A senior federal minister from British Columbia is facing questions about whether she will stick to her past objections to major development projects at the cabinet table after a four-year-old video surfaced in which she said Canada risks its international reputation with proposals such as the Site C hydroelectric dam.
“There are other ways to create power and other ways to preserve power and it doesn’t involve destruction of pristine valleys,” Jody Wilson-Raybould says in the video, shot at an event in 2012 and posted to YouTube this week.
“The country’s reputation is at stake with approval of these projects like Site C, like the Enbridge pipeline,” says Ms. Wilson-Raybould, elected in 2015 as the Liberal MP for Vancouver Granville and appointed as Justice Minister. “Our reputation as a caring and considerate environmentally friendly nation internationally is going to be questioned. Running roughshod over aboriginal treaty and rights, including treaty rights, is not the way to improve that reputation.”
The video was posted by the Common Sense Canadian, a website whose founders include Rafe Mair, a former B.C. broadcaster and provincial environment minister in B.C.’s Social Credit government in the 1970s.
The video comes as the federal Liberals are under pressure to suspend work on the $8.8-billion Site C project.
Once built, Site C will flood more than 5,000 hectares of land in the Peace River region of the province. The project is a priority for the province’s Liberal government, which has touted the construction jobs it is creating and clean hydro energy it will produce.
Ms. Wilson-Raybould appeared at a federal Liberal Party convention this month in Victoria, where opponents of Site C protested.
At the time, she acknowledged her past objections to the project and said her conduct as an MP and cabinet minister is guided by her “values and principles,” a mandate from the Prime Minister, and the law.
But her criticisms, expressed in the video, came as a surprise to some.
Nathan Cullen, the NDP environment critic, said he assumes that Ms. Wilson-Raybould still holds the views expressed in the video, and he said that raises questions about why she is not vocally supporting a freeze on the project.
“I am bit surprised that she has not, so far, shown the courage of her convictions. I assume these are convictions, the things she is saying about, ‘Canada’s reputation is at stake with the decision on Site C.’ These are quotes. It’s not my words.”
Mr. Cullen said Ms. Wilson-Raybould needs to be the same person she was before she was elected – one whose views he was familiar with.
“That person would honour the rights and title – and respect that by pausing the permits, which are sitting on her government’s desk. It would be the absolute height of hypocrisy and the most cynical kind of politics if she were to suddenly ignore First Nations and renounce in action what she worked for for many years in deed.”
He said, in his view, it is no excuse to say that she is reflecting the views of cabinet. “Simply saying, ‘I fought for this, but lost in cabinet’ is a very, very weak excuse for not doing the right thing.”
Asked about the video, Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s spokesperson Joanne Ghiz responded with a statement saying Site C was approved by the previous government, which set legally binding conditions with which the proponent must comply, and that the government is examining an appeal on the matter.
Hamish Telford, a political scientist with the University of the Fraser Valley, said this scenario is inevitable, barring the unlikely possibility of someone coming to elected office without any prior views.
He also said he expects Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s views were known to the Liberals and its leadership, who were comfortable having her as a candidate and a senior cabinet minister.
“The issue here is that politics is a team sport,” Prof. Telford said. “When you enter into that arena, you are certainly welcome to bring your views and articulate them but, ultimately, you have accepted that you’re going to go along with the policies of the party as articulated by the party and the leader.”
He said Ms. Wilson-Raybould would have to resign if she could not go along with cabinet’s views on the issue.
Asked about the matter, the B.C. government responded with a statement from its Energy Ministry declaring Site C has been developed by BC Hydro over 35 years and then approved in 2014 after vast consultation that includes nine years of outreach to First Nations.
“Our government respects the right of anyone who wants to be involved in a peaceful protest, whether it be Site C or any other issue,” said the statement.
Ms. Wilson-Raybould is a former provincial Crown prosecutor in Vancouver who has also held leadership posts in British Columbia’s First Nations community, serving as an adviser to the B.C. Treaty Commission and regional chief of the B.C. Assembly of First Nations. The daughter of noted B.C. First Nations leader Bill Wilson, she first met Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2013 at an Assembly of First Nations meeting in Whitehorse where he invited her to run for elected office. She eventually secured the Liberal nomination in new riding of Vancouver-Granville.Report Typo/Error