May 7, 2017 11:30 am

The West Block Transcript, Season 6 Episode 35

Watch the full broadcast of The West Block on Sunday, May 7, 2017. Hosted by Vassy Kapelos.

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THE WEST BLOCK

Episode 35, Season 6

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Host: Vassy Kapelos

Guest Interviews: Minister Marc Garneau, Ambassador John McCallum, Michael Chong

Location: Ottawa

Story continues below

On this Sunday, the Opposition continues its push to have the defence minister removed from office for exaggerating his role in Afghanistan as he lays the groundwork for a new defence policy. Will questions surrounding the minister’s credibility compromise his ability to sell defence policy here at home and around the world?

Then, why is Canada pursuing talks with China on trade? And are human rights a part of the discussions? Canada’s new ambassador to China, John McCallum, is here.

And, later this month, the Conservative Party will finally name its new leader. Michael Chong is one of the 13 candidates vying for the job. We’ll ask him why he thinks he can win the race.

It’s Sunday, May 7th. I’m Vassy Kapelos, and this is The West Block.

Later this month, NATO leaders from all 28 member countries will meet in Brussels where defence spending among nations will be high on the agenda. Before that meeting, the government here is expected to release its defence policy review, charting the way forward for the Canadian military. But given the continued call from the Opposition for the defence minister to resign, will his credibility be an issue as all that plays out? According to the Opposition, yes. Take a listen.

Interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose: “Now the defence minister, after he was caught misleading Canadians about his military service record, is promising to restore the funding that his government cut in the first place. The problem is that now no one believes what these guys say. The only way for this government to begin to regain the confidence of our troops is for this minister to step aside.” [Applause]

Vassy Kapelos: We reached out to Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan for an interview. He declined. The Prime Minister’s Office directed us to Transport Minister Marc Garneau, who sits on the defence procurement committee, and joins us now from Montreal.

Minister Garneau thanks for being with us. I appreciate it.

Minister Marc Garneau: Nice to be with you, Vassy.

Vassy Kapelos: I want to start off by asking you that—we just heard from the Opposition, but it’s not just the Opposition calling Minister Sajin’s credibility into question. We’ve heard from a number of present and former members of the Canadian Armed Forces. They’ve reached out to us and they’re saying that the minister has lost credibility with them. Isn’t that a problem?

Minister Marc Garneau: As the prime minister said, the minister of defence has our entire confidence and I would extend that to the cabinet. I know Minister Sajin very well. I served with him on the defence procurement committee, and I can tell you there’s no one who is fighting harder to make sure that the men and women of the Armed Forces are properly equipped and taken care of. So his committee to the Armed Forces is unparalleled. I’m talking as an ex-military person myself.

Vassy Kapelos: I understand his commitment for sure, and I know that he apologized this week on more than one occasion. But the question he didn’t answer really was why. No one is disputing his service, it was incredibly significant. But why embellish it? And I think a lot of those members we’re hearing from are still asking that question. Why did he do it?

Minister Marc Garneau: Well Minster Sajin did apologize for using the word architect, and he is very aware of the fact that he should not have said that. He’s apologized. He’s said that it’s his entire responsibility. And I certainly accept that myself. I also know that he played a very critical role in that mission, mission Medusa. He was a very critical part of it. He should not have said that he was the architect. He’s recognized that. He’s admitted it. But it doesn’t take away from his commitment, which is really unprecedented towards the Armed Forces of this country.

Vassy Kapelos: It doesn’t take away from it at all, but you don’t think he needs to explain why he did it?

Minister Marc Garneau: Mr. Sajin will use his own words if he chooses to do so. I’m not going to interpret. I certainly accept his apology, and I’m very glad that he is the minister of defence because I know he is working very hard to improve the situation. He spoke on Wednesday at the defence policy review pre-announcement and said that successive governments have not done enough for the Armed Forces. We are going to be coming forward with our defence policy review very shortly, and I think that you’re going to see that our commitment to the Armed Forces is unprecedented.

