Trudeau’s expulsion of two former cabinet ministers is virtually unprecedented, records show

by Bianca Bharti

Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott are seemingly alone in history for sticking to their beliefs and getting punished for it

Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott’s expulsion from caucus may be virtually without precedent in Canadian political history, suggests a review of Library of Parliament records.

No other MPs have resigned as cabinet ministers only to be subsequently ejected from their party’s caucus for taking a position on principle opposing their leader, according to parliamentary records dating back to William Lyon Mackenzie King’s time as prime minister from 1921 to 1948.

The two former cabinet ministers were ejected from caucus last Tuesday as a result of the SNC-Lavalin scandal that has embroiled the Trudeau government — when it came to light in February that the prime minister and his staff allegedly tried to interfere in the prosecution of the Quebec company.

There are five other MPs whose departures bear some similarities, but none of the circumstances are identical to Wilson-Raybould’s and Philpott’s.

“There’s been resignations on disagreements to government policy, there’s been resignations relating to scandal,” said Chris Cochrane, a University of Toronto politics professor. “There’s never been two resignations in recent memory of people resigning on principle … together.”

John Nunziata was an MP during Jean Chretien’s government, but held no cabinet positions before he was ejected from caucus on April 21, 1996. Nunziata was vocal in his criticism of the Chretien government and when the Liberals put forth their budget, Nunziata voted against it because it did not abolish the GST, a government policy he vehemently opposed and that the Liberals said they would abolish.

“I was embarrassing my caucus members because I stood up and said we have to keep our promise about the GST,” Nunziata said last week.

Nunziata said he sympathizes with Wilson-Raybould and Philpott.

“You don’t challenge the PMO, otherwise you pay the political price,” he warned. “Our system is not democratic. It’s Soviet style democracy.”

“In the past, one of the things — and there are exceptions to this — that would have characterized the cabinet appointment would have been, at a minimum, vetting for pretty severe levels of loyalty to the party,” he said. “In this case, that wasn’t something the prime minister prioritized when he put his cabinet together.”

Before entering federal politics, Wilson-Raybould had an accomplished career in law. She was a Crown prosecutor in Vancouver, a treaty commissioner and the regional chief of the B.C. Assembly of First Nations.

Prior to her start in politics, Philpott was a family doctor, an associate professor at the University of Toronto and did advocacy work for HIV/AIDS in Africa.

Because of their limited time in governance, Wilson-Raybould and Philpott hadn’t been “socialized to that norm” of the leader-centric model that Trudeau had claimed he rejected, Cochrane said.

“When he tried to tell them what to do on a particular issue, they just said no.”

Penny Collenette, a senior director of the Prime Minister’s Office from 1993 to 1997, said the entire controversy surrounding SNC-Lavalin, the prime minister and the two former cabinet ministers is sad and disappointing.

“If you just look at the facts, it would appear there is a disconnect between the aspiration of having a feminist government and then the fact that three years later, two high-profile, prominent women are removed from caucus,” Collenette said.

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