April 1, 2018 11:48 am

The West Block, Season 7, Episode 30

Watch the full broadcast of The West Block on Sunday, April 1, 2018. Hosted by Eric Sorensen.

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THE WEST BLOCK
Episode 30, Season 7
Sunday, April 1 2018

Host: Eric Sorensen

Guest Interviews: Andrew Leslie, Neil Ferguson

Food for Thought: Tom Mulcair

Location: Ottawa

On this Sunday, optimism south of the border for a new NAFTA deal and soon, here at home we’re not so sure. As elections loom in Mexico and then U.S. midterms, what is the timeline for a deal? And what’s holding it up?

Story continues below

Then, author and historian Neil Ferguson suggests the controversy surrounding Facebook and Russian cyber hacking represents a deeper crisis than people realize and decisive action is needed.

Plus, Food for Thought with former NDP leader Tom Mulcair; he’s about to leave Parliament Hill: What he’ll miss, what he won’t and what the future holds.

It’s Sunday April the 1st. Happy Easter. I’m Eric Sorensen and this is The West Block.

So, it’s crunch time for NAFTA and if you’re trying to read the tea leaves, you might be a little confused from the mixed messages we heard from both sides of the border this past week. So, are we close to a new trade deal or not?

Ambassador Robert Lighthizer: “I’m hopeful. I think we are making progress. I think that all three parties want to move forward. We have a short window because of elections and things beyond our control, but if there’s a real effort made to try to close out and to compromise and do some of the things we all know we should do, you know, I’m optimistic we can get something done.”

Steve Verheul: “If we’re going to achieve that, we would clearly require some considerable flexibility in U.S. positions. On the core most important issues, there is a significant amount of work still to be done.”

Eric Sorensen: The U.S. trade representative suggesting we’re kind of close to a deal, his Canadian counterpart suggesting in effect, not so fast.

Joining us now is Andrew Leslie, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs. You heard those two sound bites. They are not in lockstep with one another. In your view, is it a short window?

Andrew Leslie: First and foremost, I’d say they’re both right and let me try and explain why. At the strategic level, Mr. Lighthizer has quite correctly identified the fact that a whole bunch of very interesting ideas have been put on the table in the very recent past by our American colleagues and there is momentum. Now we’re not by any stretch out of the woods, nor can I guarantee any final result yet. But, Steve, the most excellent chief negotiator for the Canadian government, superbly experienced, has said yeah, but it’s going to take a lot of work. And that’s exactly where we are. There is momentum, but to get us across the finish line, it’s going to take an enormous amount of work. But we’re ready and we’ve told our American and Mexican colleagues, our teams are on standby to go to Washington and to work 24/7, as required to get this across the finish line.

Eric Sorensen: It sounds from Mr. Verheul that if we’re going to get there, the U.S. has to move a little further. It sounds like what the U.S. is thinking of, we’ve got to move this faster. But it’s got to be done by say July the 1st, before the Mexican election. What has to give there?

Andrew Leslie: Well, as you know, the Mexican election officially starts tomorrow, Friday, and then the actual election is on the 1st of July. So that is a bookend, as you will. And let’s not also forget that the American “midterms” start in November. Both points of view are very legitimate. There is momentum. Lots of work still has to happen and I think one of the most important recent developments is there’s been some good ideas put forward about rules of origin for automobiles, and I’m not going to go into the details because we have teams talking about those right now. But I think that’s reassuring.

Eric Sorensen: Well let me just ask you about that. You know, rules of origin, there seems to be some movement on auto parts. What are the outstanding ones and where are you seeing progress that makes you optimistic?

Andrew Leslie: Well, as you know, there’s over 30 chapters in NAFTA. There’s been tens of thousands of negotiating hours between all the very large teams between the three countries that actually get involved in the detail. And I’m not going to go into detail right now because literally we have people in Washington, as do our Mexican friends, talking about it. So we don’t want to negotiate in public, not when we’re so close, at least to this specific issue. In terms of rules of origin, the point I guess is that the automotive relationship, over $105 billion a year annually to the Canadian GDP has produced tremendous wealth. It’s also perhaps the most complex and difficult to resolve amongst the three countries. So I’m cautiously heartened, that there has been a great deal of movement over the last little while. We’re not across the finish line yet, though, for automobiles.

