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Penn quits politics saying system favours the rich

Briony Penn said she is leaving federal politics because it costs too much to be a candidate in waiting.

“If you want to have people running who aren't rich, we have to find a different system,” said Penn, who ran for the Liberal Party in Saanich-Gulf Islands in a competitive race against cabinet minister Gary Lunn in the 2008 election. “Look around. Look at the people who run. They're rich or they have someone supporting them.”

A longtime environmental activist and writer, Penn became the Liberal candidate some 18 months before the election. Employers including the federal and provincial environment ministries and the Victoria weekly Monday Magazine dropped her, she said. “I can't earn a living when I'm a candidate.”

The same situation is likely to arise again, she said. The party needs to have a candidate ready to go, but with a minority government in Ottawa and no fixed election dates it is impossible to know when the vote will be.

It is particularly hard on people who are single, female and self-employed like her, she said. “I don't have any financial buffers now,” she said. “The elephant in the room for women in politics is money. It's got to be named. It's got to be addressed.”

Her decision not to run has nothing to do with the change of leadership which saw Michael Ignatieff replace Stéphane Dion, said Penn. “The green agenda's still very much alive for the party.”

Penn said she is working in her garden, spending time with her family, looking for work and trying to get out of debt. She'll remain involved behind the scenes, she said, and did not rule out running again some time in the future.

The riding association's election readiness chair Phil McLarren announced yesterday the party is looking for a candidate to replace Penn.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria and a former Monday Magazine reporter. Reach him here.

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