June 11, 2017 11:51 am
Updated: June 17, 2017 11:27 am

The West Block Transcript: Episode 40, Season 6

Watch the full broadcast of The West Block on Sunday,June 11, 2017. Hosted by Vassy Kapelos.


Episode 40, Season 6
Sunday, June 1, 2017

Host: Vassy Kapelos

Guest Interviews: Minister Harjit Sajjan, Andrew McDougall,
Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard

Location: Ottawa

On this Sunday, the government announces it will spend billions of dollars on the military over the next two decades. How will the Liberals pay for it all, and why are they waiting until after the next election before the big investment begins?

Story continues below

Then, she gambled and lost. British Prime Minister Theresa May called an election this spring hoping for a landslide at the polls before heading into Brexit negotiations. Now, as leader of a minority government, her hold on power is tenuous at best. So what happens next?

Plus, we’ll talk to former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard about why she wants the Canadian government to take the lead on funding global education.

It’s Sunday, June 11th. I’m Vassy Kapelos. And this is The West Block.

The government released its long-awaited defence policy last week, promising $62 billion in new spending over the next 20 years for equipment like new jets and ships, and for more troops. If the spending goes ahead as planned, the military budget will nearly double in a decade. But where is the money coming from?

Joining me now from Vancouver is Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan. Minister thanks a lot for your time today, nice to see you.

Minister Harjit Sajjan: Great. And I thank you for having me.

Vassy Kapelos: Minister, the NATO secretary general has just responded to your defence policy announcement last week saying he hopes to see more presence from Canada in Europe. Will that be the case given the increase your government is promising in military funding?

Minister Harjit Sajjan: When we started our defence policy review, we stated that multilateralism is very important to us, and as Minister Freeland just outlined earlier this week. NATO is also very important to Canada as well, as we’re a founding member. We’ve actually already stepped up at NATO by taking a leadership role as one of the four framework nations, and we’ll be leading a battlegroup in Latvia. So we’re proud of our work that we’ve done at NATO and look forward to working with our NATO partners.

Vassy Kapelos: Just so I’m clear though, is the door open to increasing our presence as you increase the size of the military and better equip it through this plan?

Minister Harjit Sajjan: In fact, actually we’ve already started increasing our role and presence and leadership at NATO. As I mentioned, the battlegroup taking the leadership role in Latvia is just one measure. We have a frigate that’s on a consistent rotational basis within the Mediterranean as part of Op REASSURANCE. We’ve actually increased our air policing and we have our CF-18s in Iceland right now. They’ll be rotating to Romania in September, and we’ll continue to do exercises and look at other ways that Canada can continue to work together with our NATO partners.

Vassy Kapelos: But no plans at this point to increase, for example, the size of the mission in Latvia?

Minister Harjit Sajjan: Well first of all, we need to get the mission up and running. We’ll have initial operational capability by the end of this month and they’ll be going to full operational capability. So we need to execute on the missions that we started with, but we have regular defence ministerial’s at NATO, looking at the various threats and challenges, and we always work together at making sure that Canada will play an important role.

Vassy Kapelos: I want to quickly check in also on Operation IMPACT. It’s set to expire, this part of the mission, at the end of June. Will you be renewing the mission?

Minister Harjit Sajjan: No, Canada is committed to our coalition partners as part of Operation IMPACT. We will be renewing the mission. When we renewed our mission by increasing our advise and assist mission there and our intelligence, and also during our capacity building, that we will be there shoulder to shoulder with our allies. But we need to also, every year, to review the missions, to making sure that we have the right assets in place. The last thing you want is when you have the evolving situation on the ground and you have the same resources there. The resources need to be able to change. But also, it’s important to note that the military is just one of the announcements that we made for Operation IMPACT. We have the capacity building, we have the development, and we’ve taken a regional approach. So this allows us to remain as a credible partner, and I look forward to announcing the renewed mission alongside my colleagues.

Vassy Kapelos: I want to dig a bit deeper into the defence policy you announced last week, specifically $62 billion of new spending over the next two decades. Will that increase the size of the deficit in the next five, 10, 15 years?

Minister Harjit Sajjan: First of all, the funding that our government has now committed as part of this defence policy, we worked very closely with the Minister of Finance on this, and this is within the fiscal framework, is fully costed as well. And this now allows our military to look after our number one capability which is our people, our women and men in uniform, to making sure they have all the resources, their benefits are in place, that they have all the right capabilities in terms of their equipment, their training so that we can rely on them to be looking after Canadians, whether it’s domestic operations or Arctic sovereignty with our most important partner, the U.S. as part of continental defence, and being engaged in the world which is being a responsible partner, whether it’s NATO, coalitions and United Nations.

