April 16, 2017 3:01 pm

The West Block Transcript: Season 6, Episode 32

Watch the full broadcast of The West Block from Sunday, April 16, 2017 hosted by Vassy Kapelos.

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THE WEST BLOCK
Episode 32, Season 6
Sunday, April 16, 2017

Host: Vassy Kapelos

Guest Interviews: Minister Jane Philpott, Ambassador Michael Froman, Andrew Scheer

Location: Ottawa

On this Sunday, the government introduces legislation to legalize pot but there are still a lot of questions. Where will it be sold and how will it be taxed? We’ll talk to one of the minister’s in charge of the file.

Story continues below

Then, President Trump wants to renegotiate NAFTA and is considering a new border tax for goods entering the United States. What does it mean for Canada? We’ll ask President Obama’s former trade representative.

Plus, Andrew Scheer is here on why he wants to be the next Conservative Party leader.

It’s Sunday, April 16th, Happy Easter. I’m Vassy Kapelos, and this is The West Block.

Late last week, the government introduced its long-awaited legislation to legalize pot. In a moment, we’ll talk to Health Minister Jane Philpott about the bill. But first, here’s a brief overview of what’s in the legislation.

Canadians over 18 would be allowed to possess up to 30 grams of cannabis in public. They can buy cannabis or cannabis oil but not edibles from a provincially regulated retailer, and they can also grow a maximum of four plants at home.

Provinces will decide where pot is sold or if they want it sold at all. If they don’t, the Feds can provide access online. If you’re caught possessing weed that exceeds the personal limit by small amounts, you’ll be ticketed. But you’ll face up to 14 years in jail for an illegal distribution or sale. And if you’re giving or selling marijuana to minors, the bill imposes tough new penalties of up to 14 years in jail for that too.

The one thing this legislation doesn’t do: determine taxes or a price for pot, which the government hopes will be legal by at the latest, July of next year.

Joining me now is Health Minister Jane Philpott. Minister Philpott thanks for being here with us.

Minister Jane Philpott: Thanks for having me.

Vassy Kapelos: Why is the issue of taxation not a part of this legislation?

Minister Jane Philpott: Well in fact, it’s important to remember the policy objectives of the legislation. Our goal is to make sure that we keep cannabis out of the hands of kids and that we keep the profits out of the hands of criminal organizations. So we are looking at this very much from a public health lens, very much from recognition of the fact that we have among the highest rates in the world of cannabis use amongst young people. So we need to make sure we keep that public health focus as our number one objective.

Vassy Kapelos: When will taxation be addressed and how?

Minister Jane Philpott: Well we have a number of months before this law will come into force as the bill moves through the parliamentary process. And during that time the minister of finance will work with a variety of his counterparts to address the issues related to revenue. But it’s important that the focus of the legislation in Canada be on protecting the public’s health and public safety.

Vassy Kapelos: So sometime in the next year basically.

Minister Jane Philpott: There will be work that will get started very shortly.

Vassy Kapelos: On the issue of—and I heard you and your fellow ministers talk about it quite often—the big thing being here, protecting our youth. I noticed that the penalties for giving or selling marijuana to someone, a minor, are very stiff, up to 14 years in jail. What is the difference between making a brownie with cannabis oil and giving a bite to a minor and letting your kid have a sip of your beer? And why is one punishable by years in jail?

Minister Jane Philpott: Well you’re absolutely right that our focus on the legislation is very much around protecting youth. We know that it is youth who are primarily the highest users of cannabis, 21 per cent amongst teenagers. And when you look at the 20 to 24 year old range, it’s higher. But it’s those teenagers, those minors that we’re particularly concerned about. We’re particularly concerned about them being exploited by people who are trafficking substances, including cannabis and we want to send a very clear message that that will not be tolerated. It’s very important that we protect young people from cannabis and that they recognize the harms and that there would be no one who would take advantage of them and that’s the purpose of these new measures.

Vassy Kapelos: Do you see though, how some Canadians sitting at home might think wow, that’s a really stiff penalty for one type of drug versus another?

