Promoting voting with the Full Pull

What are your plans for October 11 to 21? We need you in Markham-Stouffville! Book some time off work if you can. We’re working to inspire voting on a grand scale. We hope Markham-Stouffville will have the best voter turnout in years. We want every qualified voter in our riding to exercise their democratic right – no matter whom they vote for! We would like to knock on door of every home in the riding in the 10 days leading up to the election and on e-day itself. It's called the Full Pull. Regardless of whether constituents are Jane Philpott supporters or not, our goal is to remind everyone to vote and help them get to the polls. 

This is one more way we’re doing politics differently. It’s a “Get out the vote” strategy like you’ve never seen before. I was inspired to attempt the Full Pull after reading Dave Meslin’s book called “Teardown: Rebuilding democracy from the ground up.”

This contrasts with the strategy they teach in campaign colleges and what all the major political parties have done for decades now. The big parties spend the entire election period trying to figure out who’s for them and who’s against them. They build a big database using expensive software, usually collected on mobile apps, all with the goal of determining who is likely to vote, and who is likely to vote for them.

Then on election day (or starting with the advance polls) the parties selectively knock only on the doors of the people they believe to be supporters. They spend weeks organizing their maps and routes, so on election day volunteers will walk past all the doors of people who are likely to vote for opponents. They interact only with the citizens expected to vote for their party candidate. The theory is that you don’t want to mobilize your opponent’s fans to get out on election day. Meslin describes it as the greatest voter suppression scheme in history.

So, what’s our plan? We want everyone to vote whether they vote for me or an opponent. We especially want to inspire people who don’t usually vote, to get out and exercise their democratic right. We want to all citizens to be engaged in democracy. Casting a ballot is one of the most fundamental acts of democratic freedom.

We want everyone to know all the times they can vote including the advance polling days from 9 am to 9 pm on the Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday of the weekend before election day. There is an Elections Canada office in our riding at 144 Main Street North, Unit 206, in Markham where citizens can vote by special now – any day, seven days a week, up until the Tuesday before election day. On election day, October 21, the polls will be open from 9:30 am to 9:30 pm. If you need information on where to vote on election day, please contact Elections Canada at 1-800-463-6868.

So, how can you help our independent campaign? I need your help to knock on doors – over 40,000 doors in 11 days. This will be our second time around the riding since our campaign began. It will be an opportunity to remind the people of Markham-Stouffville of the importance of getting out to vote.

Please join us as often as you can for any of the shifts listed below. You’ll be put in a small team that will be given a map and you’ll go out and encourage everyone in that area to vote. Democracy is too important to be taken for granted. We need to work to preserve and strengthen it. This is a perfect opportunity to get involved.

Please click the links below for any shifts you can attend. RSVP to as many as possible and then make your plans to show up at the time and place indicated for that shift. Thanks for contributing to a healthy democracy!

SIGN UP NOW FOR FULL PULL SHIFTS

Friday October 11 at 10 am starting at Canvass Home Centre B

Friday October 11 at 1 pm starting at Campaign Headquarters

Saturday October 12 at 10 am starting at Campaign Headquarters

Saturday October 12 at 1 pm starting at Campaign Headquarters

Monday October 14 at 1 pm starting at Canvass Home Centre A

Tuesday October 15 at 10 am starting at Campaign Headquarters

Tuesday October 15 at 1 pm starting at Campaign Headquarters

Tuesday October 15 at 5 pm starting at Canvass Home Centre B

Wednesday October 16 at 10 am starting at Campaign Headquarters

Wednesday October 16 at 1 pm starting at Campaign Headquarters

Wednesday October 16 at 4 pm starting at Canvass Home Centre A

Thursday October 17 at 10 am starting at Campaign Headquarters

Thursday October 17 at 1 pm starting at Campaign Headquarters

Thursday October 17 at 5 pm starting at Campaign Headquarters

Friday October 18 at 10 am starting at Canvass Home Centre B

Friday October 18 at 1 pm starting at Campaign Headquarters

Saturday October 19 at 10 am starting at Campaign Headquarters

Saturday October 19 at 1 pm starting at Campaign Headquarters

Saturday October 19 at 3 pm starting at Campaign Headquarters

Sunday October 20 at 1 pm starting at Campaign Headquarters

Monday October 21 at 9 am starting in Markham

Monday October 21 at 9 am starting at Campaign Headquarters

Monday October 21 at 11 am starting in Markham

Monday October 21 at 11 am starting at Campaign Headquarters

Monday October 21 at 1 pm starting in Markham

Monday October 21 at 1 pm starting at Campaign Headquarters

Monday October 21 at 3 pm starting in Markham

Monday October 21 at 3 pm starting at Campaign Headquarters

Monday October 21 at 5 pm starting in Markham

Monday October 21 at 5 pm starting at Campaign Headquarters

 

 


Advancing reconciliation

Justice for Indigenous peoples is essential to the future well-being of Canada. If I have the privilege of being re-elected as Member of Parliament for Markham-Stouffville, one of my priorities will be the ongoing work of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. Less than one percent of the population of this riding is Indigenous. Nonetheless, truth and reconciliation matter to the people of our community.

Of all the things I learned in four years as a Member of Parliament, some of the most important lessons were about our history as a nation as it relates to our relationship with the first peoples of this land.

