May 6, 2018 11:06 am
Updated: May 6, 2018 9:41 pm

The West Block, Season 7, Episode 35

Watch the full broadcast of The West Block from Friday, May 6, 2018. Hosted by Eric Sorensen.

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THE WEST BLOCK
Episode 35, Season 7
Sunday, May 6, 2018

Host: Eric Sorensen

Guest Interviews: Ed Fast, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, Paul Evans, Ian Brodie

Location: Ottawa

On this Sunday, what is the cost of a cleaner environment? From carbon pricing to pipelines, who should the Liberals be listening to? Today, the Conservative Party and the Green Party will state their cases.

Story continues below

Then, peace is at hand on the Korean Peninsula, or is it? Can North Korea’s leader be trusted? Does President Trump deserve credit? And is there a role for this country to play?

And, a look inside the Harper years from someone who was there: a former chief of staff has learned some lessons from NAFTA to the limits of power in government.

It’s Sunday, May the 6th. I’m Eric Sorensen, and this is The West Block.

Well, the federal government is being buffeted from all sides over its climate policies, from pipelines to carbon pricing. Ottawa is intervening in the B.C. court case over pipeline jurisdiction, and Canadians will have to wait till the fall to learn about the costs to households of carbon pricing.

The Liberals are being hit from left and right over their policies. Joining us now from Vancouver is Conservative environment critic Ed Fast, and here in studio, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May.

I’ll start with you first, Mr. Fast. So the government is now saying that they will tell you and Canadians about the impacts of carbon pricing, but not till September. Regardless of whether you hear about it now or then, what is the impact going to be?

Ed Fast: Well the impact of a carbon tax is yet to be determined. For the last year, we have been asking the government and asking them time, and time and time again, what will be the cost of this carbon tax to the average Canadian family? There’s been no answer. They cannot even tell us by how much our greenhouse gas emissions will go down when a $50 per megaton price on carbon is in place in 2022. So we’re left without any information.

Eric Sorensen: What do you think will happen when you’ve discovered these numbers?

Ed Fast: I think what’s going to happen is life is going to become more expensive for Canadians. The Trudeau government has not yet realized that you cannot tax your way to a clean environment. You just can’t. When we look at B.C., which is where I am, you now that in B.C. we’ve had a carbon tax for nine, ten years, and we’ve had virtually no reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. And what has that tax done for British Columbians? Nothing.

Eric Sorensen: Alright, Elizabeth May, you probably want to tackle a couple of the points Ed made.

Minister Elizabeth May: Yeah, first of all, British Columbia’s carbon tax is one of the best designed and effective carbon taxes anywhere in the world. It stopped working when Christy Clark took Gordon Campbell. I mean, same party, right? Same political stripe, right wing B.C. government brought in a carbon tax that was very well designed and the feature about it that I think is really important is that it was revenue neutral, so whatever money was taken in, in carbon pricing, was reduced on the income tax side. So British Columbians were able to see that greenhouse gases were dropping and at the same time, we had more money in our pocketbook because we were paying for more at the pump. It reversed itself in a very nice way and leveled out at a wash. Then, Christy Clark came in and said we’re going to freeze it. We’re not going to keep raising it every year. The reason you raise a carbon tax over time is that when it’s working, which they do, your amount of carbon pollution that’s available to tax is shrinking. If you want to keep the taxation level the same, then you’re constantly raising it. So Sweden, which started a long time ahead of us, now, has a $200 a tonne carbon tax and their economy is thriving. The effective carbon taxes, and by the way, Greens prefer something called fee and dividend, where we actually mail a cheque back to every Canadian based on their fair share of shifting pollution from income to pollution. So you tax pollution more, you tax income less. But I agree with Ed, we should be able to tell what’s it going to cost? How well is it going to work? In fairness to the Liberals, a lot of that answer depends on what the provinces do. And province by province there are different methods being used and if a province is prepared to put a price on carbon, they have the autonomy under the Liberal plan. To do so, the Liberals have a backstop. So it’s in legislation right now, if a province says no way, we’re not taxing carbon, then the Liberals will put in place at the federal level, a carbon price, and the money will be returned to the province. So what if the province doesn’t give it back to the public? You know it’s very hard to know how it’s going to affect each individual household till we know what each province is doing.

Eric Sorensen: Ed, you jump in there.

Ed Fast: Fair. The federal government actually has this information. They know what the impact on the average Canadian family will be. How do we know that? We did an access to information request. We got back a document that clearly anticipated that they had that answer, but then when we got to the actual part that was giving the answer what would be the impact on the average Canadian family. It was blacked out, redacted. So this is about a carbon tax cover-up by the federal government. They’re not coming clean on this. At committee, they won’t tell us. In the House of Commons, they won’t tell us. And that should really concern all Canadians because now we’re moving ahead with budget deliberations and a budget vote is looming. And in that budget, the government is imposing the carbon tax backstop and we have no information as to what the impact on Canadians will be or what the impact on our environment will be.

