THE WEST BLOCK
Episode 21, Season 7
Sunday, January 28, 2018
Host: Vassy Kapelos
Guest Interviews: Deputy Conservative Party Leader Lisa Raitt,
Susan Delacourt, Supriya Dwivedi, David Frum
On this Sunday, what a week in Canadian politics: Federal cabinet Minister Kent Hehr is out after allegations of inappropriate behaviour. And accusations of sexual misconduct have forced the resignation of Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown. We’ll talk to Deputy Conservative Party Leader Lisa Raitt about the allegations rocking politics across the country.
Then, as the Me Too movement hits Canada, what now? We’ll unpack the politics.
Plus, a conversation with George W. Bush’s former speech writer, David Frum, about his new book on President Trump and why he won’t ever leave the Republican Party.
It’s Sunday, January 28th. I’m Vassy Kapelos, and this is The West Block.
Last week, three politicians across the country were forced to step aside because of allegations of inappropriate behaviour or sexual misconduct leveled against them. In Ontario, Progressive Conservative Party members are scrambling to unite the party months ahead of a provincial election after their leader, Patrick Brown, was forced to resign within hours of this hastily arranged news conference.
Minster Patrick Brown: “First, I want to say these allegations are false. Categorically untrue, every one of them. I will defend myself as hard as I can, with all means at my disposal.”
And late last week, Kent Hehr, minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities was forced out of cabinet amid allegations of sexual harassment and inappropriate behaviour.
Joining me now from Toronto to discuss the fallout from all these allegations and how it’s affecting politics and politicians is Lisa Raitt Deputy Conservative Party Leader. Hi Miss Raitt, thanks for being with us.
Deputy Conservative Party Leader Lisa Raitt: My pleasure, Vassy. Thanks for asking me to come on.
Vassy Kapelos: What was your reaction when you found out about the allegations facing Patrick Brown?
Deputy Conservative Party Leader Lisa Raitt: Well, it came on the heels of Jamie Baillie in Nova Scotia, as well having to resign over inappropriate conduct that was investigated and they came to a conclusion that Mr. Baillie had to resign. And then that evening of course was Mr. Brown and cabinet Minister Hehr not soon thereafter. And what my thought was good for these girls, these women, for coming forward and making complaints. And in one case it was a complaint made within the workplace, in Jamie Baillie’s case. And in the case of Patrick Brown, unfortunately, the ladies had to come to the extent of going to media in order to talk about what their concerns were. So for me it was incredibly brave for those women to come forward.
Vassy Kapelos: I want to ask you about Mr. Hehr in a bit, but with Mr. Brown, obviously a lot of speculation that there had been rumours out there for a while. Did you have any idea since a lot of these allegations occurred at the time he was an MP? Did you have any idea about these rumours? Had you heard anything?
Deputy Conservative Party Leader Lisa Raitt: Vassy, you and I both work on Parliament Hill. You know that there’s gossip all the time. Lots of people have stories about other people. I’ve been the subject of gossip and lots of other MPs can say the same thing. But there is a big difference between somebody whispering about somebody and somebody having a valid complaint that they took to either somebody in their workplace, or in the case of these two ladies, to the press. And that’s where the difference is. It’s very difficult to have unsubstantiated claims to be whispered about and go from there. But to have people come forward and publicly say either to a college in a workplace or to the media that this happened to me and I want to let you know this happened to me. That’s a very different instance that has never happened to me in Ottawa. That’s happened to me in my constituency and I did act on it. But not in Ottawa, it’s only about gossip and innuendo and trying to see what’s right and what’s wrong. We do need to have the people who are affected to come to us in order for us to get to the right process and the right results.
Vassy Kapelos: And sorry, what did you mean by it happened to you in your constituency?
Deputy Conservative Party Leader Lisa Raitt: There was a claim, not in my constituency office, but a women in the community complained that she had an allegation that she had made about inappropriate conduct and it was not in my party. She went public with it. I did bring it to her party’s attention.
