THE WEST BLOCK
Episode 27, Season 5
Sunday, March 20, 2016
Host: Tom Clark
Guests: Peter Harder, Susan Delacourt, David Akin
Plane Talk: Rodger Cuzner
Tom Clark: On this Sunday, Justin Trudeau’s new man in the Senate. On Friday, former senior bureaucrat, Peter Harder, was appointed to take the reins for the Liberals and is joined by six new appointees. Can he change the Senate for the better?
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wowed New York last week, and NDP Leader Tom Mulcair is probably saying ‘wow’ at what some of his MPs are saying about him. Susan Delacourt and David Akin join me to sort all that out.
And then we take flight with Liberal MP Rodger Cuzner for some ‘Plane Talk’ and a bit of a sing-a-long.
It is Sunday, March the 20th. From the nation’s capital, I’m Tom Clark. And you are in The West Block.
Tom Clark: The Liberal government finally has someone in the Senate to represent the government. Late last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Peter Harder would be the government’s first-ever representative. He is tasked with taking questions from the government and shepherding legislation through the upper chamber. Harder will be joined by six new independent senators, also appointed by the government.
Joining me now, one of Canada’s newest senators, Peter Harder. Mr. Harder, or should I say Senator Harder, welcome. Good to have you here.
Peter Harder: Thank you very much, glad to be here.
Tom Clark: You know you’ve been appointed as the government representative in the Senate, not the government leader. What on earth is the difference between those two?
Peter Harder: Well I think the reference to government representative is reflective of the changing nature of the appointment process to the Senate, the desire the prime minister has for a non-partisan, a less party-disciplined approach to Senate business, and to have a more transparent, a more representative and a more engaged, from a policy point of view, Senate.
Tom Clark: So you’re going in as an independent, right?
Peter Harder: I will be sitting as an independent.
Tom Clark: Okay, but how independent can you be? If you’re the one bringing government legislation into the Senate, can you be against it?
Peter Harder: That will be a work in progress. I welcome the appointment as an independent senator to reflect the independence of other senators that were appointed with me, as well as the intention to appoint the remaining vacancies as independents. And to bring to the spirit of exercising my responsibility, a less partisan approach. But let’s be clear, my role also is to represent the government in the Senate and to ensure that the business of the government is appropriately dealt with by the Senate. Where appropriate, it ought to be improved. Where necessary, it ought to be advanced. So in that sense—
Tom Clark: Could you lead a rejection?
Peter Harder: I would have to participate and I also have a role of reflecting back to the government, the views of the Senate on matters that will come before a cabinet or on various pieces of legislation. So it’s going to be an evolution and I think we’re all going to have to work together as people of good will to sort of say ‘how does an institution whose rules and approaches have been framed by a very partisan approach for and against whipped views, deal now with the freedom and the responsibility to act independently?’
Tom Clark: Let me ask you about that advancing of the independence agenda, if you want, in the Senate and trying to make it a less partisan place. I’m sure you already know, but the Conservatives who still sit as a caucus in the Senate, have already said on certain pieces of legislation, because they have a majority, they will prevent it from going through, creating a Constitutional crisis. You’re going to be sort of the guy sitting in the middle of this fire storm. How do you advance this whole idea? Because there are groups and I think certainly if the Conservative caucus right now, who are not about to let go of that partisan power that they feel that they have in the Senate.
Peter Harder: Well I again, view this as a work in progress. I have friends on both sides of the caucus aisle and amongst the independents that are there. I have already spoken with the leadership in the Senate, both the caucus leaders of the Conservative and the Liberal caucus, as well as the Speaker, and I’ll be sitting down with them next week to engage on how we make the Senate work well. I do not expect that every piece of legislation will have unanimous support. That would be unreasonable. It wouldn’t be a very independent-minded Senate if that were the case. What I do hope is that we have people of good will, who will advance their differences in a civil fashion and within the appropriate parliamentary processes. That’s what Parliament and difference is all about. So we’re going to have to have some patience with approaches and in engagements that are different than in the past.
