PCs say Liberal MHA threatened minister

James McLeod
Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

Grits say government ‘exploiting’ International Women’s Day for political points

Liberal MHA Jim Bennett was in the hot seat Thursday, after he was accused of threatening a government minister.

Government House leader Jerome Kennedy said on Feb. 3 Bennett called Advanced Education and Skills Minister Joan Burke’s constituency office and left an intimidating voicemail message.

Premier Kathy Dunderdale, speaking to reporters outside the House Thursday, called the voicemail “absolutely appalling” but Liberal House leader Yvonne Jones, coming to Bennett’s defence, was quick to say the government response was “orchestrated” to score political points.

Bennett called Burke’s office in early February because he was trying to get help for a constituent who needed transportation from the St. Barbe area to Corner Brook for chemotherapy treatment.

Frustrated that he wasn’t getting results from Burke’s staff, he left a message on a Friday saying if the issue wasn’t settled by Monday, he would call “Open Line,” and “there will be hell to pay.”

Bennett also said, “I will absolutely trash your minister and say what a bunch of idiots she’s got working in her department. You fix the problem and fix it today or there will be lots of trouble.”

Burke said she found the voicemail “unnerving” when she heard it.

“I was shocked. I was taken aback by the tone of the call,” she said.

In the House, Kennedy argued Bennett had breached Burke’s privilege as a member of the House of Assembly, or at least he was guilty of the lesser breach, contempt of the House.

But the parliamentary rules dictate that any issue like this must be brought to the attention of the Speaker of the House as soon as possible, and Jones was quick to point out that the incident happened back in February and, at the very least, the issue could have been brought up in a House session earlier this week.

Jones pointed out Thursday happened to be International Women’s Day.

“The government members opposite are actually exploiting this issue and exploiting International Women’s Day,” she said. “That is the lowest, lowest thing I have ever seen in my entire life.”

Kennedy said in cases like these, victims don’t always come forward right away.

“One of the myths that were debunked many years ago, Mr. Speaker, in terms of violence against women and reporting of everything from sexual abuse to spousal abuse was that people act immediately,” Kennedy said. “There are situations, Mr. Speaker, in which people do not know what to do.”

Both Kennedy and Dunderdale said they only heard about the call Wednesday afternoon, and brought it up as soon as they could.

“I don’t care if it’s Christmas Day. When I see harassment and intimidation, I’m going to name it. I’ve worked in anti-violence all of my life, and that kind of behaviour is unacceptable,” Dunderdale said. “It has to be named as soon as you become aware of it.”

Burke told reporters the reason she didn’t bring the issue up earlier is because of the effect the phone call had on her.

“When I reflect back, it’s because of the intimidation,” she said. “It set you back.”

Burke explained the voicemail issue came up in conversation Wednesday; when she brought it up, she didn’t expect it to snowball into an issue in the House.

“I had a conversation yesterday about the decorum in the House,” she said. “My comments were that the decorum in the House is no different than, sometimes, the way we’re being treated when we’re doing our work, and that conversation led into my example and that’s when I shared it.”

Kennedy, meanwhile, said when he first heard the voicemail recording, he considered going to the police.

Speaker Ross Wiseman is still considering whether this was, in fact, a breach of privilege or contempt, but in the meantime, Bennett offered an apology to the House.

Bennett told reporters that he probably went over the top with the voicemail, but he felt he had good reasons for doing what he did.

“I was pushing pretty hard for a vulnerable cancer patient who was one of my constituents,” he said.

If he had it to do over again, Bennett said he would probably choose his words better.

“I probably could have pushed a little less hard. At this point I’m relatively new at the job and I’m insistent on getting whatever results I can for my constituents, but within the rules,” he said. “I probably would have toned it down a little, but I would still not rest until the matter was resolved.”


jmcleod@thetelegram.comTwitter: TelegramJames

Organizations: Liberal House

Geographic location: Government House, Corner Brook

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page



Recent comments

  • Randolph Crocker
    March 11, 2012 - 16:28

    Bennett did not threaten physical harm or use profanity. A real over-reaction. Did the minister answer the concerns of the person that Bennettt was calling on behalf? Does Bennet now have a new respect for voice mail?

