Transcript Season 5 Episode 21
THE WEST BLOCK
Episode 22, Season 5
Sunday, February 14, 2016
Host: Tom Clark
Guests: Matthew Fisher, Susan Harada, Jane Hilderman
Unpacking the Politics: Susan Delacourt, Paul Wells
Tom Clark: On this Sunday, the government’s new plan to fight ISIS: the CF-18’s will stop bombing next week and the number of trainers in Iraq will triple. How will this affect the ground game? Veteran foreign correspondent, Matt Fisher, is here.
Then, an industry in crisis: news outlets across the country are scaling back or folding completely. Where will this leave the democratic discussion?
And, we’ll unpack the politics of the week with veteran journalists Susan Delacourt and Paul Wells.
It is Sunday, February the 14th, Valentine’s Day, and from the nation’s capital, I’m Tom Clark. And you are in The West Block.
Tom Clark: Well, last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Canada’s six CF-18 jets will end their combat mission in the Middle East next week. Instead, we will nearly triple the number of military trainers and beef up intelligence gathering in the region.
Joining me now to talk about this: Matthew Fisher, Canada’s longest serving foreign correspondent with more than 30 years abroad; much of it in theatres of combat. Thanks very much for being here.
Listen, you’re known as a bit of a contrarian in the business and there’s nothing wrong with that, but here’s where I want to start. So the White House, the Pentagon, the State Department, and NATO have all said that they welcome this new phase of the Canadian involvement in Iraq and Syria, what do you think?
Matthew Fisher: I think that’s hogwash. I think that because of the diplomatic niceties involved, leaders are not supposed to criticize other leaders. Governments are not supposed to criticize other governments when you’re allies. You can kick the hell out of Vladimir Putin or the Iranians as much as you want, but with your friends, you settle your disputes in private. I think the U.S. was very telling the remarks about some countries were trying to get a free ride. I also think it is not un-coincidental that Canada has ramped up its mission a little bit more than perhaps it was going to because of complaints by the United States, in particular, and France about this.
Tom Clark: Okay, let’s just go back a little bit. So in your view then, what is wrong with the refocused mission?
Matthew Fisher: Well it undermines the coalition first of all. I don’t like the argument that we only had a six-pack of jets there. In fact, it was a six-pack. It is a six-pack for a couple more days, but they “punched above their weight” to quote the former Britain foreign secretary Lord Hurd. They did a good job and there was no reason to take them out, but it undermines the coalition because the U.S. was saying again and again, and so was France, we need more help, and specifically, we need combat help. And every other country in the West said they would do more and Canada announced they would do less.
Tom Clark: Okay, well let me throw this back at you then because we stopped the bombing mission, but we do ramp up what is arguably a much more dangerous mission and we’re now going to put 210 trainers right on the front lines. They’re going to be sharing the same dangers that the Peshmerga are going to be faced with. How is that backing down from the fight when in fact, we’re increasing our risk profile?
Matthew Fisher: It isn’t, you’re absolutely right, but that is not what the Canadian public is being told, that is the problem. I agree with all the components, as I understand them, and the government’s been very economical with information about this, but I agree with what seems to be emerging about what we are doing. But that does not mean that we should have pulled out our fighter jets. During the Second World War, we did provide humanitarian aid to the Dutch, but we liberated Holland. In Afghanistan, we had a very comprehensive whole of government program, but at the same time, we also were in combat. I don’t see why we can’t do that in Iraq as well. You speak about the dangers, and you’re absolutely right. I was on the exact spot where Sergeant Doiron died, up on the front, which is looking over Mosul. And that is, my understanding from people in the defence department, that is exactly where a lot of the Canadian trainers are going to. It’s on the frontlines with Islamic State. Well fine, good. I think we can help out there. But the Canadian public should be made aware of this. Instead, we’re getting drip, drip, drip, little bits of information. We now know, it was confirmed to me just a few hours ago, that we will have four helicopters there. That’s going ahead; that we will have military clinicians working at an Australian led hospital, that we will have our troops in one of the most volatile areas, and the place where, by the way, it’s the launching pad for the big offensive. Mosul’s the big offensive, and they will come down the mountain that the Canadians will be standing on. That’s very good, but let’s tell Canadians about that.
Tom Clark: In the minute that I’ve got left and this is a big question, but if you can give me a thought on it, we are training the Peshmerga. We are now giving arms to the Peshmerga.
Matthew Fisher: Maybe.
Tom Clark: Okay, but the Peshmerga are not fighting for Iraq. They’re fighting for their own Kurdistan, which places them potentially in combat situation against our ally, Turkey. How messy is this?
