Joyce Green is a professor at the University of Regina.
Gina Starblanket is an assistant professor at the University of Calgary
The Prime Minister can no longer claim that sweetness and light shape his relationship with Jody Wilson-Raybould. The reasons for this can be inferred, but not known until the latter speaks. She has retained no less than Thomas Cromwell, a former Supreme Court justice, to advise her on what she may speak about. No doubt she, as well as perhaps everyone but Liberal partisans, wish for clarity and an opportunity to ventilate the matter.
The 2015 election of the Trudeau Liberals was welcomed by many Canadians, who were pleased by the rhetoric about a new positive tone in government, marked by positive and inclusive approaches (“sunny ways”), reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, open, transparent government, a moderation of power in the Prime Minister’s Office and the deployment of feminist principles in governance. The newly elected Vancouver-Granville MP and first Indigenous minister of justice, Ms. Wilson-Raybould, was a prominent symbol of all of this.
The Globe and Mail reported last week that Ms. Wilson-Raybould came under pressure from the Prime Minister’s Office to direct the Public Prosecution Service of Canada to negotiate a settlement in a criminal case against SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. – an internationally active Canadian-listed corporation of major economic significance – so it could avoid a trial. That apparently resulted in her cabinet demotion from attorney-general and minister of justice to minister of veterans’ affairs. With all respect to veterans, the ministries are not equivalent in the cabinet hierarchy, and the demotion indicated the Prime Minister had a serious concern.
Questioned by media, the PM has been coy about the significance of the demotion and his confidence in Ms. Wilson-Raybould. Indeed, her continued presence in cabinet and in the Liberal caucus was offered as proof of the health of their relationship. But on Tuesday, Puglaas (her Kwak’wala name) resigned from cabinet. Whether she will wish to – or be able to – continue in caucus remains to be seen.
Now, the star MP has become the target of a whisper campaign. Liberal insiders who perhaps did not get the sunny-feminist-ways memo have suggested Ms. Wilson-Raybould is not a team player. Doubtless, many across the country are rolling their eyes, recognizing these stereotypical cheap shots against women who beg to differ.
Perhaps Mr. Trudeau et al. forgot that Ms. Wilson-Raybould is a powerful, experienced political and professional actor in her own right. She is one of many illustrious politicians from the Kwakwaka’wakw Nation. She has been a Crown prosecutor in British Columbia, a treaty commissioner and regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations, posts in which competence and political acumen are essential. She is nobody’s symbolic trophy, lending legitimacy but never taking an opposing view.
The inferred difficulties with the PMO and the poor judgment of those who demoted her and those who are practising character assassination have cost us the first Indigenous female justice minister, and may cost Vancouver-Granville its MP. It seems unlikely she would choose to run again.
In the ashes of all of this, we may find some smoking residue suggesting the causes of this particular political firestorm, suggesting exactly how politics and power are currently deployed: for whom, and at whose cost. It is the parameters of these matters that we need to know.
The merits of participating in mainstream electoral politics are complicated for Indigenous people. Many see this as joining the oppressor. Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s choice to participate in partisan politics was not universally supported in Indian Country, which has little trust in and fewer reasons to support mainstream political parties and governments. Nor was her every decision supported by all Indigenous people. Her positioning in Justin Trudeau’s government was as much liability as asset for her in Indian Country. Still, she holds our respect for her own decisions, for her autonomy and for her record, integrity and principles.
We are troubled by the rollout of toxic politics and by the mistreatment of one of our own, an accomplished Indigenous woman who chose to contribute to mainstream politics. Her public contributions are likely far from over. We are proud of her, and we wish her well.