Vassy Kapelos: I’m glad you brought that up because that’s exactly what I wanted to ask you about. I was there for that speech and he was very clear about painting a picture about how bad things are in the military right now and how woefully underfunded they have been by successive governments, including the previous one. Are we to interpret that as meaning that your government will spend more on the military going forward?

Minister Marc Garneau: What it is, is being very honest with Canadians in pointing out that there has been chronic underspending. When we’ve talked about replacing certain, whether it’s fighter jets or ships that we have not properly assessed the real costs and that we need to do this. We need to be honest with Canadians. And Canadians also need to recognize that if we are going to properly equip our Armed Forces and to take care of them properly, that it is going to cost money. And this is a very, very honest assessment of what we need to do going forward because certainly in the past 10 years, and prior to that in previous governments, we have not put the proper number of resources in our Armed Forces to allow our men and women to do the jobs that we call upon them to do on frequent occasions.

Vassy Kapelos: In just your government’s last budget though, there was less money for defence and procurement spending was differed decades into the future. So I’m just trying to square the circle. How is that any different than what Minister Sajin and others are accusing the last government of doing?

Minister Marc Garneau: Well I think you should wait for the defence policy review. At the moment, we are spending less per GDP than we did in 2005. There have been $2 billion of less money focused on the operations of the military, never mind the acquisition of new equipment. There are many new equipment’s that we need to acquire. I’m ex-Navy. I can tell you that we don’t have resupply ships at the moment. We don’t have a destroyer left. If we had to go into combined operations, we’d have to work with the Americans in order to ensure area defence. Our Armed Forces have been neglected by successive governments. We need to address this seriously. And I think the defence policy review will lay that out and that’s coming out in the coming weeks.

Vassy Kapelos: Does that mean there will be additional funding attached to the defence policy review?

Minister Marc Garneau: I’m not going to talk about any of the details at this point, but I can tell you that this defence policy review has been underway for over a year. We’ve looked at it very carefully. We’ve calculated the costs very carefully. We’ve had them audited. We’ve had them checked by five different companies. We think that this time when we come forward with the defence policy review, we’ll have a realistic set of costs that we have not had in previous governments.

Vassy Kapelos: We have less than a minute left. But speaking of spending, when the minister heads to NATO later this month, will he be able to reaffirm the government’s commitment to hit 2 per cent of GDP for defence spending?

Minister Marc Garneau: Well I’m not going to speak for the minister or for the prime minister. Certainly we recognize that it’s important for us to take responsibilities within NATO, and I think that if one looks at the record of Canada in NATO, we have done some tremendous things in terms of being there on the front lines, almost amongst the first. So I think that we have certainly discharged our duties. I’ll leave it to the minister and the Prime Minister to talk about those kinds of details when they go to the NATO Summit.

Vassy Kapelos: Of course we do spend just 1 per cent of GDP right now in defence, but thanks very much for your time minister, appreciate it.

Minister Marc Garneau: My pleasure, Vassy.

Vassy Kapelos: Still to come, why does Michael Chong think he’s the best candidate to lead the Conservative Party? But first, a conversation with John McCallum, Canada’s ambassador to China on that country’s human rights record and why he’s pushing for more trade.

[Break]

Vassy Kapelos: Welcome back. Earlier this year, former long-time Liberal cabinet minister John McCallum was named Canada’s ambassador to China. It’s a high profile role for the former economist because the Liberals are eager to increase trade with China in light of the increasingly difficult relationship with the U.S.

Late last week, I sat down with Ambassador McCallum, who was in town for meetings, to ask him what kind of path forward he sees with China given the country’s nebulous record on human rights and security. Take a listen:

Thank you so much for being with us Ambassador McCallum, nice to see you back on home soil.

Ambassador John McCallum: It’s a pleasure to be back.

Vassy Kapelos: I wanted to start off by asking you if you could paint us a picture of the kind of free trade agreement or the kind of free trade period we are interested in with China.