Vassy Kapelos: From my understanding, lying within the fiscal framework means that basically our government or our country can afford it. But that’s also based on the assumption that the economy will grow at a rate your government is predicting. What if the economy doesn’t? If we hit a recession, for example, will this money still come through or will you have to add to the size of the deficit?

Minister Harjit Sajjan: Well it’s important to know our men and women in uniform are at the heart of this policy. We ask a lot of them and that has never changed, so we as a government decided that we need to invest in Canadian Armed Forces for our people. Canadians expect this of us and that’s exactly what they told us during our consultations that we conducted last year. We will continue to be making sure that our government supports our men and women.

Vassy Kapelos: With all due respect though sir, that doesn’t really answer the question. If the economy—like we’ve seen this with previous governments, where the promise is made to invest heavily in the military, like with the last government, and that lasted about 20 months because we hit a recession. So what is the economy doesn’t grow as your government has predicted? Is this kind of spending guaranteed?

Minister Harjit Sajjan: Well first of all, the economy I think is also showing good track of recovering. Also the Minister of Finance has looked at the financial framework for Canada. The projections have been made. We can’t talk about hypothetical situations, but one thing that we can do as a government is commit to the Canadian Armed Forces. One thing this defence policy is doing that no other defence policy has in the past is that it’s rigorously costed and fully funded. This is not just about saying this is how much it’s going to cost. We’re saying not only this is how much it’s going to cost, but we as a government are actually committing to this for the next 20 years.

Vassy Kapelos: Okay Minister, we’ll leave it there. Thanks for your time.

Minister Harjit Sajjan: Great, thank you for having me.

Vassy Kapelos: Still to come, a conversation with Australia’s former prime minster Julia Gillard on what she’s asking for from Canada’s prime minister.

But first, political upset in the U.K. as Theresa May is left with a minority government. How will this affect the upcoming Brexit negotiations?


Prime Minister Theresa May: “This will allow us to come together as a country and to channel our energies towards a successful Brexit deal that works for everyone in this country, securing a new partnership with the EU which guarantees our long term prosperity. That’s what people voted for last June. That’s what we will delivery. Now let’s get to work.”

Vassy Kapelos: Welcome back. That was British Prime Minister Theresa May after her Conservative Party was denied a majority. May called a snap election this spring to solidify a mandate for the Brexit negotiation set to begin later this month, but that plan backfired and now there’s political turmoil as May forms a coalition with the Democrat Unionist Party to form government.

Joining me from London to dissect the surprising election outcome is Andrew McDougall, a political commentator and former communication’s director for Stephen Harper. Andrew, very nice to see you, thanks for your time.

Andrew McDougall: Thank you for having me on the program.

Vassy Kapelos: So we just heard from Theresa May basically saying everything’s okay, let’s move on. Do you interpret that as pretty tone deaf to what just happened?

Andrew McDougall: It’s incredible. If you listen to Theresa May today, it’s like the last seven weeks never happened. It’s like her 20 point poll lead didn’t disappear down to two or three. She’s acting like it’s not like Jeremy Corbyn’s breathing down her next when all of those things have happened. So to hear her prattle on about business as usual and Brexit, and that’s what people voted for last year, is totally disconnected from reality.

Vassy Kapelos: So not to make light of what just happened, or maybe there’s a better term for it, but how did she blow this? How did she go from that 20 point lead to what just happened?

Andrew McDougall: Well I think the answer, Vassy, is that they didn’t know what they had in Theresa May. They had an image of Theresa May as a strong, stern, capable home office minister, but they didn’t have her road tested in a campaign. If you’ll recall, she won the leadership of the Conservative Party becoming prime minister by basically lasting longer in a dime store version of Game of Thrones while people like Michael Gove and Boris Johnson knifed each other over the leadership. And she won, so she didn’t have to campaign for it. So her first campaign was this national election campaign, and we saw she wasn’t a very good retail politician. She didn’t connect with the voters. She didn’t meet with them or with the other leaders to argue her case for Brexit. She called it the most important election of our time and then campaigned like it didn’t really matter at all.

Vassy Kapelos: So on Brexit, of course because that’s what we’re all looking forward to. What happens now? What does this do to her footing as she prepares to go into the negotiations?

Andrew McDougall: Well it’s severely weakened in terms of getting a deal that’s good for Britain. I think everybody still accepts the Brexit referendum result is valid. The EU certainly does, and you can almost hear the smugness in their tone today as they said we’ll wait for Britain to get organized. But realizing that two year window, that clock is ticking. May, before the election, did trigger article 50 which sets Brexit in motion, so there’s no two years to get a deal. We’re going to take a few weeks, if not longer, here in Britain to get a stable government organized to get a Queen’s speech passed. And even then if May comes back with a Brexit deal, it’s not as likely, thanks to this election, that she’ll be able to get it through the House of Commons. There are few Tory MPs, more labour MPs and less people likely to support what’s called a hard Brexit of crashing out of the EU. So her job’s just gotten more complicated and her mandate is that much smaller. So she’s a diminished prime minister seeking a mandate or to deliver on a mandate that she doesn’t have against a negotiating side in the EU that is very strong.

