May 11, 2014 12:04 pm

Transcript Episode 36 May 11

THE WEST BLOCK

Episode 36, Season 3

Sunday, May 11, 2014

 

Host: Tom Clark

Guest Interviews: Erin O’Toole, Tom Mulcair, Thomas Heintzman, Mark Kennedy

Location: Ottawa

 

**Check against delivery**

Story continues below

On this Sunday morning, the Canadian Forces and their missions past, present and future; did we honour veterans of Afghanistan properly? How long are we keeping personnel in Eastern Europe? And is it time to reconsider ballistic missile defence?

And it’s Stephen Harper versus the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. What’s really at stake here? One expert tells us why it is the very independence of Canada’s justice system.

And, we’ll take you back to the Day of Honour as this country paused to recognize all those who served and sacrificed in Afghanistan.

It is Sunday, May the 11th. From the nation’s capital, I’m Tom Clark and you are in The West Block.

Well amid the scurrile of the pipes and the crack of artillery, the country paused on Friday to honour the veterans of Afghanistan.

On Parliament Hill, thousands gathered to watch as soldiers, sailors and airmen paraded. Also honoured were the RCMP, corrections officers and local police who all did tours of duty during the 12 year mission.

And of course on everyone’s mind, the 158 soldiers who did not return.

We requested an interview with the Minister of National Defence or his parliamentary secretary but they were not made available for interviews this week. So we are joined now by the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of International Trade, and a veteran himself I might add, Erin O’Toole. Mr. O’Toole awfully good to have you here.

Erin O’Toole:
Thanks for having me.

Tom Clark:
Thinking back to Friday and that ceremony to honour the troops, right across the country but here, you know coming back from war as a veteran you would know this, is awfully difficult. It’s made easier when there are people there to cheer you on. Before I leave though, the honouring of the troops, which I think is absolutely necessary in this country, when that Canadian flag was taken down for the last time in Kabul, the Hauling Down ceremony, there wasn’t a single member of your government in attendance, why?

Erin O’Toole:
That’s a good question. You know the mission in Afghanistan had three phases as you know Tom: the beginning phase in Kabul, the really hard combat phase in Kandahar and then the final peace and security and the training of the Afghan National army. Our government, the prime minister, and starting with the previous government in fact, had trips with both our prime minister, Prime Minister Harper, Veterans ministers, National Defence ministers quite regularly. So there was a presence of our government on the ground regularly.

Tom Clark:
But Erin O’Toole, I can tell you one thing because I was there. And I spoke to the men and women in uniform and it was noticed their government didn’t show up.

Erin O’Toole:
Well here’s…you know this is the quandary you face as a parliamentarian. I’m a new one and after having served in the military. We were honouring the service on Friday. It was a wonderful ceremony on Parliament Hill. There are still people that will criticize that; that you didn’t do enough. Some people say you’re not spending enough money. Some people saying there’s politics in it. Well parliamentarians make…the hardest decision we have is to send men and women of the Canadian Forces into harm’s way, and so we as a government, wanted to honour what was the longest sustained mission in a combat sense for Canada. Afghanistan: twelve years, 40 thousand people. We should have had someone at that ceremony Tom but I can tell you from talking to Peter MacKay before I was elected, who went to Afghanistan most Christmas’, from the prime minister on down who called family members. Our government tried to recognize their service both in Afghanistan and in Ottawa, and I think Friday was a good culmination, in talking to some of the families, in some ways, nice closure for them in terms of knowing that the end of the mission was marked by the government.

Tom Clark:
Fair enough, let’s move on to honouring an old mission to looking ahead to a new mission. You heard last week, the top general at NATO saying that we might have to consider putting troops permanently in Eastern Europe, as this new Cold War sort of takes on a little bit of heat. Are we prepared as a country to station our troops in Eastern Europe, and if so, for how long?

