Following the discovery of 751 other unmarked graves of Native children and adults on the grounds of the former “Marieval boarding school”, Native MP Jody Wilson-Raybould spoke out.
She said it was time for the government to act, not unnecessary snap elections.
Almost immediately, Justin Trudeau’s Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett responded rudely with a one-word text to Wilson-Raybould: “Pension?
MPs have to serve at least six years to qualify for a pension, and Wilson-Raybould was first elected in October 2015. You can do the math. If we have an election before October 15 of this year, Wilson-Raybould will not be eligible for the pension.
First elected in 1997, Bennett qualified for her pension years ago.
Wilson-Raybould did not take the snipe of his former cabinet colleague lying down. In response, she tweeted:
“Racist and misogynistic text by Carolyn Bennett. Reflects the idea that indigenous people are lazy and only want money. Shows contempt, disdain and disrespect for indigenous peoples. “
Independent Vancouver MP Granville said Bennett’s dismissive comment conveyed the idea that “a strong Aboriginal woman is a bad Aboriginal woman.”
Call for Bennett’s resignation
Almost immediately after Wilson-Raybould made the exchange public, calls for his resignation began to come from all sides of the political spectrum.
Trudeau has remained loyal to Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan throughout the ongoing controversy over sexual abuse in the military and so far is sticking to Carolyn Bennett, who has been on this file since 2015.
Of particular note is the appeal of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs. In an open letter to Bennett, he wrote:
“Instead of listening to MP Wilson-Raybould’s message with the seriousness it deserves… you have decided to go after the language of a colonizer…[Y]You have not only decided to perpetuate a damaging racial stereotype that Indigenous peoples are lazy and uniquely financially motivated, but you have also dismissed the urgent and overarching issue of residential schools, missing and murdered children, and Indigenous rights … [I]to claim that MP Wilson-Raybould’s fight for equality and justice is motivated only by a pension is categorically false… MP Wilson-Raybould is a strong… aboriginal woman who has… faced unwarranted attempts to discredit and undermine its reputation… ”
When you are a minister and the people you are supposed to watch completely lose confidence in you, it is difficult to see how you can continue.
The Chiefs of British Columbia make this point clear:
“[As] Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations [you have] a mandate … to protect and advance the title, rights and well-being of Indigenous peoples …[It is unacceptable that you] would use an insignificant attempt to… insult a native woman and fellow MP. “
Professional image experts and Liberal agents are probably now advising Trudeau and Bennett to sit back and see if the current storm ends quickly. The news cycle is changing rapidly these days. People could soon forget, if not forgive, the minister’s insult in a nutshell.
Bennett’s Value as Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations
Voters would do well to not only remember that incident, but also to take a close look at Carolyn Bennett’s record since taking on this new post as head of a new ministry.
Bennett was successful in negotiating a few small-scale deals with individual First Nations bands. But the government has done nothing systemic to reform the current colonial relationship between the Crown and Indigenous peoples.
Indeed, whenever major resource projects are on the table, transnational corporations can count on voluntary partners from the provincial and federal governments.
The three normally collude to pressure small, underfunded First Nations bands to accept vague promises of jobs and benefits, with no co-ownership, no meaningful partnership, and no penny in royalties.
Bennett hasn’t done much to change that relationship.
In the interest of fairness to the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, she received little support from federal government centers of power, such as the departments of Finance, Treasury Board, Natural Resources and Industry. , as well as the Privy Council and the Prime Minister’s offices.
That, more than a verbal insult, might be a good reason for Bennett to quit.
Wilson-Raybould wouldn’t be intimidated by Trudeau’s palace guard
Wilson-Raybould is the only Aboriginal woman to have served as federal Minister of Justice. Justin Trudeau appointed her to this post after the 2015 election.
But ahead of the next election in 2019, Wilson-Raybould resigned to sit as an independent. This was one of the many consequences of the famous SNC-Lavalin affair.
This scandal centered around a federal prosecution of a Montreal-based engineering firm for bribery of foreign public officials.
Justin Trudeau and his advisers at the time feared that a criminal conviction would seriously damage SNC-Lavalin, which has almost iconic status in Quebec. Specifically, the Liberals feared political damage to their party as the election approached.
Trudeau’s palace guard considered their options and believed they had found a way out. The government could offer SNC-Lavalin what is called a deferred lawsuit associated with a “remedy agreement”. The company would agree to make amends and change its ways, but would not suffer the potentially fatal consequences of a criminal conviction.
Coincidentally, the government slipped legislation allowing remedial agreements into the previous year’s budget implementation bill. It’s a legislative trick they learned from the Harper government, which they had promised never to use.
However, Justice Minister Wilson-Raybould is reportedly not playing ball. She refused to interfere in what she saw as an independent lawsuit.
Senior Trudeau officials – including former Clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick and former Principal Secretary Gerald Butts – put intense pressure on her, but she was irremovable.
And so the solution of the Liberal Palace Guard was to remove Wilson-Raybould from the work of justice and replace her with a more docile minister.
The aboriginal MP from Vancouver did not last long in her new job with Veterans Affairs. She resigned when many of the less salty details in SNC-Lavalin’s history became public. In the next election Wilson-Raybould ran as independent and won.
Throughout the affair, the Liberals’ public stance toward Jody Wilson-Raybould has been neutral.
At the outset of the scandal, Trudeau casually and, in the ears of some, condescendingly referred to Wilson-Raybould as “Jody.” He cut that off quickly and has never had a derogatory word to say (publicly) about his former star minister since.
Bennett’s petty text was certainly not in the official Liberal Party handbook. When Wilson-Raybould made it public, Bennett apologized almost immediately.
Unjustified early election
The fact that Bennett spoke the way she did, however, is no coincidence. This reflects the Liberals’ deep unease that they are preparing for a completely unwarranted snap election.
The Prime Minister tried to prepare the ground by chatting, without convincing, about a toxic atmosphere in Parliament and the obstructionism of the opposition.
The point is that with the constructive, albeit critical, support of the NDP, the Liberals were able to govern effectively during the deep crisis created by the pandemic. What Trudeau really means when he says “toxic” is that the Liberals were forced to answer tough questions in Parliament about their various scandals and missteps.
A few Ottawa opinion writers, notably the The Toronto Star Susan Delacourt, lined up behind the Liberals. She wrote a column titled “If these are the last days of Canada’s 43rd Parliament, then good riddance.”
Delacourt’s lukewarm support for Trudeau’s electoral maneuvers is based on largely irrelevant historical fact and a completely unfounded assumption.
The point is, two years is the average lifespan of a minority government in Canada. There is, however, no rule that minorities cannot last longer. A few are, some as long as three years.
The unsubstantiated assumption is that “Canadians are ready to come up with one”.
Which Canadians did Delacourt speak to? This writer has heard no enthusiasm for a snap election from anyone.
Few, if any, other commentators on federal affairs agree with Delacourt. CTV’s Don Martin and Globe and Mail’s John Ibbitson scoffed at Trudeau’s barely concealed plans to rush an early election.
Both believe Trudeau would be unwise to count on a majority, despite recent opinion polls. One indicates that Trudeau’s almost blind loyalty to his old friends, such as the Kielburger brothers of the WE organization, is his Achilles heel.
Will Trudeau continue to show such loyalty to Bennett?
Karl Nerenberg has been a journalist and filmmaker for over 25 years. He is the political journalist of the scum
Picture: Justin Trudeau / Flickr