THE WEST BLOCK
Episode 16, Season 7
Sunday, December 24, 2017
Host: Vassy Kapelos
Guest Interviews: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at Marven’s Restaurant in Montreal,
David Akin, Heather Scoffield, Dr. Andrea McCrady
On this Sunday, a conversation with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on ethics, Donald Trump, and what keeps him awake at night. The answer may surprise you.
Then, we’ll unpack the politics of our interview with Justin Trudeau and the recent findings from the ethics commissioner that has put him on her naughty list.
Plus, Canada’s Dominion Carillonneur on the music she plays this holiday season and our annual Christmas favourite, a reading with MPs on the Hill.
It’s Sunday, December 24th. I’m Vassy Kapelos, and this is The West Block.
It’s been a challenging year for the government inside our borders, facing ethics controversies and outside our borders facing the possibility of life after NAFTA.
Last week, I met the prime minister at Marven’s, a Greek restaurant in his Montreal riding where we talked about some of those challenges. Have a listen to our conversation.
Vassy Kapelos: Thank you so much for joining us today, Merry Christmas.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: Merry Christmas.
Vassy Kapelos: Happy holidays to you and your family. It’s great to see you here.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: I feel great to be here.
Vassy Kapelos: At this Greek establishment, “institution” as you call it. As I was saying I’m Greek and so that dictates like everything I do at the holidays, which means eating a lot.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: Lots of food.
Vassy Kapelos: What is Christmas like at the Trudeau house?
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: Food, family, usually outside adventures. If there’s enough snow, sledding and building snow forts. If there’s not enough snow, whatever we can do outside. It tends to be a time to gather the family together and we all lead such busy lives that taking a moment to really sit back, eat way too much and sit on the couch while we watch the kids play with presents.
Vassy Kapelos: Your upbringing has been the focus for critics lately, I guess, when they’re talking about your upbringing and maybe Minister Morneau as well, when they’re talking about the controversy surrounding him. And when I was thinking about the past few months, I’ve interviewed him and obviously heard what you’ve said about the situation, and the critics seem to be on one side saying he really should have gone further. He broke the rules. This is on him. Or not broke the rules, but he followed the rules but he should have done more. And on the other side, you guys saying, look, he followed the rules. When he heard he should do more, he did do more. Is there any kind of grey area there?
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: This whole issue, as you just laid out, he did follow the rules. Could he have done more? Sure. As soon as it was brought to his attention, he did do more. This is something that has been really focused on by the Opposition. And one of the things you sort of have to reflect on is if they’re spending all their time on personal attacks and on supposed ethical issues, why aren’t they talking about the economy? Why aren’t they talking about job numbers? Why aren’t they talking about the things that matter concretely in people’s day-to-day lives? And the answer is they don’t have much to criticize us on, on that level.
Vassy Kapelos: So do you think that people don’t really care about it?
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: Oh no.
Vassy Kapelos: Like do you think it didn’t really matter to people?
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: No, no people care about it. People care about ethics. People care about values. I mean we ran a campaign on more openness, more transparency, and we’ve largely delivered on that and that’s something that matters because people’s confidence in their institutions, their confidence in government really does matter. And that’s why the constant engagement that we have outside of the House of Commons with Canadians whether it’s in by-election campaigns or in town hall tours, which I’m going to be doing again in January, this is a really important time to pay attention to what Canadians are worried about.
Vassy Kapelos: Do you have any say in sort of how Minister Morneau navigated that whole thing or was it all him?
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: No. I told him to tell the truth and be responsible. And that’s exactly what he’s continuing to do and to stay focused on delivering on the real things that matter, which we’ve been able to do.
Vassy Kapelos: I wanted to ask you about the importance of a formal agreement, whether it be NAFTA, or with China, or with TPP, at least from the outside looking in. I’m not behind the scenes, but it seems like all three are hanging in the balance right now. Is a formal agreement from your perspective the be-all-end-all?