Tom Clark: You know, always in these situations, as they say, the devil is in the details, but let’s go into a couple of them. You know the Conservatives, Conservative leadership has got a pretty healthy budget; it’s over a million dollars. The Liberals I think are pretty close to that. Where are you going to get your money from? You’re not a caucus and the Senate rules say you’ve got to be a caucus to get money.
Peter Harder: Well I think, Tom, that the rules and procedures of the Senate are going to have to be adjusted and reform to reflect the approaches of a larger group of independents, of a desire to have the roles of the independents better represented in the work of the Senate. Why would we want to deny ourselves of the efficacy of all of the senators, but to deal with them fairly?
Tom Clark: You think the rules have to be changed. I mean would that, for instance, you know in an immediate situation, who gets to appoint the chairs of committees? That’s a pretty prestigious role in the Senate.
Peter Harder: Look, let’s wait for me to get there before I can address some of these issues. But obviously, you’re raising some of the issues that are legitimately raised when you have a new approach to Senate leadership. And I look forward to working with those senators who are in caucuses and those who are not, to ensuring that there is a fair approach to procedures and rules and appointments that reflects the talents and the diversity and the interest of all senators.
Tom Clark: Some people might look at your appointment and say this is part of our re-engagement with peacekeeping and you’re the person right in the centre of the whole thing. Mr. Harder—Senator Harder, thank you very much for being here, I appreciate your time and we’ll continue this conversation as those reforms continue.
Peter Harder: I look forward to it.
Tom Clark: Thank you.
Peter Harder: Thank you.
Tom Clark: Still to come, how funny is too funny when it comes to politics? A little ‘Plane Talk’ with Rodger Cuzner. But first, the prime minister does New York City and the government prepares its first budget. We unpack the politics ahead.
Tom Clark: Welcome back. Well, lots of politics on the plate to take a look at this Sunday morning. And anxious to join me in that task: Susan Delacourt, a political columnist for the Toronto Star and iPolitics, and also the author of Shopping for Votes, and David Akin, parliamentary bureau chief for Sun Media. Welcome to you both.
Peter Harder is now the government representative in the Senate, not the leader, the representative; the independent senator who’s going to carry the government message into the Senate. Is this truly the beginning of the end of partisanship in the Canadian Senate, do you think Susan?
Susan Delacourt: I’m optimistic it might be. Peter Harder is a former Conservative, a Progressive Conservative, but that said, he also had the transition team and I don’t think he would have called himself of the past Conservative regime. But I’m optimistic that something is happening in the Senate, that it took almost burning it down for that to happen, but I do think, you know, ‘sunny ways.’ I think we are going to see a change in the Senate.
Tom Clark: David, what do you think?
David Akin: A change in attitude, but not a change in partisanship. Ottawa is a partisan place. By definition, they do politics in the Senate, they do politics in the House. So no, but I think what people were really unhappy with was the hyper-partisan way that we saw many senators, many Conservative senators under Stephen Harper operate. And the way that Stephen Harper used his Senate caucus really disgusted people. So the answer for Trudeau has been, Prime Minister Trudeau, to try to remove this partisanship. In fact, I think the problem has been lack of accountability to voters. They’re not elected; it’s not transparent how they get appointed. And I know the Liberals are saying ‘oh this is wonderful transparency and accountability,’ but I take very dim view of that. I don’t think it is, but different kinds of partisan politics? Yeah. Sure. I’ll give you that.
Susan Delacourt: I think the test will be when they disagree. Do they disagree with something that’s going on in the House of Commons because that was something that was frankly annoying in the last, not just the Conservative government, but to have a Senate that’s just an echo chamber of the House of Commons is not what the designers of—
Tom Clark: And as you say though, that’s the way it used to be in the past when it was very partisan. What may come out of this is that if a group of so-called independent senators don’t like what the House is doing. Then the government of the day has to actually go in and do some work and convince and cajole and lobby them to get them onside.
Susan Delacourt: And good things can happen that way.
David Akin: If you didn’t like what Mike Duffy was doing though, you could take it out on Stephen Harper at the ballot box. And if you don’t like what these senators do at any point, they’re there till 75, it ain’t Trudeau’s fault. He can shrug and go ‘hey I didn’t appoint—I appointed them, but it wasn’t my choice. It was an independent body and they’re not my caucus.’ So there’s nobody we can get angry at, at the ballot box, for the work of the Senate and I think that’s not good.
