OTTAWA — Jane Philpott credited Justin Trudeau with transforming Canada by naming a gender-balanced cabinet, mere days after she quit the prime minister’s inner circle.
Philpott made the remarks at an International Women’s Day breakfast in Ottawa Friday, her first public event since quitting Trudeau’s cabinet earlier in the week.
Her address focused on principles and mostly avoided the SNC-Lavalin affair that has rocked the federal government.
“If you’ve come here today hoping that you’re going to hear me directly comment on the political events of the past weeks, you’re going to be disappointed,” Philpott said, spurring laughs.
Watch: PM shares his side of SNC-Lavalin discussion with ex-attorney general
Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, who co-hosts the annual event, quipped that this year’s attendance looked to be the strongest yet.
Philpott resigned from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet Monday, citing lost confidence in the government’s response to the SNC-Lavalin affair.
On Friday, she warned against minimizing gender-based discrimination and acknowledged her own privilege, growing up “white and able-bodied, in a home free of violence, in a country with publicly funded primary and secondary education.”
These “unearned advantages” paved a path for her to have a seat at the table, she said.
Philpott was a family physician for 30 years before running federally in 2015.
Ex-minister praises Trudeau’s ‘positive’ cabinet shift
As a Trudeau cabinet minister, she held health and Indigenous services portfolios and was widely seen as someone on which the prime minister could rely to deliver results in tough files. She was appointed Treasury Board president in January after Scott Brison’s resignation.
Despite the discord between Philpott and the prime minister over the SNC-Lavalin controversy, she praised Trudeau for appointing an equal number of women and men to his cabinet.
“I believe he transformed our country, perhaps the world – in a positive way,” she said. “He set a bar by which future governments will be measured.”
The Markham-Stouffville MP stayed true to her opening words about not directly commenting on the widening controversy that she had earlier said made it “untenable” for her to continue on as a minister.
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But she threw a nod to a “fascinating opinion piece” by Globe and Mail columnist Elizabeth Renzetti. Philpott did not mention the headline of the piece: “What Trudeau failed to realize: Women in politics don’t believe in politics as usual.”
Renzetti’s thesis centres on the argument that women bring change to the male-dominated world of politics because they come to the table with a different set of goals in mind.
“She cites research about women and politics, specifically quoting Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics, who said: ‘Women run to do something and men run to be somebody,'” Philpott said.
The crowd giggled. Philpott raised her eyebrows and looked around the room.
“Not my words,” she said.
Her resignation from cabinet was seen as a major blow for the the Liberal government in an election year.
Former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould testified at the Commons justice committee last week that she experienced “veiled threats” to secure a deferred prosecution agreement that would allow SNC-Lavalin avoid a criminal trial.
“The evidence of efforts by politicians and/or officials to pressure the former attorney general to intervene in the criminal case involving SNC-Lavalin, and the evidence as to the content of those efforts have raised serious concerns for me,” Philpott said in a statement about her decision.
Her resignation as Treasury Board president and minister of digital government will trigger another cabinet shuffle — the third for the prime minister since January.
With files from Ryan Maloney