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Transcript: Season 4, Episode 24

Click to play video: 'The West Block: Feb 22' The West Block: Feb 22
The West Block: Feb 22 – Feb 22, 2015

Watch: Full broadcast of The West block with Tom Clark, aired Feb. 22, 2015.

Host: Tom Clark

Guest Interviews: Contributing editor of THe Atlantic Graeme Wood, former prime minister Joe Clark, Opposition leader Tom Mulcair, Conservative MP and cabinet member Michelle Rempel

Location: Ottawa

 

On this Sunday, getting inside the head of the Islamic State:  What does it really want and how can it be defeated?  An insider’s look.

 

Then, former prime ministers and retired Supreme Court judges all demand that the government rethink its controversial Security bill.  Former Prime Minister Joe Clark makes the case and NDP leader Tom Mulcair leads the charge.

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Plus, “plane talk” with rising political star, Michelle Rempel:  Conservative Cabinet Minister and wine expert.  We’ll find out how she handles the turbulence.

 

It is Sunday, February the 22nd and from the nation’s capital, I’m Tom Clark.  And you are in The West Block.

 

Well Graeme Wood, a writer and professor at Yale University has travelled the world piecing together the puzzle that is the Islamic State.  He spoke with its disciples and its scholars.  He poured through its history and that of Islam, and produced a new and profoundly different picture of this movement than we’ve seen before.  The results of his investigation can be found in the current edition of the Atlantic Magazine; an article that is causing quite a stir.

 

And joining me now from Yale University, the man who wrote the article:  Graeme Wood.  Mr. Wood thanks very much for being here.  Let me follow in your footsteps first a little bit and try and get a better picture of what the Islamic State is.  Let me start off with this, what do they want?

 

Graeme Wood:

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The Islamic State wants a global caliphate.  It wants to expand inexorably. It wants to convince all Muslims to join its side and to convert as many non-Muslims as possible.  The Muslims who do not convert, it intends to kill.  The Christians who do not convert can live under the Islamic State if they pay a particular tax and acknowledge that they are subjugated, otherwise they are killed or enslaved and same for Jews.  And then the rest of the world’s population, they would happily either enslave or kill.

 

Tom Clark:

I want to get to the question of how much of a threat this poses on our shores here but let’s keep on going with understanding them.  A lot of people have said, world leaders, President Obama, Stephen Harper in Canada has said that this is a perversion of the Islamic religion.  From what you’ve been able to determine, is that true?

 

Graeme Wood:

Well, I think it’s very odd that non-Muslims would ever say that one thing is a perversion of the Islamic religion or not.  But non-Muslims can certainly look at the history of Islam which is a diverse and contradictory tradition and look at this group in what it says, how it justifies itself, how it speaks, how it speaks internally and how it speaks to the rest of the world, and say that it draws inspiration, it draws its methods of discourse and justification from traditions of Islam.  So yes, I would definitely say it’s an Islamic group, even if almost all Muslims would agree that it’s a very bad Islamic group.

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Tom Clark:

Let’s go to this question because you said at the beginning they want to establish a world-wide caliphate.  So that brings into question, do we face a threat here on North American shores, on Canadians shores, from this group or is the fight isolated to Iraq, Syria and now Libya?

 

Graeme Wood:

I think it would be dangerous to say it’s isolated to Iraq, Syria, Libya, but it would also be seriously alarmist to suggest that there is some kind of existential threat to Canada, for example.  You have a small group in an extremely  impoverished place with no economic base and their ideology is extremely unpopular, the chances that they’ll actually expand in anything like the goal that they state is very, very low.  And I should say, they do talk about attacking Canada, attacking France, the United Kingdom, America, but their main project is drawing people from these places, from the west to Syria and Iraq and having them live and support the caliphate from there.  Unlike Al-Qaeda, they’re not nearly as focused on sending out attackers to hit places like Ottawa.

 

Tom Clark:

So when we have our prime minister saying that the Islamic State has declared war on Canada, you would take exception to that.

