As a child, Jody Wilson-Raybould dreamed of being Prime Minister of Canada. A big dream for any Canadian, but even harder to achieve for an Indigenous person in Canada. Wilson-Raybould got pretty close, taking one of the country’s most powerful seats as Justice Minister and Attorney General after the 2015 election of Justin Trudeau’s Liberals.
If you haven’t been paying attention, Wilson-Raybould is in the spotlight for her decision to pursue prosecution against infrastructure contractor SNC-Lavalin for allegedly bribing Moammar Gadhafi’s inner circle to get infrastructure contracts from his corrupt Libyan government. If guilty, the company could be banned from federal contracts for up to 10 years.
The alternative was a new legal mechanism Maclean’s magazine’s Tom Parkin believes was designed specifically for SNC-Lavalin: a remediation agreement that would see the company pay a significant penalty and restore any victims of the alleged crimes, but remain on the precious contracting list.
Soon after her decision, Wilson-Raybould was shuffled to Veterans’ Affairs, which despite its merits is considered in Ottawa as political purgatory. Soon after, she resigned from Cabinet altogether.
As the affair spirals to a scandal, the question becomes: how is this relevant to Nunavummiut?
For one, the affair reveals how federal politicians continue to overlook Indigenous people, in this case in favour of Quebec voters – SNC-Lavalin is a Quebec company and a significant employer in that province. The Cabinet shuffle that demoted Wilson-Raybould also disrupted progress at Indigenous Services, as Minister Jane Philpott was promoted to the Treasury Board seat vacated by Scott Brison. Media reports claim Wilson-Raybould was offered Indigenous Services and turned it down.
Second, the situation opens the door to a Conservative government led by Andrew Scheer. By all reports, Stephen Harper’s 10-year tenure as Prime Minister left Indigenous people wanting, and Scheer refuses to say how his platform will be any different. Until recently, the Liberals were doing well enough on repairing the relationship with Indigenous people that even NDP leader Jagmeet Singh called the Trudeau years a “ray of hope”.
Third, the persistent spotlight on Wilson-Raybould proves federal politicians should not have underestimated Indigenous people. The lack of transparency about her departure from the Attorney General’s office could remain a cloud over Trudeau’s government long enough for Wilson-Raybould to go down in history as the Indigenous woman who brought down a government.
If not for her resolve and the support of other Indigenous Canadians, she could be sitting quietly in Veterans’ Affairs. Instead, we’re looking at her Cabinet departure letter and its intention to continue to stand up for Indigenous people and “to ensure my voice is heard.”
At the moment, that voice is silent, stifled due to attorney-client privilege.
Which harms Trudeau less: letting Wilson-Raybould speak or keeping her silent?
And will she regret her chosen path if it results in the election of a government unfavourable to Indigenous people?
We’ll find out in October.