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The West Block Transcript, Episode 35, Season 13

Mercedes Stephenson, The West Block. Global News

THE WEST BLOCK
Episode 35, Season 13
Sunday, May 12, 2024

Host: Mercedes Stephenson

Guests:
Kamal Khera, Diversity, Inclusion and Persons with Disabilities Minister
Philip Ingram, Former British Intelligence Officer

Location:
Ottawa Studio

Mercedes Stephenson: As clashes escalate between protesters and police on American university campuses, will Canada follow suit?

I’m Mercedes Stephenson. The West Block starts now.

Temperatures have spiked at universities south of the border. Is Canada far behind? With protests at campuses across the country, arrests at the University of Calgary and protesters vowing to dig in as Jewish student say they feel unsafe, will Ottawa step in?

And, if Canada couldn’t hit NATO’s spending targets before, it may have just gotten a lot worse. As Canada struggles to make NATO’s minimum spenders club requirements, the British are suggesting raising the bar even higher.

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For weeks now, we’ve seen emotional scenes of anger boiling over and police action to break up pro-Palestinian protest encampments on American university campuses.

Last week, police in Calgary took a similar approach. There have been several Canadian campus protests also calling for their universities to divest from Israeli companies. But they’ve largely been tamer than their American counterparts and hadn’t resulted in a police crackdown until Calgary last week. The rise in campus encampments and the accompanying signs and rhetoric have left many Jewish students feeling unsafe, though. Some of those students came to Ottawa last week to testify before MPs about antisemitism on campus.

Claire Frankel, McGill University Student: “Students have been physically assaulted. They’ve been doxxed. They’ve lost friends. They’ve been harassed. They’ve been followed. They’ve been degraded, dehumanized in a way that is unacceptable. Everyone is angry right now.”

Mercedes Stephenson: So how does our country ensure diversity and inclusion, holding those who threaten or intimidate, or practice hate speech accountable while ensuring freedom of speech and a right to protest.

Joining me now is Kama Khera, the minister of diversity, inclusion and persons with disabilities. Thank you so much for joining us today, minister. Nice to see you.

Kamal Khera, Diversity, Inclusion and Persons with Disabilities Minister: Good to see you, too, Mercedes.

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Mercedes Stephenson: I wanted to start with talking about something that has so many Canadians watching very closely and that’s the protests that we’ve seen on campus in relation to the war between Israel and Hamas, concerns by a lot of students about what’s happening in Gaza, concerns by other students about protection of Jewish Canadians and Jewish people around the world. What are your thoughts on the protests that we’ve seen and some of the encampments that have building up? Are we on the route to seeing something similar to what the case has been in the U.S.?

Kamal Khera, Diversity, Inclusion and Persons with Disabilities Minister: Well, I think I know—we know the local authorities are very much engaged in their jurisdictions in this matter, but you know as a government, and I can tell you we’ve always said this, we will always protect the Charter of Rights and guarantee the rights of freedom in, you know, speech and expression. But it must not cross the line into hate and intimidation. And I can tell you in times like this, you know, where temperatures are very high, my job is to make sure that we as a government do everything that we can to combat hate and to bring people together. And that’s precisely what we have been doing since, you know, day one. Whether it is, you know, working alongside my colleague minister of public safety by ensuring that there is security infrastructure, enhancement to the security infrastructures program. I, myself, had put forward, you know, $6—$3 million through our community resiliency fund to really ensure how we can bring communities together at this time. We’re going to continue to make sure we’re supporting communities and doing everything that we can to actually bring communities together.

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Mercedes Stephenson: Yeah, I think that’s the concern, is that the temperature doesn’t seem to be coming down. It seems to be doing the opposite. It seems to be getting more divisive, more concerning. We heard from Jewish students this week who testified both at a parliamentary committee and held a press conference on Parliament Hill, and they were saying that they don’t feel safe on campus and they feel that the diversity resources are not being applied to protect them. One student said many Jewish students have decided not to attend the classes because of the unsafe environment. Many have doubted whether they should even go to university anywhere in Canada. Does that indicate to you that enough is being done, do you think, to protect Jewish students on campus?