I was given a perspective that is afforded to few Canadians. As a cabinet minister, I visited the territory of many First Nations, Inuit and Métis. I sat in circles with elders, grandmothers, Chiefs and councils, youth, and other groups. I listened to their stories to learn about their history, their traditions, their joys and their pain. I observed the remarkable resilience of Indigenous peoples and how unique cultures have been sustained despite Canada’s historic policies of domination and assimilation. 

I visited Tahltan First Nation in northern British Columbia to observe the staggering devastation of the 2018 wildfires. Behind the tragic loss of hectares of forest, I could see the magnificent beauty of the traditional territory. Even more impressive was the grace and strength of the Chief and his people as they dedicated themselves with whole-hearted determination to rebuild their homes and their community.

On the opposite coast, I recall a community with equally vivid natural beauty on the coast of Labrador. I visited Nain in 2017 for the Inuit-Crown Partnership Committee meetings. It was a great opportunity to see this community and strengthen my relationship with the President of the Nunatsiavut government. This would become important, less than a year later, when there was a tuberculosis outbreak in Nain, and I was able to respond quickly to the President’s requests for more nursing support and X-ray equipment.

There were numerous memorable visits with Métis communities. One was the gathering of Métis youth in Winnipeg to advise the government regarding co-developed legislation on Indigenous child welfare. I listened to thoughtful, articulate Métis youth who had grown up in the child welfare system. Their stories were heartbreaking. Their advice and recommendations were pragmatic and wise.

I had many visits to northern Ontario, including one to Pikangikum with the Prime Minister. While meeting with community leaders, the Chief introduced a councillor and described that she lives in a two-bedroom house with more than 20 other family members. He explained how she and her family must sleep in shifts so everyone will get time in a bed. One young person had to drop out of high school because he was exhausted. The boy couldn’t study because he couldn’t get a decent night’s sleep. The critical infrastructure needs are more alarming when you learn that more than half of the homes in Pikangikum do not have running water or functional plumbing. This is happening in Canada – in an affluent province in this affluent country -- today. 

The injustices and inequities are shocking, and they should be more broadly understood and urgently addressed. The most important thing I learned is how the social inequities are rooted in the denial of rights. For generations, in this country, we have had laws, policies and practices that discriminate against Indigenous peoples.

At the same time, there is a path to reconciliation. It starts with the truth. If we were not taught the truth in school, it is not too late to learn. We will not achieve reconciliation without confronting the truths of our collective past. The future is the opportunity to set things right. We can move forward as a country to right the wrongs of our shared past and follow the path forward together. That path must include the recognition and affirmation of the inherent and Treaty rights of Indigenous peoples, including the right to self-determination.

In 1996, Canada received the report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. It included the following assertion: “What Aboriginal people need is straightforward, if not simple: Control over their lives in place of the well-meaning but ruinous paternalism of past Canadian governments; lands, resources and self-chosen governments with which to reconstruct social, economic and political order; time, space and respect from Canada to heal their spirits and revitalize their cultures.”

There are great examples of what happens when the right to self-determination is respected. One of the most beautiful ceremonies I attended as Minister of Indigenous Services, was a 2018 celebration in Alberta to witness the transfer of authority to the Maskwacis Education Schools Commission to run 11 schools. There is abundant evidence that education authorities or health authorities run by First Nations for First Nations achieve far better outcomes, while implementing the right to self-determination.

I will continue learning about the history and present-day realities of Indigenous peoples in Canada. People in Markham-Stouffville share this commitment to better understand the truth and to advocate for Indigenous rights and justice. The City of Markham has established an agreement of cultural collaboration with Eabametoong First Nation to promote harmony and goodwill between the two communities and cultures. The Town of Whitchurch-Stouffville has helped residents learn more about the large 16th century Huron-Wendat settlement that once stood on the land where houses have been built. These are just two examples of how the people and municipalities of Markham and Stouffville are developing positive, mutually respectful relationships with First Nations to advance the work of reconciliation. It has been a great honour, as MP, to support such important work. There is much more to do.

What are your ideas about advancing reconciliation?

 


The strength of independence

Supporting an independent candidate in Canada is an act of optimism. It’s a way of saying politics can be different. Politics can be better. Electing capable independent Members of Parliament (MPs) can improve the political landscape and promote positive democratic reform.

Some people wonder how I will make an impact as an independent MP. The fact is, when I became an independent MP, I didn’t lose my voice. I found my voice. I can speak freely on behalf of the people of Markham-Stouffville. In the first few months as an independent MP, I had many occasions for speeches and questions in the House of Commons. I proposed amendments to legislation at committees. I have opportunities through media to raise issues that matter to people in my riding. I work across party lines to push policy decisions that improve the lives of people in our community and across the country.

We have only begun to experience the public good that could result from having a group of smart, hard-working, independent MPs elected to represent their constituents. Some political pundits note that independent candidates rarely get elected in Canada. Other sceptics say that if by some chance independent MPs are elected, they will be powerless. Those naysayers lack imagination. They fail to envision how politics could be improved by increasing the number of legislators who freely represent their constituents and collaborate well with others.

