The West Block, Season 7, Episode 22

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Watch the full broadcast of The West Block from Saturday, February 3, 2018. Hosted by Vassy Kapelos – Feb 4, 2018

Episode 22, Season 7
Sunday, February 4, 2018

Host: Vassy Kapelos

Guest Interviews: Minister Jim Carr, Ambassador Bruce Heyman,
Ambassador Selçuk Ünal

Location: Ottawa

On this Sunday, Alberta’s premier is calling on the federal government to step up and show leadership on the pipeline showdown between her province and B.C. So will the Feds intervene to ease tensions in the west?

Then, the prime minister heads south of the border later this week to ramp up the NAFTA charm offensive before negotiations resume in Mexico. But is there more the government should be doing? Former U.S. Ambassador Bruce Heyman weighs in.

Plus, a major offensive in northern Syria by the Turkish military threatens the alliance to fight ISIS and relations within NATO. We’ll ask Turkey’s ambassador what his country’s end game really is.

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It’s Sunday, February 4th. I’m Vassy Kapelos, and this is The West Block.

Sabre-rattling, that’s how B.C. Premier Horgan described the latest threats from Alberta’s premier and his neighbour, Rachel Notley. The heated exchange came after B.C. proposed new restrictions on oil shipments via pipelines. So, how do we get to this point? Here’s your West Block primer.

It’s the west versus the west and Justin Trudeau is caught in the middle of it all.

Male Speaker: “Why can’t we build pipeline from here?”

Edmontonians pleading with the prime minister at a town hall last week asking him to make sure the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline extension actually gets built.

Male Speaker: “We have every right to protect our marine environment and our economy.”

B.C. is promising to do everything it can to stop that from happening and Alberta is fighting back.

Premier Rachel Notley: “We have formally suspended all talks to do what the purchasing of electricity from B.C.”

So what should the Feds do? Or maybe the real question: what can they do?

And joining me now is Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr. Minister Carr, nice to see you again, thanks for joining us.

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Minister Jim Carr: Pleasure, always good to be with you.

Vassy Kapelos: Last week the prime minister in Alberta, sir, said that “We are going to get that pipeline built.” How exactly is the federal government going to do that?

Minister Jim Carr: Well, it’s an approved pipeline from the Government of Canada. There was a long period of consultation, both by the National Energy Board (NEB) and then by the government itself. There was a ministerial panel that crisscrossed a couple of provinces and went up and down the line, heard from literally hundreds of people in online, tens of thousands. And after all of that consultation, the Government of Canada concluded that the Trans Mountain expansion was in Canada’s interest. We believed that then and we believe it now. Why is it in Canada’s interest? Because it will create thousands of good jobs, because it will expand our export markets beyond the United States, because we at the same time announced a $1.5 billion Ocean Protection Plan that’s world-class. We have now co-developed with Indigenous communities, a monitoring advisory committee up and down the line during construction. So, we believe for all of those reasons that it’s good for Canada.

Vassy Kapelos: Given, though, what we heard from B.C. last week, do you admit that there’s a difference between approving the pipeline and it actually getting built?

Minister Jim Carr: Well, there are 157 conditions that the National Energy Board applied to the approval of the pipeline. Those conditions are now in the process of being met. If there are attempts at unusual or unnecessary delay, the National Energy Board has the tools available to make sure that these decisions are made in a timely way. The Government of Canada actually intervened in a motion to help ensure that that happens. So from our perspective, this is an approved pipeline. If the conditions are met, it should be built.

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Vassy Kapelos: So what qualifies first on that as an untimely delay? And what are the specific tools available to the NEB?

Minister Jim Carr: Well the NEB has its own process and it will determine how it applies its process to particular conditions. Kinder Morgan has said to the National Energy Board that it wants to ensure that there are not unnecessary delays. It has given motions to the National Energy Board to consider. The National Energy Board has already dealt with two of them, one during which the Government of Canada itself intervened. It’s in our interest. It’s in Canada’s interest to ensure that there are not unnecessary delays.

Vassy Kapelos: So I understand that it’s the NEB that decides, but as you mentioned the federal government could potentially play a role in intervening. What would be the trigger? I guess what for you defines untimely or unnecessary delay in the Kinder Morgan case?

Minister Jim Carr: Well we’ll have to see how this unfolds. People are asking a lot of hypothetical questions. What the Government of British Columbia has done is announced a consultation. Well, they’re entitled to announce a consultation. We have had ours and our consultation, as I mentioned a minute ago, was absolutely thorough. It was broad and it was deep, and it led Canada to a conclusion. So we believe that all of the consultation necessary from the federal perspective has been done. We will judge what the British Columbia Government does by the action that it takes. So far, it says it’s going to talk to people. It has the right to talk to people.