Erin O’Toole:
Well it’s interesting you say that. At the Day of Honour I was speaking to some veterans and it’s quite surreal for many veterans, including those I served with in the late ‘90’s. Afghanistan has ended and it almost seems like we’re rewinding to the Cold War, where the Canadian Forces was pre-911. We are ready Tom. Our Canadian Forces F18’s have already deployed. They’re on the ground in Romania as part of the overall NATO response. We have HMCS Regina dispatched. Now I have the privilege of serving with the Navy on Sea Kings and we always have a ship with the NATO fleet in the Atlantic.

Tom Clark:
But are we prepared to be in Eastern Europe permanently?

Erin O’Toole:
Well this will be something that we work with our NATO allies on. I think we also have some members of our army training in Poland. So what we’re showing is that Canada, like we have since World War I through to Afghanistan will be there with our allies.

Tom Clark:
Let’s talk about money though because apparently we don’t know how long our troops are going to be on this mission, whether they’re going to be deployed there permanently. Your colleague, James Bezan, who is the parliamentary secretary for National Defence has called on his own government to drastically increase military spending, to put it up to 1.7 per cent of GDP, which is what NATO wants. We’re at 1.2 per cent and falling. Do you agree with Mr. Bezan that we should drastically increase defence spending in this country?

Erin O’Toole:
I’m never one that likes to pick a number or decimal place like that. What I say Tom, and I think our government has shown is, we want to make sure that our men and women in uniform have the right equipment to do the job. And in fact, at the National Day of Honour, you saw a C17. You saw aircraft fly over that our government acquired to make sure that they had the tools to do the job, and that will include the…

Tom Clark:
But Mr. Bezan’s talking about billions more dollars.

Erin O’Toole:
I think you will see if there needs to be a prolonged presence in Europe, like Canada, we had bases in Germany, as you know in the heart of the Cold War. We will work with our allies to make sure Canada is a part. We will be a part recognizing our share of the mission.

Tom Clark:
So are we prepared to spend that type of money?

Erin O’Toole:
If it comes to that, I think all NATO partners, and I was with the EU ambassadors yesterday at EU Day. Everyone hopes that a diplomatic solution will be found here and that Mr. Putin will see that NATO and Europe as a whole, does not tolerate aggression. And so there needs to be the diplomatic channels but in some cases, NATO also has to show that we’re prepared to stand with allies and neighbours to make sure that there is security in Europe.

Tom Clark:
Erin O’Toole, I appreciate your time today. Thanks very much for dropping by.

Erin O’Toole:
Thanks.

Tom Clark:
Well joining me now from Montreal, is the Leader of the Opposition, Tom Mulcair. Mr. Mulcair awfully good to have you here again.

Tom Clark:
Can we just start with this idea of reopening the discussion about ballistic missile defence with the United States? Is this something that you’re prepared to debate or is it off the table as fair as you’re concerned?

Tom Mulcair:
You know it’s interesting, this is being driven more by the Conservatives than by the Americans. I had a very long meeting this week with the American ambassador; no mention of it whatsoever. So I always see the Conservatives as trying to position on these things. We have a longstanding position that government should be working towards for more peace. When this was rejected by the previous Liberal government we agreed with that because there was no context in which it seemed to be making any sense to move in that direction. If anything changed on that we’d I’m sure be informed of it but nothing has changed, so we can’t see why the Conservatives are trying to raise this at this particular time, and we don’t see that it’s an appropriate debate to be having now.

Tom Clark:
I just want to move to something else that Canada may be involved in. We were talking about it and that is the possibility that NATO may want to permanently put troops in Eastern Europe and Canada may be called to be part of that. How has, in your view, Canada’s response to this ongoing crisis with Russia, have we been as constructive as we could do you think, or should we be involved in putting troops in Europe?

