May 14, 2017 11:34 am

The West Block Transcript, Episode 36, Season 6

Watch the full broadcast of The West Block from Sunday, May 14, 2017. Hosted by Vassy Kapelos.


Episode 36, Season 6
Sunday, May 14, 2017

Host: Vassy Kapelos

Guest Interviews: Minister François-Philippe Champagne, Minister Andrew Weaver, Josh Wingrove, Bob Fife

Location: Ottawa

On this Sunday, President Trump’s trade czar finally takes office as the NAFTA rhetoric ratchets up again. What’s really going on behind the scenes? We’ll talk to Canada’s international trade minister.

Story continues below

Then, final results of British Columbia’s exciting election may not be known for days. But as of right now, in a stunning turn of events, the B.C. Green Party holds the balance of power. We’ll ask Party Leader Andrew Weaver what his next move is.

Plus, every Wednesday, the prime minister now takes all the questions in Question Period. The problem last week, he didn’t answer them. We’ll unpack the politics of Justin Trudeau’s non-answers on questions about ethics.

It’s Sunday, May 14th, Happy Mother’s Day. I’m Vassy Kapelos, and this is The West Block. Although today, we begin the show in the Centre Block of the House of Commons. Late last week President Trump’s trade representative officially took office, which could open the door to beginning the renegotiation on NAFTA. Here to talk a bit more about all of that is our International Trade Minister François-Philippe Champagne. Minister, great to have you on the show.

Minister François-Philippe Champagne: Well it’s a pleasure and Happy Mother’s Day. You’re right. You know that’s the first thing we need to say today.

Vassy Kapelos: Definitely. So Robert Lighthizer has now officially taken on the role of U.S. trade czar. What does that mean for Canada? Are we still kind of in a waiting game waiting for the president to trigger the renegotiation process?

Minister François-Philippe Champagne: Well definitely, we keep saying until they file the 90 days’ notice period, we’re still waiting to see what the U.S. will be putting on the table. However, that being said, we’re very well prepared. I probably will maintain, I’m going to Vietnam next week. You know we have the APEC Ministers Summit, so I expect to see the U.S. czar there. That’s going to be my first time to meet him, but I very much look forward to that. But when it comes to NAFTA, as we said all along, the 90 days notification is the start of this whole process. We are prepared. We have to remember NAFTA was negotiated what, two decades ago, has been amended 12 times. E-commerce did not even exist, imagine. So there’s going to be a number of things that the Canadian side will want to put on the table, the Mexicans as well, and obviously the U.S. So we are ready. We are prepared and we’re going to see what they’re going to put on the table.

Vassy Kapelos: I understand the message that it’s happened before and that countries have wanted changed, but we’ve never quite heard the rhetoric from the U.S. that we’ve heard recently, such as Donald Trump saying he wants massive changes. I found it interesting though that one of the senators who voted against Mr. Lighthizer’s confirmation was Minister—Senator, I’m sorry, John McCain. I know you met with him not long ago. What was your message to him when you met?

Minister François-Philippe Champagne: Well I spoke to the council of the Americas; you’re quite right, in Washington and probably a 20-minute session with Senator McCain. We talked about the benefit of free trade generally, but certainly in the North American context. And for us, I’ve always said we need to be proactive, firm and smart. So proactive, I think this has been a whole of Canada effort, you know not only from the prime minister of Canada but premiers and business leaders and mayors to senator congress, so we had the whole of Canada effort. Smart, I think, you know the prime minister relationship established with the president has already paid dividends. We saw that with the phone call. And firm, I think Minister Freeland has been firm when it needs to be to stake Canadian position. So for me, I always look back at the big picture. With Senator McCain we’re saying listen, this is an agreement that has been provided millions of good middle-class jobs on both sides. The distinction between our agreement and other free trade agreements is that we make things together. It’s just not about selling to each other. We make things together. Our supply chains are integrated. Recently, I was shown a picture to give you a graphic example of a landing gear. And I looked at all the cities where the parts were coming. This looks like the United Nation of North America because there are parts coming from all over. So this is just an example of how integrated our supply chain. And anything that you propose, you have to look in the context of how integrated we are and the middle-class job that is provided in both our countries.

Vassy Kapelos: Did you tell Senator McCain, though, that Canada was considering retaliatory measures, for example, on the softwood lumber decision?

