Is the SNC-Lavalin scandal’s biggest victim Trudeau’s relationship with Indigenous people?

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The appointment of Jody Wilson-Raybould, a We Wai Kai First Nation woman, to serve as the first Indigenous minister of justice was a powerful symbol for Indigenous people and a signal to all of Canada.

Her resignation from cabinet is equally powerful.

Trudeau was elected promising that the relationship this country has with Indigenous people was, to him, of the utmost importance. When Wilson-Raybould was appointed attorney general, it signalled that maybe he meant it, that maybe this time would be different. Maybe Wilson-Raybould would finally be the one to uphold basic human rights and fairness for Indigenous people.

A First Nations woman was the top lawyer in a country that still has the paternalistic Indian Act on its books, that consistently fails to properly “consult” Indigenous communities on decisions that profoundly affect them, that claims it desperately wants to reconcile yet fights not to deliver equitable health, education and social services to Indigenous kids.

Perhaps, it seemed for a moment, she could change history.

But it wasn’t long before that old familiar feeling of doubt crept in.

There was double speak on what nation-to-nation actually meant. There was little progress on bringing clean drinking water to First Nations. There was big talk but no action on revising the Indian Act. More inadequate consultations. And on and on.

It must have been increasingly uncomfortable for Wilson-Raybould in cabinet, watching as the government ignored its promises on making First Nations, Métis and Inuit proper partners in everything from drafting legislation to fulfilling funding commitments.

And then, abruptly, she was no longer the country’s top lawyer, fired from her historic role and shuffled off to Veterans Affairs.

Why?

There were planted whispers in the corridors of power that she had been demoted because she was a “thorn in the side” of the Trudeau government, because she was “difficult to get along with,” because she was someone people had “trouble trusting.”

Read more:

Trudeau ‘frankly surprised and disappointed’ by Jody Wilson-Raybould’s sudden resignation

Opinion | Susan Delacourt: ime to break the silence that has defined the relationship between Trudeau and Wilson-Raybould

Opinion | Thomas Walkom: Wilson-Raybould resignation from cabinet overdue

How much of that perception was created because she was too honest and too blunt about the government’s empty rhetoric on reconciliation?

Incensed, First Nations leaders stood staunchly by Wilson-Raybould.

The Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs accused the Trudeau government of racist and sexist overtones in a whisper campaign against her after she left Justice.

“I’m familiar with her work ethic, her deep dedication and commitment,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the union, who has known Wilson-Raybould for years.

“She is an amazing individual but to see her publicly humiliated and the subject of a deliberate smear campaign is infuriating,” he said.

“We are completely disgusted with the Trudeau government and its handling of this issue … I know Jody. She is full of integrity.”

Eventually, of course, a new story about her demotion emerged — that she had been pressured to intervene in the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin and was punished for her refusal.

She said on Tuesday that she resigned from cabinet with a “heavy heart.” When she first sought elected federal office — after practising law on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and serving as the British Columbia regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations — she truly felt she could make a difference. She wanted to pursue “a positive and progressive vision of change on behalf of all Canadians,” she wrote in her resignation letter, “and a different way of doing politics.” Maybe she could change things using the master’s tools in the master’s house.

But that is harder than it looks. Even the purest of intentions and hope are rarely a match for 150 years of colonial history.

Then, on Tuesday night, the prime minister seemed to throw Wilson-Raybould under the bus. He said if she had any problem with what was happening, it was her “responsibility” to come directly to him, and she did not. Trudeau said he was “disappointed” with her decision to leave cabinet. He also mentioned that Canadians are “puzzled” by her resignation and so was he.

Not all of us are. She clearly had her reasons.

Perhaps she had enough of the colonial power system.

In any case, the result is the same: she is no longer in a position potentially to overhaul that system from within, and so yet another symbol has soured.

Ontario Regional Chief RoseAnne Archibald tweeted, “Ninanaskamon 4 your groundbreaking work as the 1st Indigenous woman to serve as the top lawyer in Canada. I know this will only be a temporary setback for you. Your kind of strength and leadership is unstoppable in the long run. Remember who you REALLY are @Puglass.”

