Justin Trudeau says he was “surprised and disappointed” by former minister of Justice and Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould’s resignation Tuesday.
The prime minister said Wilson-Raybould, who notified Trudeau of her resignation on Monday evening, should have gone to him with any concerns she might have had.
“If anyone, particularly the Attorney General, felt that we were not doing our job fully, responsibly, and according to all the rules as a government, it was her responsibility to come forward to me this past fall and highlight that directly to me,” Trudeau said.
“She did not. Nobody did. And that’s why I continue to be puzzled and obviously disappointed by her decision to step down from cabinet.”
The statements, made Tuesday evening in Winnipeg, are the latest in an ongoing saga involving allegations the prime minister pressured Wilson-Raybould to help Montreal engineering and construction firm SNC-Lavalin avoid criminal prosecution.
Trudeau has denied the allegations, and Wilson-Raybould has cited solicitor-client privilege when pressed on the matter.
She served as Canada’s Attorney General from 2015 until last month, when she was moved to the Veterans Affairs portfolio in a political move that surprised many.
The prime minister reaffirmed his, and his government’s innocence in the matter.
“Let me be direct, the government of Canada did its job, and to the clear public standards expected of it,” Trudeau told reporters in Winnipeg Tuesday.
“If anyone felt differently they had an obligation to raise that with me. No one, including Jody, did that.”
During his responses to media Tuesday Trudeau repeatedly referred to the former minister and First Nation leader by her first name.
In December Trudeau came under fire from First Nation chiefs in B.C. after he addressed Kukpi7 Judy Wilson of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) by her first name and in what the UBCIC maintained was a condescending tone.
The UBCIC called Trudeau’s behaviour toward Wilson sexist and demanded an apology, saying the prime minister “runs the risk of sending a message to Canadians that it’s ok to belittle, berate and lecture female Indigenous leaders.
“It sends a message that it’s ok to continue these attacks towards our Indigenous women whether it is in the boardroom, meetings or dealing with issues on the land, and it runs the grave risk of discouraging Indigenous women to stand up to defend themselves.”
No apology was ever made.
The organization made a similar statement Tuesday in a letter to Trudeau, prior to Wilson-Raybould’s resignation, saying that comments reported by media from unnamed sources within the Liberal party about Wilson-Raybould are sexist and racist.
“They perpetuate colonial-era, sexist stereotypes that Indigenous women cannot be powerful, forthright, and steadfast in positions of power, but rather confrontational, meddling and egotistic,” the letter to Trudeau reads. “These comments from your staff must be recognized for what they are – blatant sexism.”
Trudeau said reconciliation is still a priority for the Liberals.
“Our government’s commitment to reconciliation is larger than any one person, and we will continue to work closely with Indigenous partners as we walk this path together.
“Make no mistake, we will remain squarely focused on middle class Canadians, creating jobs, growing the economy, and delivering more opportunities for hard-working families from coast to coast to coast,” he said.
The prime minister also downplayed the significance of having an Indigenous woman in his cabinet.
“We have taken directions from Canadians, particularly Indigenous Canadians, from the very beginning on the matter of reconciliation,” he said.
With files from Martha Troian.