The West Block, Episode 20, Season 7

Vassy Kapelos has been named the new host of the West Block.

Episode 20, Season 7
Sunday, January 21, 2018

Host: Vassy Kapelos

Guest Interviews: Minister Patricia Hajdu, Ambassador Michael Froman,
Bob Fife, David Akin

Location: Ottawa

On this Sunday, should Canadians have to be pro-choice for their organizations to receive federal money? We’ll ask Employment Minister Patty Hajdu about this change to the Summer Grants Program.

Then, a bad joke, that’s what President Trump called the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) late last week, just days ahead of round six of the trade negotiations. What’s at stake as negotiators head to Montreal on Tuesday?

Plus, we’ll unpack the politics of those trade talks, and the prime minister’s upcoming trip to mingle with the rich and powerful in Davos.

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It’s Sunday, January 21st. I’m Vassy Kapelos, and this is The West Block.

The government recently announced controversial changes to the Canada Summer Jobs Program which prompted backlash from religious leaders who call it a values test. The change calls for employers hiring students over the summer to attest that their organizations mandate respects human rights, the Charter and specifically, women’s reproductive rights. So why the changes and where do they end?

And joining me now from Thunder Bay, Ontario is Employment Minister Patty Hajdu. Thanks for being with us, Minister.

I wanted to start off by asking why does your government feel it was necessary to add that attestation box as a requirement before organizations can qualify to receive money to hire students for the summer.

Minister Patty Hajdu: Well the Canada Summer Jobs program is really designed to address the need for young Canadians to first of all, earn a bit of money in between periods of study. But secondly, and maybe even more importantly, to gain that great job experience that will move them forward in their careers, whether it’s identifying a career path or gaining those soft skills that employers are looking for and we know that those quality job experiences should be with organizations that have a respect for the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and other fundamental rights of Canadians.

Vassy Kapelos: But religious groups see it as a threat to their freedom of religion and their ability to even hire summer students. What do you say to them?

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Minister Patty Hajdu: The way that the attestation is written is that the organizations core mandate and the job description have to respect the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and other fundamental rights. And so the majority of organizations in this country should have no problem attesting that their core mandate does in fact respect the Charter. And we are profoundly grateful and work very closely with faith-based groups across the country and know the great work that they do and so we know that this attestation will not invalidate most groups in the country.

Vassy Kapelos: What about a camp, though, run by a Catholic church? The church is not pro-choice. Will they no longer qualify for any federal funding?

Minister Patty Hajdu: Organizations have a variety of mandates and faith-based groups also have a variety of mandates. And the mandates usually specify, for example, for a faith-based organization like the Catholic Church it may specify spreading of the word of God, of Christ. Other faith-based organizations have mandates that are around alleviating suffering or addressing poverty. And so again, there are many beliefs and values that go into an organization, but the organizations mandate and the job description is what we’re most interested in.

Vassy Kapelos: But some organizations say they won’t be able to sign-off on the attestation because it conflicts with their beliefs.

Minister Patty Hajdu: Each organizations going to have to make a decision based on their own comfort level. But what I can tell you is that this attestation is written in a way that specifically addresses the mandate of the organization and the job description. You know mandates are generally broad statements of purpose and obviously many different beliefs and values go into an organization. And sometimes there are conflicting beliefs and values in an organization and that’s why it’s specifically written to address an organizations mandate.

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I can tell you as a former not-for-profit organization executive director, we had a mandate that was about alleviating poverty and providing shelter to everyone. We believed that shelter was a fundamental right. That didn’t mean that necessarily everyone that worked for the organization or even members of the board agreed about how to achieve that mandate and there were often heated arguments about how we move forward with this mandate and how we deliver on our mandate. Those are normal conversations that happen within organizations. A mandate is a specific statement of purpose, and a job description of course, clearly specifies what the job would be.

Vassy Kapelos: It seems conflicting to me.

