Former federal Liberal cabinet minister Jody Wilson-Raybould says the Trudeau government is trying to manage Indigenous issues rather than delivering on campaign promises of reconciliation.
The former attorney-general and justice minister raised her concerns on Wednesday in a keynote speech to a two-day gathering of B.C. First Nations leaders to discuss the community’s relationship with the justice system.
Ms. Wilson-Raybould, who attended the gathering with Jane Philpott, a fellow former Liberal cabinet minister, said her “fear and disappointment” is that the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is not heeding the advice and input of Indigenous people.
“The federal government has fallen back, once again, into a pattern of trying to, quote, manage the problem with Indigenous peoples and make incremental and limited shifts rather than transforming the status quo,” Ms. Wilson-Raybould, now an independent MP, told delegates at a hotel in Richmond, B.C.
“In my view, it is never appropriate or proper to have, as a goal, managing the challenges and byproducts of colonialism,” Ms. Wilson-Raybould said during her half-hour speech. “The goal must be to address the wrongs, to change patterns, transform the foundations, and all that we do must be framed to achieve these goals.”
At a meeting with the Assembly of First Nations in July, 2015, Mr. Trudeau promised a Liberal government would recognize Indigenous governments as full partners in the federation, and work with Indigenous peoples to create fairness and equality of opportunity.
Ms. Wilson-Raybould said Indigenous people will remain vigilant on policies vital to the community in such areas as justice and self-government, and work to ensure their voices are heard.
The Trudeau Liberals, for their part, say they are still hearing support from Indigenous people and leaders. Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett has said she continues to receive “very positive” feedback.
Ms. Wilson-Raybould called for bold ideas, explored across party lines, to deal with concerns that Canada’s justice system has had a role in perpetuating injustice against Indigenous peoples.
For example, Ms. Wilson-Raybould said mandatory minimum sentences for some crimes “feed the cycle of incarceration, and our work needs to break those cycles.”
Some have said mandatory minimums lead to racial disparities in criminal justice.
Ms. Wilson-Raybould, elected the MP for Vancouver-Granville in the 2015 election, was shuffled from justice to veterans affairs in January, then resigned from that post in February amid a furor over whether the Prime Ministers’ Office put pressure on her to order an out-of-court settlement for SNC-Lavalin Group Inc., which is facing bribery and fraud charges related to its efforts to secure government contracts in Libya.
Ms. Philpott resigned as president of the Treasury Board on March 4 citing “serious concerns” about the political pressure exerted on Ms. Wilson-Raybould to abandon the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin.
Mr. Trudeau subsequently expelled both women, star candidates in the 2015 election, from the Liberal caucus and removed them as candidates for the Liberal Party in the October federal election. He said their criticism of his role in the SNC-Lavalin affair had broken bonds of trust and helped the government’s political opponents.
Ms. Wilson-Raybould said in an interview before her speech that she has not yet decided her political future. It remains unclear whether she will seek re-election in Vancouver-Granville and what party she might run for. “I am still exploring my options,”she said.
Ms. Philpott also spoke about the way governments handle First Nations policy, specifically denouncing the lack of a treatment centre in Grassy Narrows in Ontario despite industrial mercury contamination there.
Given that the federal government has annual spending of $350-billion, she said Canada’s moral compass would be in need of adjustment if it could not find the $10-million to $20-million for a treatment facility for Grassy Narrows.
However, she was especially pointed in her concluding remarks about the lessons she and her friend Ms. Wilson-Raybould have learned with their political experiences in recent months.
“In theory, there is a desire for diversity among people in [federal] politics. In reality, it seems that Ottawa is not entirely ready for people who approach leadership responsibility from different world views,” she told delegates.
“Some have criticized me and Jody as being naive, as not understanding how things are done. Those critics fail to realize that the way things have always been done may not be the standard that Canadians expect from their political leaders.”
With a report from the Canadian Press