Vassy Kapelos: Do you think Patrick Brown it’s enough that he resigned as party leader? Should he have resigned as an MPP?
Deputy Conservative Party Leader Lisa Raitt: That’s for Patrick to make a decision. There is absolute clarity for me on this that with these allegations over his head that he was not going to be able to lead the Conservatives in Ontario into the next election because every discussion would be about these allegations. The second part is of course his caucus has a lot to say about what level of decorum that they expect from a leader and from a member of their provincial parliament, so that’s for them to decide. As far as the member of provincial parliament that really is Patrick’s decision, and at the end of the day it’s going to be the people of Barrie who make the choice on whether or not they want to keep their member of provincial parliament. But in the meantime, Patrick has denied the allegations. He will go through the due process that he’s afforded in this case, but it doesn’t take away from the fact they’re serious allegations and people in positions that we are in, in leadership, are held to higher standards and this does matter.
Vassy Kapelos: You mentioned the upcoming election. Are you considering leading the party or throwing your hat into the ring, I guess?
Deputy Conservative Party Leader Lisa Raitt: I want to make sure that we win in June of this year. That has always been my goal and that’s why I’ve been working so hard even before Christmas to help the new candidates to be able to fundraise or to have meet and greets. That being said, it’s the caucus that’s going to be making the decision on the path forward and I respect the caucus and their decisions.
Vassy Kapelos: So it sounds to me like you’re ruling it out but it will depend on the process the party puts forward.
Deputy Conservative Party Leader Lisa Raitt: Process is going to be a very important consideration because I trust and I respect the caucus. And as I said, I hope that they’re taking it into consideration and the executive is considering all of those people who in good faith bought memberships and they want a say in who the leader is.
Vassy Kapelos: Before we go I do want to ask you about Kent Hehr. The prime minister of course kicked him out—or sorry, he resigned, I’m sorry, from cabinet but he didn’t resign from caucus. Is that the right call?
Deputy Conservative Party Leader Lisa Raitt: I can’t speak for the Liberal Party but there does seem to be a bit of a difference between how they’ve treated other members of their caucus, Mr. Kang and Mr. Tootoo with respect to allegations being made. I don’t know where they are in investigation of Mr. Kang or investigation of Mr. Hehr. I’m sure they have a lot of investigations going on right now and I hope that they do end up concluding these because that’s the important part of a process that if a claim is made that is not in good faith, a process that’s solid will also be able to determine those. So I know that there’s a lot of fear out there of people talking about well, it’s very difficult to be a Member of Parliament these days and I’m going to worry about this and worry about that. If you have the right policies and process in place there’s nothing to worry about. These things are dealt with appropriately and we’ve been doing it for 20 years within the workplaces that I’ve ever worked in. And we want to have good relationships within the workplace and that’s why these policies are there, to ensure that you can’t have claims that are just there to be hurtful. And when claims are valid and very concerning they get dealt with in a rapid way.
Vassy Kapelos: Okay. Thanks very much for your time Miss Raitt, appreciate it.
Deputy Conservative Party Leader Lisa Raitt: Appreciate it, Vassy. Thank you.
Vassy Kapelos: Up next, how are sexual harassment and sexual misconduct allegations changing politics and what now? That’s after the break.
Vassy Kapelos: Inappropriate behaviour, sexual harassment, sexual misconduct. In recent months we have heard from many women who have come forward to tell their story. And last week, those stories hit the political landscape in this country forcing three political leaders to resign. So how is this changing the political conversation?
Joining me now is long-time political journalist, Susan Delacourt and in Toronto, Supriya Dwivedi of 640 Toronto Global News Radio, my colleague. Thank you both very much for being with us, I appreciate it.
Susan, I’m going to start with you. You’ve been covering politics here in Ottawa for decades. Have you ever seen anything like what we just saw transpire?
Susan Delacourt: No, it seems that it’s all been put on fast forward. You see culture change here in Ottawa but not literally. It does seem overnight. I think it’s going to be an interesting year. I don’t think it’s over yet. I think a year from now we’ll be seeing what happened this past week as a pivotal moment.
