December 31, 2017 12:46 pm
Updated: January 2, 2018 4:50 pm

The West Block, Episode 17, Season 7

Watch the full broadcast of The West Block from Sunday, December 31, 2017. Hosted by Vassy Kapelos.


Episode 17, Season 7
Sunday, December 31, 2017

Host: Vassy Kapelos

Guest Interviews: Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer,
National Chief Perry Bellegarde

Food for Thought: Minister Nathan Cullen at Wilf and Ada’s

Location: Ottawa

On this Sunday, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer says the prime minister is getting it all wrong when it comes to trade and ethics. We’ll ask him why.

Story continues below

Then, Prime Minister Trudeau promised two years ago to reset relations between Canada’s Indigenous people. Has he? We’ll ask Perry Bellegarde national chief of the Assembly of First Nations.

Plus, we’ll head to Wilf and Ada’s, a diner a few blocks south of Parliament Hill for our occasional Food for Thought series. Today, we’ll break bread with NDP stalwart, Nathan Cullen.

It’s Sunday, December 31st. I’m Vassy Kapelos, and this is The West Block.

Late last month, Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer called on Finance Minister Bill Morneau to resign over ethics-related controversies surrounding Morneau’s personal finances. The finance minister says he has followed the rules and done what the ethics commissioner advised. So why is that not enough for the Opposition?

And joining me now is Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer, happy holidays. Thanks for being here, Mr. Scheer, nice to see you.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer: Merry Christmas. Happy New Year’s to you as well.

Vassy Kapelos: Thank you. So it is New Year’s Eve and I thought I’d start off by asking you what is your family doing for the big night?

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer: We have a great neighbourhood and a lot of young families are nearby. And normally on New Year’s Eve we do an apps and desserts party where some of the neighbours come over to one of our houses, we haven’t picked which one yet. The kids all watch holiday movies, Christmas movies, that type of thing and the adults’ kind of hang out in the kitchen. And we do a New Year’s countdown, usually in an eastern time, and we have a time shifting package on our cable package.

Vassy Kapelos: Easier for the kids to stay up for it, yeah.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer: So we’ll do a kids countdown at 10 o’clock and then an adult one—well the midnight one for Saskatchewan time.

Vassy Kapelos: I bet. Well, enjoy the party.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer: Looking forward to it.

Vassy Kapelos: I wanted to start off by asking you about something the prime minister said to us last week. We asked him, of course, about the ethics controversy involving his finance minister. And he was very critical of the Opposition for talking about it. In fact, he said that the finance minister did do more and that the Opposition is spending all of their time on personal attacks and on supposed ethical issues and they are not talking about the economy. Kind of insinuating that everything’s going okay so that’s why the Opposition is focusing on Bill Morneau. What’s your response to that?

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer: It’s a very condescending attitude to have and very flippant. To lump in serious questions about ethical behaviour and whether or not the finance minister, the person who has the ability, the power, to regulate our economy. Whether or not that person is following ethics rules, those are not personal attacks. Those are legitimate questions. And I’ve noticed a disturbing trend with this prime minister that when he gets questioned on many different issues he goes right to that default, well, you’re attacking me personally or you’re attacking the government personally. I think it’s a defence mechanism that shows that he’s not taking these issues seriously.

Bill Morneau tabled legislation that affects companies like Morneau Shepell and their ability to sell pension plans to private companies. He also held ownership of shares in Morneau Shepell far beyond when he led Canadians to believe that he divested himself. Those are serious questions. We want to know, did he meet with the ethics commissioner before he tabled that bill? He still hasn’t been able to say yes or no. That’s why we called for the resignation, not just because of incompetence and not just because of the attack on small business and bigger deficits, but because he cannot come clean, he cannot be transparent, honest and accountable about his behaviour. That’s when people lose trust. Those are not personal attacks. Those are legitimate questions about the integrity of our public institution.

Vassy Kapelos: Does he have a point, though, when he says that you guys don’t really have much to oppose when it comes to, for example, the economy, something traditionally your party has been outspoken on. I think there were 80,000 jobs added last month. The economy is growing at a rate much faster or bigger than it has in the past. Does he have a point?

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer: We’ve been very vocal, very critical, we have a lot to oppose when it comes to a government that tried to demonize small business owners and threaten all the jobs that go along with that. The millions of Canadians who work at a small business, we were their voice. We stood up against this government’s plan to hike their taxes and threaten those jobs. We’ve been very vocal on the massive deficits and what that will mean for future generations of Canadians having to pay back more and more debt racked up under this Liberal government. We’ve been very critical of the overspending; everything from a hockey rink that cost $7 million that’ll be torn down in a few weeks, to mismanaging the Phoenix pay system and public servants not getting their pay cheques.