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Graeme Wood:

I think it’s accurate that they’ve declared war on Canada.  They openly say so, that there’s not even a question about that but you have to ask, if you’ve got a small group without much reach in from an impoverished place with not that much power saying that it’s going to attack a member of NATO on a different continent, how seriously do we really need to take that?  They might be at war with Canada but that doesn’t mean that they can actually do anything that’s significant to Canada.

 

Tom Clark:

Graeme, one of the fascinating things I found in the work that you’ve done here is that you paint a pretty grizzly picture of what adherence to the Islamic State believe.  I mean you mentioned it before, things like crucifixion and slavery and this sort of thing.  What is the attraction of this particular type of Islam or Islamic thought to young people right around the world?  I mean literally tens of thousands are being drawn to this and are going to fight for them.  What’s the attraction here?

 

Graeme Wood:

Well I think we have to ask, what’s the attraction of literalism to anyone?  They are harkening back to this kind of imagined past where every jot and tittle of scripture is followed.  And so, I think partly what they’re able to do is say, look if you come join us, you’ll be part of this cosmic battle, this apocalyptic vision of good versus evil.  And that’s really the main aspect of their rhetoric, trying to polarize the world and say you can be on the side of Islam for just the crusaders of the west.  It’s a very meaning giving narrative, I think to people who really aren’t sure of what their place is in the world and are then told, here’s your place, it’s in Syria and you can be on the side of good in the most important struggle that has ever happened on the face of the earth.

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Tom Clark:

And as you point out, this really is sort of an apocalyptic battle because they believe in the end of times.  They believe that what they’re doing now is accelerating the pace, if I’m paraphrasing you correctly, accelerating the pace of that final battle that is going to be the end of days.  So it is, in a sense, I guess a death cult, right?

 

Graeme Wood:

Yes, it’s definitely a death cult.  It’s an apocalyptic cult.  Now of course many religions, many adherence of Christianity of Islam also believe in an apocalypse.  What’s interesting about this group is that it thinks the apocalypse is coming quite soon.  It’s got a calendar and it’s measured in really years, maybe decades.  Whereas even a group like Al-Qaeda, it was just a very distant thought.  It seemed like almost a vulgar kind of lower class concern to an upper crust Al-Qaeda like Ayman al-Zawahiri. ISIS talks about this all the time in its propaganda.  Even in this most recent beheading video from Libya from last weekend, there was a direct reference to apocalyptic events and that’s a key element of how it attracts people and how it thinks of itself.

 

Tom Clark:

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Which leads us Graeme to the question of what do we do about it because if what they want is to have that final apocalyptic battle between good and evil, which in this case would mean between the west and their caliphate.  Are we dealing with ISIS the way we should and what is the shape victory look like for us, if in fact there is victory.

 

Graeme Wood:

Well there is one type of victory that we could imagine is if their propaganda, this narrative that we’ve been talking about, if that can be shown simply to be false.  And part of the narrative is that their caliphate is supposed to expand, it’s supposed to be successful.  If we just keep it from expanding.  If we just make sure that it instead of being this inexorably growing thing, it’s actually just a very unpleasant place, very poor and it doesn’t get any bigger and the people there are miserable, then it doesn’t look like the agent of God’s plan. It just looks like a very pathetic thing.  And I think that would go some distance toward diffusing its propaganda attractive power.

 

Tom Clark:

So in other words, contain them.  Graeme Wood, I apologize that we’re out of time but I would recommend to anybody that they buy the current edition of the Atlantic Magazine and read more in-depth the journalism that you have done on this, which is extraordinary.  Graeme Wood thanks very much for being here.

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Graeme Wood:

Thank you.

 

Tom Clark:

Coming up next, a closer look at one of the government’s tools to fight terror, the debate around Bill C-51 and what a former Tory prime minister says is missing.

 

Break

Tom Clark:

Welcome back.  Well the government’s new Anti-Terror bill dominated debate in the House of Commons last week as the Tories rushed it to committee, but there’s been a lot of pushback, including a group of 22 highly esteemed Canadians.  The group including four former prime ministers published a statement that said, “Increased accountability has to come with increased powers for security forces.”  I spoke with Joe Clark and he said, “The bill as it stands right now might in fact increase dangers for Canadians at home.”

