March 11, 2018 10:29 am
Updated: March 11, 2018 10:33 am

The West Block, Season 7, Episode 27

Watch the full broadcast of The West Block from Sunday, March 11, 2018.


Episode 27, Season 7
Sunday, March 11, 2018

Host: David Akin

Guest Interviews: Christopher Sands, Ambassador Raoul Delcorde,
Minister Greg Fergus

Location: Ottawa

On this Sunday, Canada dodged a bullet after getting an exemption on new U.S. tariffs. But how long will it last and what will it mean for NAFTA?

Then, Europe if bracing for a battle with the White House over the tariffs, what are their plans and will it lead to any opportunities for Canada?

Story continues below

The Mounties get their woman. Brenda Lucki will become the RCMP’s first female commissioner. Will having a woman at the helm, help the organization put allegations of harassment and discrimination behind them?

It’s Sunday, March the 11th. I’m David Akin, and you’re in The West Block.

President Donald Trump has done it again. He shook up global trade alliances by announcing a 25 per cent tariff on steel and a 10 per cent levy on aluminum. For now, Canada will be exempt, but Trump is trying to use the threat of tariffs to squeeze Canada in the NAFTA negotiations.

President Donald Trump: “We’re negotiating right now, NAFTA and we’re going to hold off the tariff on those two countries to see whether or not we’re able to make the deal on NAFTA. But I have a feeling we’re going to make a deal on NAFTA. I’ve been saying it for a long time, we either make a deal or we terminate. And, if we do, there won’t be any tariffs on Canada and there won’t be any tariffs on Mexico.”

Minister Chrystia Freeland: “And our approach in NAFTA is unchanged. Our strategy, our approach, our positions are the ones with which we began the negotiation. We are in favour of a modernized agreement. We think a win-win-win outcome for all three countries is absolutely possible.”

Joining me now is Christopher Sands, director for the Centre for Canadian Studies at Johns Hopkins University. Chris is in Washington this morning, and Chris thanks so much for being on the program. And you studied this relationship, the Canada-U.S. relationship for what, 25, 30 years, and I want you to give us your sense of how the Trudeau government has managed Trump and the trade file, given all the events of last week.

Christopher Sands: Well, it’s a very tough thing to be judgemental given that the Trudeau government has been working with a very volatile partner in the U.S. Donald Trump has been really shaking up the foundations of American foreign policy, partly because he ran as an anti-establishment figure, but he’s presented something of a moving target for the Trudeau government and they’ve worked very hard to try to find that thread of principle or that understanding of what Donald Trump is really after. And I think in general, they’ve not always figured him out. They seem to be looking for that sort of old-fashioned U.S. establishment Republican voice in the administration and what we saw this week is those kind of voices are out with Gary Cohn going back probably to Goldman Sachs, leaving the administration as a senior economic advisor and voices like Wilbur Ross, Peter Navarro rising in both the president’s estimation and in their influence on U.S. policy.

David Akin: I felt one of the remarkable things in the week was, as you may know, our Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, certainly he had a call to Donald Trump, but he also called the Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan. He called Mitch McConnell the Senate majority leader and for me that struck me as unique that a prime minister makes that contact with congressional leadership.

Christopher Sands: It is really unprecedented. And Trudeau himself had taken time to go brief the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Kevin Brady, a congressman from California and really tried to cultivate relationships with individual members. For most of my recollection, Canadian prime ministers, let alone cabinet ministers, really stayed off Capitol Hill, they focused on the White House, leaving the ambassador to do more of the work in Congress. So this is a real shift, and I think it suggests that what’s happening increasingly is that for Canada and Mexico, it’s not enough to stay outside the U.S. political system and sort of remain in a sovereign redoubt. You have to roll up your sleeves and play in American politics, which comes with certain risks. Risks that Canada gets seen as just another special interest and could end up hurt in the process. But it’s also hard to argue that Canada has any choice. You have to find allies where you can and try to work some sort of coalition in support of Canadian interests inside the U.S. system.