Minister Elizabeth May: Now really what they should do—and here’s where I agree with Ed—I don’t see there’s any reason to ever redact documents that the public has a right to see. What I know about the timing of the document where they blacked things out is that the information in that document is outdated. They probably want to make sure they have the up to date figures and share those. But I think people are smart and if you say okay, this was the snapshot of what a carbon tax was going to look like when it was being modelled under a different scheme, where each province wasn’t taking its own action. You have to figure that out and right now we don’t know. If Doug Ford is elected in Ontario, then the way the carbon tax affects the average Ontario family now under an Ontario and Quebec, with California they have a carbon market system that works very differently than the B.C. plan. So figuring out what it means for each household depends, and I really believe it’s important, to keep it at a wash. Whatever money you take in from carbon pollution, you give back to individual Canadians so there is no impact at all. And that’s a well-designed plan. That’s the one we have in B.C. But you can’t guess it right now.

Ed Fast: But that’s not happening. Right now, carbon taxes across Canada, whether it’s cap and trade in Ontario and Quebec, or you look at the carbon tax in B.C., none of those revenues are going back to taxpayers. In fact, when the NDP government came in—

Minister Elizabeth May: Yes, they have been. They have been.

Ed Fast: In British Columbia—

Minister Elizabeth May: They have been, very definitely.

Ed Fast: They have been and they aren’t anymore. And my point is this, as governments come and go, as governments change, eventually these kinds of taxes become cash grabs. Canadians understand that. This is just more money for governments to spend on their own political priorities—

Minister Elizabeth May: But you can’t—

Ed Fast: That’s what happened now in British Columbia.

Minister Elizabeth May: Ed, I think you’re a guy who believes in free markets. We’re putting a price on carbon to correct for a market failure. Because it’s wrong in an economy where you’ve got prices on production, prices on labour, there’s no price for dumping atmospheric pollution that threatens our kids’ future. You price it, but that’s just the floor of measures you need to take.

Eric Sorensen: I want to get a thought in from you both before we run out of time on the Trans Mountain pipeline project. Ed, maybe just take your 20 seconds here as to why that project should go through to get, in a sense, the Canadian economy, I guess, running on all cylinders until the pivot can be made to have a greener country.

Ed Fast: Millions and millions of Canadian jobs depend on our resource sector. We have to get our resources, including oil and gas to markets beyond North America so we can get the maximum dollar for them. If we don’t, we’re cheating Canadians. This pipeline, Trans Mountain pipeline is in the national interest and it’s going to drive economic prosperity. It can be done in a way that is environmentally responsible.

Eric Sorensen: Elizabeth May, you’ve got 15 seconds.

Minister Elizabeth May: Okay. One, Trans Mountain pipeline is all about shipping bitumen out of Canada. Bitumen is a product that we should be refining in Canada. At its height, the oil sands represented less than 2 per cent of Canada’s GDP. Canada’s economy is not dependent on oil sands. We are dependent on getting good jobs for Canadians in industries that make sense and shipping bitumen to other countries will both not get a better price and increase pollution risks for British Columbians and drive up greenhouse gases it’s not on.

Eric Sorensen: Ed Fast in Burnaby and Elizabeth May here in studio, thank you very much.

Ed Fast: You’re very welcome.

Minister Elizabeth May: Thank you.

Eric Sorensen: Up next: as North and South Korea reach a deal to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula, is there a role for Canada to keep peace in the region?

[Break]

Eric Sorensen: Welcome back. North and South Korea have agreed all nuclear weapons should be removed from the Korean Peninsula. You’ve seen the remarkable pictures: two adversaries shaking hands across the Korean divide. Is it a lasting peace that is truly possible?

Joining us from Vancouver is Paul Evans, School of Public Policy and Global Affairs at the University of British Columbia. Paul, you’re a long-time expert in this. Are you stunned by what you’ve been witnessing over the last few weeks and then do you think it’s real?

Paul Evans: Well Eric, it’s a high-risk, high-profile, high-drama rollercoaster ride that has entered a whole new phase in the last year, but particularly in the last month. There’s an enormous emotional momentum built up around this now and it appears that at least there’s the prospects of some significant diplomacy, some real discussions that have come out of the meeting of the north and the south that are going to spill over into the U.S.-North Korea discussions. It’s a time of talking and that’s a welcome sign in this rollercoaster ride.

