The West Block, Season 7, Episode 23

The West Block: Feb 11
Watch the full broadcast of The West Block from Sunday, February 11, 2018. Hosted by Vassy Kapelos.

Episode 23, Season 7
Sunday, February 11, 2018

Host: Vassy Kapelos

Guest Interviews: Minister Catherine McKenna, Minister Jason Kenney

Food for Thought: Minister Niki Ashton at Mystiko Greek Kitchen

Location: Ottawa

On this Sunday, the government introduces new rules for pipelines, insisting they’ll protect the environment and grow the economy. But opposition on the left and the right argue the rules will do neither. We talk to Environment Minister Catherine McKenna.

Then, the pipeline pinot battle heats up out west over the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion. Federal officials are in talks with the B.C. government, but is it time for more than talk? United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney weighs in.

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Plus, Food for Thought with new mom and NDP MP Niki Ashton: breaking bread and talking sleep deprivation over Greek delicacies.

It’s Sunday, February 11th. I’m Vassy Kapelos, and this is The West Block.

The Feds introduced their long awaited environmental bill last week which they say will protect the environment by basing decisions on future pipelines on science, Indigenous traditional knowledge and more public consultations. The bill will eliminate the National Energy Board (NEB) and create one assessment agency to size up all future projects. The minister will also have more power over the process. But critics on the left and right aren’t happy.

Male Speaker: “There’s more discretionary powers given to the minister. And the other thing is that of course the minister has the right to basically kill a project before it ever gets to the impact assessment process.”

Minister Elizabeth May: “What we’re looking at is sort of a mad scientist went into a lab, took Stephen Harper and Justin Trudeau and merged them together to create a new sort of Frankenstein-like government and I’m not sure it can walk.”

And joining me now is federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna. Minister McKenna, great to have you on the show.

Minister Catherine McKenna: Great to be here.

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Vassy Kapelos: I appreciate it. I wanted to drill down. You made a big announcement last week, obviously, overhauling the process by which new resource projects can be approved. I wanted to drill down to one specific aspect of it and that is that the new assessment process will take into account the impact on climate change targets of those proposed projects. Does that mean that the assessment process will also take into account downstream and upstream emissions for projects?

Minister Catherine McKenna: First of all, everything we do has to be consistent. So we spend a year negotiating a climate plan with the provinces and territories, so obviously when we approve projects you need to be considering that. But the most important thing, I know there’s a lot of focus on upstream, downstream, it’s really a project has to overall fit within our climate plan. And so in the context, let’s take Alberta. Alberta’s a great example because the government of Rachel Notley, she announced the first ever hard cap on emissions from the oil sands and she did it standing within industry, with Indigenous peoples, with environmentalists. So we know that projects in the oil sands have to fit in that hard cap, so that’s good. And so that we already have that and she’s provided a lot of certainty to business by doing that. So really, it’s overall figuring out by projects how are these going to fit in our plan. And so what we’ve said is we need to do a strategic assessment on climate change. So really drill down, because we have a 2030 target and we have a plan to get there, but it’s harder to know when you have project by project are they going to fit in that?

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Vassy Kapelos: So are you saying that any project proposed, like a pipeline that originates in Alberta would be okay because of that hard cap?

Minister Catherine McKenna: Well as long as they fit in the hard cap on emissions, that’s provided certainty in that particular province.

Vassy Kapelos: But can a pipeline fit into that cap if you’re not only taking into account the emissions generated by its operation and construction, but also anything that happens with the product after it goes through the pipeline?

Minister Catherine McKenna: You can get really technical in this, but when you think about—

Vassy Kapelos: But I think with producers it’s not technical. It’s a big deal.

Minister Catherine McKenna: You can take the example of TMX, we approved it. We believe it fits within our climate plan. And so that’s what you do. You just need to make that assessment and provide certainty to business. Business wants certainty. That’s why putting a price on pollution and having people know what the price is, they can find out ways to reduce emissions. So it’s all part in parcel. We announced an Oceans Protection Plan. We understand the environment and the economy go together and so you need to demonstrate that in everything you do and we’ve taken that approach across government, working with provinces, whether it’s Alberta or Ontario, Quebec. Across the country people understand you’ve got to protect your environment. You’ve got to take action on climate change and you want good projects to go ahead.

