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Federal Politics

Here’s Why Ottawa’s Politicos Can’t Understand Wilson-Raybould and Philpott

Two women of integrity meet men of expediency. It was bound to fail.

Mitchell Anderson 17 Apr

Mitchell Anderson is a freelance writer based in Vancouver and a frequent contributor to The Tyee.

It was shortly after the 2015 election. A good friend and close ally of the Squamish Nation asked me for a favour.

She was a lousy driver and I had a car. Would I drive her to a morning ceremony hosted by the Squamish to prepare Jody Wilson-Raybould, the new attorney general, for the difficult journey ahead among the denizens of Ottawa?

Of course, I said. Every time I’m fortunate enough to attend a First Nations ceremony, I’m reminded how comparatively little culture Caucasian Canada is able to subsist on. To be in the presence of traditions thousands of years old can be strangely sad-making, bringing into sharp focus just how far many of us are from our own ancient indigeneity, wherever those roots may lie.

The ceremony was in the Chief Joe Mathias Centre in North Vancouver. We went through the carved doors and into a big room, warm wood walls and tree trunks supporting the roof. Delegations from across the province were talking, greeting old friends. Kids played between tables, and families spanning multiple generations lined up for steaming trays of salmon and wild rice. I sought coffee to lift the morning haze and looked for familiar faces.

Speaker after speaker recounted their personal interactions with Wilson-Raybould and her sister Kory, also being honoured at the event. Many knew Wilson-Raybould from her time on the BC Treaty Commission. In the bare-knuckle world of treaty negotiations, conflict is the norm, including disputes between neighbouring nations. But every speaker shared the respect and admiration they felt for these two remarkable women.

Wilson-Raybould and her sister were then purified with eagle feathers, smudge, sacred water and ceremonial blankets. We all bore witness to this beautiful ritual to fortify their already renowned integrity and remind them of their obligation to represent their communities and history with honour.

Looking back on that remarkable gathering, it’s amusing to watch the Ottawa political class struggle to grasp the inexplicable — to them — motivations of Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott, who was also ejected from the Liberal caucus for the thought crime of defying the almighty Prime Minister’s Office.

Philpott has her own remarkable history and higher calling. A medical doctor and devout Mennonite, she worked for 10 years as a physician in Niger between 1989 and 1998. Two years into that posting she suddenly lost her first child to meningococcemia — one of the deadliest infections known to medicine — and very nearly lost her second child as well. If you wish to weep, read her beautiful and poignant account of this tragedy.

One struggles to imagine the emotional fortitude required to survive such an ordeal, let alone operate at the level that Philpott did as one of the most capable members of Trudeau’s cabinet.

Wilson-Raybould, another star appointment, brought almost two decades of experience as a Crown prosecutor, treaty commissioner and regional chief of the BC Assembly of First Nations.

Still the minions of Ottawa gamely tried to impose a duty of blind loyalty on these formidable women and were incredulous when they didn’t submit.

Didn’t Wilson-Raybould understand that the prime minister — a former teacher and snowboard instructor — wanted a different legal outcome from his attorney general, one that would let SNC-Lavalin avoid trial on corruption charges? Why wouldn’t Philpott play ball with the PMO? And what is their endgame, the politicians and their handlers wondered — obviously there must be some cynical motive?

The disconnect between people who actually embody integrity and honesty, and those partisan operatives who regard such values as irritants to be dealt with in platitudes cranked out by the comms department, was jarring. The political class proved themselves incapable of even comprehending genuine ethical behaviour.

For all the ink spilled about SNC-Lavalin, the simple truth is that Justin Trudeau’s Liberals have exactly the same business model as this company with a record of corruption and bribery — an entitled assumption that all sins must be tolerated because they are too big to fail.

Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives are, of course, hamming it up in what has been aptly described as the bullshit theatre of Official Opposition, but does anyone really believe they would be less slavishly obedient to corporate Canada? The national ordeal that was the “Harper government” is not far from memory.

The slow-motion SNC-Lavalin scandal revealed in spectacular fashion that the Liberal party learned exactly zero from 10 years in political oblivion. How soon they forget that the 2015 election was about ditching Harper, and the Liberals only edged into the lead two weeks from the end of a long campaign when wary voters calculated they had the best chance to make that odious individual go away.

Four years on, Trudeau cannot seem to believe that his shallow charm can’t make voters forget his brazen betrayals on electoral reform, eliminating fossil fuel subsidies or meeting our international climate obligations.

Wilson-Raybould and Philpott were of course expected to knuckle under and smile for the cameras according to the unspoken rules of Ottawa. Their unusual courage — rooted in culture, faith and tragedy — make them immune to usual partisan Kool-Aid passed around the caucus table.

Thankfully those rules seem to be fraying. Every sitting member knows their party leader can refuse to sign nomination papers should they exhibit any troubling evidence of free will.

Yet if an election were held today, polling indicates that Wilson-Raybould running as an independent in Vancouver-Granville would crush whatever Liberal loyalist is parachuted in by the PMO.

Trudeau’s political specialty, virtue-signalling, is increasingly tiresome. When confronted with a rare example of the real thing, voters realize just how hollow his offering is.

Due to dumb luck and an available vehicle, I was fortunate to bear witness to the deep culture sustaining Jody Wilson-Raybould as she stood firm against everything Ottawa could throw at her. Just as Jane Philpott no doubt drew on her personal conviction as she suffered the slings and arrows of outraged Liberal operatives.

These two women have done Canada a great service by publicly confronting the all-powerful PMO, which has demonstrated toxic overreach under both Liberal and Conservative governments. Canada has become a global outlier among parliamentary democracies based on the slavish devotion of MPs and MLAs to the commands of their leaders. Their courage reminds us there are higher powers than those residing in Langevin Block.

Voters could similarly aspire to loftier goals than what passes for democracy these days. While our electoral institutions are in need of a massive overhaul, the simple truth is that politicians reflect what voters tell pollsters they want. If we want a better, fairer society then we need to demand the same from our leaders and ourselves.  [Tyee]

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