Eric Sorensen: Dairy. Can you talk about dairy? Because they’re very worried that they’ve given up in the previous trade deals, they would like it to be an untouchable. Is anything untouchable?

Andrew Leslie: Well, you know, one of the interesting things is over the last year, the government—well the federal, provincial, municipal and business associations, and experts, and our most excellent trade professionals in the department of trade, we’ve gathered facts and data, so let’s just talk about American dairy. About 25, 30 years ago, Canada made a decision to restrict the number of farms, but our dairy farms don’t get any direct subsidies. In the United States, at both state and federal level, they either get a direct subsidy in terms of cash or they get tax credits or tax waivers. So they are subsidized.

Eric Sorensen: And we get the arguments. I mean there’s a sound argument being made, but the question, is it going to be viewed as there’s something to be given there?

Andrew Leslie: Well, not yet because it actually hasn’t come out. And from our point of view, we got what we got. And the Americans, to my understanding, are willing to give up their subsidies to their dairy farmers. In terms of the trade relationship, the Americans currently sell five times as much milk to us, as we sell to them.

Eric Sorensen: Donald Trump, he’s changing his players like he’s a basketball coach. You know, you’re prepping for Rex Tillerson, you’re getting Mike Pompeo. Is that changing the dynamic at all? Are you feeling more pressure? Like do you think that they’re really starting to build towards maybe a breaking point?

Andrew Leslie: There’s no direct pressure augmentation yet. I would argue that at the secretary of state, just administerial level here in Canada; the personality of the individual is going to have actually a fairly dramatic impact on how the relationship goes. The good news is that secretary presumptive Pompeo knows Canada. He’s been a soldier himself. He was director of CIA and this organization worked very closely with the Canadian government. Some of the key replacements for people who have resigned or left the White House recently, know Canada quite well and actually some of them are pro-NAFTA. With each passing month, the American awareness of NAFTA grows and I think all of us as a nation, have reached out to friends and contacts in the United States and pointed out the values to NAFTA, and I think collectively we’ve done a pretty good job of trying to have a fact based discussion based on numbers. I’m a numbers guy.

Eric Sorensen: Did the Americans suspect that we’re ragging the puck? I mean it would make sense to me, that with the Trump administration, you don’t want to strike a deal with this particularly unique administration, where the president himself and his presidency could be in peril at some point.

Andrew Leslie: We are absolutely categorically not ragging the puck. We have teams ready to go down to Washington right now. We also have other teams that are currently in Washington. Steve, who you heard earlier, our chief negotiator, is literally spending more time in Washington than he is with his family here in the Ottawa region. We are ready to work constructively to put good ideas on the table and to listen to their increasingly good ideas or ideas that are moving more towards centre on certain specific issues. But, there’s no deal yet. And of course in these complex negotiations, nothing counts until it’s over, until everyone signs.

Eric Sorensen: Until it’s all done.

Andrew Leslie: Yeah, it’s all done.

Eric Sorensen: And yet, we do seem to have a deadline coming, July the 1st. I guess we’ll find out in the next few weeks just how hard that deadline is. Andrew Leslie, [we’re] out of time. Thank you very much.

Andrew Leslie: Thanks, Eric, very kind.

Eric Sorensen: Up next, lessons learned from Facebook and the 2016 U.S. election. Are we doing enough now to prevent political interference?

[Break]

Eric Sorensen: Welcome back. Can Facebook and democracy be friends? This is a question members of Congress will be asking Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg when he testifies. Author and historian Neil Ferguson’s recent book: The Square and the Tower: Networks and Power, from Free Mason to Facebook, has some thoughts on this and the role of social media in our political discourse.

Joining us now from Stanford University in California is Neil Ferguson. Hello, sir.