Tom Mulcair:
Yeah, it’s a bit in the nature of Stephen Harper to take such an absolute early position that he writes himself out of any constructive role after that, which is regrettable but Canada is a founding member of NATO. We’ve always taken the approach that an attack on one member of NATO is an attack against all and to the extent that Ukraine, which is of course not a member of NATO but is right on the periphery is the sight of some very bad behaviour by the Russians right now. I think it is entirely appropriate for Canada to be showing strong support for our NATO allies, letting everyone know that this is where we stand. That’s a good thing. But again, everything takes place in a context. That makes sense because there is a current context of behaviour of that sort by Russia and it’s good to show resolve. Contrary to the question you just asked me about missile defence which has no context right now except for apparently the Conservative desire to put that sort of issue back on the table.

Tom Clark:
Let me move domestically because all last week you were up on the House of Commons asking Stephen Harper about his ongoing fight with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Beverley McLachlin. In your estimation, Mr. Mulcair, has there been any real damage to the Supreme Court out of this, and if so, where is it because I’m not sure I see it?

Tom Mulcair:
I think you’re asking the question the right way, and the question is also how is this affecting our democratic institutions? I don’t think that that many Canadians could have named Madam McLachlin but I think that a lot of Canadians today are saying hold on, what is this? This is the same government that recently attacked Sheila Fraser. Personal attacks, is the hallmark of the Stephen Harper government and anybody who disagrees with him gets thrown under the bus or if they resist then they get personally attacked. This has resulted in 11 former bar association presidents of Canada writing to Mr. Harper asking him to back away from this. The dean of every law school in Canada, they all understand that this is about the democratic life of our country. We have 150 years of peace, order and good government. That’s from our constitution but we only have that because we have been exceptional in maintaining and defending our institutions. That separation of the executive and the judiciary has always been understood by everyone. This really shameless attempt to try to politicize the Chief Justice just doing her job and trying to turn it into some sort of an advantage for himself, never been seen before. I do think it hurts Canadians perception of the strength of their institutions. I think we’ll rise above it but I think that Stephen Harper should simply apologize and recognize that he was wrong.

Tom Clark:
Tom Mulcair, Leader of the NDP, thanks very much for your time today. I appreciate it.

Tom Mulcair:
All the best Tom. Take good care, bye-bye.

Tom Clark:
We will continue this discussion right after the break with one expert who says that this fight puts the entire justice system at risk. That’s coming up next.

 

Break

 

Tom Mulcair:
“Will the Prime Minister apologize to the Chief Justice and to Canadians for this unprecedented and indeed inexplicable attack on one of our most respected democratic institutions, the Supreme Court of Canada?”

Stephen Harper:
“The fact of the matter is this Mr. Speaker, in terms of the eligibility question, it was my understanding that that was a matter that could come before the court. In fact, Mr. Speaker the government later referred the matter to the court. For that reason, Mr. Speaker, I chose not to have a discussion with the court on that question but instead Mr. Speaker, to discuss it with independent legal experts and we acted on their advice.”

Tom Clark:
Well that was Stephen Harper last week in Question Period, refusing calls to apologize to Beverley McLachlin, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. It is an unprecedented fight that some people say risks politicizing the highest court. And among those, the law deans of Canada’s law schools, the Trial Lawyers Association of North America, and 11 former presidents of the Canadian Bar Association. One of whom joins me now from Toronto, Thomas Heintzman.

Mr. Heintzman awfully good to have you here.

Thomas Heintzman:
Thank you.

Tom Clark:
I just wanted to pick up on what the prime minister has been saying all week, that he said, that he did not want to talk to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court about a case that may come before her and the other justices. On the surface of it, does that not sound reasonable?

Thomas Heintzman:
Well I think the prime minister and the minister of Justice is putting the absolutely wrong context for this whole event and controversy. What happened here was not, and I want to emphasize that, not a case that was before the Supreme Court and which the Chief Justice was going to talk to a litigant, or a litigant to the Chief Justice. This was about the appointment of a judge to the Supreme Court of Canada, and in that context, it has for centuries or a long time been the case that the Chief Justice would speak to the parliamentary committee or to the Minister of Justice or the government about such an appointment. So it was perfectly proper for her to do so and it is a total misconception to say that this was, as the words you’ve just referred to, a case where the government spoke to the Chief Justice about a pending case or the Chief Justice did the reverse. So the context is all important.

