It seems fitting the first question Jane Philpott stood up and asked as an Independent Member of Parliament was about Kashechewan, a James Bay community of 2,500 people that routinely floods every year.
When Philpott was Indigenous Services minister, she understood it costs the government millions of dollars annually to move Kashechewan to higher ground. She knew what is truly needed is a commitment to a permanent solution.
No longer a member of the Liberal caucus, having been kicked out along with the former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould, Philpott grilled the government on Thursday on when they would permanently help the besieged community.
The answer she got may have come across as a bit condescending. Dan Vandal, the parliamentary secretary to Indigenous Services Minister Seamus O’Regan, said: “The member would know very well from her work as a former minister for Indigenous Services … that work is underway to deliver on this commitment.”
Afterwards, sitting in her sparse Confederation Building office — new digs after leaving the Treasury Board, her most recent cabinet post after also serving as minister of health — Philpott was emotional as she spoke of how the work she did with First Nations, Métis and Inuit people in Canada profoundly touched and changed her.
“I appreciate their support and I promise them I will never stop being an ally for them or with them and I will do whatever I can, whatever my future is, to try to advocate and try to share with Canadians what I have learned so we can build political will, as a country, to do what is right,” she said.
A strong statement coming from Philpott, who many argue walked away from her power to help those in need, when she had the millions of dollars to do so, by leaving cabinet. She did so after Wilson-Raybould said she faced constant inappropriate pressure by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his advisers to step in and forgive engineering firm SNC-Lavalin from criminal prosecution concerning corporate bribery charges.
Philpott is firm in her decision she did the right thing by standing up for truth and refusing to go along with the herd mentality of party politics.
But her next move is less clear. She must decide if she’ll stay in the political game or not. On that, she’ll take the next couple of weeks to decide.
“I’m in a period of reflection. Talking to my family, talking to my community, volunteers, asking advice. There are times where it is tempting to run away and other times I think no, if you run away because you stood up for something you believe to be true then it doesn’t seem right …that I have to be the one to leave,” she said.
“I feel as if I have unfinished work.”
When asked if that work will be done as a Liberal party member, she is unsure.
“There is no obvious path that I would come back as a Liberal. Some say I should fight to get it back,” she said. “There are other parties. I could run as an Independent.”
There are other options. The Ontario Liberal party leadership is wide open as the party rebuilds after former premier Kathleen Wynne’s historic loss to Doug Ford.
“I haven’t given it serious thought. I am certainly hearing from some people who would like me to seriously consider it, but I worry about the breakdown of trust between me and the federal Liberals,” Philpott said.
“There are things about provincial politics that I find fascinating such as health care, it is my passion. In some ways I would love an opportunity to focus on those issues, but at this point it’s not high on my list of possibilities. I haven’t ruled it out, but at this point I feel like my political home is in this political context and I need to make a decision on that first.”
The Liberal bloodletting in Ottawa over the last several months did not have to occur, she said.
“There were several points along in this story where things could have turned out differently. And I feel sad about the people who have felt a loss through this. Obviously, many communities, the fact that Jody is no longer a minister of justice,” she said.
The message of that loss was sent loudly to Trudeau last week when the Daughters of the Vote — young women who are part of the Equal Voice program to bring more women into politics — turned their backs on the prime minister in the House of Commons.
“I think this has been a bit of a wake-up call of what balance and equity in politics means,” Philpott said. “By definition, if you are going to bring a diversity of voices, be it ethnicity or sexual orientation, you will hear different views expressed. You can put a gender balanced cabinet together but you shouldn’t expect men and women to think the same, solve problems the same. Some of this is a clash of world views.”
MPs need to think for themselves, she said. Politics isn’t all about prepared talking points and boundaries that leave you muzzled.
“Of the many lessons learned of this unfortunate saga, I believe MPs need to think about their obligations to truly represent their constituencies and to speak out — in a respectful manner, of course, but not to stop thinking.
“It is not what my constituents expect of me.”
And she is willing to bet it is not what Canadians expect of her too.
Tanya Talaga is a Toronto-based columnist covering Indigenous issues. Follow her on Twitter: @tanyatalaga