June 24, 2018 1:11 pm
Updated: June 24, 2018 4:44 pm

The West Block, Season 7, Episode 42

Watch the full broadcast of The West Block from Sunday, June 24, 2018, hosted by Eric Sorensen.

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THE WEST BLOCK
Episode 42, Season 7
Sunday, June 24, 2018

Host: Eric Sorensen

Guest Interviews: Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor, Christopher Sands,
Tonda MacCharles, Josh Wingrove

Location: Ottawa

On this Sunday, ready or not, ready for pot. A big election promise delivered. Now comes the impact on Canadian society: Big questions on testing, growing, selling and buying. We’ll talk to the federal health minister.

Story continues below

Then, Canadian tariffs to counter American tariffs start next week. What happens next as Canada-U.S. relations take another hit? We get an American perspective.

And, MPs have gone home for the summer. We’ll look back and we’ll look ahead.

It’s Sunday, June the 24th. I’m Eric Sorensen, and this is The West Block.

Well, October 17th, the day Canadians start smoking up recreationally and legally. Provinces, police, health services, vendors all have four and a half months to get the rules and procedures in place, and you have four and a half months to well, learn how to grow your own or maybe practice inhaling. Or will you wait for something edible? It’s a big change.

Joining us now from Moncton is federal health minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor. Minister, thank you for joining us. For all of our lives, we’ve been told to keep away from dope, even be afraid of it. And now that’s all being lifted. As a health minister, what’s your chief concern about this change that’s happening?

Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor: Well, I think we have to take a few steps back here, and when we look at the implementation of Bill C-45, this is certainly not something that has been done overnight. There’s been a lot of thought and a lot of consultation and research that’s been in this area. We recognize that in Canada we have amongst the highest rate of cannabis use amongst our youth in this country, and that is why that we are moving forward as truly we want to protect our youth, that’s why they’re moving forward with strict regulations and also to make sure that there is set ages that are set here as well. So moving forward, we’ve made it very clear that the number one priority is to protect the youth and to make sure that they have restricted access to cannabis and also that the cannabis is regulated. So we feel that it’s a good step moving forward.

Eric Sorensen: And, I understand that the idea to legalize it, to protect kids and to protect communities, but it’s not like you’re unleashing carrots all over the country. This is a drug that impairs judgement and physical dexterity and all kinds of things. So do you have a concern because there just has to be an unknown about this when suddenly it’s legal everywhere?

Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor: My number one priority, as health minister for Canada, is absolutely the health and safety of all Canadians and we certainly in no way are encouraging anyone to consume cannabis. But as I’ve indicated earlier, we recognize that there’s a high rate of cannabis use in this country and that’s why that we are moving forward with lifting the restrictions. But with that being said, we also recognize that we’ve learnt from our friends in the States and in other countries that have gone through legalization and one thing that we are absolutely doing before we get out of the gate with this is making significant investments in the area of public education and awareness because we certainly want to make sure that youth and Canadians are aware of the risks associated to cannabis use.

So within Budget 2018, we’ve invested a total of $108 million when it comes to public education and awareness and that work has started even last year. And moving forward, we are going to continue with those campaigns.

The other thing as well that I also have to add, we’ve partnered with many organizations that do public education and awareness when it comes to the area of substance use or misuse. And with the partnerships that we’ve made there as well and providing them with some financial aid, they are also doing much work in the area of public education and awareness.

And furthermore, provinces and territories as well, I have to say have made some investments in that area. I know, for example, the province of New Brunswick has rolled out their campaign a few weeks ago. So we’re going to be seeing more of this information because we certainly want to recognize or we want to make sure that Canadians recognize the risks and the harms that are associated to cannabis use.

Eric Sorensen: There’ll be a lot of interaction that will be new for many Canadians, or at least interaction with dope that maybe they haven’t had in 40 or 50 years. Some will be growing it at home and yet there will be a legal battle over that. I don’t want to get into that right now, but what is your sense of how much will be grown at home and how people will understand whether it’s too toxic or it’s too much impact on them?

Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor: Well, I think we have to recognize with Bill C-45 or the cannabis legislation, we’ve certainly wanted to make sure that we permit it to Canadians to have the opportunity if they so choose to grown plants at home, that they would be able to do so, a maximum of four plants. But with that being said, provinces and territories may change that amount to even one plant, if they so choose. So those are the types of things, the flexibilities that we’ve allowed provinces and territories to make those decisions on. What we see in the States, we haven’t seen—when we look at the numbers there, there’s not a huge amount of people that have grown cannabis at home. But I think we also have to look at people who make wine at home or beer at home. Some people will choose to do that, but the huge amount of Canadians, I believe, will want to go to a legal market in order to get the cannabis that they so choose that they want to purchase. So we don’t see that there’s going to be a huge uptake let’s say, for people growing at home, but we also want to make sure that we have a law that’s consistent for all provinces and territories. And also we have to recognize that for the rollout of our cannabis legislation, I often times say this is not an event, it’s a process. And we certainly recognize that many provinces and territories will not have all of their stores up and running, come October 17th. So we also recognize for the issue of accessibility, we want to make sure that Canadians will have that option that they would be able to legally grown cannabis in their home if they so choose. And again, I have to say, I truly believe. I’m confident that Canadians, if they so choose to do it, they will do so safely and responsibly just as they do when they make wine or beer, or even grown tobacco.

Eric Sorensen: What’s your caution to Canadians who if they are going to try this, they want to use it legally, but they’re also wanting to drive legally and it may not be as clear just how much you get in your system, at what point you’re impaired, if there are proper and really accurate tests for testing the amount in a person’s system. What’s your sort of advice to Canadians on that?

Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor: Impairment is impairment. And I can say that my advice to Canadians, if they’re legal adults, that choose that they want to consume cannabis, don’t drive. That is the very simple message there. We recognize that there is impaired driving as a result of cannabis that happens now on our streets and our police officers need to be equipped and are equipped in order to effectively deal with that. But my very simple message to Canadians, you know if you’re impaired, or if you consume cannabis, in no way should they drive.

Eric Sorensen: I asked a young person, I said what are you looking for in this? Because they, of course, have been exposed to it more recently and the next question was what’s the price difference going to be between what they’re paying now getting illegally and what they’ll get in the future? Very quickly—

Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor: Well we certainly recognize that if we want to displace the black market, and that’s the other part of the objective of this legislation is 1) keeping our kids safe and making sure that they don’t have access to it if they’re under age and making sure that they have access to a regulated product. But the other thing as well, we want to displace the black market. And once again, if we look at our cousins in the States, we’ve seen that they’ve really been able to displace a significant amount of that black market. But to do so, we have to make sure that the price is competitive. So with respect to that, it’s going to be, you know, and from jurisdictions to jurisdictions there’s going to be perhaps a bit of a difference, but we certainly want to make sure that that price consistency is going to be very consistent with what’s available now on the streets.

Eric Sorensen: Well it’s a pretty big change for society. I hope it’s not a role of the dice. Thank you Minister Petitpas Taylor for joining us today.

Up next: the tariff tiff between Canada and the U.S. What does this mean for NAFTA and relations between our two countries?

[Break]

Eric Sorensen: Welcome back. U.S. President Donald Trump suggests Canada’s prime minister is weak and that Canadians are smugglers. Clearly playing nice but not giving in is getting on the nerves of the U.S. president. A war of words has escalated to a war of real consequences, tariffs both ways, and NAFTA hangs in the balance. What does the prime minister make of Donald Trump getting testy and turning on us?

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “Not in a position to opine on motivations of the president. I’m going to stay focused on the relationship that we’re building, on defending Canada’s interests, on looking for ways to further push the benefits of improving and modernizing NAFTA.”

Eric Sorensen: Answering carefully. In other words, let’s not make things worse.

Joining us now, Christopher Sands, Director of the Centre for Canadian Studies at Johns Hopkins University in Washington. Chris, thanks or joining us. You and I have talked about Canada-U.S. relations for years. It seems to me the relationship is really as low as I can ever remember it. What’s the view from your side of the border?

Christopher Sands: I think here it’s also seen the same way. We’ve never seen this kind of rhetoric. Certainly, if you go back you can sort of look through the history books and see that John Diefenbaker and Kennedy didn’t get along. We know that there was the famous after the Temple University speech; Lester Pearson was read the riot act by Lyndon Johnson. We know that Nixon and Trudeau, the father, didn’t get along. But all that we know from historians, stuff that was essentially kept from public view, now we have a spat which seems to be played out for the cameras or at least for Twitter in real time. So we’ve never seen that breach of protocol, that breach of respect in public like this before.