Ambassador John McCallum: Well first of all, we haven’t agreed to do free trade. We’re into exploratory talks, and those are going very well. We also are going to consult Canadian industry. And then the government will make a decision whether to get into free trade negotiations. That having been said, I’m very optimistic that this is a brand new era for a strong China-Canada cooperation. We’re moving strongly to have a big increase in tourists. We’re moving in the forest sector. We’re moving on clean tech, renewable energy. We’re moving in a whole lot of areas in parallel to these discussions on free trade.

Vassy Kapelos: Why is it a better new era?

Ambassador John McCallum: Well, I think for one thing, Justin Trudeau, the prime minister, is really keen on enhancing China-Canada relations. That’s partly why he appointed me. The cabinet members are all keen. As I go across the country, industries and sectors of people are enthusiastic, but it takes two to tango. And my impression, having been in China for five weeks, is the Chinese government are also keen to work with us to do more. When I went to see the president, I said from our prime minster, what I want to do can be summarized into three words: more, more, more. We want more trade, more investment, more tourists, more students, more of everything in both directions, and he seemed to agree. So I do think we’re on that path.

Vassy Kapelos: What was his response? You just said he agreed or did he release the signals?

Ambassador John McCallum: He smiled and he nodded. He didn’t give a direct response, but I also told him in my bad manner, and I said my closeness to China can be explained by three numbers: 100, 50, and 40. My wife is 100 per cent China. Our three boys at 50 per cent Chinese and the people of Markham who elected me are 40 per cent Chinese. And for that he smiled and he said, “No need for translation.” So I like to think he understood me.

Vassy Kapelos: And I know that the idea is that we’re exploring the idea of free trade. But is there some kind of internal timeline that the government is working on or that you are pursuing given the sort of relationship that’s in flux with the U.S. right now?

Ambassador John McCallum: I think we are keen to do more and more and more with China as I just said. On the exploratory talks, there’s a second set that will happen in July. And then there is economic modelling which both governments are doing. There is consultation with all Canadians and with sectors. So that takes a little bit of time. Once all that has been done, both governments will make a decision whether to go ahead with negotiations or to do more talks or what to do. So at least, I think that would take us at least into the fall before any decision is made.

Vassy Kapelos: Is it conceivable for trade with China to ever help supplement what we could potentially lose with the U.S. given what’s going on right now?

Ambassador John McCallum: I think there’s potential for our trade to grow in a very important way with China. And the official target is to double trade, in the next 10 years to double tourism. I think we can double tourism in closer to five years. And I think the outlook for trade is very good. Would we ever replace the United States? Of course not.

Vassy Kapelos: On doubling trade in 10 years, that was also a goal of the previous government. What makes you think this government will be able to accomplish it when they couldn’t?

Ambassador John McCallum: Well for one thing, we are strongly committed to stronger ties with China. I would argue that—

Vassy Kapelos: Are you saying they weren’t?

Ambassador John McCallum: They weren’t. I was about to say, they were at best, hot and cold on China. Some days they love China, other days they hate China. So they were not consistent in wanting to do more with China as we were. And the Chinese have long memories. They regard our prime minister positively. They have found memories of his father. So they are very pleased to work with us. I think under the previous government with its hot and cold attitude to China, the relationship was quite different.

Vassy Kapelos: I know that—well speaking of hot and cold attitudes, there’s a recent poll that shows Canadians attitudes towards working with China are more on the positive side than they were in the past. But a lot of the hesitancy is around some of the abuses that we see happen in China, specifically on human rights. Would that ever prevent you from going forward with some big free trade deal with that country?

Ambassador John McCallum: Well if when as ambassador to China, one has to walk and chew gum at the same time. On the one hand, there are huge opportunities for Canada for enhanced trade, and we’ve been talking about that. On the other hand, there are many things on which China and Canada disagree. And we are very serious about that. And a big part of my job is consular issues, people held in detention and death penalty cases in particular, and human right situations on which we speak out either privately or publicly. So a big part of the job involves issues on which we disagree with China. But because you disagree on some things, it does not mean you can’t go forward on other things.

