It’s a scandal that has rocked the Liberal government for the past month.
Canada’s first Indigenous attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould quit cabinet over what she says was pressure from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) to do favors for SNC-Lavalin, an engineering giant based in vote-rich Quebec that is facing bribery, fraud and corruption charges.
When she refused to interfere in the prosecution, despite four months of “consistent and sustained pressure,” she said she was demoted to Veterans Affairs.
The PMO says it’s all just a misunderstanding and nothing was untoward.
This week we put the scandal InFocus to find out what it means for Wilson-Raybould, who continues to sit as the Liberal MP for Vancouver Granville and says she will seek to retain her seat in the upcoming federal election.
What does it mean to the Trudeau brand – a self-proclaimed feminist and an Indigenous ally? And how will Indian country react to the scandal when it comes time to vote?
Wei Wai Kai Chief Bill Wilson, was part of an Indigenous leadership group who fought former prime minister Pierre Trudeau to have the Constitution Act enshrine Indigenous rights in the 1980s.
He is also the father of Wilson-Raybould.
He told InFocus Host Melissa Ridgen she’s been smeared by the government she works for in order to save corporate and political elites she stood up to.
“It’s part of her character, her upbringing, the fact that she is a native Indian woman of high birth who was given a mandate in her own tribe to keep order and enforce the rule of law,” Wilson said.
He also teed off on the prime minister and Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde.
“(Pierre Trudeau) was smartest white politician that they ever put up,” Wilson said. “His son did not inherit a great deal of that intellect.”
“He sent out his watchdogs to bite Jody’s leg off and personalize this as though ‘poor little Jody didn’t know what she was doing and couldn’t take the pressure,’” Wilson said. “He picked on the wrong, wrong woman, he picked on the wrong family.”
Bellegarde didn’t defend Wilson-Raybould, or criticize the government for it’s treatment of her, and instead called the scandal “a distraction,” which Wilson also takes exception with.
“I don’t care how much core funding you give me, this lady has stood up for our rights, the rule of law, Aboriginal people and women and you are doing wrong and you could cut off my core funding if you want too,” Wilson said, of how he believes Bellegarde should have reacted to the scandal.
“But I don’t know many Indians on the honorarium, expense circuit who’d do that.”
Like Wilson-Raybould, Rachel Snow of the Stoney Nakoda First Nation is a lawyer and her late father Chief John Snow also battled the elder Trudeau.
But unlike Wilson-Raybould, doesn’t believe the system is fixable from within and when Indigenous people become involved in Canadian politics they’re validating the oppressor.
“People agree with her principled stand (on standing up to the PMO and not fixing SNC’s legal troubles) but they still have questions about whether or not she did enough for the Indigenous people in her role as the Attorney General or Justice Minister,” Snow said.
Bruce Spence is a seasoned journalist and political analyst and member of the Opaskwayak Cree Nation. As a producer with APTN National News, he has had a front row seat to multiple governments and scandals.
“As soon as she opened her mouth and started talking, I could tell, there is something coming here,” Spence said of watching Wilson-Raybould’s bombshell testimony before the justice committee last week.
“She laid it out like any good prosecutor would. A case. And it’s hard to dispute it,” Spencer said.
He said that while he believes she devastated her party’s credibility, Indigenous voters aren’t likely to vote Conservative, and the NDP federally don’t have enough support in other demographics for a bump in Indigenous votes to make a big difference in the election outcome.
Brock Pitawanakwat of the Whitefish River First Nation is an assistant professor in Indigenous Health and Wellness at York University, a research fellow at the Yellowhead Institute and a regular panelist with Media Indigena.
When asked if he thinks the prime minister underestimated the strength of character of his former attorney general, he said, “I do, and I think he also did the same with Jane Philpott.”
Philpott quit cabinet this week in solidarity with Wilson-Raybould.
“I think they (Wilson-Raybould and Phillpott) really did believe the rhetoric that this wasn’t the old Liberal party anymore,” Pitawanikwat said. “They were going to put away the sponsorship scandal that took down Chrétien and Paul Martin’s governments and it was going to be a new era and they would be part of an ethical government and I think they held themselves and colleagues to account for that.
“That was the standard they were expecting and when the Prime Minister and his senior advisors failed to back that up, they decided that they couldn’t stay.”