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Vassy Kapelos: Ultimately, your discretionary powers increase with this bill, but also, at the end of the day, it’s still a political decision about whether or not this project goes ahead. How does that provide more certainty for a company that wants to build a pipeline?

Minister Catherine McKenna: We’ve been really clear about what the rules are going to be. Under the previous government, they gutted the environmental assessment regime and decisions were really made on politics. And that’s not even what project proponents want. If you’re in business, you actually want to know that you’re going to make decisions based on science, based on evidence that you’re going to ensure that there’s been consultation with communities and the timelines are going to be clear. So this is exactly what we announced yesterday. We’ve said that we’re going to be working with industry. We’re going to be working with provinces, making sure our timelines when a province is also involved, the timelines are set. We work with them with the engagement with Indigenous peoples. And then once you’ve done that—so you’ve done that work, when they drop the project to be reviewed we’ve said there’s going to be stricter timelines. They’re going to be shorter and then we’re going to come to a decision. And for hard decisions, yes they will end up on either my desk or it could end up in cabinet and that’s the right thing. At the end of the day, we’re responsible to Canadians. We’re elected and we need to make decisions in the national interests. I think you’ve seen challenges. Right now, my goal is to bring people together and making sure you’ve got making decisions on the best information possible.

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Vassy Kapelos: But realistically, I know that the goal, as I think you said to bring people together to consult more widely. Even if you are able to do so, like what we’re witnessing right now, realistically, is there ever a chance that everyone’s going to be onboard? Maybe you get it approved and just like it’s happened right now with Kinder Morgan, but there will still be ardent opponents and right now those opponents are preventing a pipeline from being built. So, how does this overall offer anything, I guess, better than the current reality?

Minister Catherine McKenna: So you need to bring folks together and so if you actually do the work at the beginning, and smart businesses do this already, they go out and talk to communities. They work with Indigenous peoples. They enter into impact benefit agreements. This didn’t happen in the previous government. So the previous government made a system that in theory was easier because, you know think about the environment. But they couldn’t get projects through, ironically. Because in the 21st century, you need to understand that the environment and the economy go together.

Vassy Kapelos: But with all due respect, with Kinder Morgan your government did consider the environment and the project still isn’t going through.

Minister Catherine McKenna: Yeah, and we approved the project.

Vassy Kapelos: But it’s not getting built.

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Minister Catherine McKenna: Well, you know what? We’re having discussions right now with British Columbia and let me be really clear. This project is within our jurisdiction. Pipelines are within the jurisdiction. We understand the concerns that folks have on the coast and this is the twinning. So there’s already a pipeline there, so the concerns about protecting the coast and protecting the oceans already exists.

Vassy Kapelos: Really quickly, though, what if the talks with B.C. don’t produce any tangible resolve? What if they continue their threat to cap bitumen flowing through its borders? What’s your next move?

Minister Catherine McKenna: Well, it’s well within our jurisdiction and I don’t want to speculate, but I think we’re going to get there. We have officials there. I had conversations with my British Columbian counterpart.

Vassy Kapelos: So you think they will withdraw that threat.

Minister Catherine McKenna: I think that it’s really important that we move forward with this project, that as I say, good jobs—

Vassy Kapelos: But do you think that they will withdraw the threat? Is that your feeling?

Minister Catherine McKenna: I am certainly extremely hopeful. I think that we’re all better together and British Columbia often wants other projects. We need to be figuring out a way that we can provide certainty to business that you can invest in Canada that you can invest in British Columbia that good projects that go through a robust process can get approved and can actually go ahead.

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Vassy Kapelos: Okay. I’ll leave it there. Thanks for your time, minister.

Minister Catherine McKenna: Great. Thank you.

Vassy Kapelos: Appreciate it. Up next, Alberta’s United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney wants Ottawa to stop the pipeline battle out west. Hear from him after the break.

Female Speaker: If we want a Parliament that truly reflects the population, including women, including rationalized folks, Indigenous peoples, peoples living with disabilities, we need to be prepared to make adjustments.


Vassy Kapelos: As the pipeline battle heats up between Alberta and B.C. federal officials are talking to both provinces to try and end the impasse. But is talk enough?

