The West Block, Season 7, Episode 31

Click to play video: 'The West Block: Apr 8'
The West Block: Apr 8
Watch the full broadcast of The West Block on Sunday, April 8, 2018. Hosted by Eric Sorensen – Apr 8, 2018

Episode 31, Season 7
Sunday, April 8, 2018

Host: Eric Sorensen

Guest Interviews: James Moore, Thomas Freedman, Bill Blair

Location: Ottawa

On this Sunday, last minute high-level talks to push a NAFTA deal to the finish line. How close are we to a done deal and can we get a good deal?

Then, as President Trump announces more tariffs against China, how to explain the impact of his tumultuous leadership, we talked to the columnist best known for explaining the world, The New York Times, Thomas Freedman.

And, legalized marijuana is just months away. Provinces are laying the groundwork and yet critics want more safeguards. Will Ottawa make changes to the final bill?

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It’s Sunday, April the 8th. I’m Eric Sorensen, and this is The West Block.

Well late this week, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, went to Washington to meet with her American and Mexican counterparts amid rumours of a deal suddenly getting close on NAFTA. They had dinner together and were all smiles when a Mexican photographer tracked them down. Here’s what President Trump said on Thursday:

President Donald Trump: “We’re working very hard on NAFTA with Mexico and Canada. And you know, we’ll have something, I think, fairly soon. There’s no rush. We get it done right or we’ll terminate.”

Eric Sorensen: Joining us now from Vancouver is James Moore, former cabinet minister under Stephen Harper and a member of the government’s advisory council on NAFTA. So James, we’re talking to you before we’ve heard any new details, but if we’re getting closer, how so? Because it seems like the Americans may have blinked first to get this to the finish line.

James Moore: Well, I think the world is learning, and certainly the Government of Canada has learned that with President Trump you respond, but you don’t react. You know, this is a president who’s gone from saying that NAFTA is the worst deal in history to saying that it only needs minor tweaks, to saying that he’s going to tear it up, to now being satisfied with the negotiations as we’re going through, and we’re actually not even close to really the halfway mark of going through all 22 chapters of NAFTA. So I mean the president can say what he wants to say. Canada is doing the responsible thing of going through the negotiating process, putting forward reasonable proposals that we think will have tripartite agreement. But I think if the president genuinely has shifted on being antagonist towards NAFTA, towards wanting to land at a NAFTA 2.0 that has reasonable compromises that are to the benefits of all three partners on a North American economic platform and shift his focus to the ongoing now new saga with China, then I think that’s good news for Canada. There’s a bigger storm cloud now on the horizon about the global dynamics of trade, but it means that the dynamic with NAFTA could well be something that President Trump has sort of realized is actually to the American interest.

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Eric Sorensen: Yeah, and then you mentioned China. And it seems like the tariff war might be occupying their resources now and they might want to get NAFTA dealt with. And the Mexicans are the same. They have an election coming up. They would like to get this done with the current government. Canada’s not in a bad position in that way, given that we are a smaller partner.

James Moore: Well, generally speaking, time is on our side. But, I mean Canada also still has to be very cautious that of course, we have a president who seems to change his mind rather rapidly. But once a reformed NAFTA might be arrived at, a NAFTA 2.0, then it has to go back to the domestic legislatures of the United States, Canada and Mexico in order for it to have ratification. So in Canada’s position with Prime Minister Trudeau having a majority government and presumably pro-free trade voices in the Conservative Party wanting to work towards a positive outcome, depending on the details of course. But I mean, the Mexican government, of course, is in the midst now of the nomination process, the primary process towards their campaign which will be realized in July. And American politics is about to get incredibly hot with the midterm elections this fall. So the ability of a NAFTA 2.0 to be negotiated is one thing, but for it to be affirmed through the legislative process of all three governments is a very different story, given that frankly, you know, six months after the Las Vegas shootings, the American government still hasn’t managed to find a way to reasonably arrive at banning bump stocks through the American process. So, I think the legislative process of a reformed NAFTA being approved through the American system is still very much a long-term project. So we’ll see as we move forward what this dynamic is going to look like because there is still plenty of anti-NAFTA, anti-trade antagonists in both the Republican and Democratic parties and the politics of this is going to be an ongoing fight in the American political arena.