Vassy Kapelos: Do you give them any credit, though, for how the economy is doing?

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer: Well look—

Vassy Kapelos: Because the economy was doing, you know, when it weathered the storm under your party when they were government, you guys took credit for that. Can you give them a bit of credit?

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer: Well I believe the actions we took help do that. The action this Liberal government is taking isn’t having a positive impact on the economy. They said that they would go into deficits to spend more on infrastructure. The parliamentary budget officer says that there’s a lot of infrastructure dollars that aren’t being spent. They just announced $500 million for infrastructure projects in Asia. Raising taxes on the top 1 per cent of Canadians under this Liberal government has actually resulted in them paying less tax. So they can’t even implement their agenda.

Vassy Kapelos: So you think the economy the economy is growing it has nothing to do with the government’s doing.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer: I think it’s growing despite what the government’s doing. They’ve done everything they can to make it harder.

Vassy Kapelos: You mentioned a trade a little bit ago and I wanted to ask you about that. You recently tweeted that you met with Japan’s ambassador to Canada. And in the tweet you said, and I quote: “I express disappointment in the way Justin Trudeau recently treated one of our closest trading partners. Conservatives are committed to the TPP and the Canadian jobs it will create.” Why would you tweet that?

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer: I wanted to let the Japanese ambassador know that the Conservative Party of Canada is still committed to the Trans-Pacific trade Partnership (TPP). It’s so important for our economy to open up new markets and it’s a very large economic trading block that Justin Trudeau has walked away from in a very erratic display, you know, not showing up to the final meetings, catching our trading partners by surprise. That’s not a way you treat an ally and a valued trading partner. And I wanted to ensure that the signal was sent that not everybody agrees with what Justin Trudeau’s done that we’re disappointed not only in the policy decision but also in the manner in which it was done.

Vassy Kapelos: Do you think, though, by criticizing what’s happening inside our borders that weaken our hand in negotiating with actors outside our borders?

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer: I actually think it helps strengthen our hand for our allies to know that there are people in Canada that—

Vassy Kapelos: How would that strengthen Canada’s hand?

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer: Because it lets people know that there are people in Canada—it lets Japan, it lets our trading partners know that there are groups and political parties in Canada that are open and committed to free trade. So not to give up on us, not to walk away and leave Canada out in the cold that there is a possibility for trade deals to be pursued, especially as an Opposition party encourages and pressures the government to do just that. I don’t think Justin Trudeau should get a free pass when he does things like that. And I think it’s good—

Vassy Kapelos: Is there no conceivable reason in your mind, though, that he would have done that? No justifiable reason?

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer: Has he explained it? I mean I’d love to hear—we’ve asked questions in the House of Commons. We’ve asked him to clarify his actions. I still don’t know that even his own minister understands that. We saw what happened in China. You know, Justin Trudeau couldn’t even negotiate a photo op with the Chinese government and now we’re trusting him to—

Vassy Kapelos: But you’re opposed to free trade with China. Weren’t you happy that he walked away with some of the concerns you had?

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer: Look, if Justin Trudeau can’t successfully negotiate a photo op with the Chinese government, I think we should all breathe a sigh of relief that he hasn’t embarked further down that road right now. Yes, philosophically I think there are major concerns about having a free trade deal with China at this time. But my point is basically is that he has been unable to articulate what his free trade agenda is. I’ve come to the conclusion that he’s not actually in favour of free trade, that he’s come home empty handed from the TPP, he walked out on that. He has been unsuccessful in engaging with China and I’m starting to wonder. Okay, well, you know where is the evidence of that?

Vassy Kapelos: Well on that note, I know you’re supposed oppose, but before we go it is Christmas and in the giving spirit. If you had to name the most positive quality about Justin Trudeau and your other counterpart, Jagmeet Singh, what would they be?

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer: Look, on a personal level I do appreciate both Justin Trudeau’s and Jagmeet Singh’s dedication to public service. We disagree vociferously on things like policy questions and whether or not they’re actually capable of delivering what they promised, but it’s a big sacrifice and both of those individuals are getting up every morning and leaving their family behind to fight for what they believe in and I respect that on a fundamental level. And when I was Speaker of the House of Commons I got to appreciate that no matter what the part you belonged to, no matter what the ideas you’re fighting for, even if I disagree with them, it is a sacrifice and it is a challenge and it’s not easy. And I know that Justin Trudeau truly does believe that he’s doing what’s best, as he believes, for Canada. So I respect that on that level, disagree with him and I would surely point out when I think that it hasn’t gone well. That’s my job. But I do wish him all the best for the holiday season and for 2018.