Vassy Kapelos: Supriya, it’s been sort of described as a “reckoning”. Do you see it that way?
Supriya Dwivedi: I mean I see it a long time coming. Susan will know better than I will and I’m sure Vassy, you’ve had your own experiences, but Ottawa and political life in general is often rife with this sort of behaviour. And it’s not to say that there are a bunch of men walking around that are serial harassers or predators but what happens is that it ends up being very much a culture of complacency. So because there are no mechanisms or formal procedures in place, often it’s well, let’s look the other way for the good of the party.
Vassy Kapelos: And I want to ask you guys a bit later about those mechanisms or lack thereof. But I know, Supriya we’ve talked before about a lot of the feedback we get about this conversation that’s going on and I think there’s a bunch of pieces that have come out, for example, saying that these are unfounded allegations, they’re not proven. So how can these guys be losing their careers, whether serious or not, they are allegations. And I’m wondering what you think about that.
Supriya Dwivedi: I think to anybody who thinks that, they really need to parse the fact that being held in a criminal court of law and being found guilty or innocent beyond a reasonable doubt is very different than dealing with workplace harassment in a work environment. And I think that’s for all sorts of good reasons. But I also think, journalists and those of us in the media, also need to pull back the curtain a little bit to let people know that we don’t just write stories and take things to broadcast or print because of the willy-nilly allegations or rumours or innuendo. There is a fact-checking mechanism that’s in place and there are ways that journalists verify stories. And so if somebody is taking an allegation like this to print by a reputable media organization and by reputable journalists, then it’s not the same as you’re relaying something back that you heard in a bar from somebody who heard it from a friend.
Vassy Kapelos: And let me ask you about that, Susan, specifically in the case of Kent Hehr because those allegations did arise on Twitter in the first place and of course the process goes on in media but then you’ve got these out there and they haven’t been filtered anyway. What do you make of that?
Susan Delacourt: I think Supriya made a really good distinction there, too. There are basically three places and there are three speeds at which the court of public opinion is working now or justice is working. There’s the courts, the legal system, that’s slow and long and arduous and that’s what people are saying. You know, why don’t we have due process and witnesses and testimony? That’s a slow, long involved process. Then the other extreme, there is the Twitter verse, you know where things are crazy and it happens and careers are destroyed overnight. I like the middle ground, too. I think that the media right now is in a perfect spot to be the middle ground to actually investigate these and put them to some kind of test, I agree, this isn’t happening willy-nilly. I confess. I do have some reservations too about how quickly, as Patrick Brown said the court of opinion is moving and the ability to destroy people’s careers. It does feel a bit like mob or frontier justice right now on Twitter and Facebook.
Vassy Kapelos: So what do we do about that?
Susan Delacourt: Slow it down. Slow it down a bit and I think everybody’s got to chill out, but I actually do think this is a good role for the media. You know that take it seriously and take people seriously. But I think we’ve got to be careful, too, that we haven’t turned into a bunch of villagers with torches.
Vassy Kapelos: And what do you think about that, Supriya? Do you think things are moving too quickly?
Supriya Dwivedi: I think it can definitely be seen that way, especially when you have in a period of 24 hours, three political leaders being taken down by allegations of this sort. But I think it’s also the other side of the coin of that is that women have put up with a whole heck of a lot, and men too on the Hill and other places where political legislatures are, but I do think that when we’re talking about Twitter, it shouldn’t always be translated onto real life. So whereas things are definitely moving fast on Twitter, I don’t think that’s necessarily true of the general public as well because everything in Twitter tends to be a little bit ramped up.
Vassy Kapelos: And I want to sort of bring up and touch on a point that you brought up a bit earlier on the privacy and the significance of the process that’s in place and what happens because I remembering thinking a few weeks ago an article in the Calgary Herald came out about the investigation into Darshan Kang, whose also accused of sexual misconduct. There is no way of finding out, and I asked the House of Commons myself, the speaker’s office, what happens in that investigation? What point it’s at? What’s going on in the process? Do you think that’s a problem?
