It is evident that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has not been in this arena before, and he was clearly taken aback with the resignation of his Veterans’ Affair Minister on Tuesday. This is an arena that is filled to the brim with standing room only where all spectators are watching the proceedings with keen interest. This is why the PM must not make mistakes to incur the ‘boos’ of the spectators. Accordingly, he should be careful in his public utterances on the resignation of Jody Wilson-Raybould. While it is clear that the fanfare and euphoria that attended her appointment in 2015 as Canada’s first indigenous minister of justice have evaporated with the north territorial wind, Trudeau still has much to be concerned about and a political reputation to guard. The optics are against him and the public perception of warring in an election year with a prominent member of parliament and once an influential member of his inner cabinet whose appointment had broader implications for the much sought after reconciliation with indigenous Canadians, might be a political price too high to pay.
The prime minister has questioned Mrs. Wilson-Raybould’s integrity suggesting that their private conversations do not belie her public actions of resignation and securing legal counsel in the mold of a former Supreme Court Justice. He stated further that she did not discuss any difficulties with him regarding the SNC-Lavalin criminal prosecution for bribery of Libyan officials. To question one’s integrity, especially when that person is a public servant and a holder of the peoples’ trust is significant, essentially, casting the person as of no moral value, professionalism, lacking seriousness and candor. This is a battle the prime minister cannot win in the court of public opinion in a period of immense polarization and partisanship, more so, an election year.
An important aspect of this saga (and what many believe is at stake) is Canada’s fragile relationship with indigenous people across the country. Trudeau should do everything within his power for this controversy not to spiral out of control and be viewed as yet another insincere attempt by the federal government to forge a relationship with indigenous people. In other words, this should not be termed as nothing more than window dressing with no real intention at reconciliation. This means he must be measured, perhaps, scripted as he attempts to fight allegations of interference in the legal process.
The broader context of this issue is significant and it is the perception that Trudeau is battling with a prominent female politician of indigenous stock for expressing herself by resigning from his cabinet in what she deemed as inappropriate political interference in the execution of her responsibilities as the Attorney-General. Given his credentials of touting gender equality and women’s rights and advocacy, screaming this gospel from the rooftop with suggestions of “people-kind” to replace “mankind,” his spat with Wilson-Raybould is certainly incongruent with the public image, goodwill and capital he has built and secured in the last four years. These may all be seen as lip-server and dismissed as the usual political duplicity of Ottawa politicians.
Naturally, Trudeau must have felt betrayed and in no mood to shower accolades on Wilson-Raybould for her contributions and stewardship in the last four years of being in the federal cabinet. But the outcome of this controversy depends very much on his disposition and discipline to avoid the trenches and comfort of contumely.