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Transcript: Season 4, Episode 8

The West Block: Nov 2

WATCH: The full broadcast of The West Block with Tom Clark from Nov. 2.

THE WEST BLOCK
Episode 8, Season 4
Sunday, November 2, 2014

Host: Tom Clark
Guest Interviews: Ian Lee, Paul Cavalluzzo, Jean-Jacques Blais, Lisa Raitt, Mark Kennedy
Location: Ottawa

*** please check against delivery

On this Sunday, new tax breaks for Canadians as some economists warn of trouble ahead. Is this the right move now?

Then do we need more powers for police? We’ll hear from two Canadians who know this topic better than most, who both say, not so fast.

And:“Because I don’t want people worried or speculating or wondering what’s going on.” Lisa Raitt

A health scare for Transport Minister Lisa Raitt: why she’ll be stepping away from politics for the rest of this year.

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It is Sunday, November the 2nd and from the nation’s capital, I’m Tom Clark. And you are in The West Block.

Well Canadians have been feeling some relief at the pumps these past few weeks but that’s not necessarily good news for the Canadian economy. And yet, late last week, the government announced new tax cuts. Again, good news for some families but is it a good idea for the economy? Before we weighed into the debate, here it is, your weekly West Block Primer:

Let’s start with the good: Canada is on track for a 3.6 billion dollar surplus this year. And surpluses should stick around for another five years or so, that’s 10 billion dollars a year. Now because of this, the government is set to bring in promised tax cuts, a whole lot earlier than planned.

The bad: well we’re not as rich as we think we are. The parliamentary budget officer says permanent tax cuts or spending could send us right back into deficit territory.

The Governor of the Bank of Canada suggests that trouble is looming and he can’t guarantee how long low interest rates will last.

And Moody’s, well they’re sounding the alarm about household debt and inflated housing prices.

And the ugly: unstable stock markets, down 10 per cent then up five in just two weeks. A faltering European economy, Greece again and it’s dragging everyone else down with it.

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And the granddaddy of them all, free falling oil prices, down 25 per cent since June and predicted to go as low as $70 dollars a barrel. That’s not good for an oil-based economy like Canada and it’s not good for surpluses.

Well joining us now to talk about where we should be going from here is Ian Lee, professor with the Sprott School of Business at Carleton University. Ian, good to have you back.

Ian Lee:
My pleasure Tom.

Tom Clark:
Okay let me take you back to 2011 and the prime minister said that he would not bring in income splitting until the budget was balanced. He said yesterday the budget’s not balanced. He brought in income spitting as well as increasing the child tax credit. So basically, is it really smart for us to be borrowing money from foreigners to give to Canadians? Just a direct pass through.

Ian Lee:
Understand the question. First off, I think he was just saying we’re not balanced so he wouldn’t trump Minister Oliver in giving a November statement. From everything I’m hearing in Ottawa, we are already in a surplus. They’ve got the numbers so we aren’t borrowing to pay that back.

Tom Clark:
Well wait a second, so you’re saying prime minister was not telling us the truth?

Ian Lee:
No I’m just saying that was…you know there are political fudges that are made in politics.

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Tom Clark:
That’s a fudge?

Ian Lee:
That’s a fudge, he’s just not going to trump…

Tom Clark:
The budget is not balanced, that’s a fudge?

Ian Lee:
Well I think it’s…because in two weeks’ time it’s going to be announced that it’s balanced. So we’ve gone from two weeks to the complete opposite. Secondly, so we’re not borrowing the money and remember the program doesn’t take effect until January the one legislatively of 15 and the monies won’t even be paid out until next July and by then we’re going to be well into a massive balance so we don’t have to worry about that one.

Tom Clark:
Okay but nevertheless what you’re doing is you’re taking money…let’s take a look at the child tax credit and you’re giving it to everybody. Answer me this, why should the average hard working Canadian taxpayer be paying for billionaires children?