It’s true that few independent MPs have been elected as such in Canada. We shouldn’t limit our vision to the way things have been done before but dream of how democracy could be stronger. The model of independent MPs works in other countries. It could work here too. We should look to the future, not the past. I would not be running in this election if I weren’t firmly convinced that I can serve my community well and get things done for the betterment of our country as an independent MP.

Independent MPs can speak solely on behalf of their constituents. Partisan MPs, whether backbenchers or cabinet ministers, are pressured to follow party messaging in everything they say.  They are almost always told how to vote by their party and their leader. That’s not how democracy is supposed to work. Democracy depends on MPs having the freedom to speak up for their constituents. Political parties are necessary to provide structure and organization. But over time, they have seized power that rightfully belongs to citizens. That’s harmful to democracy.

The other problem with the hyper-partisan environment that has evolved in Ottawa is the constant fighting and division. To solve the big challenges, politicians must work across party lines. I want to champion a collaborative approach to politics. In other sectors of society, people with different worldviews work together and sharpen one another. It makes for better business and better non-profit organizations. It’s time for more cooperation in politics as well.

In Ottawa, I was disturbed to watch how some partisans spend most of their time trying to make colleagues from the other parties fail. If every MP is in the House of Commons seeking the best for their constituents and we are each seeking the best interests of Canada, then we should want every other MP to be successful, regardless of their party. MPs are not in Ottawa to fight and to win. We are there to represent our constituents and help unify our country, not divide it. 

No one should underestimate the opportunity that is before us to make politics better by electing more independent-minded MPs. The next parliament could include dozens of MPs who are independent or with smaller parties. We could hold the balance of power. This means that the bigger parties may need to come to us to negotiate for support. Free-voting MPs could negotiate action on files of great concern to their constituents.

It’s time for a change in our political culture. We must better embrace open-mindedness, respectful critique and independent thinking. We will improve the functioning of government when Canadians elect more independent politicians from diverse backgrounds and then unleash their creative, collaborative potential.

Would you like to support our campaign? Sign up here to volunteer.


Collaboration on climate action

As a family doctor and a mom, I’m concerned about climate change. I care because of our basic needs for clean air and water. They are essential for good health. Respiratory illnesses like asthma and infectious diseases like Lyme are directly related to a warming climate and extreme weather. Climate change also has dramatic impacts on health and safety with more floods, droughts, heatwaves, wildfires and severe storms. This is not to mention the potential loss of entire communities as sea levels rise. 

Recognizing the impacts of climate change and knowing that human activity is the main cause has led Canadians to mobilize in support of climate action. Almost every day, I hear from constituents who understand their individual and collective responsibility to act. Over history, there are countless examples of societies facing catastrophe and it’s remarkable how people galvanize. It’s this kind of collective energy we need to rally in the face of climate change. Working together, we can address the climate crisis in a way none of us could on our own.

However, elected officials have unique obligations to lead on climate action. We should be held to account for how we will protect this planet for generations to come. Sadly, like so many political debates, action on climate change has become poisoned by excessive partisanship. Instead of working together to confront the common threat, politicians waste precious time fighting one another, searching for differences (called “wedges”) to drive voters away from their opponents. 

Each political party comes up with its own climate action plan as they ignore or criticize ideas presented by other parties. The party sells its plan as the best and the only one that will work. But partisan plans have more in common than one might think and none gets it totally right. How could they if they don’t acknowledge the best ideas from others? Political partisanship will not provide the peace of mind of knowing our children and grandchildren will be able to thrive on this planet for generations.

Colouring outside the party lines 

There is no shortage of evidence about what needs to be done to prevent the worst outcomes of climate change. Elected officials have a collective power to implement smart policies that will make or break our future. Each of us has an obligation to learn from best experts in Canada and around the globe and then figure out how to work together to implement a robust action plan. We need the best minds from all political persuasions. We must not get caught up in who leads the charge or who will get the credit.

As an independent Member of Parliament, I will be in a strong position to work across party lines to advance the best climate solutions for Canada. A Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change already exists. I propose the next government should swiftly establish two new bodies to build support for the climate action framework, improve it where necessary, and ensure its implementation. The first should be an empowered committee of parliamentarians representing all parties and independents. The second should be an arms-length body of climate experts who will provide oversight and accountability.

Emission reduction targets to avoid worst-case scenarios

Global action on a mass scale won’t happen without serious commitment to bold targets. Canada should lead in setting and meeting targets to help avoid the worst consequences of climate change. We need emission reduction targets firmly aligned with limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Canada set a target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) by 30 percent against 2005 levels by 2030. But that target is widely perceived to be insufficient and we are not even on track to meet it. Climate experts insist GHGs must be reduced by 50 to 60 percent against 2005 levels by 2030. We must improve our emission-reduction targets and legislate them for accountability.

The price on pollution 

No one wants to pay more for our daily activities. But experts are nearly unanimous that the most efficient, effective policy tool to reduce harmful emissions is a small fee added to activities and products associated with high GHG emissions. Support for this approach comes from academics, activists, oil and gas executives and leading economists. Similar public health mechanisms have worked to reduce use of other unhealthy products like tobacco and ozone-killing chlorofluorocarbons. At the front end, we acknowledge the public cost for activities that harm public health. This incents everyone to think about how to reduce potential harms and adjust our choices accordingly. Another positive feature of pollution-pricing in provinces like Ontario and Saskatchewan, is that all the money raised goes back to Canadians through the Climate Action Incentive. Most of us will come out ahead financially while we’ve all been forced to think about reducing our carbon footprint.