Wilson-Raybould signed her letter with her traditional name, Puglass. It means “a woman born to noble people.”

We should wait and listen to hear what this noble woman has to say.

Tanya Talaga is a Toronto-based columnist covering Indigenous issues. Follow her on Twitter: @tanyatalaga

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Doug Ford parts ways with another top aide as sex scandals continue to roil premier’s office

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Doug Ford has parted ways with another top aide as the fallout from two sex scandals continues to roil the premier’s office.

John Sinclair, who was executive director of the Progressive Conservative caucus bureau, left Thursday night.

John Sinclair, former executive director of the Progressive Conservative’s caucus bureau has left his post on Nov. 8, 2018. Sinclair left after Premier Doug Ford indicated he did not speak up soon enough about the conduct of Andrew Kimber, who had been the premier’s executive director of issues management.
John Sinclair, former executive director of the Progressive Conservative’s caucus bureau has left his post on Nov. 8, 2018. Sinclair left after Premier Doug Ford indicated he did not speak up soon enough about the conduct of Andrew Kimber, who had been the premier’s executive director of issues management.  (John Sinclair (Twitter))

Sources told the Star Friday that the well-regarded Sinclair exited after an irate Ford felt he did not speak up soon enough about the misbehaviour of Andrew Kimber, who had been the premier’s executive director of issues management.

Kimber departed Nov. 2 after it was revealed he sent unsolicited and sexually charged texts to at least five female Tory staffers.

Included in the texts were photographs of Kimber, who was married in September, in his underwear. He has since apologized for the “unacceptable” conduct and vowed to “seek the help I need going forward.”

Wilson has not been available for comment since Ford asked for his resignation from cabinet and the PC caucus a week ago.

Sinclair, described by associates as “a good guy,” appears to be collateral damage in an ongoing internal probe of Conservative activities.

He did not immediately reply to a Star query seeking comment Friday morning.

His alleged transgression was that he did not flag Kimber’s inappropriate actions online as soon as he became aware of them.

Conservative insiders, speaking on condition of anonymity in order to discuss the internal machinations, said other Ford aides were surprised when Sinclair provided them with additional information on Kimber’s after-hours conduct.

But with an already erratic premier’s office further crippled by a mood of recrimination, Sinclair’s friends say it is unfair that he was singled out.

One source noted there is always gossip in political offices where the mix of long hours in close quarters can lead to questionable conduct.

Former minister Jim Wilson (pictured) was ousted from caucus along with Andrew Kimber, Premier Doug Ford's executive director of issues management and legislative affairs, due to inappropriate behaviour.
Former minister Jim Wilson (pictured) was ousted from caucus along with Andrew Kimber, Premier Doug Ford’s executive director of issues management and legislative affairs, due to inappropriate behaviour.  (Rene Johnston / Toronto Star)

Ford, however, was furious with Kimber, whom he had grown to trust and whose wedding he attended in September.

“Doug feels a sense of betrayal,” said one Ford friend.

That has led to a hunt to root out anyone and everyone who may have been aware of what was happening.

Ford was asked earlier this week about the screening of potential cabinet ministers and political staff to make sure their backgrounds are clean.

“We have a pretty good vetting process, but there can always be improvements anywhere,” the premier replied during a news conference Wednesday at an air force museum next door to CFB Trenton.

“I would say we can always improve, which we’re doing,” he added, urging any staff who have allegations to come forward as an independent firm conducts an investigation into the accusations against Wilson and Kimber.

Regarding Wilson, Ford told reporters he had no idea that the Queen’s Park veteran,who was first elected in 1990 and served as a cabinet minister in the previous Harris and Eves governments, had problems.

“I didn’t know. But when that happened, I don’t care who it was. I don’t care if he was there for 40 years. We acted decisively.”

Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie

Rob Ferguson is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robferguson1

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