Minister Jane Philpott: Well in fact, there are measures already in place around the sale of—

Vassy Kapelos: But this is giving—giving. Not just selling, giving.

Minister Jane Philpott: Well again, our goal here is to make sure that we send a clear message that these are substances like other substances that have associated risks that we do not want them to be used by people under the age of 18. And we want to make sure that we send a strong message in that regard.

Vassy Kapelos: Let me ask you about drugged driving or impaired driving because that’s a big part of this legislation as well. And correct me if I’m wrong, my understanding is if a police officer suspects someone of driving under the influence of marijuana, they can now, under this legislation, pull them over, give them a saliva test. And if the saliva test warrants it, then a blood test. Is that correct?

Minister Jane Philpott: That’s in essence the measures that are in place that the officer would have to have some reason to suspect that the person was under the influence of a drug, including the possibility of cannabis. And if so, take a number of steps, including the saliva testing that can be available at the roadside that we’re going to make sure that we enable that possibility and then from there could proceed accordingly to further testing, including the possibility of blood testing.

Vassy Kapelos: So we’ve spoken to a number of police forces and even the governor of Colorado on this show a few weeks ago, and they said that there really is no reliable way, under that saliva test, to determine the level of drugs or specifically of marijuana in someone’s system. Are you confident that that testing will stand up in court?

Minister Jane Philpott: Well, this is a very important piece of legislation and as we move to legalize access to cannabis and make sure that we have a strict regulatory framework, one of the issues that came up again and again was the concerns that Canadians have related to drug-impaired driving and so we wanted to simultaneously make sure that we had what turns out to be among the most robust pieces of legislation around impaired driving in the world, the work that was introduced today. We recognize that there are still challenges that exist in terms of identifying, not so much the presence of cannabis in the fluids of an individual, but the work around determining when that person may have consumed cannabis. So there are—

Vassy Kapelos: But if those current concerns exist—sorry to interrupt. If the concerns exist, is your government being a little bit premature in introducing this level of strict rules or this kind of testing without that knowledge?

Minister Jane Philpott: There’s been a tremendous amount of thought that has gone into this and obviously the most—

Vassy Kapelos: But what about evidence?

Minister Jane Philpott: Well the evidence will need to be there that a person has consumed cannabis and also that they are impaired related to that and there has been years of work done in terms of the ability of law enforcement officials to be able to determine whether or a not a person is impaired. And we will continue to improve this as there is increased both technical ability to be able to identify when a person may or may not have consumed cannabis, but it’s important that we send a message that people should not ever be driving a vehicle when they are under the influence of a mind-altering substance.

Vassy Kapelos: I guess though for the sake of sending a message though, what if those laws don’t stand up in the end because those tests are not reliable?

Minister Jane Philpott: Well as I said, the tests are reliable. The question is—

Vassy Kapelos: So you think the saliva test is completely reliable?

Minister Jane Philpott: Well the saliva test can detect a level of a substance in a person’s saliva just the way that a blood test detects the level in the blood, the challenges around whether or not that product was consumed very, very recently or the day before, for example. And so this will be done in conjunction with tests that are currently being used by law enforcement officials and that are continuously being improved under which a police officer can document their reason for suspecting that a person is impaired.

Vassy Kapelos: Okay, lots more to watch in the next year. Thanks for joining us.

Minister Jane Philpott: Thanks for having me.

Vassy Kapelos: Up next, President Trump wants to renegotiate NAFTA. We’ll sit down with a former top U.S. trade official, to find out what it means for Canada.

[Break]

Vassy Kapelos: Welcome back. Later this month, the U.S. Congress is set to confirm President Trump’s trade representative and NAFTA negotiations are expected to take centre stage. What changes are under consideration and how might this affect Canadians?

Joining me now from Washington is the former U.S. trade representative under President Barack Obama, Ambassador Michael Froman. Mr. Froman, great to see you. Thanks for being with us.

Ambassador Michael Froman: My pleasure, thanks for having me.

Vassy Kapelos: Sir, as you know, there are a lot of mixed messages coming from the Trump White House right now on what they’re going to do with NAFTA. I’m wondering, are you as confused as we are?

