Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett has admitted to, and apologized for, sending Independent MP and former Liberal justice minister Jody Wilson Raybould a text message that Wilson-Raybould called “racist” and “misogynist.”
Wilson-Raybould said that while she was “floored” by the message, to her it was “indicative of a pattern of behaviour” she says she experienced while in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet. And, to her, it is emblematic of the Liberal government’s struggle to “do the right thing” by Indigenous people.
The incident stems from a “troubled interpersonal relationship,” between the two federal political figures, according to Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller.
On Thursday morning, Wilson-Raybould tweeted a screenshot of a text message that Bennett sent her, in which Bennett asked: “Pension?”
The comment seemed to suggest that Wilson-Raybould calling for Trudeau to stop “jockeying for an election” was prompted by her own desire to maintain her MP pension, and not because the nation continues to grieve the growing number of unmarked graves being discovered at former residential school sites.
MPs qualify for pensions after holding office for six years, a milestone Bennett has already achieved, having been first elected in 1997.
Responding in a tweet of her own, Bennett admitted that she sent the message and said that she apologized directly to her former cabinet colleague.
“Earlier I offered my apologies directly to the MP for Vancouver-Granville. I let interpersonal dynamics get the better of me and sent an insensitive and inappropriate comment, which I deeply regret and shouldn’t have done,” Bennett said.
In an interview with us, Wilson-Raybould said she “teared up” when she woke up to that message from Bennett Thursday morning, saying the last time they had exchanged texts was in 2018.
“I was to say the least, surprised and shocked… In the face of that horrific news, to receive a message that was laced with racism and misogyny from the minister, and not just any minister, the minister that is responsible for Crown-Indigenous relations in this country, I was floored,” she said.
Wilson-Raybould said she hopes Bennett’s apology—a text message saying “sorry”— is genuine, and that she’s reflecting on her “ridiculous” insinuation that she is in her job for money.
Wilson-Raybould and numerous other MPs first elected in 2015 will be eligible for pensions this coming October once they’ve hit six years of service, and some have speculated that it could be a factor in the timing off the next election call, which has widely been speculated could happen this summer or fall.
“Words matter, and the initial reaction, or her first reaction to send that message to me, says something,” said Wilson-Raybould.
The Prime Minister’s Office did not comment Thursday, referring back to Bennett’s tweet.
Bennett and Wilson-Raybould worked alongside one another in the federal cabinet between 2015 and 2019. Wilson-Raybould, who was Canada’s first Indigenous justice minister, resigned from cabinet in February 2019 and then in April of that year, Trudeau removed her from the Liberal caucus over the SNC-Lavalin scandal.
In an interview with us, Miller said that Bennett “should absolutely never have said” what she did. He said he has “immense” respect for both women but he knows the two have had “a troubled interpersonal relationship.”
“I know Minister Bennett’s decades-long dedication to reconciliation. I know she’s mortified by having texted that to Jody Wilson-Raybould, and regrets it bitterly,” Miller said, declining to answer whether in his view it hurts the Liberals’ credibility on reconciliation and ability to work with communities given one of the top two ministers on the file has spoken this way.
Responding to the exchange, NDP MP Charlie Angus said that it was time for Bennett to be “sent packing.” B.C. MP and Conservative Mark Strahl said that Bennett’s comment sought to “denigrate” Wilson-Raybould, who in his view “has more integrity and is more respected than Justin Trudeau and his entire cabinet combined.”