September 24, 2017 5:54 pm
Updated: September 24, 2017 5:56 pm

The West Block: Season 7, Episode 3

Watch the full broadcast of The West Block from Saturday, September 24, 2017. Hosted by Vassy Kapelos.



Episode 3, Season 7

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Host: Vassy Kapelos

Guest Interviews: Paul Martin, Mark Holland, Joanna Smith, Bob Fife 

Location: Ottawa 

Story continues below

On this Sunday, as the rhetoric between President Trump and his North Korean counterpart ramps up, we’ll ask former Prime Minister Paul Martin if he would still say no to a missile defence system with the threat of a North Korean missile attack increasing.

Then, as the U.S. steps up border searches of phones and laptops, here at home the privacy commissioner warns Canadians should be concerned. And with Canada’s legalization next summer, what can the federal government do to ease our minds and restrictions at the border? 

Plus, Parliament is back and so is the name-calling. We’ll unpack the politics of the government’s agenda and the tone on the Hill.

It’s Sunday, September 24th. I’m Vassy Kapelos, and this is The West Block.

World leaders gathered in New York last week for the annual UN General Assembly. In his speech to the UN, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau chose not to speak about global issues. Instead, he focused on Canada’s mistreatment of its Indigenous People. 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “Canadians get it. They see the inequities and they’re fed up with the excuses.”

Former Prime Minister Paul Martin has focused his post-political life on improving the lives of Indigenous People in Canada. I sat down with him late last week. Take a listen. 

So thank you so much Mr. Martin for joining us, it’s a real pleasure to have you on the program.

Paul Martin: Well thank you for having me.

Vassy Kapelos: I want to ask you of course about Indigenous affairs. I know it’s an area of great interest for you in a minute. But first, I have to ask you about something that’s been in the news often over the past few weeks and that is the increased threat from North Korea. We heard from the deputy commander of NORAD saying that it’s official U.S. policy not to defend Canada if a missile was aimed at us because we are not part of the ballistic missile defence program at NORAD. You were the last prime minister to officially say no, to joining that program. Do you think you’d make a different decision today. 

Paul Martin: I think you make a decision given the circumstances at the time. And those circumstances have changed substantially. I don’t think there’s any doubt that North Korea is the greatest threat that any of us face at the present time.

Vassy Kapelos: And so are we to take from that, I guess, it might be a different decision this time? Do you think that the circumstances have changed enough?

Paul Martin: Well one of the things I’ve learned is not to anticipate decisions that will be made by the department of defence. We’ve got an excellent minister of defence and it’s going to be part of a much wider decision in terms of our own national security. But you can rest assured that what’s going on in North Korea is going to be very much front and centre whereas they make those decisions.

Vassy Kapelos: We spoke actually last week to George Macdonald, who was the deputy commander of NORAD at the time. And he said that he was part of the sort of bureaucratic team leading the charge on BMD and until that decision was made, he actually thought that you were going to say yes. Why did you say no at the time 

Paul Martin: Because there were an awful lot of unanswered questions which we couldn’t get answered.

Vassy Kapelos: And what were those questions?

Paul Martin: Well these are the questions as to what would Canada’s role be? What ability would Canada have to influence decisions? And essentially, how is it going to work? There have been a lot of technological improvements since then.

 Vassy Kapelos: Let me switch over to Indigenous affairs. I know you’ve applauded the government’s decision to split the ministry into two. Critics have said though it’s the last place you should add another layer of bureaucracy. Why do you think it will work?

Paul Martin: When you think that you’ve spent the last 60 years underfunding First Nations education, underfunding First Nations healthcare, underfunding child welfare and we’ve got to put this on a fair basis. It’s immoral what has gone on in terms of the underfunding of these, but that’s going to take a lot of work to put all that back together. At the same time, the confirmation of the inherent right of self-government and the transition out of the Indian Act, which is absolutely crucial, is a huge undertaking. And so what you’ve got is two of the most important decisions, not just indigenous, just two of the most important decisions Canada has to take in the years to come are those two decisions. Don’t mix them up. Give them to two very strong ministers, which is what we’ve got in Carolyn Bennett and Jane Philpott and then let them focus on the two.