David Akin: I want to try and situate this whole trade file, the tariffs on the steel and aluminum and the NAFTA negotiations. Inside U.S. domestic politics, we know that the midterms are coming up in the fall. We’ve all seen the polls. There’s lots of Republicans who are worried about getting re-elected. Can we read Trump’s sense of urgency to get the NAFTA deal done sometime before those midterms as an imperative for the Republicans to have some success in the fall? Is that Canadians should be aware of that U.S. domestic imperative?

Christopher Sands: You know, I think it’s a sort of split thing. Donald Trump would love to see a deal done as soon as possible because he wants to say that he delivered on his campaign promise to get rid of bad trade deals and come up with good news ones. At the same time, many members of Congress don’t want a controversial trade vote right before they have to go up for re-election. I think there are a lot of traditional Republicans who are free traders. They’ve accepted the idea that reducing barriers is a net positive for the U.S. economy even though they acknowledged that it leads to winners and losers domestically, but they don’t want to be necessarily taking a vote for any kind of trade agreement before an election. At the same time I think Donald Trump has tapped into something that the establishment voices here in Washington, D.C., myself included, really failed to recognize, which is there are a lot of Americans, American voters who are really not keen on trade globalization, who are looking for a more assertive economic nationalism out of the United States. The last time we had a president who was this kind of an economic nationalist was really the Richard Nixon administration and you can see echoes of that administration in this one, not so much on the Watergate from, but just on the way in which global economic policy has become much more confrontational than it normally is.

David Akin: Now, of course the tariff story was the big one of the week and of course that happened at the end of the week. But at the beginning of the week, we saw the close of the latest round of NAFTA negotiations. They were in Mexico. It was a round that got I think five sections, five or six sections closed. That’s very productive, relative to the other rounds. So the NAFTA partners feeling there was some progress there, but then we saw this thing at the end of the week, where Trump clearly is trying to tie a NAFTA outcome with this threat of steel tariffs. We heard at the top of the show Minister Chrystia Freeland saying no, no NAFTA is separate from the tariff issue. Give me your sense on how Canada might play this idea that—or play against this idea that Trump wants to tie NAFTA to the steel tariffs.

Christopher Sands: Well, it’s funny. There’s been a lot of writing about whether linkage between issues is good. It’s certainly okay for the United States because we have a lot of cards to play, but it’s very tricky for Canada because you feel the see-saw effect of being pulled in one direction and then moved on another one. Trump wants to use this leverage to force—to encourage I guess you could say—Canada and Mexico to come to terms on a deal. What the Mexico City round was hoping to achieve was enough agreement that when Donald Trump at the end of the month goes to Congress to say I need a three year extension of my negotiating authority under the 2015 legislation that Congress passed to give the president authority to negotiate these trade agreements. It’s Obama’s authority that in effect Trump is using for this negotiation. He wants to be able to say to Congress, I need this extension, but I’ve made enough progress to justify a little bit more time. And so the U.S. was looking to close as many chapters as possible and make it clear that there was an agreement. At the same time—or at least there was an agreement in the offing—at the same time you started to hear Prime Minister Trudeau saying publicly, I’d rather have no deal than a bad deal. And it looked like Canada was going to potentially play hard to get. Mexico too was saying well, you know, we never know what’ll happen after our election. You might have a different character to deal with in Mexico City who’s not as easy to work with. So both Canada and Mexico were pulling back. That’s what I think the Trump tariffs on steel and aluminum are about. They’re about saying things could get a lot worse for you if you don’t go ahead and sign a deal. Remember that withdrawal, the U.S. idea that we could cancel NAFTA by unilateral withdrawal has largely been debunked as just not possible. Congress would never agree to it. But the steel and aluminum tariffs are much more realistic as a threat. So we’re returning to the leverage we had that the very beginning where Canada and Mexico feel that their backs are against the wall. Trump likes it that way and he’s looking to use that to push forward a deal and certainly to send the signal to Congress that at the end of the month he needs that extra time, which I expect they’ll probably grant.