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: Oh yes. We want a predictable clear framework so that businesses, workers, so Canadians can know what they’re going to engage in and know how to play with the rules of the game so they can be sure that they’re investments and their building for the future will reach predictable ends. If you look at the rise of populism, the rise of nationalism around the world, there is this inward focus that ultimately is going to hurt economic growth, hurt economic trade because people don’t feel that trade is working for them. It’s working for the big businesses. It’s maybe working for political bottom lines, but it’s not helping ordinary people. And that’s why, you know, you get the populism and the nationalism. What we’re saying instead is, what if we were able to sign trade deals that guaranteed that small businesses that workers would have protections? Then we could move forward in the right direction. That’s what we did with CETA. That’s what we’re doing in updating Pacific Alliance. And those are the conversations we’re having on the new TPP, on engaging with China, on the Asian, the Southeast Asia trade deal we’re looking at, and of course on the big one, on NAFTA as well. Saying, making sure that we put in provisions on environment, on labour, on women is part of a way of making sure that they’re good deals that people can support.
Vassy Kapelos: What if you can’t get agreement on those exact provisions you’re talking about? Has that become sort of the new red line?
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: I hate to talk about clear red lines because the red line for us is, is the deal going to be good for Canadians or not? And good for Canadians, for me, means is it going to protect individuals’ rights and workers’ rights? Is it going to give us an opportunity to grow the economy in ways that include everyone, include the middle class and those working hard to join it? That’s the question I’m looking at. And if it doesn’t, unlike what one of our former prime ministers said, I’m not going to sign any deal at any cost. If it’s a bad deal, I’m going to walk away from it, because no deal is better than a bad deal for Canadians.
Vassy Kapelos: It’s one of the big issues two years into your mandate. We’re of course two years away from another election. What is, at this point in your time in office, the thing that keeps you up? Just one thing.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: One thing? Probably NAFTA, because there’s a level of unpredictability, that it’s out of our control and we know if the relationship with the U.S. goes sour, we could be doing everything right at home and our economy would still end up suffering. That’s the level to which we are dependent on the U.S. So that’s something that I think people know we’ve devoted an awful lot of energy to, to building a good relationship, but not just with the administration which has been positive, but with governors, with different organizations, Chambers of Commerce, businesses, it’s sort of nice to be able to draw on all the amazing connections that Canadians themselves have made with folks in the United States over the course of our history and draw on that at a time of stress to ensure that we’re doing everything we can to make sure that everyone comes out of this okay.
Vassy Kapelos: Before we go, we are of course it is Christmas, and in the Christmas spirit, I thought I would ask you, as we head into this two year election period, what is the best quality about your competition: Andrew Scheer the leader of the Conservatives and Jagmeet Singh the leader of the NDP, each individually.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: Andrew Scheer is most of the time a very pleasant fellow. And I’ve only met the leader of the NDP once or twice, so I don’t really have much to say about Jagmeet other than he’s a great example of the diversity of Canada that he came from a different background. And I think it shows that we’re doing a lot of strides around making diversity a strength and not a weakness. It’s a good thing.
Vassy Kapelos: Okay. We’ll leave it there. Thanks for your time. Merry Christmas to you and your family, or as we say in Greek: Kalá Christoúgenna.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: Christos Anesti, that’s Easter.
Vassy Kapelos: That’s Easter.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: And then Xronia Polla is just general.
Vassy Kapelos: Yeah, just in general we say that a lot.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: Just general happy times.
Vassy Kapelos: And then we say eat baklava.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: Eat baklava, that’s a good one.
Vassy Kapelos: Thanks for your time, Prime Minister.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: Thank you, Vassy.
Vassy Kapelos: I appreciate it.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: Merry Christmas.
Vassy Kapelos: You too.
And you can watch the full interview with the prime minister tomorrow at 6 o’clock on most Global stations. Check your local listings.
