The West Block, Episode 31, Season 8
THE WEST BLOCK
Episode 31, Season 8
Sunday, April 7, 2019
Host: Mercedes Stephenson
Guest Interview: Jody Wilson-Raybould
Location: Vancouver, British Columbia
Mercedes Stephenson: Vancouver, British Columbia, the home of Jody Wilson-Raybould, Canada’s first Indigenous attorney general. It’s her story that brought us to the west coast.
Over the past two months, Jody Wilson’s refusal to cave to alleged political interference in the justice system has dominated the headlines.
Wilson-Raybould was a rising star in Trudeau’s cabinet but now she sits outside caucus, kicked out by the prime minister himself after she pushed back against alleged pressure to use a differed prosecution agreement to help SNC-Lavalin get a deal in a high profile criminal case.
In January, Wilson-Raybould was demoted to Veterans Affairs, which she says is because she would not intervene. Since then, she’s quit cabinet and promised to tell her truth.
In late February, she appeared before the justice committee and did just that.
Since the story broke on February 7th, two high-profile resignations in the Trudeau government: principal secretary Gerald Butts resigned and so has the clerk of the Privy Council.
The Liberals shut down further hearings of the justice committee but that didn’t stop Wilson-Raybould, who submitted further evidence, including this now notorious recorded call with the clerk of the Privy Council.
Michael Wernick, Clerk of the Privy Council: “Because I think you feel the government has to have done everything it can before we lose 9,000 jobs in a signature Canadian firm.”
Jody Wilson-Raybould, Former Attorney General: “Right. So, um, I’m—again, I’m confident in where I’ve—I’m at, and my views on SNC and the DPA haven’t changed. This is, um, a constitutional principle of prosecutorial independence that Michael, I have to say, including this conversation, previous conversations that I’ve had with the prime minister and many other people around, that it’s entirely inappropriate and it is political interference.”
Mercedes Stephenson: Days later, the prime minister acted.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philbott—Philpott are no longer members of the Liberal caucus.”
Mercedes Stephenson: Good morning. It’s Sunday, April 7th. I’m Mercedes Stephenson, and this is The West Block.
For eight weeks, political bombshell after political bombshell have dropped in the SNC-Lavalin scandal, and at the centre of it all, former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould. She’s from right here in Vancouver and the reason we’re on the west coast, to sit down with the MP from Vancouver Granville and get her side of the story. Here’s that conversation:
Mercedes Stephenson: You got into politics, you said, in large part because the Liberal party, Justin Trudeau, wanting to make a difference. After working with the prime minister for the past three years, and after this continued incident, what kind of leader do you think he is?
Jody Wilson-Raybould: For me, getting involved in federal politics was a big decision. I had been an Indigenous leader in various capacities for about 10 years and at that point in time, was frustrated with the advancement around Indigenous issues. And it was around that time that I met the current prime minister and we shared our vision for the country. We talked about the values of the Liberal party, values around equality and inclusion and what we saw in terms of moving forward on issues around the issue and climate change and doing politics differently. I still, as I said to my caucus colleagues earlier this week, I still believe that the prime minister feels the same way about that vision and those values. I’m not going to lie. It’s been a difficult week, for sure. It’s been a difficult couple of months.
Mercedes Stephenson: Has your opinion about his leadership changed?
Jody Wilson-Raybould: I wish that the prime minister would have stepped up and taken some responsibility, and I do wish that he would have apologized to Canadians and ensured in various ways that something like this would never happen again.
Mercedes Stephenson: If he had apologized, would you still be the minister of Veterans Affairs?
Jody Wilson-Raybould: Well, it’s a hard question for me to answer. I was never asking for an apology to me personally. I feel that this situation arose because there was political interference or attempts at it in terms of my doing my job as the attorney general. I talked about what transpired and spoke the truth. I wish that the prime minister would have looked at the evidence and listened to me and others and again, taken some responsibility. And I feel that through the acknowledgement of truth and through speaking truth, that there is always a measure of reconciliation that could come. So in that sense, I’m disappointed.
Mercedes Stephenson: There are people who think your goal was to take down the prime minister, to take down Justin Trudeau. Was that your endgame?
