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West Block Transcript: Season 6 Episode 15

THE WEST BLOCK
Episode 15, Season 6
Sunday, December 18, 2016

Host: Tom Clark
Guest Interviews: Mayor John Tory, Steven Chase, Susan Delacourt, Rachel Harder, Matt DeCoursey
Location: Ottawa

On this Sunday, Canada’s big city mayors pen an open letter calling for more powers to spend taxpayer dollars. What has the response been? We’ll put that to Toronto Mayor John Tory.

 

Then, cash-for-access: How did the Trudeau government let it get this far? We will look at that and some other ‘cow pies’ lying in wait for the government.

 

And, in the hyper-partisan post-truth era, what are the new rules for politics? We’ll hear from two rookie MPs on life in political office.

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It is Sunday, December the 18th. And from the nation’s capital, I’m Tom Clark. And you are in The West Block.

 

The mayors of five cities across this country are demanding that the federal and provincial governments give them more power to spend money. The mayor sent out an open letter stating that with growing populations and limited resources, the cities need more tools to raise funds and more control over where those funds should go, especially on infrastructure.

 

Joining me now from Toronto is the Mayor of Toronto John Tory. Mayor, thanks very much for being here. We talked about that letter that you co-signed with five other big city mayors asking for more ability to spend the infrastructure money. Have you heard anything back on that yet?

 

Mayor John Tory: No, and I’m not holding my breath only because it seems that we’re bound into a document that was largely conceived in 1867 which looked at cities like they were small towns, which I guess in those days they were. But we’re dealing today in the case of first of all, 80 per cent of Canadians live in cities. But secondly, in the case of the country’s largest cities, very big, sophisticated and I will say ‘accountable’ governments. I mean, the election campaign that I go through, and my colleagues who signed the letter, is every bit as rigorous in terms of us being held to account for everything we do. And I just think it’s time that we got our practices and our governance more into the 21st century that reflects the reality of how Canadians live. I will say that the current federal government has adopted a more of a kind of partnership attitude with the big cities and I appreciate that but I still spend way more of my time than I ever thought possible, you know kind of going up the street to beg people to give me something or give me a certain ability to do something, which is crazy when we’re running a big government here and delivering a lot of services directly to people.

 

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Tom Clark: Mayor, let me ask you this though and I want to delve down into the some of the specifics of the Infrastructure Spending program in a minute, but to pick up on your point. Are we at the stage in this country where we should rethink the very nature of cities? They are at the moment, as you say, ‘The creature of the provinces’. You have to go begging to Queen’s Park in your case to get permission to do certain things. Are we though at the point where Canadians should start wondering whether cities should become in effect provinces to themselves? Should we completely blow up the model?

 

Mayor John Tory: Well, yes but I don’t think any Canadian, including this one, would say we should be doing that by starting some big round of constitutional talks. I think it’s a matter of attitude and approach. And I think if the other governments in the country, and I think most specifically we’re probably talking the provinces here, could see they work their way clear to recognize the fact that who delivers transit? We do. Who actually executes on housing? We do. Who is doing most of the work on the ground in terms of social services to people? We are. And if they could see their way clear instead of kind of jealously guarding this ancient construct that we put together in 1867 and say look, let’s just be real about this and be real partners and be willing to concede some ability on the part of these cities who are accountable and are prepared to be, certainly in our case, prepared to be accountable to actually get on with in some cases raising money, but most particularly how to actually carry out these responsibilities. I think the country would be way better off and I think Canadians recognize that’s what their cities do and that we should just catch up in terms of governance.

 

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Tom Clark: You know, in the current round of infrastructure spending, Ottawa has said, or initially said, that it might spend up to 50 per cent as opposed to the old formula, right? Where the feds would put up 30 per cent of the cash, the provinces 30 per cent, and you, the cities, municipalities would put up 30. Ottawa seemed to be suggesting that they might go all the way to 50 to reduce the burden on you. Is that happening? If so, are you happy with the formula you’ve got?

 

Mayor John Tory: I will say that I think the federal government in the first round of infrastructure financing got off to a very good start in terms of recognizing where the real needs existed and in having a partnership where they could play a bigger role, up to 50 per cent. And so I think these were all things that were a very good start. And I think if there were problems across the country, and I don’t just refer to Ontario, if there were problems they existed because of some attitudes perhaps that existed in some provinces with respect to this notion of the federal government dealing with cities which somehow offended somebody’s sensibilities. Again, from 1867, which I would have said look, let’s get in the 21st century here. Let’s recognize the fact that there is no threat to anybody by making sure we focus on the real objective we all have, which is to serve people better, build transit, get housing built, as opposed to worrying about the niceties of what the constitution says and I just think that’s what we should be focused on as we re-examine how all these things are governed.

