June 8, 2014 12:15 pm
Updated: June 8, 2014 12:16 pm

Transcript: Episode 40, June 8

THE WEST BLOCK

Episode 40, Season 3

Sunday, June 8, 2014

 

Host: Tom Clark

Guest Interviews:Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Christopher Westdal, Sergeant Ron Tucker, Corporal Have Chiasson, Brian Markham, Wayne Day

Location: Normandy, France (Juno Beach)

 

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On this Sunday, 70 years after Canadians breached the wall of tyranny, a special edition of The West Block from Juno Beach.

An exclusive interview with the prime minister at the Canadian War Cemetery to reflect on Canada’s role in the freedom of Europe both then and now.

And, the last salute to the remaining veterans of D-Day. Why the world is finally paying attention.

It is Sunday, June the 8th and from Juno Beach here in Normandy, I’m Tom Clark and this, is The West Block.

Well 70 years ago, this beach was alive with the sounds and the machinery of invasion. This is where 14,000 Canadians came ashore and where in just a few hours, 350 were killed. Seventy years later, some of the survivors returned, as did 19 world leaders and thousands of admirers.

This is likely the last time there will be a major commemoration. The youngest vets are almost 90. It made this ceremony that much more significant and made the memory of their victory for freedom that much more important.

On the morning of the D-Day anniversary, Prime Minister Stephen Harper met me at the Canadian War Cemetery in Beny-Sur-Mer for exclusive interview on Europe then and now.

Prime Minister, thanks very much for taking the time to sit down. You know, just a couple of minutes ago, you and I were walking through the cemetery looking at some of the tombstones. What was going through your head when you were looking at them?

Stephen Harper:
Well I think the same thing every time I come to these Commonwealth graves of which there are Canadian graves, far too many in the world. Just how young these people were; their whole lives ahead of them. They sacrificed a great deal and the sacrifices here really are the things that have, you know, shaped the world we live in, allowed us to have almost seventy years of peace.

Tom Clark:
Talking to veterans it always amazes me. They say, no, no, I’m not the hero. The heroes are the ones here buried in these cemeteries, who were the greatest generation, as many people said.

Stephen Harper:
Yeah they really were. You know this is the generation that first defeated fascism and then you know stood strong against the communist threat for many decades later until it finally crumbled. And as they say, gave us the peace and prosperity we have. You know what I think what’s happening Tom, this anniversary and many others; we aren’t just honouring the war. I think for many of us, it’s our parents’ and our grandparents’ generation we’re really honouring all they contributed to our lives.

Tom Clark:
Let’s take a look at the Europe of today Prime Minister because it is very different. The biggest threat obviously Russia, Vladimir Putin. What do you think he’s up to? What does he want?

Stephen Harper:
Well you know, he’s obviously, we now know two things. He’s obviously a nationalist, an extreme nationalist and he’s obviously an imperialist. You know this is…we had the fighting, Milosevic in the Balkans but I think we always saw it as a – and although Canada intervened – it’s very much a localized matter. This is an individual who clearly believes that if he’s able, he has the right and the ability to invade another country, to alter borders through military force. You know we’re not at Hitleresque proportions but this is really disconcerting. This is a major power threatening global peace and security in this way and I don’t think it’s to be taken lightly.

Tom Clark:
You’ve just come from the G7 where obviously this issue is foremost in everybody’s mind, but during the celebrations here in France, I believe that the leaders of the UK, France and Germany are going to be meeting with Vladimir Putin. Is that wise in your view?

Stephen Harper:
Well I’m not meeting with Mr. Putin and neither is President Obama. Obviously this was an issue of some significant discussion at our G7 meetings. We did not invite Mr. Putin to those G7 meetings either. I think what we all agreed is that in meetings with Mr. Putin, the messages should be very clear and only those messages should be delivered. And those messages are very straightforward: get out of occupied territory, stop fomenting violence and other provocative behaviour, and recognize and work with the new government of Ukraine on the economy and on trade, and on things that unite people.

Tom Clark:
Are you concerned at all that he hasn’t made any move yet to get out of Crimea?