Jody Wilson-Raybould: I didn’t have an endgame. I don’t have an endgame. I was, as the minister of justice, and in this case the attorney general, I was just doing my job and working hard to do a good job at it. I consistently wanted to ensure that I spoke about what happened, that I raised the concerns that I had about actions that individuals were taking around this issue around differed prosecution agreement and around SNC and wanted to ensure that I maintained the clear line between the prosecutor, myself as the attorney general and maintain that independence, and that was what I was doing throughout this period of time and what I would do again.
Mercedes Stephenson: Do you think the prime minister knew how much pressure you were facing?
Jody Wilson-Raybould: I would be very surprised if the prime minister didn’t know about those conversations.
Mercedes Stephenson: I think people wonder if you’re to the point of taping the call with the clerk, why not just pick up the phone and call the prime minister and tell him, look, this is inappropriate and needs to stop.
Jody Wilson-Raybould: Well, because I was the attorney general. It was my job to ensure the independence of the justice system and I was doing that job. I would have—I didn’t necessarily have a direct line to the prime minister in terms of being able to pick up the phone and talk directly to him.
Mercedes Stephenson: Was Gerry Butts between you and the prime minister?
Jody Wilson-Raybould: I had an oppor—I had the opportunity to call Gerry on numerous occasions. But when I was talking with the clerk on December the 19th, I was speaking with the prime minister because the clerk was invoking the prime minister in our conversation that we had.
Mercedes Stephenson: I have to ask you about the tape. Why did you make the tape of Michael Wernick? Why didn’t you tell him he was being taped?
Jody Wilson-Raybould: I had a high level of anxiety in the middle of December when my chief of staff talked about a conversation and this was in my evidence too that she had with Gerry Butts and Katie Telford. And when the clerk called and wanted to have that conversation with me, I knew that there was a potential that there would be something inappropriate that happened during that conversation. I felt that I needed to protect myself to ensure that I had an accurate record of what was said on that call, so I took the step of recording it. It was never supposed to be public. It was an aid for me to ensure I had accurate notes. In any other circumstance, as I said, it would be inappropriate. But in that circumstance, in order to protect myself and to ensure that nothing inappropriate happened, I recorded the tape.
Mercedes Stephenson: Do you think that the integrity of the justice system is at risk because that’s something the opposition have said, that there was pressure on you to intervene. There was the leak about the Supreme Court justice. There’s been questions raised about whether there’s political interference in the case of Vice-Admiral Mark Norman and they’re saying the government is actually putting the independence and the integrity of the justice system at risk. Do you think that’s the case?
Jody Wilson-Raybould: Well, I hope that that is not the case. It’s certainly, I look to the current attorney general to do the job that I was doing when I was the attorney general, to ensure that the justice system remains intact, that the independence of the justice system is solid. That’s what I was doing. That was my job when I was the attorney general and in this case, and all other cases, that’s the job that I’ll continue to do, to ensure that there is no inappropriate pressure, there’s no inappropriate political interference or partisan considerations when it comes to a prosecution that is a fundamental tenant of our democracy to ensure independence of the prosecution, to uphold the rule of law. That’s what I was doing.
Mercedes Stephenson: There were anonymous leaks that you had put conditions in place that you had demanded an apology that you wanted certain people fired and that you had demanded that the new attorney general not issue a differed prosecution agreement. Is there any truth to that?
Jody Wilson-Raybould: Well, I have to say that I do not respond to anonymous leaks and those tactics seem to be in play for quite some time now. In term so of conditions, I had several conversations, which I won’t get into because I actually uphold the confidences that I have as being pretty sacred and anonymous sources seem to be trampling all over confidences or discussions that I may or may not have had with the prime minister. Those discussions on a high level, was he and I talking and my wanting to tell him the truth of what happened or continue to tell him that and to look for some way that we could find some resolution to this, to look for a way where there would be an acknowledgement of some responsibility in this matter, some wrongdoing and look for ways and means where we could remedy that. And I think if that were—have happened some time ago and there was some apology to Canadians, this situation wouldn’t have gotten to where it is right now.
