February 18, 2018 12:50 pm

The West Block, Episode 24, Season 7

Watch the full broadcast of The West Block on Sunday, Feb. 18, 2018. Hosted by Eric Sorensen.


Episode 24, Season 7
Sunday, February 18, 2018

Host: Eric Sorensen

Guest Interviews: Minister Chrystia Freeland, Minister Jagmeet Singh,
Mayor Don Iveson

Location: Ottawa

On this Sunday, Chrystia Freeland goes to Washington. As negotiators prepare for more talks on NAFTA, what’s at stake? And is President Trump helping or not?

Story continues below

Then, the NDP gathered for a major convention this weekend with divisions over pipelines and misconduct allegations. We’ll talk to Jagmeet Singh about why the party, with a new leader, is not moving up in the polls.

And the federal government will table a new budget in just over a week. Canada’s big city mayors want the government to commit to spending now. But is Ottawa listening?

It’s Sunday, February 18th. I’m Eric Sorensen, and this is The West Block.

The next round of NAFTA talks begin a week from today in Mexico. How are they going, really? Before flying overseas this weekend, Canada’s Foreign Affairs minister spoke to us about NAFTA, but here are first, different assessments from both sides of the border: President Trump and then Canada’s chief negotiator.

President Donald Trump: “Canada does not treat us right in terms of the farming and the crossing the borders, so they’ll either treat us right or we’ll just have to do business a little bit diff—really differently.”

Steve Verheul: “They do not come to the table, our counterparts, with a lot of flexibility. This is being driven to a large extent from the top, from the administration, and there’s not a lot of flexibility.”

Eric Sorensen: It’s being driven by the administration. Joining us now from Toronto is Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland. Ms. Freeland, it’s clear the U.S.-NAFTA negotiators are driving a hard bargain and they’re clearly being driven by President Donald Trump, it’s like bad cop, bad cop. What is the president’s impact on these negotiations?

Minister Chrystia Freeland: Well look, I think just as the prime minister here in Canada is the leader of our NAFTA negotiating team, in the United States, clearly President Trump is the one who is driving the U.S. agenda and I think that is absolutely appropriate. It’s also the case, Eric, and again, we’ve been very clear about this all along, that there are some areas where there are significant differences between Canada and the United States. The U.S. in the fall put forward some unconventional proposals of a sort that we’ve never encountered in trade negotiations. And what we tried to do last month in Montreal, and we are continuing to do in the lead up to the Mexico round, is to find creative solutions, creative ways that we can defend and secure Canadian national interests, Canadian values, while also, you know, by looking at things a little bit differently, help our American counterparts to achieve the things that they’re looking for too. And, you know, that conversation really only began in Montreal. But I think we are together making some progress. I was in Washington last week and I had good meetings with Ambassador Lighthizer, the U.S. TR, the lead NAFTA negotiator, and also with Secretary Ross, as well as with some senators, and I would say we are having good constructive conversations. Also, this coming week, our Canadian negotiators will be having meetings both with their Mexican counterparts and with their U.S. counterparts. So, you know, we’re all plugging away.

Eric Sorensen: Donald Trump has been president for one year now but he won’t be president forever. The Mueller probe will come to a head at some point. The midterm elections are coming that could weaken Trump and the Republicans. Do these matter? Because you don’t want to strike a bad deal now and then be stuck with it for the long haul.

Minister Chrystia Freeland: You know, Eric, we will never strike a bad deal, full stop. The prime minister has been very clear, and this is a view I hold very strongly and I really want to assure Canadians that this is our firm position. We are not looking for just any deal. We are looking only for a good deal for Canada and Canadians can depend on us to absolutely stand up for the national interest and for Canadian values.