Minister Patty Hajdu: I don’t think there’s anything conflicting in the statement that an organizations primary mandate and that the job description respects the Charter of Rights and other fundamental rights that Canadians have. What we’re trying to make sure is that these jobs for young people are in experiences that are respectful of the rights that Canadians have and that they gain the kinds of experiences in a non-discriminatory way. And so this is the kind of attestation that we’ve designed to address that, to make sure that organizations that are applying for this grant, which by the way organizations have to apply for every year, that their organizations mandate and job description respect the Charter.

Vassy Kapelos: Do you see extending these attestations to other areas in the future?

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Minister Patty Hajdu: At this point, my responsibility is for the Canada Summer Jobs Program and so we’re focused right now on the unrolling of the Canada Summer Jobs Program.

Vassy Kapelos: But I just want to be clear here, are you ruling out adding the attestation box to other government employment programs?

Minister Patty Hajdu: I would say that when we’re delivering funding for programs through the Canadian government, we need to be reflective of the rights that Canadians have and the right for Canadians to experience whether its employment experiences in a non-discriminatory way.

Vassy Kapelos: But again, will you extend it to other programs?

Minister Patty Hajdu: Right now, my focus in Canada Summer Jobs.

Vassy Kapelos: What about adding other attestations, for example, will groups have to sign-off on doctor-assisted death?

Minister Patty Hajdu: You know right now, the attestation, we’re very comfortable with where the attestation stands. As I said, this is about ensuring that an organizations core mandate and the job description comply with the Charter and other fundamental rights. And what I can say is that employers by enlarge should have no problem with the attestation because in fact mandates of organizations generally do comply. And so we’re really looking forward to the launch of Canada Summer Jobs. Employers have until February 2nd to apply, and we anticipate that we’ll have a similar demand by employers and in fact, students. There were a number of employers that we couldn’t grant requests to last year simply because of demand, and that’s good news for young Canadians.

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Vassy Kapelos: Okay, we’ll leave it there. Thanks very much, Minister.

Minister Patty Hajdu: You too, take care. Thank you.

Vassy Kapelos: Up next: No wall, no deal. President Trump’s latest rhetoric on NAFTA and what it means for negotiators when they meet on Tuesday. That’s next.


Vassy Kapelos: A bad joke: No wall, no deal. Those are just some of the comments President Donald Trump made late last week on NAFTA. Trade negotiators head to Montreal for round six on Tuesday with a ton of big issues still on the table. And U.S. officials are said to be angry with Canadian negotiators, accusing them of dragging their heels.

Joining me now from Washington to dissect it all is Ambassador Michael Froman, former trade representative under President Obama. Ambassador, it’s great to have you back on the program. Thanks for joining us.

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Ambassador Michael Froman: Thanks for having me.

Vassy Kapelos: How critical, sir, do you see this round of NAFTA negotiations being?

Ambassador Michael Froman: Well I think all of these rounds are important. You’ve got the lead negotiators. You’ve got the ministers. You’ve got the technical experts getting together. They’ve got a pretty full agenda over this period of time and it’s at a critical point where I think it’ll be important to show whether progress can be made on some of the most difficult outstanding issues.

Vassy Kapelos: I remember when we last spoke it was sort of at the outset of these negotiations before we knew how they would unfold. Now when we’re looking back, do you think this has played out the way you thought it would?

Ambassador Michael Froman: More or less. I think it was always very ambitious to think that it was going to get completed by the end of last year or even by March of this year. I think you’re beginning to hear people, including from the United States, talk about how this may need to move beyond March and maybe beyond the Mexican elections in order to get done. So I think the people as they come to the table are realizing how complicated things are. On one hand, there are a lot of issues that should be relatively easy to resolve because they were resolved in the context of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiation that both Canada and Mexico were party to as well. But there are new additional issues that the Trump administration has put on the table, as have the other parties and those will take some time to work through as well.

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Vassy Kapelos: And I wanted to ask you about a couple of those issues, given your perspective being at the table of course and leading negotiations with TPP, how big of a sort of fighting point or red line do you think the a) dispute resolution mechanism will be? And b) rules of origin?

