Idle No More talks influenced former chief's decision to run for Liberals
Jody Wilson-Raybould, the B.C. regional chief for the Assembly of First Nations speaks to media in Ottawa on Monday, January 23, 2012. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick)
Kristy Kirkup, The Canadian Press
Published Friday, July 10, 2015 6:41AM EDT
MONTREAL -- It was while she was sitting across the table from a wall of top federal ministers -- including the prime minister -- that the idea of running for office was born in Jody Wilson-Raybould's mind.
On Jan. 11, 2013, the Idle No More movement was at its pinnacle. Inside Ottawa's Langevin Block, then B.C. regional chief Wilson-Raybould and other top First Nations leaders were meeting Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his team. Outside, the streets were jammed with chanting First Nations protesters demanding the chiefs to walk away.
Wilson-Raybould stayed to talk. The stakes for aboriginal relations with the government were high, and she wanted to make the most of her face-to-face with key Ottawa players.
But she left with a bitter taste in her mouth that led her to eventually turn to federal politics and run for the Liberals in a bid to oust Harper.
"During . . . Idle No More and when we had the opportunity to sit down with this prime minister and some of his key ministers and officials, it was an opportunity," Wilson-Raybould said in an interview outside the Assembly of First Nations annual meeting in Montreal this week.
"My perspective in sitting there, in what I heard, was that our solutions weren't being listened to," she said. "We have continuously faced a lack of openness and non-desire to actually really work in partnership when we have solutions to move forward."
Wilson-Raybould, a lawyer, served as a regional chief for the AFN for six years, and was integral in its discussions with the federal government to improve the relationship. Now she is running as the Grit candidate in the new B.C. riding of Vancouver-Granville.
Wilson-Raybould recalls her frustration inside the prime minister's office on Jan. 11, 2013.
The discussions between Harper and some First Nations leaders were flatly opposed by chiefs from Saskatchewan, Manitoba, the Northwest Territories and Ontario, in part because Gov. Gen. David Johnston did not attend to represent the Crown, which was the original partner in treaties.
The tense talks also transpired as Idle No More garnered international attention and Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence undertook her high-profile personal protest at Victoria Island.
A few months later, Wilson-Raybould ran into Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau in Whitehorse. He floated the idea of her running for the party, and after giving it some thought, she bought in.
"If you see something that needs to be done, you get involved and you do your part," she said. "I think this election is probably the most important election in my lifetime and the country is going in a direction that we all need to help in remedying."
Wilson-Raybould was the subject of criticism when she first became the Liberal candidate, as some leaders suggested her work as regional chief conflicted with political campaigning. She disputes the critique.
"What I will say is I have always been open and transparent and accountable to the chiefs that I served," she said. "Leading up to the nomination, I had sent them all a letter individually and let them know of my intentions."
Wilson-Raybould also said a transition was needed and that process was completed two weeks ago when a new regional chief was named.
Vancouver and the Lower Mainland are key election battlegrounds for all three major parties. Five federal ministers paid visits to B.C. on Tuesday alone.
Wilson-Raybould is running against Conservative businessman and lawyer Erinn Broshko.
The NDP has yet to name its candidate.