Matthew Fisher: It is messy. Everything about the Middle East is messy. It’s a jumble of contradictions. The Turks are actually working with the Peshmerga, but they’re against the Syrian Kurds and they’re against their own Kurds in Southern Turkey. It’s a dog’s breakfast over there, Tom. To me, the main thing is let’s get rid of Islamic State, worry about the other things. And it’s a red herring to interject this whole thing about well we might offend the Turks ultimately, and we might offend the Iraqis who are also supposed to be our allies because they don’t want the Kurds to go. To me, the first thing is we’re not helping Kurdistan. We’re defeating Islamic State and go for it.
Tom Clark: Matt Fisher, Post Media, foreign correspondent, always a great pleasure talking to Matt. I really appreciate your time.
Matthew Fisher: Oh, we go back a long way, Tom.
Tom Clark: Too far. [Laughs]
And coming up, an industry in crisis: is it time for the government to step in and help the news industry?
Tom Clark: Welcome back. News outlets across the country are imploding. From print to radio and television, the story is the same, revenues are going down, journalists are losing jobs and the industry is becoming more concentrated. How is this demise of the news business affecting democracy? And is it time for the federal government to step in? And if so, how would they do that?
Joining me now, in studio, is Susan Harada of the Carleton School of Journalism here in Ottawa, and from Toronto, Jane Hilderman of the Democracy Think Tank, Samara. Welcome to you both. The discussion really that I want to get into here is what is the demise and the increasing concentration of what’s of the media landscape going to do to our democratic discussion in this country? And actually, Jane, let me start with you on that. What’s your take?
Jane Hilderman: Well, if we go back to first principles, a healthy democracy means to have a rich and accurate information environment for its citizens because without that, citizens struggle to make the best decisions on who to govern them, what decisions that we should be making together are and holding our government to account for those choices that they make. Journalism is one of the main sources of that accurate information to date. There are other sources, let’s be honest. Our information environment has never been so rich, but journalism has long had a history of trying to fact check, provide analysis, and help Canadians understand what’s happening. So obviously, it’s not just—
Tom Clark: So without that—
Jane Hilderman: Yes, without that, we risk, I think, losing that environment that citizens need to be a full citizen, to be a full democracy.
Tom Clark: Let me pull this back to Susan here in studio. You know the great New York Times columnist, David Carr, had this to say when he was thinking about the demise in the media. He says “what I’m worried about is who is going to tell you about the school system, is the school system? And guess what? It will all be good news”. So that while there is a proliferation of voices, and to pick up on what Jane was just saying, those other voices tend to have a very vested interest in things. So what from your point of view, what sort of dangerous territory are we in here?
Susan Harada: Well, Jane is absolutely right. News media is vital to a democracy. There are links and connections between having a thriving news media and having civic engagement. And information does come from all over, but you do need those people who are one step removed, and that’s the role that journalists have always played. They’re the ones who are bearing witness. They’ve got the boots on the ground. They build expertise. They gather facts. They verify. And they lay the information out for citizens in order for citizens to then make some informed decisions about their societies.
Tom Clark: And I think we can say too that they’ve got actual skin in the game because they’re accountable. If they get it wrong, they get fired. Bloggers generally aren’t under those same constraints. Jane, should there be or is there even a role for government in this? Should there be some sort of an inquiry if this is as dire as a lot of people think it is?
Jane Hilderman: It’s a good question and obviously, another key part of media that we were speaking about is their independence from government in order to do their job well. I think if an inquiry were to happen, if it is helpful in terms of providing some more facts to understand really the current status of our media and journalism landscape, I think it’s been uneven. And I think citizens are looking for more information to understand what is the true cost of this because changes in terms of decline have been going on for some time. Local news outlets have been under pressure or have disappeared already. And so what we’re finally seeing is really appearing on the national level and these national news media organizations. And the second thing a government inquiry could do is really involve citizens in that discussion about what we seek to have of our journalism. And I think citizens are a critical stakeholder, and it’s an opportunity to renew citizens understanding of the value of that independent, high quality, well-resourced journalism.
Tom Clark: But Susan, if there is an inquiry, is it good enough just to say well we’ve got to save the structures that are already there because some might argue the real problem is that the structures themselves are so beyond repairing that we’ve got to go onto something else? What’s your sense?
Susan Harada: Well I think an inquiry, I’ve been wondering about this too, probably would be a good idea to bring people together and talk about the kinds of things that Jane mentioned, but to support the existing structure, probably not. It hasn’t seemed to be doing a very good job. One of the leading scholars in the US, of media economics says that any kind of policy can’t be put into place that will just support the existing profits of what’s there already, but needs to address what are the social needs of any citizen read when it comes to the news media.
