As the frigid air of an Ottawa winter howled outside in January 2013, Jody Wilson-Raybould stood at the centre of a mass of national media, trying to be a peacemaker as First Nations chiefs from across the country battled over how to secure a meeting with the sitting government on their terms.
Some wanted to reject a meeting with prime minister Stephen Harper, because they felt their talks should be directly with the crown, or its representative in Canada, Gov. Gen. David Johnston.
Wilson-Raybould was the British Columbia regional chief for the Assembly of First Nations, and she was going to build the bridge between the chiefs, and then between the chiefs and a government many felt was hostile to Indigenous issues.
When the meeting with Harper finally happened, she would later say, she realized change was going to be easier if she was on the inside. So she ran for the Liberals in the 2015 election and won in a downtown Vancouver riding.
Shortly afterward Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would name her Canada’s justice minister.
Fast forward six years, and in the frigid air of another Ottawa January, Wilson-Raybould was grim as she faced the reality that three years after getting one of the highest portfolios in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet, she was being demoted.
With the enthusiasm of a child being asked to apologize for stealing a cookie, she delivered the agreed-upon line, that moving from Justice to Veterans Affairs was not a negative, that there was “no world” in which serving Canada’s veterans had a downside.
But the reality is she wasn’t being moved because she was universally loved and doing a bang-up job.
She was being moved because she had become a thorn in the side of the cabinet, someone insiders say was difficult to get along with, known to berate fellow cabinet ministers openly at the table, and who others felt they had trouble trusting.
Less than a month later, Wilson-Raybould is at the centre of one of the biggest storms to hit the Trudeau government: allegations the prime minister or his aides pressured her to help Quebec corporate giant SNC-Lavalin avoid a criminal prosecution, and demoted her at least partly because she wouldn’t co-operate.
Trudeau has flatly denied the allegations.
Several Liberals approached Friday said they were confident the story came from Wilson-Raybould herself.
“She’s always sort of been in it for herself,” said one insider who didn’t want to be identified. “It’s never been about the government or the cabinet. Everything is very Jody-centric.”
The fear of reprisal for speaking about anything to do with the situation was running so high Friday most Liberals approached flatly refused.
Treasury Board President Jane Philpott, said to be one of Wilson-Raybould’s closest friends and allies in cabinet, was not available. One former senior staffer said it was too uncomfortable to talk about.