Ambassador Michael Froman: Well I think on the Chapter 19 issues that Canada feels very strongly about. Mexico does as well. I think it’s going to be very interesting to see whether those do prove at the end of the day to be red lines. Clearly, the people in the Trump administration many of whom come into government with a deep background in our trade remedy laws, our anti-dumping and our countervailing duty laws and they were quite concerned about that dispute settlement process that was agreed to in NAFTA. Obviously, our laws are still subject to both domestic challenges in our own courts and also at the World Trade Organization (WTO). And so I think their view is we don’t need another layer of oversight in the NAFTA context. Canada feels very strongly or has traditionally felt very strongly about that. It’ll be interesting to see whether at the end of the day that becomes a red line that it can’t cross.

Vassy Kapelos: And speaking of the WTO, Canada recently filed a grievance basically about anti-dumping and anti-subsidy duties. What do you make of the timing of that filing?

Ambassador Michael Froman: Well you know this is a set of issues that we’ve had in our relationship for a very long time. We bring countervailing duty and anti-dumping cases against Canada. Canada brings them against us. We challenge each other’s practices. Sometimes we win, sometimes we lose. In a normal environment that would be nothing special and it would be part of the normal ways of dealing with trade frictions between very strong trading partners. Right now, I don’t think it was particularly well timed because this administration, the Trump administration, is very critical of the WTO and the dispute settlement body and will be looking very much at whether the dispute settlement body will be constraining American sovereignty when it comes to the implementation of our trade remedy laws which have a lot of support here. And so by Canada bringing that challenge to the WTO is almost picking a fight that the administration would welcome. The administration would welcome an opportunity to say the WTO really shouldn’t be in a position to judge these things and we’re going to pull back from the dispute settlement procedure overall. That’s not in anybody’s interest, certainly not in Canada’s interest and I hope that cooler heads will prevail as this case moves forward.

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Vassy Kapelos: Would it have been your advice to the Canadian government to delay that process?

Ambassador Michael Froman: There are a lot of factors that go into every countries decision to bring a WTO case. We brought some against Canada. In the last administration, Canada brought some against us. We have a very good and deep trade in investment relationship but we also have a lot of conflicts between us and they go back quite a few years on things like softwood lumber, but also various subsidy programs, or various market access issues, or dairy and poultry and the limitations there. So we have a lot of issues between us. I can understand why Canada moved forward, but I think in the context of this administration we’ll be having fundamentally different views in previous administrations about the multilateral trading system. I hope it doesn’t end up blowing up in their face.

Vassy Kapelos: Before we go, again since we last spoke, our government here in Canada has really begun pushing a progressive trade agenda, even the TPP and China. It’s kind of backfired in those two cases on them. I’m wondering if you think Indigenous rights, gender rights should be a hail to down for our government during NAFTA negotiations or if you think it might get them into trouble?

Ambassador Michael Froman: Well I think the idea of using trade agreements to help strengthen a progressive agenda is a good idea. Certainly, during the Obama administration what we did on labour issues, environmental issues, anti-corruption, governance of regulatory transparency, those are all important progressive causes that I think make a lot of sense and have a nexus to trade to that makes it very powerful to use trade agreements to help enforce, for example, multilateral environmental agreements. On the particular shoes of Indigenous peoples and gender equality issues, those are obviously of great concern in Canada and elsewhere around the world. How they integrate into a trade agreement remains to be seen, but I think the fundamental issue of using trade tools to help pursue a progressive agenda is a very good idea.

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Vassy Kapelos: Okay, thanks Ambassador Froman for your time, I appreciate it.

Ambassador Michael Froman: Thanks for having me.

Vassy Kapelos: Up next, we’ll unpack the politics of the trade negotiations, and the prime ministers trip to glitzy Davos.


Vassy Kapelos: As NAFTA negotiations resume on Tuesday, the prime minister will be in Davos, Switzerland, an international gathering of the world’s rich and powerful.