Eric Sorensen: Can Kim Jon-un be trusted, do you think?

Paul Evans: Well, it’s hard to know who can be trusted in the tangle in northeast Asia. The North Koreans have probably trust most the Chinese, but even there there’s limits. They find Donald Trump fascinating and dangerous, but don’t trust him. They may be able to build some trust with South Korea. And that’s the game that’s underway that where the emotions get into this issue as well as the calculation of national interests.

Eric Sorensen: We’re certainly seeing the reaction out of South Korea, out of the United States. Hard to read what’s happening in North Korea. I wonder what your thoughts are about the North Korean military. They have only known one mindset for the last 60 years. Will they stand down for this?

Paul Evans: Well I think one of the things that the leader, Kim, has done is basically take control of the military. And while the image, what is in the minds of that North Korean military leadership is not altogether clear. But I think at this moment, there’s every sign that he has control. There are many photos of him with the military leadership and they’re smiling and looking at him. So far, he looks confident, like a man in command. And that was really clear when he was in China. So, in general terms, I think the calculation is people can and must deal with the leader, who probably is in control of factions in his own country.

Eric Sorensen: For a long time, experts seem to believe that the world would have to get accustomed and accept a nuclearized North Korea. Do you think we’re still headed in that direction? Or will there be some kind of a mix of expectations on this question?

Paul Evans: Well, it’s really unclear what a denuclearized North Korea or Korean Peninsula is going to look like. There’s going to be a lot of discussion around that in the months to come. But I think that what has changed is the willingness by all sides, to pretend that a denuclearized Korean Peninsula is achievable. When we get into the short strokes of negotiation on verification on what kinds of confidence building measures will be put in place, there’s going to be enormous complications, as we’ve seen with the United States deal with Iran. So in this one, is it an illusion? It’s not an illusion that—it’s like, a mirage, might be the best way to put it, out there that everyone sees at this moment. They see it slightly differently, but they’re going to try to walk in that direction as far as possible.

Eric Sorensen: Everybody sees the same mirage. Let me ask you about President Trump. Does he deserve credit for this?

Paul Evans: Well, I don’t think he deserves credit because of a complex ingenious strategy to move the North Koreans, but the Americans do deserve credit for partly ramping up the sanctions that are part of the reason the North Koreans are at the table, but also because they have been able to find a way to paper over their differences with the South Korean president. I think, Eric that the real game here, has changed. The dynamism now is what is coming out of North Korea, South Korea and China, and that Mr. Trump now is playing a little bit of catch up. But American diplomacy has been able to finally get into the ring where that conversation, that real discussion with the other three big players is underway. And so for that they deserve credit, but not for being the single factor that has led us in the direction of a peace process.

Eric Sorensen: Canada has been very disconnected from North Korea for some period of time. Is there now an opportunity for us either diplomatically or economically to reengage?

Paul Evans: Well, curiously, the one thing we’re doing right now is sending one of our airplanes, which just arrived in Okinawa as part of a monitoring mission of the smuggling that goes into North Korea. So for the first time in a long time, we have actually a military asset engaged. But I think the bigger question, is if the clouds part a little bit more, more sunshine comes in, what can Canada do? And I think some of that is going to be building on the humanitarian assistance and the educational connections we have with North Korea. Ultimately, the solution to the challenge of the peninsula is integrating North Korea into the international system. And in past years, in many countries, and 20 years ago with North Korea, Canada tried to play that role. If our government is interested and can show the independence of mind, there’s a possibility we can prepare for that role now, recognizing the moment is not quite right yet, but may be just over the horizon.

Eric Sorensen: Paul Evans of UBC, thank you for joining us today.

Paul Evans: A real pleasure being with you.

Eric Sorensen: Up next: lessons learned from a former chief of staff to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and NAFTA-gate.

[Break]

Eric Sorensen: Welcome back. As the contentious NAFTA negotiations resume tomorrow in Washington, what happens when an international trade deal becomes a political bombshell?

Joining us now is former Stephen Harper chief of staff, Ian Brodie. His new book is At the Centre of Government: The Prime Minister and the Limits of Political Power. Ian thanks for joining us. So, I’m just going to start with the so-called NAFTA-gate because the chief of staff never wants to be the story, but you were in there for a bit. In a nutshell, you had a conversation with a reporter. At some time later, information was leaked, not by you, but candidate Barack Obama was reassuring Canadian officials that all his rhetoric about NAFTA was really just that, political rhetoric. But getting that out created a cross-border dustup. What are your regrets about that incident?