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Eric Sorensen: It sounds like the auto content part of this has swung a little bit in Canada’s favour. What are the other bottom line areas you think for Canada to have a satisfactory deal?

James Moore: Well, I mean, the Americans came into this. They triggered this negotiation. They had their five big demands to tackle supply management, to get a better deal on the auto sector, to have a five-year sunset clause, government procurement was a key element and to end the dynamic of having trade deficits going forward. Frankly, all five of those proposals have real challenges in terms of actually being able to deliver those things and in way that wouldn’t entirely spoil the agreement altogether. But I think frankly, for domestic politics for President Trump, in the rust belt states and the auto states in the United States, I’m talking about Michigan and Ohio, Indiana, elsewhere in the Midwest of the United States, that gave Donald Trump his presidency in 2016, I think there’s more than enough here in a reformed NAFTA, for Donald Trump to go back to those states and say we tackled NAFTA and we did substantive reforms to NAFTA, this 24-year-old agreement that has had some tweaks over the years. But we got some substantive reforms that will support the North American auto assembly dynamic for the ongoing future in a way that’ll benefit the American working man and I think that’s the narrative that he wants to be able to say in those states. I think we’ve arrived actually, at a package within the context of the existing NAFTA framework that could actually be very beneficial to the Canadian automotive sector, particularly the automotive parts sector which is entirely integrated with the North American supply chains on the auto side. So I think this actually could be a win-win on the auto side and the politics of it will be whatever they’ll be, and I think that’s really what President Trump is looking for, is to match his anti-NAFTA rhetoric on the auto side with some real deliverables and I think a reformed NAFTA could actually meet that challenge.

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Eric Sorensen: And you mentioned sort of the Midwest for the U.S. being so important to President Trump. On the supply management dairy side of things, I think he needs this for Wisconsin. Do you think that there’s going to have to be some give there because Wisconsin was so important to win the presidency for him?

James Moore: Well, we’ll see. I mean this is actually where the politics on the congressional side could be become very interesting. The Government of Canada—look, there is broadly speaking, people can have debates in Canada about supply management and that’s perfectly fine. But if you look at in the Parliament of Canada, whether it’s Prime Minister Trudeau, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer or the NDP, there is actually consensus in the Parliament of Canada to support Canada’s supply managed industries. And so Donald Trump said what he said in Wisconsin in defence of particularly the dairy sector in the state of Wisconsin and of course, Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House, is from Wisconsin as well and so we’ll see. If Donald Trump doesn’t get something that is a radical reform to the satisfaction of Paul Ryan, then Donald Trump actually may well have a battle in his own party of being able to deliver a NAFTA 2.0 through a congressional approval process if Paul Ryan doesn’t think that he’s done enough on his approach.

Eric Sorensen: Well, the NAFTA talks seem to be speeding up. James Moore thanks for talking to us.

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James Moore: The pleasure was mine.

Eric Sorensen: Up next, a view from Washington on President Trump’s performance at home and on the world stage.


Eric Sorensen: Welcome back. Tariff threats, border threats, attacks against the media, but not against Russia’s President Putin, U.S. President Trump’s conduct is having an impact on U.S. power and standing on the global stage. The New York Times Thomas Freedman’s latest book is Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations. But his optimism is tempered these days, declaring that Donald Trump is a disturbed person, who has eroded the norms of the U.S. presidency.

Joining us now from Washington, Thomas Freedman. Mr. Freedman, talk to us about the dangers you see posed to your country by your own president.

