OTTAWA—Justin Trudeau just lost one of his key cabinet ministers.
That was the general reaction Monday when Jane Philpott, who was named Treasury Board president in Trudeau’s Liberal government just weeks ago, resigned from her post. It was the latest stunner in the cascading crisis over alleged political interference and pressure on the former attorney general, Jody Wilson-Raybould, to halt a criminal prosecution against the Montreal-based engineering giant SNC-Lavalin.
But it is Philpott’s stature as a central figure in Trudeau’s cabinet who is generally well-regarded deepens the impact of her sudden departure, said political scientist David Moscrop.
Indeed, Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith told the Star on Monday: “it’s hard to think of someone in politics that I have greater respect for than Jane Philpott.”
“Philpott is an honest woman and she’s known to be an honest woman,” Moscrop said. “I haven’t met a Liberal or talked to a Liberal who raised her name and didn’t respect her.”
Philpott came to politics following a career as a doctor, including nine years working in Niger, where her 2-year-old daughter died from meningitis on what she has called “the worst day of my life.” In 2004, she founded the charity Give a Day to World AIDS, which has raised millions of dollars.
When she decided to join Trudeau’s push for government in 2015, she resigned from her post as chief of the department of medicine at the Markham Stouffville Hospital.
As a rookie politician and newly-elected MP for the GTA riding of Markham—Stouffville, Philpott was appointed Trudeau’s health minister. It was a key job in the new government, with partial responsibility for sensitive issues like drafting legislation for assisted dying and the legalization of marijuana.
In August 2017, Philpott took on a new role as Indigenous services minister, a novel department that was created to help deliver health and social services to First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities across Canada. Philpott was tasked with overseeing the transfer of responsibilities to the new department from Health Canada and the Indigenous Affair. She had to stickhandle key priorities for the government in its self-avowed push for reconciliation between Indigenous peoples and settler society, such as the ongoing effort to ensure there is safe drinking water on all First Nations reserves.
And finally, last month, Philpott was named president of the Treasury Board.
But now, Philpott’s resignation leaves another hole in cabinet and, based on the reaction from opposition parties Monday night. It will likely add fuel to the crisis that has enveloped the Trudeau government, Moscrop said.
Alex Ballingall is an Ottawa-based reporter covering national politics. Follow him on Twitter: @aballinga