Joining me now is United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney. Mr. Kenney, great to have you back on the show.

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Minister Jason Kenney: Great to be back to Ottawa. Thank you.

Vassy Kapelos: Before we get to pipelines, and I sure do want to talk to you about that, kind of a very serious matter, one of your former MLAs, he resigned last week, Don MacIntyre. The publication ban on his charges has been released and he has been charged with sexual assault and interference. Were you aware of the allegations he was facing at any time?

Minister Jason Kenney: No. First, I’m just deeply disturbed by the nature of these allegations and I hope that justice will be done. We learned about the allegations last week when he informed our House Leader that he was resigning from the Legislature. I had heard nothing about it before then. I instructed our legal counsel to work with media to lift the publication ban in court because we think there’s a public interest in transparency and we’re thinking about the victim, hoping for her to have strength and courage and hoping that justice will be done.

Vassy Kapelos: Okay. I’ll leave it there. Thanks very much. Let me move on to the subject du jour for Alberta and much of the country right now: pipelines, getting them approved, specifically the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion. I know that you’ve criticized the federal government for their lack of leadership as I think you’ve termed it, and others, in the past few weeks and overall on the Kinder Morgan pipeline. I want to read a few quotes from them this week, though. The Prime Minster said, “We’re going to ensure that pipeline gets built because it is in the national interest. It’s going to create good jobs.” Catherine McKenna, the Environment Minister said, “We need this project to go ahead.” Jim Carr, the Natural Resources Minster said, “No province can impinge on the national interest. That is the role of the Government of Canada.” Why is that not enough?

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Minister Jason Kenney: Words are not enough, we need action. What’s happening, the NDP in British Columbia has decided to violate our Constitution and the economic union which was a key guarantee of Confederation by threatening arbitrarily to block the shipment of Alberta’s most important product. Provinces cannot interfere with domestic trade and the regulation of intra-provincial pipelines is totally a federal jurisdiction. So I appreciate the federal government saying they support the pipeline that they approved, but they need to back it up with action. They should go to court and seek an order suspending the perspective application of these anti-free trade regulations. They could also use a special power, in Section 92 of the Constitution, to say this is against the national interest. So we’re asking them to move from words to action.

Vassy Kapelos: Is B.C. actually violating the Constitution by making that threat? All they’ve said at this point—and I take your point, but all they’ve said is that we’re consulting on the idea of capping bitumen. They haven’t actually done anything. How is talk unconstitutional?

Minister Jason Kenney: Well talk, actually in this case, the threat has a real world consequence. It’s not just some vague consultation. Here’s the thing, Kinder Morgan, the pipeline sponsor, is spending millions of dollars a day waiting. There’s already been a one year delay since approval. Their shareholders and investors do not have infinite patience. The strategy of the anti-development forces, including the B.C. government, is to delay this thing to death. And it’s by creating an uncertainty, legal reviews, consultations; municipal councils like Burnaby trying to deny permits for roads. All of these things together will lead to endless delays and jeopardize the whole project. If that happens, Vassy, we’re talking about the inability to ship our oil around the world. That means we will only sell to the Americans about a 25 per cent, 30 per cent discount that’s potentially tens or hundreds of billions of dollars of wealth that we don’t get as Canadians.

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Vassy Kapelos: Even if they use Section 92(10), my understanding is that doesn’t relieve them of their obligations to Indigenous peoples and they could therefore still be fighting those claims, which would then still continue to delay the pipeline. So, is that even the magic bullet?

Minister Jason Kenney: Well, it’s certainly a response to the threat of the B.C. government to violate the Constitution in our economic union. But with respect to Aboriginal people, let’s remember that every single First Nation along the actual pipeline right down the coast supports Kinder Morgan. That pipeline has been there by the way for six decades with a safe record. It fuels much of the economy of the lower mainland. This is not a new pipeline. It’s just an expansion of something that’s been there, an expanded pipeline using the most modern technology. Why do we forget about the voices of pro-development Aboriginal communities who want these to be partners in these projects to move their—

Vassy Kapelos: I think because they’re not causing the delays.

Minister Jason Kenney: But this is an opportunity for them to move from poverty to prosperity. I say, yes, always consult, but let’s also consult the pro-development Aboriginal communities who happen to be the majority.