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Thomas Freedman: Well I think the greatest threat to American democracy today is sitting right in the oval office. We have a president who is a disturbed person and he is really not trying to be president of the United States. He’s actually just trying to be president of his base. He’s done almost nothing to reach out to non-Trump voting Americans. But much more importantly, he is attacking, I think, the very institutions that preserve our democracy, starting with the press. His whole stick on fake news is an attempt basically to delegitimize mainstream media and then to open the way to direct his Twitter feed unfettered right into the hearts and minds of every American. It’s hugely dangerous. And on the global stage, he’s been undermining and seeking to undermine the institutions that have been the pillar of the global order since World War II. Whether it’s on the trade front, institutions like NAFTA that would very much affect Canada, the World Trade Organization, the United Nations, Trump has a very 19th century model of the world. It’s America versus everybody else. Everything’s a zero sum game. He’s unlike anything we’ve had before and we can survive four years of him. I suspect eight years would be a disaster.

Eric Sorensen: Your book, Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in an Age of Accelerations. I’m not sure all of that would fit on one tweet, but it speaks to the fear in a rapidly changing world. And didn’t Donald Trump get that part right?

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Thomas Freedman: Absolutely. You know, some things are true, even if Donald Trump believes them. And I would say his opponents, Democrats, need to keep that in mind. For instance, it’s true we really do have a trade issue with China. It’s true that we cannot take every immigrant. I mean just to give you a couple of examples. And we have to have smart policies on all of those. He tends to take those truths, though, in a more destructive direction. His opponents need to take them in a constructive direction. But have no doubt, Trump connects up at the gut level and most people listen through their stomachs, not through their ears with a lot of Americans and I wouldn’t diminish his polling power for the long-term. I think you do that are your peril.

Eric Sorensen: It seems to me the genius of America was to be the most powerful country in the world and the world by enlarge was okay with that. But now, it is on the one hand, seeding power to China and Russia, and the rest of the world is losing trust in America. I mean can the United States regain its position in the world?

Thomas Freedman: You know, it’s the old saying, that our government was a system designed by geniuses to be run by idiots. And we are definitely testing that theory right now. You know, there’s no question. We get enormous benefits for helping create enormous number of global public goods, whether it was these global institutions like the IMF, U.N., World Bank, NATO, and World Trade System. And it’s true that in the past, maybe we paid a little more than other countries, but I think we derived enormous benefits from them as well.

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Eric Sorensen: How do you see NAFTA playing out at this point? I mean here in Canada, we are always interested in that.

Thomas Freedman: Well I’m a huge NAFTA fan. I mean because we have in North America, this incredible bounty of having a single platform, where you have Canada, a company [country] that can offer both natural resources and high tech knowledge workers. You have Mexico with lower skilled workers, but also a lot of rising high tech engineering workers and you have America in the middle with its mix of both. We would not want to give that up. That would be a crazy thing to do.

Eric Sorensen: And now the U.S. is beginning a tariff war with China. Again, of great interest to Canadians. How’s that going to play out?

Thomas Freedman: Well, you know, again, some things are true, even if Donald Trump believes them. And one of the things that’s true is that China has been ripping off our intellectual capital and I suspect Canada’s over the last 20 years. We thought China was going to reform an open when we let China into the World Trade Organization in 2001. And instead, China reformed in closed. It created an environment where it could grow these big companies like Alibaba and Tencent in a protected market and then unleash them on the world.

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Eric Sorensen: I want to bring it back a little bit to where we started: Donald Trump. He has said no one has been tougher on Russia than Donald Trump. But it seems to me that he’s the president that the Russians would love to have in office as long as possible.

Thomas Freedman: Well, you know, as I pointed out, Trump’s behaviour and posture towards Putin basically has been inexplicable, given the role that our intelligence agencies have identified that the Russians played in perverting our last election and leaves you able to draw only one of a couple conclusions. Either Trump is personally compromised that Putin has something on him or he’s a towering fool and is rejecting the evidence presented by our major intelligence services to Russia’s intervention. Or, there’s a third option. He actually likes Russia intervening in our elections because they’re intervening on his behalf. But none of those three conclusions are very good for Americans. Putin could use a high fast ball, you know, right towards his chin, to put it in baseball terms, from America. And Donald Trump has proven utterly incapable of doing that. He’s either besought with Putin, he’s either a fool or he is an intelligent asset of Putin’s.

