When it comes to politicians, I’m a big skeptic. Can they be trusted? Can they act with integrity?
Skepticism about politicians is more common than faith in politicians. In 2014 I lived in Stouffville where I served as the pastor of an anabaptist church. One of the distinctives of anabaptism is their peace position. They’re pacifists who hold a strong commitment to non-violence. In my attempt to promote peace I was part of a small group that founded the Stouffville Peace Festival. One of the core events of that peace festival was a peace panel. The festival was held for two years. In both years Jane Philpott was the moderator for the peace panel. She was able to secure internationally renowned panel guests, such as three-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish (the Gaza Doctor), Dr. James Orbinski who was president of Doctors without Borders when they won the Nobel Peace Prize, and Dr. Gerry Caplan, the international genocide expert.
Through this peace festival I was able to get to know Jane Philpott a bit. I was also aware of her other community activities, such as being a founding member and moderator of the Stouffville TEDx talks, and her involvement in Give a Day for Aids. When it was rumoured that she might seek the Liberal nomination for the Stouffville-Markham riding I felt comfortable enough to contact her to ask if I could spend a bit of time with her to further understand her political views. She was gracious enough to take an hour out of her busy medical practice to meet with me.
When we met, I told her about my skepticism about politics and how I had trusted politicians in the past, only to be let down by their lack of integrity and moral fortitude. I had already learned a lot about Jane Philpott prior to meeting her. I was impressed with her long history of compassion and a genuine desire to make the world a better place. I felt she might just be the type of politician I could trust. I asked her about her views about many of the issues that were important to me, poverty, welcoming refugees, healthcare, reconciliation with First Nations, and violence against women, to name just a few.
I told her that one of my main concerns with politicians was integrity. I told her I understood that politics involves compromise and flexibility, that I get that no politician can realistically expect to have all of their political ideology reflected in their party’s policies, or implemented if they were part of the governing party. However, at some point in time a politician must draw a line, must make a choice between their own principles and some of the compromises that might be called to make.
I let her know that I hoped to discover if she had the fortitude to hold to her principles when the time came. Would she compromise or hold firm?
In fairness to Jane Philpott, I will not attempt to quote her response to me, because I don’t believe my recollection of her response meets solid criteria for quoting someone. But I will say,
I left that meeting convinced that Jane Philpott was indeed a person of integrity, that I could support her, that I could hope, that I could cast a vote for her, and even encourage others to do the same.
I moved from Stouffville before she was elected to office in the 2015 election and appointed to Cabinet as the Minister of Health.
As her political career moved forward, her reputation as a rising star within the Liberal party became firmly established. I saw she was a person people had tremendous respect for. I was particularly impressed by the relationship she developed with the Indigenous Community. They saw who she was. They trusted her.
Jane Philpott’s career was going well.
Then the SNC-Lavalin scandal broke.
I was impressed by her tweet on February 12 after Jody Wilson-Raybould’s resignation from Cabinet. She tweeted, “You taught me so much—particularly about Indigenous history, rights and justice. ‘m proud of the laws we worked on together—C14 (assisted dying), C37 (harm reduction), C45 (public health approach to cannabis) and so much more. I know you will continue to serve Canadians.”
She tweeted this at a time when it was a risky thing to do, career wise. It didn’t matter to her. She respected Jody Wilson-Raybould, and she wasn’t going to shy away from showing her gratitude and respect.
Then the bombshell hit. Jane Philpott herself resigned from Cabinet. She wrote,
“The evidence of efforts by politicians and/or officials to pressure the former attorney general to intervene in the criminal case involving SNC-Lavalin and the evidence as to the content of those efforts have raised serious concerns for me,” she wrote. “Those concerns have been augmented by the views expressed by my constituents and other Canadians.”
In her tweet to introduce her resignation letter she wrote,
“It grieves me to resign from a portfolio where I was at work to deliver an important mandate. I must abide by my core values, my ethical responsibilities, constitutional obligations. There can be a cost to acting on one’s principles, but there is a bigger cost to abandoning them.”
Please allow me to repeat that last part,
“There can be a cost to acting on one’s principles, but there is a bigger cost to abandoning them.”
Jane Philpott has come under a lot of criticism from Liberal supporters and members for her resignation. They say she should have sucked it up and towed the party line. They say there was no need for her to resign—she let the party down.
We may never know what happened in the SNC-Lavalin scandal—what really went down behind closed doors. I suspect there’s much more to it than we’ve been permitted to know.
But what I do know is that I have full respect for Jane Philpott, and when Jane Philpott says it grieves her to resign, and that there’s a bigger cost to abandoning your principles, I stand with her.
I stand with Jane Philpott.
I respect her decision and believe she did the right thing. She didn’t abandon her principles.
That’s what I want from a politician.