Tom Clark: You brought up Justin Trudeau—we all brought up Justin Trudeau. He last week was down in the Big Apple. By all accounts, he wowed them in the streets of Manhattan. Where does, I mean, you know the claim over and over again whether it was on the question of gender equality, whether it was on diversity, whether it was on the environment, the line over and over, Canada is back. So he’s been to the United Nations, he’s been to the White House. Is Canada back?
Susan Delacourt: I think David and I have both written about this. Stephen Harper said Canada was back at a couple of points too.
David Akin: Every government does—
Susan Delacourt: New prime ministers like to say that. I heard Louise Arbour in an interview, former—anyway, I heard her saying—
Tom Clark: Supreme Court judge.
Susan Delacourt: Yes, but I can’t remember her title at the United Nations. Saying definitely at the United Nations, there is a feeling that Canada has a lot more energy and heft than it did in the last government. So I think we do have to take her word for that, yeah.
Tom Clark: Well we know the last government didn’t like the United Nations, but that’s different from saying that they didn’t do anything with the United Nations.
David Akin: Right, so let’s contrast. Justin Trudeau at the UN this week said we’re going to try and get a seat on the Commission for the Status of Women, great. Why? What will you do with that seat? Whereas the last government leveraged billions of our dollars, billions of dollars from the Gates Foundation to actually save hundreds of thousands of lives through their maternal and child health benefit.
Tom Clark: But they couldn’t get on the Security Council and there was a reason for that because the other nations of the world said “no” to Canada.
David Akin: And Conservatives will say, and I spoke to the former foreign affairs minister Peter Mackay about this, that’s a virtue if you’re a Conservative. And we can argue that point and the Liberals will say no, it’s not a virtue, it’s a failure. But the point, I think the more important about is Canada back? I saw Prime Minister Harper stand toe to toe with Tanzanian President Kikwete and get lots of praise for just those things, about money for developing nations, fighting against early and forced marriages was something the last government did. Rona Ambrose was the status of women minister when she stood up at the UN and led a UN initiative to establish the first-ever International Day of the Girl. Yeah, but he was doing lots of stuff, Tom. But it’s different now.
Tom Clark: Different because we also left the Desertification Foundation of the United Nations that’s set up and that was very controversial. But speaking of backs, how’s Tom Mulcair’s back these days?
David Akin: Very nice segue. That’s the smoothest ever.
Tom Clark: So Tom Mulcair has got in a couple of weeks; he’s got a convention coming up in Edmonton where there will be a leadership review. The president of the party has already said the magic number is 70 per cent. He needs 70 per cent to stay on as leader. How do you think this is going to play out?
Susan Delacourt: I think my favourite tweet of the week was somebody who asked for dibs on the book title, “Death by a Thousand Neutral Comments”. It is remarkable to see. I think we have talked about this here before too. I haven’t thought since the last election that prospects were good for Mr. Mulcair to be the leader in the next one. I think as the NDP is getting over the defeat, realizing where they’re at, I think they’re probably realizing they’re not going to get through the next election with him. But this week, it’s damming with faint praise, is there’s a new entry in the dictionary for that.
Tom Clark: And you’re right because there’s been some NDP MPs who have refused to say publicly that they support Tom Mulcair. I’m thinking Charlie Angus, and Niki Ashton is another one.
David Akin: Yeah, who ran against Mulcair—Niki ran against Mulcair.
Tom Clark: Fair enough, but is it a question David, of not so much do they get rid of him now or do they get rid of him later? Or is the other question that they get rid of him at all?
David Akin: If they want to win, they need to get rid of him now. And I’ve said so, and I say this saying that I think Mulcair is a very effective parliamentarian, one of the most that I’ve seen in the time I’ve been here, but he’s not the guy that can beat Justin Trudeau, I don’t think. And I think New Democrats have to kind of think about themselves, ‘do we want to beat Justin Trudeau and be the prime minister or go back to be the party of conscience?’ Because the answers you’re going to get about those, it’s going to be two different things in terms of the kind of leader you might look for. And then there’s the other thing, we’re going to have a new way of electing Parliament are we not? Isn’t that the promise?