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Vassy Kapelos: I guess the threat, though, prompted a counter-threat from Alberta. What do you, as part of the federal government, feel is your responsibility—is there a responsibility of the federal government in wading into this sort of provincial battle that’s ensuing?

Minister Jim Carr: The Government of Alberta is elected to look after the interests of Alberta. The same is true of the Government of British Columbia, which has as a primary goal, to look after the interests of British Columbia as they see them. Our job is to look after the interests of the whole country, not one region, not one province. And in the judgement of the Government of Canada, that’s what we’re doing by approving this pipeline. We speak for the entire country and what we believe to be in the interest of all Canadians. And we’ve done that.

Vassy Kapelos: Do you agree with Premier Notley’s assessment that this isn’t a fight between B.C. and Alberta. It’s a fight between Canada and B.C.? Or do you think that’s taking it too far?

Minister Jim Carr: Well it’s just not productive to say these are the principles in a fight. These are the combatants. It’s our job to protect the interest of the country. And in a federation such as ours, there will be occasions. We could all name a lot of them, when provinces don’t agree with each other, when provinces don’t agree with the national government. But ultimately, when it comes to major energy infrastructure, its’ the Government of Canada who has the authority to make these decisions and we are acting in the national interest. And ultimately in our system, and I don’t know a better one, the people of Canada will tell us in the traditional way whether or not we’ve made good judgement.

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Vassy Kapelos: Are there options available to your government outside of the process you described involving the NEB and the NEB intervening and maybe the Feds intervening through the NEB. Is there anything outside that that your government is considering right now?

Minister Jim Carr: Well, Vassy, you say options. Options to respond to what? What we’re responding to now is a British Columbia idea to consult British Columbians about an assortment of issues, issues that we have already discussed with Canadians for many, many months, in the case of some of these issues, many years. So we’re satisfied that the period of consultation is over. And from the perspective of Canada, we’re ready for there to be real action on the building and construction of this very important pipeline. At the same time, to remind Canadians that a $1.5 billion investment in the Ocean Protection Plan, the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, the development of our economy and the creation of good jobs can’t be separated from environmental stewardship. The environment and the economy go hand in hand.

Vassy Kapelos: Okay. Thanks for your time, Mr. Carr.

Minister Jim Carr: My pleasure.

Vassy Kapelos: Up next, what more can the Feds do to sell NAFTA? South of the border, a former ambassador has some ideas.

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Vassy Kapelos: The next round of NAFTA negotiations is set to start in Mexico later this month. And later this week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau heads to the U.S. for another round of meetings with governors and business leaders to try and boost support for a deal. So, is the approach working or is there more for improvement?

And joining me now from Chicago to discuss all that is former U.S. Ambassador to Canada Bruce Heyman. Mr. Heyman, pleasure to have you on the show.

Ambassador Bruce Heyman: Good to be here.

Vassy Kapelos: I wanted to ask you, the tone coming out of the last round of NAFTA negotiations seemed pretty optimistic, I think at least relatively speaking compared to previous rounds. Do you share that sense? And what should we as Canadians read into that, if you do?

Ambassador Bruce Heyman: Well, part of what happens in this series of trade negotiations, there’s a bit of theatrics. Trade negotiations tend to take a lot longer than people think. And people stake positions out and they tend to move over a period of time. I wouldn’t look at any one day or any one of these sessions to get really excited or really depressed, or think it’s off the rails, or it’s moving smoothly. Unfortunately, it’s going to take a while and I’m just happy everybody’s still at the table with all the threats that have been made from the U.S. perspective that my biggest fear is the U.S. in particular gets up and walks away based on the threats of the president. Other than that, I think that it seems to be moving along as I’ve seen in prior trade negotiations.

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Vassy Kapelos: You mentioned those threats and the fear of the U.S. walking away. How realistic a prospective is that?

Ambassador Bruce Heyman: Well, I would say based on rationality, it would be not at all close. Economically, the relationship with have with Canada and Mexico, and Canada which I know so well, is so important to the United States. And I believe NAFTA over a period of time have created jobs on both sides of the border, enhanced GDP, growth, really improved ourselves not only on a trading basis but geopolitically. The problem is that the president has made various threats over the last year and held up to them. He walked away; quit climate change in Paris Accord. He walked away from TPP. He walked away from the youth in DACA. And so quitting seems to be a mode that the president tends to do when the negotiations get tough or he doesn’t believe that the U.S. should be in the realm that they’re in and he’s threatened this with NAFTA. So my fear is that we have to take him seriously because he’s demonstrated the desire and ability to walk away from things.

