June 19, 2022

Jody Wilson-Raybould: Good Trouble

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Former Justice minister and Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould is not just angry–not just determined to improve the lives of indigenous people. She’s all that, but we discover she’s also a hoot! She dishes on how hugs from prime minister Justin Trudeau made her skin crawl. And she gets personal about her hubby, her sister, not being able to have kids, and trying to function on 3 hours sleep a night. Jody, aka Puglass, is a member of the We Wai Kai Nation and lives in Vancouver and Cape Mudge where she is about to publish a follow up to “Indian” in the Cabinet. She talks to us about the SNC-Lavalin affair and why it’s sometimes important to be difficult. Oh, and Wendy is accused of paying to get an interview. 


The women of Ill Repute with your hosts, Wendy Mesley and Maureen Holloway. 



Is there a Hill that you would die on? 

Like, literally? 

Like Everest? You know, just as a Sidebar, I'm fascinated by Everest. I've read everything I can get my hands on, but I'm terrified of heights. So I would literally die on Everest unless somebody carried me up to the top and back, which would kind of defeat the purpose. No. I mean, do you have any principles that you would uphold no matter what? Like, would you fight for your country?

Well, I'd like to think I have principles. I'd like to say yes. I'd like to say that I hide people in my attic. I have Jewish friends who say they know who would and who wouldn't. I'd like to think I'm one of those, but I've never really been put to the test. And as for the whole mountain thing, like, my mom, she climbed to Base Camp Everest. She was a real mountain person. I'm not a mountain person. I'm not even really a hill person. And what does fighting for your country mean? I don't know. Like, I don't have Putin sort of.

Would you fight for your children? I mean, I know you, of course, we'll fight for our children.

Well, I have a daughter. I'm very close to her. And I remember when she was born, I was dropping my mom off at the airport. She was probably going off to Everest or something, but Kate was a baby, and I was all very emotional. And I said, oh, if anything ever happens to her, I'd kill myself. And my mom said, well, if you kill yourself, I'll have to kill myself. And it's like, you know, it just never ends. That whole feeling of guilt and responsibility.

Oh, my God, the body count alone.

We're getting serious. We're getting very serious here.

Would you fight for your right to party? 

To party? Yeah. Well, there are some things that truly matter, but being a journalist, I don't know. You have lots of principles. And I was saying to a friend of mine that I'm kind of lucky to be a journalist and that I've never really had an employer, that I felt I had to do stuff because the employer wanted me to do things. So I don't know, what would you do? You're going to talk to somebody who had a big and important job in just a sec, but say that was you and you have that job and you're asked to do something and you didn't think it was right. Would you do it?

Like, would it be legally wrong or morally wrong or both?

Well, probably both. Yeah.

I would like to say that I would not do that.

And would you stay in the job, like, if they kept you?

If I could, I probably would, but I probably couldn't if I wouldn't do that thing that they asked me to do whatever it is.

So the person that we're going to talk to is Jodi Wilson-Raybould. She was in that position. She was Minister of justice. She was attorney general in the first cabinet of Justin Trudeau, the first Indigenous person to hold those positions. And it's a really long, complicated story what all happened. But basically, Trudeau, the Prime Minister, pressured her to cut a deal that would have helped out this huge engineering company in Montreal, SNC, that had been accused of bribery. And she wouldn't do it. She resigned. She quit. She got kicked out of the caucus. There was huge stink, like the headlines just went on and on and on.

Oh, I remember well. And a lot of people consider her a hero. I do, and I think you do. But of course, there are others that say Jodi Wilson-Raybould, and I'm quoting here was a thorn in the side of the cabinet, that she was difficult to get along with, known to berate fellow cabinet ministers openly at the table. I can't even begin to tell you how much I hate that word difficult. It's the second level. After calling someone a bitch and not as cool. What does it even mean? If you're not difficult, then you're easy. And that's frowned upon as well. So you can't win.

Jody. She left that cabinet. She ran again as an independent, and now she's more or less out of- still very political, but out of politics.

But writing books.

Yeah. So she's written two and she's now working on a new one. All of these books are about her time in Ottawa, the truth and reconciliation moment. And she's here.

I hope she's not difficult.

Hi, ladies. Thanks for having me.

