Independent, but at what cost? 


"We're on a road to nowhere
Come on inside
Takin' that ride to nowhere
We'll take that ride"

— David Byrne, Talking Heads

Compared to the train wreck that started this whole business, the announcement this week that the JWR-JP Righteous Railway was going to run on an independent track garnered little interest and even less press. The prevailing mood among commentators seemed to be good riddance; now please just shut up and go away.

Too pure, too delicate for politics as they have existed for as long as anyone with a firm grasp of history can remember, Jody Wilson-Raybould (JWR) and Jane Philpott (JP) have formed a partnership—of sorts—and headed down the rabbit hole into a world of unicorns, rainbows and cotton candy clouds. It's a world where politics is done a different way: Their way!

Both former Liberal ministers have decided to run as independents in this fall's election. Both were spouting the kind of nonsense that has fuelled populist movements from Brexit to Trump to strongman dictators around the globe. They want to be beholden to no one but their constituents and their consciences. This, of course is shorthand for they want to do things the way they want to do them.

Ms. Philpott's comment that the " ... only people that are the boss of me right now are you," is the kind of pabulum hyperbole that appeals to voters with half a brain and unshakable belief in what they believe in as being the one true path. Sadly, for both those voters and Ms. Philpott, the people to whom she refers fall along the political continuum from right to left. Her riding in Ontario swings between Liberal and Conservative with the regularity of a well-lubricated pendulum. They speak with many voices while Ms. Philpott only wants to hear her own. Not those of lobbyists, party leaders, staffers or bureaucrats. Mama knows best.

The reality of her departure from cabinet and expulsion from caucus is almost certain to be retirement from politics and the freedom to pursue whatever else for which she may be suited. It is also almost a certainty that pendulum will swing toward the Conservatives and her riding will be represented by someone who believes in even fewer unicorns than herself. But a double loss is totally acceptable if it means she can remain pure as the driven snow.

She, and others for whom she has become a philosophical rallying point, have either forgotten or, more likely, failed to learn the lesson so graphically played out three years ago south of the border.

Those who wanted politics done differently threw their heart and soul behind Bernie Sanders. Avuncular Bernie believes in the kinds of things they believed in—universal health care, free university tuition, punishing taxes on the rich and other socialist pipe dreams in a country where socialist is a dirty word. When politics the old way threw its weight behind Hillary Clinton and threw Bernie under the bus, they cried foul. Then they had a tantrum and just cried. Then they dropped out, stayed home, didn't vote and watched Donald Trump get elected, notwithstanding receiving fewer actual votes than his opponent.

Let's be generous. Let's imagine none of them wanted Trump to be elected. It's hard to believe anyone who supported Bernie would support Trump. But their guy didn't get in. Their way was refuted by the party machine. Their voices weren't heard or if they were heard they weren't listened to, which is shorthand for they didn't get their own way and they were going to show them. It was the petulant minority, not his core supporters, who gave the reins of power to the madman.

And in a much milder way, that is quite likely what the JWR-JP juggernaut may do for Smilin' Andy Scheer. Their pique, their naivety, their rigidity has given voice to people who will fail to see any good in what the Liberal government has accomplished in its current term. Their spotlight will only show the dark corners and their complaints about being bullied by "unelected staffers" will resonate among so many who have spent their whole lives being told what to do by someone who they believe just doesn't understand them and how right they and their ideas are.

Ms. Wilson-Raybould is a walking paradox. Hers is the mindset of a dictator. Her mind is like a steel trap, once closed it's never to be reopened and, frankly, she doesn't even want to hear from anyone who might have a different point of view. While she claims to want to "... transform our political culture ... " the only transformation she wants to accomplish is to reshape it to suit her own beliefs.

When she says political parties might wither away in the face of a new group of independent candidates that will build a parliament of consensus builders, it sounds like a good idea. But then you have to remember this is coming from someone who only wants to build a consensus of people who believe she's right and everyone else is wrong.

Elizabeth May dodged a bullet when the JWR-JP train twins decided not to join the Green Party. While Ms. May's Greenies are pretty philosophically pure, they are so in a vacuum of powerlessness. By contrast, the BC Green Party, the only Green Party holding the balance of power in this country, have been more than willing to abandon their beliefs and support any number of the orange initiatives of John Horgan such as Site C and LNG. (Ironically, orange is one of the colours opposite to green on the colour wheel, both being secondary colours.)

JWR and JP could never tolerate such compromise. The very fact the twins have chosen the independent path is a clear sign they can't work with any party and want things to be the way they want them.

Politics is a team sport. Wishing it weren't ain't going to make it so. The party structure is, arguably, the only reason anything gets accomplished. Canadians waver between the two major parties federally and sometimes dally with one or another of the minor parties provincially depending on their coefficient of dissatisfaction. A parliament of independents would be a cacophony of angry voices, each wanting what they want and being unwilling to compromise—a recipe sure to accomplish nothing.

While we'd all like to see party leaders take their foot off the partisan pedal occasionally and join each other to get more accomplished, the fact anything gets done is a result of parties bringing their own members to bear on a piece of legislation, notwithstanding the fact some of them would prefer to not support it.

The politics of JWR-JP are the politics of small minds and even smaller accomplishments. Let us hope they both enjoy life after politics.


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