December 3, 2017 11:10 am
Updated: December 10, 2017 12:23 pm

The West Block, Episode 13, Season 7

WATCH ABOVE: The West Block: Dec 3

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THE WEST BLOCK

Episode 13, Season 7

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Host: Vassy Kapelos

Guest Interviews: Minister Navdeep Bains, Minister Marco Mendicino,

Minister Shannon Stubbs, Minister Kennedy Stewart,

Secretary Matt DeCorsey

Location: Ottawa

Story continues below

On this Sunday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is in China. Will he announce formal free trade talks when he’s there? And is a deal even possible considering China’s human rights track record? We’ll ask one of the ministers on the trip with Trudeau.

Then, the Opposition is calling for Finance Minister Bill Morneau to resign as more questions swirl around his personal finances. But the Liberals are fighting back. We’ll go through the latest with three MPs.

Plus, as tensions mount between North Korea and the U.S., Ottawa announces it will host an international summit to find a diplomatic solution. What does that look like? We’ll ask the government.

It’s Sunday, December 3rd. I’m Vassy Kapelos, and this is The West Block.

The prime minister is spending the week in China where the question of whether he’ll announce formal free trade talks looms large. But the trip comes on the heels of the U.S. and European Union launching formal complaints about Chinese trade practices. So why is Canada seemingly swimming in the other direction? Late last week I put that question to Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains before he left for China.

Okay, thanks very much for joining us, Minister Bains. It’s great to have you on the show.

Minister Navdeep Bains: Well thanks very much for having me on.

Vassy Kapelos: I wanted to ask you and the prime minster will be in China. When you’re there, will you be pursuing or announcing free trade talks with that country?

Minister Navdeep Bains: So we have many objectives. We want to pursue stronger relationships with China. And definitely one area that we will be exploring is the area with regards to enhanced trade opportunities between Canada and China.

Vassy Kapelos: So does that mean that there will be a formal launch of free trade talks aimed at pursuing a free trade deal between our two countries?

Minister Navdeep Bains: So as you know, we’ve been very focused on growth and jobs and diversifying our markets, and looking at areas where we can genuinely help Canadian companies succeed and grow. And China presents a lot of opportunities, so that’ll be definitely discussed on our trip.

Vassy Kapelos: I understand that and I guess with respect, though, that doesn’t answer the specific question about whether a deal will be announced or is your government pursuing an actual bilateral deal? I understand there are opportunities, and you and the prime minister have spoken at length about those, but will that manifest in a formal capacity?

Minister Navdeep Bains: That’s the objective. We want to move forward in a meaningful way to advance trade discussions between Canada and China, and that’ll be top priority—one of the top priorities for us on the trip.

Vassy Kapelos: So you will be pursuing a free trade deal with China.

Minister Navdeep Bains: Well again, as I mentioned, when we get there we’ll have these conversations. We’ll be able to demonstrate to Canadians that China is such an important market. It has an economy now that’s the second largest in the world, close to $11 trillion. In the next 10-15 years it’ll be the largest economy globally and we want to make sure that Canada is well-positioned to take advantage of the economic opportunities. And the way we do that is to enhance trade opportunities and that’ll be discussed there extensively.

Vassy Kapelos: And I want to ask specifically about those advantages and those details in a bit. But I do want to be clear for our viewers because your government has kind of danced around whether or not there will be formal talks. So, is this going to happen in a formal way? Will there be a launch of a free trade deal?

Minister Navdeep Bains: So this is what we’re going to determine when we land there. We want to make sure—

Vassy Kapelos: So it hasn’t been determined yet.

Minister Navdeep Bains: Yeah, we want to make sure that we’re very thoughtful about this, that we do our due diligence. But make no mistake. This is really about strengthening the relationship between Canada and China.

Vassy Kapelos: I know your government also consulted with Canadians about their feelings on pursuing expanded opportunities with China and they were kind of split. There are some concerns raised as a result of those consultations. And specifically, I wanted to ask you about, you know, there is the case of a winery owner who’s over there from B.C. who’s been detained for 20 months. What do you say to Canadian business owners who are concerned about the circumstances they’ll face doing business in China. What assurances can you provide them?

Minister Navdeep Bains: Well this is what we want to pursue. We want to create a rules-based approach when we deal with more trade opportunities with China. And we want to create more opportunities for Canadian businesses because when they do go to China, the opportunities to scale and grow are enormous. That benefits not only the Chinese market, but Canadian companies here as well because their operations are set up in Canada as well, and that creates local jobs as well. So that’s the objective is how do we create a framework, a rules-based approach to deal with some of these issues?