Vassy Kapelos: When your party was in charge of the federal government, you guys also couldn’t get a pipeline built. Did you ever consider using those constitutional powers?

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Minister Jason Kenney: To be fair, when Stephen Harper was prime minister, four pipelines were approved and built within Canada. In terms of coastal pipelines, we approved the Northern Gateway pipeline that Justin Trudeau then subsequently vetoed arbitrarily with the northern tanker ban. Energy East was applied for only at the very end of the Harper government and Justin Trudeau’s government has effectively killed it by getting the National Energy Board to get into the business of carbon emissions creating huge uncertainty. It was Barack Obama who vetoed Keystone XL after the Alberta NDP brought in their carbon tax and now we’ve got a B.C. NDP government threatening Kinder Morgan. So we did what we could and now it’s up to this government to exercise leadership.

Vassy Kapelos: But even with Northern Gateway, for example, I mean it was approved by your government and it couldn’t get built. It faced enormous opposition. Do you really feel that you could have made sure that it got built and how?

Minister Jason Kenney: I can tell you I was Minister of Employment. I went up to northern B.C., met with chiefs and First Nations, provided additional funding for training so their people could work on these projects and benefit economically from it. There was tremendous support—

Vassy Kapelos: But it still never got built.

Minister Jason Kenney: Because Justin Trudeau vetoed it, Northern tanker traffic ban, did so arbitrarily. But we need as Canadians to understand this is existential for our future. We’ve got western countries, Greece, for example, going bankrupt because they can’t afford to pay for their debts. If we want to avoid that future, we need to develop in an environmentally way, our resources. We’re talking about $1 trillion plus asset in our oil and gas and if we don’t ship that to global markets, guess what? Iran, Saudi Arabia, [00:15:39 Cateura??] and Venezuela will. I say Canada with the highest environmental human rights and labour standards of any major oil producer in the world should be displacing or at least competing with the oil generated by those conflict regimes.
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Vassy Kapelos: I have to leave it there, unfortunately. But thanks for your time Minister Kenney.

Minister Jason Kenney: Thank you, Vassy.

Vassy Kapelos: Appreciate it. Up next: Food for Thought with Manitoba NDP Niki Ashton. What the new mom of twins says has to change on Parliament Hill.


Vassy Kapelos: Just a few blocks south of Parliament Hill in the heart of Ottawa’s downtown core, it’s Mystiko. Serving traditional Greek fair, it’s a restaurant NDP MP Niki Ashton frequents often. And it’s where we find her today.

Thank you so much for joining us for Food for Thought. It’s nice to see you. I appreciate your time.

Minister Niki Ashton: My pleasure, great to be with you.

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Vassy Kapelos: And you come here a lot, you were saying.

Minister Niki Ashton: Yeah, and I order in from here. My first language is Greek, it’s my background. I have a lot of family in Greece and so eating from here when I’m away from home especially makes me feel at home.

Vassy Kapelos: So we both started off with a Greek salad. You have the Village Salad.

Minister Niki Ashton: Yeah, so it’s known as [00:17:07 Greek language – horiatiki], which means village salad and this is the authentic Greek salad. A lot of people that have travelled to Greece will have had it. So it’s tomatoes, cucumbers and feta and olives of course. [00:17:20 Greek language – loukaniko] often eaten in Greece, very tasty sausage and excellent here at the restaurant and [00:17:26 Greek language – tirokafteri] which people know it as a spicy cheese dip.

Vassy Kapelos: I guess I should start off by saying congratulations. So you’re a new mom of twins. Tell me about it and how they’re doing?

Minister Niki Ashton: Well it is intense. They were born on Halloween, so we’re about three months in now and they’re doing very well. They are right into the sort of political work and public work. They went to their first public event when they were 11 days old and they’ve hit the road in the constituency with me. They’ve come to office hours. In fact, more people come to see the twins than me now back home. And just recently they came to Parliament as it opened. And it’s very important for me to share this work and this life with my kids, but obviously there’s some major challenges as well and they definitely need to be addressed so that we can encourage and support, particularly women and new moms that want to do political work as well.

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Vassy Kapelos: And I want to get into those challenges for sure, but just on the more personal side, how nervous were you about having twins and carrying on the workload that you have or how much it might impact your life and has much has it changed your life?