Mercedes Stephenson: And there was no sense that he was willing to acknowledge any of that?
Jody Wilson-Raybould: Well, I think again, I can’t—I’m not going to talk about what he said or didn’t say to me or what we talked about but the past number of months have been pretty perplexing to me in terms of different narratives.
Mercedes Stephenson: Okay, we’ll be back right after the break.
Mercedes Stephenson: Welcome back to the show. We’re sitting down with Jody Wilson-Raybould, having a conversation and finally hearing your side of the story in-depth outside of the committee, outside of you being scrummed going in and out of the House of Commons.
One of the things that you faced in this has been criticism from other women, former cabinet colleagues, other Liberals like Sheila Copps. Some of those comments have said you’re difficult to work with. Some have been overtly racist. Some have been critical of the job you’ve done as attorney general. What was it like to deal with that criticism from other Liberal women?
Jody Wilson-Raybould: Well, I always say that I shouldn’t be surprised about anything anymore but I continuously am surprised of a lot of things. Look, I was a politician before I got here, into federal politics. I believe I understand the nature of politics, although I come from a very different political world. The smear campaign, the criticisms, the saying that I was not competent to do my job, I won’t say it hurt but it was entirely inappropriate. I mean, if there’s somebody who has a criticism of me, I would appreciate somebody talking to me about that. I had not heard most of these criticisms before any of this happened. I just find those types of criticisms in this case misplaced and if people had concerns about me, those concerns could have been raised all along. I’m not sure of the intent that what those individuals have towards me but in my job, in the job that I did, I’m incredibly proud of the work that we did, well as government in the past three and a half years, as the minister of justice and the attorney general, the work that we did to accomplish the important issues in my mandate letter and I loved being the minister of Veterans Affairs. There’s so many important things to do in that role, to be a member of a party, to talk about teamwork and to talk about loyalty and solidarity. I uphold those things incredibly high. For me, I was surprised that when I spoke about something that was happening, when I stood up for what I believed was right and when I spoke the truth about what was happening, the response that came to me, all those negative responses, it surprised me.
Mercedes Stephenson: Do you question the claim that the prime minister and his government are feminists after some of the rhetoric that’s been used against you?
Jody Wilson-Raybould: I think that the prime minister, I hope the prime minister is reflective of what’s happened. I do not believe there’s any place in this country for misogyny, for any type of racism. I’m a proud Indigenous woman that works incredibly hard, that believes in this country, believes in the values that are espoused by the Liberal party, having never been a member of the Liberal party or a party, political party, until now. I believe the prime minister still holds those values fundamental. I hope he does. I hope that everybody can learn from this experience and that we can move forward and talk about the issues that are important to people in my riding around affordability, around climate change, around pipelines, around something that is near and dear to my heart, around Indigenous reconciliation.
Mercedes Stephenson: And speaking of reconciliation, some Indigenous leaders have come out and said that what’s happened, and in light of the video that came out of Grassy Narrows as well and the way the prime minister treated that protester, it’s raised questions in their mind about whether or not the prime minister and the government are committed to reconciliation. Do you believe they are?
Jody Wilson-Raybould: Well, the government has taken and made a lot of significant steps in terms of reconciliation, in terms of investing in Indigenous communities, to work hard at closing the gap in terms of education, health, addressing suicide and boiled water advisories. I don’t take any of that away from the work that the government has done and continues to do. I believe that the events of the last number of months have called into question for some Indigtenous leaders, the government in terms of some of its commitments to reconciliation. So there’s more work to be done. The Grassy Narrows video, I know was shocking to many people, was shocking to me but I have to recognize and acknowledge that the prime minister did apologize for that.
Mercedes Stephenson: When you look at this as an Indigenous woman and how it’s unfolded, how do you think young Indigenous women at home, watching what happened to you, will consider their future in politics? Do you think it’s going to drive them away from it?
Jody Wilson-Raybould: I think it’s actually quite the opposite. In spite of what has happened to me and being ejected out of the Liberal caucus, that my voice still matters and the only way we can do politics differently is if we ensure that we create the space for a young Indigenous woman that lives here in Vancouver or somewhere across the country to have a voice and that their voice is valued. That’s why I think we can take some lessons from what has happened over the last number of months.