Stephen Harper:
Look, I’m not the least bit surprised. As I say, he’s done more than just occupy it. As you know, he has annexed it, incorporated it into Russia. So his view is obviously that he is not leaving, but I do think we need to send a message on an ongoing basis that we will never accept the illegal occupation and seizure of neighbouring territory. This was a position the allies took with regard to the three Baltic States: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania when they were seized by the Soviet Union at the beginning of World War II. Western powers never recognized that occupation and come the 1990s, come the fall of the Soviet Union they were the very first areas to become actually independent once again.

Tom Clark:
You’ve talked in the last few weeks about a commitment to a more permanent presence in this part of world by Canada. What exactly do you mean by that? Are you thinking of participating in permanent bases over here?

Stephen Harper:
Well we’ve really only been looking at that obviously post Crimea situation. As you know, Canada has worked with our NATO allies and others to deploy ships to the Mediterranean and to deploy additional staff officers to Brussels with NATO to put some air assets in Romania and have some land operations in Poland. Obviously our East European allies are to say they are alarmed by what’s happening in Ukraine is an understatement. They are quite frankly, beside themselves and obviously very, very worried. And so obviously we’re dialoguing with the Poles and others about what we can do as NATO allies to provide reassurance on an ongoing basis, and that will be something we’re examining now with those allies and obviously something we’ll discuss in Wales in September when NATO meets.

Tom Clark:
Prime Minister we’re going to take a short break and we’ll be back right after this. Stay tuned.

 

Break

 

Tom Clark:
Welcome back to The West Block in Juno Beach in Normady. Well 70 years ago, Canada punched way above its weight in terms of its contribution for the fight for freedom here in Europe. By the end of the war, we had the world’s third largest navy. But since then, that has changed. Today, Canada is one of smallest contributors to the defence of freedom. It’s an issue that I put to the prime minister.

Prime Minister, I wanted to ask you about going forward, NATO has asked the member countries to spend about two per cent of their GDP on defence. Now we’re well below that, I think we’re near the bottom actually of what we spend. Is it time, in light of what’s happening in Europe, is it time to start spending more on our military?

Stephen Harper:
Well as you know, we have actually as a government; we’ve made significant new investments in our military. Some of it was obviously related to Afghanistan. We significantly upgraded our army, our land capabilities. We also have upgraded our air capabilities, most notably with the big C17s. We’re now one of the few countries in the world that has a heavy lift capacity which has frankly greatly broadened both the type of operations we can undertake and the speed with which we can undertake them. And we’re now embarked on an enormous ship building program which frankly is in the nick of time because we’re at the point where most of our assets, naval assets are many decades old, coming to the end of their useful life. So we’re making significant investments. I always say Tom, whether it’s military spending or development assistance or just social spending in Canada, we don’t measure things in dollars, we measure things in specifically what it is we want to do and what it is we want to achieve. And so we’ll look at it in that context. We established what we call the Canada First Defence Strategy when we came in as a government which was the underpinning behind a lot of military investments we’ve made over the last eight years and we’re now re-examining that strategy, looking at the next phase of that and we’ll make those judgments in that context rather than just the context of the dollar target.

Tom Clark:
I want to step back a little bit as a final question to you, and ask whether…what the theme of your foreign policy is, whether there is such a thing as the Harper doctrine when it comes to Canadian foreign policy. But importantly in that, you’ve said that your dad was such an influence on your life. How did he instruct you in the formation of how you look at the world and the foreign policy that you’ve put on the table?

Stephen Harper:
Well look, my father was actually…we were talking about this earlier. He was…he would be 87 if he were living; too young to fight in the war. In fact, had the atomic bombs not been dropped on Japan he would have become eligible to fight within a couple of months, so obviously he didn’t fight but he obviously grew up with that fight and he knew many older friends who had perished in the war. So look, I think that generation had two views that we always should keep in mind. One is first of all that war is a terrible thing and we should do everything in our power to avoid it. But the other thing that generation grew up with was not to turn a blind eye to potential threats. You know, I think there were many people in that era felt that as bad as World War II had been, the worst war in history, the most dessive in history, that a lot of it could have been avoided had people been aware of the threat of Hitler and his ilk in the 1930s. People deliberately turned a blind eye to that partly as a consequence of the terrible carnage of World War I. People didn’t want to repeat it. So, I think those are the two things you walk away with. Look, our foreign policy obviously incorporates those kinds of lessons. You know, I think first and foremost, the principle we hold in Canadian foreign policy is our role is to protect the values and interest of Canadians in the world and we know we can’t do that all ourselves to the extent possible; work with likeminded countries in the pursuit of those objectives. As you know, we’re not afraid to take stands that may put us offside others from time to time but we do that because we believe that we’re working not just for Canadians but for Canadians’ broader objectives that we share with our fellow human beings.