Joining me now to unpack the politics of the importance of both of these events this week is: Bob Fife, Ottawa bureau chief for the Globe and Mail and our own chief political correspondent David Akin. Thank you both, gentlemen for being here. I appreciate it.

Bob Fife: Happy to be here.

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Vassy Kapelos: Bob, why don’t I start with you? I thought one of the most interesting things I read this past week about NAFTA came out of Bloomberg saying that U.S. officials think Canada’s kind of dragging its feet and not coming to the table with concrete proposals on some of the hard stuff. Have you been hearing anything like that?

Bob Fife: Well actually that’s not the case because Canada has put some proposals or will be putting in some proposals in Montreal dealing with autos, trying to find a creative way to reach that 85 per cent content that the Americans have and they’re also apparently having some ideas in terms of how they can deal with dispute mechanisms. So I think that Bloomberg was getting spun a bit from the American side. Canada is definitely trying to play a constructive role in these talks as is Mexico. It’s the Americans that have been the obstructionists. But on the other hand, it’s also fair to probably say that Canada is dragging its feet in the sense that they don’t want Trump to abrogate this deal and they’re going to stay there for as long as they possibly can. But it’s not fair to say Canada isn’t making constructive proposals.

Vassy Kapelos: What do you think, David? Do you think that they are? How real do you think this concern is that Trump will withdraw because we saw some reports last week and then they were wrong, they right, it’s hard to make sense of.

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David Akin: And this is the fascinating thing reporting on the story because we’re going to be talking to the people we know most which is the Canadian side. We’re relying on our American reporter friends. They’re talking to Americans and the Mexican press is getting spun by the Mexican side. And all three governments are very much, I think, talking to the press to try and advance their position or do some strategy—

Bob Fife: Actually, I’m hearing from the Americans that Lighthizer, the U.S. trade representative, his people actually aren’t very helpful, not even with the American media and talking to them.

Vassy Kapelos: Well someone’s talking to them.

David Akin: But the whole point is there is very much an element for the Canadian side we think that the status quo would be fine. We would certainly like some improvements and we’ve talked about some improvements, but status quo is also fine. And so there is an element of saying for the Canadians, if it takes time, that’s fine we will spend the time and we’ve got time to spend on this. The idea that maybe we can wait Trump out, that something will change, that it might get down to four years. Although there’s a lot of people thinking that, in the United States, that even if there’s a new Republican president they’re going to continue to want to negotiate NAFTA, that the Republicans see this as a good thing for them.

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Vassy Kapelos: What do you think about the timing? This is round six. You mentioned some of the more contentious issues that Canada will be specific about this week. How critical is this point in time with the negotiations?

Bob Fife: Well you know, they’re going to spend more days in Montreal than they have previously and I do think that this could be a really important meeting where they can make—I think there will be an effort, at least on the Canadian and Mexican side, to see if they can move the Americans closer to a deal. That may not happen, but Lighthizer is going to meet with President Trump in Davos and then he’s coming on the following Monday for the ministerial talks. It’ll be really interesting to see if they’ve moved the ball at all. One hopes that they can. And if they don’t, the next round is in Mexico, I believe. Look, the clock is ticking because the Mexican elections are coming up. There are congressional elections. They want to get something done and if they don’t get anything done maybe they delay it until after these elections.

David Akin: And the big problem, too, as the American Wilbur Ross himself has said they’re coming to the table with no concessions and are asking everybody else for concessions. It’s kind of tough to strike a deal when you’re ready to do something for your negotiating partners.

Bob Fife: You know the interesting thing is Trump is going to be in Davos. The prime minister’s going to be in Davos. Mr. Trump has come in there to preach his America First agenda. The prime minister is going to be there. He’s going to be meeting with North American business executives. His officials are saying he’s going to downplay any threat that Trump’s going to abrogate the NAFTA deal and he’s going to talk up look we’re going to reform this. We don’t think even if he gives six months’ notice the U.S. Congress will approve this, and by the way, investing in Canada because it’s a great place to invest. But the problem they have is if you’re a major multinational corporation and you’re not sure whether the presidents going to abrogate NAFTA, are you really going to put any money in Canada?