Eric Sorensen: Trump’s mindset seems to be you have more to lose than we do. What’s your advice to the Canadians on how to deal with that?

Christopher Sands: Well, in a way it’s true because the U.S. is less dependent on the Canadian economy than Canada is on the U.S. economy. At the same time, though, what is Trump really trying to get? So much of the Canadian economy is open to U.S. trade now. Yes, he’s raised Canada’s dairy supplement management as an issue, but the total value of that for U.S. dairy is marginal. We’re risking the entire $2 billion dollar a day trade relationship over what is relatively small stakes, and I think that’s what strikes so many people in Washington as quite reckless about the Trump administrations trade policy. There’s no sense of proportion that what we’re threatening is worth what we stand to gain even if Canada buckles under and gives us everything we can dream of.

Eric Sorensen: And what is the best way, do you think, to get Donald Trump to understand that? Like will the counter tariffs help, you know, from the EU and Canada and all the rest of it that—like does it have to come from within the U.S. to get that pressure moving up and saying look, stop this?

Christopher Sands: Well, I think Canada had to be, like the Europeans and the Japanese and really all the U.S. trading partners, they had to be part of the trade response. They had to take retaliatory measures. But I don’t think anyone’s convinced that that by itself is going to move the U.S. public. What it might do, however, is reinforce Canada’s message with Congress and with some of the state governors that there’s a tremendous amount that U.S. firms stand to lose if there’s a disconnect with Canada.

Eric Sorensen: Chris, is there anything that lies ahead? The Mexican election’s in the next week or so. Or the mid-term elections in the U.S., it could change the equation of how this is working between Canada and the U.S.

Christopher Sands: Well I think both of them could be important. The Mexican election could bring a real change in the Mexican negotiating strategy and it could favour one of Donald Trump’s frequent threats which is to split the talk, say do a U.S. bilateral with Mexico with the new president and then suspend talks with Canada and come back to them next year. It’s something we’re all worried about, but it works so well for Donald Trump’s agenda because you get only American content can go everywhere in North America. That combined with the tax reform, it’s a very America first situation and NAFTA’s dead because you have two bilaterals that have taken its place.

Eric Sorensen: And it puts, I guess, pressure on the Trudeau government heading into the election next year. I mean that could have an impact, I guess on our election timing?

Christopher Sands: Absolutely. Well, you know, the election’s expected in October of 2019 but if the prime minister feels that we’re in a crisis in Canada-U.S. relations and that everything’s at stake from the auto industry in Ontario to energy in the west and everything in between, I think he might well say he needs a strong mandate to be able to deal with Trump as Trump, an unparalleled threat to the Canada-U.S. relationship. And on those terms, he might well be able to be returned with a majority.

Eric Sorensen: So in the last 20 seconds here, how do you think it’s going to play out?

Christopher Sands: Well, I think in the near term, they’re hoping to revive talks after the fourth of July break and see where they stand based on how the Mexican election came out. I do think there’s a real risk that we’re going to split the talks, but if the three sides can come together and actually see some progress, everyone now realizes the stakes are so high with the trade war in China just over the horizon. A deal is not impossible even now.

Eric Sorensen: Well it’s some big news yet to be made on this file. Chris Sands, thank you very much.

And, up next: now that pot is passed, what’s next on the Liberal agenda, and for the Conservatives and the NDP? We’ll unpack the politics.

[Break]

Minister Charlie Angus: “For me it was getting such cross-party support on the call for the people apology for residential schools, the willingness of people to work across party lines and that to me was a really powerful moment.”

Minister Lisa Raitt: “I think it’s going to be the pushback that we gave the government on the small business tax changes that they made, and it was something I think we can be proud of because we pushback hard and we brought them from a situation where they said that people were tax cheats to agreeing the fact that these changes were too much.”

Minister Scott Simms: “We thought that we were able to make some progress on changing the rules of the House for members of Parliament, for members of cabinet and everybody in the House. Unfortunately, we could not get that done. And I think that the House of Commons of Canada needs to be modernized and I think we missed out on a golden opportunity.”

Minister Pierre Poilievre: “And I introduced you to a bill that would have changed our disability assistance programs in Canada so that people who have disabilities can get jobs and earn income without having it all clawed back and taxed away. And it was good to see a lot of parties rally around the proposal, but I was frustrated to see the government vote it down.”

