September 17, 2017 11:21 am

The West Block Episode 2, Season 7

Watch the full broadcast of The West Block from Saturday, September 16, 2017. Hosted by Vassy Kapelos.

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THE WEST BLOCK

Episode 2, Season 7

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Host: Vassy Kapelos

Guest Interviews: Bill Blair, Colin Robertson,

Retired Lieutenant-General George MacDonald, André Calantzopoulos

Location: Ottawa

On this Sunday, police warn the government its push to legalize marijuana by next July will come at a steep price: enforcement. Will the government heed the warning and delay its bill?

Story continues below

Then, ballistic missile defence: If North Korean launches missiles at North America, Canada cannot defend itself. Is it time for us to rethink or BMD policy?

And then, international tobacco giant, Philip Morris, is pushing a new product which the company claims is the answer to help reduce cigarette smoking. We’ll talk to their CEO to find out if it’s worth hearing their pitch.

It’s Sunday, September 17th. I’m Vassy Kapelos, and this is The West Block. Hearings began last week on the government’s bill to legalize weed, which is set to become law next July. Senior police officials told committee members they not be ready to enforce the law on that deadline. So will the government delay legalization?

Joining me now is Bill Blair, former police chief for Toronto and the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Justice, really the government’s point person on the legalizing marijuana file. Mr. Blair, great to have you on the show.

Bill Blair: It’s good to be here.

Vassy Kapelos: Appreciate it. Last week during a number of committee hearings we heard from the OPP, Saskatoon Police, the Canadian Association of Police Chiefs all saying look, we’re not ready for this deadline. We won’t be ready to enforce legalizing marijuana by July 1st of next year. Are you willing to delay that deadline?

Bill Blair: Well Vassy let me be really clear on what they actually said. And what they said, and it’s right in the written submission as well, is that they need to know that the funding and resources are going to be there. Last week, we announced $274 million to provide them with that funding, to provide them with that resource, the training that they’re going to need to do the job, but they were very clear. If they don’t get those resources and they can’t do the training, then they won’t be able to do it. But we’re going to meet those conditions. I’ve been working and meeting with the police chiefs from across the country and with the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police. I used to be their president and I used to chair their organized crime committee. I’ve been meeting with them for nearly two years. They’ve made it very clear to us what they needed to do the job and we’re making sure they get what they need.

Vassy Kapelos: So after you said that though, and I quote somebody testifying said, “We haven’t been able to even start preparing any training packages or training in any sense because we at this point don’t know what is going to be encompassed in both provincial and federal legislation, or municipal.” So we’re sort of in a holding pattern. I know you’ve announced the money, but they don’t know where it’s going yet.

Bill Blair: Well again, let’s also be clear. All of the enforcement authorities, all of the charges and the law that the police currently use to deal with organized crime, illegal production, illegal import-exportation, illegal trafficking, none of that’s changing. And so they already have all of those tools and they’re keeping them. And they know what they’re doing. They’re very good at that so that work will continue. Much of the regulation will be managed within the Provincial Offences Act in each province. Police officers every single day write tickets under their Provincial Offences Act, and quite frankly, new regulations come out to the police all the time. I used to run a large police service, the largest in Canada. And when we would get information on new regulations, we would use the tools that were available to us. Those tools are not changing. And so yes, the police do need that information, but we know that if we provide them with the resources that they ask for, and the training that they require, they can get this job done. There’s a lot of work and I’m not minimizing the complexity of this. I’ve been working with this and with them with provinces, territories and municipalities on this for over two years and we’ve got a lot of work to do, but it’s also—I’ll tell you why I think it’s really important. Today, our kids are using cannabis at the highest rate of any country in the world. That presents a very serious health and social risk to our kids. It’s unacceptable to me. I spent my whole life protecting kids and leaving them in that type of jeopardy is unacceptable. They also face the threat of criminal prosecution and that’s another real significant social harm that many parents worry about. As well, organized crime makes billions of dollars on this every single year. The elicit market is estimated to be worth between $8 and $10 billion a year. It’s also unacceptable to me as a former police officer that we would continue to allow organized crime to profit in the billions, to continue to allow our kids to remain in the jeopardy that they’re in today and continue to allow the health of Canadians to be compromised because what almost 30 per cent of them are consuming is unregulated, untested and unsafe. And so we can’t drag our feet on this. We’ve got a lot of work to do. But it’s incumbent upon all of us who care about our kids and our communities, the safety of our communities to get to work and to get this thing done.

