From star Liberal MP to difficult and incompetent? Really?

A number of academics from across the country are speaking out in support of former Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould.

Cheap shots against former Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould 'feel familiar' to many women

Jody Wilson-Raybould listens to a question as she speaks to reporters on Parliament Hill in 2018. 'She is not someone to be messed with and she's nobody's trophy,' say academics of the former cabinet minister. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

This column was co-authored by a group of academics.

On Feb. 12, the day after her last meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Jody Wilson-Raybould resigned from cabinet — signing "Puglaas," her Kwak'wala name, on the letter — and retained no less than Thomas Cromwell, a former Supreme Court justice, to advise her on what she may speak about. 

The 2015 election of the Trudeau Liberals was accompanied by much fanfare and rhetoric about the new political era, one marked by positive and inclusive approaches ("sunny ways"), respect for reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples, open government, a retreat from the concentration of prime ministerial power in the PMO, and the deployment of feminist principles.

Wilson-Raybould, the newly-elected Vancouver-Granville MP and then the first Indigenous Minister of Justice, was paraded like a prize trophy as evidence of all of these things.

Fast-forward to 2019, and the trophy has become a target. It's alleged that her resistance to pressure from the PMO in the prosecution of SNC Lavalin resulted in her public disciplining by the prime minister in the form of her demotion to the Veterans' Affairs portfolio in a cabinet shuffle.

In a statement at that time on her MP web page, she wrote:

"The role of the Attorney General of Canada carries with it unique responsibilities to uphold the rule of law and the administration of justice, and as such demands a measure of principled independence.

"It is a pillar of our democracy that our system of justice be free from even the perception of political interference and uphold the highest levels of public confidence. As such, it has always been my view that the Attorney General of Canada must be non-partisan, more transparent in the principles that are the basis of decisions, and, in this respect, always willing to speak truth to power." 

A powerful political actor

Meanwhile, certain Liberal pundits who evidently didn't get the sunny-feminist-ways memo have been indulging in character assassination, running a whisper campaign that Wilson-Raybould is not a team player, is "difficult." One even said on the CBC that she is reputed to be incompetent.

This feels familiar to many women across the country, now rolling their eyes, recognizing this for the stereotypical cheap shots against women who beg to differ.

Ah, the politics of symbolism. Perhaps Trudeau et al. forgot that the MP for Vancouver-Granville is a powerful political and professional actor in her own right. 

She has a heritage of illustrious politicians in the Kwakwaka'wakw Nation. She has served as Crown prosecutor in British Columbia, as a treaty commissioner and as regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations, places where competence and political acumen are valued.

Her public contributions are likely far from over. She is not someone to be messed with and she's nobody's trophy. The inferred antics in the PMO – the parameters of which many are interested in knowing – have cost the federal government its first Indigenous woman Justice Minister, and may cost Vancouver-Granville its MP. It seems unlikely she would choose to run again, or that the current leader of the federal Liberals would sign her nomination papers.

Both a sad and proud moment

In the ashes of all of this we may find some smoking residue suggesting causes of this particular political firestorm, helping us to comprehend exactly how politics and power are currently deployed, for whom, and at whose cost. And in this matter, we've all lost.

The merits of participating in mainstream electoral politics are complicated for Indigenous people. Wilson-Raybould's choice to participate in partisan politics wasn't universally supported in Indian Country, which has little trust in and fewer reasons to support mainstream political parties and governments. 

Nor was her every stance supported by all Indigenous people. Her positioning in Justin Trudeau's government was as much a liability as an asset in Indian Country.

For we signatories, this is both a sad and proud moment. We are troubled by the rolling train of toxic federal politics and by the treatment of one of our own, an accomplished Indigenous woman who chose to contribute to mainstream politics.

We are proud of her record, her integrity, her principles and we wish her well.


Joyce Green, professor of Political Science (University of Regina)
Gina Starblanket, assistant professor of Political Science (University of Calgary)
Heidi Kiiwetinepinesiik Stark, associate professor of Political Science (University of Victoria)
Renae Watchman, associate professor of English and Indigenous Studies (Mount Royal University)
Sarah Hunt, assistant professor of First Nations and Indigenous Studies, and Geography (University of British Columbia)
Lianne Marie Leda Charlie, instructor (Yukon College)
Christine O'Bonsawin, associate professor of History (University of Victoria)
waaseyaa'sin Christine Sy, assistant professor of Gender Studies (University of Victoria)
Jeff Corntassel, associate professor of Indigenous Studies (University of Victoria)
Patricia M. Barkaskas, instructor at Peter A. Allard School of Law  (University of British Columbia)
Dallas Hunt, lecturer in Native Studies (University of Manitoba)
Mary-Jane McCallum, professor of History (University of Winnipeg)
Damien Lee, assistant professor of Sociology (Ryerson University)
Chelsea Gabel, assistant professor of Social Sciences (McMaster University)
Tasha Hubbard, associate professor of Native Studies (University of Alberta) 
Sarah Nickel, assistant professor of Indigenous Studies (University of Saskatchewan)
Robyn Bourgeois, assistant professor od Women's and Gender Studies (Brock University)

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