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.

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  • Jan Slakov
    followed this page 2019-09-27 02:25:27 -0400
  • David Gonsalves
    followed this page 2019-09-02 18:59:59 -0400
  • Hugh Wallis
    commented 2019-08-27 07:32:35 -0400
    You have hit the nail right on the head here Jane. The point about party MPs simply doing as they are told is not new and has been the scourge of politics for decades, centuries even. We have an opportunity now to start to change that.

    It brings to mind the line from Sir. Joseph Porter’s song in the Gilbert and Sullivan satirical opera HMS Pinafore where he summarizes his rise to the top of the (political) tree as First Lord of the Admiralty. “I always voted at my party’s call and I never thought of thinking for myself at all. I thought so little they rewarded me by making me the ruler of the Queen’s Navee!” Gilbert got it right, back in 1878.
  • Dennis Kendel
    commented 2019-08-27 07:22:28 -0400
    Thank you for sharing this vital perspective on the value of independent MP’s. I am very glad that you are running for re-election and I sincerely hope you will be returning to the House of Commons this fall – Dr. Dennis Kendel
  • Jane Philpott
    published this page in Blog 2019-08-27 07:06:56 -0400