Minister Rachel Blaney: “You know, one of the interesting parts about being a Member of Parliament is you do all the important work here for sure, but it’s also about the important work that you do in your riding. And I think for me, really one of the challenges was accessing services for Canadians.”

Eric Sorensen: Reflections from several MPs on their accomplishments and challenges the last few months. They’ve all left Ottawa for the summer, but with lots to think about.

Joining us now to unpack where we are and where we’re going: Tonda MacCharles from the Toronto Star and Josh Wingrove of Bloomberg News. Thanks for being here.

Josh Wingrove: Thank you.

Eric Sorensen: I want to set the table. It feels like in the four year election cycle we’re at the end of the third quarter. Everybody’s resting for the summer before they come out for the fourth and final quarter, but you always want to know the score. What would you say—where are the parties standing now if an election were held right now?

Tonda MacCharles: Interesting analogy. I’d say not quite tied, but close. It’s a bit of a—it could go either way this game right now. I think a lot will depend on the next year, but the government’s had a really rough past quarter, let’s say. And, you know, Josh is the basketball guy, so, you know, you might have another analogy, but—

Eric Sorensen: And it’s a three team context.

Josh Wingrove: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. And our parliamentary basketball team is terrible. I want to be clear on that. You know, I think things are looking less daunting for the opposition than they did. PMs in Canada normally win a second term, a second mandate of some kind. But Trudeau’s facing some rough waters right now. And many polls are showing the Conservatives tied or ahead, but I think we shouldn’t get too ahead of ourselves. In the next year, we’re going to pivot more to looking at what the other parties want to do different than Justin Trudeau. And that’s sort of a core question heading into next year’s election, and neither has really identified that I think right now. I think they’re getting a boost because of just general malaise with government. That’s normal when three years into a mandate. But I think that both parties are going to have stake individual ground if they want to take this guy down. And in particular, I think that’ll be difficult for the NDP because the Liberals federally have done what viewers in Ontario will recognize happen provincially, which is move to the NDPs sort of traditional turf and try to claim those voters as well.

Eric Sorensen: Let’s talk a little bit first, about what they’ve done well, each of these parties, each of these leaders. Trudeau, I mean I guess you can say thank you to Donald Trump for the kind of wide public support there is for him at least on the Canada-U.S. relations side.

Tonda MacCharles: For now.

Eric Sorensen: Okay. And what has he done well then, would you say?

Tonda MacCharles: Overall—well look, I think certainly managing that relationship up until very recently, they have done well or as well as I think anybody could have. And they’ve gotten a couple of important bills through Parliament this year. A lot of attention’s been paid to the cannabis legalization bill. We’ll see what traps lie in the implementation of that down the road. But they’ve also passed a huge national security package which got very little attention. It’s going to the Senate now and it’ll get more attention there, I believe. But the big piece, the big challenge, I think, remains an economic challenge and tied to that because their fiscal hands are tied. They’ve run up a lot of deficit, that if auto tariffs, for example, are brought in and the government is forced to deal with a big hit to the auto industry, you know, that’s going to be a big challenge politically for them. A lot of jobs will be affected and I don’t think that they are kidding themselves. They got a little bit of a bump in the polls after the Trump-Trudeau exchange at the G7. Josh and I were there and yeah, there was a little bit of nationalistic pride that surged, but they know that if jobs start being tossed left, right and centre as a result of that relationship, they’re in trouble.

Eric Sorensen: Let me switch over to Andrew Scheer. I mean, you know, a lot of Canadians wouldn’t recognize him on the street and yet there he is in the polls, competitive, maybe even a little ahead of the Liberals. What’s he doing right?

Josh Wingrove: Well I think they’re capitalizing on a little bit of fatigue among voters of, you know, Trudeau’s push on things. I think that, you know when Kathleen Wynne lost the election—I actually didn’t hear a lot of angst Ottawa. I think that they felt that, you know, unpopular Liberal governments nationally are dragging down the Trudeau brand. I’m interested to see what affect Doug Ford will have. I’m not sure that it’s a sign that Doug Ford’s election happened—I don’t think that that’s necessarily a great omen for Andrew Scheer. Typically in Canada, we have an alternation. People like one party in provincial and the other part federally. So, we’ll see. But listen, Andrew Scheer has been trying to sort of take a sort of lunch pail type message, an accessible message. I think a lot of people have pointed out that he’s often rounding corners on facts pretty substantially to try to take a dig at the prime minister and that, you know, that’s politics. But I think in the next year, he’s going to have to stake out, like I said, more clearly defined positions. But, you know, right now he’s riding a wave of fatigue.

