April 27, 2014 1:18 pm

Transcript Episode 34 April 27

THE WEST BLOCK

Episode 34, Season 3

Sunday, April 27, 2014

 

Host: Jacques Bourbeau

Guest Interviews: Pierre Poilievre, Hugh Segal, Alison Loat, Elizabeth May, Stephen Shrybman

Location: Ottawa

 

 **please check against delivery

 

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On this Sunday morning, what to do about the Senate?  It’s a question that haunts Canadian politics, and now the Supreme Court has laid out the roadmap to reform or abolish the Red Chamber.

 

And it’s a job they fight to get but once they get in the chair, MP’s realize it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.  Why so many MP’s complain about the House of Commons and what’s the fix.

 

Plus, Elections Canada says there’s no evidence of a coordinated campaign to mislead voters in the last election.  But do we need to take a closer look at robocalls and how they’re being used by every political party?

 

Jacques Bourbeau:

It’s Sunday, April 27th.  I’m Jacques Bourbeau, sitting in for Tom Clark, and this, is The West Block.

 

It’s the problem child of Canadian politics:  What to do with the Senate?  Canadians are fed up with stories of senators abusing expense accounts, not even showing up for work.  Now no one will defend the status quo, the only question, whether to reform the Senate or kill it off?  The Harper government wants to reform the Senate by introducing term limits and hold elections for senators.  But Friday, the Supreme Court said it can’t do either without the approval of a majority of the provinces, and if the Conservatives are thinking of abolishing the Senate, that, according to the Supreme Court, will be even tougher; requiring the consent of all ten provinces.

 

And joining us now to discuss the federal government’s next moves is the Minister for Democratic Reform Pierre Poilievre.  Now the road to Senate reform just got a lot tougher this week, thanks to the rules laid down the Supreme Court and yet the prime minister seems to be throwing his hands up in the air and saying that’s it for Senate reform.  So is that it?  Is it over?  Is the dream over?

 

Pierre Poilievre:

Well we’re obviously very disappointed with the outcome of the Supreme Court’s ruling.  We had hoped that we could replicate what the Alberta government had done in that province which is to hold numerous elections and then allow the prime minister to appoint the winner.  The court did not allow us to take that approach national and the court has made Senate reform by Parliament impossible.  So at this point, we’re going to do what we can to limit the cost and maximize the accountability of the Senate within the existing constitutional framework that the court has laid out.

 

Jacques Bourbeau:

But why not try for example, to sit down with the provinces?  Yes, I acknowledge it won’t be an easy process, but why not at least try?  Given especially that Senate reform has been the long term goal of your party?

 

Pierre Poilievre:

It is, and I just think this time though, the Canadian people are focussed on the economy.  Our government is focused on jobs growth and lower taxes, and we don’t want to distract from that agenda by having a complicated constitutional wrangling with politicians at other levels of government.

 

Jacques Bourbeau:

Is it hard to give up that dream?

 

Pierre Poilievre:

Listen it is a very disappointing ruling I think for Canadians and for the government but we respect the court has the right to render this ruling and we have to live with it.

 

Jacques Bourbeau:

And what do you say to Canadians who are simply fed up with the status quo and I mean are you saying, just suck it up, that we have this 19th century anachronism that’s just going to lumber its way through the 21st century?

 

Pierre Poilievre:

Well listen I share their frustration.  What we have done so far is require financial transparency from Senate expenses.  We’ve invited the auditor general to take a very scrupulous look at the spending that our senators do.  And I think that we can work to make the Senate more transparent, more accountable and less costly to the Canadian people, and we’ll keep working on that.

 

Jacques Bourbeau:

Now you’ve been quite the newsmaker this week because you also announced some changes to the Fair Elections Act.  One of them is that you are now going to allow a limited form of vouching and yet formerly you said it had to go, so why the change?