Supriya Dwivedi: Yeah, I do. I mean, I think there definitely needs to be a transparent process in place and I think we should definitely finding out the public and as well as the media so they can then report it to the public of what went on because then how is anybody supposed to have trust in the institutions for taking part and going about a thorough investigation which is the line we’ve been hearing from the Liberals, right? Is that there will be a thorough independent investigation looking into this. And if that’s the case, then okay, show us the results.
Vassy Kapelos: And what about you, Susan? What do you think about how the process works right now? And the Liberals are also saying that their new legislation, they think, will help solve that. Do you think it will?
Susan Delacourt: We are in the Wild West right now. It does feel a bit like frontier justice and so I do think anything that makes it a little more transparent, I think people out there are concerned, rightly. Not just men, women too, are concerned that somebody’s career and reputation in life can be destroyed by an anonymous allegation. It presents the potential to make mischief with somebody, especially in politics where dirty tricks can be played so much too. I think as I said at the beginning, we’re at the beginning of all of this. I think this is going to be an important point, but I think that we’re going to have to put some rules in transparency around it too.
Vassy Kapelos: And whose responsibility is that?
Susan Delacourt: Everybody, including the public. You know, including the public. I’ve been listening to some open-line shows too where the public seems to be quick to rush to justice on one side or the other too. You know, we’re in the world of the disappearing middle, but a cautious middle of the road view on things like this is not a bad idea.
Vassy Kapelos: Okay. I’m going to have to leave it there. Thank you both very much for your time, I really appreciate it.
And up next: a conversation with Conservative commentator, David Frum. He’s one of Donald Trump’s biggest critics, but he thinks Trump may be on the rise.
Vassy Kapelos: Canadian, David Frum, became a naturalised American citizen after serving in the Bush administration. He’s been a registered Republican for years, but in the last U.S. election, he voted against their chosen leader, Donald Trump. He explains why in his new book Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the American Republic. I sat down with him late last week. Here’s that conversation.
Hi Mr. Frum, thanks very much for joining us.
David Frum: Thank you.
Vassy Kapelos: Nice to have you on the program.
David Frum: Thank you.
Vassy Kapelos: Your book has just made the New York Times Best Seller list. Are you surprised at all about the level of interest, the public interest, in anything to do with Donald Trump?
David Frum: I saw a little joke on Instagram a couple of days ago. Things that didn’t exist in 2007: the iPhone, Instagram, the nameless sense of dread with which you woke up every morning. I think people are afraid. These are prosperous times. The U.S. economy is expanding, Canada’s getting the benefit. But people sense that something has gone terribly wrong in the United States. It can affect Canada. It can affect the rest of the world and it makes them fascinated.
Vassy Kapelos: Do you think it’s just fear because I have a sense from some people that it’s more just like watching a car wreck. And I’m not implying that it’s necessarily all negative. Like you said the economy is doing well and we get a lot of feedback about that, but is it just sort of like you can’t turn your eyes away?
David Frum: Well, Donald Trump is not a quietly sinister person. He is a noisily flamboyant person, so no question that there are these spectacular things. And there’s also an element of buffoonery to the presidency that Donald Trump could be more effective if he kept his mouth shut. He can’t do that because he needs attention as much as he needs to enrich himself as president. So there are a lot of things that grab the attention. But I think in the end, the show would get old if it didn’t seem that there was so much at stake.
Vassy Kapelos: Do you think he is a buffoon as he’s been painted or is he the stable genius that he describes himself? Or is it somewhere in between?
David Frum: Like every journalist in Washington, I read the Wolff book with absorption and probably half of it seems more or less true. But the depiction of Donald Trump is someone who is so adult that he can’t govern himself. That’s really, I think a serious mistake and you see that every day. Trump has survival skills and he has the bully’s instinct for the weakness of others: political opponents and by the way, the American Constitutional system. He knows where its weak points are too and he uses them.
Vassy Kapelos: And what are the implications of that?