Vassy Kapelos: Can I ask what you mean by rules-based and how that would, for example, address the case of the gentleman who’s been detained for 20 months?

Minister Navdeep Bains: So the idea behind trade is to make it very clear we want trade opportunities to exist both ways. We want to eliminate barriers. We want to make sure there are proper regulations in place. We want to make sure there’s proper protection for intellectual property. We want to make sure that we have conditions for businesses to be able to go there and succeed without these impediments, like non-tariff barriers, for example. These are issues that Canadian businesses have raised for us. I’m the voice for Canadian business. I want them to succeed internationally. So clearly, these are some of the areas that we will be discussing.

Vassy Kapelos: Do you think it’s possible to create, realistically, to create a framework that will prevent things like that from happening? Do you think your government can do enough to assure Canadian business owners?

Minister Navdeep Bains: What’s the other option? If we don’t engage, then it’s a huge missed opportunity. So we feel engagement is absolutely critical. There’s a lot of good will. It’s about building relationships. It’s about working with senior government officials. Prime Minister Trudeau spent a fair amount of time in his first initial trip in China building those relationships. We want to continue on with that momentum and we think engagement is the best way forward to deal with some of these outstanding issues.

Vassy Kapelos: How much of the timing when you say, you know, what is the alternative, how much of the timing has to do with what’s going on with the U.S. and specifically around NAFTA? Does that sort of up the ante when it comes to China?

Minister Navdeep Bains: Well clearly the NAFTA discussions are a key focal point for many Canadians, including our government. It is our top priority. It’s our number one market. We’re the United States number one customer as well. But we’ve been very clear from day one we’re open to investment, people and trade. We actually concluded the free trade agreement with the Europe. We’re pursuing discussions at the TPP level with some of our Asia-Pacific partners. So we’ve talked about diversification and trade opportunities from day one. Clearly, the discussions with the U.S. demonstrate that we need to continue to diversify. This is not only good politics, but it’s also good for Canadian companies as well.

 

Vassy Kapelos: Finally, any hesitancy on the part of your government in pursuing those talks in a formal capacity for fear of angering the U.S. in the middle of everything that’s going on with NAFTA?

Minister Navdeep Bains: I think we’re going to be very clear. We’re going to pursue our national interests. We’re going to do what’s best for Canadian businesses and Canadian workers. So that’s what we’ve said from day one.

Vassy Kapelos: So you’ve had no indications from the Americans that they’re weary at all of us pursuing free trade with China.

Minister Navdeep Bains: We don’t take up policy cues from other jurisdictions. We want to make sure we advance our national interests. And it’s in our interest to make sure we’re engaged with the second largest economy today and the number one economy in the next 10-15 years to make sure Canada is well-positioned for opportunities for our businesses to grow and expand and have access to that market. And that creates Canadian jobs here in Canada as well, which is very important to us.

Vassy Kapelos: Okay, thanks.

Minister Navdeep Bains: Thank you.

Vassy Kapelos: Thanks for your time, Minister. I appreciate it.

Minister Navdeep Bains: Thank you very much.

Vassy Kapelos: Up next, can Finance Minister Bill Morneau survive the Oppositions calls for his resignation? MPs from all three parties will debate just that after the break.

 

[Break]

 

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer: “So if he can’t answer the simple question of when he sold his $680,000 Morneau Shepell shares, why doesn’t he just do the right thing and resign.” [House cheers]

Finance Minister Bill Morneau: “If the member opposite has something that he wants to say, if he has an allegation that he would like to make, I would ask him to grow some spine, stand up right here in this House, and say it in this House. Say what he means.”

Vassy Kapelos: Welcome back. That was one of many heated exchanges in the House of Commons last week surrounding Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s personal finances. The Opposition is calling for his resignation and Morneau is fighting back calling the Opposition slanderous.

Joining me to discuss the politics up on the Hill are three MPs: Liberal Marco Mendicino, Conservative Shannon Stubbs and New Democrat Kennedy Stewart. Thank you all for being here, I appreciate it.

Minister Marco Mendicino: Thanks for having us, Vassy.

Vassy Kapelos: I want to start off discussing the merits of the accusations leveled at Mr. Morneau and I think we should clarify them first. Essentially, the Opposition is saying that he and his father sold off an enormous amount of shares prior to an announcement about tax changes that would have deflated the value of those shares. So, I understand what he’s saying that that move was telegraphed during the election and that the two aren’t necessarily correlated. But do you admit, Marco that it just doesn’t look good and that perception is often important.