Vassy Kapelos: I know that you say you disagree privately and publicly, but we don’t hear a lot of the government speak outs on specific cases. Is there a line for you at which, the level of human rights abuses is just too great for you to pursue something economically with China or has–?

Ambassador John McCallum: Well there have been cases where we have spoken out publicly. But generally speaking on consular cases, there are privacy laws that prevent us from doing that. And it’s also the case frequently that the individual in question, the case of that person will not necessarily be helped if it’s all over the media. So there are good reasons not to talk about individual cases, but that doesn’t stop us continuously, daily, from discussing these things with like-minded other countries from pushing on these things and from emphasizing things on which we disagree with China. And we have a long history of friendship with China despite those differences, starting from Norman Bethune going through John Diefenbaker, Pierre Trudeau. There is a long history of strong ties between the two countries.

Vassy Kapelos: Okay, we’ll leave it there. Thanks so much, ambassador. I appreciate your time.

Ambassador John McCallum: Thank you very much, pleasure.

Vassy Kapelos: Up next, he’s one of 13 candidates vying to be the next Conservative Party Leader. But even he admits his path to victory is a narrow one: Michael Chong, after the break.

[Break]

Vassy Kapelos: Later this month, Conservatives will name their new leader. It’s been a long race dominated by controversial proposals and a controversial frontrunner that dropped out of the race not long ago, leaving 13 men and women vying for the job, including Ontario MP Michael Chong.

Joining me now is Conservative leadership candidate Michael Chong. Mr. Chong, great to have you on the show, appreciate your time.

Michael Chong: Great to be here.

Vassy Kapelos: When Mr. O’Leary dropped out of the race, did it give you any pause to rethink your own candidacy?

Michael Chong: No, not at all. In fact, that was an indication to us that the race was wide open. The fact that the supposed frontrunner didn’t think he could win, I think to us was pretty telling. So another three weeks to go and we think that it’s anybody’s guess as to who can win this.

Vassy Kapelos: Has anyone reached out to you to try and garner some support for their campaign? I know there’s been a lot of talk of possible mergers and that kind of thing. Have you had any other candidate reach out to you?

Michael Chong: Well I see all my fellow candidates during the debates and at the various events that we go to and we’ve been very friendly with each other, but there have been no formal discussions between my campaign or any other campaign.

Vassy Kapelos: What do you think of the idea, and I’ve seen a lot of analysis out there, that in order for anyone to beat Mr. Bernier at this point, a number of you guys have to ban together for lack of a better term. Do you agree with that assessment?

Michael Chong: No, I don’t. You know, I think it’s really up to the party members to decide. This is not a delegated convention where a leadership candidate can bring over delegates and members to another camp. This is a wide open leadership race where there are some 260,000 party members that are eligible to vote. And I don’t think what a leader says or what a candidate says in direction to their supporters is going to make a difference. That’s why when Kevin O’Leary said he was going to deliver all his supporters to Max Bernier, I think that should be taken with a grain of salt. I think some of them will support Max, but I think a lot of them will scatter and go to other candidates.

Vassy Kapelos: So do you see a specific path to victory for yourself at this juncture?

Michael Chong: We do. It’s not a wide path to victory, but we do have a path. We think the levels of support amongst the various candidates are not really being reflected in the polling. If you look at previous leadership races, typically only about a third of the party members vote. So it’s really critical on a wide open campaign like this with 13 candidates is which of the candidates can get out their supporters. And we think a number of candidates have very motivated supporters and others less so. We think people like Max and Kellie for various reasons have motivated supporters, but we think our support base is very, very motivated. And the reason is simple. During this campaign, we’ve put forward clear ideas on the economy, on the environment, on our democracy and that has created a lot of excitement among the people who have come out to support us.