  • joe
    March 09, 2012 - 14:01

    Is this the same Jerome Kennedy that threatened an employee's job during the Air Ambulance fiasco?The same Mr.Kennedy who commissioned a useless , error ridden and biased report on which he based his decision?The same one who refused to release and use the truth?(sounds like Muskrat) If only there were a media organization or a "reporter" out there with the intestinal fortitude to investigate this farce and see how inefficient and expensive this service has become thanks to government meddling. I don"t suppose the fact that Mr. Bennet is the lawyer investigating this air ambulance matter has anything to do with anything?

  • Don Lester
    March 09, 2012 - 11:52

    I hear Yvonne Jones dumping all over Kennedy saying how she never heard of anything some foolish. I wonder what she would say if the situation was reversed. Gee, let me guess.

  • steve
    March 09, 2012 - 10:58

    Bringing this issue to the floor of the legislature makes a mockery of the house of assembly. They are there to debate legislation, not get on like sooks.

  • wayne
    March 09, 2012 - 10:37

    I would suggest that if you ask any person who supervises social workers, or home care nurse or people who fix roads or do low rental housing they will all be able to tell stories of being threatened by ministers or MHAs or their executive assisstants with loss of their job ....this is the standard tactic. It's not new it's been going on for decades. It's not news...just politics

  • Louie
    March 09, 2012 - 10:34

    Can't help thinking its a Danny tactic, beat down the opposition before bringing forth the Muskrat done deal. Meanwhile the Federal ministers are in town with the message that the loan guarantee is there once the province approves the project. It does not have to be economical anymore. It has great benefits for Nova Scotia, Quebec and others provinces which the NL taxpayer/ratepayer will subsidize. Wake up government and give this major venture a darn good smell test.

  • Randy
    March 09, 2012 - 10:11

    I'm surprised Joan Burke didn't put a media ban on the conversation.. She and Kathy seem to be good at that.. Bennett was trying to get action for a person suffering with cancer -- GROW UP JOAN

    • Jack
      March 09, 2012 - 10:29

      Randy, if Joan Burke would have imposed a media ban, that would be clearly a violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as it violates Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Expression. Randy, Newfoundland and Labrador is not a Fascist Dictatorship, or right wing dictatorship, its a democracy, and lets keep it that way.

  • Townie
    March 09, 2012 - 09:21

    Who wouldn't get frustrated with such an incompetent Department?

  • Harvey
    March 09, 2012 - 08:58

    Feb. 3 to Mar.7...Premier D. says she finds it appalling; Minister K. had not heard of it either. This is funny!!! Perhaps Bennett went too far...this is not the problem. The problem is the lack of concern for a cancer patient. All orchestrated for the FOURTH day of the House opening...and International Womens Day. Oh what silly antics!!!

  • Jack
    March 09, 2012 - 08:54

    I guess Darin King is not the only Cabinet Minister with a "thin skin", and now its Joan Burke whom has it. In light of Darin King bashing unions and not taking criticism, and now Joan Burke lashing out at an MHA for addressing a concern with his constituents and doing his job, it seems to me that Cabinet Ministers are not just getting mentally weaker, but starting to lash out when things don't go their way. Let me tell you one thing Premier Dunderdale, Joan Burke, Darin King, and especially the previous commentor, Terry Murphy. As an MHA, Jim Bennett was trying to do the right thing to address an issue for a terminally ill constituent, and how dare you call him a bully for doing his job? He did an honourable thing in fighting for this cancer patient's rights, and he should get a medal of honour for what he did. SHAME ON YOU, Terry Murphy for calling Mr. Bennett a bully. Terry Murphy, how would feel if you had cancer and needed to travel over 300 kilometres to get cancer treatment in Corner Brook or St. Anthony but government seems to do nothing about it? Give it some thought before you answer back.