So happy to have you.

Oh, it's my pleasure.

Reading your book, I mean, you sound like such a serious person, but I was told that underneath it all, I heard you're a hoot. Yeah. That there's a little sense of humor in there and that you were caught shoplifting when you were nine. I read that in the book. So you're not perfect.

My mother says I'm a rash is how she describes me. And she said that on a television program that we were on. But I am quite a serious person. But, yeah, I do like to have a lot of fun. And my mom was my third grade teacher sent me the principal's office, and I've been getting into a bit of good trouble, as someone said, throughout the course of my life. And in doing so, I've made many amazing friends that will be friends and supporters, my board of directors around me, which I'm really grateful for. So maybe we can get into some good trouble, ladies.

That's- we're always looking for that. Your husband is very funny. You say he makes you laugh.

He's funny. Yeah, he makes me laugh. He is probably one of the smartest people that I've ever met. He's very policy. He's a policy wonk, but he is goofy through his English, and he talks incessantly about every manner of subject, and he pretty much knows everything about- at least I think he does- about everything. But yeah, he's pretty funny and my friends find him amusing. And if there's no conversation that's happening, we can always depend on him to fill the void.

So you're not running again, but you're running. You've taken up running. You even hit me up. Maureen accused me of taking money to secure an interview.

I did hit you up. Thanks for the moolah. I ran a marathon on Sunday, so I'm a little sore, but I finished the marathon in just over 5 hours. The bank of Montreal Marathon here in Vancouver, and we were able to hold on. I'm in really good shape, thankfully, and we were able to raise over $27,000 for Alzheimer's research, so I'm grateful for that, too.

Well, I got to hit you up for the 50 then.

100 from Wendy. Well, that's from both of us, actually.

Thanks, guys.

We'll work it out of the wash. 

Are you difficult? Tell us about being called difficult. Like, are you just generally difficult? Are you happy to be difficult?

Being called difficult is something that I find ridiculous, particularly in the context that I might have been called difficult. I've said many times since the whole SNC Lavalin affair and since leaving government that if wanting to ensure that one stays true to one's principles, wanting to create substantial change in the lives of Indigenous Peoples and change laws and policies and work really hard to advocate for that, then I'm okay with being difficult, and certainly not wanting to break the law or to bend the rules and dismantle fundamental tenets of our democracy. Yeah, I'm okay with being difficult in that respect.

It was so interesting. Like, there was this massive smear campaign, and some of it was because you call people names. People were shocked. Well you didn't call people names, but you accuse them of dastardly deeds publicly as a cabinet Minister. But the most interesting thing, because I worked on the Hill for a few years, there's such a game that happens of no one actually came out and said, well, she's a bitch or she's difficult. It was always, well, we've heard... You sort of suspected that it was the PMO or the people whispering in the ears. But isn't it a game that you walked into?

I think that for a lot of people, particularly, this is a blanket application, which isn't entirely fair. But for a lot of people in politics in Ottawa, it is a game. And the game ultimately being, if one is in power, one wants to hold on to that power. If one is not in power, one wants to gain power. So entering into mainstream politics from Indigenous politics was a very serious transition for me. It took a lot of thought to do it. And the reality of mainstream politics is so different in many respects than Indigenous politics in that the hyperpartisan nature of federal politics, and I know supplies to provinces as well. And the entrenchment of political parties in terms of making decisions based on seeking that power is just overwhelming. So it's a game to so many. And the problem with that is that resolving major issues and doing what we say we're going to do is something that falls by the wayside. And that to me is wrong. And I never considered my time in politics or the commitment, the time commitment and otherwise, and the responsibilities as a game, certainly a means to an end, the end being ultimately improving quality of life for Indigenous Peoples and Canadians.

Can you tell me about- I'm not even a very politically astute person, let alone, I know nothing about Indigenous politics other than what I've taken away from your book. Can you tell me what the fundamental difference is between and we're calling it mainstream right versus Indigenous?

