Shouldn’t we want MPs who don’t conform?

The list of so-called maverick MPs over the past few decades is small. Parties usually weed them out, with the help of the media.

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Photo: Independent Members of Parliament Jane Philpott and Jody Wilson-Raybould make their way to speak with the media before Question Period in the foyer of the House of Commons in Ottawa, on April 3, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

ith the expulsion of Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott from the Liberal caucus, I began to think back on the other so-called “maverick” MPs I’ve come across over the past two decades. Who were the folks who dared to challenge the party line, or speak out of turn, or were just a little oddball? The list is pretty darn small, mostly male, and the individuals don’t last long in either their caucus or federal politics.

I’m thinking of Conservative MPs Brent Rathgeber, who tired of PMO micromanagement, and Garth Turner, turfed for saying too much in his blog. There was Bill Casey (Conservative, now Liberal), Carolyn Parrish (Liberal) and John Cummins (Conservative). There was earnest and outspoken Liberal MP Keith Martin; NDP MP Bruce Hyer who bristled at vote whipping on the long-gun registry; and yes, even Maxime Bernier. In the more polite vein, there is Michael Chong, one of the sole voices in the Conservative Party calling for intelligent carbon pricing and parliamentary reform. And thank goodness for Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, who consistently bucks the trend of uber-partisanship in favour of rational arguments and civility.

Within the Liberal Party ranks in the 1990s and early 2000s, there was a very identifiable group of anti-abortion, social conservatives who found their home in caucus – people like Tom Wappel.

But overall, MPs are a fairly obedient bunch, and the events of the last few weeks should give you an indication why. It turns out Parliament Hill is a bit like Grade 8: Sticking your head out from the crowd is social suicide. And God help you if you don’t know how things work around here, as former Liberal cabinet minister Sheila Copps has driven home with her criticism of Wilson-Raybould and Philpott. You’ll be called out for your political inexperience and naïveté. MORE