Kamal Khera, Diversity, Inclusion and Persons with Disabilities Minister: I think local authorities should be doing everything that they can, and as a federal government we’re there to support them in any of the work that they need.

Mercedes Stephenson: But what do you think about it, personally, as the minister?

Kamal Khera, Diversity, Inclusion and Persons with Disabilities Minister: Well I can tell you, you know, we need to make sure that we’re supporting communities. You know in Canada, we need to make sure people and students at particularly places like universities and colleges. These are places that are meant to be debates. These are places where they’re meant to be engaged in, you know, debates with students and they should not feel unsafe. And, you know, I know local authorities are very much engaged in their jurisdiction in this matter. As a government, we will always protect the Charter of Rights, you know, freedom of expression and peaceful protests and assembly. But that must not cross the line into intimidation and hatred. That’s the work that I know we’ve been doing since, you know, since we’ve seen, you know, the instances of hate that we’ve seen. That’s certainly increased, quite frankly, of hate crimes. That’s why we’re—in this budget, we put forward $273 million for Canada’s action plan on combating hate that is going to make sure that we’re supporting communities on the ground.

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Mercedes Stephenson: There are Palestinian Canadians who are upset as well. They’re upset with your government because they say there’s a coming anti-racism strategy and that they wanted to see anti-Palestinian racism included in that. That’s something your government has chosen not to do. Why not?

Kamal Khera, Diversity, Inclusion and Persons with Disabilities Minister: Look, I certainly look forward to talking about the content of the strategy once it is launched. We are at the final stage of its development after having, you know, extension consultations, you know, within at-risk communities, Canadians that have been experiencing racism. You know and also I fundamentally believe that racism is racism, and I think the goal of the strategy is to provide a framework for our government to tackle all forms of racism and discrimination within our own institutions, at the same time support at-risk communities, including Palestinian communities on the ground. And, you know, the upcoming strategy is designed, certainly to be evergreen in order to adapt to the evolving needs of communities that are experiencing racism and discrimination.

Mercedes Stephenson: It’s certainly a difficult time for many Canadians, whether it’s dealing with feelings of insecurity or dealing with financial struggles. One of the things that your government did was to introduce an additional $200 a month for people who are disabled and unable to work. Obviously, costs are going up much faster than their income is. Why did your government only decide to give $200 a month, which many disability groups have panned as being nowhere near enough to keep people from being below the poverty line for situations that they can’t control and health conditions that aren’t their fault?

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Kamal Khera, Diversity, Inclusion and Persons with Disabilities Minister: Mercedes, I think it’s first and foremost important to recognize that in Canada, for the first time ever, we have a Canada Disability Benefit, a national benefit that is going to help more than 600 thousand—some of the lowest income persons with disabilities in this country, to, you know, improve their financial wellbeing. You know in this budget, we put forward $6.1 billion in this budget to do this work. That’s an additional $2,400 tax-free per year in the pockets of some of the lowest income persons with disabilities. I also want to recognize the fact that, you know, this is an initial step that we put forward, you know, as a government. We took a leadership role in establishing first and foremost a legislation, a legacy legislation, you know, and the Canada Disability Benefit. Now we’re starting that work that needs to happen to make sure the money is getting to communities. This is an initial step, and as has been said actually in the budget document, we aspire to see this benefit grow, like other progressive benefits that we put forward as a government, like the Canada Child Benefit, like the Old Age Security Guaranteed Income Supplement, like the Workers Benefit. We want to make sure we’re continuing to support Canadians with disabilities, and—but one of the most important things is to make sure that, you know, provinces and territories do not claw back any of the benefits that we put forward. I think that is really, really important. And we’re going to continue to make sure we work with them, not just to make sure that there are no claw backs, but also to see what more we can do to support some of the most vulnerable in our communities.

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Mercedes Stephenson: When you announced the Canada Child Benefit, one of the benefits you noted back in 2016, your government stated it would list—lift, pardon me—300 thousand families, children out of poverty. You haven’t been able to say how many people with disabilities this $200 a month will lift out of poverty. Do you have that information?

