In Jane Philpott’s letter of resignation from Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Cabinet in March, she stated it grieved her to leave her post as President of the Treasury Board. But, she went on to say, “I must abide by my core values . . . there can be a cost to acting on one’s principles, but there is a bigger cost to abandoning them.”
She resigned in protest of allegations that the Primer Minister’s Office pressured the nation’s chief prosecutor to defer prosecution in a criminal case against a large construction corporation.
Since Philpott, 58, is well-known as a person of faith — she’s a member of Community Mennonite Church in Stouffville, Ont., and served as a missionary doctor in Africa for more than ten years — I was surprised not to find any reporting about those core values and principles, or what role her faith might have played in shaping them.
After all, reporters weren’t shy to explore the indigenous values Jody Wilson-Reybould said were foundational in her decision to resign. There are a number of articles online about the “Big House,” a West Coast indigenous spiritual, governmental and community tradition referenced by the B.C. politician.
So I decided to ask Philpott, now an independent Member of Parliament for Stouffville-Markham in Ontario, myself.
I began our conversation by noting interviews she gave in 2015 and 2016 where she talked about her Mennonite values such as peace, justice, generosity, forgiveness, reconciliation and looking out for the interest of others.
These qualities, she said at that time, were “woven into the fabric of my character and will always influence my thought processes, decisions and actions.”
I asked her: did these values influence her decision to leave Cabinet?
“The values that grow out of my faith and the teachings of the Christian faith absolutely were a part of how I have always made decisions and continue to make decisions,” she told me, adding her decision to leave was “driven by some of what my faith has taught me.”
As for the decision itself, it was “absolutely made on principle,” she said. “I did not feel in the end that I had any choice. My options would have been to not speak the truth or to resign. And not speaking the truth was completely impossible.”
I asked what role her church played during the experience; were they supportive?
Her home congregation was very supportive, she said, noting one Sunday service during the crisis where members “gathered around and laid hands on me and prayed for me for strength.”
Later, after she was expelled from the Liberal caucus and had to decide whether to run again, the pastor organized a special meeting for her with some members of the congregation to talk and pray with her for discernment.
Since her work and travel schedule prevents her from regularly attending services at her home church, she noted her pastor often sends notes saying the congregation is praying for her.
Many other people of faith from across Canada have also sent her emails and letters, she said. In the messages they say “they are praying for me, which is as wonderful. Many of those are Christian, but I heard from people of other faiths as well who have a tradition of prayer.”
What about political life overall — does she find it hard to be a person of faith and a politician?
“Politics is difficult for anybody, regardless of whether you’re a person of faith or not,” she replied. “Anybody who comes to this kind of work with a series of closely-held convictions will find that from time-to-time those will be put to the test.”
What about an issue like abortion, which divides people of faith. How does she navigate issues like that?
“People will navigate them in different ways,” she said. “One of the real challenges is recognizing when your personal views are to be kept personal. I don’t think faith gives us the right to inflict our views on anybody else.”
On the issue of abortion itself, “I have my own personal views,” she said, adding “I don’t think that we as politicians should take away the clear rights that have been upheld by the courts in this country.”
I asked about prayer; is she a praying person?
“I believe in praying at all times,” she said, adding she and her husband have prayed a lot “over the difficult decisions of the recent months.”
At that point, she choked up, apologizing for becoming emotional.
“My husband is a person of deep faith and very loyal and regular pray-er, and that means a tremendous amount to me,” she said.
Four years ago, when she was running for Parliament, she said the 2015 election was about the soul of our nation. What, I asked her, did she think the state of the soul of the nation is now?
“I think we’re facing some really big challenges,” she said, listing things like climate change, diversity and inclusion, caring for one another, and “finding a way to have strong economic prosperity for Canadians, but to do so in a way that looks out for the most vulnerable in our midst.”
The other big challenge is “reconciliation with indigenous peoples,” she stated, adding “Christians have a conflicted and patchy history as to the damage that has been done to indigenous peoples. There’s a lot of work left to bring about reconciliation in that area as well.”
Looking ahead, she acknowledged there is no guarantee she will be re-elected. But she said she couldn’t continue in politics if she didn’t remain true to her faith-based values.
“You can’t always hang on to your job or your position, but you can hang on to your integrity,” she said.
Originally published in the Winnipeg Free Press. John Longhurst is a freelance writer and communications and marketing consultant in Winnipeg, Man.