Eric Sorensen: Is there a risk that Donald Trump will trigger the six-month withdrawal notice and are you okay with that at the end of the day if it’s just not a good deal?
Minister Chrystia Freeland: You know, again Eric, what we have said all along, what the prime minister recently reiterated, is our position is hope for the best, prepare for the worst. And we are absolutely prepared for every eventuality. We have not just a Plan B, but Plans B, C, D, E and F. And you’re right to point out that the president has on a number of occasions raised the possibility that he will trigger the six month withdrawal notice, and I believe that we need to take the president at his word. So Canada is absolutely prepared for that. Having said that, our preference is to have a successful, productive, constructive negotiation and to modernize and update NAFTA. And we think there is a lot of positive—there are a lot of positive things that can be achieved in this negotiation.

Eric Sorensen: Donald Trump is not terribly popular in Canada. Does that strengthen your hand at the table or does that stiffen your spine come what may?

Minister Chrystia Freeland: You know, Eric, I really want to assure you and I want to assure Canadians that in trade negotiations my spine is always very stiff. We absolutely believe in being polite. We absolutely believe in looking for those win-win compromises, but in every single trade negotiation we enter into, we are very clear about the fact that we will stand up for our national interest no matter who is on the other side of the table. And I think that that’s what Canadians expect.

Eric Sorensen: The next round of negotiations in Mexico, in the coming weeks. What is the biggest sticking point right now?

Minister Chrystia Freeland: So right now, we’re just figuring out how much, you know, what realistically can be achieved in the Mexico round. Canada is really working hard, as we did in the Montreal round, to come up with some creative, you know, new ways of looking at some of the key issues that are on the table. And we’re hopeful that we can continue a dialogue about those issues and maybe come up with some new ideas, some new solutions that no one had thought of before the negotiation began.

Eric Sorensen: Specifically, can you assure dairy farmers that they will continue to be protected by supply-management because they don’t think they got that fully with the recent Pacific and European trade deals.

Minister Chrystia Freeland: Let me be very clear that we are absolutely firm in standing up for the national interest. We are very aware of the concerns of dairy farmers, and I will say at this point in the negotiation, the key area of discussion probably, you know, the most complicated issue and the most difficult issue that we’re grappling with at the moment is actually in the auto sector. And it is around the issue of rules of origin. This is fiendishly complex. It is quite arcane unless you actually spend your days making cars or car parts, but it’s really, really important. And, you know, that I think it is the area when it comes to the U.S. unconventional proposals, where at the moment a lot of everyone’s energy is being directed.

Eric Sorensen: This coming week, you will join the prime minister in India. We have strong relations with India. What is the next big step forward you want to see in Canada-India relations?

Minister Chrystia Freeland: I think that this is an important moment in strengthening and deepening the relationship between Canada and India. India, after all, is the world’s largest democracy. It is a very, very fast growing economy, a country with which we already have a meaningful economic relationship. It’s our seventh largest trading partner, but I think that we can do a lot more, both in terms of the ways that Canada and India work together in the world and in strengthening our bilateral relationship. And, you know, after all, there are almost more than 1.4 million Canadians whose heritage goes back to India and those strong human connections are a real advantage for Canada when it comes to building our relationship with India.

Eric Sorensen: We’ll have to leave it there. Minister Freeland, thank you for joining us today.

Minister Chrystia Freeland: My pleasure.

Eric Sorensen: Up next, a party united or divided over the pipeline battle in the west and inappropriate behaviour on the Hill.


Eric Sorensen: Welcome back. The battle over the Kinder Morgan pipeline is dividing two NDP governments: B.C. and Alberta. It’s just one delicate balancing act for the federal party leader Jagmeet Singh who joins us now. Welcome to The West Block.

Minister Jagmeet Singh: Thank you very much for having me.

Eric Sorensen: So Alberta versus B.C., pipeline versus no pipeline, I don’t know if it’s a balance to be struck. Is it really not a choice to be made and where do you come down on it?