The fundamental difference? Well, I come from a I hold a very different world view. I think we all have and develop over time throughout our lives different world views, but my world view is very different. I was raised in an Indigenous community, raised within the laws and the teachings of our big house. And in Indigenous politics, the main difference is that we have no political parties. That's not to say that we agree on everything. We have vigorous debates and discussions about many issues, but we ultimately have as our goal to improve the quality of life and wellbeing for our Peoples. And when I came into mainstream politics, this was certainly not the case, I believe, and for the vast majority of Indigenous Peoples, we have a very humanitarian approach to life and to survival and well being and make decisions generationally and understand that everybody in the community has a role to play, and to put arbitrary, artificial divisions between and among people is to compromise the wellbeing of the society and the ability for individuals to play their roles and to reach their full potential. So I think that- I mean, for me, that was the big difference, and I knew it existed in terms of mainstream and Indigenous politics, but it's a pretty tough pill to swallow when you compromise, and everybody does, so much of your life to enter into politics only to be confronted with the reality that, as we said earlier, for many, it's simply a game to hold on to power.

I was in Ottawa. I was in Quebec, sort of at the beginning of the constitutional talks, and your dad was involved in that. And then I was in working on Parliament Hill during the whole Miche Lake thing. And towards the end of that, Phil Fontaine came forward and talked about residential schools, and nobody really, including myself, paid nearly enough attention. Like when I was in school, we weren't taught anything about, let alone residential schools. There was the Cowboys and Indians kind of. It was like, it was ridiculous what we were taught. I guess I want to get a sense of you decided to fight, Phil Fontaine let us know sort of really important information. But he's not fought. He's not sort of created the kind of like, hey, people do something now because it absolutely has to be done. And I'm not going to do what you're saying I should do. So I want to get your reaction sorta to him and how you stand up and like, what pisses you off the most about ignorance among people? I mean, I was so ignorant in school and even on the Hill. And what's the right approach?

There's a lot of things that piss me off, as you say. But my upsetness or being angry about things quickly translates into wanting to do things to get things done, to do better. And you talked about Phil Fontaine and him being one of the very first prominent Indigenous leaders to come out and talk about residential schools and the impact that it had on him and the abuse that he suffered in residential school. I mean, that's profound. That is incredibly important. And I mean, I would say I have the utmost respect for Phil Fontaine and leaders- He's going to hate it when I say this- from that era. But Phil Fontaine is still leading. He was in Rome recently. But I have to say that things have changed quite dramatically. A lot of people might not agree with me, but in terms of Indigenous issues, a lot has changed. I mean, at the beginning of this country and there's still an Indian Act on the books that the Indian Act outlawed who we were and to a degree still does, but it banned our ceremonial potlatches and Sundances. The Indian Act was what created residential schools and it outlawed our languages. So many leaders from the beginning of this century, for the 150 plus years that we've been a country, have had to be invisible in terms of fighting for our rights and advocating for Indigenous issues, because if they were visible, they would have been thrown in jail, like many of the Potlatch Chiefs were thrown in jail from my territory. For me now and other leaders of my generation and into the future, we have to be incredibly visible to be able to push for rights, recognition, and implementation. And we have the luxury, I guess, so to speak, to actually be visible in our advocacy. So advocacy has changed over time in terms of Indigenous leadership and now why we have changed so much in recent years, even since I was the regional chief for British Columbia, is reports like the Truth and Reconciliation Commission reports. Very recently, the public revelations of the mass graves. This has drawn the attention of so many more Canadians, even in the last decade or even the last couple of years than ever before. And what is motivating me and continues to motivate me is that Canadians have woken up and are saying it's completely unacceptable that we have this reality in our country and are being allies, or as I like to call it, call them, in betweeners in terms of trying to bridge those worlds and create a space for Indigenous Nations to heal, certainly, and to hear the truth and relearn the true history of this country. But actually to create the space within our Confederation for Indigenous Nations to rebuild. That's the opportunity that we have. And we have the winds that are blowing at our backs, positive ones from Canadians who want to be a part of that. And that, to me, is really important. And we've come to this moment because of leaders like Phil Fontaine, leaders like my father, and leaders who have pushed in the shadows to keep invisibly. But now we have to be very visible about it and continue to gain that momentum of Canadians. And it's Canadians that are going to push governments to finally do the right thing. Like, yeah. I'm pretty pissed off when I realized that this Prime Minister Trudeau wasn't going to fulfill his promise, in the words that he spoke in the House of Commons on February 14 of 2018, where he talked about the necessity of having a rights recognition framework. That's what we need to do. And I know that there's going to be a leader and leaders that are going to make that happen, and I want to be a part of that.