Neil Ferguson: Good to be with you, Eric.

Eric Sorensen: So I was telling a colleague that you are a deep thinker but a good communicator, as if those qualities are sometimes mutually exclusive. Your book, it takes us through the history and the relationship of hierarchies and networks. Can you just explain that and why it’s relevant today?

Neil Ferguson: Well for most of history, hierarchical structures like governments are pretty dominant, but sometimes social networks get the upper hand, usually because of change in technology suddenly empowers the social networks. And so my book, The Square the Tower, is about the interaction between town squares where people network and towers where power tends to resident. In our own time, what we’re seeing is one of those times when networks are very strongly empowered by technology and Facebook is perhaps the supreme example of this. Arguably the largest social network in history with more than 2 billion users, and now it turns out posing a direct threat to the political process, not only in the United States, but in other democracies, too.

Eric Sorensen: Well the internet is supposed to be for the good, that it moves information to everyone, everywhere, instantly. Why is it not working out to be so good, in your view?

Neil Ferguson: Well we were assured again and again, going all the way back to the 1990s, that everything would be awesome once we were all connected. And indeed, Facebook, when it was set up was supposed to be the ultimate device for connecting humanity and building what Mark Zuckerberg called a ‘global community’. But somewhere along the line, Silicon Valley decided that in addition to making the world a better place, it would like to make itself a richer community and it discovered that you can make really quite amazing amounts of money by selling advertising. And advertising on the internet is really the key to the business models, not only of Facebook and Google, but many other big internet platforms, too. The problem is, once you are primarily focused on making money, which I think Facebook has been for some years, you start paying a little less attention to all the benefits that you said that you were going to bring humanity. And it turns out, and we’re finding out more about this with every passing week, that Facebook was quite happy to sell advertising to the Russians, which they then used to disseminate extremely divisive messages to American voters during the 2016 election. And of course, Facebook was very happy to cooperate with Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, which was using data that had been illicitly acquired via a company called Cambridge Analytica. So, you know, when you set out to make the world a better place by connecting everybody, we love you. But when it turns out that you’re primary motive is to make billions of dollars from selling advertising to the highest bidder and that you accept rubles then I think we love you a lot less.

Eric Sorensen: I mean is the problem them say with Russian hacking? Is it about the Russians at all? Or is it just about that we are so exposed in our interconnectedness, not just to information but the corrupted information.

Neil Ferguson: I think there are a bunch of related problems. 1) The Russians clearly used Facebook and YouTube and other platforms, to disseminate divisive content that was supposed to be from Americans. It wasn’t in any way identifiable as being from the Russians. So there was a problem there with some transparency.

Secondly, fake news spread faster online than true news. We have a recent study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that shows that and it’s really quite compelling. This is a problem with human beings that we’re quite attracted to fake stories like the Pope endorses Donald Trump. And we’re quite often bored by things that are true like the Pope does not endorse Donald Trump.

But then I think the third and most important point is that we gave our data to Facebook. All Facebook users have given really very large amounts of data about themselves to Facebook and about their friends, and Facebook was supposed to maintain our privacy and limit how that data could be used. And it’s now very clear that for a period of years, Facebook wasn’t enforcing its own policies, that it knew that those policies had been violated at least in 2015, but it didn’t tell the users about that. And here’s the thing, because of that violation which occurred in the UK and involved Cambridge Analytica, somewhere between 30 million and 50 million U.S. citizens Facebook users data became available to the Trump campaign and that shouldn’t have happened.

Eric Sorensen: So, we’re onto it now, it seems anyway. Is the problem going to be fixable or is it running amuck?

Neil Ferguson: Well at some level, the problems are fixable and Mark Zuckerberg himself said last week that he realized that Facebook needed to be regulated. In effect, it’s very likely regulated at the moment, as are the other network platforms. Going back to the mid-1990s, technology companies like Google and now Facebook, are not liable for the content that appears on their platforms. They’re not treated as media publishers. I think that’s one of the things that could be looked at. But remember, nothing has changed in any fundamental ways since 2016. The business model remains selling advertisers the access and the precision that you can get with advertising using data. Facebook’s advertising tool is probably the most powerful tool in the history of advertising because it can so accurately target the individual user with a customized message that can even be varied according to how the user responds.

