Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s electoral prospects in the West have suddenly dimmed even further.
The shocking resignation of Jody Wilson-Raybould from his cabinet on Tuesday is a devastating blow on so many levels. The fact she was arguably the most important member of his cabinet holding a seat west of Ontario can’t be overstated.
It may only serve to deepen the sense of alienation in the West that the Prime Minister and I spoke about only this Monday, before he was confronted with the gravest threat yet to his administration. Mr. Trudeau conceded in a long interview that there is a deep sense of frustration in the Prairies and B.C., one that has been borne out by a spate of recent polls. They also show how poorly the Prime Minister’s party would fare in Western Canada if an election were held today.
In our chat, the PM lamented the fact politicians were exploiting people’s fear and anger for short-term electoral gain. Well, now he has given those same conservative opponents in the West ammunition they could scarcely dream of having.
Here is a minister of the Crown resigning over allegations the PMO wanted her, as attorney-general, to cut a deal that would allow a Quebec-based multinational (and major Liberal Party donor) to avoid the full ramifications of fraud charges it is facing.
You can just imagine how that’s going to play in Red Deer, Alta.
As bad for Mr. Trudeau is the fact Ms. Wilson-Raybould is an immensely respected Indigenous leader in this country. She was supposed to be championing the federal government’s reconciliation efforts with First Nations, specifically in B.C., where their collaboration on resource-development projects is so pivotal.
Now that appeasement strategy lays in tatters.
Interestingly, in our conversation, the Prime Minister bemoaned the “bombastic politics of blame” that he said were perpetuating “the cycle of cynicism toward our institutions.” He said his job, as the country’s leader, is to “allay those anxieties.”
However, in the SNC-Lavalin affair, he has done anything but dispel the skepticism and suspicion many Canadians hold toward the very institutions to which he refers, including his own office. He has done anything but give people straight answers about what happened in meetings between members of his staff and Ms. Wilson-Raybould over SNC-Lavalin’s legal problems.
The Prime Minister has continually played down suggestions Ms. Wilson-Raybould was pressed to use available legal avenues to help SNC-Lavalin avoid a criminal conviction that would be devastating to its ambitions in Canada. But clearly that is not how his former attorney-general saw it.
Until there is a more definitive picture of what exactly transpired, Canadians will have to choose who to believe. There is certain to be more from Ms. Wilson-Raybould on this subject. A wounded Prime Minister is likely to endure additional pain yet.
It’s difficult to feel much compassion for him. Mr. Trudeau has demonstrated some horrible judgment here.
First, he demoted Ms. Wilson-Raybould to Veterans Affairs seemingly for refusing to crumble under pressure to cut SNC-Lavalin a deal. Second, he failed to appreciate with whom he was dealing.
While perhaps a rookie MP, Ms. Wilson-Raybould demonstrated little of the nerves and apprehension that often accompany a politician’s first term on Parliament Hill. In fact, she often seemed to possess the confidence and chutzpah of a veteran, even going as far as to mildly criticize her own government’s failings on the Indigenous file.
While that seemed like insubordination to some, Ms. Wilson-Raybould understood that acknowledging those shortcomings was the only way she would maintain any credibility with leaders in the Indigenous world. And beyond that, speaking truth to power is always what she’s been about.
And Mr. Trudeau needs only to have viewed old footage from a 1983 constitutional conference to understand this. At that conference, Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s father, Bill Wilson, a powerful and intense First Nations Chief from B.C. at the time, famously told then-PM Pierre Trudeau he had two daughters at home, including then preteen Jody, who wanted his position.
At the time, Jody Wilson posed no threat to the Prime Minister’s job. Today is a whole other story.