Jody Wilson-Raybould was acclaimed as the Federal Liberal Candidate in the Granville Riding on July 31, 2014. Jody currently serves as the Regional Chief of the BC Assembly of First Nations (BCAFN). In that role she is the primary spokesperson of all the First Nations who have membership in the BCAFN. The BC Regional Chief is one of 11 members on the Executive of the National Assembly of First Nations (AFN). The executive consists of the National Chief and all regional Chiefs. Questions have arisen as to whether Jody can carry out both positions as they are in some instances diametrically opposed to each other.
Jody has said she will continue as Regional Chief and will take a leave once the writ is dropped for the election. The federal election is approximately 14 months away and during the next 13 months can Jody Wilson Raybould represent both the Chiefs in BC and the liberal party? Is there a conflict/perceived conflict or can she just switch hats at will without affecting both interests she now represents?
At the outset I would like to say that I am happy for Jody Wilson-Raybould in pursuing her aspirations of becoming a Member of Parliament. More power to her in her pursuit of believing she can make changes from within. I am sure if the Liberals ever become government she will be a Minister.
This is NOT about her ability to run as a member of parliament. This is about her ability to effectively represent the Chiefs in BC at a time when there needs to be revolutionary changes stemming from the Tsilhqot’in decision and the federal legislative and economic agenda while being a liberal candidate.
I would like to explore how Jody Wilson-Raybould can run into credibility issues and the complexity of handling two positions that can be in opposition to one another.
The Chiefs in BC elected Jody Wilson-Raybould and it is up to the Chiefs in BC to determine if they want her to resign. These are the things they must consider:
CREDIBILITY WITH THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT
We all know that the Conservatives and Liberals do not get along. They are in competition with one another to run this country. Swaying the voters to their positions is the way to become or remain in government. As a Liberal Candidate that will run against one of the conservatives candidate, Jody Wilson-Raybould will not be given the time of day by the Conservatives or help her to build her reputation as a potential MP based on issues relating to First Nations. She is their opposition, it won’t matter that she represents almost all the First Nations in BC. If she seeks meetings with government, she probably won’t get one. She will have no credibility with the conservatives and will not be an effective advocate for the Chiefs in BC on any federal issues.
With all the legislative initiatives coming from the Conservatives, the ability to stop legislation or make changes is essential. The issue of First Nations Education is critical. Strong, believable, leadership is needed in leading the issue for BC and determining next steps after the demise of the First Nations Control of First Nations Education Act. Will the conservatives even pay attention to the Regional Chief of BC? Not likely.
Douglas Eyford is now doing revisions to the Comprehensive Claims Policy due to Tsilhqot’in, though the conservatives won’t admit that. This initiative may not be as important in light of Tsilhqot’in, but then again it may be even more important. Any input by the Regional Chief will likely not be given much weight coming from a liberal candidate. Key policy issues need a strong voice that will be listened to.
There are many other important issues coming up with respect to BC including the opposition of many major development projects and the clean up of the Mount Polley mine and again, a strong, credible voice is needed to advocate for First Nations affected.
KEY ISSUES THAT LIBERALS STAND FOR
No First Nation person in Canada has ever forgotten the White Paper that was the initiative of Pierre Elliot Trudeau. The Liberals will always carry that stigma. In the minds of First Nations people, can the liberals be trusted? Now that Jody is a Liberal Candidate, can she be trusted?
The Federal Liberals are in favour of the Kinder Morgan pipeline and the Keystone XL. How will the Tseil-Waututh people who have mounted a legal challenge against Kinder Morgan and have vowed to stop this project feel when their Regional Chief wearing a liberal hat supports the project? What about First Nation that are opposed to pipelines and shipping crude oil across the oceans that may affect fish when they hear her promote those projects? Luckily the federal liberals are opposed to Enbridge. Jody Wilson Raybould is going to be out promoting the Liberal position prior to an election and then campaigning hard during an election. Clearly different values and positions are at stake between the development on First Nations territories and those positions taken by the Liberal Party of Canada.