Kamal Khera, Diversity, Inclusion and Persons with Disabilities Minister: Look, as I mentioned, Mercedes, for the first time ever in Canadian history, we have a benefit that is designed to support some of the needs of some of the…

Mercedes Stephenson: And I understand that, minister, but it’s a pretty straightforward question about whether or not you have the number of people. I mean, surely you guys’ have done the math on this.

Kamal Khera, Diversity, Inclusion and Persons with Disabilities Minister: We are absolutely committed to making sure we’re doing everything that we can to support some of the lowest income individuals living with disabilities. Through this budget, we put forward $6.1 billion in this budget, the single largest line item in this budget that is going to ensure more than 600 thousand persons with disabilities get that extra support that they need. This is really around, you know, closing that poverty gap. But at the same time, making sure that…

Mercedes Stephenson: But if it’s about closing the poverty gap, minister, then why can’t you tell us how many Canadians that will close the poverty gap for?

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Kamal Khera, Diversity, Inclusion and Persons with Disabilities Minister: Look, we’re going to continue to make sure that we do everything that we can. This is not the final step in this, in this journey to support and lift people out of poverty. We’re absolutely committed to doing that. You know as you mentioned Canada Child Benefit, I can tell you since 2015, we’re a government that have been—we’re a government that has been there to support some of the most vulnerable Canadians in this country, to make sure we create the social safety net around Canadians through Canada Child Benefit, through Workers Benefit, through the, you know, Guaranteed Income Supplement. Now we put forward and, you know, put forward a significant $6.1 billion that is the next step in this journey. We know there’s more to do and just like all the other progressive benefits that we’ve put forward, these are meant to be expanded. These are meant to be, you know, expanded and enhanced. We’re committed to doing that work, but we need to make sure we do this work responsibly by first and foremost making sure that provinces that have their own benefits provincially do not claw back the benefit that we have put forward, that this is an income supplement, not an income replacement. And that’s exactly what we’re committed to doing. Not just this, but to do more to support some of the most vulnerable in our communities.

Mercedes Stephenson: Okay. But no answer about how many I guess it’s going to lift out of poverty. We’ll keep asking that question. Minister, thank you for joining us today.

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Kamal Khera, Diversity, Inclusion and Persons with Disabilities Minister: Thank you.

Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, a call for NATO countries to boost defence spending commitments, but Canada still can’t hit the current targets.

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Mercedes Stephenson: In his first major speech as British Foreign Minister David Cameron underlying the importance of supporting NATO.

On Thursday, he encouraged a new benchmark for NATO countries defence spending: a rise to 2.5 per cent of GDP, up from the current 2 per cent. It’s a target Britain is planning to reach in 2030.

As for Canada, not so much. Ottawa hasn’t met the minimum 2 per cent since 1971. That threshold was determined by NATO, 10 years ago.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO Secret Secretary General: “When it comes to security, you get what you pay for, and it doesn’t come on the cheap. In this dangerous world, we recognize that we need to invest additional effort and money. So today, the Alliance made a pledge on defence investment.”

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Mercedes Stephenson: Canada and Britain were two similar founding members of the Western Military Alliance, but it seems we are now taking divergent paths when it comes to defence spending.

Joining us now is Philip Ingram. He is a former colonel in British military intelligence and NATO planner. Thank you so much for joining us today, Philip. A topic that really is on so many peoples’ minds these days is defence and security as we work in this increasingly complex world. Many countries have been spending more on defence, but I think it was remarkable and certainly at least here in Canada, somewhat an unexpected to hear the U.K. come out and say that they want countries to go to 2.5 per cent of GDP spending. Why do you think that the British government made the decision to push for this?

Philip Ingram, Former British Intelligence Officer: Well I think it’s the recognition of the threat that there is around the globe and the threat that’s affecting NATO. We’ve got a major conflict in Europe at the moment on the borders of NATO countries. We’ve got the Middle East beginning to fall apart. And from a longer term perspective, we’ve got China’s expansion in policies in the South China Seas and China very carefully positioning itself in Africa, in South America and elsewhere around the globe. And we’re seeing elements of those regions coming together in the way they’re working together more. So the threat from the global perspective has gone huge, and this is why, I think, the U.K. is trying to take a political lead in suggesting that the NATO standard should be lifted from 2 per cent to 2.5 per cent.