The Women of Ill Repute. 

I want to ask you about something that isn't so much an Indigenous issue, but an issue that I think a lot of people, specifically women, have found themselves in. And that's to do with Justin Trudeau. And I think it was around the time that the whole SNC Lavalin thing broke, that was sort of the end of the honeymoon period. And I think people were starting to see Justin for his true colors. And I think we've all been in a place maybe you more than any of us, where you really like somebody and you want to believe them and you want to think that they stand for what they say they stand for. And you start to realize that's not the case. And everybody else is still like, oh, no, he's just like whether he's the coolest guy in high school or he's the best guy ever. Everybody loves him. And, you know, you realize it's a sickening feeling. I want to just take you back to that moment. I think it was your third meeting in that 24 hours period where you said you were going to resign and then he wanted to hug it out.

That make your skin crawl?

Oh, I put the book down and I said to my husband, Jesus, oh, my God. But I think we've all I can't think of too many women who haven't been in that position. What did you do? Did you hug them back? Didn't you? Had to.

I mean, there were times when I did that I didn't want to. And I guess my takeaway and yeah, I think I described it in the book as a skin crawling hug. But to your point about believing in people and then being surprised or disappointed when they act differently from what they presented, I mean, that was the case for me. And that's why, with respect to this Prime Minister and one of the main reasons why I wanted to write my political memoir was to talk about what I experienced, and how my thinking, and how the reality of- the political reality that I was existing within changed. I, along with so many Canadians back before 2015, before the election, believed so much. I believed in this person, and I believed in what we promised we were going to do. And then slowly, that gradually changed. And I can say to this day, I still think about it, and it still bothers me that I believed so much. And I try to reconcile that in my own mind, that I believed so much in somebody and in a movement that wasn't necessarily there. But I think I would probably do it again, because what I committed to back then, what we committed to in the platform, is what I believed. Imagine having a platform where you actually promise something and then you fulfill it. And I think the vast majority of Canadians who believed in that movement still believe in it. So there's opportunity there. I hope that Justin Trudeau finds some measure of self reflection in those places where he goes, but that's his business. I don't spend much time thinking about him. I spend a lot of time thinking about how I can find or how we can continue to find other ways to get those things done that we promised to get done.

I know you don't want to focus on him, but it was just such a big part of the book. And you wrote things that I never thought that I would read from somebody who had been a cabinet Minister that you wrote. You said to him, I wish I never met you. That's pretty profound.

Yeah. I remember sitting in his office in West Block, and that is exactly what I felt at the time. And I had a whole bunch of things that went through my head thinking what would have happened if I had never met you, and gosh, in that moment I wish I never had. But that doesn't carry me throughout the day or it doesn't linger. The last word in Indian in the Cabinet is grateful. And I really- reflecting on even the tumultuous times, where I was on the front page of every newspaper. My mum hated it. I'm grateful for that experience, I think, and I'm proud of so much of the work that I, with others, was able to do. And the opportunity that I had. Sometimes being the only or being a first comes with a lot of challenges, and I certainly have faced a significant number of challenges, but it's worth it. And I know that I might have been the first Indigenous Minister of justice MoJ, as I call it, but I know I'm not going to be the last. And to me, that's really important.

So maybe this is a preoccupation of mine after having been on the Hill, but you write a lot about it in your book, and I guess I've always, as the Prime Minister's go by of different stripes, I've always tried to figure out, like who's pulling the strings? And it's something that you write about a lot. And you actually say, is he the puppet or the puppet master? Like who does matter? Who is pulling the strings? 

Yeah. I mean, I think that question about whether or not he's a puppet or the puppet master, I mean, it's still not necessarily answered 100% for me. But what I do know and I know this certainly for the government that I was a part of, is it's the Prime Minister and the unelected people in the Prime Minister's office who call the shots. And if there are decisions that are being taken or moving towards being taken and those decisions are not liked by those unelected people in the Prime Minister's office, then those decisions change. I mean, people can deny that that's the reality. But it certainly was my experience, and I can imagine that it was and is the experience within other governments.