Vassy Kapelos: So does that mean that the July 1st 2018 deadline is set in stone?

Bill Blair: I think it’s important that we establish a date and let Canadians know what’s happening and what’s coming. And we’ve been doing that work.

Vassy Kapelos: So it is set in stone?

Bill Blair: Well again, that’s the date that I’ve been given. That’s the date I’m working towards. That’s the date the provinces are working towards. New Brunswick—

Vassy Kapelos: But even the provinces, we’re hearing from them last week at the justice ministers meeting. They’re having trouble keeping these deadlines as well.

Bill Blair: They’ve got a lot of work to do. Provinces have many responsibilities and we’ve added something—

Vassy Kapelos: So why rush it?

Bill Blair: Well we’re not rushing it. We’re getting the job—

Vassy Kapelos: But we’re hearing from people that it feels rushed.

Bill Blair: Well because it’s a lot of work. But New Brunswick announced today this is the framework that they’re going to be implementing. Ontario did last week. I understand Quebec is going to do so shortly. People have been working hard on this. Senior officials at the federal, provincial and municipal level have been working together on this for over two years. The FPT justice ministers meeting is taking place this week in Vancouver. This is a significant topic of conversation. People are working collaboratively. Everybody understands. The Canadian Public Health Association and the Canadian Pediatric Society came before a committee this week and said you can’t delay. The risk to our kids is unacceptable. And a public health framework is exactly the right way to do this. And so we believe we’ve got a responsibility to move forward, not recklessly, carefully, thoughtfully, making sure that we do it right. And I think it’s really important that we all do this right, but it’s also important that we not drag the puck.

Vassy Kapelos: Understood, but I think I’m sure you would understand some Canadians are concerned when they do hear specifically police, as you know, such trusted people in society saying we don’t feel like we have the tools yet. Not to say that we won’t, but yet. And I just want to make sure I understand correctly. Are you saying with those resources there should be no issues for law enforcement?

Bill Blair: Law enforcement has a very, very significant role to play in this. I’ve been meeting with the police chiefs. I went to their annual conference in Montreal in August. I spent well over an hour with all of those same officers and police chiefs from across the country. I answered every question they had to me and nobody said we can’t do this. What they said very clearly is we need resources. We need to know where the money’s going to come from. We need help with the training for standardized field sobriety testing. We need help with training for drug recognition experts. We need money and resources to train and equip our officers with the tools and technologies they’re going to need to do this job.

Vassy Kapelos: They also have to train their officers on those tools and equipment.

Bill Blair: And police officers are exceptionally well-trained. Again, I used to run an 8,000 person police service. I know the training that’s required and it’s important. But we are prepared to give that information. We’ve been working with them all along on this thing. I think quite rightfully, the point that they’ve made is, you know, don’t just throw this legislation over the fence and say good luck with that. We need help with the resources. We need help with the training and we need clear and explicit direction. They’re going to get that from us. They want to know what to know what those regulations are. We’re in committee all this week and that work is moving forward. The provinces are coming forward with their regulatory frameworks. When the police have that information, and they have the resources to train their officers, then they’ll be able to do this job and I’m very confident they’ll do it exceptionally well.

Vassy Kapelos: I have to leave it there. We’re out of time, but thanks very much for being here. I appreciate it, Mr. Blair.

Bill Blair: My pleasure.

Vassy Kapelos: Still to come, why is international cigarette maker, Philip Morris, pushing a new product it claims will reduce smoking? We’ll hear from the company’s CEO.