Ian Lee:
In an ideal world, in a perfect world it wouldn’t. We would have purely targeted social programs, but we don’t. We have universal old age pension. I don’t agree with that but you know I don’t set the rules. That is to say we should target to those in need and not give it to everybody. But it has long been believed in Canada we should have universal social programs. Health care is for everybody including the billionaires by the way, public health care in Canada. Old age pensions are universal. Public education is universal so that argument is long gone. So in this particular context, this is where I find it so intriguing what’s been going on in Ottawa because people think the NDP are very progressive and they are, but they have announced a program … the Quebec program that delivers massive benefits to everybody across the board, including billionaires with the free subsidized or massively subsidized daycare. In this instance to compare and contrast to the Harper plan yesterday, the increase in the universal tax benefit, that is a taxable benefit. So those upper middle class and wealthy people are going to get most of it clawed back through the progressive income taxes, thereby targeting de facto to the lower middle class and the middle class, which by the way just by sheer coincidence is the potential base of the Conservative party.

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Tom Clark:
That’s the political angle here.

Ian Lee:
That’s the political angle, but it’s a political process.

Tom Clark:
But it sure seems to a lot of people that what was announced last week was a really sort of Liberal almost left wing thing that Stephen Harper did. It certainly wasn’t Conservative. It wasn’t the prudent management of the economy that we’ve been told for so long. This was, what the heck, let’s just send money to people. Send them cheques just before an election – good idea.

Ian Lee:
Tom, I’m going to partially agree with you and partially disagree. What he did, I think, was he took four years of criticism by the opposition parties and think tanks and social NGO’s, and he completely flipped them. They’ve been saying we want these social programs to be more progressive, focusing more on lower income Canadians, people of modest means. And he did it with a vengeance. Yesterday, or sorry on Wednesday, when he did the announcement, he did that with a vengeance. He made it…you’re quite right, he did a Mackenzie King. He stole their premise or their principle but in doing so, targeted it to Conservative voters. Now that’s what I call flipping someone and winning politically in 2015.

Tom Clark:
We’re still paying the children of billionaires at the end of the day. Ian Lee we’re out of time.

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Ian Lee:
But it’ll be clawed back. It’ll be clawed back.

Tom Clark:
We’re out of time. Thank you very much for being here, I appreciate it.

Ian Lee:
My pleasure.

Tom Clark:
After the break, we consider whether police in this country really need new powers to protect.

And then:“My family and I are going to recover together quietly and privately.” Lisa Raitt

We sit down with Transport Minister, Lisa Raitt as she prepares to step away from Parliament Hill to take care of a very personal matter.

Break

Tom Clark:
Welcome back. Well the government has brought in a new bill to give new powers to Canada’s spy agency. Among its many provisions, CSIS will now be able to conduct operations overseas legally. These changes were contemplated well before the fatal attacks of the two members of the Canadian Forces, but those attacks have raised the possibility of even more laws aimed at tracking and stopping terrorists before they attack.
I’m joined now by two experts in this field: Jean-Jacques Blais a former Liberal Minister of Defence and Solicitor General, and former member of the Security Intelligence Review Committee (SIRC) that oversees CSIS. Welcome. And in Toronto by Paul Cavalluzzo, a lawyer who’s experiences seen him participate as commission council in the Maher Arar inquiry and as a special advocate in security certificate cases.

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Gentlemen thank you both very much for being here. Paul let me start with you, do we need more powers for the police to contain the terrorists?

Paul Cavalluzzo:
Well certainly at the present time, I hope that no politician will exploit the situation of the tragedies that occurred last week. But in respect of whether we need new powers, I think we’re going to have to take a very measured response. Sit back, review the present laws that we have, in order to see if they are adequate to deal with this problem. If not, then we will have to respond in a proportional way. And if we’re going to increase the powers of the police and security services, I think we should also come up with a more effective oversight mechanism to review their conduct and activities of police forces and the security agency.

