The timing of the release of her book Indian in the Cabinet: Telling Truth to Power was less than a week before the federal election Sept. 20, but Jody Wilson-Raybould said that was no more than a coincidence.
The former Liberal Cabinet minister, however, did say she hopes voters take into consideration what she has to say about her experiences in government when they mark their ballots.
“I think it’s important to tell of my experiences… how government operates, and the expectation that I have around leadership and what leadership means,” she said.
“I think it’s an important story to tell so I hope people keep in the back of the mind what type of leader they want, and what types of values and principles do they want that leader to have,” she said.
Wilson-Raybould discussed the book as part of the virtual Vancouver Writers Fest’s In Conversation with Dana Gee. Close to 400 people tuned in to the special event Sept. 15.
Wilson-Raybould said she was personally “courted” by Liberal leader Justin Trudeau in 2014 on a promise of “doing politics differently”. The Liberals were swept into power in 2015 with a majority government and Wilson-Raybould with it as Vancouver Granville MP. She became the first Indigenous person to hold the position of Attorney General and Justice minister.
The SNC-Lavalin affair forms the backdrop of the memoir and makes up a “significant part” of Wilson-Raybould’s experience in federal government. She testified that she had been pressured by Prime Minister Trudeau, members of his office and other high ranking government officials to intervene in the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin on bribery charges related to contracts in Libya, and to offer a deferred prosecution agreement. The situation ultimately led to her resignation from Cabinet. She was then expelled from caucus by Trudeau, who also expelled Jane Philpott, who had resigned her position as president of the Treasury Board in support of Wilson-Raybould.
However, even before the SNC Lavalin scandal, Wilson-Raybould says she was aware that values she held dear, such as inclusion, equality and diversity of perspective, which she said she and Trudeau talked about before she ran for office, were not at the forefront of how the Liberal government did business.
“I’m a proud Indigenous person in this country. I went to Ottawa and sat around a Cabinet table and realized that I was treated like an Indian, recognizing that the Cabinet table that I was a part of saw me as an Indian as described in the Indian Act, to be looked over, to be talked to, the paternalism that existed, that’s what made me know that was how I was viewed,” she said.
It was for this reason that she used the word “Indian” in the title of her book, which hit the shelves earlier this week, with an excerpt being made public on the weekend.
Trudeau faced questions about Wilson-Raybould’s tell-all book on the campaign trail. He insisted that the issue had already been dealt with as part of the 2019 election campaign. At that time Wilson-Raybould ran successfully as an independent and the Liberals were elected to form a minority government.
Prior to the August 2021 election call, Wilson-Raybould was vocal that, in her opinion, it was not the right time to go to the polls. It would be a distraction, she said, from too many ongoing issues that needed to be worked through by a sitting government, including the uncovering of graves on residential school sites by Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc and Cowessess First Nation, and the fourth wave of the coronavirus pandemic. Wilson-Raybould is not seeking a third term.
“Making the decision to leave that role (of MP), which I do still value, it was because of the nature of Parliament, the partisanship that has become … toxic, that it was my time to leave that space. That’s not to say that I’m not going to continue to be in public service, but to find a place where my actions and my advocacy can be more useful,” she said.
Prior to running as an MP, Wilson-Raybould was active in politics, including serving as Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief for British Columbia.
“I’d been a passionate advocate for rights recognition for self-determination, including self-government. And part of that creating space for Indigenous nations to rebuild is to get rid of the Indian Act. I am going to continue to speak out and write about that,” she said.
Pressure needs to be brought to bear on the federal government to create a mechanism that allows First Nations to get out from under the Indian Act when nations have put in place their own core institutions of government, she says.
“That is a mission that I am on, and so many others, to ensure that Indigenous nations can rebuild and in rebuilding we build a stronger country. I’m looking for a leader, a prime minister, to do what is right and to do the work and create the space for that transformative change. I know that that person will have the support of Indigenous nations across the country,” said Wilson-Raybould.
She says she has learned much from her time in federal politics, including the limitations of being “blindly loyal” to a political party or a leader.
“The nature of our politics is so partisan now. The best ideas, no matter where they come from, are not necessarily listened to if they don’t fit the idea of the leader or the idea of the unelected people that exist within the prime minister’s office,” said Wilson-Raybould.
She says certain issues, such as climate change and Indigenous concerns, must be tackled in a non-partisan fashion.
Despite her disappointing experience in Ottawa, Wilson-Raybould still encourages Indigenous people and marginalized people to run.
“I understand disillusionment, but I also understand hope. And what I hope to impart is that sense of hope; that by we, as individuals or collectively, speaking out and speaking up and speaking the truth in the face of any potential consequences, we need more of that. We need more people to get involved and speak up. That’s how we create change,” said Wilson-Raybould.
By Shari Narine, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Windspeaker.com, Windspeaker.com