Jody Wilson-Raybould, one of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's most senior ministers, says she sees no conflict between her past concerted protest against the controversial Site C dam project in northern B.C. and being at the cabinet table dealing with policy around the project.
"Everything I do as the member of Parliament for Vancouver-Granville and as the minister is rooted in my values and my principles, rooted in the mandate the prime minister gave me and the rule of law, and ensuring the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is dealt with," the federal justice minister told reporters Saturday after being asked about the issue following a luncheon speech to a biennial federal Liberal policy convention in the B.C. capital.
Members of the federal Liberal party in B.C. went through a polite gauntlet of protesters opposed to Site C en route to the luncheon speech.
Before an enthusiastic audience of delegates, Ms. Wilson-Raybould did not discuss Site C, rather she focused her speech on the Liberal government's actions since it came to power and a rundown of policy challenges facing Ottawa.
But speaking to reporters afterwards, Ms. Wilson-Raybould said she had participated in years of Paddle for the Peace gatherings in which activists gather on the Peace River to oppose the $8.8-billion whose creation will flood more than 5,000 hectares of land.
Farmers and native leaders have said their traditional lands will be inundated. However, the project is a key priority of the BC Liberal government, who have touted the thousands of construction jobs it is creating and the clean hydro energy it will produce.
Ms. Wilson-Raybould, whose pre-political career included stints as a lawyer, Vancouver crown prosecutor and native leader, said she paddled on the Peace River as a regional chief of the BC Assembly of First Nations in support of Treaty 8 First Nations in the region.
"I was proud to have done that," she said. "With respect to Site C, I understand the tremendous opposition to moving forward." She added her government is intent on establishing a substantial nation-to-nation relationship with First Nations.
"I have been working with cabinet to ensure we put forward interim guidelines around major projects," she said.
Asked about calls for a moratorium on continued construction of Site C while legal challenges involving indigenous people's concerns about the impact of the project are before the courts, Ms. Wilson-Raybould said she could not speak to that issue, referring questions to the federal ministers of environment and the natural resources.
Joe Foy, national campaign director for the Wilderness Committee environmental organization in B.C., said Ms. Wilson-Raybould was often part of Paddle for the Peace events, which sometimes saw up to 1,000 people on the river.
"Jody has been up for several years and spoken passionately about self-determination and indigenous people's rights to say how their territory is managed," he said.
Mr. Foy noted that the whole point of Paddle for the Peace was to oppose Site C.
As for Ms. Wilson-Raybould, Mr. Foy said he sympathized with her situation.
"I believe her feelings and words are sincere. She is a part of a government, and a powerful part, but she doesn't run it and I understand that."
Still, he said the words of the new government on environmental and First Nations issues has left many hopeful the federal government would intervene, calling a halt to construction while court hearings proceed.
In a column published Saturday in The Victoria-Times Colonist newspaper, federal Liberal party member Rob Botterell, a member of the Peace Valley Landowner Association, said he was "deeply disappointed" as a Liberal that the federal government has not called a halt on Site C to allow a "sober second look" at the project.
He called on the federal government to temporarily suspend the issuance of new federal permits pending court proceedings and a federal review of whether the project will unjustifiably infringe on constitutionally protected treaty rights.
Steve Gray, one of the Site C protesters outside the venue for Ms. Wilson-Raybould's speech, said he was willing to give the government the benefit of the doubt because they seem to be biding their time as they work through complicated issues related to the project.