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Mercedes Stephenson: How much pressure is NATO under right now in terms of having the money, the personnel, the resources from NATO countries to be able to carry out not only its current missions but the reality that you could see Russia try to invade another country, or any of those other number of threats you’ve mentioned from Houthis carrying out attacks in the Mediterranean to concerns about Chinese and Iranian influence?

Philip Ingram, Former British Intelligence Officer: Well the pressures are coming from two places. One, it’s the international geopolitical situation that we find ourselves in at the moment, and the fact that as that’s got exposed, it’s shown that even countries that are spending above the 2 per cent are not ready if there is a major conflict that NATO has to get involved in. They don’t have enough ammunition. They don’t have enough equipment and everything else. But the other bit that’s coming in that’s interesting is the Trump effect. I’ll put it that way, because Donald Trump, when he was president beforehand, turned around and said that, you know, any country that’s not paying its way, the United States wouldn’t come and help defend. And paying its way, he meant 2 per cent contribution to NATO. There’s the danger that Donald Trump will become the next president of the United States. And I think there’s a lot of countries within Europe and within NATO who are very worried about that and we’re saying countries starting to increase their expenditure so that they don’t feel the wrath of the tongue and the rhetoric of Donald Trump, if he does get in.

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Mercedes Stephenson: Canada, of course, is one of those countries that does not meet 2 per cent of GDP. And if you look at this graphic that we’ve made for our viewers, you can see you have to scroll down quite a ways to find Canada in between Italy and Slovenia when it comes to defence spending. Now of course, the government has announced and promised more. Critics say that it’s heavily back loaded. A lot of it doesn’t kick in for at least five years. Even at that point, a lot of the estimates on spending seem well below what it would cost to procure the platforms that they’re talking about buying. How is Canada perceived in NATO right now?

Philip Ingram, Former British Intelligence Officer: Well, Canada’s perceived quite well in NATO. It’s contributed to NATO operations. You know, I’ve worked very closely with the Canadians and through NATO operations in the Balkans. My colleagues have worked closely with the Canadians in Afghanistan. So Canada contributes, which is good. It may be in a small way, but the political impact of contributing is fantastic. It’s also a member of the Five Eyes community, so it’s got a special relationship with the United States, with the U.K., with Australia and with New Zealand that puts it in a very special place inside NATO. However, Canada’s got two fronts it’s looking after. You know, it’s got the front that is primarily NATO, the North Atlantic. That’s on its eastern seaboard and out into Europe, but it’s also goes, you know, its Pacific front. And the calculations for that shouldn’t really come into the NATO calculations. We automatically bring in the American percentage that they spend on defence and lump it all together and say that’s the contribution to NATO. Well no, a big percentage of that is a contribution to what it’s having to do in the Pacific region. And Canada should be doing the same, and that means the 1.38 per cent of GDP, I think Canada spends on defence at the minute, is actually a lot less when it comes to how much of that is focused on the NATO area of interest.

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Mercedes Stephenson: Well and if we compare Canada’s spending to, say, Britain’s or Australia’s, which is probably much more realistic than comparing us to the U.S. in terms of the size of our population. The Brits and the Australians are both injecting far more money into defence. Even when you look at the defence review, it doesn’t get us to 2 per cent. It talks about being on the road to 2 per cents. There’s no deadline for that. Now we’re talking about 2.5 per cent. What happens going forward if Canada continues on the track that we’re on now, where even that increase in defence spending isn’t near the 2 per cent we pledged, much less 2.5 if other NATO allies end up agreeing to that?