Tom Clark:
Jean-Jacques Blais, I know you want to talk about oversight as well but before we get to that, let’s talk about do we need more laws in this country than the ones we already have to track ISIS?

Jean-Jacques Blais:
Well first of all, I agree with the government in terms of foreign intelligence gathering. That’s a recommendation that we made in the SIRC very early on in our mandate, so I have no difficulty with that. But again, I agree with Paul that you need to have better oversight. The more power you have the better system of oversight that you need to indicate. Now I’m not aware of any new laws that would be needed today in order to improve the capacity of the security agencies to do their work.

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Tom Clark:
Well that brings up a really interesting point because we’ve already got…I mean a lot of people have been saying you know why don’t we just take some people who we think are real threats and detain them so that they cannot commit a crime that we think that they are capable of committing. We have that in the criminal code right now. It’s Section 810.01: Preventative Detention. I think it’s called a peace bond. So Paul let me ask you, start on this, why aren’t we using that provision already and if that provision already exists, we don’t have any oversight for that, why not?

Paul Cavalluzzo:
Well I think what the police force would say, the RCMP would say is that they would prefer to lower the threshold for them to get a peace bond and not require the consent of the attorney general. So what they’re seeking is a lowering of a threshold from reasonable and probable grounds to reasonable suspicion.

Tom Clark:
And is that reasonable in your view?

Paul Cavalluzzo:
Not at the present time, I don’t think it is. I think we have to do a review. We have a very strong area of the criminal code dealing with terrorism where we have preventative detention recognisance with conditions, investigative hearings. These are all very, very exceptional provisions in the code and before we go on those powers, I think that we should review exactly what we need because in my view, the present law is adequate to deal with the situation. Perhaps more resources are required for the police force but I don’t think we require new laws at the present time.

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Jean-Jacques Blais:
I agree with that. I agree with that fully. Indeed there is a danger that if you give too much discretion relating…if you lower the threshold, there is a capacity in the police then to interfere with the privacy of individuals unjustifiably with no capacity of getting any judicial review of that particular abuse.

Tom Clark:
Let me ask you about oversight though Mr. Blais because you were on SIRC for eight years. You were there for a long time but you’re saying that there is no affective oversight right now. So are you saying that when you were at SIRC that you were not providing affective oversight?

Jean-Jacques Blais:
No, no, the question was that when we…when I was on at SIRC, we were not a parliamentary and it’s still not a parliamentary oversight committee. It was a statutory and still is a statutory oversight committee made up of privy councillors. I must say that I consider that when we were there we were very effective because we were brand new and we were really pioneering an area of overview that had not been tried. But having lived that experience and having read on the issue since then, I’m persuaded that we need to go further and to have a parliamentary committee. We need to have parliamentary involvement. Our report was made to the solicitor general who then tabled it in the House. The House had nothing to do with the contents of the report. We were doing the work that ought to be done by Parliament itself.

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Tom Clark:
But Paul let me ask you, we’ve got less than a minute left here, but if there is that type of parliamentary oversight, is it really effective if you don’t control the purse strings?

Paul Cavalluzzo:
That’s one of the problems with having a parliamentary committee. Another option which was recommended by Justice O’Connor in the Arar report was to have a number of committees that are joined. At the present time, SIRC for example only has jurisdiction over CSIS and the problem is these investigations, national security investigations are joint investigations. So we need in effective independent model that was recommended by Justice O’Connor in which this government has never picked up.

Tom Clark:
Paul Cavalluzzo, Jean-Jacques Blais time too short but I think we got some good points on the table, and I thank you both very much for being here.

Coming up next, Lisa Raitt on the reason she will be away from Parliament for the rest of this year.

Break

Tom Clark:
Welcome back. Well politicians as we know lead very public lives, especially those sitting at the cabinet table. It makes it hard to step away, even just for a few weeks without people wondering why, often very loudly, which is why Transport Minister Lisa Raitt wanted to sit down for an exclusive interview with us, as she gets ready to find out whether or not she has cancer.