Minister Marco Mendicino: Well there’s no doubt that perception as driven by the Conservatives, as has been done, but they woke up to a really bad day. There’s a flood of headlines this morning who have concluded on the merits, which is your question, that there is zero actual evidence of any of the ludicrous allegations which have been made. And that’s precisely because of the reasons that you stated in your question. So why does this matter? Because Canadians are going to judge the Conservatives and the Opposition on how they spend the most precious commodity that we have on the Hill, how they use their time in Question Period and they’ve come up with nothing. They’ve come up with baseless false allegations. They’ve implicated the finance minister’s father. They’ve implicated his family, wrongfully I might add. They don’t dare repeat any of the allegations outside of the House. And that discloses that they’re not serious about this. This is just bad raw politics.

Vassy Kapelos: Let me ask you Shannon. What do you say about that? Is this an allegation that you’re willing to make outside of the House?

Minister Shannon Stubbs: In fact, we’ve asked questions, which is what we’ve done in the House of Commons, asked repeated questions about when Minister Morneau sold his shares. For days he maintained he didn’t know when that was. Yet he has also said he gave direction to someone to sell those shares. Then he gave direction to his financial advisor. He said he sold some immediately after being elected. We know in fact, that there have been three major sales of enormous numbers of shares, which did happen before the tabling of that motion that then increased taxes and dropped the value of the shares. So whoever sold the shares in advance of the tabling of that motion about which the details were confidential until the tabling, avoided the higher tax rate and the sale was made at maximum value. So all we have asked is for the minister to just explain when he sold his shares. We also know, as up until a month ago, he continued to hold a million shares in Morneau Shepell. So we are asking these questions because the finance minister is the second most powerful law maker in Canada. He makes decisions which impact the market, which impact the Canadian economy, the country’s entire budget and the everyday lives of all Canadians. So these are very serious simple questions that reporters and journalists are asking that elected members of Parliament are asking and that Canadians deserve to have answers.

Vassy Kapelos: Kennedy, do we know that for sure when those tax changes were announced that the market went down because of that specifically?

Minister Kennedy Stewart: Well nobody can predict the market, really. But there is—I mean if we just back up a little bit is that this finance minister’s in real trouble. I think Canadians at home who are watching this and following this day after day, they probably have something in the pit of their stomach or their smell test is going off and saying something’s wrong here. It may not be exactly what the Opposition is saying, but it’s definitely an appearance of conflict. There is an appearance of conflict and that’s undoubtable. In fact, if this had happened in British Columbia, under our very tough provincial laws, he would already be charged more or less with apparent conflict of interest. We just have really weak laws here in the federal parliament. So he’s already been fined once by the ethics commissioner, so we know there’s a problem there. And I think this is what happens in the House and this is what democracy is, it’s asking tough questions of the government and that’s what’s happening here.

Vassy Kapelos: The Opposition, I think, based on what we saw in QP this week, they were asking those questions. They weren’t getting a lot of direct answers. Do you admit that?

Minister Marco Mendicino: No, of course not. He’s been very forthright and I wish I could agree with my colleague, Shannon, about how this is just about asking questions. It’s not. Vassy, you heard the Leader of the Opposition stand up and call for the resignation of the finance minister in the absence of any credible evidence. There is nothing. And I think that that speaks volumes about the kind of politics that the Conservatives continue to play. They don’t seem to understand that Canadians expect more from them. Of course hold the government to account, but don’t say that this is just about asking questions which have been asked and answered. This is about calling for resignation in the absence of any evidence whatsoever. It’s been nothing but falsehood, insinuation and they’re just hoping that mud will stick. And that is a problem of mine. Isn’t that the real trouble with the Conservatives is that instead of debating the big ideas, including a red hot economy, national security, we’ve got issues with North Korea. Instead of spending the precious time that we have in the House debating those things, we’re talking about mudslinging. We’re talking about calling into doubt, not only the finance minister as the—

Vassy Kapelos: But I think their point is there was one fine levied already against the finance minister, so there is concern that there could be—

Minister Marco Mendicino: And there’s been an accounting for that. But to now call for a resignation without any credible evidence, not a shred. And I don’t think they believe it. They don’t believe it because if they truly believed that there was a shred of proof around any of these allegations, they would say it outside of the House.

Minister Shannon Stubbs: I just did that as you know in my first—

Minister Marco Mendicino: Not the allegation, Shannon.