 

Pierre Poilievre:

Well listen I think we’ve had some very good committee hearings, both in the Senate and in the House of Commons, and I’ve always said that if they are ideas that will help make this great bill even better, that I would entertain them.  And what we’ve done is we’re requiring every single voter to bring ID.  Now that wasn’t the case in the last election.  You could vote without ID by using a voucher.  In the next election, you’ll need to bring your ID if you want to vote, but if your ID does not have your address on it, you can co-sign an oath with another proven voter and there will be a $50,000 or five-year jail sentence for people who lie in those oaths.  And the oaths will be audited to make sure that nobody votes more than once.  But the bottom line is that with the passage of the Fair Elections Act, every single voter will be required to bring ID and I think that’s a step in the right direction.

 

 

 

Jacques Bourbeau:

But when you introduced the bill, you said it was perfect and now you’re talking about amendments.  So what’s changed?  Why did you decide that alterations had to be made?

 

Pierre Poilievre:

Well it think even great legislation can always be improved and what I said is bring your suggestions on how we can do that and some of them came forward.  And I think we found a very good policy response to the goal on the one hand to require everyone bring ID and on the other, to make sure every eligible voter gets a chance to mark their “x”.

 

Jacques Bourbeau:

Well it’s certainly been an interesting week for you and I’d like to thank you for dropping by today.

 

Pierre Poilievre:

Good to be with you.

 

Jacques Bourbeau:

And with a different perspective on the Senate ruling, we head now to Kingston where we find Senator Hugh Segal.  And Senator, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has essentially shrugged his shoulder saying he’s giving up on the idea of Senate reform, at least in the short term.  Does that make sense to you?

 

Hugh Segal:
Well to his credit, he is respecting the decision made by the Supreme Court.  He made sure that there was a reference to the Supreme Court so there would be clarity as to what is constitutional and what isn’t.  And I think insofar as changes that might impact the constitutional structure of the Senate or its role, that book has now been closed by the Supreme Court and the prime minister deserves credit for recognizing that.  I would also, however, make the case that there are still changes that could be made that do not relate to its constitutional status or that do not require a constitutional amendment.  There could be a new approach to how you appoint on a consultative basis, not involving electors but involving a committee that screened the people who are going to be appointed.  In the British House of Lords, which, after all, is what the Senate is supposed to be based on, no government can ever have a working majority in the House of Lords because the mix of people appointed from the various political parties and as crossbenchers who come because they bring a particular expertise and science, or technology, or the military, or the church, or whatever is such that that body can never be controlled by any one political party.  These are changes that could be made and require no constitutional revision at all, would not run afoul of the Supreme Court ruling but I think would give Canadians a sense that we are trying as a society to modernize the institution and make it more reflective of society as a whole.

 

Jacques Bourbeau:

Now you’ve said you’d like to see a referendum on abolition. But given that the Supreme Court is saying it would require the unanimous consent of all 10 provinces, is that really worth it now?

 

 

 

Hugh Segal:

Well Jacques, the question is how do you get that consent?  And I agree with the prime minister.  I agree with Minister Poilievre that a constitutional negotiation about the Senate would probably be unconstructive because every province would bring a whole bunch of other things to the table unrelated to the Senate in a kind of quid pro quo kind of context and we saw that in other negotiations in the past.  But if there was a national referendum where Canadians in a meaningful majority, expressed a real desire for abolition, not only across Canada but in a majoritarian sense in every province, then if the first ministers were called together, it would occur to me that in the context of a democracy, they’d have to respect what was decided by Canadians in a clear and precise question.  I have no idea as to whether the government is planning to proceed in that fashion.  I’ve always thought that involving Canadian voters in this process before a deal is hatched might make some sense but that’s really for the government to decide.  It controls the agenda and I certainly don’t speak for them on this issue.

 

Jacques Bourbeau:

Well Senator Segal, one thing is for certain, I guess the Senate’s not going anywhere soon.  And listen I’d like to thank you for joining us today.

 

Hugh Segal:
Thank you Jacques.  Nice to hear your voice.