Eric Sorensen: You said earlier the U.S. can survive four years with Donald Trump as president. It has been a long 15 months so far. Does the president survive, do you think, for four years, given the Mueller report and the midterm elections that are coming, and a possible impeachment?

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Thomas Freedman: Certainly, you know, with the midterms coming up, you could see a flip in both the House and the Senate and that would potentially impact Trump’s tenure in office. You have the Mueller investigation. That could have an impact as well. But I’ll tell you, Eric, as someone who didn’t vote for Trump, I would tell you this. I would not want him impeached, unless it is on the basis of very clear and unimpeachable evidence. I think it’s very important for the country that he, be voted out the way he was voted in. Otherwise, his supporters will feel very aggrieved. I think the greatest thing; the healthiest thing that could happen in America, in the midterms is that the Republicans be crushed. I think they’d be crushed in the House, they’d be crushed in the Senate and forced to go back and look at themselves in the mirror and see what they’ve done to their party, how they’ve just turned it into this institution that is ready to sell itself to whoever makes the highest bid, to energize their base. So if they can energize their base, they will sell themselves to. Whether it’s Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, the Tea Party, then Trump, and that’s why there’s no core to the Republican Party before a party that was deficit [00:15:45] suddenly said spend all the money you want. You know a party that always stood for free trade says let’s go with protectionism because Trump’s for protectionism and Trump energizes our base. We have a party that’s really completely lost its way and that is basically defending and embracing a deeply disturbed person.
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Eric Sorensen: Thomas Freedman, thank you very much for joining us today.

Thomas Freedman: My pleasure. I thank you for having me.

Eric Sorensen: Up next, critics of the government’s bill on legalized cannabis want changes to the bill. So how soon can you expect pot legally?


Eric Sorensen: Welcome back. Legalized marijuana is supposed to be in place by this summer, but critics of the government’s proposed bill say changes are needed to help law enforcement, to ensure safeguards for health and to keep the illegal cannabis off the streets and away from young people. Five committees in the Senate are studying the bill and many senators are promising changes before the bill goes back to the House. What will the final law look like?

Joining us now from Thunder Bay is Bill Blair, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Health. Mr. Blair, by our count, your town hall in Thunder Bay this past week was your 23rd. What’s the feedback you’re getting form Canadians?

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Bill Blair: Actually, the feedback is excellent. In addition to the town halls, we also had meetings with some of the local law enforcement officials from the area with people from the school boards and also from Indigenous communities. And those conversations are also really important so that we help those communities be ready for the eventual implementation that will take place.

Eric Sorensen: But what would you say are Canadians main concerns, still?

Bill Blair: Well, you know that they want to know that there’s going to be an orderly implementation and so we shared some of the plans. There’s a lot of discussion about what the provincial response will be in how it will be distributed. But we’re starting to get a far better insight into the provincial plans as that information is rolling out. And people are talking a lot about the public education campaign and how important it is. And we’ve begun to roll that public education campaign out and so directing people to it so they can see the type of information that we’re making available to them, to parents, teachers, to doctors and particularly to kids, I think, is really important to Canadians.

Eric Sorensen: Last month, the Senate nearly defeated the cannabis bill. It’s likely to come forward at the very least with some proposed changes. What are you looking at that would make sense in the way of amendments or tweaks?

Bill Blair: Well, I think that the Senate has an opportunity to do some really important work and I know that there are four sub-committees and the main committee that will be reviewing this bill. And so we’re looking forward to the completion of that work and frankly, I would not speculate on what the outcome of that work might be. But we’re quite prepared to work with them and to deal with that as it unfolds.

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Eric Sorensen: But as you look at this, and now you’ve been getting all of this feedback, is there an area where you can identify and you’re saying we’re going to need to make a little bit of an adjustment here?

