THE WEST BLOCK
Episode 35, Season 5
Sunday, May 15, 2016
Host: Tom Clark
Guests: Mark Holland, Scott Reid, Nathan Cullen, Harjit Sajjan
‘Plane Talk’: Catherine McKenna
Tom Clark: On this Sunday, changing the way we vote. What are the real motivations behind the party positions on electoral reform?
And then, mixed messages: Why are Canadian Forces wearing the flag of the Kurdish separatist movement in Iraq? And what does it have to do with safety? Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan is here.
And, we fly over the riding of Environment Minister Catherine McKenna in a carbon neutral version of ‘Plane Talk.’
It is Sunday, May the 15th and from the nation’s capital, I’m Tom Clark. And you are in The West Block.
Tom Clark: Well, Canada is maybe one step closer to a whole new way of voting. The government has struck a committee to find alternatives to the current first-past-the-post system. And it’s promised it will be in place for the next election in 2019. The Opposition parties say the move is unfair, self-interested, and above all else, undemocratic.
And joining me now is the Parliamentary Secretary for Democratic Reform, Mark Holland, and the two Opposition critics, Scott Reid of the Conservative Party and Nathan Cullen of the NDP. Welcome to you all.
Nathan Cullen: Great to be here.
Tom Clark: I want to start with you, Mark. You’ve stacked the committee, the Liberals have a majority. You’ve virtually ruled out a referendum on the outcome. Haven’t you poisoned the well before this thing’s even started?
Mark Holland: No, I don’t accept that at all. I think that first of all, the House of Commons ultimately, and every member in it, is going to make this decision. Whether or not the committee was comprised entirely of Opposition members or if it was any other constitution, it still has to come back to the body, the House of Commons. So we’re going to have to work as members to make this work and find what that compromise is and make sure that when it gets back to the House we have a system that is going to modernize our electoral system.
Tom Clark: Okay, but on the basis of that system, a lot of people would say look, you’re preferred system as the party of the middle, is a preferential ballot, a ranked ballot system, and that by stacking the committee making that perhaps the inevitable outcome, because that’s what the committee will vote for, isn’t the process designed in such a way to get exactly what you want, that one system preferential ballot which is the only one incidentally that would help the Liberal Party?
Mark Holland: Well Tom, I mean to be very clear, our caucus is very divided on this. I mean you look at Stéphane Dion and a number of other ministers who are big proponents of other systems over proportional representation. We have other members who favour the system that you mentioned and I’ve got other colleagues who favour other systems we’re not even talking about. So there is an enormous diversity of opinion. But here is where there is consistency: Canadians made a very clear decision, more than 60 per cent voted to say… of four parties that said we had to end first-past-the-post. They said that the system that we have, the challenges that we have with our democratic system means that we need change and so the status quo isn’t an option. And right now, frankly, what would we have a question on? I mean the Conservatives have given no proposals whatsoever to what they would change the system to. So what I would say is let’s work collaboratively, let’s work together. Let’s engage Canadians on a pan-Canadian basis on the talk about what the options are and about how we can improve the system. That’s what we’re dedicated to.
Tom Clark: Okay, but let me go to Scott Reid on this one because let me put it to you this way. Scott, is there any type of electoral reform that would help your party other than keeping the first-past-the-post system which is what we’ve got now?
Scott Reid: You know I’d have to think about that. I mean one of the things we discussed before this discussion began on air was the fact that parties change their policies and they attempt to change their appeal when you have a new system, so it’s actually hard to say what system would be best to which party, although I do think you’re right that single member rank ballots does systematically favour the centrist party. And that favours the Liberals.
Tom Clark: Because they’d always be the second choice, the left and the right.
Scott Reid: As long as they can stay in the centre, but I think—I don’t know what the case would be 10, 15 years from now, but in 2019 they are likely to be the centrist party. But actually in terms of other parties, I am less certain about which system favours which party. But this makes a key point which is so we all want to figure out this thing. We are politicians; it’s our job to get elected. The only way to get around this problem is to design a system by whatever means and then take that system and put it before the Canadian voters because the Canadian voters will not accept a system that is stacked in favour of any party.