David Akin: Chris Sands, Canada-U.S. expert at Johns Hopkins University, joining us from Washington. Chris, great to chat with you as always.

Christopher Sands: It’s a pleasure. Thank you very much, David.

David Akin: Up next, can the new U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum draw Canada and Europe closer together on trade? That’s next.


David Akin: Welcome back to the show. Europe was unable to escape the new aluminum and steel tariffs that President Trump announced last week. Now, what will Europe do? There’s talk of retaliatory tariffs and how might this affect the trading relationship between Canada and Europe: Raoul Delcorde is Belgium’s ambassador to Canada and joins me now. And I guess I want to start with Trump and the tariffs. Welcome to the program.

Ambassador Raoul Delcorde: Thank you very much.

David Akin: Here in the diplomatic community among your European colleagues, surely there must have been people phoning back and forth. Give me your sense, what is the general reaction to what President Trump has announced at the end of the week?

Ambassador Raoul Delcorde: Well, Belgium, like all the other EU countries is very much in favour of free trade and therefore this goes exactly against the values we are defending. Now, you have to give it some time before thinking of any reaction.

David Akin: And we did hear from the European Commission sometime during the week threatening some sort of tariffs.

Ambassador Raoul Delcorde: Right, but retaliation is not a word we will use quickly. We want to look at this more carefully. But the EU Commission has already mentioned three avenues, if you like to react on this. The first one is to go the WTO and there is an arbitration mechanism that we can trigger. The second one is to be very careful before taking any contravening measures to identify first of all which countries among the EU are the most impacted.

David Akin: Right.

Ambassador Raoul Delcorde: And how we could eventually kind of identify a series of specific measures and this will take time. The third element I’d like to draw your attention on is that of course steel exporters like China will then look more towards the European market.

David Akin: They’ll look to a place to sell their steel, that’s right.

Ambassador Raoul Delcorde: Exactly, so we have to think of what kind of measure we can in order to stabilize our import of steel. There are also mechanisms we have to look at. So it’s indeed something which is upsetting for every European, but we will not react, I believe, before thoroughly examining the situation.

David Akin: We want to talk about the Canada-European trade deal, the CETA as everybody knows it. That is in, there’s a provisional agreement and we’re operating as if it’s going to pass, but we know it can’t get final ratification before the European Court of Justice says that the deal is compatible with EU law. And it was Belgium that put that matter before the court. Give us a sense of the concern there and the state of Belgian politics right now. We know that Willonia, of course, didn’t like this deal to begin with. Do you sense that we’re going to see this thing get through?

Ambassador Raoul Delcorde: I want to be very reassuring in that respect. By the way, we have a new government in Wallonia which has, if I may say so, a more positive approach about CETA. Secondly, the ratification process in my country has already started, and actually the Finish Parliament has ratified. It’s just that in Belgium it’s a rather long process going through several parliaments, no one like in Canada, and therefore it might take time. But the general feeling we have is that we want to ratify say hopefully within a year or so. We are not going to be among the first ones. There are already a half a dozen EU countries which have ratified.

David Akin: Yes, absolutely.

Ambassador Raoul Delcorde: But we follow suit hopefully.

David Akin: I want to talk about something that’s going to be very special for you, for the week ahead and for any Belgian’s here in Canada and that is a state visit by the King and Queen of the Belgian’s, Queen Mathilde and King Philippe. They’re going to be officially welcomed tomorrow at Rideau Hall. And one of the interesting things about this is the last time we saw a Belgian king in Canada it was 1977. A guy named Trudeau was the prime minister then. A guy named Trudeau is the prime minister now. Did you get a sense of what the royal couple, what their interest is in Canada? Why they decided to honour us with a visit?