Minister Jagmeet Singh: Well, I think it’s important to frame kind of the discussion. If you look at it, Premier Notley’s doing exactly what she promised she would do for the people of Alberta: defend the economy. Premier Horgan’s doing what he promised to do for B.C.: defend the environment and the coastline. This is exactly why we have a federal government and really the responsibility lies on the prime minister and the federal government. And the key issue here is the process that was used to make the decision to approve the energy project was an old Harper era process that was widely considered a sham, where environmentalists weren’t able to raise concerns—some basic concerns like whether or not there is any consideration given to the cleanup of diluted bitumen and how that’s more difficult to cleanup. There was not allowed to be any testimony on that. What should happen is the government—Prime Minister Trudeau acknowledged that this process is old and outdated and actually not effective, it doesn’t give people confidence. It should be modernized and it should be such that the project is re-put to this new process, evaluated with science and evidence, and ensure that the decision is independent and gives people confidence, and then we can move forward.

Eric Sorensen: So you sound like you’re on the Premier Horgan side of this fence.

Minister Jagmeet Singh: I’m on the Canadians who believe in building a future that is sustainable for the environment and that never forgets that we need to take care of workers. That’s where I’m on.

Eric Sorensen: Are you getting any feedback from the government? Do you think that there’s a chance of that or do you—or is this just, you know, this is what we would do if we were in power but we’re not in power and so I can take that position and that’s a safe one to have within the party as it is right now?

Minister Jagmeet Singh: Well, we’ve seen that the government’s already taken some steps in putting forward a renewed environmental assessment process. Just last week they put forward some legislation around changing that process, which is definitely in need of being changed. So it shows that they’ve received some of that pressure and are moving on the promise that they made, but there’s been some serious concerns about the process they’re putting forward. It seems like a political process with the ability for the minister to veto or to approve a project. It should be a science based independent evaluated base on the merits and the concerns about the environment. And if those are all alleviated and addressed, then it’s a project or a system that’s actually accurate and useful.

Eric Sorensen: It sounds like, though, if at the end of that process you would support a pipeline going through if it seemed to be safe. There are people within your party, the lead manifesto folks; they’re saying it’s time to move away from pipelines. Do it now. Let’s go into the green future. Let that be the new economy. That’s not where this is going even if we were to take the path you’re talking about, about another review.

Minister Jagmeet Singh: Well, I think there’s two different things operating here. One is we absolutely need to have a review process for any energy project in Canada and that review process needs to be one that Canadians feel confidence in, that there’s concerns that will be addressed with the review process. But the second issue is if we want to build a future that’s sustainable, we need to look at what is a future hold? We know that certain economies are based on finite resources, will not be sustainable in the future and it’s imperative for the government to know that and to make decisions to address that and help transition towards an economy that is sustainable that’s not an economy for the next years but one for the next 50 years, for the next 100 years. That’s what I want to build.

Eric Sorensen: But that sounds like something Justin Trudeau can sit here and say word for word.

Minister Jagmeet Singh: Well, the thing is, is Justin Trudeau said that he would renew the environmental process and subject Kinder Morgan to it and didn’t. He said that he would reduce emissions and has not reduced emissions. The environmental commissioner said very clearly that we’re not on track to meet the Paris Accord Agreements. We’re not even on track to meet the Harper targets set. So, he can say a lot of great things, but has he actually followed through on any of them? No.

Eric Sorensen: You’re the newly minted leader, but if I look at the polls and how they have moved, if there was an expected bounce in the polls after your leadership, I have not seen that appreciably. What’s the problem?

Minister Jagmeet Singh: Well, I think my concern is not to look at this as a metric of the polls, is to look at it as a metric of how can we take the stories of people across Canada and let their concerns be known. When people talk about the feeling that they have of betrayal about the changes to the electoral system they wanted to see, I want to talk about giving power back to people. When people talk about the feeling that an economy that seems to be working and the numbers show that it’s booming, but people don’t feel like it’s working for them. I want to talk about that inequality that people feel in their lives and how we can address it. My focus is on how do we uplift people and that’s going to be my metric for success.

