March 4, 2018 12:24 pm

The West Block, Episode 26, Season 7

Watch the full broadcast of The West Block from Sunday March 4, 2018.

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THE WEST BLOCK
Episode 26, Season 7
Sunday, March 4, 2018

Host: Eric Sorensen

Guest Interviews: Minister Andrew Scheer, Premier Scott Moe,
Susan Delacourt, Joanna Smith

Location: Ottawa

On this Sunday, the federal government tables its budget amidst the ongoing controversy with Prime Minister Trudeau’s trip last month to India. We’ll talk to Opposition Party Leader Andrew Scheer about the government’s performance and his own performance going into the 2019 election.

Story continues below

Plus, Saskatchewan refuses to sign on to the federal Climate program and risks losing $62 million in federal money for emission reduction programs. What’s next in this federal-provincial climate showdown?

Then, we’ll unpack the politics of the showdown over the budget and Trudeau’s India trip and how the leaders are performing on the Hill.

It’s Sunday, March the 4th. This is The West Block, and I’m Eric Sorensen.

No Speaker of the House of Commons has ever, ever become the prime minister.

Speaker of the House of Commons: “I’m not supposed to let chanting go on, but—“

Can the one-time symbol of parliamentary neutrality be the first to achieve ultimate success in the arena of political combat? We’re watching a transformation. Andrew Scheer in 2016:

Andrew Scheer: “Will the prime minister admit that his new job killing process is designed to block new projects?”

Fast forward to 2018:

Andrew Scheer: “There has never been a government, Liberal or Conservative, who has used a national security official to clean up an embarrassing mess that was self-inflicted by this prime minister.”

Is Andrew Scheer Canada’s prime minister-in-waiting?

Joining us now from Montreal is Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer. Mr. Scheer, it seems like you are growing more confident in the job or was there just a lot of good material to work with this week?

Minister Andrew Scheer: Well, certainly this week there were lots of things to talk about, lots of things to point out, the failures of this Liberal government. But of course, you know, as you settle into a role, as you take more question periods and deliver more speeches, there certainly is, for me anyway, a feeling that I’ve improved some of my communications techniques. And it’s exciting times as well because in addition to pointing out the failures of the Liberal government, we’re also starting to put out some of our own policies. So, I’m getting very excited about the next year. There’s a big sense of optimism among the Conservative MPs and perspective candidates and are grassroots volunteers, and I believe there’s a real sense of momentum going on.

Eric Sorensen: We don’t have a clear picture of how a convicted attacker ended up on this trip to India and some of the other questions now also leave us with not a clear picture of how an intelligence briefing occurred and why. What do you think should happen next on this file?

Minister Andrew Scheer: There are so many unanswered questions here. You’re absolutely right, we don’t know really how this individual showed up at an official Canadian embassy event. I know when the Conservative Party was in government, if the prime minister came to Regina and I was able to invite guests to an event, I had to provide those names to the prime minister’s office so that they could be vetted, so that they could make sure that there are no issues there. That’s why we have national security agencies and the RCMP so they know who has access to the prime minister and high ranking officials. Did that happen in this case? Or was a political decision made to allow Mr. Atwal to attend anyway? Either the vetting wasn’t done, which is a huge security concern or it was done but a decision was made to invite him anyway. In the context while this is going on is this strange accusation that it was the Indian government that was actually behind arranging for Mr. Atwal to be there. These are very serious allegations. The prime minister used an independent national security official to brief the media on an anonymous basis and now is refusing to provide parliamentarians, members of parliament with the same information.

Eric Sorensen: However, he got stuck into this and deeper and deeper being stuck in it. What would you do now in that position?

Minister Andrew Scheer: Well, you know, first of all, we have to remember that the prime minister and his office arranged for this media briefing. So they used the national security agency basically as a communications tool to change the channel on an embarrassing week. Now, he has to put these accusations to rest. He either has to substantiate them and then explain what Canada is going to do given the fact that he has evidence that this is true or he has to apologize for allowing this type of misinformation to be put out there and start to repair the damage he did while he was on that trip. Our relations with India were better before the prime minister went there, so he needs to start to find ways to repair the damage that he himself has caused.