Ambassador Raoul Delcorde: Well, beside the fact that we of course have had a very good relationship with the Trudeau family in general, and thank you for alluding to this, but there is of course a special significance to this visit, which is World War I. I’d like to remind that former Governor General Johnston went to Belgium in 2014 for commemoration of the First World War, and somehow we’re at the end now of this commemoration in 2018. This is a return visit. And an important element of this visit will actually be to pay tribute to the Canadians. Many Belgians, really, from a young age, they know about what the Canadians—how they supported us during the two world wars and there will be an important event at the War Museum here on Tuesday with veterans because it’s not just about the past, you know? We’re fighting together—

David Akin: We shed blood together in world wars.

Ambassador Raoul Delcorde: In the battle in Afghanistan, in Korea before. We are NATO countries, so that’s something very much in common between us.

David Akin: For all the serious and important work, there’s going to be some fun stuff. You mentioned a sugar shack trip for the King and Queen.

Ambassador Raoul Delcorde: Well, yes we wanted to have—as we say in French—la couleur locale—something which is very typically Canadian and I think that is a good choice. With a touch of snow in the back would be nice for the photographer.

David Akin: I think it’s going to be perfect. Well listen, Ambassador Raoul Delcorde, thank you so much for joining us today. All the best wishes for this week, I know you’re going to be very, very busy for the next seven days.

Ambassador Raoul Delcorde: Thank you very much.

David Akin: Thank you. Thanks.

Now, up next: Charting a new course for the RCMP. What lies ahead for Canada’s new top cop? That’s next.


David Akin: Welcome back to the program. For the first time ever, a woman will be heading up the RCMP. That’s big news. Brenda Lucki will be Canada’s next RCMP Commissioner and she has her work cut out for her. The force has been plagued by allegations of discrimination and harassment. Will Lucki be the one who turns the tide? Joining me to talk about that and some other national security matters, Greg Fergus, a Liberal MP from just across the river here, Greg, Hull, Aylmer.

Minister Greg Fergus: Indeed.

David Akin: A beautiful part of the country of course.

Minister Greg Fergus: Thank you.

David Akin: Thanks so much for joining us.

Minister Greg Fergus: It’s a pleasure to be here.

David Akin: For a feminist government, the Trudeau government, this is walking the walk, in addition to talking the talk in that it’s certainly a qualified candidate. It doesn’t look at all like an affirmative action sort of appointment. What can you make of this particular appointment?

Minister Greg Fergus: Well first of all, I think it’s a great appointment. Brenda Lucki, assistant commissioner, 32-year veteran of the force, who worked in five provinces around this country, which is great: Quebec, Ontario, the west, all over. She’s worked internationally. She has great credibility and the fact that she’s a woman is great news too. And to be the first female commissioner of the RCMP is historic. But I think most importantly, David, it wasn’t that she was sought out because she was a woman, she was sought out because she was the most qualified candidate to be selected as commissioner. And it’s great that in a sense it’s a new age where we can make sure that she doesn’t face those systemic barriers that would have blocked her in the past, perhaps.

David Akin: It’s another glass ceiling broken, and you’re right it’s broken for all the rights reasons.

Minister Greg Fergus: Yeah.

David Akin: Let me get your thoughts on this, though. We know the problems within the culture of some aspects of the RCMP. Some regions of the country, etc., where some of the guys do not know how to behave towards female suspects, female victims of crime or female colleagues. Do you think it is going to work to have a woman at the top can change the culture below? That’s clearly is going to be part of her mandate, I’m assuming.

Minister Greg Fergus: Well David, let me put it to you this way, the RCMP has a storied history. It has a great reputation around the world. When people think of Canada they often think of the RCMP. And we should be very proud of our forces, but like many modern institutions they’ve had trouble making the change to a new world. And yes, it’s important for Commissioner Lucki to make that a key part of her mandate, and it is, but it really requires a full culture change and that’s going to take time and that’s going to take a lot of effort, and it’s not just up to her. It’s up to the entire force together. I’m glad to see that she’s already starting off on the right foot in try to bring about change.