But first, what would happen if North Korea aimed a missile at Canada? That’s after the break.

[Break]

Vassy Kapelos: Welcome back. This year alone, North Korea has launched over 10 ballistic missiles. At present, if one of those missiles were to hit Canada, we are not able to defend ourselves. The U.S. has a ballistic missile defence program, BMD, but because we’re not a part of it, American policy is not to defend Canada. So is it time to join BMD?

Joining me now to discuss is former diplomat Colin Robertson and retired Lieutenant-General George MacDonald, former Deputy Commander-in-Chief at NORAD. Thank you both so much for being here, I appreciate it.

Mr. MacDonald, let me start with you. Should we join BMD?

George MacDonald: Absolutely. I think that the NORAD mission, which has been aerospace warning and defence for almost 60 years now, always included ballistic missile warning, but a natural extension of defence was not agreed to by the Canadian government in 2005. I think it would be a natural partnership with the United States for us to contribute to ballistic missile defence as well as the other missions that NORAD has naturally.

Vassy Kapelos: And what about you Mr. Robertson, should we join BMD and why?

Colin Robertson: Yes we should because conditions have changed since the original assessment made in 2005. And but in doing so, go in with our eyes wide open. The Americans aren’t asking us to come in so we’re doing this to defend Canadians, not because the Americans want this. In fact, this will complicate things for the Americans. We also want to find out what the cost is going to be. Does BMD really work and how is it going to protect Canada? And how much role are we going to have in the management of that system? These are important questions I think we’ll have to ask. But Canadians should be aware that the Americans aren’t asking us. They have something that protects them but we chose not to. That train left the station. I think if we want in now we’re going to have to pay for it. But we do it because it protects Canadians for the reasons George outlined.

Vassy Kapelos: And let me ask you, Mr. MacDonald because the consistent criticism dating back more than a decade is that yes it is too costly and the technology is unproven. What would your response be to that?

George MacDonald: Unfortunately BMD enjoyed a rather negative press opinion. In the past the Canadian public discussion about BMD was really devoid of factual information in many cases. There was concern that it was destabilizing from a global military perspective. There were weapons in space, Star Wars, it was going to cost too much, it didn’t work, all sorts of things. In the 10 or 12 years that have passed since then, the system has evolved. There is more confidence in the ability to defend against a ballistic missile attack. And a lot of the other information can certainly be better explained and in view of the current threat from North Korea, presumably everybody is well aware of that. I think it’s topical now to revisit this situation.

Vassy Kapelos: And Mr. Robertson, as a former diplomat you’re really aware of what, you know, sometimes there are subjects that are a real politic minefield. Why have governments, successive governments, not just the Liberals, not just the Conservatives but both governments, been so hesitant to spend political capitol on this?

Colin Robertson: I think for the reason again George talked about Star Wars and Ronald Reagan, and this kind of sounds odd, do we want to be involved in that. We’ve always had a certain [00:11:35] go back to Pearson and Diefenbaker in the Bomarc missile, Pierre Trudeau and the cruise missile, but ultimately we are part of an alliance and we’re part of an alliance because the collective security gives Canadians self-protection. So that’s why we were doing this now. I think we should have joined in 2005, but now conditions have significantly changed and if a missile is headed towards a place which is beyond where the Americans can reach right now, they’re protecting us so we need to get into that system and it’s an insurance policy. Again, I don’t think joining this is going to make it any more likely that North Korea is going to aim at us. The other point I’d make is that the nuclear genie is out of the bottle. There’s probably going to be more countries like this. We live in a world of disarray so for our own protection we should be looking at BMD.

Vassy Kapelos: So skeptics will say—we heard a couple of people late last week, for example, testify that there is no direct threat to Canada and in fact, someone from Foreign Affairs testified saying that they don’t think of us as an enemy, rather closer to a friend. So does that take some of the weight out of the argument to join BMD or is it still important in spite of that?