Incentives and regulations to transition Canada to a low-carbon economy

A price on pollution is essential but it won’t be enough. We must expedite the transition to a clean economy. We must share a grand vision for a nation powered by 100 percent renewable energy. A 100 percent green future is achievable as we harness energy from wind, water, solar and other sources. The right incentives and regulations will encourage Canadian individuals and companies to embrace the transition to a low-carbon economy.  

  • Investing in new careers: Thousands of Canadians depend on jobs in the fossil fuel sector. But the new, clean economy is even better at creating jobs than the fossil fuel sector. If we were to take the same dollars the government plans to spend on expanding pipelines and invest instead in the green economy, that would create a much higher number of new jobs and careers. This will require training and income support for workers as they transition out of the fossil fuel industry into the green economy, as well as investments in clean technology innovation. 
  • Electrification on a grand scale: Over 80 percent of Canada’s electricity is already zero-carbon. Electrifying every sector of our society is key to Canada’s great energy transition. Sustainable Canada Dialogues (SCD) is a network of over 80 researchers from across Canada.  SCD reports confirm that “Canada could reach 100% reliance on low-carbon electricity by 2035.”
  • Cleaner transportation: Carbon emissions caused by transportation account for about 26% of Canada’s total emissions. In order to reduce this,  we need to expand affordable mass transit in and between communities, as I have proposed for Markham-Stouffville. Both regulations and incentives can play a role to spur sales and demand for zero-emission vehicles.  The Clean Fuel Standard will also play in important role in reducing emissions caused by transportation. 

Collaboration is our only hope

There is so much room for progress. I’ve only touched on a few good policy ideas. We can make our food systems more sustainable. We can retrofit every building for energy efficiency and ensure that new construction is Net Zero Ready by 2030. We can restore ecosystems by planting millions of trees.

But none of this is possible unless policy makers stop arguing, start collaborating and make climate action the grand collective project of this generation. As an independent MP, I’m determined to bring together the best and boldest ideas from across the country. Protecting this planet for our children and grandchildren will take courage and commitment from every Canadian. Let’s get to work!

What are your ideas for supporting climate action?


The heroes of democracy

If you think volunteering on a political campaign is glamorous, think again. It isn’t. It’s good old-fashioned hard work. It means picking up the phone and making calls to people you do not know. It requires listening to ideas and questions you would have never imagined. It takes knocking on doors through wind and rain and heat and snow. Many, many doors. It necessitates plenty of grace and patience as you find your place in a team of passionate, strong-minded and sometimes charmingly quirky people. But you know what? It could turn out to be the best experience of your life. And it’s the lifeblood of democracy.

There may be a few people who get elected without the hard work of building a team and doing the heavy lifting. But that’s not the norm. Some people imagine that campaigns are like what you see on Netflix where well-dressed people sit around fancy offices talking strategy and debating the latest polls. In my experience, a real campaign is ordinary people, working their hearts out, not looking for glory, but wanting more than anything to see their country made stronger, healthier and fairer. They’re willing to walk for hours, for weeks on end to knock on doors even if it means sweating on a hot Saturday in July or freezing on a windy Sunday in February. They summon up the courage to ask for help – on the phone or at the door – asking for votes, for donations, and for sign locations.

The people who do the hard work of campaigns are the heroes of democracy. I watch the people who are volunteering for me now and their actions warm my heart. I’m stunned by their generosity, by the way they give of themselves, not looking for credit, but simply wanting to help, wanting to contribute to the team. They don’t take peace and justice for granted. They’re willing to be the boots on the ground in the democratic effort to preserve our freedoms and improve our country.

I have a strong contingent of volunteers in this grassroots movement. But guess what? I need more help. We’ve got a serious race on our hands here in Markham-Stouffville. I’m asking for more people to be part of our work, our effort to make politics better in Canada. While we have the most amazing team, there are structural disadvantages in running as an independent. Our electoral rules give advantages to the mainstream political parties and the status-quo. The parties fundraise with less restrictions and deploy resources across the country. Party machines are built to win elections. 

That’s why I’m issuing a call to action, for anyone in Markham-Stouffville and across this country who wants to be part of a movement for a new kind of politics. Here are five of the best ways you can help. 

1. Volunteering

There are many ways you can help. You can take photos at events, greet commuters at the GO station or help in the campaign office. We’d love to train you to make phone calls. It's a fantastic way to learn from and connect with our community. Volunteer needs are listed here.

2. Canvassing

Please join us for door knocking in the community, whether you can do it once or twice or every day. The people of Markham-Stouffville are wonderful and receptive to our positive message, but I need much more help to reach at least 40,000 doors! Sign up for a canvass now!

3. Sign up for a Sign

When the election writ is issued in September, we want to be ready to get out our signs. If you live in Markham-Stouffville, please sign up now for a lawn sign that will be installed once the election period starts.

4. Social Media

You can follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Sign up for e-mail updates from the campaign. It’s very helpful if you like, share, comment and retweet to amplify our positive messages. Please add encouraging messages to the comment threads.