Eric Sorensen: And yet we’re not seeing anything happen because the polls are also a metric for measuring where people are and how they feel about parties. Are you surprised a little bit that you haven’t seen at least a little bit of a bump?

Minister Jagmeet Singh: Well, I mean in general as a leader, I know it’s going to take some time for our message and our direction to take hold so I’m not worried about that. But again, my focus is always going to be on people and how we can actually make lives better in Canada.

Eric Sorensen: I wanted to ask you about how the party has handled the misconduct allegations. Erin Weir says essentially he was sideswiped by allegations that he could then not confront. There didn’t seem to be anybody to confront about them. Has he been treated fairly?

Minister Jagmeet Singh: I think that fairness is really important and this is a difficult time because we have an opportunity to grow and an opportunity to address the fact that for too long women have felt, and have faced so much silence of culture—a culture of silence, a negligence when it comes to the fact that women don’t feel safe and haven’t been safe in the workplace, so we need to do more. And I owed it to my staff to take a step when there was an allegation that was raised. But it has to be a fair process.

Eric Sorensen: It seemed like you—the response was a little bit less harsh towards Peter Stoffer, the former MP than it was towards Weir. That’s a difficult balance in this day and age to just find sort of what is the appropriate response. And we’re almost out of time.

Minister Jagmeet Singh: Okay. With Mr. Stoffer, I mean there’s survivors who’ve come forward and so it’s a very clear pathway forward. And there’s certainly things that we need to reflect on as a party to ensure that in the future, complaints aren’t ignored. You know, it was when I was not leader and Mr. Stoffer was not a part of my caucus. But with the current situation I wanted to show that I care about building a better workplace and a better society and a better culture, and I want to show my commitment to that for the people, for my staff that work in the party.

Eric Sorensen: Jagmeet Singh, thank you for coming in and talking to us.

Minister Jagmeet Singh: Thank you very much.

Eric Sorensen: Up next, what do Canada’s big city mayors want when the federal budget is tabled nine days from now?


Eric Sorensen: Welcome back. Canada’s big city mayors met with the federal finance minister last week to push for their priorities in the 2018 budget, which we know will be tabled February 27th. They want more money for affordable housing, transport and assistance with greenhouse gas emissions. How confident are they that the government is listening?

Joining us now, the Chair of the mayors group, Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson. Don thanks for being with us.

Mayor Don Iveson: Glad to be here, Eric.

Eric Sorensen: So, in a nutshell, what do you want?

Mayor Don Iveson: Well we’re actually for the first time in a long time here not to ask for more money, at least not to ask for greater overall commitment because with $180 billion unprecedented commitment to infrastructure, including $28 billion for transit and more money for green infrastructure, plus on top of that $180 billion, a $40 billion much anticipated re-entry for the federal government into the housing business. We’ve actually got much of the commitment that we’ve been looking for over the last several years. What we’re here to talk about is making sure that a fair balance of that money winds up in the hands of municipalities, that money that flows through provinces, particularly for things like green infrastructure to fight greenhouse emissions, but also to make sure that the timing of the rollout of that money for something as simple as the repair of social housing infrastructure, that that’s front-loaded because right now a lot of the dollars take a few years to ramp up, which make sense because there’s lead time. But for something like affordable housing, we can get to work at putting new windows and boilers and roofs on aging social housing structures that have needed this infusion of cash for decades. And so, we’re here to help make sure that the design of the rollout of this money is optimized for good value for Canadians and an impact on the ground in our communities.

Eric Sorensen: And did you get a response that suggests yeah, yeah we’ll just move everything up to suit your timetable?

Mayor Don Iveson: Well again, all we were looking for in a case of social housing renewal and repair dollars was out of the commitments that are already laid out over the next years, can we move a few of them forward? And they’re not huge dollar amounts and they’re not additional money over the 10 years, so we—you know, we made some very specific recommendations to government. There’s still two weeks till budget, recognizing that’s late in the process, but we’ve been making these recommendations in a unified way, and this is one of the extraordinary things about the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. You know, we have a very, very strong lobby here in Ottawa and government listens to it because it has added value in the things that the government wants to create in partnership with local government. And so we generally feel heard and it’s just an opportunity to see if we can tweak things to be a little bit better.