George MacDonald: I think we have to think of North American security rather than just Canadian security. Yes, we may not be a direct target of North Korea, but if the United States were attacked or significantly impacted by it, then certainly Canadians would be as well. Our economies are so intertwined. The infrastructure is interdependent. So yes, I think we should be. And our NORAD partnership really mandates that we work together to defend against this sort of threat.

Vassy Kapelos: And if anyone knows NORAD, it’s you. You were deputy commander-in-chief. That’s the label at the time of NORAD. You were there when this was being discussed originally more than a decade ago. Was there hesitancy then? What can you tell us about the discussion at the time that would maybe help inform us about why things are such a struggle now?

George MacDonald: I think the political decision in 2005 was a surprise to many of us. At the time I was deputy commander-in-chief of NORAD, Canadians participated actively in the exercises where we simulated attacks and defended against them with the system that was place. I think I was as familiar of BMD systems as most anybody. And the Canadians that were participating were actively involved in anticipating that Canada’s involvement in NORAD would extend to BMD.

Vassy Kapelos: So it’s a surprise.

George MacDonald: And that was right up until early 2005. We were prepared, I think, to be actively involved and contribute because it made sense and it was logical to do at the time. And North Korea has been developing this capability for 20 years or so, so it’s not a surprise in 2017 it suddenly appeared. This has been longstanding well-known intelligence information.

Vassy Kapelos: And Mr. Robertson, the Liberals have not shown any sort of proclivity to join this program. They’ve been fairly consistent at base you can say on that. Is that a mistake?

Colin Robertson: I think so because I think the conditions have changed and the defence policy review was the obvious opportunity to do so, but there is a piece in the defence policy review which says that we will be looking with the Americans at all threats to North America. So this would give the government the political cover they need to take a look at this and say we needed to spend more time at it. Certainly a lot of work has been done on this and frankly, if I’m in Calgary, Edmonton and something’s headed towards Seattle, given the [00:14:58] range I would want the protection that BMD would give us because at least it’s an insurance policy.

Vassy Kapelos: Based on what you’ve heard so far from them though, do you have any optimism that they are willing to reconsider their position?

Colin Robertson: Well I think the fact that all parties met, as you say, last week and that there was a full day of hearings. And what they heard, I think gave many members a sense that perhaps this is the time to look at this. And I don’t think there’d be any opposition within DND or the forces and a lot of work has been done. And this is after all what government’s about, to respond to change circumstances. Circumstances have certainly changed because of what’s taking place in North Korea.

Vassy Kapelos: Okay, good spot to leave it. Thank you very much both of you, appreciate your time today.

George MacDonald: Thank you.

Colin Roberson: Thank you.

Vassy Kapelos: Up next, cigarette giant, Philip Morris International wants the Canadian government to ease restrictions on a new tobacco product. We’ll ask the company’s CEO why?

[Break]

Vassy Kapelos: Welcome back. International tobacco giant, Philip Morris, is calling on the Canadian government to ease its packaging restrictions and allow them to market a new type of cigarette as a harm reduction product. There are about 4 million smokers in Canada and according to Health Canada, nearly 100 Canadians die each day because of smoking-related illnesses. So would this product actually help reduce those numbers?

Joining me now is André Calantzopoulos, CEO of Philip Morris International.

Thank you so much for joining us. I’m wondering, sir, can you describe in 30 seconds or less what exactly are heat-not-burn cigarettes?

André Calantzopoulos: First of all, I would like to say that the objective of PMI is to achieve a smoke-free future precisely by replacing cigarettes with products that do not burn tobacco. So that’s what heat-not-burn tobacco products are. Combustion is the problem in cigarettes because you burn tobacco. You create harmful substances because you create smoke. A smoke-free product doesn’t have smoke so by definition, it has the potential to be much less risky than cigarettes. So that’s what they are. You just have control temperatures that never get anywhere close to combustion I would say. And that’s why you have the much less generation of chemicals in the air zone.

Vassy Kapelos: So if your company is hoping to contribute to a smoke-free future, critics of course would ask why not just stop selling cigarettes?