Up next, we’ll unpack the politics of our conversation with Justin Trudeau and look at his own run-ins with ethical issues.
Vassy Kapelos: Welcome back. We of course want to unpack the politics of that interview with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and to help us do that we’re joined by Global’s chief political correspondent David Akin and Canadian Press Ottawa bureau chief Heather Scoffield. Thank you very much to both of you for being here.
Some breaking news happened after we taped that interview, a couple of days after, in that the ethics commissioner found that the prime minister, by taking that vacation in the Bahamas, contravened certain sections of the Conflict of Interest Act. David, explain a bit why that’s important.
David Akin: It is important, and we asked the prime minister himself why it was important and he said it was because a prime minister has to obey any and all laws. And breaking this law, it’s the Conflict of Interest Act. It doesn’t come with a jail term or even a big fine. It comes back, so far, with no fine at all. But it is significant and it says listen, everybody’s got to obey the law and the prime minister himself said as much. So, he took his vacation in the Bahamas with his friend, his family friend the Aga Khan, the philanthropist and spiritual leader, and the conflict of interest commissioner said listen, it still is because of his role professionally and your role professionally that’s a conflict of interest. And you took a private aircraft to get from Nassau to his private island and that’s expressly forbidden in the act and so that’s a violation. So it’s a big deal. It’s an ethics violation, the first ever by a sitting prime minister and that’s a big deal.
Vassy Kapelos: Heather, do you think that Canadians care about it? And I’ll ask because we heard in that interview with the prime minister when he was talking about the Bill Morneau ethics controversy, the Opposition is just focusing on this because we’re doing everything right on the stuff that matters to Canadians, implying that this stuff doesn’t matter. What do you think?
Heather Scoffield: I think it absolutely does matter and it could be that the nitty gritty details don’t register. But you know, the prime minister himself, Bill Morneau too, have both spent a lot of time talking about the middle class and trying to incorporate everybody into public life and lashing out against entitlement. And yet, here they are basically accused and found responsible for having very entitled behaviour. And so they’re kind of exacerbating the whole problem that they are setting out to solve and because they’ve got so many people thinking about their station in life, and they’ve actually reached out to try to punish the rich in a way by raising taxes, they’ve got people thinking about this issue, about how do the rich behave. And yet they are acting in an entitled way.
David Akin: We know it’s important to the Liberal brand, because look at those mandate letters when this government started in which the prime minister himself said there is that, but you will go above and beyond and arrange your affairs to be beyond reproach. And the two most senior people in cabinet, the prime minister and the finance minister, have found to not only gone below that standard, but they violated the law.
Vassy Kapelos: Do they carry this or does this stay with them into 2018, Heather?
Heather Scoffield: Absolutely it does. I mean it hurts their branding and it’s going to be, I think, hard for them to speak with authenticity if they keep going down this path of talking about the middle class. It’s certainly going to, I think, make a lot of people skeptical about whether or not they can actually see and understand and act responsibly to better the lot of the middle class and the working class.
Vassy Kapelos: And they might not want the issue to carry with them. They told us, like the prime minister told us in the interview, he’s focused on the economy and that NAFTA is really what keeps him up at night. How big of an issue do you see the NAFTA negotiations into next year being, and Donald Trump, more generally?
David Akin: So there’s two ways to look at that. The ethics issue is completely within the control of his government. In other words, they’re responsible, as he said, here. But he told you of course there’s really a whole lot that he can’t do about NAFTA. We can try and talk to governors and congress people and manage that relationship with the president, but at the end of the day we could be a victim of an irrational Trump decision. That’s going to be the big story, I think, certainly for the first half of next year is what’s going on with NAFTA. But he does have, and this is one of the things they can talk about if they want to change the channel, they know the prime minister’s going to be doing another cross-country tour, because yes, our economy is doing very well or finishes the year doing very well, with some danger signs ahead in the first six months.