Eric Sorensen: And one last quick question for you then. What would your advice say to Canadians and others and the Canadian government?

Neil Ferguson: If this can happen to the United States or indeed to Britain because it was a part of the Brexit campaign, too, it can certainly happen to Canada. And Canadians need to be very vigilant, a) about the way the politics is influenced by social media, b) about the way their personal data are used and abused by social media.

Eric Sorensen: Neil Ferguson at Stanford University. Thank you very much.

Neil Ferguson: Thanks, Eric.

Eric Sorensen: Up next, Food for Thought about government, lies and politics, with Tom Mulcair.

[Break]

Eric Sorensen: Across the river from Parliament Hill is Arôme, an upscale eatery in Lac-Leamy’s Casino in Gatineau. A favourite spot for former NDP leader Tom Mulcair and it’s where we caught up with him this past week.

The Honourable Tom Mulcair, welcome to Food for Thought.

Tom Mulcair: Great to see you Eric. Thanks for this kind invitation.

Eric Sorensen: You chose the location.

Tom Mulcair: Yes.

Eric Sorensen: Tell me about what you like about this place.

Tom Mulcair: Well when I’m in Ottawa, I stay here on the Quebec side, in Gatineau at the Hilton and there’s a casino next door but I don’t get to go to that very often. But there are two delightful lakes. There’s great paths all around. I sometimes bring my rollerblades in the fall and summer. And overall, I’d say it’s simply the best place you can stay in the Ottawa region, so I really enjoy it.

Eric Sorensen: It’s a tremendous view. My mom always said to me when I began to travel in my work, she said go to a big hotel, go to their restaurant. They’ll have a chef. They’ll have good food, it’s always reliable.

Tom Mulcair: And I was born here in Gatineau. At the time, it was actually Wright Ville, and then it became Hull and then Gatineau. So I was born on the Ottawa side at the Civic, but my parents were living here so I’ve always been able to say in French Natif de l’Outaouais, which means native of the Outaouais region and born in Ottawa in my English [00:17:02]. So that’s always great.

Eric Sorensen: So, you’re missed already it seems. Now you’re just about to leave politics, but are you amused or saddened at all by your party that you’re leaving is having some struggles. The new leader is having some struggles and I’m hearing things like boy, maybe it wasn’t all about Tom Mulcair. Maybe it was about Canada.

Tom Mulcair: I couldn’t have a stronger desire to see Jagmeet Singh and his team succeed in the next election. And the NDP has always been about doing things first and doing things differently. And we were the first party in Canada to have a woman as leader, Audrey McLaughlin, and now we’re the first party in Canada to have a member of a visible minority with a great education and background and experience leading it and I really wish him well. And I’d love to become that Stephen Lewis personality, being invited back to conventions, but right now I’m taking a very reserved approach because of course, I have to leave as much room as I can to Mr. Singh.

Eric Sorensen: Let me ask you about the NDP, since you’re talking about the ground that it breaks as it did with Audrey McLaughlin. It came after disappointment because there was a real build-up for the NDP. Ed Broadbent was popular, he had good polling numbers. You did too. You and Broadbent were both sort of there for that moment and then the party said alright, let’s do something completely different. But then they go through a period where it’s back down to third place and that’s the history of the party. And 60 years on, is the party satisfied? I mean it seemed to me that was part of the issue for them is that they felt like they were close and they couldn’t get to the top and they took it out on Tom Mulcair.

Tom Mulcair: Fair enough. I mean, you know, such is life.

Eric Sorensen: I guess the thing I wonder about the party, is it going to be satisfied because back in the 70s, the 80s, I can remember yes, the NDP would like to form government, but we’re the conscience of the country. We feel good about bringing forward programs that eventually get adopted, but after 60 years of the NDP, you’re still kind of in that position. Are you always going to be satisfied with that or is there something about Canadian politics that should be looked at in a different way for the party?

