Jody Wilson-Raybould appears to have written a whole new manual on how to lose your job in politics.
Maybe there have been other politicians who turned a cabinet demotion into a three-month-long crisis for their governments, though none spring to mind. Perhaps there are other ministers who have spent days warning their bosses not to move them out of their jobs.
But no one in Canada, until Wilson-Raybould, appears to have done this so publicly and with such bridge-burning tenacity — up to and including Tuesday’s fiery warning to fellow Liberals against ejecting her from caucus.
None of the warnings worked. In the space of three months, Wilson-Raybould has become the former justice minister, the former veterans affairs minister, and as of Tuesday night, a former Liberal MP and no-longer candidate for Vancouver Granville in the next election.
“More to come,” Wilson-Raybould said in the tweet announcing her ejection from Trudeau’s caucus. No doubt that’s true — for a minister who was notoriously media-shy while in cabinet, she’s been a magnet for controversy and attention since leaving it.
Why Trudeau let it go on so long is one mystery of this saga — the prime minister is well-versed in ejecting troublesome colleagues, be they appointed Liberal senators or errant MPs. His speech to Liberal caucus on Tuesday night, his fans and critics will say, is one he might well have delivered weeks ago.
The “how” of it going on so long, however, is less of a mystery. If we’ve learned nothing else in the latest wave of revelations about the behind-the-scenes conversations leading to her demotion, Wilson-Raybould’s fierce streak of self-preservation has shone through.
She secretly taped a conversation in December with Michael Wernick, clerk of the Privy Council — a move that Trudeau described as “unconscionable” in his Tuesday night speech.
She sat on vacation in Bali in early January, tapping out multiple warnings in text messages to Gerald Butts, the prime minister’s principal secretary — messages revealed on Tuesday when Butts handed over his emails and texts to the Commons justice committee.
“Timing of ‘pushing me out’ …is terrible — it will be confounding and perplexing to people,” Wilson-Raybould wrote from Bali. “What is being proposed is a mistake.”
She even had a fellow minister, Jane Philpott, take a bullet for her too, first telling Trudeau that Wilson-Raybould would see dark motives behind the shuffle, then resigning in solidarity with her a month later. Philpott got ejected from Liberal caucus on Tuesday night as well.
Though Wilson-Raybould asserts she had no hand in the original leak of her story to The Globe and Mail back in February, her version of events around SNC-Lavalin has asserted itself since the beginning as the prevailing narrative. From the beginning, even when confirmed facts were sparse, her tale had the benefit of the doubt; Trudeau’s side, not so much.
Many will say that this is the power of bringing an outsider into the insider’s game of politics. An Indigenous woman, new to the Liberal party and its ancient history and customs in Canadian politics, introduced massive disruption to the status quo.
Certainly that’s how her supporters and the opposition parties will be casting her ouster from the Liberal fold. That’s the “more to come” to watch in days and weeks ahead.
But as Trudeau said in his Tuesday night speech to the Liberal caucus, infighting is actually more the rule than the exception in his party, and that’s what tipped him out of his “patience and understanding” with Wilson-Raybould’s long-smouldering exit from her old job.
In other words, two former ministers are gone from Trudeau’s Liberal party because they reminded him of past party dramas — Jean Chrétien versus Paul Martin, or even John Turner versus Pierre Trudeau.
No previous break in Liberal party unity has happened quite this way, however, in terms of time or public damage. It has been a fascinating glimpse into how Trudeau’s government works — or doesn’t, in the case of the paralysis it’s caused. It has also been a testament to the persistence of Jody Wilson-Raybould, who throughout that long goodbye rewrote a lot of rules on how to lose a job in politics.
Susan Delacourt is the Star’s Ottawa bureau chief and a columnist covering national politics. Reach her via email: email@example.com or follow her on Twitter: @susandelacourt