Jody Wilson-Raybould, aboriginal candidate in B.C., caught in political crossfire
Fate at Assembly of First Nations rests with B.C. leadership, says Ghislain Picard
The Assembly of First Nations says it's up to First Nations leaders in B.C. to decide whether Jody Wilson-Raybould, Justin Trudeau's candidate in Vancouver Granville, should stay on with them as regional chief for B.C. while she campaigns for the Liberal Party ahead of the next federal election in 2015.
In a letter obtained by CBC News, national chief Ghislain Picard said the AFN executive committee met via teleconference this week to discuss Wilson-Raybould's candidacy after an Ontario chief complained it would put the national group in a "real or perceived conflict of interest."
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"While there were a number of opinions expressed, the majority agreed that this is a matter for determination by B.C. leadership and they have the authority to choose their representative to the national executive," Picard said in a letter dated Aug.13.
As B.C. regional chief for the AFN, Wilson-Raybould has been elected by 203 First Nations in the province.
Wilson-Raybould told CBC News she has sought and obtained the support of First Nations leaders in B.C. to stay on as a paid official for the AFN while she runs for Trudeau's Liberals.
"In consultation with B.C. chiefs and in full compliance of B.C.-AFN by-laws, I've taken the necessary steps to ensure I can continue to fulfill my duties as regional chief," Wilson-Raybould said in a written statement.
In a letter Wilson-Raybould sent to B.C. First Nations chief and council on Aug.1, she said it was agreed that she would take a leave of absence from the AFN once the writ is dropped.
If a conflict of interest does arise before then, she said it was agreed that another elected representative of the B.C. wing of the AFN would temporarily step in.
Serpent River First Nation Chief Isadore Day complained to the AFN, in a two-page letter dated July 31, about "a clear bias and conflict of interest."
"There are very obvious fears that the AFN mandate is being affected by partisan influence and that fiscal resources are funding a formally announced candidate.
"Fundamental fears are that there are conflicting positions on major First Nations policies that are not in line with the Liberal Party of Canada and vice-versa," Chief Day said in his letter to Picard.
Transparency rules expose divisions
New transparency rules enacted by the federal government at the end of July have exposed divisions both among First Nations leaders and federal politicians alike.
Picard, the national chief at the AFN, has been categorical about his opposition to the First Nations Financial Transparency Act.
After it was initially perceived that he supported the act, on Sunday Chief Day said in a post on Twitter that he supports accountability but "denounced" the act "as imposed" by the federal government.
The Opposition New Democrats and the federal Liberals both voted against the bill before it was passed into law.
The Conservatives, who took notice of Wilson-Raybould's presence at the Liberal Party's policy conference in Montreal last February, immediately seized on the news of her candidacy and opposition to the act in order to pounce on Trudeau.
Wilson-Raybould, in her capacity as B.C. regional chief for the AFN, opposed the bill when it was being studied in Parliament.
The disclosure came after CBC News received her written statement for this story.
Trudeau to replace the act
Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt accused Trudeau of giving First Nations leaders who oppose new transparency rules "an easy way out."
“Justin Trudeau announced that he will repeal the First Nations Financial Transparency Act and in doing so has chosen the side of those First Nation chiefs, like his star candidate Jody Wilson-Raybould, who would keep this basic financial information hidden from their communities and from Canadian taxpayers," Valcourt said in a statement earlier this week.
Trudeau, who voted against the bill, said a Liberal government would replace the act because the government failed to consult First Nations on it — but not because he is opposed to having First Nations bands disclose their expenses and salaries.
"We would bring in a different piece of legislation that would have many of the same goals of transparency and accountability, but would be more about empowering First Nations communities to do that and to reassure people that taxpayer money is being spent wisely," Trudeau told reporters in Saskatoon on Thursday.
Disclosures made public under the new act have revealed that Ron Giesbrecht, chief of the Kwikwetlem First Nation in B.C., earned nearly $1 million last year. That amount included a one-time $800,000 bonus which came as a result of land deal with the B.C. government.
Picard told Chief Day in his letter that the AFN executive members agreed to discuss the matter further the next time they meet in person.