 Vassy Kapelos: Let me ask you about how huge the undertaking is because I remember when Prime Minster Trudeau was elected. He said his top priority was remodeling and sort of rejigging the relationship, renewing the relation to the nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous People. I remember the excitement was palpable then when he said it. And I remember also covering Canada Day this year and many other events, and I don’t want to speak for anyone, but people who spoke with us were very disappointed about what’s materialized since. Do you think that this government set the expectations too high?

 Paul Martin: No, I think that they set the expectations where they should be. Indigenous Canadians, in fact, all Canadians certainly have the right to say that their education, their healthcare, their welfare, all of the others, the drinking water, is going to be the same quality as other Canadians. And so I think Canadians expect that that’s what the government is going to drive for. But you also have to work on the relationship and that’s been where a lot of the problem has been over the last 250 years. And so you have to start somewhere.

 Vassy Kapelos: There are a couple areas specifically that I wanted to get your take on, the first, the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Inquiry. There are calls for that to be scrapped, again, because expectations were set at a certain point and a lot of people feel that they haven’t been met. Do you think that the inquiry in its current iteration can be “successful”?

 Paul Martin: I think that you’ve obviously got to restart in certain places. But I—

 Vassy Kapelos: Which places?

 Paul Martin: Well that’s up to the current commission. Don’t forget, probably the most successful commission that we’ve ever had was the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. And they had a bit of a jumpy start at the beginning. That’s not unusual in a situation such as this. But what we can’t do is just give up. What we have to do is to say yes, there are things we’ve learnt and we’re going to learn from them and we’re going to start over here.

 Vassy Kapelos: The Truth and Reconciliation Commission that you brought up, the prime minister also promised to meet or to fulfill all 94 recommendations. Is that too tall an order or do you think it is possible?

 Paul Martin: I think it’s possible. I think that there have to be priorities and the prime is setting them. And I think those priorities are healthcare, education, child welfare, clean water and housing. And they have established those priorities, but there’s no reason why they can’t accomplish the rest. They’re not going to do it overnight. I think that they’ve got to go as fast as they possibly can, recognizing that there are huge differences of opinion. Just take nation-to-nation. I mean is it nation-to-nation 640 communities or is it 60 First Nations? Or where do the treaty nations fit within all of this? So I think there’s an enormous amount of work that the First Nations have to accomplish and so I think that time has got to be taken to do this right. And we are recognizing it’s got to be done at the pace that the First Nations or in other instances, the Métis Nation or the Inuit want to see happen. The question of pace is not my decision or your decision. It really is the Indigenous People of Canada’s decision.

 Vassy Kapelos: Okay, we’ll leave it there. Thank you so much for your time, Mr. Martin.

 Paul Martin: Thank you.

 Vassy Kapelos: Great to have you on our show.

 Paul Martin: Okay.

 Vassy Kapelos: Thank you.

 Up next, what can the federal government do to help Canadians as restrictions at the U.S. border increase?


 Vassy Kapelos: Welcome back. In recent months, Canadians travelling south of the border have been confronted with increased border restrictions. And the situation could get worse once marijuana is legalized here in Canada. What does that mean for Canadians heading south? Here’s your West Block primer:

In less than a year, marijuana will be legal in Canada. But when it is, should you admit you smoked it at the U.S. border? Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked but didn’t really answer. 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “We don’t let other countries or other leaders dictate who or how we let people into our country.”

And weed isn’t the only problem. The privacy commission says Canadians should be very concerned about U.S. border guards searching our phones. You have to give them your password and they can search the entire device and use the information to deny you entry. The Americans make their own rules, but is there anything our government can do? 

And joining me now is Mark Holland, parliamentary secretary to the Public Safety minister. Thanks so much for being here, I appreciate it.

Mark Holland: Thanks for having me.

Vassy Kapelos: I wanted to start off by asking you a question the prime minister was asked last week. And to be honest, I really couldn’t make a lot of sense of his answer so I’m hoping I can get some clarity from you. When marijuana becomes legal here and Canadians head to the border, should they be admitting to using it if they have? Will it prevent them from entering the United States?