Philip Ingram, Former British Intelligence Officer: Well, I think there’s got to be difficulties in the negotiations from the Five Eyes side and pressure, you know, if Donald Trump gets in, pressure from—from the United States. Canada’s got some unique areas that it’s protecting for all of us. You know, it’s—it’s got the Arctic that it’s looking at and you’re—a massive border that there is there. We know that there is Russian ambition for expansionism across the Arctic. Canada is the best placed country to sit and look after that threat, but it needs the investment to do that.

If we go back to Cold War days, NATO countries were contributing 6, 7 and more per cent of their GDP into their defences. We are woefully off that at the moment and the threat is probably much higher.

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Mercedes Stephenson: Well when you speak about the Pacific, Canada is very challenged with our navy on that side. In fact, we are about to put a frigate into dry dock in the Canada Navy because we don’t have enough people to sail it, let alone the fact that they’re very old and constantly breaking down and having issues. When you look the north as you mentioned, and for our viewers we’ve created a map to point this out, we don’t often think about essentially having a border that is on Russia, but the Arctic is. It is one long border that is facing Russia that we are unable to defend at the moment and that’s both a sovereignty risk for us—the U.S. will take that into their own hands—and a security risk for Canada. But domestically, politicians always have to sell the difference between guns and butter as they say. And butter tends to sell better, particularly with Liberal governments. How do you think the U.K. is going to get countries like Canada to be politically receptive to this at a time when people are hard done by, they’re struggling to afford groceries, and now they’re talking about injecting large amounts in international defence? How much of a political challenge is that?

Philip Ingram, Former British Intelligence Officer: Well—well I think the U.K.’s having the same challenges and bits and pieces. And I think our politicians are getting the arguments wrong. You know if you look at where defence expenditure is spent, it’s not spent overseas. It’s spent domestically. So, if you’ve got a defence industry, and Canada’s got a good defence industry, if you’ve got a defence industry and you’re buying equipment and you’re buying ammunition and you’re buying services and all the rest of it, you buy it at home. You buy it from your own suppliers. So what you’re doing is you’re using taxpayers’ dollars to create jobs because you’re investing in local companies. Those jobs will be paying taxes back into the economy again. They will be spending their money in the local economies and therefore you’re creating a wider supply chain and service chain. So, you’re the restaurants, the diners, the coffee shops and all the rest of it will be benefiting from increased job population because of defence expenditure in country. And I don’t know why our politicians—and it’s not just in Canada, it’s the U.K. and it’s elsewhere—aren’t recognizing the fact that this is a very good way of investing money back into the country again and that’s money that has come from taxpayers’ to try and improve the wherewithal within the country. A lot of people get upset that it’s being spent on defence. It’s an insurance policy. If you spend it on defence and you stop there being a conflict, it’s a lot cheaper than spending it on defence when you’re in a conflict.

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Mercedes Stephenson: Philip Ingram, thank you so much for joining us with your expertise.

Philip Ingram, Former British Intelligence Officer: Thank you.

Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, one last thing that the Canadian Forces don’t need. We’ll find out what it is.

[Break]

Mercedes Stephenson: And now for one last thing…

It’s no secret that our military is struggling. We’ve heard the chief of the defence staff say that it’s near a crisis, and we’ve heard the minister of national defence talk about the Canadian Armed Forces going into a death spiral. So why is it that our leaders, our prime minister, his cabinet, have not made a decision about who should lead the military next? They have to choose a new chief of the defence staff, and without that choice being made, it’s having a substantial impact on how the military functions. Why? Well because other senior appointments can’t be announced until that one is decided.

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Sources tell Global News that the minister of national defence’s office has not signed off on the senior appointments for the Canadian Armed Forces. That impacts not only the handover of critical information for our national security from one commander to their successor, but also military families. Military families who have to move across the country and change their lives every time there is a new posting, they need to know where they’re going.

The government is expected to make the announcement in coming weeks, but it has been slow to start and it is having a very real impact on the military, which the chief of the defence staff said himself this past week and on the personnel. One they can ill afford to have at a time of low spending and a slow drive for recruitment and retention.

That’s our show for this week. And we would like to take a moment to wish a very Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there, especially my mom, Linda, who watches every Sunday. Thanks, Mom.

We’ll see you next week.

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