Vassy Kapelos: I want to ask you a bit about those ideas, but also about the way in which you’ve been characterized, maybe rightly or wrongly in this race as some sort of a Liberal light candidate. Why do you think you’ve been branded that way? I would say by some of the party establishment. I mean it’s Conservatives who’ve tried to depict you that way to me at least.

Michael Chong: Well I think it’s a smear job and I get quite upset about it. You know, it reminds me of Jean Chrétien in the 1990 Liberal leadership race, where Jean Chrétien in Quebec took a strong stand in defence of federalism. And he was accused of being a vendu, a sellout to Quebecers. In the same way, I’ve taken a strong position, a Conservative position in favour or stronger action on the environment. And I’ve been accused of not being a real Conservative by some Conservatives. And so to me, it’s the same sort of smear job that Jean Chrétien underwent in the 1990—and I get upset about it because if you look at my policies, arguably they’re the most Conservative of all 13 candidates. I’m proposing the largest income tax cut of all the candidates that we would introduce in our first budget. On the environment, I’m proposing the most Conservative way to reduce emissions which is a revenue neutral carbon tax. On non-democratic reform, I’ve taken on the mantle of Preston Manning’s Reform movement of the 1990s. The job that he proposed is not yet done. We need to complete the reforms to the Senate, the House of Commons and political parties in this country. So, if you look at my platform, it’s quite Conservative. Where I differ with most of the other cand—with all the other candidates is that I’ve said no to bigotry. I’ve said not to targeting immigrants and I’ve said no, to targeting identifiable minorities. I’ve said to building a much bigger more inclusive Conservative Party.

Vassy Kapelos: I guess though, your competitors might say that your ideas on the environment aren’t necessarily Conservative. I know you say because of revenue neutral, but in essence it’s a carbon tax that you’re proposing.

Michael Chong: That’s right.

Vassy Kapelos: What is Conservative about that?

Michael Chong: Well, a carbon tax is the most Conservative way to reduce emissions. That’s why Mark Cameron, Prime Minister Harper’s former head of policy in the PMO supports my approach. It’s why Conservatives like Preston Manning have been calling on Conservatives to adopt a price on carbon through a carbon tax. So for those Conservatives who don’t believe in climate change, who don’t think we have to have a real plan to reduce emissions, well then obviously they’re not going to support my plan. But if you accept the fact that we have to deal with climate change that we have to reduce emissions, a revenue neutral carbon tax is the most Conservative way to reduce emissions. It’s why I’ve proposed it in this leadership race.

Vassy Kapelos: We don’t have very much time left, about 30 seconds. But you brought up bigotry and some of the ideas that have been associated with certain propositions made by other candidates in this race. Do you think that the damage—too much damage has been done just by making those proposals? Is there a way for the brand, the image of the Conservative Party to move past that in 2019?

Michael Chong: I think there is, and that’s why electing Michael Chong as Conservative leader—

Vassy Kapelos: [Chuckles]

Michael Chong: And I don’t say that lightly—

Vassy Kapelos: I mean that genuinely though. I understand what you’re saying.

Michael Chong: No, but I say that in all seriousness. Ultimately what we’re doing here is electing a leader who can win in 2019. And if you look at all the polls, the two most important polls that were done, one was by Nanos and the other was by Abacus. Both showed me leading in public opinion amongst Canadians as the most appealing Conservative leader. And I think that’s something Conservatives need to take a look at as they vote between now and May 27th. I am the only candidate that has a chance of taking on Justin Trudeau in 2019. My program appeals to a broad—the broad mainstream of Canadians, it’s why I’ve put it forward. It’s also a Conservative program.

Vassy Kapelos: Great, well I’ll look forward to watching the rest of the race, and good luck in your candidacy.

Michael Chong: Thank you very much.

Vassy Kapelos: Appreciate your time.

That’s our show for today. We leave you with images of the Canadian Snowbirds and their French counterpart on a joint flyby over Parliament Hill last week to celebrate 150 years of Confederation. I’m Vassy Kapelos. See you back here, next week.

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