Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said a recent text from the Crown-Indigenous relations minister to Independent MP Jody Wilson-Raybould was “wrong” — but he expressed confidence in Carolyn Bennett’s ability to remain in her position.
Addressing reporters on Friday, Trudeau said he was pleased to see Bennett apologize to her former colleague, that he knows “her heart” and recognizes the efforts she puts into the file.
“What minister Bennett did was wrong, it was hurtful, and of course, I am deeply disappointed,” he said. “I know the efforts she has put in over the years on this and we both understand that there is now even more work for her to do and I know we will do it together.”
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.
Trudeau said “interpersonal” issues are no excuse for Bennett’s actions.
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.
Several opposition MPs are calling for Bennett’s resignation following the exchange.
“Why is @Carolyn_Bennett still minister? The world is watching Canada in this moment. Instead of leadership, she and her gov’t refuse to say genocide, aren’t stepping up on searches, are fighting Indigenous kids in court, and engaging in racist misogynist attacks,” tweeted NDP MP Niki Ashton.
On CTV News Channel’s Power Play on Thursday, an emotional Wilson-Raybould said she hopes the prime minister is reflecting on whether she deserves a spot at the cabinet table.
“I’m not sure having a minister of the crown that reacts [that way] to a proud Indigenous person, a member of Parliament who has spent their life advocating for Indigenous rights in the country, is an appropriate response, certainly not by that minister but by anybody for that matter,” she said.
Trudeau said his government will remain focused on the “things that matter,” including ending drinking water advisories, building more affordable housing, and settling land claims.
With files from CTV News’ Rachel Aiello