Mark Holland: So what proposals would you put in front of the Canadian public? What do you want to change? I mean what about the status quo, don’t you like and what would you change?
Scott Reid: Well, I think the answer here, Mark, is this, you were elected on a mandate and I think it’s a legitimate mandate to go out and seek new alternatives and your government’s responsibility. You are the government is to go out there and find an alternative and then put it before the Canadian people and say do you like this or do you prefer the status quo–?
Scott Reid: The point is, that in the end, whatever system goes forward, it has to be something that the Canadian people approve—
Tom Clark: Let me get Nathan in here.
Nathan Cullen: And this comes back to your very first question, Tom, which is about the credibility of the process that’s put in front of us in which the Liberals dominate this committee by the votes that are there. Mark alluded that there’s different opinions within the Liberal caucus. Well there’s one opinion that perhaps stands out as maybe a little stronger than your average Liberal backbencher and that’s Justin Trudeau, who for years has said this is that preferential ballot system that pushes parties towards the middle is the one he likes. That all aside, we just went through listening to the Liberal rhetoric about wanting to work together and I like Mark a lot and want to do that because this is an incredible opportunity for us. A historic opportunity, particularly for New Democrats. Electoral reform is a huge issue for our people, for our membership and for me personally, so let’s get at that. But the committee designed, the government had a choice. We gave them options. They asked for ideas, we gave them an idea in which the committee would actually reflect how people voted in the last election because the Liberals agree with us in saying that the current system is broken. It allows a government to form with less than 40 per cent support in the country. So the Liberals go that. They got less than 40 per cent. But on the committee, they’ve got 60 per cent of the seats and so you say well, why use a broken system to fix this and use the same model of that broken system and hope that something gets better. And I really do believe this, if the Liberals had taken up our proposal, this whole idea that the thing is stacked, that it’s rigged, that the Liberals are going to give what they want, I think would have been diminished greatly because they wouldn’t have had the ability to push anything through on their own.
Tom Clark: Nathan, let me pick up on this though because as much as Liberal supporters like the rank ballot system because that aids the middle, a lot of your NDP supporters like the idea of proportional representation because it means that you would greater representation in the House. So you’re talking about two different systems. And Scott in your case, the whole idea of a referendum, it passed as prologue, every time electoral reform has gone to a referendum in this county it’s been defeated.
Scott Reid: That’s actually not true. So in 2005, in British Columbia, 57 per cent of people voted in favour of the threshold.
Tom Clark: The threshold was 60.
Scott Reid: An artificial 60 per cent threshold, but—
Tom Clark: Well, whatever it was, but it failed.
Scott Reid: But had it been 50 per cent would have gone through and I advocate a 50 per cent threshold.
Tom Clark: My point is though that because the Conservatives don’t have a position on either proportional representation or the rank ballot, all you want is a referendum. It certainly seems to a lot of people that that is the most efficient way of killing the whole idea of electoral reform because it doesn’t help the Conservative Party.
Scott Reid: No, in New Zealand, the people voted in favour of changing the system. There are examples in history, numerous examples of referendums successfully bringing through electoral reform. Switzerland in 1919 voted for electoral reforms—
Tom Clark: But Ontario, B.C. and P.E.I. in Canada are a different story.
Scott Reid: But you know, hang on, hang on—
Mark Holland: This brings the point though, if I could Tom.
Scott Reid: In P.E.I. they’re having another referendum. The first one was rejected, they’re going back to do it again. So the views are being refined to reflect where the values of P.E.I. voters are.
Mark Holland: I mean look, the reality is it’d be one thing if the Conservatives were coming forward and they had a clear proposal and they’d worked with us and they said you know what? This proposal is a meaningful improvement to the status quo. Let’s go have a referendum on this. But they’re not saying that. They’re saying we have no ideas, we’re not offering any new system and they want to have a referendum, I don’t know on what? And what I’m saying is this is a premature discussion. What we need to do is to engage Canadians from 338 ridings, make sure that they have an opportunity to have input. In a very real way, and Nathan and Scott and I have a lot of discussions. I want to hear their ideas. I want to see if we can find compromise because if we can find consensus, if we can find the middle ground, then frankly, if you can get the population behind it then that’s a moot point.