Vassy Kapelos: Well we’ll leave it on that very positive note, then. Thanks so much for your time Mr. Scheer and Happy New Year to you and your family.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer: Thank you very much, appreciate that.

Vassy Kapelos: Appreciate it.

Up next, has the government over promised and under delivered on its pledge to reset the relationship with Indigenous Canadians? National Chief Perry Bellegarde’s surprising answer, after the break.


Vassy Kapelos: Welcome back. On the campaign trail two years ago, then candidate Trudeau, promised if elected he would reset the relationship between the government and Canada’s Indigenous people. But given recent problems with the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Inquiry and the ongoing crisis on some reserves across the country, has that really happened? Earlier, I sat down with Perry Bellegarde, national chief for the Assembly of First Nations to find out. Have a listen.

Thank you so much for joining us National Chief Bellegarde, it’s a pleasure to have you on the program.

National Chief Bellegarde: It’s good to be here.

Vassy Kapelos: I wanted to start off by asking you, we’re about two years into this government’s mandate, at the beginning, at the outset of the mandate and during the campaign, the prime minister made very specific promises when it came to the government’s relationship with Indigenous people in this country, specifically saying and promising that he would reset that relationship. Do you think that’s happened?

National Chief Bellegarde: I think it has happened and I think it’s moving in the right direction. I think back to the last two years, he’s come to our chief’s assemblies twice to talk to the chiefs of Canada. And on the first time that he came, he committed to five things: 1) That there would be an inquiry into missing, murdered, Indigenous women and girls. 2) That all 94 calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission would be implemented. 3) The 2 per cent funding cap would be lifted and we’d find a process to work towards long-term sustainable predictable funding. 4) He mentioned there would be investments in education from K-12 and post-secondary. 5) He said there would be a comprehensive federal law and policy review. That was his first time.

The second time he came, a year ago, he mentioned three things: 1) He’ll work in partnership with us to develop a National Indigenous Language Revitalisation Act. 2) He’ll work with us to develop and give a legal framework to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). And 3) another law and policy review. So it’s moving in the right direction.

Vassy Kapelos: Are there areas that—I mean I’ve read that you said there are some people and there are some areas saying that it could be moving a bit faster or it should be.

National Chief Bellegarde: Oh, of course, no question.

Vassy Kapelos: Could I ask you specifically, what are you hoping to see speedier action on?

National Chief Bellegarde: You see you’ve got the legislative and the executive and the judicial branch of government. So we’re hearing good things from the judicial branch in terms of recognition of rights entitled from the Supreme Court. You have the legislative branch saying good things, which is the prime minister and cabinet saying good things. But it’s the executive branch of government that has to keep up with all those good vision statements about nation to nation and reconciliation.

Vassy Kapelos: You’ve also asked for a First Ministers meeting specifically on Indigenous issues. Why do you think that’s important and have you received any assurances that that will happen?

National Chief Bellegarde: I haven’t received any assurances that it’s going to happen. I think having a First Ministers conference on Indigenous issues is really fundamental to bring about change when you start to talk about nation to nation or reconciliation. But mapping out a very clear path forward takes both federal government, First Nations governments and provincial governments. The provinces have a big role to play going forward.

Vassy Kapelos: We’re kind of running out of time, but I do want to specifically ask you about—I know you mentioned the five promises that the prime minister made off the bat there and one of them was the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s Inquiry which he has followed through, which has begun. A grouping of chiefs not too long ago voted to ask the Commissioner Marion Buller to resign. Do you think that she should?

National Chief Bellegarde: Well we follow our chiefs in assembly the direction.

Vassy Kapelos: Does that mean that you think she should?

National Chief Bellegarde: It’s more in the sense of they have a difficult job. The motion that was passed was to ask, one, for an extension, because two years is not enough time. I think that everybody should start focusing in the families first. And if that can happen, I think there would be a greater comfort level around keeping and/or maintaining Marion Buller because it’s a difficult job, and the other three commissioners. As First Nations we’re taught more to be respectful and to support each other going forward and you have to be careful of later violence, especially against each other. And so if we can find good common ground and put families first, and better communication, more First Nations centred in terms of the healing process, I think we can find the path going forward. But I’ve always said is this as well, we don’t have to wait two years or four years for the recommendations to end violence for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. Governments can make investments in housing, in education, and training, and transportation, and detox centres, and wellness centres, and like it can happen now. So you don’t need to wait. But there’s a big piece too, fixing the justice systems and the policing system. That’s a major piece that has to be looked at and overhauled.