Vassy Kapelos: He also said that he’s trying to sort of remove the drama from the dynamic in the NAFTA negotiations and he wasn’t really—you know, there seems to be this emerging narrative that we can live without NAFTA, it’s not the end of the world. But he wasn’t really buying into that. Do you think that’s politically smart, Heather?
Heather Scoffield: Well, I think it’s probably smart to try to remove the drama but I don’t know if he’ll be successful. I mean he also said some interesting things in terms of being quite blunt about the unpredictability of the Trump administration and that just leads to drama in and of itself. I mean I think he and his government have made a concerted effort to kind of look past that unpredictability and try to find something steady in it all, but he’s almost admitting that that’s just not possible here. So obviously we have to focus a lot on plan B. But is that even possible with the integration that we have with the U.S. economy?
Vassy Kapelos: I thought it was kind of odd of him to say this is totally out of my hands. I don’t know if I’ve heard him put in that kind of way before.
David Akin: Well it’s interesting. Stephen Harper would get asked that—I’m sure I asked Stephen Harper something similar, what keeps you awake at night in various interviews and for the government of his time it was uncertainty and instability in Europe. That was the big external threat and we were okay with the Americans. And yes, Trudeau is quite rightly saying, oh my gosh this is a much, much bigger thing that the United States is ready to change the entire way that Canada and the United States get along on a commercial basis. And it absolutely should be 100 per cent of the focus and I think that the Trudeau government’s getting a lot of grief about stalled trade agreements in Asia. And I think one of the reasons is, and I say it’s okay, is because you’ve got to make sure you’re onboard with the U.S. before you can do anything else on the trade front.
Heather Scoffield: Right, it’s just so much more important.
Vassy Kapelos: For sure. Aside from federal and international politics, we’ve got some exciting provincial things happening next year. How big of a story do you think the provinces will be next year, David?
David Akin: Well I know that the PMs gang, Trudeau’s gang, thinks their numbers, if they’re wilting a bit in Ontario, were all the fault of Kathleen Wynne, the unpopular Ontario premier. So that’s going to be interesting to watch going ahead. Also, the whole dynamic between Jason Kenney and Rachel Notley in Alberta, that was a big story last year and going to be a big story ahead, and John Horgan as he tries to manage a very close government in B.C. That’s going to be very important to Canada’s economy going forward, lots of provincial politics, maybe more exciting than what’s going on here in Ottawa.
Heather Scoffield: Well, I mean there’s so many of them who are going to the polls here, are the PMs close allies: Ontario, Quebec, B.C., and Notley too. But we don’t know about B.C., but there’s that instability.
David Akin: It could happen.
Heather Scoffield: Yeah, it could. So we’ve gone through a period, I think, a fairly productive federal-provincial relations in terms of them being able to accomplish things. They are fairly like-minded in the room there. That might not be the case a year from now.
David Akin: And we might see a new sort of anti-federal champion in the way Brad Wall has—you know he’s going to be out of the scene. Brian Pallister of Manitoba seems to be—
Vassy Kapelos: He seems to be already there, yeah.
David Akin: So as long as he doesn’t fall down and hurt himself. Or he may be the new provincial leader versus the Trudeau government.
Vassy Kapelos: We’ll have to wrap it up there. But thanks very much for your thoughts, guys, lots to watch in the coming year. I appreciate your time. Happy New Year and Merry Christmas to you guys.
David Akin: You too.
Vassy Kapelos: Up next, the sounds of the season are alive on Parliament Hill and we’ll take you there right after the break.
Vassy Kapelos: Welcome back. For nearly 10 years, Dr. Andrea McCrady has been working on Parliament Hill as Canada’s Dominion Carillonneur. She’s the one playing the music you hear when you’re on the Hill. Earlier this month we caught up with her to learn about her instrument and her hopes for those listening.