Mark Holland: Well obviously up until the legislation comes forward to legalize marijuana it is illegal. This is being sold by criminal networks and one of the reasons why it’s so important that we legalize marijuana is so that we stop the profits that are being made by these illegal operations. But up until the point of which it’s legalized, it is an illegal product. And if you use an illegal product you’re committing an illegal act.

Vassy Kapelos: For sure. I mean sorry when it is legal though. And that’s the question that he got.

Mark Holland: When it is legal if people are using in a legalized regime and have procured it and used it in a legal way, then they’ve been compliant with Canadian law. The United States is a foreign jurisdiction. We work with them very closely. We are certainly in close contact with them on our policy changes and what we’re working on. Remember that the United States has many states that have legalized marijuana so they’re dealing with this in a domestic context as well. So we’re working to ensure they’re aware of those changes and aware of what we’re doing. Ultimately, the decision that they make is their decision and as a foreign jurisdiction we can no more tell them what to do than they can tell us what to do.

Vassy Kapelos: So would your voice though to Canadians at that point, next year or whenever it does become legal, would your advice be to be honest and tell the truth?

Mark Holland: You always have to be honest and tell the truth when you’re at the border.

Vassy Kapelos: And what’s your level of confidence that they won’t be turned away though based on your conversations with your counterparts?

Mark Holland: Look, I can say that when Secretary Kelly visited Canada, he was very clear that he had full confidence in our security procedures and the way in which we conduct our security.

Vassy Kapelos: So the Americans haven’t raised it with you as a concern?

Mark Holland: And their desire is to make our border thinner, not thicker. So we have every reason to expect that that is the spirit in which this is going to continue and that we’re going to see a thinning, not a thickening of our border.

Vassy Kapelos: Okay, let me switch to another border issue and that is something that the privacy commissioner raised last week. He said Canadians should be very concerned about the level of electronic searches of our personal devices and basically what U.S. border guards can do with our iPhones. They can access our password, etc., etc., and they can turn you away based on that information. Did what he said alarm you as well as Canadians?

Mark Holland: Again, we are in constant contact with the Americans around the fact that every Canadian must be treated fairly and justly when they arrive at the border. We have a very good working relationship with our counterparts in the U.S. And Secretary Kelly and his administration have been excellent to work with. From our perspective, we look at the privacy commissioner’s report and we see a lot of areas that we work on with our American counterparts. We also note that the privacy commissioner talked about in a Canadian context how strong the Canadian policies were in this area and how—

Vassy Kapelos: He actually also advised that they become stronger though.

Mark Holland: Well he said that he would like to see them put into law. He said that they were so effective that he would like to see the existing policies put into law. But remember in a Canadian context in the policies that we control because again, we can’t control American policy any more than we would ever allow them to control ours. In a Canadian context, there must be a multiplicity of indicators that somebody is using an electronic device to subvert a law that CBSA is responsible for. So that doesn’t even include a myriad of criminal offences. They cannot use that opportunity to search for some sort of criminality and there has to be a multiplicity of indicators that something is going on there. So I think the privacy commissioner has said look, Canada’s doing a good job, that we should enshrine the good job that we’re doing in law. And we are looking at ways that we can ever improve our processes and certainly we’re vigilantly working in our discussions with our American counterparts to make sure that Canadians are treated fairly and justly when they cross the border.

Vassy Kapelos: I know that you’re absolutely right, we can’t control the laws that they set. But there are a number of European countries, for example, under the judicial Readdress Act in the United States that have an agreement with the United States that allows them an extra level of privacy protection at the border. Why isn’t Canada on that list? It’s a question the privacy commissioner raised as well.

Mark Holland: Well I was very encouraged when Secretary Kelly came here and he made the statement that I just alluded to earlier that he wanted to see our border thinner, not thicker, that they have a great deal of confidence in how Canada conducts its security.

Vassy Kapelos: Has Canada ever asked? Has your government ever asked for that extra level of privacy?