Nathan Cullen: Here’s a question, we just went through this with assisted dying, that whole panel that got setup, the parties worked together. Even the Liberal chair can’t vote for the bill because the Liberals took their numbers on the committee and defeated virtually every amendment the Opposition brought forward on an incredibly important issue to many Canadians about end of life, and then in the House of Commons then in vote closure to shut down the debate on this. So the words could—
Allow me this, I didn’t interrupt you. I didn’t interrupt. Allow me this that the words are nice, but the actions have been different on that first test. This one’s even more foundational and it says how do we vote? The government has yet to confirm that whatever this committee does, will the cabinet just accept our recommendation or will Mr. Trudeau make a different recommendation to the Parliament? We don’t even have that confirmation from the government yet.
Tom Clark: Okay, this is just the beginning of many, many discussions that we’re going to have around this table. Probably one of the most important political discussions we’ve had in this country in a very long time. I thank you very much, Scott Reid, Nathan Cullen and Mark Holland, thanks very much for being part of the conversation.
And still to come, a carbon neutral ‘Plane Talk’ with Environment Minister Catherine McKenna. But first, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan with an update on our mission against ISIS, that’s next.
Tom Clark: Welcome back. Well two months ago, the government changed Canada’s mission against ISIS in Iraq. The air bombardment is over but there are more Canadian boots on the ground. So far, there have been no Canadian casualties, but a number of questions have been raised. Late last week, I spoke to Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan from NORAD headquarters in Colorado Springs.
Minister Sajjan, good to have you back on the show. You know, I noticed just a couple of moments ago down there in Colorado you were talking to the Secretary of Defence Ash Carter and, you know, publicly he’s been saying that he’s asking all the allies what more they can do in the fight against the Islamic State. Have we sort of reached our limit in terms of what we can do, or have we got more to give?
Harjit Sajjan: Oh in fact, not only am I here with Ash Carter here in NORAD, but just last week we were at the Counter-ISIL meeting where 11 of us, of the largest contributing nations, got together to get an update and decide the way forward. There are a lot of asks in terms of the gaps that we need to fill in the coalition. Fortunately for us Canadians, we had recently announced our contribution and as our force flow is happening, the commanders on the ground are extremely pleased with the trainers and especially our intelligence assets that we have put into place. As we move forward, there are other aspects of capabilities that we will need from other nations. And as we complete our force flow by summertime, we will also, as I’ve always said, assess the situation and if there is a need, Canada will consider it.
Tom Clark: Okay, I want to talk specifically about the mission now because recently you authorized some media coverage of our participation there. And it sort of raised a few questions, not the least of which was that the Special Operations Forces were identified. They were filmed, pictures were taken of them. And I’m just wondering at a time when the Americans are warning their soldiers about being identified because of the threat that ISIS has made that they will attack their families back in the United States once they’re identified, why on earth did we allow this identity to take place?
Harjit Sajjan: The Canadian Armed Forces take the security of our personnel extremely seriously and at the same time, we feel that Canadians do have a necessity to understand what the Canadian Armed Forces is doing. And I give full flexibility to the Canadian Armed Forces down through the chain of command to be able to make the decisions when it’s appropriate to talk to media in terms of what are security risks. But I want Canadians to know and I want our troops to be able to have interviews with the media, to be able to talk about the great work that they do. And in this case, with the chief of defence staff going into Iraq, they did a thorough security assessment and allowed some of the pictures to be released. But every single picture and how it’s done, it goes through a strict process to making sure that our troops aren’t being put at risk and I trust the chain of command, especially General Vance who has tremendous experience in this from his time in combat operations in Afghanistan and to always look at the safety of our security of our personnel and it was always met.