Eric Sorensen: The question what would you do is going to become increasingly important as we approach the next election. I just want to show a graph to you and our viewers, which historically it shows really, that you may well, be the next prime minister. Here’s the list of Conservative leaders, not counting when the party was blown up by Reform and Alliance, but here are the leaders of a United Conservative Party over the last 60 years: Diefenbaker, Stanfield, Clark, Mulroney, Campbell briefly, Stephen Harper and there you are. And look at who became prime minister of that list, all of them did. All but Stanfield and he got within two seats. And you’re up next, so it’s not a vague possibility, there’s a real likelihood here that this could happen. So if Trudeau was just not ready, and that was the way you and your colleagues attacked him before the last election, why are you ready? You’re younger than he was.

Eric Sorensen: But I’ve had a lot of experience. Not only in the House but before I was elected—I come from a very middle class family. My mom was a nurse, my dad worked at the Ottawa Citizen, the newspaper. I had to take the bus everywhere I went. I had to get jobs to pay my way through university. I didn’t inherit a fortune that paid for that on my behalf. So I’ve got that real world experience growing up in the type of family where my parents had to make decisions at the end of the month whether or not to cancel subscriptions to pay for dance classes for my sister, things like that.

Eric Sorensen: So increasingly, you will be asked what you will do, so let’s circle back to the budget here. On deficits, we now see deficits on into the future. Would you balance the books as soon as you’re in power?

Minister Andrew Scheer: I made the commitment to balance the budget in a timeframe that is responsible. Look, we have to understand why deficits are a bad thing. Often Conservatives will say we want to balance the budget, but we need to connect the dots and go beyond that and show Canadians why we’re so passionate about this. When the government runs deficits, it borrows money. That money has to be paid back. It’s going to be paid back by my kids and my future grandkids. It’s not fair that this Liberal government is taking money from their future, forcing them to work harder and longer for spending that happened years ago. In addition, as interest rates goes up, those deficits become more expensive. That borrowing costs more. We’ve already seen interest rates start to rise, so that jeopardizes the ability for the government to react to a possible downturn or to cut taxes or to put more money in services. So, yes, I would balance the budget.

Eric Sorensen: Alright, Pharmacare. Do you believe in Pharmacare? It’s another big entitlement program.

Minister Andrew Scheer: Yeah, look I don’t believe that the Kathleen Wynne government has managed anything very well. And what we have here is we have the Liberal government using one of Kathleen Wynne’s ministers to design a program for the rest of Canada. What Kathleen Wynne has done to Ontario is bad enough. We don’t need a Liberal government exporting that to other provinces around the country. We don’t even know what it is that they’re proposing. Conservatives believe in putting people first, putting people before government. We should have a government that’s focused on making sure that the quality of life is affordable by lowering taxes, by reducing regulations that make it more expensive to hire and expand and grow businesses that provide jobs and opportunities. So, we believe this government is going in the wrong direction with these massive deficits that will push back the debt burden onto future generations of Canadians.

Eric Sorensen: Alright, we’ve run out of time. Thank you very much Andrew Scheer for joining us.

Minister Andrew Scheer: Thank you.

Eric Sorensen: As we go to break, new numbers to show why we should start looking at Andrew Scheer through the prism of prime minister in waiting. The Liberals are down to 33 per cent support. The latest IPSOS poll shows the PCs now leading nationally with 38 per cent support if an election were held today. The NDP still a distant third.

Up next: the $60 million environmental showdown between Ottawa and Saskatchewan.

[Break]

Eric Sorensen: Welcome back. The deadline to sign on to the federal government’s national climate change plan expired this week. In the end, Saskatchewan alone did not blink; the one province that refused to sign onto a plan that would impose carbon pricing. In doing so, the province foregoes $62 million from Ottawa over five years, so now what?

Joining us from Saskatoon is Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe. Premier Moe, every other province has signed on. They didn’t all like it, but they all signed on to this carbon pricing plan. Why won’t you?