5. Donate

I hope you will consider making a donation to my campaign.  Running a campaign takes imagination, organization and determination. But we also need financial resources for signs and many other needs.  

Despite the barriers we face, our growing campaign for positive political change will be successful with your support.  Thanks for being part of the movement. Please share this message among your networks.


Transportation and Markham-Stouffville

Markham-Stouffville is a beautiful community, with the Rouge National Urban Park at our doorstep, charming neighbourhoods and farmland all around us. But when it comes to public transit, the options are limited. Many residents commute to work, sometimes driving up to three hours per day. Better transit infrastructure would enhance our quality of life.   

One new opportunity has emerged that could expand transit options, support growth in the regional economy and even help combat climate change.  Last month, the federal government announced funding to support a plan for high frequency VIA Rail service in Ontario and Quebec. The new funding will support feasibility studies and environmental assessment. As part of the studies VIA Rail is looking to create additional routes along lesser-used tracks including a possible new route between Toronto and Ottawa via Peterborough. A passenger service on this line would go right through Markham-Stouffville on an existing track. A consultation process will launch soon and the people of our community need to be heard. The VIA Rail announcement offers positive potential for Markham-Stouffville. It is possible that such a dedicated transportation line would have up to 15 trains a day on a Toronto - Peterborough - Ottawa line. Early information suggests these trains could be servicing the region as soon as 2024.  

VIA Rail will be studying routes and stops for the potential new passenger lines. Currently there is no planned stop to pick up and drop off passengers in our community. I want to hear your perspective. I believe many residents would benefit from such a service and as your Member of Parliament, I would work to ensure that your concerns and preferences are well represented.

The move towards high frequency rail travel is consistent with the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the need to transition to a low-carbon economy. While I recognize passenger rail options may not benefit everyone in the community, we need to make public transit an easier choice and encourage its use if we are to reduce traffic congestion and protect the environment. A passenger rail stop in Markham-Stouffville could encourage residents to take reliable public transport for their business and recreational travel. It could open economic opportunities, bring visitors to the Rouge National Urban Park and contribute to the creation of new jobs.

Pickering Lands

The VIA announcement is one more reason why I do not support the development of a Pickering airport.  There is no good evidence of a sound business case demonstrating a need for an airport in the Pickering Lands. The 2017 - 2037 Master Plan for Pearson Airport indicates enough capacity over the next two decades to meet the growing demand for air travel. 

Building another large airport is inconsistent with the crucial transition of our nation to a low-carbon economy.  Many residents tell me their concerns about the impact an airport would have on our local environment, farmlands and local wildlife, including the Rouge National Urban Park. Investing in more environmentally friendly infrastructure like high-frequency passenger rail makes more sense than spending billions of public dollars on an airport.

Transport Canada has conducted an Aviation Sector Analysis for the Pickering Lands. The final phase was completed in spring 2019 but no report has been released publicly. As we await this report, I am prepared to confirm that I do not support moving ahead with an airport because of the need to protect our environment and some of the finest agricultural land in the country.  I also note that any decision regarding the future of the Pickering Lands must be done in consultation with the community, including farmers and Indigenous peoples in the region.  

Alternative transportation solutions, including high-frequency passenger rail service, could help improve the quality of life in our community and address some of the causes of climate change. We must invest in sustainable infrastructure to protect our environment and grow our local economy. Together, we can make Markham-Stouffville a leader in healthy living and significantly contribute towards Canada’s important transition to a prosperous clean economy. 

 


Three resolutions for Canada Day

It’s Canada Day and across this vast land, people are celebrating the true north, strong and free. We have every right to be proud of a nation that is so beautiful, peaceful and prosperous. I grew up in small-town Ontario and benefited greatly from what this country has to offer – public education, public health care and opportunities for girls to pursue a career of their dreams.

Yet, even a great country like Canada can always strive to be better. We can practice continuous quality improvement. The truth is that not all Canadians have fair access to the public benefits in which we take pride. We are facing threats as a nation (and a planet) that won’t be solved unless we become the very best version of ourselves. I’d like to propose three Canada Day commitments we could take individually and/or collectively that could help us be even stronger.

For Canada Day, here are three resolutions to consider:

  1. Get to know our country better
  2. Get to know one another
  3. Get to work together on the big challenges ahead

Get to know our country better

In the 3½ years that I was a cabinet minister, the biggest privilege I enjoyed was to travel the country and see places that very few Canadians get to visit. From Telegraph Creek in British Columbia to Inuvik in the Northwest Territories to Nain in Labrador, I saw more extraordinary beauty than my eyes could take in. I also met some of the kindest, bravest people I’ve known in my 58 years on this planet. I learned truths about this country and its history that I could have never learned from a book. It made me proud of the landscape and heritage of our nation. But it also made me realize how many people in the country have been (and continue to be) treated unjustly by our social and political systems.

Sadly, most Canadians won’t get the opportunity to travel as widely as I did over those 3½ years. But each of us could find some way to get to know our country better. That could be from studying our history through books (like Roy McGregor’s Canoe Country or Thomas King’s The Inconvenient Indian) or documents (like the final report the Truth and Reconciliation Commission). Perhaps better still, many of us could find a way to travel a little and explore more within our own country. Scott Gilmore wrote a great article earlier this year, called A Nation of Strangers, in which he articulates beautifully why and how we could do a better job of getting to know our extraordinary land. This brings me to the second resolution.

