Politics

Jody Wilson-Raybould is refusing to move out of her entire ministerial office suite

The Commons reserves the space for ministers. Wilson-Raybould calls the dispute 'petty'

Posted: December 12, 2019
Last Updated: December 12, 2019

Jody Wilson-Raybould addresses supporters after winning the riding of Vancouver Granville as an Independent on Oct. 21, 2019. (CBC)

Jody Wilson-Raybould is refusing to vacate the entire suite of Parliament Hill offices she was assigned as a cabinet minister, despite the fact that she is now an Independent MP and is no longer entitled to the space.

Wilson-Raybould and her small staff currently occupy a series of six offices equipped with a private bathroom on the fourth floor of the Confederation Building in Ottawa — a suite she was assigned when she was a minister and had a larger staff complement.

Such office suites are in short supply. The Liberals requested the use of the ministerial suite now occupied by Wilson-Raybould for one of their newly appointed ministers. Wilson-Raybould has yet to leave.

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"It seems a little bit petty to me," Wilson-Raybould told CBC News. "It makes no sense to remove me from my MP office. So I don't understand why they're wanting to do it."

'I'm just trying to find a reasonable solution'

Wilson-Raybould moved into these offices in 2018 as the Centre Block was being emptied in preparation for a decade-long renovation.

She said she disagrees with the description of her offices as a "suite", saying she has the use of two adjacent MP offices without a connecting door. She said she has volunteered to give up one of them as long as she can stay in the other.

"So I'm not trying to prevent somebody from having been out in the cold without an office. I'm just trying to find a reasonable solution," she said.

Wilson-Raybould said she invited Algonquin Elder Claudette Commanda to bless the offices after her swearing-in following the October election. She said she had received no "formal notice" at that point that she was required to move out, adding she got the notice on Dec. 5.

"They are trying to," Wilson-Raybould told CBC News when asked whether Commons administration was trying to move her out of the offices. "But my amazing elder Commanda came and cleansed my office. So I'm hopeful they'll see the appropriate thing to let me stay in my office."

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Parliament Hill offices are reassigned after each election, with priority based on party standings. As an Independent, Wilson-Raybould would be among the last MPs given a chance to choose an office.

After winning the 2015 election, the Liberals allowed MPs to keep their existing offices where possible. Wilson-Raybould was allowed to stay in the ministerial suite after she resigned from cabinet during the SNC-Lavalin controversy. 

But things have changed since the election. Wilson-Raybould is a non-minister occupying what's classified as a ministerial suite, so the Liberals expect her to move out so that a cabinet member can move in.

'I dare them to even consider doing that'

Sources say Minister of Northern Affairs Dan Vandal is supposed to take over the office from Wilson-Raybould. Vandal is a Métis member of Parliament who represents a Winnipeg riding.

"We don't know her logic or her rationale," said a senior Liberal source.

Commanda said the ceremony to cleanse and bless the office also included a prayer for Wilson-Raybould to keep her office space.

"We prayed for the protection that she will remain in that office space," said Commanda. "She is settled there and that is where the work needs to take place … If anybody expects her to move, that is not right."

Commanda said Wilson-Raybould wanted to respect the fact Ottawa sits on unceded Algonquin land and she wanted an Algonquin elder to conduct the ceremony to help her prepare for the opening of Parliament.

 "She did the right steps having the ceremony and the prayer so she would be walking in a good way and commencing work in a good way," she said.

Cheryl Casimer speaks to the press at the provincial legislature in Victoria, Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019. (Chad Hipolito/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Wilson-Raybould's supporters made the office dispute an issue at last week's meeting of the Assembly of First Nations.

"I heard they were going to try to boot you out of your office," said Cheryl Casimer of the First Nations Summit in B.C. during a ceremony honouring Wilson-Raybould. "I dare them to even consider doing that. That's your space, you created that space, you've earned that space. I'm glad to hear it was blessed."

House of Commons administration declined to address the issue. Instead, Heather Bradley, the director of communications for the Speaker, sent out a statement outlining the policy for assigning office space.

"There is a long established process of office allocations based on party standings. After an election, the allocation of offices starts with the government, to review their allocations and make changes as required," Bradley said in an email.

"The same process is repeated with the Official Opposition and then the third, fourth and fifth party, should one exist."

Once the recognized parties have been dealt with, Bradley said, the leftover offices are offered to Independent members based on their years of seniority in the House of Commons.