Eric Sorensen: I mean a federal budget comes out—you know they have like four of them pretty much during a four-year term. They know that they’ve got one more after this, that’s going to be an election year. That’s the year you would expect to see some of this money would be flowing and would be obvious before voters go back to the polls. Do you have a sense then? Did they just take notes from you or did they say yeah, we understand, you really do need some of this now?

Mayor Don Iveson: Well we understand that we’re governments too; we’ve got to balance different priorities. We’ve got our own cash flow and budgetary considerations, so I think the point is that they hear us. And the fact that they’ve heard us so consistently over the last three or four years, even before the last election when this government and other parties were in the platform creation phase, they were listening very, very closely to what municipal leaders, particularly big city mayors had to say because those were the seats that mattered and those are the seats that will matter in the next election as well. But it’s also good social policy to do the right thing on housing. It’s good economic policy to reduce congestion in our cities by investing in public transit and it’s good economic policy to make sure that the infrastructure is there to support commerce and labour mobility generally. So it’s actually good policy that we’re recommending, which just so happens will make life better in Canadian cities, which is good for everybody.

Eric Sorensen: Take us inside the room. I mean are you competing for projects? Or as you saying, look Tory doesn’t need $3 billion for a subway extension, we need money for the LRT in Edmonton.

Mayor Don Iveson: Well if we’ve achieved these advances, and it’s something I think the whole country could learn from, is that, you know, we have minor differences of interpretation or jurisdictional differences with our provinces, but when the mayors get together we really do bring a national vision. We say often that city building is nation building, but to do that we have to have a national vision for cities. And to have a federal government that shares that vision for globally competitive cities that will drive Canadians prosperity into the future and fill up federal coffers over time to pay for all the programs that are important to urban and rural Canada, to have that shared higher sense of purpose. That allows us to not trip over the fact that one mayor is building bus rapid transit, while another mayor is building rail based transit. We all need the transit investment dollars and federal government heard that and agreed to an allocation based approach, which means the dollars will flow to the cities with the large transit systems that need the most significant investment. And we all agreed to those principles and so you find remarkable unity around the table, and with that unity has come, tremendous strength and influence.

Eric Sorensen: The economy is beginning to change, you know, interest rates are rising, it’s going to cost more to finance deficit programs. Do you have any sense from listening to the federal officials that things are beginning to tighten up a little bit and you might want to—and that’s why maybe you’re coming forward with just give us the money you promised, but let’s get it moving now?

Mayor Don Iveson: It hasn’t been part of our conversation with the federal government. But remember that municipalities are able to borrow as well, not for our operating budgets. We are by law required to balance our operating budgets every year, but for long term infrastructure we can borrow. So we keep a close eye on those borrowing costs as well because they’re a factor in what we can afford, certainly. But because our fiscal tools are so limited, having 8 cents of the tax dollar and yet we’re stewards of 60 per cent of the country’s infrastructure, that’s why it’s so important that the orders of government with 92 cents of the rest of Canadians money really do step up to provide the front-end dollars for these major infrastructure projects like transit. That’s why we’ve tried to shift away from this old third, a third, a third model into more of a 40/40/20 model, recognizing that 100 per cent of the costs of looking after this infrastructure over the long haul and operating it, subsidizing, you know, the costs of operating a transit system, for example, that’s all born by the municipalities. So, the federal and provincial governments have much greater fiscal capacity even in a slightly higher interest rate environment than local government, given just our respective tax bases.

Eric Sorensen: Alright, Mayor Iveson thanks for joining us.

Mayor Don Iveson: My pleasure.

Eric Sorensen: And that The West Block for today. I’m Eric Sorensen. Thanks for watching.

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