Ambassador Michael Froman: Well, I think it’s fair to say that final decisions about exactly how to proceed with the renegotiation of NAFTA and what to focus on do not seem have been made yet. And so we see a lot of ideas out there but I’m not sure any final decisions have been made.

Vassy Kapelos: What do you think, from your perspective will happen, because we are sitting here kind of Canadians on the edge of our seat wanting to have some insight into what might roll out?

Ambassador Michael Froman: Well I think there are a number of different issues. First, there’s a fundamental issue about whether this is going to be a series of bilateral negotiations between the U.S. and Canada, U.S. and Mexico or whether it’s going to be a trilateral negotiation a la NAFTA. And I’m not sure that fundamental issue has been fully resolved. Certainly when they talk about the trade deficit, which is a major metric for the Trump administration in assessing our trade relationships, they talk about it as a NAFTA trade deficit. And so, that implies that Canada is very much part of that equation with Mexico.

I think in terms of the substance, I breakdown the issues into a couple of different categories. From what we know from some of the documents that have been leaked or released in draft form, there are certain topics that are likely to replicate what’s in TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Issues like the digital economy, state owned enterprises, labour and environment. There’s another category of issues that we dealt with in TPP but this administration may decide they want to take a different take. For example, rules of origin. The administration has talked a lot about strengthening the rules of origin, but what they may mean is that they want to make sure that within the NAFTA rules of origin, there’s a certain percentage of U.S. content that has to be included in order to drive more manufacturing to the United States itself. And then there are issues like dairy. Obviously we’ve made some progress in TPP, but there’s a lot of remaining dissatisfaction among our dairy farmers, both about market access to Canada and about the treatment of geographical indications in the CETA agreement. I’d expect that they’d be hearing a lot from members of Congress about reopening the dairy negotiations and trying to get rid of supply management.

And then finally, sorry for such a long answer. Finally, there are issues that were not part of TPP. But since this administration has said TPP was fatally flawed that they can’t just bring back TPP. They’re going to need to bring back something that goes beyond it. And those go to issues like supply management and dairy or soft wood lumber, or subsidization of the aircraft industry, other issues in the bilateral relationship that have been irritants.

Vassy Kapelos: All those issues you just mentioned, you know we don’t know where President Trump is heading on them, but based on your instincts, how significant is the potential impact on Canada from your perspective?

Ambassador Michael Froman: Well look, I think that’s what the negotiations are going to have determine because on a number of those issues, Canada was willing to make steps in TPP and maybe would even go further. But of course in TPP, they were getting access to Japan and a lot of other markets across Asia and Latin America. And here, we’re talking about just the United States where Canada already has fairly significant access to our market, pretty unimpeded. And so the question will be within the Canadian system, what can the Trudeau government sell politically that goes in the direction of what President Trump and his administration is looking for.

Vassy Kapelos: As President Obama’s trade representative, did you ever consider making changes to NAFTA?

Ambassador Michael Froman: Well yes, that’s what TPP was. TPP in our view was the renegotiation of NAFTA. And that’s why it included binding an enforceable labour and environmental standards, why a reformed investor state dispute settlement, why it improved investment regimes both in Canada and in Mexico, gave us access on market, access to dairy and poultry for the first time in Canada and to energy in Mexico, dealt with new issues like the digital economy and state owned enterprises. In our view, TPP was the renegotiation of NAFTA. I think what will be interesting to see is how the Trump administration defines its renegotiation of NAFTA. Because it’s been so critical of TPP, it may not be acceptable for it to come back with just TPP. It may need more from Canada and more from Mexico than we were able to get in TPP and that will be, I think where the rubber meets the road in these negotiations.

Vassy Kapelos: Some countries involved in TPP had expressed a desire to continue with the agreement even without the United States. Is that feasible?

Ambassador Michael Froman: I think it’s feasible and I think there are some strong reasons to at least consider that because the rules that we collectively designed in TPP, among the 12 countries, whether it’s on intellectual property rights or state owned enterprise discipline or labour and environment, those are good for the system. And the more countries that can embrace those and put those in place, the more we’re likely to achieve global standards on issues like environmental protection or protection of worker’s rights, and that would be a positive.