Get to know one another

It was the late, great Mr. Fred Rogers who said: “Frankly there isn’t anyone you couldn’t learn to love once you’ve heard their story.” I believe that’s true. I acknowledge my own privilege in this regard. I spent three decades as a family doctor, where my job was all about getting to know people. I listened every day to the intimate and interesting stories of people’s lives, with the goal of helping them attain the highest possible level of health and wellness. The more we listen to one another, the more we know that regardless of skin colour, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, abilities, way of dressing – or any other way we categorize one another, we are all humans – with similar dreams, fears, and heartaches. We’re all fragile and we’re all wonderfully complex.

Canada is a nation where migrants from all over the world have come to join the first peoples of the land, to share and care for its resources. We pride ourselves in our diversity and acknowledge the strength that comes from including all cultures into our national mosaic. But we could do better at getting to know one another. There is too much temptation to distrust or misinterpret people whose history and culture is different from our own. Canada Day is a good time to think about how we can listen more to one another and get to know our neighbours. What are your ideas about how we can do this?

Get to work together

This is my greatest hope on Canada Day. We cannot think of Canada’s future without acknowledging the massive challenges ahead. For example, we must reduce greenhouse gas emissions to protect our air and water and save ourselves from the impacts of rising oceans and extreme weather events. We must tackle the growing gap between rich and poor, both within our borders and beyond them. We must affirm the rights of Indigenous peoples which constitute the minimum standards for their survival, dignity and well-being.

These matters will not be solved without serious collaboration. Politicians are among those who could do less arguing and more co-operating. The House of Commons is made up of 338 people, each elected by many thousands of their constituents and sent to the nation’s capital to determine how the country will go forward. Too much time is spent tearing down others. It seems anti-democratic to see how much energy is exerted by one set of politicians to try to make another group of politicians fail at their job.  This kind of partisan rivalry is an enemy of progress. After four years in Ottawa, I’m convinced it doesn’t have to be that way.

What would Ottawa be like if each Member of Parliament (MP) wanted every other MP to succeed in improving their community? Isn’t that how the most effective organizations work?

We need to harness the power of collaboration and collective efficacy. For any given problem, we need to identify the best ideas from across the country and build consensus on the best path forward. I’ve been thinking about how I could support and work effectively with federal politicians of all parties. Here’s one idea: if re-elected in October, I’d like to set a goal to meet over coffee or a casual meal at least once with every other MP in the House of Commons – 337 meetings in four years. That seems achievable. Imagine what I could learn about the needs and resources of every part of our country. Imagine how much more could be done if each of us tried to contribute to the success of other elected representatives. It’s not a crazy idea. It’s about working together for the good of all. Canada is worth it.


National pharmacare - getting it right

I am delighted to see the Final Report of the Advisory Council on the Implementation of National Pharmacare. Overall, it’s a great report. I strongly support universal single-payer public pharmacare to ensure that Canadians have fair access to medically necessary medication. This is a wise investment that will save money and prevent unnecessary illness for Canadians. Pharmacare is one of a few pieces of unfinished business in Canada’s cherished system of Medicare.

Today’s report aligns with a long list of previous studies including the approach recommended by a diverse coalition representing health care providers, non-profit organizations, workers, seniors, patients and academics. It envisions a system of pharmacare that functions in harmony with the principles of the Canada Health Act. It would be governed by the following principles:

  1. Universal first dollar coverage for all residents of Canada
  2. Comprehensive coverage for medicines on a national formulary
  3. Accessible so the plan can be accessed without financial barriers
  4. Portable coverage for residents who travel or move within Canada
  5. Public single-payer administration with bulk procurement to maximize purchasing power

I commend the Advisory Council on great recommendations. In the federal election, I hope all parties develop platforms with this report in mind. Most of all, I hope the recommendations will be implemented, ideally in a time frame shorter than the report envisions.

Perhaps in the best-case scenario, we will have a minority government in which independent Members of Parliament will help hold the government to account in order to achieve big initiatives like national pharmacare. Recall it was in 1966 during the second minority government of Lester B. Pearson that national Medicare was launched through the legendary vision of Tommy Douglas and support across all parties.

I have a few concerns about the future of national pharmacare that were not heavily emphasized in today’s report. My biggest concern is with the price Canadians are paying (publicly and privately) for medicines.

The current federal government made a commitment to act on pharmaceutical pricing. Some progress was made when the federal government joined the pan-Canadian Pharmaceutical Alliance. It was one of my first actions as Minister of Health in January 2016. This bulk-purchasing arrangement now leads to public savings of close to a billion dollars per year.

But there has been no progress at all on reform of the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board (PMPRB). The PMPRB was created in 1987 to protect consumers and make sure pharmaceutical companies don’t use monopolies to charge excessive prices.

In May 2017, when I was Minister of Health, I announced consultations on a suite of regulatory changes that would help the PMPRB in its ability to protect consumers from high drug prices. You can watch my speech from that announcement by clicking here.