Vassy Kapelos: So part of the, I guess, sort of way in which our government is approaching that is to not just appeal to the president but have this massive charm offensive across the U.S. And the prime minister to that affect is heading south of the border next week. And I understand you will be meeting with him, is that correct?

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Ambassador Bruce Heyman: Well, I’m going to try to attend. I will be in Mexico City in meetings when he’s in Chicago, but I’m going to try to connect with the prime minister’s team and listen to him and his speech out on the west coast. So that’s the goal right now. But you know, charm offensive, I wouldn’t use it exactly described in those terms. I’d talk about this is a partnership, where our partner, Canada, is coming in and enhancing and working on explaining the relationship and continuing to promote it and develop it. And the prime minister, the various ministers, business leaders, people from all parties in Canada, have come together and come to the United States. Former Prime Minister Mulroney last week. So I would say everybody is working hard to illuminate the importance of the U.S.-Canada relationship and I think that what Canada is doing is actually working because I believe it’s promoting results of governors, and business leaders, and congressmen and women to stand up and say Canada’s important to us. And I’m hopeful that the president and his team are taking note.

Vassy Kapelos: If we’re still hearing those threats coming from the president, though, of walking way, how effective is the approach that this government is taking, do you think? Or how do we sort of rectify the two?

Ambassador Bruce Heyman: Well, in some ways it’s kind of weird in that I would say the U.S.-Canada relationship has never been better when we’re sitting here talking to governors, especially two-thirds of the governors know that the number one export market is Canada. When we’re talking to business and community leaders, average Americans historically on a poll of countries, place Canada number one of the countries that they love the most and the people that they love the most. And so then you have the U.S. administration who’s doing things on immigration which is impacting Canada on climate change which is impacting our relationship, and most importantly, on trade. So you have this jarring of going both ways. I’m hopeful that the administration lends an ear to all of the good that’s happened with our U.S.-Canada relationship and all the good that I think the Canadians are doing are telling the story.

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Vassy Kapelos: And before we go, I wanted to ask you, though, if you were asked for your advice, what could the government be doing more? What more could they be doing in addition to the approach they’ve already taken? What would your advice be?

Ambassador Bruce Heyman: So, there are a couple of things. And look, first of all, it’s beyond me to give advice to the Canadian government. But to continue to work on enhancing the relationship, I would go directly to the American people. The term NAFTA is a toxic term and I would leave that term and put it aside and not talk about it. I’d talk about the importance of the overall U.S.-Canada relationship that runs the full gambit of international cooperation, international military protection of North America and NATO. What we do and helping those that are disadvantaged around the world, what we’ve done together diplomatically, where we are as neighbours, I’d invite more and more Americans to come up and see Canada. What an amazingly beautiful country, easy travel for most Americans and to come and visit and experience Canada. I would also work on changing this name, NAFTA. I think that unfortunately it’s become a political punching bag of sorts. And if we can replace that name with something else that we wouldn’t get stuck on it because at the base level, the president used that as a toxic term to get votes out in the election.

Vassy Kapelos: Okay. We have to leave it there. I appreciate your time, Mr. Heyman.

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Ambassador Bruce Heyman: A pleasure.

Vassy Kapelos: Up next, the conflict in Syria just keeps going as Turkey turns its sights from ISIS to the Kurdish forces.


Vassy Kapelos: The Islamic State has been defeated in Northern Syria, but the bloodshed hasn’t come to an end. Two weeks ago, Turkey launched an offensive against Kurdish forces in Afrin. The American trained and armed fighters helped defeat ISIS, but now the Kurds control a significant region south of the Turkish border. They want an autonomous state and that’s something Turkey won’t stand for.

Joining me now is Turkey’s Ambassador to Canada Selçuk Ünal. Ambassador, a pleasure to have you on the show, thanks for joining us.

Ambassador Selçuk Ünal: Thank you.

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Vassy Kapelos: Can you explain to me, and our viewers, why Turkey launched this offensive in the first place?

Ambassador Selçuk Ünal: Well like last year we have done something similar against Daesh. This year also we made an operation against an organization that we call a terrorist organization, YPG or PYD. According to us they are the sister organizations to PKK, which is a terror organization and it’s by all, including Canada. And these people are a sister organization. So we have been telling and calling to all the international community that this group should not be around at our borders because just last year we have lost 316 civilians in 700 mortar fires fired by these guys, or Daesh, in the region. So we decided to conduct an operation against both terror organizations, not only the ones here in Kurdish group, which is called a terror organization as PYG, but also Daesh as well.