So is it money? What is it? Like the whole SNC thing? I mean, there's a lot of money and a lot of jobs, but who is it? Who's behind all of this?

Well, I think it has a lot to do with power and control and thinking and actually believing over time that you being in government is the most important thing for the country, full stop, and doing everything one can to stay in that position. What's the saying? Power corrupts absolutely. It's a curious thing. And again, going back to thinking about worldviews and thinking that your perspective or your view of the world is more important than somebody else's. And in doing so, you close the doors to other people's perspectives, including other people within other political parties. You do yourself a disservice, I believe, and you do the country a disservice. But I know that's the nature of politics, partisan politics, and it's unfortunate. We really need to try and move away as much as we can from that very polarized reality, which we definitely see south of the border, and we see it throughout the world.

Jody, we want to ask you, or I want to ask you about your family. I know they say you're very private, and understandably, given so much of your life has been played out publicly, but you're very close to your sister, who's also a lawyer is she not?

She is a lawyer. My sister and I had the opportunity to go through law school together and we graduated at the same time. She was nine months- or no, she had just had a baby when we graduated from law school.

Wow. So I have a son in law school. I can't imagine him having a child to care for even if he wasn't in law school, actually. And she has three daughters now, or two or three?

She has three girls.

And you're very close to them.

Yeah, I love them. My husband and I love them dearly, like our own kids, and we spoil them. And two of them are at University of British Columbia, and the other one is at Pearson College in Victoria. So, yeah, we're pretty close. My sister and I, she did something maybe arguably more useful than I. She went into education and she works at a post secondary institution out here in British Columbia.

If you don't want to answer this, feel free not to answer. But I mean, you write in your book about how you and your husband wanted to have kids, and it sounds like- and you had a miscarriage during a WE event.

I'm not making light of it. When the whole WE controversy bubbled up to the surface of Ottawa it brought back tons of memories. And I'm not happy to talk about it. I mean, I find it uncomfortable. I try to be a private person. And a lot of the personal stuff that I put into the book wasn't intended to be there. But I found in the process of talking about my experience, I thought I couldn't actually tell it in the right way unless I actually did talk about who I am and where I come from and the experiences that I went through on a personal level, being in public life. Well, I don't know if being in public life and being so busy necessarily was the cause of my many miscarriages, but we certainly weren't able to have children. And I think and I know I'll regret that every day of my life, but people make choices in life. And I certainly, for one, have not been a woman involved in a really busy job, been able to find balance. I think we all strive to find balance in our work and personal lives. We haven't found it yet, but we keep striving. 

That's weird, One of the things- this sounds so trivial now, but one of the things that you wrote about in your book was this sort of pep talk that was given about work life balance by the PM. And I've underlined it in your book because I just find it- like I've always wanted to have an inside story by somebody I believe, talking about what it was like to be a cabinet Minister. And you say that he did this pop quiz about work life balance. Raise your hand if you get 8 hours of sleep a night, raise your hand if you eat well and are healthy, if you get exercise regularly, if you regularly spend time with family, and the PM, to my surprise, you're right. And a little to my dismay, raised his hand after all. Wow.

Can you imagine? I will say one thing. I believe that ministers should take on their responsibilities and alleviate as much as they can the obvious commitments and burdens that a Prime Minister has. It's a team effort in that respect. But I can't imagine being the leader of a country or leader of a province and being able to get that. I certainly worked on maybe three or 4 hours of sleep, if I was lucky. But yeah, it's very interesting. There's a lot of other ministers that raise their hands, too.

Well, God bless them. Isn't that nice?

Isn't that nice? I know.

Your next book is on reconciliation, and it's such a brutal subject. I grew up in Montreal, and I remember there was a day school, what they called an Indian day school across the river. And there were also Indigenous kids in my- I went to a convent school and there were a number of Indigenous kids there. But we never- maybe in a good way, we didn't see them as different, but we also never respected the fact that they were different. Right? That's much like Black Lives Matter situation. And then what's happened in the last year, the last two years with the discovery of the graves, I am filled with such a sense of shame. And I feel as a Canadian, in a good way. I've lost my ability to be so smug. You know, how we were. I'm not American. I'm one of the good guys. Do you feel that maybe we've lost that smugness, but also that innocence about being such a wonderful country when in fact, our colonialist background is as bad as any?