These were to be the first substantial changes to the regulations in over 20 years. It included a proposal to change the list of countries to which we compare our medication prices. (By continuing to use the USA as a comparator country, we allow inappropriately high ceiling prices.) We also proposed that value for money should factor into determining a fair drug price. And we proposed a requirement to report rebates, discount and refunds to payers, in order to increase transparency and set a fairer price ceiling. I wanted those new regulations in place no later than the end of 2018. But unfortunately, this has not happened.

The Advisory Council mentions this briefly in Recommendation #59: “The council recommends the federal government advance efforts to strengthen the Patented Medicines Regulations to lower the prices of patented drugs for all payers.” I wish that were written with the boldness and strength it merits.

National pharmacare is an essential step in caring for Canadians. But it must be accompanied by good stewardship of public funds. Unless the government proceeds with the PMPRB reform, they will be locking in excessive pharmaceutical prices when Canadians already pay the third highest (per capita) prices in the world. I have heard no good reason why they are not proceeding with the proposed changes now.

For more information on drug prices, see these two great articles:

The strange world of Canadian drug pricing by Andrew Boozary and David Naylor

We need innovation in our drug price regulations by Steve Morgan

Feedback

Is national pharmacare important to you? Please provide your comments and questions below.

 


Stronger democracy

Before the 2015 federal election, I had a sense of the need for democratic reform in Canada. But it took four years in Ottawa for me to realize it is an urgent priority.

After four years as a Member of Parliament (MP) including more than three as a cabinet minister, I’m sad to say that Parliament Hill is the most dysfunctional place I have ever worked.

This is not to say that government is not a force for good. I know that it is. This is not to say the current government and those before it have not advanced our country in countless positive ways. They have. Hundreds of kind, smart, thoughtful people are elected every few years to become MPs. They go to Ottawa and work long hours on the most important challenges facing our nation and our world. They are surrounded by thousands of public servants who literally run the country and do so with intelligence, compassion and dedication.

But the democratic systems of this country could be so much better – and Canadians would be the beneficiaries.

I’m not an expert in democratic reform. But let me highlight three broad areas where I think we could improve: elections; the daily function of the House of Commons; and the approach to party power.

Let’s start with elections. The basis for democratic elections is supposed to be representation by population. But we continue to accept a system in federal (and provincial) elections called first-past-the-post under which the makeup of the legislatures does not reflect the electoral wishes of the people. A political party can receive votes from less than half of Canadian voters and still gain a majority of seats in the House of Commons. This is fundamentally unfair and it means that many voices go unrepresented and therefore unheard.

Many people have thought and written about this for decades. I’m not going to describe all the challenges and potential solutions for electoral reform. I simply want to be added to the list of those who are convinced that the voting system must change as soon as possible.

We should adapt ballots for federal elections such that voters can rank the options by order of preference. This should be accompanied by the complex but essential transition to a system of proportional representation. This would mean, for example, that if a party receives votes from 10% of Canadians, then they should have 10% of the seats in the House of Commons. For now, I won’t detail the steps that will get us from here to there most efficiently and effectively. But I’m ready to use any platform possible to push for this change. Every Canadian needs to know that their voice will make a difference. We need to inspire more Canadians to get out on election day and exercise their right to vote.

A second area that needs to be fixed is the daily functioning of the House of Commons. Quite frankly, there’s a shocking amount of wasted time. Question Period is a sad charade and not a place where government is actually held to account. Both questions and answers – as well as speeches on legislation – are commonly written by unelected political staff. The debate is rarely about how to serve Canadians better. It’s more often about scoring political points.

An enormous amount of time is spent on voting in the House. Yes, voting is good. Voting is essential. But Canadians might be surprised how many votes are simply procedural. Many hours are spent on votes introduced purely to cause delay, such as a commonly moved motion “that the House do now proceed to Orders of the Day.” These can interrupt the work of a large number of people, including outside experts who travel great distances to testify at Commons committees, only to find that shenanigans in the House of Commons could disrupt their entire special visit.

The other surprising thing about votes is the way they are directed by political parties and staff. For almost every vote in the House of Commons, political staff distribute a paper to the desk of MPs indicating how they are expected to vote. It is true that parties allow “free votes” to varying degrees, depending on the type of vote and topic. But direction is almost always given by the party and the expectation is that MPs will follow that direction and may suffer negative consequences if they do not. The result is that MPs could essentially check their brains (not to mention their conscience or their constituents’ views) at the door. They don’t need to know the substance of the bill or the motion before them because someone else is directing how to vote.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m as guilty of following along as any of my colleagues. MPs and Ministers are very busy people. It’s next to impossible to have read every bill in its entirety, let alone taking the time to consider its merits and develop a system to know the views of constituents and the evidence to support or oppose the legislation. It was when I became an independent MP (having been ejected from my former party caucus) that I had a better perspective on how easy it had become to vote without fulsome consideration because that’s how the system works.

There is not space to outline all the peculiarities and predicaments of Parliament. Suffice it to say there is much room for improvement. There is room for more collaboration and a grown-up discussion about how to structure the daily functions of the House of Commons in a more respectful, efficient manner. There is room for more responsibility and freedom in the hands of individual MPs. We should take steps to make Question Period a time of thoughtful debate and extemporaneous questions and answers driven by a genuine commitment to accountability.