Tom Clark:
Prime Minister, it’s awfully good to talk to you again. Thank you so much for your time.

Stephen Harper:
Thanks for having me.

Tom Clark:
Well as you’ve just heard, Stephen Harper is resolute in his determination not to engage, not even to talk to Vladimir Putin until Russia has met all the demands being put upon it. Now in that, he is in the minority in the G7. Most of those countries have or are in the process of engaging with the Russian leader. So two very different approaches to what’s being called the greatest threat to world peace today.

I’m joined now in Ottawa by Canada’s former ambassador to Russia, Christopher Westdal. Ambassador good to have you with us.

Christopher Westdal:
You’re welcome.

Tom Clark:
So in your experience, what is going to move Vladimir Putin? Is it isolation or is it engagement?

Christopher Westdal:
Well I don’t think isolation is going to move him. I think you’re right that the prime minister is in a minority of one in the G7 in terms of shunning Vladimir Putin. I did notice in your interview with the prime minister that he, though the rhetoric he sustained was quite harsh, calling Putin and extreme nationalist and an imperialist, at the same time he did go out of his way to concede that Vladimir Putin had not reached Hitleresque proportions, I think the phrase that was used. I think that had been a reckless mistake to evoke Adolph Hitler in context of judging of the bath of Vladimir Putin and I think that it’s noteworthy that that has been in affect retracted. Other leaders in the G7, and I think it was appropriate that this happened at Normandy because though the Russians didn’t play a role D-Day, they certainly played a heavy role in the Second World War and we were with them in that fight. And so it was appropriate, I think that Obama and particularly Merkel engaged with Putin, as did Cameron and Hollande and I thought it was very important that Angela Merkel spent an hour with Putin and Poreshenko. These urgently required talks are underway.

Tom Clark:
You know ambassador, what we’re hearing here, especially from the French is that these preliminary discussions may lead to a ceasefire at least in Eastern Ukraine, perhaps within the next few days. How realistic is that do you think?

Christopher Westdal:
Well I do hope it’s real. The only question arises, just who is in control of the thugs and hooligans that we have seen and their behaviour has given them away, leading the self-ascribed Republics, but I think there is a prospect that with indirect talks and talks with these full citizens and talks with other people who are powerful in the Donbass, these talks can get underway and they may have to get underway even while some violence is ensuing but they can’t get far.

Tom Clark:
One of Stephen Harper’s central demands is that Russia withdraws from Crimea. How realistic is that?

Christopher Westdal:
No, I do not see a prospect of Russian withdrawal from Crimea and I don’t think many observers do. I think that Crimea will be seen in retrospect as the cost of the overthrow of Yanukovych, which was a security calamity for Russia. I think, and it’s not surprising that President Poreshenko has insisted from the start that Crimea remains Ukrainian and I’m sure that that will be our formal position too. But a fixation on Crimea is not going to help the serious problems that need to be addressed on the mainland.

Tom Clark:
Do you think that Canada has any role in finding a solution for this or have we written ourselves out of the script?

Christopher Westdal:
I think that we have ruled ourselves out of any role that requires dealing of trust, possibly intermediation but that’s not our role with Russia. We’ve burned our bridges with Russia. We have cut our relations to a minimum. That doesn’t mean we don’t have a role to play, supportive of President Poreshenko, given his daunting agenda and I was pleased to see that the prime minister alone among G7 leaders went to the inauguration of President Poreshenko. So we do have a role to play with those with whom we have credibility but we don’t have good links with Moscow these days and that’s been a matter of intent. So we don’t have roles to play that require communication with Moscow.