Mark Holland: I think it’s fair to say that we had a discussion on a wide array of issues and that it is absolutely our interest to make sure that when Canadians cross the border they can do so as easily as possible. Four hundred thousand Canadians travel back and forth across the largest undefended border in the world. We have $2.4 billion in trade that cross back and forth between our two countries every single day. It is anything that impedes travel or trade is a major concern for us. And what I can say to you is that in our conversations with our American counterparts, we’ve been very encouraged that things are going to get better and are moving in a positive direction rather than getting worse.

Vassy Kapelos: So just quickly though, tangibly better? Is there a chance that there would be an agreement between Canada and the United States the same as we see between European countries?

Mark Holland: I think we have every reason to expect things are going to continue to get better and I think that the conversations and the work we have are going to bear fruit.

Vassy Kapelos: Okay. Thank you very much for your time, Mr. Holland, great to have you here.

Mark Holland: Thank you.

Vassy Kapelos: Still to come, we’ll unpack the politics of the first week back for Parliament and what’s on the agenda for the government this fall.


Vassy Kapelos: Welcome back. So one week back for MPs on the Hill. Lots of name-calling and pushback from the Opposition on the government’s fall agenda.

Joining me now to unpack the politics: Canadian press reporter Joanna Smith and Ottawa bureau chief for the Globe and Mail, Bob Fife. Thank you both for being here, nice to see you.

Bob Fife: Glad to be here.

Joanna Smith: Hi.

Vassy Kapelos: Bob, let me start with you. I want to begin with these tax changes, the proposed changes, obviously the big issue in Question Period this week. The Opposition is mobilized, they’re organized, they’re vocal, but the Liberals almost seemed to dig their heels in further on this, this week. What is motivating them do you think?

Bob Fife: Well they do think, in some cases they do have a winner issue in the sense that if wealthy people are using private corporations to evade paying taxes, they should pay their fair share of taxes except they botched it. They botched it so badly that Liberal MPs are saying we don’t like this. We’ve got problems with this. If you watch the finance minister in Question Period, he gets up and gives his talking points and all the Liberal MPs are sitting there grim faced. They’re not clapping. When that happens you’re in trouble. You have the NDP actually, who would normally favour taxing wealthy people, actually saying wait this is being botched. We need another 75 days of study because they’re hearing from small business people. And their ridings are saying hey, I’m going to get hit here, not the rich guy. And then the NDP are saying if you’re going after these mom and pop shops, why aren’t you going after people like you Bill Morneau, all the rich fat cats on Bay Street. So they’ve got a big issue here. It’s blown up in their face and they haven’t handled it very well.

Vassy Kapelos: Joanna, do you think that they realize how this is kind of blowing up, I guess?

Joanna Smith: I don’t see how they could not realize that. I mean this was a huge topic during the caucus retreat in Kelowna. I’m sure it was discussed in St. John’s around the cabinet table when they all sort of realized okay, these backbench MPs that we don’t normally have around here, they’re talking to us and they’re making it pretty clear this is not something they directly campaigned on, right? And you know when you have one Liberal MP was talking about their selling class warfare. He said when we went door knocking, someone answered the door and they were a doctor. We didn’t say oh, no thank you, we don’t want your vote. And yet we’re going after them, right? So it’s caused a huge problem and even if the end result is a much more nuance and watered down plan, I mean who possibly could have planned a strategy that involved a revolt from the backbench.

Bob Fife: And you know here’s the biggest problem is they can’t tell who’s going to be hit by the proposals that they put out there. That’s why—

Vassy Kapelos: Well they’re claiming it’s only going to be the wealthy. But they have no proof.

Bob Fife: But then if you look at the proposals they don’t know how many people it’s going to affect. That’s why you have people up in arms. It’s not so much the income sprinkling or the capital gains part. It’s the whole issue of passive investments. In other words, can you put money in this if you’re a small business to save for your retirement and not be taxed at 73 per cent? And that’s what has people up in arms and ready to storm Parliament. They won’t do this in the end. You can be sure—

Vassy Kapelos: You don’t think so.

Bob Fife: No, I don’t think—in the end they’re not going to do this because the small business forms the backbone of the economy. I mean these are people who are job creators. They are going to really make sure it’s narrowed down to people who are using private corporations to really save on taxes. I think that’s probably what they’re going to do. I’m pretty sure that’s what they’re going to do because they’re not suicidal.