Minister Niki Ashton: I mean it’s a big change, obviously. You know sleep deprivation has definitely been a thing. I thought I knew what it meant to get a little bit of sleep before, but I really didn’t until now. So there have been adjustments, obviously travelling back and forth. There have been a number of changes that have had to be made.

Vassy Kapelos: Do you think that it will change your political priorities at all or has it even in the few months that they’ve been here?

Minister Niki Ashton: I think it’s just going to further reinforce when I talk about the struggle for good jobs for young people in our country. I mean I think about my kids now, what will be left for them. And when I think about the fight for inequality, what kind of opportunities will they have as they get older? When I think about climate change, what kind of world are we leaving for them? And I don’t want them to have fewer opportunities and certainly to grow up in an environment that’s being destroyed. So for me, it’s about reinforcement. One area, though, I would say I’m certainly getting a very different vantage point now is child care. It’s a huge issue for parents across the country. With twins it becomes even more of an issue and the fact that in my workplace, unfortunately, we don’t have access to child care for infants, for example. It’s a problem where I work. It’s a problem where a lot of moms and dads work and that’s something that definitely needs to be addressed.

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Vassy Kapelos: I remember when I was tweeting about this story, and not just you, but there’s a minister who’s pregnant, etc. I got a lot of sort of negative reaction to the idea of mat leave and a lot of people saying well they chose this. We’re paying them to represent us there. Why should they get any time off? And I’m wondering what you think of that reaction and what your response to it would be?

Minister Niki Ashton: First off, I’d say that Parliament and the system around it was primarily designed by old white men, entirely designed by old white men, and so the structures that exist certainly fit into that frame. If we want a Parliament that truly reflects the population, including women, including racialized folks, Indigenous peoples, peoples living with disabilities, we need to be prepared to make adjustments. So how do we make Parliament more inclusive of women? For example, it is recognizing the need for some sort of parental leave. And it might not look the same as the broader parental leave, but absolutely, it has to be different. But let’s explore it.

Vassy Kapelos: When we talk about women in politics lately, especially there’s another big subject that we’re talking about that is sexual harassment, sexual misconduct. How have you been processing what we’ve seen unfold?

Minister Niki Ashton: There’s no question that sexual harassment is rampant on the political scene.

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Vassy Kapelos: Have you come across it in any way, shape or form?

Minister Niki Ashton: Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely, I think any woman, particularly young woman, that’s been doing this work for any length of time will have experienced it.

Vassy Kapelos: Before we wrap up, I do want to ask you about your leadership bid. And you’ve obviously had some time to reflect now. Any regrets about how it all went?

Minister Niki Ashton: Absolutely not. I’m really proud of the work that we did. It was tremendously energizing to cross the country and really build a movement for change. Our campaign put forward some bold ideas that pulled other campaigns to share those ideas, ultimately.

Vassy Kapelos: Do you ever think you’ll do anything other than politics?

Minister Niki Ashton: Oh yes.

Vassy Kapelos: Do you see a life beyond this?

Minister Niki Ashton: I do. I think we all have to just for your own sanity. But I am working on my PhD, so I certainly would love to teach down the line or be involved in social justice work in other ways.

Vassy Kapelos: What’s your PhD in?

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Minister Niki Ashton: It’s in peace and conflict studies with a focus on feminism, millennial feminism for that matter. So there are other things that I see the possibility of doing down the line, but it’s all connected.

Vassy Kapelos: Do you ever see yourself running for leader again? Would you rule it out?

Minister Niki Ashton: I don’t see that. I’m very busy with all sorts of other things now. But like I said, what drove me to run for leader in the first place, the issues, the priorities, that continues to drive me every day in the work that I do. And I’m very fortunate to be able to continue that work as Member of Parliament and as part of our team here on Parliament Hill.

Vassy Kapelos: Okay. Well we’ll leave it there. Thanks very much for your time.

Minister Niki Ashton: Thank you very much, Vassy.

Vassy Kapelos: Let’s eat.

Minister Niki Ashton: Amazing.

Vassy Kapelos: And that is our show for today. Thanks for joining us. I’m Vassy Kapelos. See you back here, next week.