July 20th, 2024

Carolyn Bennett stepping down as Liberal MP for Toronto-St. Paul’s after 26 years

By Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press on December 12, 2023.

Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Carolyn Bennett rises during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, May 30, 2023. Longtime Liberal Bennett says she is retiring as the MP for Toronto-St. Paul's after 26 years.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

OTTAWA – Longtime Liberal Carolyn Bennett says she is retiring as the MP for Toronto-St. Paul’s after 26 years.

The former family doctor delivered her final speech in the House of Commons just a week before her 73rd birthday, saying she made a tough decision in 1997 to leave medicine for a career in politics but has never regretted it.

Bennett served under three prime ministers and spent a little over 10 years in cabinet, more than half that as the Crown-Indigenous relations minister between 2015 and 2021.

Bennett was shuffled out of cabinet this past summer following her announcement that she would not be seeking re-election.

She now says she will be leaving her seat right away, rather than waiting for the next election to retire.

Longtime Liberal staffer Leslie Church, who most recently served as chief of staff to Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, has already been nominated to run for the party in Bennett’s riding.

Toronto-St. Paul’s used to be considered a bellwether riding, often voting for the governing party, but it has become a safe Liberal seat since Bennett first ran there.

She won with more than half the vote in all but two of the nine elections she ran in, winning just shy of 50 per cent in 2021 and 40 per cent when the Conservatives formed a majority government in 2011.

In her final speech in the House of Commons on Tuesday, Bennett said she is a proud feminist who made constructive and meaningful public engagement her “brand” as a politician.

She called her approach “democracy between elections,” and said she recently found a box full of notes she has been keeping to eventually write a book on the subject.

But Bennett also reflected on the changes in politics over her time in office and professed to be concerned about the shifts she has witnessed toward a more hyper-partisan Parliament more susceptible to misinformation.

“We have changed history, but I’m worried. Cynicism is at an all-time high. Voter turnout is down. The safety of parliamentarians is under threat,” she said.

“I truly believe it is essential for us to re-engage in a meaningful way with citizens. Consultation that is shallow or not genuine is bad for democracy. It fuels cynicism.”

MPs from all parties spoke with warmth and admiration for Bennett, remarking on her clear attempts to remove partisan boundaries and work with them on a number of issues.

Trudeau said he was addressing her in the House for the last time with “a heavy heart,” but thanked her for being a source of inspiration and sound advice, including on how to “be a better feminist” and recruit extraordinary women to run for the party.

He said he also leaned on her during the COVID-19 pandemic, not just because she was a doctor but also because she had previously served as Canada’s first-ever minister of state for public health.

Both Bloc Québécois MP Andréanne Larouche and NDP MP Leah Gazan thanked Bennett for blazing the trail for other women in office and helping to shatter glass ceilings.

Conservative MP Adam Chambers noted that Bennett’s time in office has been so substantial he wasn’t even in high school yet when she was first elected as an MP.

He said she reached out to him shortly after he was first elected in 2021.

She was the minister responsible for mental health and addictions at the time, and asked him if they could visit a mental-health hospital in his riding together. Chambers said they did that this past summer.

“Thank you for your service,” he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 12, 2023.

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