Tom Clark:
You’ve said in the past couple of days, Mr. Heintzman that as a result of this fight, the very independence of the court is at stake. Do you really think the stakes are that high?

Thomas Heintzman:
Absolutely, absolutely, I’ve been reading some of the literature about this Alexander Hamilton, the person before the American Revolution probably said it best that the judiciary is the weakest of all organs of government. It has no power. It has no army. It has no police force. It has nothing. All it does it decide. And if those in power treat it with disrespect, then citizens, Canadians will treat it with disrespect. If you’re a litigant before the Supreme Court of Canada and you feel that the government, if it loses, will make these kinds of remarks, do you think you have a fair shake? Do you think you’ll have the same justice or appearance of justice?

Tom Clark:
So are you concerned about then, you know to use a hockey analogy that you know if a referee makes a bad call he sort of makes up for it a couple of minutes later. Are you worried that Canadians will start looking at judgments of the Supreme Court through the political prism that seems to be put on it now?

Thomas Heintzman:
Well that could well happen that it will politicize this court to the extent that some say that the US Supreme Court is so politicized. Ours is not but this kind of activity will lead to it being more politicized. But I guess I’m just more fundamentally concerned about the lack of trust that Canadians will have in their highest court. We are so blessed to have a court of outstanding ability and independence, and perceived independence. But this kind of remark and this kind of activity will undermine that as sure as I’m standing here.

Tom Clark:
You know, Stephen Harper, if past is precedent, is not going to apologize but can you remember any time in our history when so many legal experts, such as yourself, such as the other organizations that I talked about at the beginning of this, have banded together as one to say the government is wrong. I mean we say this is unprecedented. I can’t remember another time like this.

Thomas Heintzman:
I can’t and I can’t remember an incident like this. We’ve never had a situation where a judge was proposed who had such a legal question surrounding the appointment. But then, to add on top of that, this is what I think looks like a cheap shot taken at the court, I’ve never seen such a shot taken at a court, and my concern is that it’s not cheap. It may seem to be cheap but it’s a very expensive shot at a court that will undermine its credibility and its perceived independence in this country.

Tom Clark:
Thomas Heintzman, former president of the Canadian Bar Association thanks very much for your time today, I appreciate it.

Thomas Heintzman:
You’re welcome.

Tom Clark:
Well joining me now to look at maybe the political side of this is Mark Kennedy, the parliamentary bureau chief for the Ottawa Citizen. Mark good to have you here again. So, help me out here, what is the win for Stephen Harper in taking on Beverley McLachlin?

Mark Kennedy:
I honestly don’t know. You know every time I think I understand Stephen Harper, he mystifies me. On this one, it’s like we have the rumble in the jungle on the Rideau. And this is not George Foreman and Mohammed Ali. Who would have thought the prime minister of Canada would be engaged in this kind of dual with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court? In this town, people have been scratching their heads and asking themselves is it deliberate or has he messed up? Because he usually doesn’t mess up, he has the reputation for being a remarkably brilliant tactician. But on this one, his problem is what’s the end game? I mean do you really want to be seen going into an election campaign being in the midst of a turf war with the Chief Justice of Canada because he might lose that one. That’s the big, big political danger.

Tom Clark:
The remarkable thing about this is take a look at the people who are arrayed against Stephen Harper, all demanding that he make an apology; everybody from the Canadian Bar Association to the law deans, to the trial lawyers of North America for heaven sakes and even Tom Flannigan, his old pal says Stephen Harper can’t win this one. And yet, throughout all of this, is there something in Stephen Harper’s strategy that says you know what? If I have all these rich elites against me, that’s exactly the narrative I want.