Premier Scott Moe: Well we’ve never hid the fact that we wouldn’t be signing on to a carbon price here in the province of Saskatchewan, as you mentioned. It’s indicated to us that we may forego the $60 million. We’ll be applying for those dollars as they’ll be part of our investment to further reduce our emissions here in the province of Saskatchewan. But we’re also foregoing the $4 billion tax over the next five years on the people of this province and we’ll continue to engage on our emissions profile in a more fulsome carbon conversation, but the taxation piece just doesn’t work for our export-based economy here in Saskatchewan.

Eric Sorensen: Though to be fair, I mean Alberta is faced with the same thing and those tax dollars would stay within the province. Alberta, for example, is just going to write rebate cheques, so the money would come back to you. So wouldn’t that work? And then you could still have the climate plan kind of in sync with the rest of the country?

Premier Scott Moe: You could also have a climate plan that’s focused on reducing emissions in the province without taxing the residents and taxing the jobs and taxing the industries that are within the province. You know, let’s look at this. This is about regulating our provincial resource, our renewable and non-renewable industries in the province of Saskatchewan which is in the provincial jurisdiction. There are other opportunities that our federal government has that are their responsibility quite frankly with market access, with getting our products to market through pipelines and on rails, as well as our trade agreements, most notably with the U.S. of recent and India. These are areas where the federal government needs to show leadership and has responsibility. The regulation of our provincial resources has always lied within the province, so we look forward to engaging—continuing to engage on the emissions profile that we have in the province and improving it because we all need to do better and we will. But with respect to taxing our industries we don’t have an intention of doing that in Saskatchewan.

Eric Sorensen: But Ottawa is going forward with this. Now, your neighbour in Manitoba, Brian Pallister, he didn’t like this plan either but they looked it over, the legal challenge and they decided that if we go to court we’ll lose. Do you know something he doesn’t? Do you have smarter lawyers?

Premier Scott Moe: [Chuckles] They had had a report that had come, I think, from the University of Manitoba. We’re in consultation with our legal team. As we move forward, if this does end up in court, so be it. We’re prepared to take this to that avenue if need be. But at the end of the day, quite honestly, we’re having the wrong conversation when we’re talking about taxing the industries, many of them sustainable in nature when you compare them to industries all around the world. I just left a mining conference here in Saskatoon and some of the initiatives that are being put forward by that industry, put them among the best in the world when it comes to a sustainability and an environmental footprint and that’s something we can be proud of here in Saskatchewan and quite honestly, in Canada as well. And that is a story that we need to bring to our customers around the world, is the effort that we have already made on the full suite of environmental regulations in our industries, whether it be agriculture where we have a great emissions story that we have really brought together over the last couple of decades, whether it be in mining or whether it be in energy. Saskatchewan has some sustainable products that we export all around the world and that’s the story that we will bring to this conversation.

Eric Sorensen: And yet, every other province is onboard, and to some critics and the rest of Canada it looks like you’re putting the narrower interests of your resource industry, and that’s understandable, but you’re putting that ahead of the greater interests of others to take action on climate. And if it’s carbon pricing, so be it.

Premier Scott Moe: Well, if you agree to the fact that carbon pricing actually reduces emissions of which we disagree with that. We feel there are other opportunities for us to engage on the whole conversation around climate change with the industries that we have. We have a crop agriculture industry here in the province in Saskatchewan that is carbon neutral and quite honestly moving towards becoming an even greater carbon sync. We have a forestry industry that has a great opportunity to increase its carbon sequestration and we have other industries such as mining and energy that are making great inroads up until today and in years into the future to reduce the emissions profile that we have and we have some great projections out into the next years from those industries. These are the conversations that we should have collaboratively with our industry as opposed to trying to tax it so that it moves to other areas of the world and thereby we’d lose those jobs.

Eric Sorensen: Well the federal Liberals apart from Ralph Goodale, they don’t have much of a presence in Saskatchewan politics and yet I see that you, this week, your party had three by-election victories. I take it that you have the people of Saskatchewan largely behind you on this issue.

