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Will Jody Wilson-Raybould run for mayor of Vancouver, or not?

Independent MP for Vancouver-Granville spoke to Glacier Media this week in wide-ranging interview
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Jody Wilson-Raybould announced this month that she will not seek re-election as the independent MP for Vancouver-Granville. File photo Dan Toulgoet
When Jody Wilson-Raybould announced earlier this month that she wasn’t seeking re-election as the independent MP for Vancouver-Granville, she made it clear that it wasn’t to spend more time with family, or to focus on “other challenges and pursuits.”

But what Wilson-Raybould didn’t make clear is what comes next for the country’s former attorney general and justice minister, whose reasons for not pursuing a third term included Parliament becoming “more and more toxic and ineffective while simultaneously marginalizing individuals from certain backgrounds.”

Since announcing her decision, the speculation in local political circles is that Wilson-Raybould will take a run next year at becoming Vancouver’s first female mayor, which would make history if she were elected.

Add, too, the fact that she would be the first Indigenous woman to upset the run of white men in the mayor’s chair, which would represent a seismic shift at city hall and most certainly mean a different feel and direction under Wilson-Raybould’s leadership.

Such speculation on a mayoral run was fed by a poll Research and Co. conducted last month for the Vancouver District and Labour Council that showed Wilson-Raybould as the top contender to unseat Mayor Kennedy Stewart.

So will she run for mayor next year?

It was one of the questions Wilson-Raybould answered this week in a 35-minute telephone interview with Glacier Media. Hint: Her answer wasn’t definitive either way.

She also discussed issues important to her, including Indigenous reconciliation, climate change, social and racial justice and building an enduring economy. The discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves at former residential school sites across the country was very much on her mind, too.

What follows is a condensed and edited version of the interview.

The pandemic has caused many Canadians to reflect on what’s important to them in life, and consider a different course in their work and interests. I’m curious if your decision not to seek re-election was shaped or influenced by the pandemic.

That’s a good question. I want to say yes, but the decision for me not to run again has been one that has been a fairly long time coming. My decision to exit federal politics for now came from how quickly in the face of these enormous global challenges and challenges we have domestically, that partisanship —hyper partisanship — re-entered the reality of Ottawa. And I feel that the hyper partisan nature of politics federally is and could be even be more damaging to democracy. It’s an environment that takes over engaging on the best ideas around climate change, around Indigenous reconciliation — around all of the issues that have been highlighted by the pandemic. I’m obviously Indigenous and have a very different worldview. For me living in an environment — in this case, Parliament — was very contrary to that worldview, and I really don't believe and never have and never will believe that it has to be that way.

You made it clear in the statement you issued July 8 that you’re done with federal politics. But what you didn’t make clear is what comes next, and whether that is in provincial or municipal politics, or some other venture. Why the mystery?

I'm not purposely putting it out there to be a mystery. I mean, I haven't even sworn off federal politics. I always look to be in environments where I think I can contribute the most and Parliament is not that environment. I want to make the right choice, or choices. But I will say it’s not in my current plans to take on any active role in politics, at any level. My future plans will definitely continue to include the work that I did as an MP and that I did for 25-plus years when I was a leader in the Indigenous world — advocating for rights recognition and true reconciliation with Indigenous peoples and social justice issues. That is and always has been paramount.

So I’ll ask you straight-up — do you plan to run for mayor of Vancouver in the 2022 election?

I'm not currently considering it.

Why not?

Well, I'm not going to be definitive on anything — I have no definitive plans. I'm in a position in which I feel fortunate to have a lot of people show faith in me. Whether it is, you know, asking me to consider running for mayor, or consider running for something else — or being on this or that. I'm going to carefully think about all of those options and where I can best contribute, where I can be the best public servant, which is what I was raised to do.

OK, but I have to ask you about the poll the Vancouver and District Labour Council released last month, which was conducted by Research and Co., that showed you as a contender for mayor of Vancouver. In fact, of the people polled, only Mayor Kennedy Stewart ranked higher. What do you make of people wanting you to be mayor?

Well, I just I feel blessed that I continue to have support from people in our city. I can't even tell you the number of phone calls and texts and social media responses from people I’ve received [since I announced I wasn’t seeking re-election] and it's heartwarming to me. Like I said in my letter [to announce I’m not seeking re-election], I have done the best job I can. I'm still the MP for Vancouver-Granville and will be until whenever the election is. I take great pride in knowing that I've been able to build very important substantive relationships with people in this city that I love. So the support that I've received is very welcomed and very much appreciated.

JodyElectionJody Wilson-Raybould at her victory party in 2015. File photo Dan Toulgoet

Many cities in this province and country have either had or continue to have a female mayor. Vancouver has never had a woman as mayor. Why do you think that is?

I look forward to the day where there's a female mayor of Vancouver, and like you, I can look around and think of some amazing women that are currently mayors across the country. I think women belong around every table and in any position that they want to run for. So I hope that our city soon sees a female mayor.

You mentioned the emails, texts and phone calls you’ve received from people since you announced you weren’t seeking re-election. So have any civic parties or current councillors approached you about running for mayor?