André Calantzopoulos: I think the objective clearly is to switch consumers as fast as possible to these alternative products that are much better for their health. Now that will take some time. But on our side, we want to achieve this as soon as possible. And on our side we’re dedicating all the resources we can. We have the products. We have the scientific evidence that we have already submitted to the FDA and other agencies. We have for sure the commercial commitment. Today, already although this product’s at the beginning stage, they are 4 per cent of our volume. We have 30 per cent of a market in commercial expenses in these products and we have already switched more than 3 million people around the world and we’re switching 8,000 people every day. So I can assure you we’re going to do everything we can to accelerate the switching.

Vassy Kapelos: What are you hoping to achieve here in Canada and what barriers are in your way?

André Calantzopoulos: Well in Canada we have 4 million smokers today. And Canada has been at the forefront of regulatory policy for many years. Reality is we still have all these smokers. So what we would like to have in Canada is something similar to what the FDA has done and announced recently, which is a regulatory policy that provides, if I can summarize, three fundamental elements. The first is a very rigorous assessment of novel products by the manufacturer and the rigorous evaluation by the government. The second is appropriate communication to consumers about these products and also rules on how to manufacture these products and how to follow and survey, to use a technical term, these products once they’re in the market. And the third is regulatory measures that will accelerate the switching of consumers to these products.

Vassy Kapelos: We reached out to the federal government about heat-not-burn tobacco products and they responded to us by saying tobacco is a deadly product and because those products contain tobacco, the ones you’re talking about, they would be subject to all of the provisions of the Tobacco Act, and likely would fall into the same category as regular tobacco, under S5 meaning they would have to have plain packaging. So what’s your response?

André Calantzopoulos: Well I think the [00:20:20] the mistake in the statement is that it assumes that all tobacco products are the same. Actually, they are not. I think it’s very wrong to believe that and also tell consumers that smoke, that all tobacco products are the same. They are not. And I think there is enough science to demonstrate this.

Vassy Kapelos: That science though is funded by your industry. Do you understand what the government is saying about that science not being conclusive? Do you understand that point?

André Calantzopoulos: Well first of all, in order to have science that is not conclusive you have to read the science. And I recommend that this is read and evaluated. Secondly, it’s not us as PMI that say combustion is the problem. All people in Public Health say combustion is the issue. If you don’t burn tobacco you have much less issues, if any. So I think it requires an effort and our submission to the FDA is millions of pages, but I think the government needs to allow itself and provide itself the ability to do this. I think it would be tragic because we delay or we wait or we hesitate for whatever reason to preclude consumers in Canada from reaching these better alternatives earlier rather than later.

Vassy Kapelos: And finally with all due respect of course, you do represent a cigarette company, and cigarettes kill people. So why should Canadians really care about what you’re saying?

André Calantzopoulos: First of all, I have to say that I recognize that we have a credibility gap here and I don’t ask people to trust what I’m saying, but verify the product we put on the market and the science we provide and I’m always welcoming and calling for independent verification. So that’s to be clear. I think Canadians should care because despite all the restrictive measures on cigarettes, people do smoke today and by any projection, they will continue smoking tomorrow. Canada has announced a policy that by 2035 their objective is to reduce to 5 per cent the number of smokers. I think if we’ve got better alternatives to cigarettes that are non-combustible; we can get to this much faster and probably come even close to zero. And that’s why I think Canadians and the Canadian smokers should care about that because I think this is perfectly feasible. It’s an enormous opportunity.

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

André Calantzopoulos: Thank you for having me.

Vassy Kapelos: And finally, before we go today, we want to acknowledge the passing of Toronto MP Arnold Chan, who died late last week after a long battle with cancer. He was one of the nicest, most genuine people I’ve ever had the chance to meet in this job. Our deepest condolences to his wife Jean and their three sons; our thoughts are with you.

And Arnold Chan will be on the minds of many members of Parliament tomorrow here in Ottawa when the House resumes.

That is our show for this week. Thanks for joining us. I’m Vassy Kapelos. See you next week.

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