Minister Shannon Stubbs: In my first response—no actually everything that I just stated is exactly what we’ve stated in the House of Commons and exactly what we’ve asked. But you’ve pointed out what the biggest issue is. It’s that the finance minister has already been fined by the ethics commissioner for not disclosing an offshore corporation which owned a French villa. He is now under investigation by the ethics commissioner for his involvement in introduction of a piece of legislation that will verifiably benefit Morneau Shepell because it is uniquely positioned to be able to provide these very specialized, very specific kind of target pension plans that the minister himself previously had called for as executive chairman.

Vassy Kapelos: Should you wait, though, for the outcome of that before you call for his resignation?

Minister Shannon Stubbs: Well he says he was working with the ethics commissioner the entire time and now she’s investigating him for his involvement. So she sees merit in figuring out what is going on there.

Minister Marco Mendicino: And he’s followed the advice since day one. He will continue to cooperate with the ethics commissioner.

Vassy Kapelos: I think, though, there is a sense among the public that perhaps that—I mean if he had a blind trust from the beginning, if he had gone that extra step, he would have cover for all this—

Minister Marco Mendicino: Yeah, driven by false allegations and insinuations and it’s not good enough for the politics. It’s not becoming of our democracy.

Minister Shannon Stubbs: I don’t understand what you’re saying is false, though, Marco, because yesterday afternoon the finance minister did say he sold a number of shares—

Minister Marco Mendicino: And we don’t dispute that. You’re right.

Minister Shannon Stubbs: Immediately after getting elected.

Minister Marco Mendicino: He’s admitted—

Minister Shannon Stubbs: He’s also said he gave direction to sell the shares.

Minister Marco Mendicino: But to say that there’s a link between to that and some kind of advantage which he gained, which you know is false, Shannon. You know it isn’t true.

Minister Kennedy Stewart: Can I just take sec on the last part of it, and this feels a lot like the last Parliament when we had Stephen Harper day after day up defending Mike Duffy and then eventually Nigel Wright. We had spokespeople, parliamentary secretaries standing up, giving talking points saying nothing was true, nothing was true, nothing was true, and we kind of know how that went. And sitting in the House of Commons during that period and sitting in the House of Commons now, I was saying to my bench mate that this is starting to kind of feel like that. It’s when you can’t answer simple questions about dates, right? You’ve already been charged once, so you’ve already been fined once by the ethics commissioner. There is something going on here and I think Canadians really want to know what that is. And I’m not—

Vassy Kapelos: Do you think he should resign before we have those answers?

Minister Kenney Stewart: No, I’m not going to go that far because I think we have to be very careful with this. And maybe that’s the duty of the official Opposition, but I don’t think kind of as more reason to look at this thing is that we have to see what all the facts are. It’d be really nice if the finance minister made that easy for us. But he is in apparent conflict right now. I would say this is what Canadians are saying. Yet there is a problem here. Maybe it’s not something you go to jail for, but there’s something else that we have to know.

Vassy Kapelos: Why would he and his father have sold that number of shares? And I know my colleague, David Akin, looked back throughout his father’s other sales of shares and none were as substantial as the ones that happened within the same timeframe as his son. Why would they have done it at that time?

Minister Marco Mendicino: They sold shares. They kept shares. Many Canadians sold shares on that same day within that same timeframe. It’s a huge stretch and there’s no credible evidence whatsoever to suggest that there’s any wrongdoing. That’s the point is that they’re just hoping that some of this is going to stick and that’s the problem. And, you know, there’s no facts. There’s no case and there’s no credibility on the part of the Conservatives.

Minister Kenney Stewart: He’s already been fined.

Minister Shannon Stubbs: Yes, he’s already been fined.

Minister Kenney Stewart: So some of it has stuck.

Minister Marco Mendicino: Well, I’m sorry but that’s not what we’re talking about here.

Minister Kenney Stewart: You don’t believe there’s—

Vassy Kapelos: [Crosstalk] Unfortunately, I have to—I’m sorry I have to interrupt and I have to—

Minister Shannon Stubbs: It’s very concerning that they’re threatening to sue people for asking questions.

Minister Marco Mendicino: Stand by your comments.

Minister Shannon Stubbs: I did.

Vassy Kapelos: I apologize. We have to part. We’ll see what sticks next week. Thanks very much for you all being here.

Minister Marco Mendicino: Thanks for having us.

Vassy Kapelos: I appreciate it.

Minister Kenney Stewart: Thank you.

Minister Shannon Stubbs: Thank you.

Vassy Kapelos: And up next, are we a risk or not? We’ll ask the government about North Korea’s latest threat.

