When Jody Wilson-Raybould was growing up in Comox, she watched proudly in class as her father urged prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, during a nationally televised conference, to include an aboriginal rights section in the 1982 Constitution Act.
Wilson-Raybould, the B.C. regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations and daughter of retired aboriginal leader Bill Wilson, is expected to be acclaimed today as one of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s so-called star candidates, running in the new riding of Vancouver Granville.
The riding, created in a seat redistribution that gave B.C. six new federal seats, is considered one of a small handful of urban B.C. ridings the federal Liberals have a chance of taking in the 2015 election.
Several longtime Liberals expressed interest in contesting the nomination, but the party used “moral suasion” — according to one party member — to persuade them to not challenge Trudeau’s choice.
Wilson-Raybould’s candidacy, and the potential to be part of a new government led by Pierre Trudeau’s eldest son during a turning point in Canada’s relations with First Nations, appears to have the ring of destiny.
A landmark Supreme Court of Canada hearing in June emphatically gave meaning to the vaguely worded clause in the 1982 Constitution Act, by granting a B.C. First Nation full title to a large area. Analysts and many politicians, including Wilson-Raybould, have called the decision a “game-changer” that will empower other First Nations as they collaborate with, or oppose, companies trying to create wealth in the natural resource sector.
“This is a very critical period in our history and I’m concerned about the direction we’re heading,” the 43-year-old former Crown prosecutor said Wednesday. “I believe there is a genuine need to embrace the new legal reality in this country and ensure there’s an overarching framework that provides the necessary tools to reconcile with all First Nations in this country, and that doesn’t exist right now.”
Wilson-Raybould has been groomed to play a leadership role since she was a child.
When she was eight, her grandmother held a naming potlatch on Gilford Island, naming her Puglaas, or “woman born to noble people.” Puglaas is now Wilson-Raybould’s Twitter handle.
During the constitutional conferences, Bill Wilson told Pierre Trudeau that either of his daughters could some day become prime minister.
Wilson-Raybould followed in her father’s footsteps by getting a law degree but, unlike Bill Wilson, she practised law, starting out as a Crown prosecutor in Vancouver for three years. She was later convinced to become a member of the B.C. Treaty Commission, which she did for six years, and in 2009 was elected to her current post with the AFN.
Wilson-Raybould, who lives with her husband Tim Raybould on Vancouver’s North Shore but is looking for a home in her riding, said she will remain in her AFN post until the election campaign begins.
Then she will take a leave of absence and, if she wins the seat, will quit the national body that is now leaderless due to internal divisions over a federal education reform act.