September 30, 2018 11:58 am

The West Block, Episode 4, Season 8

Watch the full broadcast of The West Block from Friday, September 28, 2018 with Mercedes Stephenson.

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THE WEST BLOCK

Episode 4, Season 8

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Host: Mercedes Stephenson

Guest Interviews: Minister Marc Garneau, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer,

Progressive Conservative Leader Blaine Higgs

Location: Ottawa

Story continues below

On this Sunday: no deal. Today is the self-imposed deadline for NAFTA negotiators to have a final text to Congress, but Canada has not signed on. The U.S. and Mexico have an agreement. What does this mean for the future of NAFTA?

Then, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer says if he were the prime minister, NAFTA would be a done deal. What would he do differently?

And who is the premier of New Brunswick? A close election has political leaders battling it out to form the next government. We’ll talk to the P.C. leader who says he should be the premier.

It’s Sunday, September 30th. This is The West Block, and I’m Mercedes Stephenson.

Today is the deadline for NAFTA negotiators to have the full text of an agreement to the U.S. Congress for ratification before December 1st. Mexico and the U.S. have a deal, but Canada has not signed on because America wants Canada to dump dairy protections and Canada is demanding a dispute settlement mechanism. If Congress passes a bilateral deal with Mexico, what does this mean for NAFTA? Here is what the prime minister and President Donald Trump had to say about that last week:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “We will keep working on a broad range of alternatives, a broad range of paths are ahead of us. We are very much looking in a positive, constructive way to getting to a renewed NAFTA that will be a trilateral agreement between Canada, Mexico and the United States.”

President Donald Trump: “We’re very unhappy with the negotiations and the negotiating style of Canada. We don’t like their representative [Chrystia Freeland] very much. If Canada doesn’t make a deal with us, we’re going to make a much better deal. We’re going to tax the cars that come in. We will put billions and billions of dollars into our Treasury.”

Mercedes Stephenson: Joining me now is Transportation Minister Marc Garneau, chair of the cabinet committee on Canada-U.S. relations. Minister, today is the deadline for NAFTA and you still have no deal. Why not?

Minister Marc Garneau: We’re not working towards a deadline. We’re working towards a deal that is good for Canada. We have said that from the beginning. We’ve been very constructive in these negotiations and we’re going to continue to do so. And we believe that there is the potential to have a win-win-win for all three countries of the NAFTA.

Mercedes Stephenson: But at some point, don’t you or your government run into a deadline?

Minister Marc Garneau: We have always said right from the beginning that we wanted to have a deal. But not any deal, it has to be a deal that is good for Canada and we are negotiating that deal. That is the number one priority that we end up with a deal that is good for Canada and hopefully for the other two countries.

Mercedes Stephenson: Now, I know that the government likes to say we’re only going to accept a good deal. We’d rather have no deal than a good deal, but how would be a situation where there are millions in tariffs, where you’re looking at potentially losing thousands of jobs and market access to the U.S. How is that preferable to a deal where it’s not an ideal situation for you?

Minister Marc Garneau: Look, we know each other’s positions. We know the things that matter to Canada. We will make that very clear to the United States. They know our position and we will stick to those positions, because they are important for our country. This is in the nature of negotiations. The easy parts get done at first. And in the end, you have to work out the more difficult parts. We know exactly what is important for Canada and we’re going to continue to negotiation so that we hold onto a good deal for Canada.

Mercedes Stephenson: But are you willing to keep dairy protection and the dispute settlement mechanism to keep pushing for that at the risk of tariffs, which economists say would put the Canadian economy into a significant recession all across this country?

Minister Marc Garneau: We’re conscious of all the factors that play into this, but at the end of the day, Canadians want us to come up with a deal that is good for Canada. And there are a lot of things that have to be negotiated and have to be discussed and agreements arrived at, and we’re very conscious of all that. And we have from the beginning, made constructive proposals to find a deal that works out for all three countries and we will continue to do so because for us, it has to be a good deal for Canadians and that is our main driver in these negotiations.

Mercedes Stephenson: But Minister, with all due respect, you’re not answering the question of whether you’re willing to take the risk of tariffs here because no deal risks tariffs and that risks a national recession.

Minister Marc Garneau: And what I’m telling you is that what we end up with has to be a good deal that covers everything and that’s the position that we’ve taken from the beginning. And that’s what we’re going to do right up until we negotiate a successful agreement—

Mercedes Stephenson: So does that mean that you’re willing to take the risk of auto tariffs?

Minister Marc Garneau: And that covers everything. You have to look at the whole picture and that is what we’ve done from the beginning. And that’s what we’re going to continue to do because there are a lot of interests at play here and we are looking at all of those so that we end up with something that is good for Canada.

Mercedes Stephenson: But are you willing to risk auto tariffs, which I think all economists will tell you, would not be good for Canada?