Premier Scott Moe: Why I think it’s fair to say that we do for the most part have the people of Saskatchewan that agree with their government on this particular issue. You’re right, we were successful and thrilled to be successful in three by-elections last night. I think each of them had over 70 per cent of the popular vote in those by-elections, largely due, I think as one NDP candidate put it, on this issue right here, where they feel that the carbon tax issue is hurting the Opposition party because they agree with it here in the province of Saskatchewan. So it is a policy that doesn’t work. It doesn’t work for our province. It doesn’t work for our industries here in the province of Saskatchewan, but that in no way says that we aren’t totally a willing participant in the conversation around climate change and around a more fulsome carbon conversation and what Saskatchewan in the way of technology, such as carbon capture and storage, such as zero till technology, such as the incorporation of pulse crops can bring to address this, not just within the borders of Saskatchewan but all around the world.

Eric Sorensen: Alright, Premier Moe, I mean there may be a political price a little down the road, but for the moment it seems to be paying dividends in your province. Thank you very much for joining us.

Premier Scott Moe: Thank you, Eric, appreciate it.

Eric Sorensen: And up next, we’ll unpack the politics of the raucous in Ottawa this week, and look at the shifting political landscape with an election, next year.

[Break]

Eric Sorensen: Welcome back. A lot of fireworks on Parliament Hill this week over the federal budget, the PM’s trip to India, and how all of this affecting the prime minister and his brand is and what it means for his political rivals.

Joining us now is author and journalist Susan Delacourt and Joanna Smith of the Canadian Press. So the India trip, we were just talking about it. It was like they’re carrying a tray of glasses of water and the one started to go, and as they tried to get that they just started spilling everything. What does it say, Susan, about how the PM and the PM’s office are handling this?

Susan Delacourt: Not well. They’re having trouble with criticism. Trudeau is very good at handling praise and being loved abroad and all the accolades and being a celebrity, but I think they seem—before Christmas he seemed very rattled by the ethics commissioner report into his vacation. And he and his office collectively seem very rattled by this. And notice all the questions in the House of Commons have not been about the trip itself and the mistakes on it, but how they tried to handle the mistakes. So, you know, the old it’s overused, it’s not the first mistake, it’s the cover-up. But that does very much apply to this. I think there were some really good questions in the House this week about why the prime minister’s national security advisor has been making this situation worse.

Eric Sorensen: Yeah, how badly wounded, Joanna, is the PM in this?

Joanna Smith: Well, I think it would be difficult for anyone to handle, just the constant stream of stuff, right? But Susan has a really good point in sort of doing their best to make it worse almost, you know? And it was funny, I was chatting with a friend, who is in India just while they were on the trip, what do you make of this? And we talked a lot about the outfits and the vacation sort of seeming style of it and ended the whole conversation. And I said wait a minute, you didn’t even mention inviting a convicted attempted assassin to dinner, right? And said oh yeah, that was just gravy. Like it was just the constant barrage, so it’s they didn’t look serious.

Eric Sorensen: So, you’re in the middle of it, they know they’re in the middle of it. They know they’re not at the end of it. What can he do to stop this? Or is it just a time thing? Let the time pass and eventually it becomes repetitive.

Susan Delacourt: Oh well, I guess one thing is stop making is worse. I think the common theme that Joanna touches on too, and between the being rattled at the ethics commissioners report and this one, is the part of his family in all of this, too. That the fact that his family has become tied up in his own political scandals has probably set him on his heels a bit, too. You know all politicians think they can handle criticism when it’s about them, but when the criticism is directed at your wife and your children, too, in your private life, which was on full display in India; it’s not the media’s fault that that’s the focus, but I think that makes it doubly hard to get out of this.

Eric Sorensen: The Opposition has some opportunities here. Is there a strategy for them just to keep it alive?

Joanna Smith: Yeah, just keep it alive until it doesn’t make sense anymore. They did that with the Aga Khan ethics scandal as well. I think after a while that one started to seem a bit tired. They were sort of reaching up against some walls potentially and it was time to move on, but I think it says a lot about what they see in this opportunity, the fact that on a budget week there’s still so much focus on the India trip.