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Vassy Kapelos: Well we saw that from the Bank of Canada this week, right?

David Akin: I was just going to say. Absolutely, Stephen Poloz, that’s the number one risk and they’re seeing that already. Investment decisions by major corporate players, already in Canada, are being put off, postponed until there’s some clarity on NAFTA.

Vassy Kapelos: I want to ask you a bit more about Davos in a second, but one last thing on NAFTA. We saw this week, Andrew Scheer headed to Washington to present a united front? Do you think it made a difference, David?

David Akin: I don’ think it’s making a difference. I think it’s important politically for Andrew Scheer to have done that. It’s really more for a domestic audience. Rona Ambrose did the same thing when she was the interim leader. So I think that’s really the domestic audience but every little bit helps, I suppose.

Bob Fife: But you know, Scheer when he became leader, the Conservatives had begun to criticize the way the Trudeau government was handling the NAFTA negotiations and they must have gotten some backlash because he’s done a turnaround on this and now supporting the Liberals approach to this. So clearly, they’ve had a rethink in Mr. Scheer’s office.

Vassy Kapelos So Davos, you are both heading there to covering the trip. We’ll look forward to your coverage for sure, but Bob why don’t I ask you. As a gathering of the rich and power, there’s a lot of mingling, a lot of talking. Does it serve a purpose for Canada?

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Bob Fife: Well, the prime minister thinks it does because he’s going to be meeting with corporate executives. He’s going to meet with some world leaders, not Mr. Trump I don’t think, but he’ll meet with Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor. But he seems to like hobnobbing with Hollywood movie stars because you and I did it in 2016. Remember he was with Kevin Spacey and Leonardo DiCaprio?

Vassy Kapelos: Maybe not this time.

Bob Fife: Not this time.

David Akin: Cate Blanchett is the star I’m looking for.

Vassy Kapelos: Different crowd, a different lineup.

Bob Fife: And the Conservatives are saying, you know, why is it really going there? Is there any purpose to going to Davos other than to get your picture taken with all these celebrities? So he’s going to have to be careful and David and I will watch to make sure that he’s actually doing something constructive and not just partying or skiing on the slopes with Leonardo DiCaprio.

Vassy Kapelos: And to be fair he did take a lot of meetings last time too and there is a pretty prestigious lineup this time around.

David Akin: Right. So Davos has been around for a number of years and it is sort of the high church of global capitalism. This year there are more heads of state and heads of government than any other Davos. Trudeau’s one of the headliners. When they’re advertising this event it’s Trump, Emmanuel Macron from France, Modi from India and Trudeau. Trudeau is a celebrity right now in his own right. So a lot of heads of government here, but what’s Davos all about? Davos is all about the post-war liberal international order that America was quite a big part of forming. It’s the order that defeated communism, etc., etc., etc. And Trump is showing up here. Trump is absolutely going to be a challenge to these global elites. He’s going to give them challenges. I’m going to be fascinated to see what kind of buzz he gets there. But Klaus Schwab, who’s the guy who founded this thing, says much earlier this week that Davos is all about getting together to solve the world’s problems. And Trump is saying you solve your problems, I’ll solve my problems and that’s the way we should all get along. It’s a different thing.

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Vassy Kapelos: You’ve only got about 10 seconds.

Bob Fife: Critics have also said look, this is the billionaires club. The 1 per cent is getting richer and richer. They never ever talk about—

Vassy Kapelos: That’s why Trudeau wants nothing to do with it.

Bob Fife: How you’re going to help the poorest of the poor. Maybe Mr. Trudeau will do some of that. We’ll see.

Vassy Kapelos: He kind of has to put his money where his mouth is this time. Thanks both of you, I appreciate it. Safe travels.

Bob Fife: Alright, thank you.

Vassy Kapelos: And that is our show for today. We’re always eager to hear from you. You can find us online at You can also reach us on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram. Thanks for joining us today. I’m Vassy Kapelos. See you back here, next week.

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