Minister Marc Garneau: I’m not going to negotiate in front of the camera here. We have an excellent team of negotiators. They are negotiating this deal in the interests of Canada and Canadians support our approach to negotiations with the United States.

Mercedes Stephenson: But will Canadians still support you if you don’t get a deal and Mexico and the U.S. move ahead with their own, which is what both Mexico and the United States have said they’ll do?

Minister Marc Garneau: Canadians have told us that they want us to negotiate a good deal for Canada and that’s precisely what we’ve been doing from the beginning.

Mercedes Stephenson: Well, Minister, I want to switch gears a little bit and ask you about the governor general. You are a former astronaut. I’m sure that you know Governor General Payette. There’s been a lot of criticism of her in the media over the past week in particular, about the number of duties that she’s engaged in, about the number of public appearances she’s putting in and events that she’s hosting. Is your government satisfied with her performance as governor general?

Minister Marc Garneau: I’m not going to comment on that question, Mercedes. I will tell you that the governor general is a personal friend of mine. I have known her for a very long time. She is the head of state of our country and I’m not going to give you my personal opinions on that subject.

Mercedes Stephenson: But as a minister–?

Minister Marc Garneau: It wouldn’t be appropriate.

Mercedes Stephenson: As a minister, are you concerned about whether—as you say the head of state, one of the most important jobs in the country is being fulfilled when reportedly, the governor general didn’t want to make time in her schedule to sign off on the marijuana legislation on the day that it was passed.

Minister Marc Garneau: I’m not going to comment on these things. I’m going to tell you that our governor general is a role model for Canadians, particularly for young people who are interested in science, for women in general. And she is a personal friend of mine so I’m not going to comment here on camera on anything else but that.

Mercedes Stephenson: Okay, before we go, let’s go back to NAFTA for just a moment then, minister. Going forward, what is the primary message you’re going to try to deliver to both the president and Congress about whether you have flexibility on this file?

Minister Marc Garneau: We will continue to repeat to the NAFTA negotiators on the U.S. side that we want a good deal. These are the things that are important for us. The Americans also have things that are important for them. Let’s try to find a deal here that will satisfy both of us. That’s essentially the essence of negotiations. It’s always been that way, and for us it’s essential that we continue to defend Canadian interests.

Mercedes Stephenson: Okay. We’ll see how all of this rolls out—putting a lot of faith in Congress there and in the negotiators. Thank you so much for joining us.

Minister Marc Garneau: My pleasure, Mercedes.

Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, the Conservative Party Leader is here. Andrew Scheer says if he was the prime minister there would be a deal on NAFTA. What would he do differently?

[Break]

Mercedes Stephenson: Welcome back. Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer says if he was the prime minister, his government would have done a deal on NAFTA by now. Well, what would he do differently? He is joining me now to find out. Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, thank you for being on the show.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer: Thank you.

Mercedes Stephenson: You keep saying you’d have a deal. What would you do differently that the Liberals haven’t done?

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer: Well, what I indicated was that we believe that Justin Trudeau has had the wrong focus on these talks. When the whole idea of reopening NAFTA came along, it was really issues that the Americans had versus the Mexican government and our prime minister volunteered to be part of that. Right at the outset, there was a focus on social issues that didn’t have anything to do with marketing access. It didn’t talk about tariffs. It didn’t talk about the ability to keep that vertical—vertically integrated supply chain. Those are the types of things that don’t give us a strong position at the negotiation table. We believe that the situation we find ourselves in right now, where we’re days away from the deal between Mexico and the United States going forward, leaves Canada in a very vulnerable position. There’s a lot of anxiety, a lot of uncertainty. Hundreds of thousands of jobs are linked to this—

Mercedes Stephenson: And certainly there’s anxiety and uncertainty, but beyond the social issues, the sticking points seem to be dairy and dispute settlement mechanism. Would you be willing to give up dairy, because you’ve said you support supply management? Or would you concede and not require a dispute settlement mechanism?

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer: Well, I believe very firmly that it is possible to preserve our supply management sector, while still maintaining free trade. The Conservative government has an excellent record on that. We are the party of free trade. We are the party that brought it out initially.

Mercedes Stephenson: And how do you do that? How much access would you give?

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer: By having the strongest possible position at the negotiating table. By not sending jobs and money to the United States.—

Mercedes Stephenson: But how much access to the market is that? Is it 5 per cent, 10 per cent, 30?

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer: As I said, you know, it’s not for me to offer up to the government what they should be willing to negotiate.