David Akin: And I think it’s, you know, a couple of commissioners ago it was the Harper government took a civilian and put somebody in and there was a lot of difficulties for that civilian. She obviously has a long career in uniform as well. This was not a problem. Of course, your government inherited this issue of problems within the force. It existed in the last one, but it’s been since July that Paulson resigned. Is this now time, perhaps, for the government to make sure she’s got every support she needs and will request to make these changes?

Minister Greg Fergus: Precisely right. And that was also part of the whole interview process that I know that the short-listed candidates had gone through by that committee that was set up under the chairmanship of Frank McKenna. It was important for them to make sure that, you know, this is part of the new RCMP. This is going to be part of the new attitude that it’s going to have to have to make sure that it is policing in a fair and a modern way. And so we have made resources available to the RCMP and I know that those resources will be put to good work under her leadership.

David Akin: I wanted to switch gears for a bit and talk about an issue that dominated Parliament just before it rose for this couple of weeks recess, probably will when it comes back, and that is the issue of the prime minister’s trip to India and this particular aspect of it. We’ve watched the prime minister in the House defend senior bureaucrats, senior government officials who have provided some advice to the prime minister about how this guy Jaspal Atwal ended up in India. That senior government has told us, told other reporters, that the Indian government or a faction may have had a hand in getting Atwal to India. Atwal last week said in a news conference India had nothing to do with it. I wonder if there’s a problem here in that do we have an issue with the credibility of our national security establishment which our new commissioner’s about to join? How do we solve this problem, where the prime minister is definitely trying to defend his officials, should it be time that you think that maybe his officials did have a briefing with parliamentarians at some point?

Minister Greg Fergus: Well, I’m not going to get into the specifics of this case, but I could just say this, is that we do have women and men of top flight minds, top flight quality, who provide all of government the best kind of advice that they can have and certainly the prime minister has the right to stand behind the officials and stand behind our national security apparatus. And they are always seeking ways, I’m certain, they’d look at every situation, they review their actions in the past, make some changes and modifications. They’re always looking for that.

David Akin: And yet though, I mean that’s a laudable thing for the PM, any PM, to stand behind his senior officials, but in this case what that senior official has communicated to reporters, and nobody’s challenged the voracity of what we’ve reported on, has caused a problem with the chief ally. India has to issue a statement saying what’s going on in the House of Commons that the Prime Minister of Canada is saying doesn’t make sense?

Minister Greg Fergus: Sorry, David?

David Akin: So the question is, you’ve got a choice here. You’ve got Canada-India relations or you’ve got this idea of standing behind your bureaucracy. Something’s—there’s a problem there that needs to be solved.

Minister Greg Fergus: Well, I’m certain they’re working on that right now and trying to review their information and their intelligence and to making sure that we always get the best kind of information possible.

David Akin: And just quickly, there was a big Guns and Gang Violence Summit.

Minister Greg Fergus: That was a great summit.

David Akin: Next steps because there’s a lot of frustration out there for this, to get something done on this particular file.

Minister Greg Fergus: Well, you know, it was a great conference. I was there, David, and it was just amazing to have 200 people from across the country to get together to take a look at this issue because the face of crime has changed. In Canada, yes, the overall level has decreased over—I mean we’ve never lived in safer times overall—but with regards to crime involving guns and gangs, over the last four years we’ve seen a doubling of homicides with the use of guns, especially gang-related deaths. And it was great to take a look at that. You just can’t, you know, lock them up and throw away the key to try to deal with the problem. We have to take a look at a holistic approach from social policy, from giving young people different options, trying to create a different environment. So it was great to speak to not only the provincial governments, but to speak to the police forces, to speak to social groups, to speak to a whole bunch of other workers who really want to make a different.

David Akin: Alright, Greg Fergus from Hull, Aylmer, thank you for joining us today.

Minister Greg Fergus: It’s a pleasure to be here.

David Akin: And that’s our show for today. I’m David Akin. Thanks so much for joining us. We’ll see you next week on The West Block.

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