  • What Nonsense for the PCs
    March 09, 2012 - 08:48

    Well, to say the least I am flabergasted!! Mr. Bennett was only trying to help his constituent in resolving a problem, and a medical one too! Like myself, who served in the public arena for some time, he went all out to help her! You talk about bullying, Mr. Kennedy is getting ridiculous in the House. Mr. Joyce and now Mr. Bennett. I'm sure Mr. Bennett did not mean any harm, but was expressing clout to get his job done. Minister Burke is a baby suck and wants to tier down the Liberals! I am rethinking about voting for the PCs next time around, as they want to dominant the House and not give democracy a chance, and the PCs are their own worse enemies. You must remember the Joey Smallwood Days and the IWA, Joey lost as Premier due to this episode???? Don't you think the PCs won't go the same way?? I think so!! The PCs can brag all they like about the things they are doing for Nfld, if the off-shore oil didn't come on-stream they would have been in the same situation as the Liberals were! It's a Ralp Klien Situation in Alberta, the PCs think they are some kind of gods, and think they have a crystal ball to work magic!! God help us!

  • Tom
    March 09, 2012 - 08:42

    First of all, how is it contempt if the house is closed for 9 months. The PC’s should be held in contempt of democracy. Second, if what I just read was all the call was, then there is no problem. He was trying to get done what should have been done. There was no personal threat of violence, only a threat of giving details to the public on what a lousy job the PC’s are doing. And for Jerome to twist it around like he did. Our provincial PC’s are looking more and more like Harpers PC’s. I wonder is Mrs. Dunderdale is still a Harper supporter with all the corruption being reported here lately? I was a provincial PC supporter, and still am to some point, but they need to smarten up real fast, or be prepared to loose many seats in the next election. Start by getting rid of Dunderdale. Oh, sorry. Was that a threat Jerome? You may want to call the cops now.

  • Tune in later today
    March 09, 2012 - 08:30

    Tune in later today when House leader Jerome Kennedy will be donning a cape and tights in his role as hero and defender of poor helpless little women cabinet ministers. In the meantime, the Muskrat hydro business plan is stymied or censored. It’s a business that will cost us at least $8 Billion just to get up and running. It’s a profit making business. Add their profits to the costs. There are 230,000 rate payers in NfLd and Jerome Kennedy says it will only cost us $15/month. Do the math. It’s not even based on the electricity we will use in our homes. It’s based on what Nalcor thinks we might or could use (Take or Pay clause). For this, we get a few hundred (maybe) temporary construction jobs. A man of many talents, Mr. Kennedy would make one heck of successful, prosperous used car salesman. Creating diversions is charming I’m sure but there is a much bigger, much, much more costly story pending. Perhaps they’ll invite us to take them to court if we don’t like it as they did with the $5 Billion they wouldn’t allow the Auditor General access to. Pity.

  • George Warford
    March 09, 2012 - 08:04

    Where was Jerome Kennedy when the former Premier was saying that people over at eastern health shoud be shot, he didn't show much concern for the women employees there. Kennedy's hypocracy sets new heights for this government.

  • Charles
    March 09, 2012 - 07:53

    Where Dwight Ball on this...Good Leadership...Mr Ball...Why don't the liberal use Jim Bennett as a Poster Child for BULLYING

  • Political watcher
    March 09, 2012 - 07:43

    Politics 101; create a distraction from the real issues. Remember when Williams was worried about space debris falling on the oil rigs all the while FPI was being sent down the river?

  • Terry Murphy
    March 09, 2012 - 07:24

    He says he's relatively new at this job, but that is a poor excuse. This guys was the former leader of the Liberal party. It's really no wonder Bennett didn't last very long as leader of the Liberal Party. The guy is a bully and needs some training in dealing with people.