Vassy Kapelos: Is there any way you can foresee this sort of as the beginning of the end of Brexit or is that too extreme?

Andrew McDougall: No, I don’t think that there’s an appetite for that. I think it will go forward. Exactly how and what that looks like, nobody knows. The one caveat I’d put to that is that we’re likely headed for another election here in the United Kingdom sometime this fall, and it probably won’t be Theresa May leading the party into that. So, a lot could change between now and then. And if another election happens, you might see a humbled Conservative Party promise a different tack on Brexit. But again, there is that tight two year negotiating window that’s already in place, so any delay there only hurts the U.K. in its ability to get a deal.

Vassy Kapelos: What about Jeremy Corbyn? What do you make of the campaign he ran and how does he fit into what happens now?

Andrew McDougall: Well, you know the advantage of having the bar set so low for you by the press and your opposition is that it becomes easy to hop over it during a campaign. And Jeremy Corbyn, to his credit, campaigned very well. The surly, prickly Jeremy Corbyn that we’ve all seen being beaten up by the press was replaced by a much happier, kinder, gentler, more confident Jeremy Corbyn. And the campaign he ran was very smart. They put him in safe seats to begin, gave him big rallies with his supporters, build his confidence. They put together a platform that labour could believe in that wasn’t as radical as some and labour had feared, but radical enough to appeal to the young voters who were tired of their government cutting services, tired of austerity, and tired of having trouble finding work. And so he spoke very soft words to them of a better future, and people started listening. And when the momentum started to go behind Jeremy Corbyn, Theresa May was so stiff and scripted that they couldn’t change tack. And she had her own troubles with her own platform which was received disastrously, which she then had to reverse on. So she looked weak. Jeremy Corbyn looked confident and comfortable, and the result reflects that.

Vassy Kapelos: Do you think the attacks that took place over the past month had any impact on the results?

Andrew McDougall: Well, I think it had to. You know, the kind of cynical political mind would think that the attack in Manchester would have helped the Conservatives who are seen to be tougher on crime and terrorism. And May in particular, has comfort because she was the home office minister here responsible for anti-terror operations. But when one attack became two at London Bridge, in three of the last three months, it suddenly looked like Britain’s security forces and policy weren’t doing the job they should be doing, and then questions started to get asked about why it that? And then labour very smartly and deftly jumped on the fact that May and the Conservative government had cut police funding over their time in the coalition government and laid the blame at her. So once again, what should have been a strong suit for Theresa May, turned into an attack that Jeremy Corbyn could launch and pulled off.

Vassy Kapelos: I have just about 30 seconds left, but really quickly. What do you think this does to the overall sort of whatever you want to call it, populist movement rise of the right? We saw what happened in France. We’re all watching Donald Trump. Does this put a damper on things for that movement?

Andrew McDougall: I think this is the first good result you’ve seen for the hard left or even centre left in Europe over the past year, so I think people will take heart in this. And I think the best result or the best outcome of this election is that the exit from the European Union will now be a little bit more civilized and a little bit softer which should help people here that are struggling.

Vassy Kapelos: Great, thank you so much, nice to see you again.

Andrew McDougall: Thank you.

Vassy Kapelos: Up next, a conversation with Australia’s former Prime Minister Julia Gillard on gender politics and what she wants from Canada’s prime minister.


Vassy Kapelos: Welcome back. For three years, Julia Gillard served as Prime Minister of Australia, and before that, its education minister. It’s her interest in education that brought her to Ottawa late last week. Gillard is now the chair of the Global Partnership for Education, an organization that works with more than 60 developing countries to provide children with access to a good education. I sat down with the former prime minister to find out what she wants from the Canadian government. Take a listen:

And joining me now is Julia Gillard. Thank you so much for being here. Welcome to Canada.

Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard: Thank you very much.

Vassy Kapelos: Nice to see you on our program. I know you’re here in Ottawa to talk about education and access to education. Why is that such a critical issue right now?

Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard: This is a huge and pressing problem for the future of our world. As we’re having this conversation, around 260 million children around the world who are of school age are out of school. They’re just not going to go to school for one day. And then there are tens and tens of millions more who get some access to education, but it’s either not for very long or it’s of such poor quality that they never get to really learn to read or write, or even do basic sums. And yet, while all of that is happening, we know that tomorrow’s economy is going to require people of higher and higher skill levels, so these kids are going to get left behind for the rest of their lives. That’s the problem we’re trying to solve at the Global Partnership for Education.