Dr. Andrea McCrady: It’s a thrill every day. I open every recital with O Canada and what could be better than playing O Canada on the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill and greeting people with that at noon every day? It’s a magnificent instrument in a magnificent building. It’s a symbol for Canada and for the world. And it’s the best job.
When people are standing out on the lawn and they hear bell sounds emitting from the tower, every 15 minutes is the Westminster Quarters and every hour is the hour struck on the biggest bell, the bourdon. Those are real bells and they are part of the carillon, but I’m not here every 15 minutes, 24/7 doing that. They are being struck live and I play over 200 recitals per year.
We have 53 bells in the tower, ranging from the bourdon, which is the biggest bell, 10 metric tons, one bell, to the littlest bell, two-storeys above us, 53 bells higher and that weighs only 4.5 kilos. They’re bolted to a frame, they do not swing. And the only thing that moves is the clapper inside the bell. It’s about a couple of inches from the inside of the bell held there by a wire transmission system and the wires come into this playing room, which is situated inside the belfry and each bell, each clapper, each wire attaches to its corresponding key or note. And so there are a lot of arrangements made for carillon music.
Not everything that I play in December is Christmas. People expect, of course, Carol of the Bells, Jingle Bells.
[Bells playing Carol of the Bells]
I don’t play by ear and I can’t improvise. And I dare not on the Peace Tower so that I don’t make mistakes and things. But I tell people that I’m open to suggestions. And so last year, they wanted Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want for Christmas is You’ and I got the music and adapted it for the carillon. And this year I had ‘I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas’—everybody loves it. I don’t want it to be Muzak from the air. I want people to perhaps stop as they are skating around or walking through the snow and just catch their ear with something they recognize, and maybe listen for the next piece and small.
[Bells playing Let it Snow]
Vassy Kapelos: And that is our show for today. From all of us here at The West Block, myself and the entire crew, we genuinely want to wish you and your families a very Merry Christmas and we hope you get to spend some time together.
Before we go, though, we want to leave you with our annual Christmas reading, featuring some pretty familiar faces you might recognize. This year, MPs are reading The Legend of the Christmas Tree. Thanks for joining us. I’m Vassy Kapelos. See you back here next week.
The Legend of the Christmas Tree
Raj Grewal, Liberal-Ontario: Two little children were sitting by the fire one cold winter. All at once they heard a timid knock at the door and one ran to open it.
Rachel Blaney, NDP –British Columbia: There, outside in the cold and the darkness, stood a child with no shoes upon his feet and clad in thin, ragged garments. He was shivering with cold, and he asked to come in and warm himself.
Shannon Stubbs, Conservative-Alberta: “Yes, come,” cried both the children; “you shall have our place by the fire. Come in!”
Gord Johns, NDP-British Columbia: They drew the little stranger to their warm seat and shared their supper with him, and gave him their bed, while they slept on a hard bench.
Cheryl Hardcastle, NDP-Ontario: In the night they were awakened by strains of sweet music and, looking out, they saw a band of children in shining garments approaching the house. They were playing on golden harps, and the air was full of melody.
Martin Shields, Conservative-Alberta: Suddenly the Stranger Child stood before them: no longer cold and ragged, but clad in silvery light.
Bill Blair, Liberal-Ontario: His soft voice said: “I was cold, and you took me in. I was hungry, and you fed me. I was tired, and you gave me your bed. I am the Christ Child, wandering through the world to bring peace and happiness to all good children. As you have given to me, so may this tree every year give rich fruit to you.”
Greg Fergus, Liberal-Quebec: So saying, He broke a branch from the fir tree that grew near the door, and He planted it in the ground and disappeared. But the branch grew into a great tree, and every year it bore wonderful golden fruit for the kind children.
Larry Miller, Conservative-Ontario: But the branch grew into a great tree, and every year it bore wonderful golden fruit for the kind children.
I want to wish you, your family, your friends a very Merry Christmas and a very healthy, happy and prosperous New Year. All the best!
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