Eric Sorensen: We talked to Andrew Scheer earlier in the show, is the election starting to come into focus in a clear way that it might become more competitive?

Susan Delacourt: I went to a presentation at the Manning Centre. They had their annual conference a couple weeks ago, too. And Scheer’s campaign director, the man who helped him win the leadership is going to help him win the election, was quite open about where they’re going to find their next 10 per cent. And a lot of it revolved around this idea of portraying the Liberals as out of touch elites. And this trip kind of helped them. I think that’s why Scheer, I’m just guessing, feels like he has a bit of the wind in his sails, is that between the budget adding to the deficit and you know, the big spending budget and a family vacation that seemed a little over the top—two family vacations that seemed over the top. I think they feel that they have a way to talk to and present the Liberals as out of touch elites.

Eric Sorensen: Is Andrew Scheer coming into his own a little bit?

Joanna Smith: I think he’s sort of focusing his message a little bit more in terms of what he wants to do for the economy, right? I mean it’s very clear that they seem some gain in repeating the message for the broken promises on the size of the deficit and eventually ending the deficit, so repeating that message there. On the other hand, the Liberals have clearly decided that this is what they’re going to do and they think this is going to be a winner for them like it was in 2015. So it’ll be interesting to see how much that message resonates. So I think it’s a bit of both of the sort of, you know, ping them as irresponsible on a very macro level economy-wise and irresponsible in sort of just how do you not plan a trip properly?

Eric Sorensen: Historically, we were looking at this earlier, I mean there was a time when Robert Stanfield didn’t look like he could lay a hand on Pierre Trudeau, came within two seats. And Joe Clark beat Pierre Trudeau and nobody expected that to happen. We’re year out right now. It doesn’t seem likely and yet what is your takeaway?

Susan Delacourt: They’re in a strong position. I think the Liberals have definitely got that on their mind. I think the Liberals are less interested right now in opposing the Conservatives and more attacking the NDP, which kind of leaves the Conservatives free to find their feet. They’ve got a really good base. They are leading in fundraising. The last two years, they have led in fundraising in Canada, which proves that they’re still a force to be reckoned with.

Eric Sorensen: And the NDP? Jagmeet Singh does not seem to be getting traction yet.

Joanna Smith: Yeah, I mean and it looks like Justin Trudeau is once again lining himself up to try to outflank them, right? Jagmeet Singh came out and said that Pharmacare would be a top priority for the NDP. It’s been a big priority for a long time, but the fact that he wants to put it front and centre in the election. Sure enough out comes the budget, oh we’re going to have a plan or a strategy perhaps as Morneau walked back a bit for that as well. So it’s one more play for their voters. We’ll see if their voters trust them again.

Eric Sorensen: Clever budget?

Susan Delacourt: Um, no.

Eric Sorensen: Too clever?

Susan Delacourt: What I wrote this week was it had sex with all the gender issues. It had drugs with opioids and cannabis but it had no rock and roll. It looked kind of piecey and it looked like a government feeling a little defensive after three years in power. A lot of the budget was replies to criticism.

Eric Sorensen: Let me ask you this because you’re both women. Is a gender budget—is that good policy? Is it good politics? Both?

Joanna Smith: I think it’s a bit of both. I mean gender base analysis is a policy tool that’s been around for more than 20 years now and it’s sort of an interesting thing that I think some people sometimes look at and dismiss as witchcraft. No pun intended. But the idea is you’re looking at a measure and you’re saying what impact is this going to have on various groups of people? And if it’s going to have one negative impact, what can we do to mitigate that and sort of shift it around a bit. So, I think it’s an interesting policy tool, but they’ve definitely seen the politics in making so much of it as well.

Eric Sorensen: Yeah, I mean if you can shore up the GDP and your poll numbers in one fell swoop.

Susan Delacourt: Well, they won in 2015 with new voters, young people and with women voters. So we see already where their headed.

Eric Sorensen: Thank you both for coming in.

Susan Delacourt: Thanks, Eric.

Joanna Smith: Thank you.

Eric Sorensen: And that’s our show for today. I’m Eric Sorensen. Thanks for watching.

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