Tom Mulcair: We managed in the last election to push the Liberals, of course, to commit to things. There were far left to what the Liberals would usually do. The only problem, of course, for voters is now they’re starting to realize that simple clear promises, like democratic reform. Mr. Trudeau promised it. He swore up and down. Actually, we had 2,000 instances where he promised that 2015 would be the last election under the unfair system of first past the post. And then he broke that promise when he realized it wasn’t in the interest of the Liberal party. So there’s a series of things like that, like promising that Kinder Morgan would never be forced down people’s throats in B.C. until we had a clear credible assessment system. So those are all things that we promised. When Mr. Trudeau was mimicking them in the last campaign, I tried to tell Canadians, this is the same Liberal party. I felt like, you know, Charlie Brown and Lucy pulling the football away and winding up on your back every time. We knew that that was Liberal behaviour. People said, well no, Mr. Trudeau’s fresh. He’s new. He’s not the same as the old gang, turns out that the old gang still controls the place.

Eric Sorensen: Is that Canadian politics, the expression ‘Pinocchio syndrome’ was somebody said you coined the phrase, but the idea that lying comes—I don’t know if it comes naturally or if it’s necessary, almost like the cyclists in the Tour de France: I had to do drugs. I had to cheat because everybody else is doing it. And if you were just to be entirely honest or entirely principled, you would be having people run circles around you because they know how to deal with the issues this way and that way to try and work with where public perceptions are.

Tom Mulcair: There’s no question that there is a tendency if you look at the history of these things to promise things that turns out they didn’t have any intention of delivering on.

Eric Sorensen: Everyone will say that Tom Mulcair did a really effective job holding the government of the day to account. Are you going to miss having your chance to nail this new prime minister to the wall?

Tom Mulcair: Yes, I will miss that.

Eric Sorensen: Anything you’re not going to miss?

Tom Mulcair: It’s funny as a question because as I’m unplugging more and more, because I’m only a couple of months away from going full-time to the University of Montreal. I’m resigning my seat in the House. It’s actually the fighting itself. I mean the hyper partisanship, and I’m a real partisan so I live in a very big glass house when it comes to being a partisan politician. But that’s the part that I’m going to miss the least.

Eric Sorensen: You’ve not been, it seems to me, ideological. I mean all the parties would have been happy to have Tom Mulcair on the front benches in federal politics, here. What do you take away with your view of how Canadian politics is evolving? Is it going in the right direction? I mean this is in the era of Trumpism, so anything happening here looks normal relative to what’s happening south of the border. But do you have any concerns about the way it’s evolving?

Tom Mulcair: We have a longstanding view, for example, that the Senate is unaccountable and it’s undemocratic and we could probably do away with it. But that’s an aspiration by our political party. Fundamentally, I think that we’re doing quite well with our institutions that have served us well for 150 years. You mentioned Mr. Trump and the U.S. experience. I’m a little bit worried at what I’m seeing around the world. I’m asking myself, okay we’ve got the president of the United States, the most important leader in the free world who is going after people because they’re Muslim, going after them because of their ethnic origin because they’re Mexican. That sort of attack is unseemly, but it’s also something that’s never been experienced before in the democracies.

Eric Sorensen: We’re almost out of time, but you’re going to become a teacher.

Tom Mulcair: Yes.

Eric Sorensen: Do you think you’ll bring to teaching a different approach? For example, will you have a class and they will all leave your class all New Democrats?

Tom Mulcair: No.

Eric Sorensen: Or is there something more that you want to [00:23:03 cross talk].

Tom Mulcair: I have far too much respect for students to try to convince them to go to one political party. But I will try to convince them to get involved. The courses I’ll be teaching will mostly be graduate courses in sustainable development.

Eric Sorensen: You will give them food for thought, as you have for us today. Thank you.

Tom Mulcair: Thank you, Eric.

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

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