Tom Clark: Well should there be government funding? I mean we got it for CBC, but I mean should we have government funding for newspapers, magazines, that sort of thing?
Susan Harada: See that again, not a simple question, right? It’s not as if there haven’t been subsidies already over the years. When you look at political institutions and their supporters and how they originally kept some newspapers afloat, any kind of tax advantage. But these questions have to be asked very carefully because they’re important ones, and again, to quote Picard, the American scholar, “not as simple as saying either a free press or a puppet of the government”. But you’ve got to look at the state, you’ve got to look at the market, you’ve got to look at cultural, social institutions and ask where does journalism fit in there.
Tom Clark: And Jane, let me ask you the same question, I mean what about the idea of public money going into private media? Does it even make sense?
Jane Hilderman: Well certainly as you pointed out, we do have an existing public broadcaster and I think that needs to be a feature of the conversation in terms of the vision for that entity. I mean, I think we can look, as Susan said, elsewhere as well for different models and I think there is some room for creative thinking though that isn’t necessarily a policy solution, but also recognizing that there could be space for new models that are business models, that just aren’t similar to what we’ve seen in the past that have been so dependent upon advertising revenue. And so, I think we have to be careful about trying to create an environment that still allows for some of those creative structures rather than creating a whole new environment that’s strictly dependent upon government. These are the complex issues inquiries can tackle.
Tom Clark: I’ve got to stop you there because we are out of time. We barely scratched the surface, but it was a good way to begin. Susan Harada: joining me from Carleton University. And Jane Hilderman of Samara: joining me from Toronto. Thank you to you both. I appreciate your time.
Susan Harada: Thank you.
Tom Clark: Coming up next, 100 days of a Liberal government. What’s been done and what’s still to come? We’ll unpack the politics.
Tom Clark: Last Friday marked 100 days of the Trudeau government. To take a look at what the Liberals have done so far, here is your West Block primer:
Day one, the first gender balanced cabinet was sworn in. From there, things were up in the air. Literally, as the new prime minister raced around the world to Turkey for the G20, Manilla for APEC. Back to Canada, to London to meet the Queen, Malta, and finally, Paris where the next big thing happened, singing onto the Climate Accord. And then, he signed another deal, the Trans Pacific Trade Partnership. And all during this time, some 18,000 Syrian refugees arrived and they’re still coming. Finally, last week, just before the 100 day mark, a new plan to fight ISIS.
And that’s just a little bit of it, but here to unpack the politics, joining me, Susan Delacourt, the author of Shopping for Votes and columnist at Toronto Start among other places. And Paul Wells, also an author of The Longer I’m Prime Minister about Stephen Harper, and of course chief writer for Maclean’s Magazine, welcome to you both.
Okay, let’s start off with this, what grade do you give the Liberals after the first 100 days based on promise as opposed to performance?
Susan Delacourt: I say B. I know they haven’t followed through on everything, but in true sort of grading mode, I would say they get points for playing well with others. I think they’re still ambitious. I think we talked about this, I think at the beginning of the year. I think the honeymoon is still on and that may be more a function of the fact that there is no real competition to them right now, but I’d give them a B for at least making the effort and trying to move the ball down the road a bit.
Tom Clark: Okay. Paul, you’re a tougher marker.
Paul Wells: Not today, Tom. I would say B’s probably pretty good. The $10 billion dollar deficit promise for this year when wheeling out the window and then at the end of the week, this past week, we saw a zero deficit at the end of the four years is now looking a little dicey. And so this is going to be a more expensive government than some people might have thought. But not only on the things that you’re introduction suggested, but also on missing and murdered Aboriginal women, on the long form census, on some kind of promise of some kind of electoral reform and—
Tom Clark: And on tone.
Paul Wells: On a whole bunch of things, they have decided not to course correct immediately after the election and say well we didn’t realize it would be hard. They’ve decided they’re actually going to try and do a bunch of these hard things simultaneously.
Tom Clark: I threw the word ‘tone’ in there and, you know, we say the tone has changed. It certainly has changed here in this town.
Susan Delacourt: For sure, yeah.
Tom Clark: How important is that?
Susan Delacourt: I think pretty important, but I think we shouldn’t get really caught up in the differences. A lot of it, we are being encouraged to believe that there are huge differences. There are some things that haven’t changed. I’ve pointed out before too that there is still a huge attention to images and marketing and putting the proper spin on things. Sure, the cabinet ministers are returning phone calls and stuff, but there is I’m not sure a whole lot is being said at the moment. So while, you know, the virtue of being and the downside of being here also this is long is sure it’s more open than it was two or three months ago or 100 days ago, but it’s not as open as it was 10 or 12 years ago.