 

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Tom Clark: You know, I’ve got just less than a minute left but I want to ask you this. As we look at big infrastructure spending in the United States and probably another round of Buy America which is going to leave out a lot of Canadian manufacturers, are cities like Toronto prepared to get into either a protection or retaliation mode on a strict Buy American provision?

 

Mayor John Tory: Well, certainly we would wade into that and try and advise our friends in the United States this is a very unwise course of action and if your question was meant to say well would we sort of return the favour by saying we’re going to start to be protectionist in our own regard? I can only speak for myself in just saying I think that’s a backward attitude. It’s a 19th century attitude. Again, we’re open in Canada. We’re free-traders. Our country’s built on this and we should be doing everything we can to discourage them from doing that in the U.S. as opposed to sort of practicing that sort of thing ourselves and we’ve got to be open and we’ve got to really just get on with building the infrastructure here, the transit and the housing in particular and I hope the other governments will be good partners with us and allow us to have the latitude and the responsibilities that our cities deserve and that our cities have earned and that I think Canadians expect.

 

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Tom Clark: John Tory, Mayor of Toronto. John, very good having you on the program, I appreciate your time.

 

Mayor John Tory: Thank you, Tom.

 

Tom Clark: Coming up next, cash-for-access and the Liberal government. How did it get this far?

 

[Break]

 

Tom Clark: Welcome back. Well if polls are anything to go by, and sometimes they’re not, the Trudeau government is hurting as a result of the so-called cash-for-access affair. How much more can the government take? Why did it allow it to get to this point and what other cow pies are waiting out there for the Trudeau government? Joining me to discuss all this now is Steven Chase of the Globe and Mail, who has written extensively about cash-for-access and our friend Susan Delacourt, author and journalist. Welcome to you both.

 

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Steven, let me start with you. You’ve been writing about cash-for-access for a long time so the question really becomes why on earth do you think the government has allowed it to get to this point? Nothing illegal about it but certainly the polls are reflecting that it is hurting them.

 

Steven Chase: No, there’s nothing illegal. But I think one of the reasons why they’ve allowed it to go this far is it’s a very efficient way to raise money. It’s a lot easier to get people in clumps of $1,500 than it is to ask them for $10 or $20 repeatedly. You know there’s a combination of the grassroots fundraising which they do largely over the internet and also these dinners and these affairs that they arrange that in one night can pull in as much as $120,000. So I think it’s an attractive way to fundraise and it’s hard to give that up.

 

Tom Clark: What I don’t understand, Susan is that the government line at the beginning was always well we never did any lobbying. There was no lobbying going on. And now, the prime minister admitted that yes, there was affairs of state being talked about. The talking points are even crumbling under the weight of this.

 

Susan Delacourt: Yeah, Trudeau was doing a lot of these during his leadership and then when he began third-party leader, going around and most of that was assuring elites and business people against the narrative that the Conservatives were drawing about him was that he was just not ready. So, some of that in the early days was a persuasion effort to show serious people with serious money that he was a serious person. And I think a bit of it is a holdover from that pattern. That being said, I keep thinking about how Jean Chretien would have answered one of these things. You know, I remember when the opposition was poking about appointing Liberals and he was ‘Ah, I’m a Liberal’. You know, there was a certain sort of unapologetic nature to it too. I think where the government has got into trouble is they’ve tried to portray themselves—I wrote about this this week—as a modern Liberal movement. We’re in a post-partisan era. I went over and read Trudeau’s speech to the Winnipeg convention when they were proposing all those changes and it was about removing barriers between the leader and grassroots. And so much of the populism that he’s trying to preach as a Liberal leader goes at odds against these elitist events.

 

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Tom Clark: Steven, let me get back to your reporting on this. You know the real question becomes is this a question of the appearance of conflict or is there real conflict going on here? And is there much of a division between the two?

 

Steven Chase: You have, as I guess we’ve been reporting on this for about a month and an half now, but you have cases where you’ll have a man there who’s waiting for his bank to get the final go ahead to commence operations. The government will say that we had no role in that. That’s left up to the watchdogs to make that decision. You’ll have a man, a multi-millionaire in Vancouver who will invite Mr. Trudeau to his home and press him on allowing more Chinese investment in elder care right as the government is considering a billion dollar takeover deal by Chinese based [00:11:22].