Susan Delacourt: Yeah, yeah.
Tom Clark: Yeah, yeah.
David Akin: And now, wow, that calculus about having to be second choice and we don’t know what that’s going to look like. All these things in the background, but I too find it remarkable that there is no one, no proxies championing Tom Mulcair as the current or future leader of the New Democratic Party and for that reason, I don’t think he’s going to make this vote.
Tom Clark: You’ve got to have some sympathy though, not only for Tom Mulcair, but also for the Conservatives. Poll after poll after poll, has the Liberals riding higher than they have ever been. It’s almost impossible for the Opposition to attack the Liberals right now because they just keep on going up, even on economic management.
Susan Delacourt: It’s always been the case, I say as somebody who has been covering the Liberals for way too long, what always does Liberals in; their best Opposition is within the Liberal Party. I think that you know right now, everybody is feeling very sunny and happy. It’s a new government, of course they should be. But I think the check that will be on the Liberals in the months ahead is on themselves.
David Akin: If we didn’t have a new NDP, a New Democratic Party, would we invent one? I mean that fundamentally is the issue because we have polls. I think there was one on Friday in your paper Susan that said New Democrats, if there was an election, many of them would still vote Liberal, even though they self-identify as a New Democrat. They like Justin Trudeau. They like the cut of his jib. Until the NDP finds a way that they don’t like Liberals, why wouldn’t they [00:16:13 crosstalk]
Tom Clark: Interesting to know that it was about a year-and-a-half or two years ago where everybody was saying for the Liberals to survive, they’ve got to merge with the NDP; times change in politics. Susan Delacourt, David Akin thank you very much for being here today. I really appreciate it.
David Akin: Thanks, Tom.
Tom Clark: Well coming up next, ‘Plane Talk’ with one of Ottawa’s funniest MP’s.
Okay, Rodger Cuzner, are you ready for this?
Rodger Cuzner: Let her rip!
Tom Clark: Welcome back. Rodger Cuzner is a Liberal MP from Cape Breton who has a great sense of humour and he has lots of friends as a result. But is there a cost to being too funny? That’s one of the questions we discuss in this week’s ‘Plane Talk’. Take a listen:
Tom Clark: Rodger Cuzner, welcome to ‘Plane Talk’.
Rodger Cuzner: Great being here, so far.
Tom Clark: [Laughs] You know how this works, I ask you a few questions, people get to know you a little bit. So I want to start off with this, what is your greatest fear?
Rodger Cuzner: Besides getting in the plane here with you today, after you told me that you were having some engine problems, I worry about disappointing people, you know, on a particular file or if there’s a project we’re working on that doesn’t happen. And you know, I don’t mind locking horns and debating hard and differing with people on various issues, but disappointing people is something that it takes a lot out of me.
Tom Clark: You’re known as, what can I say? A happy politician, a happy warrior, you do something every year just before Christmas. You do the Night Before Christmas; you’ve done that for years in the House.
Rodger Cuzner reading his version of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas in the House of Commons:
“Yeah, it began August 2nd, an 11-week campaign, which Canadian voters believed was insane. Conservatives were disappointed, not pleased with their tally. They expected more bounce from that Rob Ford rally.”
Rodger Cuzner: You know I enjoy spending time with others and finding some humour in whatever the situation is. Dominic LeBlanc says ‘there’s an entertainment tax’. If you’re going to be the funny guy, you know there’s an entertainment tax.
Tom Clark: What is that tax?
Rodger Cuzner: Well, you know, you’re dismissed as a guy that isn’t taken seriously, but I think I’ve worked hard enough on the issues that I’ve been involved with as a parliamentarian that people—I think I’ve earned the confidence of the people in my riding.
Tom Clark: Well I know the one thing in Cape Breton is well let me ask you this as a question, how often have you had a fire in the kitchen?