I’d like to add one more theme in democratic reform – because it is at the root of some of the challenges identified above. That is, the power of parties. Political parties are not mentioned in the Canadian Constitution. They have not always held such sway. Until the 1970s, party names were not listed with candidate names on ballots. But in the past fifty years, political parties have increasingly been the drivers and the beneficiaries of dysfunction in the House of Commons.

Although my family had historic ties to Liberal politics (including my great-grandfather Angus Dickson who was a farmer and a Liberal Member of the Legislative Assembly in Ontario from 1934 to 1945), I was never a member of a political party until May 3, 2011. I joined the Liberal Party of Canada the day after Stephen Harper won a Conservative majority government because I was frustrated with the direction our country was going and decided it was time to get involved. I chose the Liberal party because it most closely reflected my perspective on major policies. But like many Canadians, while I can see some good in most parties, I don’t align exactly with any of them. Neither MPs nor voters should be forced to squeeze ourselves into accepting the rigid confines of party policies without robust mechanisms to accept respectful critique.

MPs can and should be able to disagree with the government, even if it is their own party. It’s actually the obligation of a representative of the people to speak for a diversity of views. An MP’s loyalty should rest with his or her constituents and with the greater good of the country.

I’m not naive enough to imagine that Canadian politics would do away with political parties - though Canadians should know there are models of government (including that of Nunavut) that function well without parties. The Constitution did not envision the House of Commons as a team sport. It envisions representatives who put their loyalty first to constituents, even if they serve as a member of a political party. Canadians would benefit if we could address the imbalances that exist as a result of party discipline and the extraordinary powers that are currently exercised by party leaders and their staff. It is time to put power back in the hands of the Canadians who elect representatives and expect the views of constituents to be respected.

What are your priorities for democratic reform?


Why I'm running as an independent candidate

It is an enormous privilege to be the Member of Parliament (MP) for Markham-Stouffville. My primary goal in this role has been to improve people’s lives. I’ve spent my adult life advocating for issues like: access to health care; fair treatment of vulnerable people; and better international development. In 2015 I was honoured to be given a cabinet position in the federal government. I worked with others to improve living conditions for Indigenous peoples; to bring Syrian refugees to Canada; to expand end-of-life options for Canadians; to reduce harms associated with drug use; and much more. I saw how government can be a force for good.

But I also saw dysfunction in Ottawa. I saw how time, money and energy are wasted with political games and partisan efforts to gain or retain power - rather than focusing limited resources on building a better country. I was dismayed at how little cross-party collaboration takes place. I saw the disconnect between citizens and those who govern them. I saw how MPs are restrained in their ability to speak for their constituents. Decisions about how MPs vote and what they say in public are directed in large measure by un-elected political staff.

After 3 ½ years in the government, some of these systemic flaws in how the government works led to a situation where I had to make a difficult decision based on my conscience which ultimately compelled me to resign from cabinet. I hoped to stay in the Liberal caucus, but the Prime Minister chose to expel me. I have served as an independent MP since April 2, 2019.

As with any difficult experience, one can learn lessons and realize positive outcomes. I received thousands of messages of support and encouragement from constituents and other Canadians. People still stop me in the grocery store, in restaurants and on the streets to thank me for being bold. I’m fascinated by the fact that one of the most common things people say is this: “My teenage daughter is inspired by you. You’ve shown her how to be brave, how to speak up when you see something wrong.” If nothing else comes from this whole experience, if I have helped young women to be strong and to use their voices, then it has been worthwhile.

I’ve talked with hundreds of people in the riding in the past three months and asked their advice. Almost all have urged me to stay in politics. They believe that we can do politics differently. They want a stronger democracy - one where representatives are free to speak on behalf of constituents, rather than simply repeating key messages written by un-elected staffers. They want a parliamentary system that is fair and functional - where politicians don’t waste so much precious time fighting with one another. Canadians hope we can change the culture of politics.

Our country is facing existential threats like climate change, economic inequality, racism, violence, global instability and more. Politicians need to stop wasting time on political games and start figuring out how to cooperate with one another, listen to experts and implement effective solutions to these grand challenges.

And so, I have decided to run in the federal election of October 2019 as an independent candidate. If elected, I will be accountable to the people of Markham-Stouffville. I will listen to my constituents and seek their advice. I will speak up on their behalf. I will speak the truth. I will work with other Members of Parliament, regardless of their party affiliation. I will focus on improving lives in our community and in our country.

We can solve the challenges facing Canada. But to do so, we need to work across parties, with bold intent. We can interact and share ideas about creative, evidence-based solutions. We can implement the much-more-ambitious plan that is needed to combat climate change and diversify our energy sources. We can work alongside Indigenous peoples to achieve true reconciliation. We can reform electoral processes so every vote counts and the composition of government reflects the will of the people. We can improve health care and bring about the long-awaited launch of national pharmacare. We can build a caring economy and a fair Canada, investing in social infrastructure like universal childcare.

I trust the people of Markham-Stouffville to decide wisely about who should represent them in Ottawa. I look forward to the conversations we'll have between now and the October election. Whatever the people decide, I wish nothing but the best for our community in the years ahead.



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