Minister François-Philippe Champagne: Well I said to Senator McCain, and he was quite aware, that we’re looking at options. Canadians would expect that from us. The U.S. has suggested a number of things. We’re looking at options.

Vassy Kapelos: What are the options you’re looking at to be specific though?

Minister François-Philippe Champagne: Well I mean there are a number of options we’re looking at.

Vassy Kapelos: But can you offer some specific examples?

Minister François-Philippe Champagne: At this stage, you would appreciate that it’s probably not wise to do that in the public domain, but we’re looking at options. But we also have to look at the big picture. You know the free trade agreement is about $2.4 billion of trade every day, 400,000 people across the border, that’s what I was saying to Senator McCain. We are the largest supplier of energy to the U.S. whether it’s oil, gas or electricity. Most of the electricity in New York comes from Quebec. So we’re looking at examples which are very concrete. So senators, governors, mayors really understand the message that you know what? We’re your best partner: 48 states in the United States have Canada as their primary, secondary and tertiary market. So when you put that as a backdrop, the discussion tends to change because we’re the biggest client. And certainly we need to make the case. We have been making the case, but we’re going to be firm in our position as to protecting Canadian workers and Canadian interests.

Vassy Kapelos: Is there any hesitancy to pull the trigger on any type of retaliation because of the unpredictable nature of this administration in the U.S.?

Minister François-Philippe Champagne: Well you have to look at, you know first of all—

Vassy Kapelos: Like is that part of the calculation?

Minister François-Philippe Champagne: What you’re doing and this is a negotiation. You know you have to keep your options open. You have to look at options. Like I said, until the 90 days’ notice has been put forward so that we know exactly what the U.S. wants to put on the table, I think the smart thing to do, and Canadians would understand that, is to be well-prepared, which we are, engaging proactively, smart, being firm. That’s what we’ve been doing. This has been a whole of Canada effort. I was in Washington. Other ministers were in Washington. We are engaging, making the case and you mentioned Senator McCain. If there’s one who understands really the value of free trade, it’s Senator McCain. And he was saying, you know at the same time we’re doing that, I’ve said there’s never been a better time to diversify. You know my whole world is about making sure that we diversify, whether it’s free trade agreement with Europe, which is going to come into force very shortly. This is 9,000 tariff lines, which are going to come to zero. This is one agreement, 28 markets, 510 million consumers. I’m going to be in the Asia-Pacific this week and engaging with our Asia-Pacific partners to look at what kind of market principle trade, rule based trade in Asia-Pacific.

Vassy Kapelos: Really quickly though, can diversifying the markets come fast enough to supplement what we stand to lose with the U.S. though? I only have about 30 seconds.

Minister François-Philippe Champagne: Well I think so in a sense that you know, I just went, as you probably remember, on softwood. We were in China. This is what we the real buyer, the free trade agreement with Europe is coming to force momentarily, so that’s going to provide benefits to Canadians, better markets, bigger markets and you know I have full faith in Canadians. We’re at 0.5 per cent of the world population, 2.5 per cent of world trade, so trade is in our DNA.

Vassy Kapelos: Okay, thanks very much for your time, minister.

Minister François-Philippe Champagne: A real pleasure.

Vassy Kapelos: Nice to see you.

Up next, we’ll talk to the man who holds the balance of power in B.C, Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver, after the break.


Vassy Kapelos: Welcome back. It may be days before we have the final results for the B.C. election. But one thing is certain right now, the Green Party will hold the balance of power. So how will the new political order impact politics not only in B.C. but across the country? Joining me now from Victoria is the leader of the Green Party Andrew Weaver. Mr. Weaver thanks so much for being with us and congratulations on your success in this election.

Andrew Weaver: Thank you and good morning.

Vassy Kapelos: So what happens now? Your party as we said holds the balance of power. What’s your plan over the next couple of weeks until those final results come out?

Andrew Weaver: Well I’ve had a couple of phone call conversations both with the premier as well as the leader of the Opposition, Mr. Horgan. We’ve agreed to continue discussions as to how we might work together in both cases. Starting next week, I’ll be doing more formal discussions with both the premier and her staff and the leader of the Opposition and his staff. The idea is to see how much of our platform we can actually get others to agree to. Our platform was put together very carefully through extensive consultation, putting people first all the time. We’ve got a few deal breakers of course. Things like we want to get big money banned out of B.C. politics. We’re the Wild West out here. I think that’s one that both parties would agree to. We’d like to get official party status of course to give us the resources to actually do the job we’ve been elected to do and there are a few others as well.

