I recently finished reading Jody Wilson-Raybould’s 2021 book, Indian in the Cabinet. I heard her speak eloquently and candidly on the podcast Women of Ill Repute. Wilson-Raybould is an Indigenous lawyer and leader who served as a Liberal Cabinet Minister in Trudeau’s first term as PM. She left the Liberals after a scandal known as the SNC Lavalin affair.
The SNC Lavalin scandal involved little-known offices of the federal government. It confused people but it’s really quite simple. Here’s the Coles Notes version:
SNC Lavalin is a giant corporation. It bribed Libya with millions of dollars to win lucrative construction contracts there. Almost $50-million went to the son of Libya’s late dictator, Moammar Gadhafi. The company was charged with fraud and corruption. Our government has a process that can give a corporation a “pass” on charges if it’s in the best interest of the country. The department that makes those decisions said “no”.
At the time, Wilson-Raybould was Attorney General and Justice Minister. Trudeau’s office pressured her to overturn the “no” decision and grant SNC Lavalin a “pass”. They said they were worried about job losses. She refused. Trudeau shuffled her to the Veterans Affairs portfolio. She later resigned from Cabinet. She ran for office again as an Independent and won.
I had a pretty good understanding of the SNC Lavalin affair. But it was her take on the government’s failure to keep its promise of reconciliation that intrigued me more. The book proved every suspicion and assumption I had. Systemic racism is alive and well. The old boys’ network has a firm grip on power. The system is so far behind the times it’s almost antique.
The Hard Truth
Reconciliation no longer matters to Justin Trudeau. His advisors have decided it’s not a election-winning issue. It’s known as a “red meat” problem. Why red meat? It’s difficult to explain and to solve, as opposed to a simple “bread and butter” issue.
People love a quick-fix and Indigenous issues don’t fit into that category. In broad strokes, we don’t understand Indigenous cultures and they don’t know how to work within our systems. Although Wilson-Raybould worked hard from both sides to bridge that gap, it’s still as wide as the Grand Canyon.
“Every Indigenous leader views their role as a community role, not an individual one, and the work they do as measured in generations, not electoral cycles. What we do is for the past, the present and the future — not just to get re-elected every four years.”Jody Wilson-Raybould in Indian in the Cabinet
As I write this, there are 31 long-term water advisories in effect in 27 communities in Canada. A nearby reserve here is having to bring in bottled water. Thousands of people, from babies to elders, are trying to live without this fundamental human right. How can this be? What in the name of healthy living is the hold up? It’s disgusting.
Please understand the context of my frustration. This isn’t an anti-Trudeau rant. It’s about messed up priorities that have lasted for generations. Former PM Stephen Harper did apologize to Indigenous peoples for the horrors of residential schools. But his government stopped there. Thirty years ago, frameworks for reconciliation were created. Thirty. Years. Consultations and meetings and memos of understanding eat up time for government officials but ultimately, get them nowhere. Trudeau promised he would solve this issue and we believed him and elected him. It’s by far my biggest disappointment in his government.
Inertia is a Choice
Jody Wilson-Raybould was, as I was, optimistic and happy about the PM’s initial promise. But as a former insider she can confirm that nothing is going on behind the scenes to get the country closer to reconciliation. And now we both feel defeated and like everything will forever hover in limbo. The similarities between our reactions ends there, though. She’s Indigenous and I’m white. I can simply carry on with my privileged life. Her people are dying while waiting for improvements to theirs.
Racists who aim their ignorance at our Indigenous brothers and sisters fail to consider their own privilege. Not all family lives are similar. Everyone doesn’t get the same opportunities. Racism isn’t just unfair and ugly, it’s stupid. I pity people with racist views for their ignorant, narrow view of the world. Sadly, there are many racists in Parliament.
Self-government, clean water, all of these problems are solvable. Wilson-Raybould has even written a guide to reconciliation. What more does any government need?! In her book, Indian in the Cabinet, she wrote that this government’s response to the pandemic proved that it can act quickly when it wants to. It simply doesn’t want to. It makes me sick and I would like to think that all Canadians feel the same way. But I know better.