Cross Country Checkup

Move to veterans file 'set the stage' for Wilson-Raybould resignation, says former deputy PM

Speaking with Cross Country Checkup host Duncan McCue, former Deputy Prime Minister Sheila Copps says that 'attacking' former Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould isn't a 'winning strategy' for the PMO.

‘Attacking your star Aboriginal attorney general … is not a winning strategy,’ says Sheila Copps

Sheila Copps speaks in Toronto on Jan. 8, 2012. The former MP told Cross Country Checkup that 'attacking' former Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould isn't a 'winning strategy' for the PMO. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)
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Sheila Copps, the former deputy prime minister to Jean Chretien, is quick to frame Jody Wilson-Raybould's move to Veterans Affairs as a demotion.

But the former attorney general's resignation took her by surprise, Copps says.

Following allegations in a Globe and Mail report that Wilson-Raybould was pressured to intervene in a corruption and fraud involving Quebec-based engineering firm SNC-Lavalin, the MP for Vancouver Granville stepped down Tuesday from her position in the federal cabinet.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has denied the allegations.

On Sunday, Copps told Cross Country Checkup host Duncan McCue that the "demotion" was a precursor to Wilson-Raybould's decision.

However, Copps, who served in both provincial and federal politics for decades and was an advocate for women's rights, argues that Wilson-Raybould struggled with a desire to advocate on behalf of Indigenous peoples and being a neutral attorney general.

Jody Wilson-Raybould hasn't spoken publicly since she announced her resignation as Minister of Veterans Affairs on Feb. 12, 2019. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Here is part of Copps' conversation with McCue:

Did you see it coming? Did you see Jody Wilson-Raybould quitting?

No, and I think the demotion that she received was a mistake and it sort of set the stage.

But when you listen to her father who has been speaking out for the last several days, it's clear that she was struggling with, I think, the requirement to be an advocate for her people and at the same time be the minister of justice.

He passed a comment last week that she fought very hard inside cabinet to be the spokesperson for advocacy for Aboriginal peoples, but it went to another minister. And sometimes when you're justice minister, you actually have to give up your advocate hat.

So, I think it must have been very challenging for her. I think it was a brilliant decision for Trudeau to put her in in the first place, but it was also very risky because of the fact that her first responsibility is obviously to her people.

And sometimes in justice matters, if you're talking, for example, about hereditary chiefs versus elected chiefs, the judicial system has to be kind of neutral.

When she was shuffled to Veterans Affairs, you wrote a column about that saying that that decision was based on bad advice. How so?

First of all, as you mentioned earlier ... she represents hope to a lot of young Indigenous people.

I saw her from afar when I was in Ottawa. She was already a, kind of, rising star and I think she represented hope and, kind of, a generational change.

And [she was] also a female — all of the things that ... Mr. Trudeau was really promoting in this cabinet.

Attacking your star Aboriginal attorney general — and the first one in the history of Canada — is not a winning strategy.- Sheila Copps , former deputy prime minister

When Jody Wilson-Raybould was demoted or shuffled to Veterans Affairs, and then when she resigned as well, we heard from Liberal insiders whispered that she was difficult to work with. There were some that were kind of questioning her competence. What did you make of that?

The thing is anytime anybody gets a demotion — it was a demotion, notwithstanding Mr. Trudeau's comments — there are people on the inside who try and sell it to the media as a good thing.

I think the other piece of the puzzle, though, which hasn't really been talked about a lot, is in her letter of resignation she says she speaks truth to power.

As a minister, you do speak truth to power, but sometimes around the table you also have to listen to the power, as well. And if you look at the whole situation facing SNC-Lavalin — the possible torching of a company that has almost 9,000 workers across the country — that's relevant and you can't sort of walk away and say that's not relevant to the discussion at hand.

I don't know who said what to whom. I think the Prime Minister's Office made a huge mistake in attacking her and her integrity.

I think they have a very good economic case to make on the SNC-Lavalin front because we're not the only country in the world that that has had problems in other fora. I mean, doing business in Libya is not doing business in Canada and I think you have to reflect that.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Trudeau has insisted, that neither he, nor any of his staff, 'directed' Wilson-Raybould to intervene in the SNC-Lavalin case. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

In attacking Jody Wilson-Raybould's integrity, we have heard from the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs who are very concerned that, what they view as racist and sexist, innuendo has been happening toward Ms. Wilson-Raybould. Do you buy that?

Yes, I think that's true. I think when she was referred to multiple times as "Jody, Jody, Jody," that's happened to most women in politics.

But I think the Prime Minister's Office, towards the end of the week, actually started to change the channel because I think they realized that ... a man attacking a woman is already dicey.

Attacking your star Aboriginal attorney general — and the first one in the history of Canada — is not a winning strategy. So they made a mistake.

That being said, I think she also has to realize that when she stepped into the cabinet it's not a zero-sum game.

You cannot be there as an advocate only for your people, and that's very difficult because there are a whole lot of expectations that were placed on her shoulders that she was carrying as an Indigenous leader.


This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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