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Lisa Raitt, good to have you here. You’re about to undergo a medical procedure. Tell me about that.

Lisa Raitt:
You know about three years ago, I’m over 40, and I noticed that there were some changes happening. And everyone always says it’s normal, that’s what you go through when you’re going through menopause or perimenopause, or whatever. But they were things that affected my everyday life. So I went to my GP and I complained about the issue. And they said well let’s try to do some tests on it, and that was three years ago. And it’s taken me three years to get to the point of a diagnosis. And I do have a solid growth on my ovaries that they have found, after three years. And on Tuesday, we’re going to have surgery to remove whatever that is and along the way too, clean up some other issues.

Tom Clark:
Do you know yet whether it’s cancerous?

Lisa Raitt:
All indications are good. You know diagnostic imaging can give you an idea. Blood tests can give you an idea, but you never really know until you actually remove it and analyze it. I have had the appointment with my surgeon and I’ve had very, very good doctors along the way as well too. And I think why I wanted to talk to you about it Tom is it just came out of nowhere in a sense. I’m a healthy 46-year-old. I’ve been putting on weight of course, but in this job, it tends to happen. I want to thank everybody on Twitter for telling me that I keep putting on weight. But I had some real complaints associated with reproductive issues and I didn’t let them go. I continue to talk about them with my doctor and became concerned. I actually let a year go by in lapsing in terms of getting a test done and I shouldn’t have done that. I should have been more diligent with my health and I should have followed the advice that I was given. And I should never have left off something that could have been something. So now that I’ve had the appointment with the surgeon, I have more information, I have more understanding. I’m very comfortable with my procedure on Tuesday, but at the same time, it’s something that I had to follow up. And there was this moment in September where you go to the internet and you think the worst because when you do all these tests and they come back and one of them says it is a solid mass, we think it doesn’t look like cancer but we don’t know and we have to remove it. It’s a pretty quick decision to do that.

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Tom Clark:
So here you are, the procedure is two days away, you’re confident that it’s not cancer, but you’re not sure.

Lisa Raitt:
Oh I’m not sure, no. We’ll never know and you know the doctors are very clear on that. You don’t know until then.

Tom Clark:
So many people who have been through this before, and I’m just interested that just because you are who you are, you’ve lived in the public eye for most of your life, there is a certain sort of nothing’s going to get me down. But late at night when you’re there by yourself and not knowing, I mean does your mind just take you into some really scary places?

Lisa Raitt:
I had, in September; I was going to Newfoundland, to St. Johns. I had some meetings out there with the Board of Marine Atlantic and it was the day that I went to the gynecologist where we discussed whether or not we thought it was cancer and what it meant, and the possibility that it was cancer was on the table and it always will be. It is until we know. But it was plane ride from Toronto to St. Johns where I felt very sorry for myself and I got very scared. Bruce was with me on the plane. Thank goodness he said he’d come at the last minute, and that’s where you have all those dark thoughts. And the worst thing you can do is go to the internet and start Googling and trying to self-diagnose and wonder what happens because there’s a lot of information out there that you don’t need to read about and what it means. Ovarian cancer is a deadly form of cancer and it affects a lot of women. And it’s a very serious matter, and we have to take it as such. So yeah, I spent about five hours I would say having those kinds of dark thoughts and then once I got the blood test back that indicated it didn’t look likely to be ovarian cancer, I could relax into it. I am sure that the night before I’m going to be concerned, but I am a woman of faith and I’ve done what I need to do in order to ensure that I have support systems around me and we can deal with anything. And every woman who has this kind of thing happening in their lives goes through the same process.

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Tom Clark:
How long are you going to be out of action for?

