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British Columbia Western newsletter: To understand Jody Wilson-Raybould, you have to go back to her roots

Hello. It’s Wendy Cox in B.C. here.

When finished with reporter Sean Fine’s expansive profile of former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, a reader might be forgiven for wondering if Prime Minister Justin Trudeau or his staff had ever actually met her.

The Globe and Mail’s exclusive report Feb. 7 has exploded into one of the biggest crises to grip Mr. Trudeau’s government. It culminated this week with the resignation of Ms. Wilson-Raybould, apparently on a matter of principle. Her departure raised questions about Mr. Trudeau’s commitment to the unique independence of the justice minister’s office, to Indigenous reconciliation and to his dedication to ensuring women get an equal voice.

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Sean’s profile is an indication the PMO could have predicted what was coming. As Gary Mason writes, the matter has further dimmed the Liberals’ election prospects in the West.

The affairs surrounding SNC-Lavalin are complicated by politics and legal proceedings, though there’s a good primer here.

But the heart of the controversy is straightforward: The Globe has reported Ms. Wilson-Raybould came under pressure from the Prime Minister’s Office to override the decision of the Public Prosecution Service of Canada to reject SNC-Lavalin’s efforts to avoid a trial. Ms. Wilson-Raybould refused to intervene. She was later demoted in last month’s cabinet shuffle.

Mr. Trudeau told reporters he did not direct her on the matter. But senior government officials later confirmed to The Globe that there was “vigorous debate.” Ms. Wilson-Raybould resigned from cabinet earlier this week, only hours after Mr. Trudeau told reporters that her continued presence in cabinet was an indication she was not unhappy with the government.

Ms. Wilson-Raybould signed her resignation letter Puglaas.

Puglaas is a name given to her when she was five by her father’s mother. It means woman of noble birth. Ms. Wilson-Raybould is a descendant of the Musgamagw Tsawataineuk and Laich-Kwil-Tach peoples, which are part of Kwakwaka’wakw, the traditional inhabitants of northern Vancouver Island.

As Sean writes, in her tradition, the chiefs are always men, but it is a woman who grooms them for leadership. The woman is known as Hiligaxste – pronounced Hilly-gas-TEH – which means One Who Corrects the Chiefs’ Path.

“An attorney-general’s role is to be a path-corrector, the wisdom behind the throne, advising the whole of government on what it can and can’t legally do,” he writes.

Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s childhood was insulated from many of the problems facing Indigenous peoples in Canada, in part the result of her family’s resistance to allow her father to go to residential school.

Ms. Wilson-Raybould and her sister followed their father into law. As a Crown attorney in Vancouver, Ms. Wilson-Raybould had gruelling exposure to what she’d been protected from at home: the poverty and addiction of many Indigenous British Columbians and their over-representation in the court system.

She entered Indigenous politics, where the discourse can be at least as tough as politics anywhere. Her stature as a woman meant within that circle, she was not taken as seriously as the male chiefs, noted several Indigenous leaders interviewed by The Globe.

Her big moment on the national stage came at the 2012 Crown-First Nations gathering, when she stepped to the podium, stared down prime minister Stephen Harper sitting in the first row, and rebuked Ottawa for its “neo-colonialism.”

In British Columbia, they still call it her “With all due respect, Mr. Prime Minister” speech. She stressed the importance of a government being accountable to its citizens.

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This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief James Keller. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here. This is a new project and we’ll be experimenting as we go, so let us know what you think.

Around the West:

CARBON TAX: A Saskatchewan courtroom was the scene of a complex constitutional debate that could determine the fate of the federal carbon tax – a centrepiece of the Trudeau government’s climate plan. Premier Scott Moe’s government asked the province’s Court of Appeal to review whether the tax, which only applies to provinces that haven’t implemented carbon pricing of their own, violates the constitution. While not technically binding, the eventual ruling will carry considerable weight – and will almost certainly be appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada. Justin Giovannetti was in court to hear arguments against the tax from Saskatchewan and Ontario, as well as the federal government’s defence.

REAL ESTATE: The rapid pace of development in Vancouver’s overheated housing market has revealed concerns about the number of heritage homes that are torn down by new owners or speculators. Frances Bula looks at the push to salvage some of those homes from the landfill by moving them to new locations. But in spite of a lot of public angst about the loss of those houses, the city’s efforts to encourage retention and recycling of materials, and a healthy market of people looking to buy, many owners just don’t think about it. The city says the materials from demolished homes are often recycled, but that doesn’t change the fact that the actual buildings are gone.

B.C. BUDGET: British Columbia’s NDP government is set to present its latest budget on Tuesday, a year after introducing new real estate taxes. The effect of two taxes, one on out-of-province owners and another targeting luxury homes in the Vancouver region, could pose a significant challenge for Finance Minister Carole James. On the one hand, the taxes were expected to bring in hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. But they also appear to have significantly cooled the market, which will eat into property transfer taxes that had ballooned to account for a significant portion of the province’s revenues.

PIPELINE POLITICS: Some of Alberta’s largest petroleum producers have been ramping up their attacks on the provincial government’s decision to curtail oil sands output. James Keller looks at how those critiques could affect the governing New Democrats in the coming provincial election. On one hand, Premier Rachel Notley’s main opponent, the United Conservative Party, will use the recent discord to make the case that the government has lost the confidence of the industry. But fighting with oil executives isn’t necessarily bad politics, and when it comes to the curtailment policy in particular, the UCP was an early supporter.

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SECLUSION ROOMS: A new survey suggests more than half of Alberta parents whose children have special needs say their kids have been restrained at school or confined in seclusion rooms. The data was released by Inclusion Alberta, a group that advocates on behalf of people with developmental disabilities. The group is calling on the province to ban or govern the use of these practices.

B.C. LEGISLATURE: The spending scandal that has engulfed British Columbia’s legislature has taken another casualty, as Liberal MLA and former Speaker Linda Reid was stripped of her post as assistant deputy Speaker. Both the governing New Democrats and the Green caucus were seeking Ms. Reid’s removal in the wake of allegations about inappropriate spending, a scandal that has led to the suspension of Craig James, Clerk of the House and Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz.

ALBERTA PARTY: The Leader of the Alberta Party will be in court this coming Friday as he fights a five-year ban from running for political office. Stephan Mandel, a former Edmonton mayor, was among several Alberta Party candidates who were slapped with five- or eight-year bands for handing in their financial disclosure forms late. Mr. Mandel says the rules are “draconian” and part of a wider effort to hurt smaller parties.

And for readers across the Prairies who are suffering through one of the worst cold stretches in decades, Ian Brown explores the psyche of surviving a Canadian winter.


Gary Mason on the carbon tax: “But the carbon tax is the object of an ideological war. Conservative political leaders in this country simply do not believe climate change is their problem to solve.They are content to kick that can down the road for other generations.”

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Adrienne Tanner on 4-20: “The annual 4/20 gathering draws tens of thousands of cheerful, bleary-eyed attendees, a huge crowd by any measure. And unless it’s a riot, which compromises public safety, thereby demanding a punitive response, the best course of action for police with a crowd this large is to hang out, smile for selfies and make sure no one ODs on edibles.”

Kent Roach on the legacy of the Gerald Stanley trial: “Nevertheless, the legal system continues to lag behind our increased understanding of implicit racial bias. It continues to prioritize juror privacy and efficiency when selecting juries. It too often ignores the impact of social media and polarization on jurors. And it bluntly dismisses calls for reform and for more representative juries on the basis that perfectly proportionate juries are not possible.”

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