Rodger Cuzner: A fire in the kitchen, a lot of parties in the kitchen, but—
Tom Clark: Fire in the kitchen, in case you want to know, is an old Cape Breton expression. It means music in the kitchen. So what’s your favourite music?
Rodger Cuzner: I love the local music. Matt Minglewood, I don’t know if you know Matt Minglewood. He’s a blues-rocker from Cape Breton and he’s got lots.
Tom Clark: Like name a song of his.
Rodger Cuzner: Oh geez, ‘Whiz Kids’ or he does ‘Can’t You See’.
Tom Clark: Can you sing me a little bit of Minglewood? Just so I know.
Rodger Cuzner: Is that right? I can sing it.
Tom Clark: No, it’s just the two of us up here, don’t worry.
Rodger Cuzner: Yeah, yeah, yeah and how many viewers do you have on a Sunday?
Tom Clark: Everybody, close your eyes and plug your ears, Rodger Cuzner’s going to sing for us. Roger.
Rodger Cuzner: [Singing] ‘Gonna take a freight train, down to the station Lord. I don’t care where it goes. You know, Can’t You See?’
Tom Clark: You’re very good at that.
Rodger Cuzner: ‘What a woman’s been doing to me, can’t you see? Oh can’t you see, what that woman, she’s been doing to me!’ Take it, Tom!
Tom Clark: Ladies and gentleman, Rodger Cuzner, his musical stylings.
Rodger Cuzner: I’m no Matt Minglewood.
Tom Clark: Have you ever flown a small plane before?
Rodger Cuzner: No, I’ve never flown a plane at all.
Tom Clark: Okay, tell you what, put your feet on the pedals.
Rodger Cuzner: Which one’s the clutch?
Tom Clark: [Laughs] Clutch. Put your hands on the yoke, lightly. And we’ll just do a couple of manoeuvres. You can come along with me. So if you want to turn to the right, a little bit of right pedal and just a very little bit.
Rodger Cuzner: I’m a regular Marc Garneau here.
Tom Clark: [Laughs] I promise I won’t tell Garneau you said that.
Rodger Cuzner: Yeah. Are we going to get in trouble with Transport Canada? There’ll be a question in the House today about it.
Tom Clark: Who do you most admire in history, anybody at all, who’s your hero?
Rodger Cuzner: I had the great pleasure to get to South Africa and Nelson Mandela, he’s an incredible person, so he’d be a historic figure I think that I truly respect.
Tom Clark: Do you ever shake your head sometime and say for a poor kid—
Rodger Cuzner: I’m shaking my head right now, what the hell am I doing flying this plane?
Tom Clark: Well how do you think I feel? Do you ever give your head a shake sometimes and say, how did a kid from Glace Bay end up meeting Nelson Mandela? Do you ever shake your head and sort of say that’s quite amazing?
Rodger Cuzner: Yeah, it is. Listen, that is one of the great aspects of this job and this opportunity and I’m grateful every day for it. But the great people that you meet along the way and not just the prominent people like Mandela, you get to meet so many special people and so many just average Canadians that do very special things.
Tom Clark: So you’re having fun?
Rodger Cuzner: Oh yeah. Listen, in this particular moment, not so much, but everything seems [laughter]. But no, listen, I try to work hard and do the best I can.
Tom Clark: Okay, let’s see if we can land this thing.
Rodger Cuzner: Good job; nothing to it.
Tom Clark: Well I read up on it last night. Rodger Cuzner, thank you very much for being on ‘Plane Talk.’ Good to have you.
Rodger Cuzner: Tom thanks so much. This was a blast.
Tom Clark: Well that is our show for today. We really do enjoy hearing from you and here are all the addresses where we can be found, so don’t be shy, let us know what you think about what you’ve heard on the show.
Now just a reminder, this coming week, all the MPs are back on the Hill and on Tuesday, the budget will be presented. Global News will have a Budget Special, starting at 4:00 p.m. Eastern time, and then of course, more details on Global National at 5:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. as the evening goes along.
Anyway, thanks very much for joining us. I’m Tom Clark. Have a great week ahead. We’ll see you back here next Sunday for another edition of The West Block.
© 2016 Shaw Media