David Frum: The implications of that are that Donald Trump is putting pressure on all the unwritten parts of the American democracy that make it work. He’s putting pressure, for example, on the idea that law enforcement is supposed to be independent of the president that the FBI director works for the people and not for the president. It’s not part of the president’s security detail. He’s putting pressure on ethical norms that have grown up over the years. He has broken the decision-making apparatus of the national government for national security. The National Security Council doesn’t work. The state department is empty and out. There is only the military and he’s trying to make the military a personal expression of his government. So there’s a lot to worry about.
Vassy Kapelos: Are Republicans bothered by that because from an outsider’s perspective some seem like it but the majority don’t.
David Frum: Well the party and Congress are complicit. They’re in a devil’s bargain. Republicans and Congress don’t like Donald Trump very much more than Democrats in Congress do. But they have an agenda, the Republicans and Congress that is so unpopular, that if Donald Trump had not gotten into office on the lucky bounce in the Electoral College, no one else would have been able to advance it. So they have this rare opportunity to pass into law something that probably couldn’t meet the democratic test. In return, Donald Trump says fine, I’ll sign this tax cut that’s very unpopular. I will sign if you can pass Obamacare repeal. You protect me from the consequences of my misconduct.
Vassy Kapelos: And as a Republican, what do you think about that? Do you still consider yourself one?
David Frum: I’m a registered Republican. I’m a Conservative. But I see trouble ahead and one of the things I want to conserve are the democratic institutions. Also, and maybe this is coming from Canada which benefits so much from this, the American world leadership. Donald Trump does not believe in it. He doesn’t understand it and he is wrecking it. We are in a situation now where the structures of peace that have protected Canada and Europe and the north west Pacific since the end of the war are really in danger in a way they never have been before.
Vassy Kapelos: And I want to ask you about that in a second. But as a Republican, when you see the complicity in Congress or among certain segments of the party, what’s the line for you? At what point do you, as this travels on, or as this moves on, do you say to yourself I don’t know if this is for me? Or is there no line?
David Frum: The worse it gets, the more it has to be for me. I mean, you run toward trouble, not away from it. And when things are bad, that’s when you’re needed. And these are my friends and my relatives. This is the world in which I grew up and when you see it going wrong you can’t shrug it off. I mean, you have to do everything you can to pull the body out of the water even if there is a risk that the body will pull you into the water after it.
Vassy Kapelos: What happens now? You know, a lot of us are thinking of that question as we watch this unravel?
David Frum: I think the immediate possibility is that Donald Trump will actually have an increase in strength for 2018. The economy, as we’ve said, is strong. The stock market is strong. The tax cut, although it’s very biased in favour of certain sectors of the country in certain social classes will put money into the pockets of tens of millions of people and they will like it. So my guess is that Donald Trump gets stronger in 2018 and his grip on the Republican Party gets tighter. Meanwhile, as the Mueller investigation proceeds, we’re going to see more and more that Donald Trump did some really improper things with the Russians in 2016 and Republicans are going to have to make a very serious choice about whether they will protect American sovereignty and independence or the Trump presidency.
Vassy Kapelos: As a Canadian, we are sitting here hanging off every word of Donald Trump because mostly of NAFTA. How worried should Canadians be about this unpredictability?
David Frum: Canadians should be worried a lot about NAFTA because Donald Trump, he doesn’t understand what it does. He doesn’t understand why it’s important. He doesn’t understand why it’s important to American industries. He said the other day he did not realize that American agriculture benefits from NAFTA. So if you don’t know that American farms are Americas greatest export sector, you know nothing, but he lives by domination and he lives to destroy. But the resources that a lot of people do understand, the governors of states like Texas and Georgina, these are Republican states, are defending NAFTA, even very Trump states like Arkansas, the government there or the governor there is a strong defender of NAFTA. So there will be pressures on him. And as with everything, the future depends on what people do.
Vassy Kapelos: I’ll leave it there. Thanks very much, Mr. Frum. Good luck with the book.
David Frum: Thank you.
Vassy Kapelos: I appreciate it.