Tonda MacCharles: And they have not presented positions on some of the very big issues, the climate change, carbon tax, all they do is oppose. They actually haven’t put forward a plan, so that, I think, will become a challenge for them in the next year. Likewise, I don’t find that they’ve put forward a coherent position on NAFTA. They have, at times, condemned Trudeau’s handling of the issue like the steel and aluminum tariffs, calling it a failure for Trudeau. And yet, they’re prepared to say we should give them a sunset clause. WE should buy into ballistic missile defence just to get a deal. So I think that there are some challenges for Scheer as well and for him to take a position that seems to align with Canadian public opinion as has Rona Ambrose and James Moore, they seem to be espousing a more traditionally conservative approach to that issue than Andrew Scheer’s led party is.

Eric Sorensen: As we start to look ahead, what—first of all, let’s just do quickly, the NDP. What does Jagmeet Singh need to do because he just isn’t getting much traction?

Tonda MacCharles: Maybe get a seat in the House of Commons.

Eric Sorensen: Do you think? Yeah.

Tonda MacCharles: Yes.

Eric Sorensen: Do you think he’ll do that before the election?

Josh Wingrove: No.

Tonda MacCharles: No, I don’t. Do you?

Josh Wingrove: No, I don’t think he’ll do it. I don’t think there’s much to gain from him doing it.

Eric Sorensen: So are they just going to spin their wheels until the election?

Josh Wingrove: I think that the Justin Trudeau show, you don’t need to be in the House of Commons to make traction as party leader. I think that the NDP will have credibility if they can recruit good candidates. I think that’ll be difficult if their polling numbers are low. Justin Trudeau recruited great candidate’s last election at a time when he was leading in polls. Remember about roughly this time.

Eric Sorensen: Can the NDP get out of this what’s seeming kind of a bit of a rut they’re in right now?

Tonda MacCharles: I think that he’s had almost—what, almost a year to do just that and I don’t think actually he’s showing that he’s drawing any support anywhere. I think he would be well advised to change tack.

Josh Wingrove: They’re on their back foot, a lot.

Eric Sorensen: And not a lot of time, but for the Conservatives. What pivot do you think we’ll see from Andrew Scheer? What does he do now to, you know, consolidate any kind of gains that he’s made so far?

Josh Wingrove: Well, I think he flexed his muscle a little bit with Maxime Bernier, so he’s sort of now firmly in control of the party. It’s always growing pains when you win a close leadership. There are factions and you’re nervous about ticking people off too much. But I think we’re going to just try to see him put the focus squarely on Trudeau. I think their campaign clearly will be trying to make this election a referendum on Justin Trudeau and that is our best shot. We’re already seeing Trudeau’s strategy, try to make it about Harper. Make Andrew Scheer look like Harper 2.0.

Eric Sorensen: And what are you expecting to see from Trudeau?

Tonda MacCharles: From Trudeau, I think he’s going to really need to double down on the NAFTA and economic file. He needs to take seriously some of the concerns of Canadian business that are trying to make in light of the corporate tax cuts in the U.S. and the threat coming from the U.S., that he has to make steps to make Canada and Canadian business competitive. Even if he sets aside the U.S., he focuses on every—they have to cut every corner in everything they can to make sure Canadian businesses have some growth here and that other foreign investment has a place to invest here.

Eric Sorensen: Well, we’re hearing a new more confident tone from him. Maybe that’s part of the pivot that he’s already making, but—

Tonda MacCharles: Oh, he bought a pipeline. Maybe he’ll get that done, too. He should get that done.

Eric Sorensen: Tonda MacCharles, Josh Wingrove, thanks for joining us.

Josh Wingrove: Thank you.

Eric Sorensen: And that is our show for today, and for this season. Before we go, we want to thank and acknowledge the hard work of the crew and production team that puts this show together each week. They do a fantastic job.

I’m Eric Sorensen. Have a wonderful summer and do come back in September for a brand new season of The West Block.

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