 

Tom Clark: But I guess my question here is, and exactly to those points, is there any evidence suggesting perhaps that those lobbying efforts paid off? Was there a direct line between A and B?

 

Steven Chase: We’re still waiting. The government’s actually delayed in the last few weeks, delayed its decision on [00:11:35] so we haven’t actually gotten an answer on that yet to see whether they’re going to go ahead with that. It’s an extraordinary investment that will allow the company to essentially become part of the health care system.
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Tom Clark: And the problem the government is in all of this is that no matter what decision they make on [00:11:54] now, everybody’s going to say they’re going to make ties back to that fundraiser, right?

 

Susan Delacourt: Yeah.

 

Tom Clark: Even if they approved it for the right reasons, they’re going to say well you approved it because you got lobbied at a fundraiser, right? So that’s the box they’re in.

 

Susan Delacourt: Yeah, we’re in a strange world too that we don’t want the government not to talk to people but we don’t want them to decide that some people talk to them get better access with money. That’s what the whole thing is about. I have written about this. I’m getting a bit tiresome about it, but I think it’s time to bring back the public subsidy. I think it’s the fairest way. You get—

 

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Tom Clark: And by that, just so everybody understands, that you get a certain amount of money for each vote you get in an election campaign.

 

Susan Delacourt: Which is what the system was from 2003 until about 2011 and then it was phased out by the Conservatives. But the fairness of that system was that every party got $2, $1.50 whatever, for every vote cast. So it was very democratic. Everybody with a vote had the same influence and it was our almost form of proportional representation. You know you may not believe that Elizabeth May was going to be the next prime minister but your vote would give her party some money.

 

Tom Clark: It’s an interesting point, Steven, because again, getting back to your terrific reporting on this issue, it really uncovered the fact that in politics you need money. There’s no secret about that, it’s how you get the money. And if Susan’s point going back to a per-vote subsidy, I mean in your estimation would that remove some of the more egregious examples of questionable fundraising methods?

 

Steven Chase: I think if you had a situation where Mr. Trudeau had dinners with people and there was no money changing hands; it certainly wouldn’t be there’d be any kind of quid pro quo expected there. I think that what we’ve seen is the Liberals keep talking about this is just $1,500 but we see what they do is we have these events where people pool their money, $80,000 to $120,000 and then the prime minister comes. And yeah, if you remove the per-vote subsidy, it’s hard to argue there’s a quid pro quo taking place.

 

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Tom Clark: Yeah. Very briefly, just 10 seconds, is this going to continue to hurt the government until they either ban this form of fundraising? What do you think?

 

Susan Delacourt: I think they’ve got to stop these events. I think they’ve got to stop them in the new year. That should be a good new year’s resolution for them.

 

Tom Clark: Steve?

 

Steven Chase: I think it would change the narrative. You would no longer have a situation where they were seen as having these exclusive affairs where they bring people together and can bend the prime minister’s ear after having written a cheque to him.

 

Tom Clark: I think probably the best Christmas present for Justin Trudeau would not be reading Steve Chase on the front page of the Globe and Mail every morning.

 

Susan Delacourt: [Chuckles] That’s right.
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Tom Clark: [Chuckles] Steve Chase of the Globe and Mail, Susan Delacourt. Thank you both very much for being here and have a Merry Christmas by the way.

 

Susan Delacourt: To you and yours.

 

Steven Chase: You too, thank you.

 

Tom Clark: Coming up next, one year in for two rookie MPs, and a Christmas classic as told by a few members of Parliament.

 

[Break]
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Tom Clark: Welcome back. Well it is a whole new world, at least politically speaking, the rise of Donald Trump and Trumpism, the decline perhaps of debate and the chaos of communications. How is a Member of Parliament to navigate these new waters? Well, I brought two of the newest and youngest MPs to take a look at that very thing: Rachel Harder, Conservative member from Lethbridge, Alberta and Matt DeCoursey from Fredericton, New Brunswick. Welcome to you both.

 

Let me start off with this question. You both arrived in Ottawa. You’ve been here for a year now. Navigating just this town is an interesting experience. Is it what you expected Rachel?

 

Rachel Harder: You know what? Yeah. I had an opportunity to come here for work a number of times before being elected and so really the city has so much to offer. The Hill has so much to offer. I work with phenomenal colleagues. It’s been a really good experience.

 

Tom Clark: But socially, Matt, I mean that’s another big part of the life of an MP, right? I mean, it can be an odd place.

