OTTAWA—A day after they were expelled from the Liberal caucus, Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott expressed disappointment but no regrets for defending the “independence of the judicial system.”
“I am, to put it lightly, disappointed and I would say that if you stand up for what you believe is right and you hold strong to your principals, the truth and principals must always come first. That’s why I did it and that’s what I’ll continue to do,” Wilson-Raybould said Wednesday.
Philpott, who quit her cabinet post as president of the Treasury Board in March, acknowledged that recent weeks have been “very difficult.”
“I can say the decisions that I have made, I have made on the basis of what I believe is best for Canadians, to stand up for the truth, and to stand up for the independence of the justice system,” she said.
“It’s very unfortunate that it has come to this but we have to make difficult choices in politics. We aren’t always in control of all of the things that will happen,” she said.
“But you have to be able to hold your head high and look at yourself in the mirror at the end of the day and say that the choices that you made were the best ones under the circumstances,” the Markham-Stouffville MP said.
Wilson-Raybould and Philpott spoke with reporters before taking their new seats in the Commons as independent MPs, no longer sitting in the Liberal benches after being ejected from caucus by Trudeau the day before.
Trudeau announced the expulsion of the two women in a tough speech to Liberal caucus Tuesday, declaring that Wilson-Raybould and Philpott has lost the trust of fellow MPs.
And he singled out Wilson-Raybould’s secret taping of a telephone conversation with Privy Council Clerk Michael Wernick, calling it “unconscionable.”
But Wilson-Raybould responded to that criticism Wednesday, saying that it’s “alarming” that people are focused on her decision to tape the conversation rather than the contents of the tape itself.
In that tape, the former attorney general repeatedly warned Wernick that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his officials were engaging in political interference with the SNC-Lavalin prosecution.
The 17-minute call on Dec. 19 ends with Wernick warning Wilson-Raybould he was concerned about how the prime minister would react to her refusal to intervene in the trial and negotiate a remediation agreement with the Quebec company.
Asked about Trudeau’s comments about her taping, Wilson-Raybould said that “trust is a two-way street.”
“Talking about unconscionable, I think … it’s unconscionable to tread over the independence of the prosecutor. It is unconscionable not to uphold the rule of law,” she said.
“The contents of the tape … speak for itself,” she said.
“There’s nothing illegal about it. I said in any other circumstance, it would be inappropriate. I was protecting myself. I knew that something very dangerous and wrong was going to happen and my job was at risk,” she said.
The expulsion from Liberal caucus means that neither MP can run for the Liberals in the October election. Both have committed to serving out their terms but declined to answer whether they will run again.
The expulsion of the two from caucus put Trudeau and Liberals MPs on the defensive Wednesday about the party’s feminist and Indigenous agenda.
Conservative MP Candice Bergen accused Trudeau of ejecting the two women from caucus as punishment for drawing attention to questionable conduct by the prime minister and top officials.
“When these two women told the truth, he didn’t want them around. He punished them. Clearly the message is if you tell the truth in the Liberal caucus, you get booted out. It’s unconscionable to watch this happen,” said Bergen.
The tough questions came on a day when young women from across the country gathered on Parliament Hill for an initiative to promote the engagement of women in politics.
The “Daughters of the Vote” event, organized by Equal Voice Canada, brings together 338 delegates, one for each riding, who take a seat in the House of Commons.
Trudeau faced a protest from some of the delegates unhappy with the removal of Wilson-Raybould and Philpott from caucus and the pace of the government’s reconciliation agenda with Indigenous peoples.
As he prepared to speak in the Commons, some 40 women stood and turned their back. Others left the chamber.
Trudeau tackled the topic head-on, acknowledging what he called “disagreements in the Liberal caucus.
“This is part of what politics needs to be about, hearing from different voices, learning from each other,” he said.
“It’s not going to be easy. It’s not going to be simple,” Trudeau said.
“Diversity only works if there is trust. Within a team, when that trust gets broken, we have to figure out how to move forward,” he said.
One delegate asked about the government’s pledges on reconciliation.
“What are the promise that you made to Canada, about a nation-to-nation agreement,” she said.
Trudeau responded that his government is making progress but cautioned against quick fixes.
“Parliament in Canada has failed Indigenous peoples, for decades, for generations … with policies aimed at assimilation, marginalization, eradication,” Trudeau said.
“We have taken significant steps in trying to get Canada back on the right path,” he said. “But what took centuries to break is not going to be simply fixed in a year or two. We know this is a long-term job.”
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer faced his own protest as a large number of women left the chamber during his own speech, returning only after he was finished.
Bruce Campion-Smith is an Ottawa-based reporter covering national politics. Follow him on Twitter: @yowflier
Tonda MacCharles is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics. Follow her on Twitter: @tondamacc