 

Joe Clark:

I’m worried about the bill, not least because there appears to be a determination to rush it through Parliament and I don’t have the impression the government is prepared to consider amendments, including regarding accountability.  I think that is unfortunate in any case, but it’s particularly dangerous in a case like this where in the face of really major external threats from outside the country, security threats, we run the risk of increasing the possibility of internal threats because people acting in Canada’s name are not sufficiently held accountable.

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Tom Clark:

And to see the full interview with Joe Clark, you can go to our website:  www.globalnews.ca/thewestblock and you’ll find the full interview there.

 

Well joining me now, the man who is leading the charge in the House of Commons against C51 is NDP Leader Tom Mulcair.  Mr. Mulcair welcome to the program.  I just want to pick up on a point that Joe Clark was making a second ago, that his contention is that a flawed bill actually is going to increase the danger internally in this country.  Do you see it the same way?

 

Tom Mulcair:

We’re very concerned with the bill as you know Tom.  It took us a couple of weeks with a series of experts to come to a definitive conclusion.  From the outset we were quite concerned with what we were seeing but we’ve said from the outset that the scope was so large we couldn’t see why they were doing that.  And after a week when I was able to ask about a dozen questions of Prime Minister Harper and his Justice Minister, they’re not able to answer a single question, what’s in there that’s not already covered by existing legislation.  We’re worried about the scope.  And frankly, we’re worried about the lack of oversight.  But everyone’s saying that, but even if there was oversight, this bill still has to be changed and as we saw in the House of Commons this week, the Conservatives are imposing closure.  They’re using a guillotine to cut down the debate on this thing.  And if they’re so sure that it’s a good idea, they shouldn’t be afraid to debate it thoroughly.

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Tom Clark:

What comes up time and time again in your questioning of the government on this is the implication by you that the government is really using this a bit of a Trojan horse.  That there’s language in the bill that you implied can be used against political enemies of the government.  I mean are you really serious that in this day and age that a government operating in the full light of day would actually bring in a bill that was aimed primarily at its political opponents?

 

Tom Mulcair:

Well they won’t give us any examples of what they mean by disrupt.  And they do say that one of the things that they’re allowed to go against is anybody who’s threatening an infrastructure in any way, shape or form.  So sure, I mean you know environmental groups, First Nations groups.  Don’t forget Tom, because their treaty rights, inherent rights and Canada’s obligations to First Nations are often not respected, they’ve gone to the courts and won 190 times.  There’s a lot of frustration.  Mr. Harper tried to eviscerate a lot of our environmental legislation to make things easier for some of the big companies to put in that infrastructure but they’re losing time and again.  Is that frustration one of the things that’s driving him here?  You heard him this week say that the Opposition was extreme.  We were extremists all of a sudden because we dared stand up to Stephen Harper.  We don’t see that as being a reasonable proposition.  We want a full open, honest debate and we’re very concerned about this bill.

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Tom Clark:

Your concern about the bill and oversight has come up time and time again; the feeling that if there is more powers granted to the security services that there should be more oversight as a result.  But let’s go back to fundamentals, do you believe, and that fundamentally that there should be new security legislation at all?

 

Tom Mulcair:

First of all, I appreciate that part of your question because it allows me to state very simply, that of course we’ve seen events like in Paris and Copenhagen recently and everybody understands that around the world there are real terrorist threats and they have to be met.  But in answer to your specific question, what has to be done that’s not being done now?  There’s a lot of money that’s left on the table for some things that you know that we said were going to be done and aren’t being done.  We’re not using all the legislation that’s already there and they’re not able to point to a single thing in this bill that isn’t already captured by existing provisions in particular, the Criminal Code.  Most of this is already outlawed, so give the resources.  Make sure that they’re being used properly to both CSIS and the RCMP.