 

Jacques Bourbeau:

Coming up, “Tragedy in the Commons.”  Former MPs say the House of Commons is broken. But are individual MPs to blame? That’s next.

 

Break

 

Order…order…order!  Right now, order!

 

Jacques Bourbeau:

Welcome back.  And it’s clear on that day; Speaker Andrew Scheer was fed up with the shenanigans in the House of Commons.  It’s a frustration shared by many Canadians about the state of politics in Ottawa.

 

A new book goes behind the curtain; conducting interviews with former MPs to find out what’s really going on with a hope of finding a way to re-engage Canadians.

 

And joining us now is Alison Loat, author of Tragedy in the Commons.

 

Now Alison, polls show that Canadians are not very happy about the state of their democracy but your book shows that in fact, neither are the politicians.  You interviewed 80 former MP’s.  What are they so unhappy about?

 

Alison Loat:

Well you are absolutely right.  What propelled to start these exit interviews in the first place was trying to get a grip on how a country like Canada, which is so widely respected internationally, has such dissatisfied citizens when it comes to our politics.  When we interviewed the former MP’s, who I should say came from all across the country and every political party, while many of them, and in fact, all of them share a deep respect for public service, many of them felt that frustration of the short-term political gain culture that can dominate our politics really hard to navigate with a lot of what motivated them to enter politics in the first place.

 

Jacques Bourbeau:

A lot of them complained about what I call friendly fire, saying that one of their biggest problems was with their own political party.

 

Alison Loat:

That’s a great point.  We are very used to in politics, people pointing fingers at the Opposition and criticizing the other party.  Many MP’s felt frustrated by, for example how politics is displayed and conducted in Question Period.  And when we asked them why, if you’re so unhappy with it, doesn’t it change?  They pointed their finger, not at the Opposition but at their own political party.  They often referred to the party in a hazy kind of Wizard of Oz like word.  It wasn’t specifically the leader they were talking about but more the sense that there were forces or individuals who were constraining and making them act in a certain way that they felt uncomfortable about.

 

Jacques Bourbeau:

And what’s the impact of all this?

 

Alison Loat:

A difficult thing for us to listen to in these interviews was hearing how many of the MPs almost distance themselves from this behaviour.  So for example, of the 80 we interviewed, we have to imagine that at least a few of them participated in Question Period once or twice, but of course looking back, that wasn’t something that they chose necessary to feel most proud about.  And then the difficulty of course is when politicians distance themselves from their own profession so to speak.  It’s hard for anyone else to take pride in it.  So another example of this was when again, going back to when we asked MP’s how they got into this in the first place.  Many claimed that they had never planned to run and it wasn’t until they were asked that they thought about it for the first time.  And I think what they’re saying is that we know people look down on politics and I’m trying to be different.  But if they don’t stand up and say you know I think politics is a great way to contribute and to make a difference in this country.  It’s hard to blame a young person, for example, for not showing up to vote.

 

Jacques Bourbeau:

But in reading your book, it strikes me that wouldn’t one of the impacts be that it’s going to become difficult to attract talented people to politics?  Because if you are a talented person and have got real ambition, you might say to yourself, why would I want such a crummy job?

 

Alison Loat:

Interestingly, one of the questions we asked the MP’s is whether they’d want their children to go into politics and almost all of them or a good chunk of them said, yes I would because a lot of them had stories to tell that are rarely covered in the media about being able to make a wonderful difference, often on the edge of politics.  So there are stories of a number of MPs with universities in their ridings who banded together to create policies to help invest in quality research in this country is just one example, something I hadn’t realized was really driven from the grass roots up.  So lots of stories like that.  But you’re absolutely right.  I mean if you look at the “public displays of politics” it is not…politicians are not presenting the profession in a way that would draw people to it.  And so we wrote this book in hopes that we inspire a conversation among Canadians who are concerned about our politics, starting with MP’s themselves and how we can turn this around and how politicians frankly can reclaim Parliament and reclaim public service.

