She said MPs who are more independent, whether it's within parties or outside of them, are good for the country.
The House of Commons has five other Independents, plus two Greens and solo representatives of the People's Party of Canada and the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation. Any of them who are re-elected could wield outsized influence in the event the October federal election produces a minority government, which typically requires the party that forms government to forge alliances across the aisle to hold on to power.
Both Philpott and Wilson-Raybould spoke highly of the Green party and its leader Elizabeth May, and acknowledged having repeated conversations about running for that party, but decided that Canadian politics needs more people beholden to no central authority.
May said she spoke to both Wilson-Raybould and Philpott ahead of Monday's announcement, adding she was willing to step aside if they had leadership aspirations.
"It's hard for people to quite understand the extent to which this wasn't a negotiation," May said. "Neither of them were interested in taking on leadership roles."
In response to a question Monday about whether her running as an Independent could split the vote in her riding and lead to a Conservative win, Wilson-Raybould said she hopes voters will support her because she stands for their values.
"I don't believe that votes are simply ... to be divided among three or four political parties," she said.
"I believe in the people of Vancouver Granville. I believe in Canadians to make informed decisions about policy, informed decisions about who to vote for."
She also said it is fair to say she and Philpott have similar world views.
"We're going to continue to work together," she said.
—With files from Laura Kane in Vancouver and Alanna Rizza in Toronto
Kristy Kirkup, The Canadian Press