 

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Tom Clark:

You brought up politics, which brings up an interesting question because a number of polls have shown that overwhelmingly, Canadians seem to approve of this new bill and we’re just months away from a federal election.  Aren’t you swimming politically up against the stream on this and aren’t you worried about principles versus politics in this case because unless you want another moral victory, as opposed to a political one, this may not be the ticket.

 

Tom Mulcair:

Two jobs for the official Opposition; one is to hold the government to account and I can promise you that Mr. Harper doesn’t enjoy question period.  We’ve been taking him on and this is another example of that.  The other job of course is to show that we’re a government in waiting.  But you know what Tom?  People will see what our principles are.  They know that we’re a party of conviction and we have the courage in this case of that conviction.  I also know, that it’s a complex piece of legislation, it’s about the size of a budget bill, and the Canadian public as we’ve seen in some recent polls, hasn’t had time to digest all the nuances and details.  As that gets debated and discussed, and maybe one of the reasons Mr. Harper wants to shut it down, but there will be a lot of experts writing about this; a lot of comment.  You know, four former prime ministers saying be very careful with where you’re going here.  I think the Canadians are going to start to ask questions a lot more.  If the question is, do you want better security against threats?  Of course everyone’s going to say yes.  If you take Mr. Harper’s point of view, you always have to say, you choose one.  Mr. Harper on the environment, he’ll say, do you want the environment or the economy?  Well you want both.  Do you want security or do you want your rights and freedoms?  You have to have both.  Mr. Harper is needlessly sacrificing our rights and freedoms.  He hasn’t made his case why that’s necessary.

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Tom Clark:

Mr. Mulcair in one word, as you say, yes or no?  If you become the government, would you scrap this piece of legislation?

 

Tom Mulcair:

We’d change it for sure.

 

Tom Clark:

Not scrap it?

 

Tom Mulcair:

Well it hasn’t been adopted yet.  So first I’m going to do my job as Opposition to try to get the changes.  We’re going to push those through in every step of the way, in every committee hearing and in every different reading in the House.  But if it doesn’t get change, of course we’re going to go back.  We will do both.  We’ll protect Canadians but we’ll also make sure that we protect our rights and freedoms.  They have to go hand in hand.

 

Tom Clark:

Mr. Mulcair as always, thank you very much for taking the time to be on the program, I appreciate it.

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Tom Mulcair:

Thank you, Tom.

 

Tom Clark:

After the break, we’re shifting gears to something a bit less intense:  “Plane talk” with Michelle Rempel.  That’s coming up next.

 

Break
Tom Clark:

Welcome back.  Michelle Rempel, she’s under 40, and has been a Member of Parliament for just four years, but that hasn’t stood in the way of her meteoric rise.  Elected in 2011 in Calgary Centre North, Rempel was almost immediately appointed a Parliamentary Secretary.  Two years ago, she was elevated to cabinet as the Minister of Western Economic Diversification.  She’s also a classically trained pianist and trained wine sommelier and she is the next passenger on “plane talk”.

 

Michelle Rempel, Minister of Western Economic Development, welcome to the plane.

 

Michelle Rempel:
Thanks, Tom.

 

Tom Clark:

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And as we say, just before we take off, feeling lucky?

 

Michelle Rempel:

I hope so.

 

Tom Clark:

Here we go.  What is your greatest regret?

 

Michelle Rempel:

I think actually it has to do with this job and I wish I had been more honest with myself about what this job means in terms of the trade-off between the privilege it is to do the job and the time that it takes away from relationships and family.  I think to do this job you really up front have to make a commitment to sort of not let that balance go out of stride and it took me a couple of years to figure that out.

 

Tom Clark:

You’re a very serious person.  I mean that’s okay, you’re a cabinet minister you’re allowed to be serious but one of your other great passions has got nothing to do with innovation or policy or anything like that, it’s wine.

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Michelle Rempel:

Yes.

 

Tom Clark:

Okay, so balance that out for me.  How does somebody who’s very intent on studying policy also go back and say my, that’s a marvelous little cab?