Ian Brodie: Well look, Eric, good to talk to you. I tucked this in to the end of the book because it comes at the end of my time in government. At the time, remember that Senator Obama and Senator Clinton were battling for the Democratic nomination. They were both casting great aspersions on NAFTA, which had become a bit of a political tradition in the United States. But both of their campaign teams sort of assuring people off to the side or reassuring people off to the side that this was just campaign rhetoric. Don’t worry about it. We’re not going to blow up the North American free trade space. And my name got attached to this as somebody leaked it in the U.S. in order to try and—I assume—try and move the results of the Ohio primary in one direction or another. When it became public in Canada, of course, I was criticized for trying to sway a U.S. election. I’d spent my whole time in politics trying to downplay disputes in the Canada-U.S. relationship. But forward 10 years now, I think we can see that over the course of more than a decade, almost since the signing of NAFTA now, both the Canadians and Mexicans have been quite tolerant as American politicians have lambasted NAFTA on the campaign trail and then governed differently. And only until Trump comes along and finds that because of all of the past efforts, he really has to make an effort to try and show that he’s going to beat up on the NAFTA agreement and call it the worst trade agreement in history and so forth. Now we see that the cost of that, 20 years of tolerating these attacks on the agreement in the United States and how it’s paid off.

Eric Sorensen: Your book, At the Centre of Government: The Prime Minister and the Limits on Political Power, I think the conventional wisdom, here in Ottawa anyway, is that when you have a majority government, you have an effective dictatorship. How do you see it differently from that?

Ian Brodie: Yeah, I think we’ve had this ideal now for at least 20 years, that Parliament is dead. That even within cabinet, power has been centralized around the prime minister and a few of his closest ministers or political aids. And certainly before I got into politics, I was an academic before I went to work for Mr. Harper, these were the sorts of academic theories that I accepted as well. My book is an effort to try to paint that picture with different colours, that trying to run the Government of Canada is itself a complicated task, that Parliament matters a great deal more than we give it credit for in the standard story, that even a government with a majority in the House of Commons has to be careful about how it manages parliamentary business, and that that puts real restrictions on what a prime minister can do, even with a substantial majority government as Mr. Harper ended up with.

Eric Sorensen: And yet by the end of his terms, critics would say he was wielding too much power, whether it was omnibus bills or messaging that was muzzling any other sort of message, except that what came out of the centre. Is that what happens? Prime ministers simply try to find all the levers they can to have that power?

Ian Brodie: Yes, because politics is political, it’s partisan, it’s a competition between political parties. Mr. Harper played that game as well as anyone in Canadian politics, better than I think many of the practitioners of the area played. Mr. Trudeau does the same thing. Politics is a tough group sport, but the idea that there’s just a prime minister can come up with some legislation and have it passed immediately through the House of Commons if he wants to with a majority, I just don’t think that’s true. I don’t think that’s ever been true and the book tries to put the other side on that. During Mr. Harper’s time in office, there was a flowering of private members legislation by both Conservative and Opposition MPs. More private members bills passed during his time in office than ever before. A flourishing of parliamentary opposition to the government, which is fair game as well. I think the idea that somehow parliament’s golden age was in the past is wrong. I think that the parliament’s golden age has been over the last 10 years and we continue to live through it, today.

Eric Sorensen: Anything from a Prime Minister’s Office perspective of learning things the hard way that you saw then that maybe you’re seeing even now in the Justin Trudeau Prime Minister’s Office?

Ian Brodie: Look, your biggest enemy in politics is time because you’ve got—if you have a majority government—four years between elections or thereabouts. The day that you’re elected, it looks like you’re going to have time forever if you win a majority. When I was chief of staff, we had a minority government so we had to begin to produce results as a government and to show that publicly almost the day that we got elected. We were cognizant of that every day that we were in office when I was there because we didn’t know if we were going to have to go to the polls the next day. You get a majority government and you think I’ve got four years to do all sorts of things, so we’ll start with two years of consultations and see how things go, and we’ll try to calm the waters for the first two years. Actually trying to get something done through the system in Ottawa is quite difficult. Four years moves quickly, and I think what we see now is two years of Mr. Trudeau’s government with lots of consultations, now difficult decisions have to be made and they’re already starting to think ahead to the next federal election. In a sense, time has run out on them.

Eric Sorensen: Alright, well look, you have some behind the scenes insights in your book, At the Centre of Government: The Prime Minister and the Limits of Power. Thank you for joining us and talking to us about it today.

Ian Brodie: Thanks for having me, Eric.

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

As we leave you this week, we want to send out our condolences to the friends and family of Ontario Conservative MP Gord Brown. Mr. Brown passed away last Wednesday in his Parliament Hill office. He had been a Member of Parliament since 2004, and was an active hockey player here on the Hill.

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