Vassy Kapelos: Are you worried because the mandate of the inquiry doesn’t really include reopening, for example, cases that are thought to be not properly investigated? It doesn’t sort of have that under its jurisdiction that it could in the end come up short because you’re talking about policing and the justice system. It doesn’t really encompass a lot of that. Is that a problem?

National Chief Bellegarde: It’s a challenge and I think when we first started talking about the mandate and authority of the commissioners, it was explained that you can push the envelope as much as you can to include authorities and third party entities, such as police systems. So you can interpret that as being part of that terms of reference. And I think it should be done in a constructive way, because I met with the police chiefs two years ago and I told them, put them on notice, chiefs of police, be ready and get ready because you will be called to question, taken to task, in terms of what kind of services and programs and supports and communications have you had with First Nations families when these cases have come up in your department, whether it’d be the RCMP, whether it’d be urban city police forces. So that whole review should be looked at within the sense of improving things and making things better.

Vassy Kapelos: So you think the mandate is a bit more open to interpretation than it’s perhaps being communicated?

National Chief Bellegarde: I think it’s got to be more focused on and I think people should come to the table with that in mind about improving things and making things better, because all the families we’ve heard in all of our assemblies, 75 per cent of them talked about the lack of good service from the police forces when it comes to missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, when it comes to the investigation, when it comes to communication and how it was reported back to the families. So there is work to do there in that area and I think in order to fix something you have to identify the problem first and then identify the strategy and plan to fix it going forward.

Vassy Kapelos: Okay, we’ll leave it there. Thanks very much National Chief Bellegarde, I appreciate your time.

National Chief Bellegarde: Thanks for the opportunity.

Vassy Kapelos: Up next, we’ll head to Wilf and Ada’s for some Food for Thought with NDP MP Nathan Cullen.


Vassy Kapelos: Just a few blocks south of Parliament Hill is Wilf and Ada’s. Run by its namesakes for two decades it transferred hands in 2013 and has morphed from a beloved diner into an equally beloved hipster haven. And that’s where we find NDP MP Nathan Cullen, today.

Well thank you so much for doing Food for Thought, I appreciate it.

Minister Nathan Cullen: My pleasure.

Vassy Kapelos: It’s great to see you.

Minister Nathan Cullen: This is a lot of food for—

Vassy Kapelos: It is. That’s what I want to start off by asking, not just about the food, but why did you choose Wilf and Ada’s?

Minister Nathan Cullen: I found this place before it became hipster heaven. It was a true greasy spoon, Wilf and Ada ran it for years and I loved it. It was just a local community place. And when you’re travelling a lot, finding that is nice. It’s not a chain. It’s just it feels a bit like home even though you’re not home.

Vassy Kapelos: And what did you—this to me looks like a massive amount of food, but what is it specifically?

Minister Nathan Cullen: I had intention of doing this. I think this is—

Vassy Kapelos: It looks amazing!

Minister Nathan Cullen: It looks like an entire Christmas dinner—

Vassy Kapelos: Yeah, basically.

Minister Nathan Cullen: Hyped up and then put on a piece of bread.

Vassy Kapelos: I’m sure you’ll have time to eat it later.

Minister Nathan Cullen: I’ll be happy. What did you get? Black snow?

Vassy Kapelos: Yeah, I got basically eggs Benedict.

Minister Nathan Cullen: Yeah, and salad.

Vassy Kapelos: Yeah, with olives. And so when I was reading up on you, although you’re very well-known and you’re on a program a lot and on Global a lot, I sort of wanted to look into some of the stuff about you that maybe we didn’t know a lot about. I guess you got into politics at a very young age. I mean federal politics.

Minister Nathan Cullen: Well, coming into federal politics was my first entry into any kind of politics, like capital ‘P’. I’d always been political and enjoyed it. But no, I was 30 when I first ran and it was a bit in hindsight quite audacious in terms of it wasn’t a safe seat, I was a relatively unknown candidate, all of those things. I maybe ought not to have won if you looked at it just empirically. But it felt right and it was good. And I’ve never regretted a moment.

Vassy Kapelos: What motivated you at that age because I think, you know, my sister’s about to be 31 in a month and I just know if she would sit down and be like—you know, she wants to make a difference, but politics wouldn’t necessarily be the thing she decides to do?

Minister Nathan Cullen: During university and then afterwards, I had done a bunch of work overseas in South America and Africa and growing up, I hadn’t really considered politics, again, party politics, that important. It just felt like a bunch of old white guys yelling at each other, which in large part it is.