Mercedes Stephenson: Thank you very much for your time.
Jody Wilson-Raybould: Thank you.
Mercedes Stephenson: What’s next for Jody Wilson-Raybould?
Mercedes Stephenson: Welcome back. Jody Wilson-Raybould represents the riding of Vancouver Granville. We met up with her for a walk in her riding to talk about why she got into politics and what lies ahead.
We’re out here in your riding in B.C.
Jody Wilson-Raybould: Yes.
Mercedes Stephenson: You’re contemplating your political future. What’s next for Jody Wilson-Raybould?
Jody Wilson-Raybould: Well, I am still the member of Parliament for this riding and I’m going to continue to work incredibly hard for the constituents here. We have lots of really important issues that we want to continue to bring to Ottawa around issues: pipelines, climate change, affordability housing, reconciliation, so I still have a role to play. But in terms of like reflecting on where I’m going and next steps, I’m going to continue to talk with my husband and my family and all of our volunteers that have been so hardworking and to the constituents and see what they want.
Mercedes Stephenson: Well, I know other parties are very interested in having you. In fact, I got e-mails from Conservations, who had filled out membership cards and wanted to know where they could contact you so you could cross the floor to the Conservative party. Elizabeth May came out. She said she would welcome you and Jane Philpott in the Green Party. Is there a political future possibly in another party for you?
Jody Wilson-Raybould: Well, I wouldn’t characterize myself as a floor crosser. I signed up for politics federally as a Liberal. I believe in, again, the values and the principles that the party espouses in the work that we can do. Having said that, I’m not necessarily a partisan, I believe that there are huge issues that need to be resolved by all parliamentarians, by all Canadians and that means working with Conservatives. That means working with the Greens and the NDP because all voices are important. I do not necessarily believe my ideology aligns with the Conservative Party of Canada. I have had Elizabeth May reach out to me. I think that is someone that I’m happy to talk to but for me, I’m somewhat of an independent Liberal working hard for the people of Vancouver Granville.
Mercedes Stephenson: Is there any part of you that thinks what if I helped Andrew Scheer win the next election?
Jody Wilson-Raybould: I don’t see myself as helping Andrew Scheer win the next election. I did my job as a minister of the Crown, as the attorney general. I spoke my truth.
Mercedes Stephenson: You’re good friends with Jane Philpott.
Jody Wilson-Raybould: Yeah.
Mercedes Stephenson: When she stepped down, a lot of people were surprised. What did you think when you saw that resignation letter from your friend?
Jody Wilson-Raybould: I was sad to see Jane—I’m sad that Jane’s not a cabinet minister anymore. I’m disappointed that I’m not a cabinet minister anymore because I was really pleased to participate for three and a half years and get some extraordinary things done. But having said that, there’s lots of work that both she and I can do as members of Parliament and issues that we’re passionate about, and we talked a little bit earlier about Indigenous reconciliation, that’s one of the main reasons I got involved in politics. And I believe that every seat in the House of Commons is important.
Mercedes Stephenson: Did you ever expect that this story would snowball in the way that it did?
Jody Wilson-Raybould: I could never have imagined being in the situation that I’m in right now. I certainly took great honour in being a minister of the Crown. I take honour of being a member of Parliament. I want to continue to contribute and to be in public service, that’s how I was raised. And I want to, if the people of Vancouver Granville want me to, to continue to serve them and that’s going to be a discussion that I have with my constituents and hopefully I can continue to fill my role.
Mercedes Stephenson: What message do you want to give to young women at home who are considering a career in politics?
Jody Wilson-Raybould: I would say, and this is what my grandmother taught me when I was young and my parents, is that your voice is important. Every young person out there that wants to make a difference, that wants to get involved, that’s passionate about a particular issue, to work really hard and to know that if you do work hard and you have a plan, then you can accomplish anything you want.
Mercedes Stephenson: Thank you.
Jody Wilson-Raybould: Thank you.
Mercedes Stephenson: Thanks for watching. From Vancouver, I’m Mercedes Stephenson for The West Block.
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