Tom Clark: But you know, it wasn’t that long ago, in fact, it was literally a few months ago that the Pentagon put out a warning about this to soldiers who are putting their pictures on social media because there was a specific threat from ISIS that they said we will go to your families and slaughter your families back home. But when this happened before minister, under the Harper government, if you remember everybody remembers the time they went over and shot pictures of Special Forces. I just want to play you what your colleague, Marc Garneau, had to say in the House of Commons when that took place. Have a listen to Marc Garneau.
Marc Garneau: What is wrong with this government endangering the lives of our soldiers? Is it blatant self-promotion or incompetence? [House members: both– [applause]]
Tom Clark: So I guess the point is there Marc Garneau was saying that it placed the soldiers at risk. Now you’re saying they’re not at risk. I’m just wondering what’s changed?
Harjit Sajjan: No, the difference in this case is and there’s a very distinct difference here, is those pictures that were released did not go through the appropriate process. These pictures, it was a chief of defence staff who went to Iraq at that time and it went through their appropriate process before those pictures were released. The pictures in question that were discussed in the past did not go through the Canadian Armed Forces process and that’s the distinct difference. I trust when it comes to the safety and the security of the personnel, the chain of command takes it extremely seriously and I give them the trust to be able to make those right decisions.
Tom Clark: But do you think that ISIS cares much whether it went through the right process or not?
Harjit Sajjan: When it comes to ISIL or any threat into Canada and especially to our Canadian Armed Forces, we evaluate that threat on a daily basis. In fact, not just from a Canadian perspective, even by breaking down into regions from our bases to our force posture of our personnel all over the world. It’s continually assessed and the decisions for force protection are delegated right down and the chief of defence staff is ultimately responsible for that. And I have had regular discussions about this because this is one thing we take extremely seriously. And if there’s a change, he informs me quite directly. But as you know, we’re not going to be advertising any of those changes we’re talking about the threats because we don’t want ISIL or any other terrorist organization to understand what our force protection posture is.
Tom Clark: Minister Sajjan, always good having you on the show and I appreciate your time today. Thanks so much.
Harjit Sajjan: Great, thank you.
Tom Clark: Well coming up next, ‘Plane Talk’ with Environment Minister Catherine McKenna.
Catherine McKenna: The tweeting, well that’s a tweet.
Tom Clark: You can tweet. You can even bring liquids and gels on this flight.
Tom Clark: Welcome back. Catherine McKenna is the only MP who gets to work in her riding every day. She’s the MP for Ottawa Centre which happens to include Parliament Hill. She also heads up one of the key ministries in the Trudeau government, environment and climate change. Here’s ‘Plane Talk’ with a bit of a green twist:
Tom Clark: You ready?
Catherine McKenna: I’m ready. Let’s rock and roll. Okay, this is pretty awesome.
Tom Clark: Well we’re only a few feet off the ground.
Catherine McKenna: It’s still pretty awesome.
Tom Clark: Okay. Catherine McKenna, good to have you on ‘Plane Talk.’
Catherine McKenna: I’m very excited to be here.
Tom Clark: So this is your riding.
Catherine McKenna: I know! It’s Ottawa Centre. How awesome, all the doors I knocked on, I can pick them out.
Tom Clark: Now did that polling station move for you or against you because there are things we can do.
Catherine McKenna: [Chuckles] No, a lot of them voted for me. [Laughs]
Tom Clark: So you’re basically the Honourable Member from Parliament Hill because Parliament Hill is in your riding.
Catherine McKenna: Yeah.
Tom Clark: Does it ever seem like a fishbowl to you? I mean do you live and work in exactly the same place?
Catherine McKenna: [Chuckling] It is a fishbowl. Actually, you know what? What’s the saying when you get 100 metres outside of Parliament Hill, it’s totally different. When you knock on doors around here, the issues that you think are really important and when you’re in Parliament are a little bit different. But it’s a great riding.
Tom Clark: Have you ever seen it from this perspective before?
Catherine McKenna: No. I see my house. [Laughs]
Tom Clark: Inevitably, and you’ve talked about this openly, there’s a real push-pull in terms of family and work and especially the work that you do now. Do you think you’ve resolved that to your satisfaction?