 

Jacques Bourbeau:

Well Alison, it’s an interesting book and certainly a fascinating discussion.  Thanks for joining us today.

 

Alison Loat:

Thanks for having me.

 

Jacques Bourbeau:

So we’ve heard what former MPs think of the state of democracy in the House of Commons but what about those who currently hold the job?  Joining me from Victoria is Elizabeth May, Leader of the Green Party.

 

Now Elizabeth, you sit in a far corner of the House of Commons.  From that vantage point, what is life like right now for the average MP?

 

Elizabeth May:

Well I’m very lucky because I’m not the average MP.  I don’t have to report to a bunch of backroom people who are running a non-stop election campaign.  I’m so fortunate because I love my job.  I love being a parliamentarian and I respect the institutions of parliamentary democracy.  And I hope that I live up to the very best of what Parliament could be.  But for my colleagues, I feel terribly, dreadfully sorry for the MPs in all the other parties because they are, and this is something I want to share with all Canadians, they are wonderful people.  They are community-spirited and public-minded, and they’ve put themselves forward, I’d say 99 per cent with only the goal of being of public service.  And after they’re elected, the boom is lowered and they find out that they’re only supposed to say what’s on a cue card in front of them, vote the way they’re told to vote, sit down when they’re told to sit down.  It absolutely is squandering the enormous potential and talent of a group of people who really have a lot to contribute, if not for the excessive control of political parties over the parliamentary process.

 

Jacques Bourbeau:

So we’ve got all these allegations of excessive partisanship in the House of Commons.  Too much central control, that MP’s have little influence over policy so how do we change things?

 

Elizabeth May:

Well it’s really a struggle right now between democracy and the power of political parties.  And I see it as being something of trend lines.  It’s not one prime minister or one party that’s responsible.  The existence of something called the prime minister’s office only started under Pierre Trudeau and every prime minister absolutely absorbs all the powers left behind by the previous prime minister and expands them.  So right now, Stephen Harper’s powers as prime minister and the excessive and I think rather like a cancerous growth on the body politic is the PMO silencing scientists and muzzling bureaucrats and berating really good MP’s in their own caucus if the PMO backroom people don’t think that they’ve lived up to the talking point or the message of the day.  It’s scripted to an alarming degree.  I worked in the office of the minister of environment when Mulroney was prime minister.  We never, in the Ministry of Environment’s office, there was never a time that my boss’ speeches were vetted by PMO.  There was practicing for Question Period.  And now both the NDP and the Conservatives, and I think the Liberals too do something called QP prep where ministers and MP’s have to practice their lines before they go into Parliament.  It’s absolutely a farce.

 

Jacques Bourbeau:

But is the irony in all of this, is that the people that are doing the complaining, individual MP’s, also they’re the ones who have the power to change things.  So why aren’t MP’s throwing off their shackles?

 

Elizabeth May:

You have to be brave to stand up in the system.  You have to be brave.  My party colleague, the only other Green Party member in Parliament, Bruce Hyer went through as Member of Parliament for Thunder Bay Superior North.  He was punished by the party with which he was elected.  And the punishments are quite severe, that you definitely chafe under them, but after a while, if you’re going to stand up, your only option really is to go sit as an independent as Bruce did for the nearly two years before he decided to give me a hand and be the second Green Party Member of Parliament.  All the party leaders’ offices have too much power.  And reducing that is going to be essential if we’re going to restore a healthy democracy.

 

Jacques Bourbeau:

So I guess the solution is how many brave MP’s we have sitting right now in the House of Commons.  Elizabeth May thanks for joining us today.

 

Elizabeth May:

Thank you so much.

 

Jacques Bourbeau:

And up next, welcome news for the Conservatives.  Elections Canada says there was no coordinated effort to mislead voters in 2011.  But that doesn’t mean that everything was hunky dory.  We’ll explain next.