The Federal Liberals voted in favour of the Canada China FIPPA claiming they didn’t like the wording of the motion. This runs contrary to the position of many First Nations including the Hupacasath, UBCIC, Tsawwassen, Union of Ontario Indians and Serpent River who all supplied affidavits in the case at the first level. This may head to the Supreme Court of Canada and may be in the hands of the liberals if they become government. As they are supportive of the FIPPA, it will be a battle that will be fought in the courts..
The one thing I have never understood with the liberals is that their main thrust is to work to enhance the middle class. Middle Class? Canada is still a society that has class structures? What I do know for sure is that most First Nations people are at poverty level and the majority don’t fall in the middle class so will we continue to be a forgotten people under a liberal regime?
CREDIBILITY AT THE NATIONAL LEVEL WITH OTHER FIRST NATIONS CHIEFS
Jody Wilson Raybould sits at the Executive table of the AFN where they deal with the critical issues facing First Nations across this country and implement the motions of the Chiefs. Will the other executive members exclude Jody from sensitive, strategic decision making as they are not comfortable with her sitting there as a liberal candidate who will potentially be government? Will she be asked to leave the room during those discussions? Can she be effective sitting out in the halls when major decisions are being made or critical information being shared? These questions are already being asked at the Executive level.
Jody carries the portfolio for comprehensive claims and self-government. Will her committee members feel they can be on a committee with her? Will they boycott the meetings or not participate or ask her to leave when sharing sensitive information? Will the Chiefs in BC be able to do anything about it?
Clearly, exclusion from meetings is a reality for Jody in this position, or not being a member/chair that is privy to all information is a real possibility and BC will not be represented.
CREDIBILITY WITH THE VOTERS IN THE GRANVILLE RIDING
What about liberal voters/supporters in the Granville riding? How do they feel about their candidate being the representative of almost all of the First Nations in BC and Jody promoting their positions that are contrary to Liberal positions. Obviously those that went out to the nomination meeting are all right with it for now as Jody is one of Justin Trudeau’s star candidates. But will they vote for her? Will they feel discomfort seeing her name defending First Nations actions on defending the land, or opposing Kinder Morgan or XL? A tough situation all around and puts voters in an uncomfortable position. If Jody really wants to win, she needs the votes.
ROLE OF REGIONAL CHIEF VS. ROLE OF LIBERAL CANDIDATE
As Regional Chief, Jody Wilson-Raybould role is to advance the rights and interests of First Nations in BC. She is to restore and enhance the relationship among First Nations people in BC, the Crown and people of Canada. How can she restore and enhance the relationship with the Crown in right of Canada when she is now the opposition? Or how can she restore the relationship with the people of Canada who are not liberal supporters?
As a liberal candidate, she is required to support and promote Liberal positions, regardless if they run counter to First Nations interests. She is required to make public appearances as the Liberal Candidate and she will be questioned as to her commitment to Liberal values. She will be making appearances with Justin Trudeau as she already has, and anything he says will be attributed to her and the Liberal positions.
How will she distinguish for the press, First Nations in BC and across Canada when she is Regional Chief or the Liberal Candidate and can she separate the two? It is hard to wear two totally different hats when their interests are so diverse. No question that Jody as an elected member of her First Nation has no conflict as regional chief as the interests are the same. But a Liberal candidate at the very least has a perceived conflict on many issues.
Jody says she is proud to represent the First Nations in BC. Can she continue to carry that pride when she has to divide her loyalties between two masters? When she has to speak out against one master? It is a complex juggling act where if something is dropped, it could affect both hats she wears. Is it worth the risk?
Chiefs in BC, I hope you think very clearly about the ability of Jody Wilson-Raybould’s to be an effective spokesperson/lobbyist and carry out the essential work of the Regional Chief at the same time as being a candidate for the Liberal Party. The credibility of BCAFN is at stake at a significant time in BC. Can she help your First Nation’s struggles for your rights and interests if her voice is constrained? You must do a clear analysis of the potential perceptions and issues that will arise from her two very different positions that she will be promoting at the same time. The decision is yours. If I was a Chief, I know what my position would be.