The conversation took place the morning after Time magazine broke the story that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, before entering politics, had shaded his face brown to impersonate an Arabic genie at a costume party.
My friend, who is an Indigenous writer, made a wince and a smile at the same time.
“There are too many more important issues out there,” he said. “If you added up all the stupid things I’ve done – I still do stupid things!”
Meanwhile, my wife texted me from out of town to confess that she once dressed as an “Indian” on Halloween as a kid.
“Does anyone have pictures?” I asked. “If so, destroy them.”
Leaders of visible minority groups have expressed dismay and it has turned into a teaching moment for the nation – portraying yourself with the skin colour of another nationality is hurtful. If we didn’t know that before, we know it now.
But as far as the scale of the reaction – CNN was even in Winnipeg on Wednesday to get a news clip – the feelings are mixed. Especially among the more tenured set with more years of imperfection to look back on, the feeling is we’re overreacting.
Polls show Manitoba may return to the more traditional Conservative blue this federal election. One person I talked to recently, who used to own a vending machine business, said it was Trudeau’s treatment of the oil industry and the delays in getting the pipeline built that soured him. That seemed an outlier sentiment for someone based in Winnipeg.
Another man I talked to maintained Trudeau was too liberal with immigration policies and with assistance to the Indigenous. That was the grumbling he was hearing from colleagues where he worked, he said, not owning up to exactly what he thought.
But those people against Trudeau may be disappointed if they hope brown-face-gate will sway voters to their side.
Trudeau had a scheduled stop in Winnipeg on Wednesday. The Liberal leader apologized again, as he had the night before. He has been consistent that way, perhaps apologizing too much for the liking of many Prairie people, more often for the actions of our ancestors.
But he went a step further by saying he was perhaps blinded by his privileged upbringing, which sounds like a pretty personal admission.
Manitobans don’t mind seeing their leaders squirm. Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister has taken heat for all the time he spends at his second residence in Costa Rica. While a local newspaper speculated during the recent provincial election that the Conservative premier would retire before completing a second term, others wondered why he would need to when he gets to spend so much time at his vacation home in Central America.
Pallister withstood the political heat and Manitobans gave him a second mandate earlier this month.
Trudeau has at least faced the music, and his handlers are hoping voters intuit that. They hope that contrasts Trudeau with Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer when Canadians go to the polls on Oct. 21.
When video surfaced of Scheer expounded in the House of Commons on homosexual unions and what is natural, Scheer let down his supporters by taking eight days to respond. For someone whose strategy has been a relentless attack on the Trudeau lustre, it wasn’t a good showing when the tables were turned.
But when you do the math – the incidents happened years ago and there are nearly five weeks left in the campaign – the chances seem slim that it will be a deciding factor come voting day.
Meanwhile, many Winnipeggers were just happy on Wednesday that an American media outlet identified their city correctly. That’s a swipe at the NFL exhibition game played in Winnipeg last month where one of the American football players posted a photo online where he wore a T-shirt saying, “Winnipeg, Alberta.”
CNN actually got it right but played it safe by place-lining its story Wednesday as from “Winnipeg, Canada.”
Bill Redekop is a Manitoba-based writer.