Tom Clark: Um-hum, thoughts?
Paul Wells: I’m not sure they are giving clear answers because I’m not sure they know exactly what they’re supposed to say yet. I mean it’s a new government. It’s a new government that was really not sure it was going to get elected. A year ago, this part was in third place. And they’ve launched a very large number of public consultations, which will lead to policies down the road. The minister of defence wants to do a full blown defence policy review by the end of the year. There’s a pre-consultation on the missing and murdered Aboriginal women inquiry. There’s all sorts of stuff like this. And I think, probably this government is going to go back to a pattern from the Chrétien years where the government would not have an awful lot to say between budgets, but the budgets would be very large statements of a broad governing philosophy for the whole next year. And after the budget, presumably they’ll know what they think.
Tom Clark: I want to move to the next 100 days or the next 1,000 days. And you know something happened late last week that caught my eye and that was this sort of understated agreement between Canada and the United States and Mexico and what was generally called the first step towards a green NAFTA. So it was moving the emphasis onto renewable energy and investment by the governments in renewable energy. That’s maybe one thing that lies in our future in the next 1,000 days, but I’m interested to hear from you guys. What do you think is that issue that’s out there that we haven’t seen necessarily yet that could very well overwhelm the process before we hit the next election?
Susan Delacourt: Oh, that’s a—you go first.
Paul Wells: Energy, the environment, and federalism, which are essentially aspects of the same thing. This globe series conference in Vancouver, which apparently is a big thing to green tech people in Vancouver, but in 25 years, I’ve never heard of it. It will be the site in early March of a keynote speech by the prime minister, a meeting before the thing begins, but with the prime minister and Aboriginal leaders, and then a first minsters meeting on the second day of the conference. And it’s to draw together the government’s budgeting policy, Catherine McKenna’s environment policy, Navdeep Bains industrial innovation policy. And when you bring the premiers in, you start to ask difficult questions, such as the Feds are going to have a couple billion dollars from a federal fund to encourage provinces to meet greenhouse gas targets, who does that money, go to? Does it go to Quebec which has already made an awful lot of effort and had really good results to reward them? Does it go to Alberta which has done very close to nothing to cap its emissions until now and is in a horrible mess? And when it goes to one of those provinces, what will the other premiers say? I think we’re going to have a fun spring.
Tom Clark: Susan?
Susan Delacourt: Yeah, I think because of his trip to Washington in March, I think Canada-US relations are going to remain very high on the radar. We see that they’ve spent a lot of time on them already. I expect that to continue. It’s a weird thing to be doing with a president, who’s on his way out and given the sort of turmoil down there. But I agree with Paul as well. I think we’re going to learn again that federalism is hard. In the next few months, we’re going to start realizing why Stephen Harper didn’t want to have these meetings of the premiers. And I think we’ll be trying to figure out how long goodwill lasts. You know, how long is it sufficient just to have people talking to each other before we want something actually done?
Tom Clark: Going to be interesting few years coming up. Paul Wells, author of, among other things, The Longer I’m Prime Minister. And Susan Delacourt: Shopping for Votes, new edition coming out incidentally. Thank you both very much for being here. I appreciate your time.
Susan Delacourt: Thanks.
Paul Wells: Thanks Tom.
Tom Clark: Well that’s our show for this week, but hang on, because today is Valentine’s Day, we went up on to Parliament Hill to ask a few of the MP’s what their perfect Valentine’s date would be like. Take a listen:
MP 1: Probably to a nice quiet restaurant that has great food and wine and then to a theatre after that. And then hopefully home to a great evening, even better after that.
MP 2: The best romantic city in the world is Quebec City where I live.
MP 3: You know country music’s pretty romantic and that may be in our plans. She’s from Alberta, and then–
MP 4: This might be a little weird, but I love horses and so I often think the best place to go for a date is at the barn with my husband, who I drag along.
MP 5: Take a couple of bottles of Guinness and yeah, take some sardines and crackers and take your honey snowshoeing.
Tom Clark: [Chuckling] Snowshoeing with the honey, well that’s Valentine’s Day on Parliament Hill. Well we like to hear from you. Here’s a list of some addresses where we can be reached. Let us know what you think about what you’ve heard on The West Block. And remember, you can also find us on our podcast. Just go to iTunes and look us up: The West Block.
Well, that is our show, as I said. Thanks very much for being here. Have a great week ahead. We’ll see you back here next Sunday for another edition.
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