I have been approached by political parties, different people sitting in a whole array of positions right now. I'm not going to name those names. But the support that I've heard — not just around whether or not I would consider running for mayor — but from people expressing support for the work that I've always done, and that they're committed to reconciliation and asking me what they can do in terms of assisting and keeping Indigenous reconciliation in the forefront. So it's support from a wide array of people around the important social and racial justice issues that I've spent my lifetime — as have so many others — fighting.

How do you think Kennedy Stewart is doing as mayor of Vancouver?

There are challenges in this city, and certainly Kennedy has faced a number of those, and has his supporters and detractors. But for anybody in that role, it’s challenging. I've known Kennedy since he was a Member of Parliament and I have had the opportunity to work with him in federal politics. He's always been open to meeting with me and talking about issues that are impacting my constituents in the city. We're facing really difficult challenges here in Vancouver around housing, around the opioid crisis, etcetera, that need to be addressed and addressed by working collaboratively across many levels of government.

In your statement for not seeking re-election, you mentioned critical issues facing your riding of Vancouver-Granville and all Canadians. You identified reconciliation, climate change, social and racial justice and building an enduring economy. How can you effectively tackle those issues if you’re not doing it as a politician?

I don't think that political influence or being able to change things or galvanize public support and opinion and amplify people's voices is necessarily confined to an elected position. When I was a cabinet minister within the Trudeau government, I sought to change things and faced some pretty steep challenges in terms of doing that while as a minister. We need to look at institutional reform — the way decisions are made, the manner in which the vast majority of MPs voices are not heard needs to be reconsidered. And sometimes people within a system are and become creatures of that system. That makes it harder to change. That's not to say that I'm going to change it completely on my own from the outside. I don't think that in any way, shape or form. But for me, right now, Parliament is not the place. It’s toxic and marginalizes or makes some voices not heard.

A few years ago, I wrote a series of stories that looked at Vancouver through an Indigenous lens and asked the question whether the City of Vancouver’s commitment to reconciliation was genuine. I never got a chance to ask you that question back then, so I’ll ask it now — do you think it’s genuine?

Particularly in light of the residential school realities, people are learning more and more about all of that history and current reality of Indigenous peoples, which is horrifying. I feel that we're at a place in time right now where the consciousness and the thirst for knowledge among Canadians, among British Columbians, among people in Vancouver is increasing. I get emails, people wanting to do things, to continue to maintain that level of understanding and wanting change. So I think generally speaking, things are changing. Under the previous mayor [Gregor Robertson], we were declared a city of reconciliation. I think that there's more that the City of Vancouver can do, there's more that the province of British Columbia can do to change the relationship between Indigenous peoples and non-Indigenous people. I was happy to read that city council passed resolutions to bring in [the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples] and articles in the city where they can. There's been documents and publications put out by the city about Indigenous peoples and local communities, and that's important. But I think there's more that we can do as a city, that we can do as a province. And certainly, the federal government can do more. Keeping up that pressure and keeping the conversation going is something that's going to continue. That makes me hopeful, and wanting to continue to work with other people to make sure that that happens.

What do you make of the reckoning that is happening right now in this country regarding the discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves at the sites of former residential schools?

Pretty much everyone in my family with the exception of my father went to a residential school and there are so many stories coming from those family members and beyond. Along with building those so-called schools were provisions for graveyards. I mean, who sends their child to a school where there are graveyards? Kids were forcibly removed. And I think any parent can just imagine that for their own child. So the reckoning is incredibly important. We have a lot of work to do as a country, and we need to do everything we can to outrun the colonial shadow. That's not going to be done simply by taking a knee and making promises in the election or giving money to Indigenous people, although that's important. What's going to change the colonial reality that exists to this day in our institutions of Parliament and beyond is changing the colonial laws — first and foremost — changing the Indian Act, changing policies in terms of approaches to Indigenous people, and changing the operating practices of government. What changes things is actually acting and changing law and policy practice, which is what this federal government committed to do over six years ago, and hasn’t done so. So yes, of course, be horrified at the announcement of the discoveries of the unmarked graves. But change being horrified into substantial action on the ground and open up the space for Indigenous peoples in this country, and our country will be better for it.

Your Twitter account tells me it was your mother’s birthday last Friday. You must have talked about your decision not to seek re-election in the next federal election. Did she give you any advice about your next move, whatever that may be?

Yes, she did. It was my mother's 77th birthday on July 16. And my sister and my husband and my nieces were all back for my mom's birthday, which was super nice and needed. I talk to my mom on an ongoing basis. And my mother — as with most parents — just wants me to be happy. She is happy that I am not running again to be an MP in the next election. Her wish for me has always been to have calm and to continue to do the work that makes me happy and advances Indigenous peoples’ rights. She knows that I've always been passionate and that I've been raised to contribute back my skills, my abilities — whatever those are — and to ultimately improve quality of life. So she's happy. By me not running and being an MP anymore, she might see me more. So I hope that is the case because going back to Cape Mudge — my home community — is definitely is a place like nowhere else. And it does give me that calm and that peace.

OK, to wrap up then...so next fall, I shouldn't reserve any time or space to write a profile of why Jody Wilson-Raybould is running to become mayor of Vancouver?

[Laughter] I told you I'm thinking of trying to figure out precisely what's the best course for me.

mhowell@glaciermedia.ca

@Howellings