 

Michelle Rempel:

Ha, ha, ha.  Okay, I’ve been working on my wine education for seven, eight years now and it started…I wanted a hobby that could have absolutely nothing to do with work or politics or anything.  So my family is you know I come from a French Canadian background on my dad’s side and so wine’s always been part of the picture.  So when I started my courses, it was mostly to know what bottles to steal out of my old man’s vice.  So which ones the good ones were, sorry dad.  And I just have a lot of friends that are in the industry and it’s just such a vibrant community.  And when you’re studying wine, the homework’s not so bad.  Anyway, it’s been a really good hobby.

 

Tom Clark:

What was your best political moment?

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Michelle Rempel:

Okay, so I’ve always been petrified of public speaking.  I think this shocking, right?  When I came to Ottawa, I remember standing up in the House for the first time and kind of squeaking an answer out and thinking okay, I have to fix this.  I just remember after studying quite a bit, looking at good Question Period clips, practicing, standing up in the House and answering a question, I think it was against Meagan Lesley, who is awesome, but just finding my voice and having that moment of okay…

 

“First they lobby against Canadian jobs in the energy sector.  Second, the vote against climate change budgetary measures.  Third, they tell the international community to ignore our country.”

 

I can use my voice to affect change and it was just this like…I remember the moment.  I remember it.  I found my voice and I don’t know if I’ll ever top that.  To have that moment when you just know my opinion makes a difference and I can articulate it and people are going to listen me, it was great.  It was fantastic.

 

Tom Clark:

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What’s the worst part about politics for you?

 

Michelle Rempel:

You know people that are watching your show; they might not realize that even though 45 minutes of the day you’ve got question period, it’s super adversarial.  We have a lot of partisanship in the media, in our communications but there are actually a lot of friendships that happen across the aisle.  Now I don’t want to naively say that everything is roses but it’s the interpersonal relationships across the aisle that I think a lot of people don’t see that actually keeps you wanting to come back.  So when you talk about the worst moment, you have to qualify it.  The onus is on us to elevate the tone of the debate.  It’s up to each one of us.  That’s why I’m not a heckler.  Also, I don’t have the voice for it.  I’m very trembly as you can hear right now.

 

Tom Clark:

What was the biggest surprise about politics for you?

 

Michelle Rempel:

Just so many…so many things.  First of all, I think the breadth of subject matter that you’re responsible for, right?  Like think about how many portfolios there are in government and you have to be able to not just speak to it but be able to analyze policy.  So you really have to think about what you’re communicating on because people are listening and they’re making decisions based on government is going.

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Tom Clark:

We’ve been up here for a while now.

 

Michelle Rempel:

Okay.

 

Tom Clark:

You’re going to fly the plane.

 

Michelle Rempel:

Um, they don’t reach.

 

Tom Clark:

There we go.

 

Michelle Rempel:

I think we’re good.

 

Tom Clark:

Okay, now to go up, you just pull back a little bit.

 

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Michelle Rempel:

Okay.

 

Tom Clark:

Okay and you go up.  And then to go down…

 

Michelle Rempel:

Ahhhhhh (scream followed by laughter).  Don’t put that on TV.  Oh my God!

 

Tom Clark:

That was fun.

 

Michelle Rempel:

No it wasn’t.

 

Tom Clark:

Bring it right around to the right.

 

Michelle Rempel:

I’m just cautious.  Okay, Tom, it took me three times to get my driver’s license; three times.

 

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Tom Clark:

Oh now you tell me.

 

Michelle Rempel:

Okay, I’m done, you take the reins.

 

Tom Clark:

Okay, I’ll take over, I got the reins.

 

Michelle Rempel:

Okay.  I’m impressed.  I’m seriously impressed.  Tom Clark is a good pilot.  I can attest to that.

 

Tom Clark:

Oh that’s going to make air.

 

Well we’ve got some surprise passengers coming up for “plane talk” in the weeks ahead but we’d like to hear from you.  Who would you like to see us take up for a little “plane talk” in The West Block plane?  Here’s how to get in touch with us.  Let us know what you think.

 

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Well that is our show for this week.  I’m Tom Clark.  As always, have a great week ahead and we will see you back here, next Sunday.

 

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