It’s easy enough to imagine the Liberal indignation that would result from a hypothetical scenario in which a Conservative minister of the crown — one responsible for Indigenous relations, no less — behaved as Carolyn Bennett did this week.
It’s safe to say, I think, that the Liberals would be satisfied with nothing less than a resignation. And they’d be right.
Back here in the non-hypothetical world, however, Carolyn Bennett still has her job as Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister. Neither she nor the prime minister could find the courage or the principle to do what they surely would have demanded of anyone else. Based on her actions — and the timing of them — Bennett should have resigned or been fired.
Based on Justin Trudeau’s defence of Bennett on Friday, it’s clear that the Liberals don’t really see the hypocrisy here. They would surely hold the Conservatives to a different standard, but they can give themselves a pass because they truly believe that they are special.
If one were to judge the Liberals and the prime minister solely on rhetoric, one might come to a similar conclusion. But as Jody Wilson-Raybould has continually pointed out — much to the chagrin of the Liberal Party — rhetoric and action are two very different things.
It is abundantly clear that Wilson-Raybould, the former Liberal cabinet minister who now sits as an independent member of Parliament, lives rent-free in the heads of many senior Liberals. Perhaps it is sheer partisan resentment of the “traitor” who refused to go along with or protect Trudeau in the SNC-Lavalin scandal. Perhaps the constant reminder of someone who chose principle over politics gnaws at some lingering shame held by those who kept their heads down and ignored what was going on.
Whatever the reasons, Bennett just couldn’t help herself when she lashed out at Wilson-Raybould this week.
In the aftermath of the discovery of yet more unmarked burial sites at a former residential school, Wilson-Raybould — who herself is Indigenous — once again called on the Trudeau government to put its election planning aside and show leadership and keep its promises to Indigenous communities.
In response, Bennett sent a text that linked to that tweet and included a single-word message: “Pension?”
Raybould-Wilson then shared the text on Twitter, denouncing the “racist” and “misogynist” message from Bennett and accused the minister of “reflect(ing) (the) notion that Indigenous peoples are lazy and only want (money).”
Raybould-Wilson’s frustration is understandable. This is the federal minister for Crown-Indigenous Relations accusing an Indigenous MP of using the issue of Indigenous rights and well-being as a smokescreen for protecting the financial perks of her job. It’s deeply insulting and offensive.
It’s also absurd. If Jody Wilson-Raybould was motivated by concerns about her pension or paycheque, then she’d likely still be toeing the party line as a Liberal MP, occupying whatever cabinet post Trudeau would have shuffled her off to in late-2018 or early-2019.
So, really, there’s no defence here. Bennett quickly realized that and offered an apology, but not a resignation. On Friday, the prime minister observed that he was “deeply disappointed” in Bennett, but that he “knows her heart” and is appreciative of the efforts she’s put into this file over the years.
The Liberals would clearly like to move on from this, and they’ll likely get their wish. Liberal partisans and supporters have convinced themselves that the Conservatives would be worse on these matters and they’ll — yet again — give the Liberals a pass.
But where’s the accountability? Bennett’s apology feels like more of the same empty rhetoric that the prime minister has been serving up to Canadians.