 

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Matt DeCoursey: Sure it can. And the thing you learn early on is how quickly a week flies by. I arrive here Monday morning and if I can return back to my riding Thursday evening, those are long days. There’s lots of hard work to be done. There’s lots of interaction with people but it flies by and it’s important for me to get back to the riding.

 

Tom Clark: You know one of the observations of a long time covering politics has been that I think that politics in many respects has become more combative, more partisan between MPs. And that’s just a historical perspective. But when you hear that does that sort of thing concern you that this is—I mean look politics is a blood sport and a contact sport. I get that, but it is more on the personal side. Do you find that you’re participating in a much more partisan type of world than perhaps you expected to be?

 

Matt DeCoursey: So I think there is a lot of goodwill amongst parliamentarians across party lines. I think the perception of partisanship is something that we always have to work to dissuade Canadians of that view more and more.

 

Tom Clark: And Rachel, you were no shrinking violet in Question Period. I’ve seen you get up and ask pretty tough questions and some good questions too.

 

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Rachel Harder: Thank you.

 

Tom Clark: But do you find that it is the downside of politics that it is at times that nasty and that personal?

 

Rachel Harder: You know, I think there’s a lot of opportunity to work together across the floor actually and we saw that one example was with regards to a national strategy on dementia. We saw a Conservative colleague and an NDP colleague and they came together. They put forward this bill that is for a national strategy with regards to dementia and it got support from the Liberals, and off we go.

 

Tom Clark: Let me ask both of you the whole question of communications because as you know, I mean talk about change in the world right now. We’re seeing the near collapse or the demise of traditional forms of communication, whether it be newspapers and television or whether it be local flyers in your riding the way politicians communicated for the last 50 years. But that’s suddenly changing in a very dramatic way. How is this chaos and communications changing the very nature if politics itself, Rachel?

 

Rachel Harder: Well I’ll be honest with you; I think at the end of the day, communications really needs to be about building relationship with everyday Canadians. We need to be finding a language and a way of presenting topics that’s going to resonate with the people who are in their living rooms, in their dining rooms, in their workplaces just everyday Canadians. That’s our responsibility as politicians to find that way of communicating.

 

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Tom Clark: What do you think, Matt?

 

Matt DeCoursey: Well there are facts and there are reasons that we pursue different policies but we need to take stock of the way that people feel that, the emotions that that delivers to people and be cognizant that people feel things in very real ways. And so our messaging, our communications, the policy that we put forward has to allow Canadians to feel some level of comfort with the direction the government is moving.

 

Tom Clark: When you project five years ahead, and let’s assume you both get re-elected okay? I’ll give you that for Christmas. Are you more positive? Less positive than you thought you would be when you take a look at the future of politics? What do you think?

 

Matt DeCoursey: Look, this is a tremendous country and there are a diversity of views right across this country but I think you see at its best the House of Commons, parliamentarians delivering their best voice of their constituents and working together to really deliver on some substantial issues for Canadians. And I have faith that this country will continue to be strong five years down the road and further on.

 

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Rachel Harder: I think 2019 looks ‘blue’ and very positive.

 

[Tom and Matt laugh]

 

Tom Clark: Here we go. Okay. Well neither one of you are shrinking violets but I thank you for your time and best of luck in the years to come because it’s all going to be on your shoulders.

 

Matt DeCoursey: Thanks so much, Tom.

 

Tom Clark: Well now, we bring you the Christmas classic “Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus”. It appeared as an editorial in a New York newspaper back in 1897 and it’s the most reprinted editorial in the English language. We’ve asked some MPs to help us out this year. Take a listen:

 

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Name of MP: Dear Editor:

 

I am 8 years old.
Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
Papa says, ‘If you see it in The Sun it’s so.’
Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?

 

Virginia O’Hanlon

115 West Ninety-Fifth Street

 

Name of MP: Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see.

 

Name of MP: They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little.

 

Name of MP: In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

 

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Name of MP: Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. And he exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy.

 

Name of MP: Alas! How dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias.

 

Name of MP: There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, and no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

 

Name of MP: Virginia, not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve just to catch Santa Claus, but even if you did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove?

 

Name of MP: Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see.

 

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Name of MP: Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

 

Name of MP: You may tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

 

Name of MP: No Santa Claus! Thank God! He lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

 

Tom Clark: Which leaves me just enough time to say have a very Merry Christmas! Have a happy holiday! We will be back here on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day for my final West Block show. Hope to see you then.

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