Vassy Kapelos: Well the question is then—hopefully not. And the question is even if they do it, has the damage been done?

Joanna Smith: I think yeah, in terms of a government never looks good when it’s backtracking, when it’s constantly on the defensive from its own friends, never mind its enemies. You will notice though, just to the point about targeting it to the wealthy. The Liberals have really been focusing a lot more on the income sprinkling. And the Conservatives haven’t really been talking a whole lot about income sprinkling and that’s because they think sprinkling involves spreading your income among family members who may end up not actually doing any work for the company. And it’s sort of on the surface to anyone who doesn’t understand the intricacies of the tax code, a pretty hard thing to defend from a sort of a moral level, I guess, right? So it’s not illegal, but so I think that’s one that they really will dig down on in the end. And the Conservatives haven’t really paid a lot of attention.

Bob Fife: And the capital gains one, I think they’ll dig down too. You know who’s been damaged here the most it seems to me, is the finance minister. He has performed terribly in the House of Commons this week. And you could see it by the way Members of Parliament, Liberal MPs were not clapping, were silent and this was an issue that should have been a winner for him and he can’t explain it. He hasn’t proven to be a very good political communicator. And you stand up him against Chrystia Freeland, who is doing a great job in terms of the NAFTA negotiations as far as we can see. And if she gets this NAFTA deal, I could see her as the next Finance minister and maybe Mr. Morneau is moved to Industry or Foreign Affairs.

Vassy Kapelos: Do you think it’s a communication problem or do you think he doesn’t believe the message he’s trying to sell?

Bob Fife: I think it’s he sold a bill of goods by the Finance department, which didn’t prepare the proposals well enough so that he could sell to Canadians. And I just don’t think that he has been proven to be a very strong performer, certainly not when the opposition parties are going hard after him. He hasn’t proven to be very skilled at dealing with them.

Vassy Kapelos: And let me ask you about the opposition parties because this is, for the Conservatives at least, something that unites their entire caucus, should be a slam dunk for them. They were going hard on hit all week, but then we see Gerry Ritz, Conservative MP calling Catherine McKenna ‘climate Barbie’ and Andrew Scheer waiting kind of a while to apologize for it. Joanna, what happened to the Opposition this week?

Joanna Smith: Well first, Gerry Ritz happened. I mean it’s not the first time he’s been in trouble for making a bad joke and getting caught and having to apologize for it. If you remember the listeriosis crisis, it was almost 10 years ago now. But you know, someone on Twitter makes a crude remark and I should point out, not something he made up either, ‘climate Barbie’ is this term that’s been used a lot by rebel media which Andrew Scheer has been trying to distance himself from. And yeah, I mean Andrew Scheer is trying to move away from this nasty tone the Conservatives got a reputation for and things like this just distract and that creates a big problem.

Vassy Kapelos: And Bob, what did you think about the delay in his response? Why did it take him a while to say anything and does that do any damage beyond the bubble here?

Bob Fife: Well probably not beyond the bubble here in terms of his late response. But it just shows that he doesn’t have an A-team working in his office that would say to him you get out right now and disavow yourself. Because it was clear if we all watched Twitter as this was going on. This was going to end in an apology because young women like you and women are not going to put up with this crap anymore.

Vassy Kapelos: No.

Bob Fife: And politicians have got to get it in their head that this is no-no anymore, a no-zone. Stop it.

Vassy Kapelos: Yeah, a little corny of the Liberals to fundraise off it right after, but point taken, right?

Bob Fife: Yeah. 

Vassy Kapelos: Okay. We’ll leave it there. Thank you very much both of you for being here. I really appreciate it. 

Bob Fife: You’re welcome. 

Vassy Kapelos: And that is our show for today. Thank you so much for joining us.

As we leave you today, we want to pay tribute to our very dear friend, Lizzie Ciesluk, who passed away last week. Lizzie was with The West Block since we first went to air in November of 2011. She was our makeup artist, but she was so much more than that. And she was a true artist, ran her own studio here in Ottawa and worked on many major productions and shows over the years. She was genuine, caring and funny. And most of all, she was a wonderful friend.

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