Bill Blair: Well, you know, I think as people become better informed about some of the plans the government has put in place, there’s been a lot of questions around packaging, advertising and promotion and we’ve now made that information available to Canadians so they have a better understanding of how that will unfold. Certainly we’ve been working very closely with the law enforcement community and they had concerns about access to training and resources and technology, but we’ve been able to answer those questions and we’re working very closely with them. And I’m finding a greater level of confidence among my former colleagues in law enforcement that they’ll be ready to begin to make improvements. And I think everybody’s coming to a realization, this is not an event. It’s a process.

Eric Sorensen: As a former police chief, what’s your main concern for law enforcement? There are certainly concerns being raised about how to test for impairment.

Bill Blair: And we’re making sure that the police have the training to detect. We have standardized field sobriety testing, for the drug recognition experts, that they have access to new technologies and new authorities so that they can keep our roadways safe. And we’re giving the police exactly what they’ve been asking for, for nearly a decade. And we’ve worked for the last two and a half years very closely with them and the bills reflect their input. And I’m very confident that they’re working very, very diligently to make sure that they’re ready. And we’ve been able to assure them that all of the laws and the tools that they currently have to fight organized crime are retained in this new bill, but they now have new tools and new resources that they’ll be able to bring to bear.

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Eric Sorensen: Obviously, you want under age young people not to get access to this and yet they’re the ones who’ve been saying it’s easier to get dope than booze. But it’s still going to be easy to plant marijuana seeds than to manufacture alcohol.

Bill Blair: Well, you know that one of the things we’re doing is we’ve been working with the provinces and territories and in virtually every province and territory in this country there will be regulations prohibiting the purchase, possession and consumption of cannabis for people under the age of majority. And so those are far more effective regulatory tools that’ll be available to law enforcement to enforce that prohibition.

Eric Sorensen: So provinces are already building in profits and costs into their budgeting. Can you give us a timeline now, at least a ballpark, since July 1st seems to be off the table?

Bill Blair: Well July 1st was never on the table, that’s Canada Day. But we were aiming to get this done by July of 2018. Again, we have great respect for the parliamentary processes that are underway currently in the Senate and when they’ve completed their work and the bill comes back to the House, when it achieves royal ascent, we’ve also in discussions with the provinces, territories, with distributors and with the producers, recognize that we need about 8-12 weeks to manage an orderly implementation post royal ascent. And the so the regulations will be ready. We’ll be ready to go, but when that royal ascent takes place, we’ve got some work to do for an orderly roll out, an implementation right across the country. And so I think Canadians can anticipate within that two month window of royal ascent the Government of Canada will establish and announce a date of implementation.

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Eric Sorensen: What happens to those businesses that are licensed to sell pot right now? Will they be put out of business?

Bill Blair: Well, first of all, there are licensed producers that currently they’re only licensed to produce for a medical marijuana market and those licenses will be reviewed and expanded to include the non-medical market. And we’ve got about 98 of those licenses that have currently been approved and there are several hundred more in the que and ready to go. The only legal cannabis that’s available today in Canada is that which is obtained through a licensed producer, through their mail order system. With the implementation of the new regulations, the provinces are establishing their own regulated distribution networks and the cannabis will go from the licensed producer to the provincial regulatory body, and from the regulatory body, to the distribution systems that the provinces have established.

Eric Sorensen: Are there any concerns about celebrity endorsers? You know, they’re not supposed to endorse, but when you have names like Snoop Dog or Gene Simmons, hearing them perhaps getting involved in this in a business venture, what’s your concern?

Bill Blair: Well, and I’ll tell you, the law is explicit and clear that celebrity endorsement, lifestyle advertising is not allowed with cannabis. We’ve brought in regulations that place responsible and strict conditions on all advertising packaging and labelling in order to make sure that this is not attractive to young people, for example. And certainly, I want to be really clear, it’s not the government’s intention to promote the use of this drug.

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Eric Sorensen: Bill Blair, thank you very much for talking to us, today.

Bill Blair: Thank you, Eric.

Eric Sorensen: And that is our show for today. We’re always eager to hear from you. You can find us online at, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. You can find our extended interviews with Thomas Freedman and Bill Blair on our website, or podcast on Apple iTunes or Google Play. Thanks for joining us. I’m Eric Sorensen. We’ll see you next week.

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