Mark Kennedy:
That’s a fascinating word you use. I mean I was in Calgary in late October for the Conservative Party Convention. You may recall Tom; it was in that speech that he spoke about how his agenda was being blocked by the elites and the court. He named it back then. So again, the theory…

Tom Clark:
And remember, he added in that speech. He says, “I don’t care what they think, we’re going to do the right thing anyway.”

Mark Kennedy:
Exactly, so is all this, again, if it’s a deliberate strategy, is it all to play to the base? Those people throughout Canada who will vote Conservative come hell or high water that the elites in Ottawa ought not to be listened; suppose they’ll stay with him, but he doesn’t need the base. He’s going to get the base. He needs thousands more Canadians to vote for him. If they see a prime minister, who on a repeated basis and this will be the argument the Opposition parties make, he doesn’t listen to the chief electoral officer. Instead, he tries to dismiss the person. He doesn’t listen to people such as the parliamentary budget officer. And now, it’s the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. It will be a pattern that will be building. He can’t afford to be seen as a bully.

Tom Clark:
And yet, at the same time, you do have all these people who presumably know what they’re talking about, saying that this is doing tremendous damage and that he should apologize right away. The one thing that you and I know about Stephen Harper, maybe the only thing we know about Stephen Harper, he’ll never apologize.

Mark Kennedy:
Well listen, let’s give him some credit on this one. He probably believes in what he is thinking and saying on this. He obviously does not like an activist judge, an activist court. The court has been ruling against him and his legislative agenda.

Tom Clark:
But he appointed five out of the nine judges.

Mark Kennedy:
True enough but they think they’re doing their job and he obviously doesn’t like the pattern that’s going on there.

Tom Clark:
Very quickly, we just had Erin O’Toole, totally different subject. Erin O’Toole in here saying that the government in fact may be considering or ready to consider sending troops to Eastern Europe, possibly for a very long time. I mean, it’s kind of extraordinary.

Mark Kennedy:
It’s fascinating. I thought that was quite newsworthy what he told you there. Listen we’re at the crux. On Friday we just had veterans here in Ottawa. We’re honouring what they did for us in Afghanistan. We’re moving forward on this, he said, towards a Cold War. We don’t know what Putin is going to do in East Europe and we don’t know how NATO might have to reply. What we do know, is that NATO is there at least until the end of the year, probably longer. And now the government literally has to figure out, do we send in troops? I think that is a question. Ultimately, Canadians are going to have to start asking themselves about their own government.

Tom Clark:
Mark Kennedy of the Ottawa Citizen, awfully good to have you here. Thanks pal.

Mark Kennedy:
Thank you.

Tom Clark:
Okay, well coming up next, we look back at the Day of Honour marking the contribution of veterans, troops, families and those who paid the ultimate sacrifice to the mission in Afghanistan.

 

Break

 

Tom Clark:
Last Friday, here in Ottawa, and across the country, there were parades and ceremonies to honour those who served in Afghanistan. Unlike November the 11th when we honour the dead, this was an occasion to honour those who risked their lives to carry out the 12 year mission. Have a look.

Governor General David Johnston:
For more than a dozen years, the men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces served with honour and distinction in Afghanistan.

Member of Crowd:
I really wanted to just pay tribute to the people that have given so much for our freedom and the protection of us as civilians so we honour them.

Rick Hansen:
Canadians here in attendance and across the country, are now invited to be able to observe two minutes of silence to be able to reflect on the sacrifices made by members of the Canadian Armed Forces during the mission in Afghanistan.

Stephen Harper:
We have also come together as Canadians, to make a collective promise, it’s the same promise our forbearers made after the conflicts of their times. And it is simply this, we will remember.

Tom Clark:
And that is our show for today. Let us know what you think about the Day of Honour ceremonies. You can find us online at http://www.thewestblock.ca. You can also reach us on Twitter and on Facebook. And tune in to Global National with Dawna Friesen for breaking stories throughout the week.

Well thanks for joining us today. I’m Tom Clark. Have a great week ahead. See you next week, and a big thank you to all those who served.

© Shaw Media, 2014

Report an error

Comments