Vassy Kapelos: So was this offensive directed then, is it about Kurdish autonomy or is it about terrorism?

Ambassador Selçuk Ünal: No, we don’t have—

Vassy Kapelos: Do you have a problem with Kurdish autonomy?

Ambassador Selçuk Ünal: No, we don’t have any problem with the Kurdish people or Kurdish decent. We have our own Kurdish decent citizens in our country. We have had good relations with the Iraqi Kurdish regional government. We also have good relations with other 11 Syrian Kurdish political parties operating in Syria. But this one, because it’s a sister organization of the PKK, and this is not only called by us, there are so many U.S. and other official and academic views labelling them as such, because they have been fighting against our civilians at the border, that’s the reason of the call for action.

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Vassy Kapelos: I’m glad you brought up civilians because there’s a statement from the Canadian government, last week. I’ll just read part of it to you. “Canada recognizes Turkey’s legitimate security concerns; however, we urge restraint and call for every possible effort to be made to protect civilians and fully respect international humanitarian law. What’s your response to that?

Ambassador Selçuk Ünal: Well, our response is that first of all, as the statement said, we are doing this operation for our national security. And we are doing it within the framework of the UN Security Council resolutions or UN Charter to the rights of self-defence. Secondly, we also would like everyone to know that this is not against the Kurds and every measure is taken care of possible or to prevent possible civilian casualties.

Vassy Kapelos: But there will be casualties, will there not be?

Ambassador Selçuk Ünal: Well, so far, we did not recognize any. Actually, it’s the 14th day of the operation and the reason why it’s going slowly is our utmost care for the possible civilian casualties.

Vassy Kapelos: Some news outlets are reporting, though, that there have been some casualties and they’re saying 16,000 civilians have been displaced.

Ambassador Selçuk Ünal: Well, I don’t think so because—

Vassy Kapelos: Are you saying that’s inaccurate?

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Ambassador Selçuk Ünal: Yes. In the meantime the PKK or PYD, they’re also [00:20:16 mastering??] a propaganda campaign and showing with the world of fake news, or tweets, as if there are many civilian casualties. But we have also announced that some of them have been from the past violence that the Syrian regime has done or somewhere else than in other parts of Syria or Iraq. And this is also well documented.

Vassy Kapelos: So that I’m clear, though, are you saying that the Turkish government has not caused the displacement of any civilians?

Ambassador Selçuk Ünal: As far as we know, no because we are closing Afrin and we are calling everybody if there are any civilians around to vacate the areas of operation. But this is not something that we are really causing by entering it. Actually, we have so far liberated 12 or 15 villages from this organization or Daesh. And we are continuing humanitarian assistance in those areas to those civilians.

Vassy Kapelos: Let me ask about how far your government is prepared to go in this offensive. Of course we mentioned off the top there that a number of these forces are armed and trained by the U.S. There are still U.S. forces there as well. Do you anticipate that it will into that region?

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Ambassador Selçuk Ünal: Well actually on the west of Euphrates River, as they’ve also announced there’s no U.S. military presence, and also the Russians presence has been vacated. Now what we have been promised from the very start of the war against Daesh, which we are a part of this coalition, is there won’t be any places for terror organizations at the border. This promise was not fulfilled.

Vassy Kapelos: By whom?

Ambassador Selçuk Ünal: By one particular ally.

Vassy Kapelos: By the U.S.

Ambassador Selçuk Ünal: And on the western side of the Euphrates we were also promised by President Obama that there won’t be any PKK, PYD related forces but there are. So that’s why we will continue the operation until the whole terror threats be it PKK or Daesh will make it in that area.

Vassy Kapelos: Is it worth, and we’ve only got a minute left, but is it worth jeopardizing your relationship with the U.S. and other allies in NATO? Is it fair to characterize that relationship as fraught over this issue?

Ambassador Selçuk Ünal: We don’t want to jeopardize innovation with any NATO allies. Turkey’s a staunch NATO ally. But we also have been calling all NATO allies that even though after the Daesh was defeated, why some NATO allies have been arming this organization with so many sophisticated weapons, more than 5,000 trucks of sophisticated weapons, including anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons even though Daesh didn’t have any tanks or planes. So this is also a question that I think we should also think of.

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Vassy Kapelos: Okay, sir. I have to leave it there, but I appreciate you joining us today.

Ambassador Selçuk Ünal: Thank you very much.

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, even Instagram. Thank you so much for joining us. I’m Vassy Kapelos. We look forward to seeing you back here, next week.

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