Vassy Kapelos: So, let me ask you about some of those deal breakers. Is one of them the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion?

Andrew Weaver: Well the Trans Mountain pipeline extension, it needs much more careful analysis. But we’ve been very clear, the B.C. Greens have been very clear. I participated in the NEB process. The process was a box ticking exercise as far as I could tell. We have never supported having diluted bitumen in our coastal waters. We want diluted bitumen out of our coastal waters. The B.C. NDP have also agreed to that. I’m not sure where the Liberals are on this, but this is certainly one of the things we’ll be talking about. But it’s appropriate to talk about that in negotiations and not show our cards prior to actually entering those negotiations.

Vassy Kapelos: So you don’t want to say if it’s a deal breaker or not, but I think Christy Clark’s position, so far at least, has been pretty clear.

Andrew Weaver: [Chuckles] Yes, the Liberals position has been clear, the B.C. NDP position. They essentially came to our position over the last couple of years as they recognize that they were on the wrong side of public opinion here. And so we’ll see where this leads out. We cannot somehow consider signing the Paris Accord, a major international accord on the one hand, and building fossil fuel infrastructure that’s going to last for 50-60 years on the other. Those two are mutually inconsistent things to do because we recognize that what Paris said to the world is that starting now, we need to start transforming our energy systems to low carbon or zero emitting systems. And so the plans for LNG, the plans for building pipeline just doesn’t make sense in that context.

Vassy Kapelos: How far are you willing to go though in the fight against that infrastructure given the new power you’ve acquired?

Andrew Weaver: We have been elected by British Columbians to work with other parties. We have not been elected to run an agenda. We’ve been elected to hold the other parties accountable. One of our taglines as we moved towards the end of the election was neither the B.C. Liberals nor the B.C. NDP can be trusted with a majority government. Clearly British Columbians agreed, and so our job is to ensure that good public policy is the centrepiece of our discussions in the legislature, and to ensure that political calculations are not front and centre, that we’re trying to ensure that we advance good public policy here in B.C. because there’s been, frankly, far too little of that over the recent years.

Vassy Kapelos: Sorry to interrupt. How far or how are those preliminary, or how have those preliminary discussions gone so far? And I ask because I think for a lot of us sitting on the outside watching in, you would expect your party to more naturally align with the NDP. But is that a given?

Andrew Weaver: No, nothing’s a given at this stage. My first order of business was to hire a chief of staff. I’m just in the final negotiations of that right now. Our plan is early next week to sit down to have my chief of staff sit down with a team here on the B.C. Green team as well as with NDP and Liberal chiefs of staff and teams to see if we can’t hash out an agreement in the next week. There’s no rush. We know that this government, and the final decision, will not be made until the absentee ballots are counted, and there are an awful lot of them to be counted too. So we have time. We have a good week to put an agreement together.

Vassy Kapelos: Do you think that those absentee ballots will change the outcome of the election?

Andrew Weaver: Historically, absentee ballots bode very well for both the B.C. Greens and the B.C. NDP. For example, we know that they had ballot boxes on university and college campuses across the province. We know that younger people typically tend to lean more to the B.C. Greens or the B.C. NDP. So if anything, it’ll tighten up in my opinion. Right now, it’s 43 Liberal, 41 NDP, with 3 Green. If anything, I suspect it might even come to 42, 42, with 3 Green in light of the fact that there are a number of seats that are within just over 100 votes and with 1,500, 2,000 absentee ballots, you could see some small swings there. We’ll have a couple of judicial recounts too, that’s for sure.

Vassy Kapelos: Well it’ll be an interesting few weeks and months ahead. Thanks so much for joining us, sir and congratulations again.

Andrew Weaver: Thank you. It’s very exciting here in British Columbia right now.

Vassy Kapelos: Up next, we’ll unpack the politics of the prime minister’s non-answers in Question Period.


Vassy Kapelos: Welcome back. Over the past few Wednesdays, the prime minister has been taking all the questions during Question Period. But taking those questions doesn’t mean he actually answers them. Last week, the Opposition asked Justin Trudeau over and over, how many times he had met with the ethics commissioner over possible ethics violation and each time, no answer was given. So here to give us their answers on the non-answers, Josh Wingrove of Bloomberg News and Bob Fife, Ottawa bureau chief for The Globe and Mail. Thanks very much for being with me, guys. I appreciate it.