 

Break

 

Jacques Bourbeau:

Welcome back.  An investigation into the so-called Robocall scandal at 2011 is now complete.  Elections Canada has concluded there was no orchestrated scheme to deceive voters outside the Guelph riding.  At the same time, the investigator said he wasn’t given access to all the evidence he would have liked and said, “The Conservative Party continued calling voters to inform them of their polling station after Elections Canada expressly told all parties not to do so.”

 

Joining me now is Stephen Shrybman.  He was the lawyer who went to court over this issue.  He’s also a board member with the Council of Canadians.  Welcome.

 

Stephen Shrybman:

Hi Jacques.

 

 

 

Jacques Bourbeau:

So is this report, is it a complete vindication of the Conservative Party?

 

Stephen Shrybman:

Well no, not at all.  I mean I think the most remarkable thing about the report is what it doesn’t inquire into and in particular, the use of the CIMS database and who, in addition to Pierre Poutine, because we know from the investigation of voter fraud in Guelph that somebody named Pierre Poutine downloaded a list of non-Conservative party supporters in the days leading to the election.  Well the federal court has found that that probably happened on other occasions.  So the most remarkable thing about the report from our point of view is that the commissioner doesn’t appear to have asked the people that have control of CIMS, whether that happened on more than one occasion, how many more than one occasion, and which ridings were affected.

 

Jacques Bourbeau:

Now you went to court over this issue.  The court made some conclusions and how do they compare to what the Commissioner of Canada Elections has to say?

 

Stephen Shrybman:

Well they’re very difficult to reconcile, but of course the nature of the inquiry is very different.  But a Federal Court judge found that indeed election fraud had taken place in Canada, that it was widespread, that it was targeted at non-Conservative party supporters and it likely depended upon information that came from the CIMS in order to target people who are non-Conservative party supporters, with voter suppression calls.  So it’s just very difficult to reconcile the conclusions of the federal court with those of the commissioner.  But perhaps more remarkable, is the fact that the commissioner doesn’t seem to be aware or even elude to the findings of the federal court.  And of course those findings are made after a very rigorous contest of evidence between you know the experts that appeared on behalf of the applicants that I represented and the experts that appeared on behalf of the Conservative Party of Canada.  So it’s a very rigorous process of cross-examination and that wasn’t something that the commissioner engaged in or seemed to be aware of at all.

 

Jacques Bourbeau:

Now Yves Coté is the Commissioner of Canada Elections.  He said that there were severe limitations in terms of his investigative powers and what he was able to do.  What are the nature of those limitations and what in your opinion needs to change?

 

Stephen Shrybman:

Well the limitation would have been not being able to compel production of say the database that the Conservatives rely on to keep track of their supporters and non-supporters.  But it’s not even clear that the commissioner asked the Conservative Party for a list of downloads from their database in the days leading to the election.  So he didn’t have the authority to compel production but did he even bother to pursue it is the question I would have.

 

Jacques Bourbeau:

And the political robocalls are here to stay but what kinds of restrictions do we need to place on them?  The Conservatives with the Fair Elections Act want to impose some restrictions, are they enough?  What more needs to be done?

 

Stephen Shrybman:

Well the Fair Elections Act would impose a requirement to register the use of a database or the services of somebody that’s going to use your database to do voter identification or get-out-the-vote.  It’s not the authorized use of a database that’s a concern, it’s the unauthorized.  That’s what happened in 2011.  And so political parties have to be accountable for the unauthorized use of their database, which means they have to be compelled to produce a list of those that use their database, particularly anyone that downloads a list of non-party supporters.  Why did you do that for any other reason than to try to discourage them from voting and that isn’t part of the package of reforms that the Conservatives have put forward.

 

Jacques Bourbeau:

Stephen Shrybman thanks for joining us today.

 

Stephen Shrybman:

My pleasure.

 

Jacques Bourbeau:

And that’s our show for today.  Tune in to Global National with Dawna Friesen for the latest on these and other stories.  I’m Jacques Bourbeau.  Thanks for joining us today.  Tom will be back next week.

© Shaw Media, 2014

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