Vassy Kapelos: The Canadian government has so far been hesitant to go forward with TPP without the United States. Now that you said that you think it’s feasible, do you think that it would be a good move for our federal government to join that group?

Ambassador Michael Froman: Well as I recall, the Canadian government was hesitant to go forward with the TPP with the United States. And so, it will have to decide whether TPP is in its interests or not. It included 40 per cent of the global economy. Even without the United States, there’s a lot of very positive dynamic among those countries in terms of both market access and writing rules of the road for the Asia-Pacific region that reflects largely values of the United States, Canada and other advanced industrialized countries and emerging economies have. At a time when China is seeking to define the Asia-Pacific region in according to its model, I think it’s important to have a counter weight there in terms of TPP proposing a counter set of rules. And Canada can play a leadership role in that effort. I know Canada will be hosting a meeting next month, I understand, of TPP partners. And that will be an important discussion on the way to APEC to determine where TPP countries are on that issue.

Vassy Kapelos: Okay, thank you so much for your time, Ambassador Froman.

Ambassador Michael Froman: My pleasure, thanks for having me.

Vassy Kapelos: Up next, he’s one of 14 candidates running to be the next Conservative Party leader. Why does Andrew Scheer think he’s the best choice to lead the party?

[Break]

Vassy Kapelos: Welcome back. He’s one of the top contenders to be the next leader of the Conservative Party. Andrew Scheer considers himself a real Conservative who believes in a free market, low taxes and family values. So what sets him apart from his fellow 13 colleagues vying for the party’s top job?

Joining me now is Saskatchewan MP and leadership candidate Andrew Scheer. Mr. Scheer, great to have you on the show.

Andrew Scheer: Great to be on the show, thanks for having me.

Vassy Kapelos: Over and over again, I’ve heard you say you’re the best person to unify the party. Why?

Andrew Scheer: Well, I believe I’m the only candidate that’s really talking about the importance of making sure that every kind of Conservative feels like they have a home in our party and is excited about working on the next election. And I think a good leader will find those areas of common ground. I’m not saying to any one kind of Conservative you’re not welcome in the party, or we don’t want to hear from you or any other one that you, all that we’re going to listen to. It’s finding that balance to make sure that whatever type of Conservative you are, whether it’s social conservative, fiscal, economic, libertarian, foreign policy conservative, that we have a leader that takes the best of all those, works on the areas that we can agree on, not dividing our own caucus and dividing our own movement.

Vassy Kapelos: And speaking of the caucus, you have more support than any candidate of caucus support. Why aren’t you then the front-runner?

Andrew Scheer: Well I believe the way this race is working that I am in the top tier of the candidates.

Vassy Kapelos: But are you the front-runner? I mean poll and poll and poll, and I know we have to take the polls with a grain of salt, but put Mr. O’Leary at the top of that pile.

Andrew Scheer: When you look at the complete package, yes there are many candidates that have done a very good job at getting a lot of media attention and have had sound bites that are eye grabbing and attention grabbing. But when you look at who is best suited to not only get a strong percentage of the first ballot support, but also a huge chunk of the second ballot support. That’s just as important as coming in, in first place on the first ballot. So when you look at the entire package, I think I have the best chance of winning than all the other candidates. Even those that might top the polls here and there, I believe I’ve taken a polarizing approach that will make it less likely for them to grow on subsequent ballots.

Vassy Kapelos: Do you think, and are you stressing unifying the party because you believe the party is divided right now?

Andrew Scheer: I think there’s always that risk. We have to remember that we’ve only been a single unified party since 2003, the only one real cycle. We’ve had one leader with one party. So I wouldn’t take it for granted. I don’t think that just anybody can become the leader of this party and keep everyone together. We need to maintain that balance, find those areas of common ground. So what I’m saying to members and our caucus is with me, you get someone who will take the very best of our Conservative policies and advocate for them in a way, explain them in a way, communicate them in a way that will get a broader audience of Canadians voting for us. That’s the key.