Lisa Raitt:
That is uncertain only because it depends upon how invasive the surgery is and whether or not it is cancer, but I am prepared to recover and make sure that I get better. And that’s the key for this. And I want to thank you for letting me have a chat with you today about it because I don’t want people worried or speculating, or wondering what’s going on. This is my truth, my reality. My family and I are going to recover together quietly and privately, now that everybody understands what’s going on and I appreciate anyone who wishes me well, but we’re just going to be very quiet now.

Tom Clark:
Well I’m sure that every Canadian no matter what they’re political stripe is wishing you well right now.

Lisa Raitt:
Thank you Tom, I appreciate it.

Tom Clark:
Thanks.

Well joining me now, Mark Kennedy, parliamentary bureau chief for the Ottawa Citizen. Boy, tough moment for Lisa Raitt, courageous interview.

Mark Kennedy:
It sure was Tom. You know it sure reminds me, as much as this town and this place on Parliament Hill can be partisan, and it can be nasty, and it can be brutish. This reminds us that they’re all human and I’m sure everyone on Parliament Hill will be wishing her well in the days and weeks ahead.

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Tom Clark:
Yeah I think you’re absolutely right, but business goes on, on Parliament Hill. Politics continues and another big story last week. Dean Del Mastro, formerly the parliamentary secretary to the prime minister of Canada found guilty on three counts of contravening the election law. This is never really happened for a very long time, in decades in fact.

Mark Kennedy:
No, you know and frankly, it’s bad news for Stephen Harper because Mr. Del Mastro was the parliamentary secretary to Stephen Harper. He’s no longer in the Conservative caucus, something that the prime minister’s office is reminding us of now.

Tom Clark:
They’re basically saying Dean who?

Mark Kennedy:
Well they’re saying he’s no longer with us, but he once was. And there was a time when all of these things were emerging that the prime minister himself was speaking highly of him. So the questions that now arise frankly are, and we’re in a bit of a grey zone, can he stay in Parliament? I mean he has now been convicted. Does that mean he can run again, but even worse, does that mean he has to leave Parliament and what has to happen in that regard? I mean does he leave on his own accord or does Parliament have to take a vote to kick him out?

Tom Clark:
Which would be a tough vote to have and we should point out too that Del Mastro’s riding is solidly Conservative. He won it by 42 or 43 per cent in the last election. I just want to move on to one other political issue because last week there was the big announcement form the prime minister about income splitting for families with children and also the child care benefit being increased, a lot more money coming through. I’m interested in your take on what this means actually for the election because everybody has said what about the timing? Why do this now? But politically speaking…

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Mark Kennedy:
This is classic politics Tom. I mean it’s clear that the prime minister not only believes that it’s good for the country and good for the government, but it’s good for his own political chances of getting re-elected. I think that’s clear as day. What he is now setting up, is the following scenario. As we head towards the next election, whether it’s the fall of 2015 or perhaps even earlier, Prime Minister Harper will be giving cheques in the mail to Canadian families. And we’re not talking small amounts. You know if you’ve got a couple of teenagers, you’re talking $120 dollars a month. That’s not beer and popcorn money, as a Liberal spokesperson once said, many years ago.

Tom Clark:
And it’s the oldest trick in the book.

Mark Kennedy:
Well it’s the oldest trick in book, but what it does is it now sets the stage for Justin Trudeau and Tom Mulcair having to say if we are elected government, will we keep this or not? So I mean Canadians will have a choice and the Liberals I suspect, if they make that argument that Canadians ought not to be getting that money, they’ll say better to pour it into infrastructure, into other programs that will improve your community. But it’s a hard sell, you know…

Tom Clark:
To say you’re not going to be getting those cheques anymore, exactly.

Mark Kennedy:
Yeah.

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Tom Clark:
Mark Kennedy of the Ottawa Citizen thanks very much for being here. I appreciate your time.

Mark Kennedy:
Thank you.

Tom Clark:
And that’s our show for this week. As we leave you, we send our very best wishes to Lisa Raitt for a speedy recovery. I’m Tom Clark. We’ll see you next week.