Bob, why don’t I start with you? Why is the Opposition hammering the prime minister over this issue? Can you explain what it is they’re trying to get at?

Bob Fife: Well I think there are two things. One, they were making the point that the prime minister never really answers any questions. And second of all, they are trying to find out whether he actually did meet the ethics commissioner to talk about using a helicopter to fly into the Aga Khan’s fabulous resort, which was very clear he broke the ethics guidelines on that. So, sorry I’ve got something in my throat here.

Vassy Kapelos: That’s okay.

Bob Fife: So that’s the crux of the issue. But I think for everybody who was watching Question Period, it was sort of kind of a stunning thing because he never answered at all and went on and on and on and he ended up being pretty diminished out of that whole process. And I bet you next Wednesday the Opposition will have a whole series of other questions that they’ll go after him again and again. And maybe he should start answering these questions because all he could have said is my staff met with her or I met with her once, end of story. He didn’t do that.

Vassy Kapelos: And we should make the point that this special Question Period is a new thing from the Liberals that is meant to improve democracy and provide more answers for Canadians. How ironic is it, I guess, Josh that he’s not answering?

Josh Wingrove: Well, and yeah that was the response that he was giving is that what a shame that the members of Parliament are using this to not ask me about other stuff. But he could have answered and gotten it. The wording, I think that they’re trying to wiggle out with is that he’s working with the ethic’s commissioner, happy to work with the ethic’s commissioner, happy to answer her questions. You could say that you’re doing those things without actually meeting her. And so I think that’s why there’s a lot of smoke here and maybe some fire under it as well. Afterwards, his top aid or one of them, Gerry Butts, on Twitter was saying that you know why are people still asking about the prime minister’s sum—Christmas vacation. It’s May, why are we still talking about this? That’s a bit rich.

Vassy Kapelos: Why are we?

Josh Wingrove: Well because—because we don’t have any answers and because it is quite apparent, at least potential breach of the rules. And this is a government that’s still you know 18 months into power invokes all the, in their mind, bad things the Conservatives did. Well even in power 18 months, so I think if you’re still invoking the Conservatives 18 months ago, we’re allowed to ask questions four months later about a vacation that broke the rules. They haven’t been particularly transparent about this from day one and that’s the final sort of note is that hypocrisy question. This is a government that campaigned on real change, on transparency and all that [00:16:50] and they’re not really delivering.

Bob Fife: But there’s a lot larger issue here too, the whole issue of these non-answers. The prime minister has usually gone two or three times a week where he does events across the country and he meets the media. Again, on Friday he was asked questions about NAFTA. He was asked questions about when we’re going to have that peacekeeping mission. Again, just talking points, no answers, I mean it almost not worth watching these news conferences anymore because he doesn’t provide any answers. And then there’s the whole issue of—I mean I don’t know whether you’re experiencing this, but I’m finding more and more that the ministers offices or departments are not providing the answers that they promised they would do, that they said they were going to be different than Mr. Harper’s regime. They were going to actually respond to you and give you fulsome answers and they haven’t been doing that. And then they made a major backtrack on their number one of their most important promises was access to information. Opening that up for Canadians and for the media and they’ve backtracked on that as well. So you know, there’s a lot of things that people didn’t like about Stephen Harper, but when you had him in a scrum, he would answer the question and usually do a very good job of giving you a very detailed response.

Vassy Kapelos: Do you think though, Josh, that’s something that bothers us as journalists or do you think that translates to the Canadian public?

Josh Wingrove: I think absolutely it bothers me more than it bothers you know my family or [00:18:15] day to day for sure. But the broader concern I have here is that we’re all concerned about the shifting nature of media. And governments increasingly think they can do an end run around the media. And to some extent, they’re able to in many cases. Certainly, Donald Trump is a pretty good example of blowing up what we thought was the traditional model for things. So I think that they are increasingly tempted to circumvent the press gallery, to circumvent sort of us as a filter, a fact check frankly, and I think that’s concerning. I totally agree with Bob’s point that we get responses more from Trudeau than we do answers. And one of the great examples, I think was on Thursday after Moody’s downgraded all six big banks. This is a major thing.

Bob Fife: Yeah, a big story.