Vassy Kapelos: I know you’ve been here in Ottawa for about a week. You’ve met with some officials from our government. What is your hope from them? What do you want from them?

Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard: Well, I would be echoing Malala’s words when she came and spoke at the Canadian Parliament. She said when Canada leads, the world follows. And we are looking to Canada to lead. Canada has been a great long term supporter of the Global Partnership for Education, putting money in so that we can change the circumstances of kids in 89 of the poorest countries in the world. But as we move into this new cycle for education, where we’re really looking to lift ambition, we want Canada to lead. And we believe your prime minister is in such a wonderful and unique place to do that. He was a teacher. He is Minister for Youth. He certainly gets these issues for the future. And he’s taking over leadership of the G7, so some of the major economies of the world who if they want to make a difference, can through organizations like the Global Partnership for Education.

Vassy Kapelos: And how encouraged are you or are how sure are you that Canada will deliver on what you’re asking?

Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard: Well I think that Canadians are very good hearted, that they’ve got a sense in this time of their role in the world and the need for Canadian leadership. I’ve watched closely the speech of the minister for Foreign Affairs and I would echo so many of the things that she’s said. She certainly put squarely before the Canadian people that it is not what happens at home and what happens overseas, but actually in the modern world that’s all joined together. And that really is the same case we’re putting that if we want a productive, growing, prosperous, peaceful world, then we need to make sure every child gets an education, so all of that makes me optimistic.

Vassy Kapelos: It’s interesting you bring up that speech because a lot of it was talking about sort of this new international context that we’re all operating in. I know during your time as prime minister, you had a close relationship with Barack Obama and with the U.S. Do you think it would have been any different with President Trump?

Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard: I think nations have their ongoing interests and arrangements and alliances, no matter who leads them. And so Australia is a very long term ally of the United States, and that has survived many generations of U.S. leadership, many generations of Australian leadership and it will survive into the future. Obviously the personal dynamics would have been different and the policy agendas would have been different. And if I was prime minister now, I’d have to be thinking through those things. I know of course that Prime Minister Trudeau and his team spend a lot of time thinking through those things given your geography in the world. But even as those new international relationships get calibrated with the new president, I think that there are some things that endure. And of the things that endure, I think people want to make sure every child gets the best start in life. I think that’s just such a natural human impulse.

Vassy Kapelos: You were a big supporter of Hillary Clinton during the campaign. Do you think gender had anything to do with her loss?

Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard: I think it was a thread of it, yes absolutely. Political campaigns are complex, political leadership’s complex. When I finished being Australian prime minister, when I last spoke to the Australian nation, I said that gender wasn’t everything about my prime ministership, but it wasn’t nothing either. Gender did have an impact, and I think it’s true it had an impact on the Clinton campaign. It’s not you know the only factor, but I think she did get some differential treatment because she was the first woman contending for that very high office. And whenever I talk about women in leadership, of course as a former female political leader, I think about women leading nations, women leading corporations, women leading not-for-profits, women being judges, all of those sorts of things. But I’m conscious too that even as we’re having that dialogue, there are so many girls around the world who don’t even get to base one, that don’t even get to that first day in primary school. They never get to finish primary school. They never get to go on to secondary school. I’m proud that the work that we do at the Global Partnership has made a difference. We’ve seen a 15 per cent increase in the number of girls completing primary school. But really to give them the kind of future that we would all want to see, we need to do so much more.

Vassy Kapelos: When you talk about that kind of advancement, our government here has a sort of quota system in which Prime Minister Trudeau wanted half of cabinet to be women. Do you think that kind of a system is the right way to go about accomplishing the kinds of goals you talk about?

Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard: I think the mechanisms that people will use will vary. Back home in my political party, we quite a long time back, adopted an affirmative action target to try and make sure that we had more and more women coming into Parliament representing us. And that’s worked. I mean it’s worked to increase the number of women in Australian parliaments. For me, mechanisms will vary, but the underlying proposition is enduring, and that underlying proposition is that merit is equally distributed between the sexes. And so if you look at any institution, be it a Parliament or a corporate board or a judicial bench, and you’re not seeing around about half men, half women, then that must mean that there are women of merit who should have been there, who didn’t get there. And why wouldn’t we want the best team? The team with the most merit out on the field for us today.

Vassy Kapelos: That’s a great way to look at it. Thank you so much for your time today.

Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard: Thank you.

Vassy Kapelos: And that is our show for today. We’re always eager to hear from you. You can find us online at http://www.thewestblock.ca. You can also reach us on Twitter and Facebook. Thanks so much for joining us. I’m Vassy Kapelos. See you back here, next week.

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