Mercedes Stephenson: Why not, though? You may have good ideas.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer: I believe—well when Justin Trudeau starts listening to my ideas on a whole range of issues, we’ll be a much better position. We believe that it’s essential, you know, what goes on at the negotiation table is impacted by what the economic realities are in the rest of the country. And we have a situation where Justin Trudeau has weakened our position by raising taxes here at home. By telling the world that we can’t get big energy projects built. The amount investment—

Mercedes Stephenson: I don’t know that any of that is actually on the table at NAFTA.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer: No. No, but what it does—it’s all about pressure. It’s all about leverage and when you have fewer voices in the United States saying hey, we want to get into Canada. We want to expand that facility. We want to invest in this project. Then you have a stronger position because the U.S. needs that access.

Mercedes Stephenson: Okay, but when we were in the United States, we talked to senior Republicans, including a powerful congressman who is pro-Trump. They all said we like your negotiator. You’ve doing a great job. Stay at the table, this is just how Donald Trump negotiates. This is Trump style. You’re not doing anything wrong. Why do you think they’re doing something if the Trump Republicans don’t?

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer: Well, I’m not sure who you’re talking to. I can’t speak to that. But what I do know is that we are days away from a situation where Mexico has—will have a preferred position over Canada in terms of this free trade situation. I don’t think anybody believes that that is an optimal position for Canada to be in.

Mercedes Stephenson: Do you believe that the government should send somebody other than Chrystia Freeland to negotiate?

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer: It’s not for me to evaluate. You know, those negotiations go on behind closed doors. When we’re in Washington, when Conservative MPs have gone to Washington, we promote free trade. We do our part to help show that united message. This is a deal that’s so important. There are hundreds of thousands of jobs and the families that depend on it are very anxious. When we’re here at home, we will absolutely point out mistakes and steps that they could have done to strengthen our position.

Mercedes Stephenson: What about Conservatives who say that it’s inappropriate for you to criticize, that it’s like Brian Mulroney, who knows a thing or two about free trade negotiations?

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer: I believe it’s absolutely important. It’s not just appropriate, it’s important for the Opposition to point out areas where the government may have made poor decisions, where they could have strengthened our position. Nobody suggests that it’s not the role of the Opposition to say hey, let’s focus on market access. Let’s make sure that our negotiation team has the very strongest possible position that they possibly could have.

Mercedes Stephenson: Mr. Scheer, I want to change gears because on Friday you gave a press conference talking about Tori Stafford. You want to put forward a motion to force the government to take action, intervene to take her killer, Terri-Lynne McClintic out of the Indigenous healing lodge that she’s in. I have to ask you why you’re demanding that that in our system in Canada, legally, the minister cannot intervene. And in fact, you ran into this in 2010 under your government with Clifford Olson, where you wanted to intervene to take away the benefits he was receiving. Found out that wasn’t legal and had to pass legislation to make that possible. Why call on the Liberal government to do something that you know the minister can’t do legally.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer: Well first of all, they do absolutely have the power to do this.

Mercedes Stephenson: Well not according to—this is the Department of Justice memo that says they don’t. And your government found that out in 2010.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer: That is an opinion of one person, who points out in that very argument that there is the power to do this by making a policy decision.

Mercedes Stephenson: So then why didn’t your government do it with Clifford Olson?

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer: They’re completely different situations. Clifford—

Mercedes Stephenson: Well, they’re not. You wanted to change something in one case.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer: Sorry. Sorry, Clifford Olson was receiving benefits, pension benefits that did require legislative change. And I will point out that we did it. That we didn’t just say oh, well, our hands are tied. We took action and we brought in legislation to do the very thing that we promised to do. This situation is about policies as applied by the entire department. And what we are calling on the government to do is to issue a policy directive, where people who have been convicted of these types of heinous crimes, horrific crimes, are not eligible to be held in a facility like this. That—

Mercedes Stephenson: Would you support Liberal government legislation that said people who had committed certain crimes should be ineligible? Or and one of the other debates has been people who are Indigenous should be the only people that qualify to go to these lodges?

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer: I know the Liberals would love to have a side debate on these types of things. This is just very crystal clear. When our government, when the Conservative government was made aware of things like Paul Bernardo receiving conjugal visits, or Clifford Olson receiving these benefits, we took action. Justin Trudeau has a choice. He can take action on this or he can endorse this decision. And we’ll find out on Tuesday what he does.

Mercedes Stephenson: But would you support legislation if they introduced it?

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer: I would support measures that make sure that Terri McClintic is back behind bars. And they have a wide variety of tools available to them. If they have ideas, I’d love to hear them. We asked them multiple times last week in the House of Commons and it was shameful. It was disgusting the way Justin Trudeau sluffed these off and tried to shift blame. Then he had the audacity to thank the NDP for their questions in question period because he liked those ones better. I spoke to Tori Stafford’s father last week. He is very upset and we are on—

Mercedes Stephenson: Does he support your approach?