[Break]

Vassy Kapelos: Welcome back. Tensions continue to escalate between North Korea and the United States. Now, the Canadian government has announced it will host an international summit in the New Year to try and find a diplomatic solution. That announcement came after the latest missile tests by North Korea. Here’s President Trump on that:

President Donald Trump: “A missile was launched a little while ago from North Korea. I will only tell you that we will take care of it. We have General Mattis in the room with us and we’ve had a long discussion on it. It is a situation that we will handle.”

Vassy Kapelos: And joining me now is Matt DeCorsey Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Secretary Matt DeCorsey: Thanks for having me, Vassy.

Vassy Kapelos: I want to start off by asking you, not long ago someone from your government said that North Korea considered Canada “A friend”. Given the recent actions from that country, are you really sure that that is still the case?

Secretary Matt DeCorsey: Minister Freeland’s been quite clear that we take great concern with and condemn the provocative actions of North Korea, their continual testing of missiles. And it’s our view that we, as a country, can play a leadership role with other countries, the U.S. South Korea, Japan, China, to help find a diplomatic solution to those provocative actions that create an urgent global threat and that’s what our minister is focused on doing. She has been speaking with her counterparts in those countries and we will work hard to ensure that we can find that diplomatic solution. And it starts with dialogue and engagement with those other countries around the world.

Vassy Kapelos: I’ll get to the diplomatic solution in a second. But just to be clear, are we really a friend? Is that how you would characterize the relationship between Canada and North Korea now?

Secretary Matt DeCorsey: Look, we’ve been quite clear that we have great concern and that we condemn the continued provocative actions of North Korea. Our foreign minister has been quite clear about that. Our government has as well and we know that reengaging in the global community means dealing in a diplomatic fashion with the threat posed by the actions of North Korea.

Vassy Kapelos: Okay, so what does a diplomatic solution look like? And is that even possible given the rhetoric from President Trump and his North Korean counterpart?

Secretary Matt DeCorsey: Well, look our minister has engaged in a really constructive and collaborative way with her counterpart in the United States. She’s spoken to her counterparts in Japan, South Korea, China, even most recently on her Asian trip just a number of weeks ago. And that’s why we’re looking forward to convene a meeting of foreign ministers, to explore all options that can help reduce tensions, reduce some of the heated rhetoric and help find a diplomatic solution. It could mean all kinds of different things, but it starts with engaging in a dialogue with our counterparts and our foreign minister has been focused on doing that.

Vassy Kapelos: What is the threat specifically to Canada? And I ask because on the one hand, we have the North Koreans saying they consider us a friend. And on the other hand, we see that your government is preparing bunkers. There are military training exercises. Which is it? And what is the threat to Canada?

Secretary Matt DeCorsey: I think Canadians recognize that we’re a pacific nation and as such, we have an important role to play in addressing the situation and the threats posed by North Korea. We’re going to explore all options to ensure that we deal with the urgent threat posed by the actions of the North Korean regime.

Vassy Kapelos: Is one of those options considering rejoining ballistic missile defence?

Secretary Matt DeCorsey: Look, we have a long and deep tie with the United States when it comes to our collective defence and security. We have great relations between our Defence minister and Secretary of Defence Mattis in the U.S. Canadians expect us to continue with those collaborative relationships. They’ve been positive and to ensure that we look out for the safety and security of Canadians by having our foreign minister so deeply engaged on this issue and working closely with her counterpart to convene a meeting of foreign ministers. We will be able to explore all options and our hope, reduce tensions and drive towards that diplomatic solution that we know we need to find to help overcome the threat posed by North Korea.

Vassy Kapelos: You didn’t mention ballistic missile defence. Does that mean it is one of those options on the table?

Secretary Matt DeCorsey: Well look, the meeting of foreign ministers is about finding a diplomatic solution. Certainly, we have conversations all the time with our counterparts around the world on a whole range of issues. But we think that the diplomatic solution to this threat is essential and we also think it’s possible. And we think it’s possible because we have had success vis-à-vis the North Korean regime with the release of Pastor Lim in recent months. The minister had a conversation on the sidelines as the Asian summit in August with the North Korean foreign minister. And so we believe firmly that a diplomatic solution is possible if we get countries together speaking and exploring all options and we open up lines of dialogue.

Vassy Kapelos: Okay, thanks so much for your time, Minister DeCorsey.

Secretary Matt DeCorsey: Thanks so much, Vassy.

Vassy Kapelos: And that is our show for today. Thanks for joining us. I’m Vassy Kapelos. See you back here, next week.

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