Vassy Kapelos: Yeah, wait a second.

Minister Nathan Cullen: It remains. But it didn’t feel relevant enough in my life, like the things that I cared about, whether it was environmental issues or some of the poverty issues. I grew up with not a lot of money, it didn’t seem like the best way to affect any change was to join a political party. That was almost the furthest thing from my mind and it was only after working some pretty intense front line jobs overseas and realizing how powerful politics was, how important it was, to affecting sweeping change that I thought this was a really good time for me to try jumping in.

Vassy Kapelos: You’re one of the more vocal people in your party, especially on a lot of the big issues.

Minister Nathan Cullen: Well I talk a lot. I talk a lot. Well, I just try to reduce them out of their position to the position and say alright, is this a good person? And I want to ask this good person an important question. And so I try to remove the fanfare and the—

Vassy Kapelos: Do you think Justin Trudeau’s a good person?

Minister Nathan Cullen: Yeah. Yeah, I do. I do. I think he’s made bad decisions from time to time, or he can’t fully see an issue, just from—I don’t know—his upbringing or whatever, he misses things. But I don’t think he’s a bad person at all. I didn’t think Stephen Harper was a bad person either, nor Paul Martin. I have huge respect for people who take on the leadership role. I see the sacrifices my family has to make, I can only imagine what it is on their side and what their families and they personally have to go through in order to fulfill that role. I have nothing but respect, even when I’m disagreeing with them, even when I think they’re doing something wrong.

Vassy Kapelos: So you decided to keep challenging him in the government in your current role instead of running for leadership.

Minister Nathan Cullen: Yes.

Vassy Kapelos: Is that a decision that you ever regret at this point or you’re still cool with it?

Minister Nathan Cullen: No, no. I sat with the decision for quite a while—well a month and a half. It felt like a long time to me after the party chose to remove Tom and I really gave it my full heart and mind and I was not able to get myself there to believing this was the right thing for me to do.

Vassy Kapelos: Why not, do you think?

Minister Nathan Cullen: It’s a good question. I’m a bit private. I’m a bit shy.

Vassy Kapelos: So do you think that rules it out for you in the future or–?

Minister Nathan Cullen: I think people change. I could see myself one day being in a more mature way or embracing a role like that because there are aspects that I really enjoy, but not now. I’m good. I’m good now. I don’t look back. I haven’t looked back at any moment and said I regret this.

Vassy Kapelos: The other thing that I read about that I had not known about you at all, and I don’t know how comfortable you are talking about it, but I read that you were kidnapped once.

Minister Nathan Cullen: Yeah.

Vassy Kapelos: I’ve also been to Latin America, I studied South American politics. I lived in Argentina for a while.

Minister Nathan Cullen: Argentina is beautiful.

Vassy Kapelos: The thing I loved there was that people are so engaged in politics because it affects their lives so much and that’s what drew me there in the first place. But why were you in Latin America and what happened?

Minister Nathan Cullen: At that time I had been off and on doing development work on amazing grassroots community work and we were, I guess, disturbing the balance of power in that region, forestry interests in that case, where we were getting a community that had been [00:21:44 hooks] and basically indentured labourers and giving them other options and other ways to make money. And that threatened somebody high up. It turned out it was the vice president of the country and he hired a gang as best as we could tell from Columbia to kidnap us and wreck the operation. But my experience with it was short—yeah, I don’t think it was more than probably 14 or 15 hours. It started early evening and went through to the next day, lunch basically. We were off in the way remote jungle. I mean we were on our own and these guys took over and it was—they had us—I never felt that totally powerless before. I mean they did mock rapes. They did all sorts of Russian roulette. I mean these guys were—yeah, they were not nice people.

Vassy Kapelos: Has that affected anything that you’ve done since or did you kind of compartmentalize it?

Minister Nathan Cullen: I feel more empowered when I could see myself into Parliament and see how representing people could have an effect on their lives and on the course of some policy, some decisions. We have some big challenges in our country that we have to grapple with and we’re not fully there yet. We say words like reconciliation and these things, but I’m not really sure the government has any idea of what they mean and those things matter to me.

Vassy Kapelos: Is that the biggest challenge facing the government from your perspective?

Minister Nathan Cullen: It’s one of them.

Vassy Kapelos: Well on that happy note, I’ve got to wrap this up. But thank you so much for joining us, I appreciate it.

Minister Nathan Cullen: We didn’t take a single bite, but—

Vassy Kapelos: Well now we’ll dig in.

And that is our show for today. I’m Vassy Kapelos. Have a very happy and safe New Year. And see you back here, next week.


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