VANCOUVER — “It’s been a very hard year,” Markham-Stouffville candidate Jane Philpott said as she took the stage in support of fellow independent candidate Jody Wilson-Raybould in Vancouver Wednesday night.
“None of us could’ve predicted being here tonight under these circumstances.”
Philpott is right — though “hard year” is an understatement.
But at Wednesday night’s rally at Vancouver’s Hellenic Community Centre, the mood was optimistic for both candidates. Hundreds of supporters crowded into the space to show their support for Wilson-Raybould — and Philpott by extension. The night crackled with chants of “honour,” “courage” and “integrity” for the two former cabinet ministers.
Both left the Liberals earlier this year following the SNC-Lavalin affair. An independent ethics commissioner has ruled that Trudeau improperly influenced Wilson-Raybould — who was then the attorney general and justice minister — to intervene in criminal proceedings involving engineering company SNC-Lavalin.
Wilson-Raybould refused, and testified about the affair in February. She was demoted from her cabinet seat in January and subsequently kicked out of the party.
Philpott resigned from cabinet in March, citing her inability to reconcile with the Liberals’ handling of the affair. She was later removed from caucus, along with Wilson-Raybould, by Justin Trudeau.
WATCH: A timeline of the SNC-Lavalin affair. Story continues below.
Both are now running as independents in Vancouver Granville (Wilson-Raybould) and Markham-Stouffville (Philpott) and are arguably the highest profile independent candidates in those ridings in recent years.
That profile was reflected in the turnout for Wednesday’s rally, which had a line around the block prior to opening its doors. Wilson-Raybould’s campaign raked in donations throughout the night, and organizers said they sold nearly 100 “Team Jody” shirts during the event.
The night began with welcomes from leaders from the Squamish and Musqueam nations, who both cited Wilson-Raybould’s status as a role-model for young Indigenous girls.
Musqueam chief Wayne Sparrow called it an “honour and a privilege” to speak in support of Wilson-Raybould.
“It’s about time people see how powerful First Nations women are,” he said during his remarks.
Elizabeth May endorses Jody Wilson-Raybould
The rally included a surprise appearance from Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, who spoke for five minutes ahead of Philpott and Wilson-Raybould. May focused on the role of independent voices in parliament, citing her concerns over “backdoor” party politics.
“I’m here to honour the highest level of ethical conduct,” May said. “I’m here to honour courage. I’m here to honour integrity.”
May was first elected as an MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands in 2011, but has served as Green Party leader since 2006. She was the lone Green MP until earlier this year, when Paul Manly won the Nanaimo-Ladysmith byelection after NDP MP Sheila Malcolmson resigned to run provincially.
“If this isn’t doing politics differently, I don’t know what is,″ May said at Wednesday’s rally.
Wilson-Raybould attended May’s wedding to fellow Green candidate John Kidder in April.
May’s appearance at the rally suggests an endorsement of Wilson-Raybould in Vancouver Granville, despite the Greens also running a candidate in the riding.
“[The Green Party] constitution requires we have a name on the ballot,” May told reporters following the rally.
“What can one seat in the House of Commons do? Well, look at Elizabeth May!”
May said the candidate, Louise Boutin, was aware that she was out supporting Wilson-Raybould.
Philpott referenced May in her speech, calling her an inspiration for independent and small-party candidates, focusing on how she long served as the only elected member of her party in parliament.
“What can one seat in the House of Commons do?” she said. “Well, look at Elizabeth May!”
‘Integrity, courage, honour’
In both of their remarks, Wilson-Raybould and Philpott highlighted their perspective on the “integrity” of running as independents.
“Truth to power is of course important, but so too is the power of truth,” Wilson-Raybould said. “Where truths are shaped to meet a partisan agenda, that is no longer truthful.”
Wilson-Raybould also highlighted her status as an Indigenous woman and talked about how that could’ve played into her treatment around SNC-Lavalin.
“When a woman pushes back, they are easily and reflexively labelled as difficult,” she said. “If doing those things is difficult, then I’m proud to be difficult every single day of my life.”
Philpott also stressed adversarial independence.
“We will not be silent and we will not stand down,” Philpott said.
Wilson-Raybould is facing off against Liberal party challenger, Taleeb Noormohamed, Yvonne Hanson for the NDP, Zach Segal for the Conservatives, and Naomi Chocyk, a one-time constituency staffer for Wilson-Raybould, for the People’s Party of Canada.
She is also set to appear at a rally in Philpott’s riding in Ontario later this week.
Response to the Trudeau brownface photo
While she didn’t cite it in her formal remarks, following the event Wilson-Raybould addressed the photo surfaced by Time Magazine Wednesday that showed Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau in brownface at an “Arabian Nights” themed event in 2001.
She said when she first saw the photo, she couldn’t believe it was real.
“I’m incredibly proud to be an Indigenous person in this country, one that has experienced racism and discrimination,” Wilson-Raybould said. “It’s completely unacceptable for anyone in a position of authority to do something like that.”
Meanwhile, May doubled down on statements regarding the photo she made earlier on Twitter, calling it incredibly racist.
“There’s a lot of racism in Canada,” she said.
May also noted that while Trudeau apologized within the hour about the brownface photo, he still has not apologized for “pressuring” Wilson-Raybould.
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