Tom Clark:
Chris Westdal, Canada’s foreign ambassador to Russia and Ukraine. Thanks very much for being here, appreciate your time.

Christopher Westdal:
You’re welcome, my pleasure.

Tom Clark:
Coming up more special coverage from Normandy. We came here like thousands of others to honour those who battled on these shores 70 years ago. How their legacy lives on, that’s next.

 

Break

 

Tom Clark:
Welcome back to The West Block on Juno Beach. Well whatever the moves towards modern peace may be, these last few days have belonged to those who breached the wall of tyranny right here, 70 years ago. Thousands of people from all over the world came here to cheer the vets and just to be part of the moment. But what were they hoping to see? What were they hoping to understand?

Well here are some sights and perhaps some insights to those questions posed last week.

There’s something almost natural about wanting to turn back the hands of time in Normandy, trying to bring back a time when the fight for freedom was black and white. But those days are gone, both the horror and the heroism now the stuff of history. But some of that history is alive in the form of the aging veterans of the D-Day campaign; one last chance for a new generation to reach out, to touch and to thank those who did so much when they were so young, and for the old to remember.

Sergeant Ron Tucker:
It just seems like yesterday to me to see the area again. Everything’s…I can see everything again. And it’s an honour to go and see the lads that are around the cemetery that I worked with and played with, went on leave with, and had a great time with. And I’ve been over a lot of times in the last few years, but I’m thinking this might be my last.

Tom Clark:
If this the last visit for many of these vets, it’s one last time to confront the demons that were born on these beaches.

Corporal Have Chiasson:
I dream these crazy dreams every night. I dream about these people being killed right here and all the way through France and Holland. You know, every night there’s something comes back to all of a sudden, you see somebody you know that was killed 70 years ago.

Tom Clark:
For the sons and the daughters and their sons and their daughters, maybe it’s the sense that time is running out to hear the stories that pulls them here. The lucky ones know what a precious gift it is when the wall comes down and memories are shared. Brian Markam’s father was a spitfire pilot who never talked about the war, until one day, his son made an effort.

Brian Markham:
I said to my dad, Dad, I want to take you to do something that I love to do. Let’s go on a canoe trip just the two of us into Algonquin Park. And I had snuck a bottle of Southern Comfort in with me, which you weren’t supposed to do and we sat around the camp fire andI got him to open up, and once the flood gates opened, he talked until the sun came up the next morning.

Tom Clark:
Others come here to help make those moments happen, to be visible and open, to ensure that the memory endures, and 70 years later, it seems to be working. But why are the crowds bigger now? Why do more people seem to care? Maybe it’s more than the remembrance of war and freedom, more than the battlefields and the graveyards. Perhaps it’s the realization, our fathers, mother, grandfathers, grandmothers are quietly leaving the stage and there is so little time left. It is our lives that will change when they are all gone. Our duty, all too soon will be to keep faith with them and honour the promises we made.

Wayne Day:
It’s emotional because it brings back a promise that I made to my father, that I would never forget and I’d always pass it on to whoever I met, like my buddies at home, and it’s just a way of continuing the legacy of all of these men. Young guys, if you look at the headstones, 18, 19, 20 years old, and they’re laying here. So many lives wasted. But had they not done what they’d done we wouldn’t be living the lives that we’re living today. So how better to pay tribute to these young guys,than never to forget. And in a small way, plant a little flag to say thank you.

Tom Clark:
Every year on the anniversary of D-Day, there’s a ceremony on Juno Beach. In the first house liberated by Canadians, a lantern is lit a dusk in memory of the Canadians who died here. A lone piper stands on the beach, calling the people to the water’s edge. The lantern is carried out into the water and then in silence it’s thrown into sea while an honour guard gives a final salute. It’s an act of remembrance and honour that that generation, the greatest generation has earned.

And that is our special edition of The West Block from Juno Beach. Thanks for watching and thanks particularly for all those who shared their stories with us. It has been a remarkable privilege.

Well next week, The West Block will come to you from Toronto and the aftermath of the Ontario election. Who is going to lead Canada’s biggest province? That’s next week on The West Block. Until then, I’m Tom Clark. Have a great week, see you next Sunday.

© Shaw Media, 2014

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