Vassy Kapelos: Are those divisions the biggest challenge facing your party right now?

Andrew Scheer: It’s a threat. I mean we’ll see what happens in the leadership race. I just mean to say that it’s not something we can take for granted. We can’t just assume that because we’ve been together for the last 14 years that it will happen like that forever. I mean you just have to take a look through the Canadian history books. The Conservative parties are always splitting and coming back together and splitting and coming back together again. I don’t want to have to go through some of those painful times that we know result in Liberals winning election after election.

Vassy Kapelos: Let me ask you a bit though about what you believe as a Conservative. In your platform, you promised to balance the budget in two years. I’m presuming that you’ll have to cut spending in order for that to happen. What spending would you cut?

Andrew Scheer: Well, the first few billion dollars’ worth of new spending that Justin Trudeau initiated didn’t even take place in Canada. It was spent around the world on some global pet projects. Those are the—

Vassy Kapelos: Lots of them are foreign aid though. Would you cut foreign aid?

Andrew Scheer: But it’s a huge increase in areas of foreign aid that didn’t actually go to feed people or to irrigate people. It was just some of his ideological pet projects. So there’s a lot of low hanging fruit there. He’s expanded the scope and the size of government. I didn’t get anybody at the doors in the last election, so you know why I’m not voting Conservative because government’s just not big enough. That’s why I’m not voting Conservative. Quite the opposite, I think Canadians were very happy of the type of government that we were delivering up until 2015. It was the tone and it was the message. It was the impression that we were giving people. The two-year target is extremely important. If you don’t give departments and bureaucrats and deputy ministers a firm guideline, a firm target, the growth in government spending is organic. There’s a lot of government relations people in Ottawa, a lot of lobbyists. Very, very few of them ever come to a Member of Parliament saying hey, I found a way for the government to spend less money. It’s always pressure to spend more and spend more. So the two-year target is an important signal to say when we’re back in power in 2019, we will get back to balanced budgets in a very aggressive timeline because we’re borrowing money from our kids every year we run a deficit.

Vassy Kapelos: You’ve also talked about being a family values advocate, someone of family values or who has strong family values, you know, a man of faith. I know that you said you wouldn’t touch abortion law or same sex marriage, those have already been decided, but what about two other sort of values-based things that are happening in the government right now, legalizing marijuana and doctor-assisted suicide. Would you repeal those laws?

Andrew Scheer: Well, on the euthanasia front, obviously we’re dealing with a situation where the courts have struck down existing law and put it in a framework of what needs to happen. So in terms of repealing the Liberal law, I don’t believe that’s legally the best course of action to take. The best course of action to take is to improve the guidelines around things like conscious protection, protections for people with mental health issues, for young people, things like that. I believe that in Canada, we should be able to say to doctors and nurses where this practice would violate their faith or their own beliefs, to say well you can’t be forced to do it. You shouldn’t be threatened with losing your job if this is something that you just can’t do. I think Canada has to be a big enough and a mature enough society that we can accommodate those people who have those deeply held views as well. So that’s how I would deal with euthanasia, make it a tighter regime, a better regime, one that respects conscious rights of individuals and institutions.

Vassy Kapelos: And legalizing marijuana?

Andrew Scheer: You know, as a father of five, I’m not thrilled with the idea that this is something that could be more accessible or that the signal will be sent that this is just another thing that you can do. And there’s going to be a lot of people that work for companies that distribute it and retail it. And there’s going to be a lot of people who are employed throughout the, whatever it turns out to be. So we have to be very realistic as a party as to what we’re promising Canadians going into the 2019 election. If this is something that has been legal for a period of time, it’s going to be very difficult to say hey, we’re going to make this illegal again.

Vassy Kapelos: Okay, thanks very much for your time. Good luck in the race.

Andrew Scheer: Thanks very much.

Vassy Kapelos: Appreciate it.

That’s our show for today, thanks for joining us. And once again, Happy Easter to you and your family. And to my fellow Greeks, Kalo Pashcha.

I’m Vassy Kapelos. See you back here, next week.

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