Josh Wingrove: A major thing to be talking about. He was asked about it and talked about funding for affordable housing. Like that is just a non-related issue. So either he didn’t understand what the question—or hear the question or he just totally deflected it. And so we didn’t get an answer from like the six big banks who more or less are some of the biggest companies in Canada giving—given this issue. So I would like, personally, to see more answers than responses.

Vassy Kapelos: Speaking of non-answers, I want to move to another minister under fire, Harjit Sajjan. For the past two weeks, the Opposition has been going pretty hard on him for embellishing his role in Afghanistan. And we still don’t really have an explanation from him as to why. But how do you think this has played out? Is he still wearing it, Bob?

Bob Fife: Well, I think his credibility has definitely been hurt. It’s been hurt particularly within the military for you know bragging about being the architect of this very important Afghan mission and battle. And I think it’s hurt his credibility in the country as well. He’s going to survive this unless we find out some other instances where he’s embellished his record. And I mean I think people are probably looking to see if he has done that. But he’s going to survive this. His big test will be when he releases the defence review, which I think should be next week.

Vassy Kapelos: Yeah, we’re expecting that next week. What are you anticipating? And I think also maybe in the—we don’t have too much time left, but in the broader context, he’ll be taking that plan to NATO, meeting with Donald Trump who of course has put the pressure on for spending more on defence, which we have yet to see. So what will you be watching for when that defence policy review, I’m sorry, drops next week?

Josh Wingrove: I mean, I think they’re looking on it for sure to change the channel on him and to prove in particularly yes they have this screw up, but this is a guy with military experience who can handle this file. They seem pretty jazzed, frankly, about this review. And you know they’re excited to unveil it. They think they’ve done something that no other Canadian government has done before. I don’t think we’re going to see specifics in terms of a line by line shopping list of what boats, what planes, etc. that we want. But it’ll allow him to at least sort of try to put a new foot forward. As far as Trump, Trudeau has been moving the goalposts there for a while. He talks about other contributions that Canada makes to NATO rather than the 2 per cent spending. A) We don’t really have the money to hit 2 per cent and certainly not to hit it in the near future. And b) this government is not signalling at all that they plan to hit that. Whether Trump cares or not, I guess we’ll see. Angela Merkel has also sort of backed off the ledge a little bit. So, I think, you know Donald Trump’s got his own problems right now. We might be able to get away with it, but I don’t expect the flood gates to open for cash with the defence policy review.

Vassy Kapelos: For sure. We’ll have to leave it there. Thank you very much to both of you for your perspective and for being with us. Appreciate it.

Josh Wingrove: Thank you.

Vassy Kapelos: And that’s our show for today. As we leave you on this Mother’s Day, here are some final thoughts from some of the mothers who represent different parts of our country on Parliament Hill. I’m Vassy Kapelos. See you back here next week, and Happy Mother’s Day.

Tracey Ramsey, NDP–Ontario: What surprised me most about being a mother on Parliament Hill is trying to find time to tuck away into a corner to talk to your kids about their homework, about sports, about what’s going on in their life.

Karen Vecchio, Conservative-Ontario: As a mom of five, the biggest challenge for me is not being with my children there all the time, not being able to get to basketball games, missing you know prom.

Cathy McLeod, Conservative–British Columbia: I missed my son’s university graduation, it was a vote. It was a minority government. It was a confidence vote on the budget. So certainly that was one thing that, you know I really regretted missing.

Celina Caesar-Chavannes, Liberal–Ontario: My biggest challenge while working here on the Hill is the balance. It’s learning how to juggle all the different things that I need to do between the three kids, being a wife, being a Member of Parliament, being a parliamentary secretary, it is juggling.

Carol Hughes, NDP–Ontario: Sundays is my family day as much as I can. And you know sometimes I just have to say no to certain projects and people understand.

Dianne Watts, Conservative–British Columbia: One of the things that I would really like my daughters to learn from me is to really understand that they have the capability and the strength to do and be whatever and whomever that they want.

Rachel Blaney, NDP–British Columbia: Well you know, I’ve had the great privilege of being a stepmother to a daughter and I have two teenage boys at home. And I think one of the things that I’ve worked really hard to instill in them is a sense of curiosity.

Ruby Sahota, Liberal–Ontario: The value I want to pass onto him is to be inquisitive, to be social, and to care about the people around him.

Kate Young, Liberal–Ontario: One value that I want to instill in my children, and I guess my grandchildren as well, is that democracy counts and that you can’t take it for granted.

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