I think that being knocked out of our complacency, or knocked out of our view of ourselves and thinking, thank goodness we're not our Southern neighbors. I mean, I think that is important. And the mass grave revelations help knock us out of that reality. And again, going back and thinking about the book that I'm writing on true reconciliation, I talk and so many other leaders have talked about, we need to relearn our history, our true history of the country and the world view part of relearning our history is actually not just saying we've learnt it, but understanding it and understanding the space that we occupy, the privileges that we have. And that, in fact, it's okay that there are different world views. And to think about our reality as human beings in a very interconnected, interdependent way. This is what we have to do, not to stay in our individual artificial fenced off lives. So I think that we're getting there. And with relearning our true history, with understanding it, then the obligation upon all of us is to act in many different ways, big and small. And I'm seeing that more and more. And one of the reasons why I wanted to write True Reconciliation is to tell the story of what individuals have already done, what they're doing, and what we can all continue to do into the future in terms of acting to create that space for Indigenous Peoples in the country.

Anything else we want to cover? There's so much, we got pages and pages, but we mostly wanted to get to know you because you're a hero, maybe an unwilling one, but you are. And just a pleasure to talk to you and find out a little bit more about you. You keep fighting those good fights.

Yeah, I will. I'm happy to be on. I like the title of your gals' podcast. I'm not sure where we fit it, but I know it's kind of funny to have it entitled that. I hope that we can chat again. Maybe when my book comes out, I'm doing a lot of public speaking and running and so maybe we can run a marathon or something sometime.

Women of Ill Repute is meant to be a compliment, and it's just people who fight and that's- you fought. So, yeah, it's been lovely to talk to you. And thank you. Good luck with future projects. Whatever they may be.

Yes, whatever they may be.

Thank you so much. It'll be good trouble.

Wow. She's such a character. What do you think?

I loved her even more than I thought I would. I remember watching her during the hearings when she was wearing, that stays in my mind, that deep acquisition sweater. And she was so impressive and so controlled. And I remember thinking, oh, my God, she's got veins of ice. And then you meet her in person and she's just so warm and so down to Earth and so very sincere. And I feel that she's a tremendous loss to the cabinet and to government in general, to mainstream government.

She's such a sign of the times, really, because there's so much talk now about fake news and stupid politicians and corrupt this and corrupt that. And everybody is so cynical and everybody's picking sides. I'm sure there's a little bit of self promotion in her, like there is in all of us. But if you listen to her, she actually chose to believe that things could be different and turned out that they weren't as different as she hoped. But to me, it's just such a sign of where we are that people don't believe in politics because people like her have no chance.

I know, I agree. And when something shitty like that happens to you, like just basically her disillusionment with Trudeau and with mainstream politics, you can either be bitter, you can pull out and just go, well, you know what? They're just a bunch of losers and I don't want to have anything to do with them. Or you can keep hoping and you can keep working and you can keep trying, and now I feel after having talked to her I understand why she feels that her efforts are best done outside of the cabinet. 

But it's sad, right? It's really sad.

It is. Oh, yes, it's sad. Of course it's sad. All of this is sad.

Yeah. Well, that's why people have said to me well, why don't you run for- like, why would I run for office? As a journalist it's way better and easier to ask questions, but also, it is a game and it's increasingly run by people who are obsessed with polls and public relations, and she tried to operate within that and was basically torn apart by it and chose to leave and now she's fine but it was difficult. I loved your question to her about the hug and how it made her skin crawl.

Ew. I know. I've had to do that. I've had bosses, more than one, just say awful things and then we get up and they go, how about a hug? And I'm thinking, do you do that with your male employees? 

Let's hope not.

No. It's gross. You're not going to run for office, are you?

No, I'm never running for office. No, that'll never happen. 

Okay, me neither. Pinky swear. 

Yeah, someone approached me once and I said, well maybe if I could be Prime Minister, and he said you kind of gotta start at the bottom. So I was like no thanks.

Yeah, she was great. Onto the next.

The Women of Ill Repute with Wendy Mesley and Maureen Holloway. Available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or at womenofillrepute.com.