Catherine McKenna: I wish. You know what? It’s really hard. It’s not just hard for politicians; it’s for working parents generally. I have said that I’m going to try to always be home for dinner for a few hours because I have to reconnect with the kids and the family and have they done their homework and getting something decent to eat. But it’s challenging.
Tom Clark: You know before you went into politics, you were very involved in a number of NGOs, a lot of them with a legal bend to them. Did you want the portfolio of environment?
Catherine McKenna: You know when the prime minister asked me, I almost fell off my chair. I mean I was so excited, but it was a surprise. But you know what? There could not be a better portfolio. The thing is it has a legal aspect; we were in big negotiations as you know for the Paris agreement. It’s really also the most important issue that we face globally and my kids get it and they’re excited about it.
Tom Clark: With the type of schedule that you’ve got, what do you do to turn off and relax?
Catherine McKenna: Actually, I started doing masters swimming competitively. But now I’m not that competitive [chuckles], but there is a parliamentary swim team every Thursday when the House sits. And it’s great, its non-partisan, Elizabeth May and I in our bathing suits hanging out. She’s watching out, giving me some advice [chuckles] that’s great.
Tom Clark: What do you want to do ultimately in politics? What do you want that legacy item to be that you brought to the table?
Catherine McKenna: You know it’s serious action on climate change and honestly, I can get really quite emotional about it because it is such a big challenge.
Tom Clark: Do you want to stay in politics for a long time?
Catherine McKenna: I’m not someone who would probably stay in politics forever. I want to make my mark and do my part. It’s hard on the family.
Tom Clark: Would you ever want to be prime minister?
Catherine McKenna: Oh my God. [Laughs] Is that what you ask everyone? Oh, I want to be—I want to do a damn good job in what I’m doing right now.
Tom Clark: There were a lot of people who said that you wouldn’t win.
Catherine McKenna: There were a lot of people.
Tom Clark: Yeah, and you got angry about that.
Catherine McKenna: I didn’t get angry, it was just when you’re running and people say hey you’d be a good representative but you can’t win, it makes it harder to win because people think you can’t win. But you know when the best moment really was? It wasn’t when I won. It actually was around 8 o’clock at night when I was pulling votes—it was an election day and I was with Yasir Naqvi, so our MPP, and we hit the last door and we tried to do a high-five. We kind of missed and I was just laughing. And I thought look, I put it all on the table. My team has put it all on the table, if we don’t win, so what. You can’t regret things and in life, I’m not someone who really regrets things. I would never have regretted running. I mean obviously it’s incredible to win and be in the position I’m in, but it was really great.
Tom Clark: Climate change is probably one of those things that is bigger than most people think. I mean already you’re hitting some headwinds in terms of how much this is going to cost and how much it’s going to disrupt life. How are you dealing with that?
Catherine McKenna: I’m a realist in life, a realistic optimist as I like to say. It’s hard, that things that are important can be hard and I think Canadians expect serious action and there’s also real opportunity.
Tom Clark: So that’s the Ottawa River and—
Catherine McKenna: I told you I swam across, eh? For the Ottawa River
Tom Clark: You swam across the Ottawa River?
Catherine McKenna: Yeah, well they do a swim every year. You swim from Quebec to Ontario to make the point that rivers don’t stop at boundaries and we all have to work together to keep the river clean.
Tom Clark: So thank you for joining me on ‘Plane Talk’.
Catherine McKenna: It was amazing. Thank you so much for having me up. You know, you probably know I’m always looking at how we can reduce emissions and unfortunately, you know that I have to fly. And today, this was a real opportunity to get up here, but we’re working internationally on aviation sectors, so how we can be much more efficient. But also, by carbon offsets is one way you can do it. So here we go, recognizing Tom Clark and we bought some offsets for this flight.
Tom Clark: Well that’s lovely.
Catherine McKenna: Yeah.
Tom Clark: Well that’s the first time anybody’s bought me carbon offsets.
Catherine McKenna: [Laughs]
Tom Clark: Well that’s our show for today. I’m Tom Clark. We’re going to leave you now with some images of the Tulip Festival here in Ottawa which kicked off last week. Have a great week ahead.
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