A chain of events has cascaded upon the federal government and Liberal Party of Canada over the past week.
How will this end?
First, where are things at?
- Hon. Jody Wilson-Raybould resigned from Cabinet.
- She has not resigned from Caucus. She remains a Liberal MP.
- She is the presumptive Liberal nominee in Vancouver-Granville for the 2019 federal election, having been ‘green lit’ by the Party in 2018.
- She has not voted against the government on a whipped vote. In fact, as a senior member of Cabinet, she helped shape the government’s agenda over the past three-plus years.
As far as I know, the only ‘difficulty’ that exists is disagreement, and related events, stemming from the SNC-Lavalin issue.
Thus, I am going to assume that Wilson-Raybould remains a Liberal in the partisan and ideological sense. An assumption, but I see no evidence to the contrary.
So, what next?
In Canada, we have not demonstrated a lot of tolerance for public dissent within political parties. The media punishes political parties for dissent, treating it as a sign of weak leadership. Dissent certainly exists privately. Every political caucus in Canada has a wide range of opinion about what its party leadership should be doing and usually a considerable amount of complaining. It mainly stays inside the room.
In major political parties, not everyone gets along. Uneasy alliances exist, in fact, they are essential to the growth and success of parties. Chretien-Martin. PET-Turner. Mulroney-Clark. Harper-MacKay. Cabinets and caucuses don’t have to like each other to work together. In the UK, dissent is much more of the norm and widely accepted. MPs routinely challenge and speak out against leadership.
It doesn’t always have to be bunnies and rainbows in order for people to serve together and to campaign alongside together. A common enemy unites, come election time.
Had the shuffle not happened, I assume she would still be Minister of Justice (and the fact the shuffle did happen in the way it did will go down as one of the top unforced errors of the first term). This would be playing out behind the scenes.
It seems the reactions to the public disagreement exacerbated the situation to the point where she resigned from Cabinet.
Is it possible for her to remain as a Liberal MP?
If, as outlined above, she remains a ‘Liberal’ and continues to support the broad policy agenda of the government, not only should she remain a Liberal MP if she chooses, but she is basically untouchable. Party leadership would have to proactively rescind her candidacy, which I am sure they would be loath to do.
The support of her local membership is not a requirement, however, it is probable that she is well supported locally.
There is an assumption held by many that the only meaningful way to contribute in politics is to serve in Cabinet. But one can make significant contributions outside Cabinet, especially an MP who has a strong national profile.
Over the past week, Wilson-Raybould has enhanced her stature in Canada. She has a constituency of support out there in the country. When she speaks on an issue, she will be heard. She would be a force to be reckoned with in Parliament.
Most Liberals are unhappy about these events, and some have come to the public defense of the PM, and others to ‘Team Jody’. Such controversies compromise the ability of colleagues to get re-elected, and may even jeopardize the survival of the government. It’s also fair comment that almost all Liberal MPs are all there because of one guy – Rt. Hon. Justin Trudeau – who rescued the Party from oblivion and led them to an improbable majority in 2015. In fact, the sense of invulnerability has contributed to the magnitude of this issue. Yes, Liberals do owe Justin Trudeau. But, they also owe him their honest opinion, for the good of his leadership and the party.
Wilson-Raybould staying in Parliament, serving as an MP, running for re-election as a Liberal is not something that is really being contemplated publicly in the current context. It seems to be assumed that this is leading to a break-up. By staying put, Wilson-Raybould would have presence in Parliament and serve as a moral conscience from outside Cabinet. In time, who knows where the road will take her?
She could cross the floor and serve with another party. But if she continues to identify as a ‘Liberal’, that doesn’t work, and where would she cross to, anyway? Neither the Conservatives nor NDP would seem to be attractive options for her.
Or she should could leave federal politics, but that would be regrettable. She has barely started, and Vancouver-Granville voters permitting, should have more runway ahead. This is about more than one MP’s political future Hon. Jody Wilson-Raybould is the first indigenous woman to ever be elected from British Columbia. It took 148 years to get there.
Making room for disagreement and dissent is messy, and as a former political manager, it made my life complicated and could be very frustrating. But, it’s ultimately good for the system.
Let the events of SNC-Lavalin play out. Changes can be made, lessons can be learned, people will move on to other issues once that has all taken place.
“How this ends” could well be JWR on the ballot as a Liberal in October 2019. In fact, it would be a new beginning, for everyone.
(photo credit: CBC)