The House of Commons’s loss is our gain

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2019 feels like years ago instead of just a few months.  Our minority government is still fresh as it attempts to guide the country through the COVID-19 pandemic.  An unprecedented time challenges how we interact with our government; with talk about implementing the Emergencies Act, watchdogs, governing bodies and the public are at a disadvantage when it comes to holding the government to account.

One person who has managed to do just that used to head up the federal ministry currently slammed by the novel coronavirus.

Jane Philpott’s loss on election night was disappointing.  Her run, in tandem with former Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould, offered up a promise of politics done differently.  Less fraught partisanship, a move away from perceived tokenism and a chance for Members of Parliament to be accountable to their constituents, not their party leaders.  That promise was teased with a growing contingent of Independent politicians toward the end of last parliamentary session.  They worked across party lines; they were often seen conferring with colleagues from most stripes.  Those with less time to speak up in the House were finding creative ways to share the microphone.  Insiders were being upfront about the bureaucratic challenges that can prevent efficient timelines in the seat of power.

Any promise of a seismic shift was largely dashed when Jody Wilson-Raybould became the only Independent Member of Parliament elected into the House of Commons.  In a statement posted to her website Dr. Philpott wrote, “There is an appetite, a thirst to change our political culture in a positive way.”

Dr. Philpott certainly would have been a force in bringing that change to the Hill, had she been re-elected, but her background as a family doctor and an understanding of the inner workings of government has set the former cabinet minister up to be a strong voice amid COVID-19.

She’s been active on Twitter, calling on the provincial governments to offer up more transparency in the form of a daily tracker of COVID-19 cases.  Dr. Philpott can be read in Maclean’s, where a recent piece says, “Public officials in the country should be obsessed with protecting the health workers who will keep people alive.”  Most notably, she’s been on the frontlines at the Markham Stouffville Hospital treating patients.  She’s been so busy she was unable to commit to an interview for this piece.

In an alternate electoral environment, Dr. Philpott would be the ideal Minister of Health to guide us through a pandemic.  By then a seasoned cabinet minister with plenty of medical experience, one can see the appeal.  It is worth noting, Minister Hajdu is doing a fine job.  She brings strong empathy to an incredibly challenging job, especially with her background from both the Thunder Bay District Health Unit and Shelter House.

Instead a perfect political storm has fashioned Dr. Philpott into the right person to advocate for Canadians outside of cabinet constraints.  She’s no stranger to critiquing the government, she comes with international and local medical expertise and she knows the behind-the-scenes in key cabinet portfolios like health, indigenous services and the treasury board.

Her active Twitter feed advocates for immediate action and plans for a  future that won’t be tied down by COVID-19.  She asks for clear data, calls for more money in research and points out vulnerable communities risk getting left behind.

In a recent digital conference, she asked the question: Are you an advocate, an ally or an activist?  I would argue Philpott is all three.  She’s maintained her allyship to Indigenous communities through her work with Nishnawbe Aski Nation and continues to point out the resources some First Nations lack to successfully self-isolate.  As an activist she holds our public health system to account every single day.  Most importantly, she may be our greatest advocate.  Dr. Philpott knows the system, the language and the action we need to get through COVID-19.

I often think about the untapped promise she could have brought to our electoral system but a year on from the SNC Lavalin affair, I’m glad to watch her flourish outside the House of Commons.

Pandemics are scary: they move unpredictably, they impact every aspect of our lives and we become dependent on our elected officials.  We have slowly started to accept we are in our current way of life for the long haul, with every COVID-19 related uncertainty.  At least one thing remains unchanged, Dr. Philpott will keep fighting for our health, our safety and for the best version of our political system.  She certainly doesn’t need Parliament Hill to speak up on behalf of Canadians.

Photo Credit: Global News

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