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer: He is the one who brought these details to light so that action can be taken. We want to make this right. We don’t want this to be about partisan differences. We want—the government has an opportunity to make this right. Make this right by Tori Stafford’s family—

Mercedes Stephenson: Mr. Scheer—

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer: And Canadians who are angry about this.

Mercedes Stephenson: We have to stop you there because we’re out of time. But thank you so much for joining us.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer: Thank you.

Mercedes Stephenson: Coming up, an election in New Brunswick leaves two leaders vying for the top job. Who will be the next premier?

[Break]

Mercedes Stephenson: Welcome back. The election results in New Brunswick have left the leaders of the Conservative and Liberal parties vying for the top political job in that province. The PC’s are up by one seat, but Brian Gallant is vowing he will stay on and form a coalition government. Negotiations are underway, but will Blaine Higgs and his Progressive Conservative Party concede?

Joining me now from Fredericton is PC Leader Blaine Higgs. Mr. Higgs, you’re calling on Premier Gallant to step down, saying you should be the premier. Why do you believe you should be the premier?

Progressive Conservative Leader Blaine Higgs: Well, absolutely. You know, as democracy has been practiced for generations here in our country, you know, the one with the highest score wins and we have more seats than Brian Gallant. And in this process, you know, he’s obviously lost his majority and he’s lost his right to govern. And we have a path to form a minority government and he does not.

Mercedes Stephenson: Historically, though, the incumbent has had the chance to at least meet the House and that’s what the lieutenant governor told Mr. Gallant when he met with the lieutenant governor. Why do you think we should throw that historical precedent aside on this occasion?

Progressive Conservative Leader Blaine Higgs: Well, and I appreciate that. And I understand that he has been trying to, you know, solicit additional support from—certainly from my party and the elected candidates. So he’s trying to do that and buy time to make that happen. We met as a caucus. We’re very unified that, you know, no one’s going anywhere. And so he simply doesn’t have the numbers to succeed. While I can respect he can have the right to call the House back and then when that fails, the lieutenant governor will look to me to form government. So, my concern is there’s a sense of urgency here in our province. We need to get on with working on issues that are important to our province and I have a path to do that and start immediately. His path only delays the inevitable.

Mercedes Stephenson: Is part of your path through that immediately partnering with the People’s Alliance. They’ve come out and said that they’re willing to work with you. Are you willing to partner with them to form a coalition government?

Progressive Conservative Leader Blaine Higgs: Well, it’s not necessary to form a coalition government, and I said that I don’t have any plans to form a collation government with the People’s Alliance or really with the Green Party for that matter as well. And most recently, Mr. Austin has come out and said that he believes that the party with the most seats should form government and he’s willing to work with us to ensure that government will be stable. And I think most recently, he said before he’ll commit to 18 months. Well, you know, that’s a pretty convincing statement and it says that he wants to be reflective of the people’s wishes that we find a way to work together. And that’s what I want to do with him, with certainly with the Green Party and with the other members of the Liberal Party, because we’ve got to get on with the issues at hand here. And this playing politics, the election’s over. Let’s stop electioneering and move forward.

Mercedes Stephenson: But what happens if Brian Gallant talks to the Greens and he forms an alliance with them and then he has more seats than you?

Progressive Conservative Leader Blaine Higgs: No, he doesn’t actually.

Mercedes Stephenson: If he were to partner with the Greens?

Progressive Conservative Leader Blaine Higgs: Because if he forms an alliance with—no, he still won’t have enough seats. So with Mr. Austin saying that he will support me and our government, we actually have more seats than Brian Gallant and the Green Party combined. We’ll have one more seat. We’ll have enough for a majority government.

Mercedes Stephenson: But is supporting your government—when you heard from him and he’s saying he’s going to support your government. Is he going to support your government by forming an alliance or is it going to be from vote to vote? And if it’s from vote to vote, are you confident that they’re going to vote with you each time on that or you could lose the confidence of the House?

Progressive Conservative Leader Blaine Higgs: Well, I mean, certainly there are big—major bills that would be needed to be supported as they come forward, you know, like the throne speech, like the budget. But I understand that Mr. Austin has said is that he wants to work with us and he wants to work with us to support the government for a minimum of 18 months. And that’s what the [00:20:33] was looking for: stability. And he’s saying that, as I understand, more recently even today, has made that statement. And that would say that okay, he’s not—he has no intention of bringing the government down for at least 18 months to see if we can work together. Bills will be voted on case by case, but a defeat of a bill doesn’t mean a defeat of a government.

Mercedes Stephenson: Well, not if it’s not a confidence vote anyhow. But I’m wondering if part of that working together, perhaps the People’s Alliance is going to expect positions in your cabinet. Is that something you’d be willing to give them?

Progressive Conservative Leader Blaine Higgs: We have made—we haven’t made any such arrangement, nor had any discussions in that regard. What I’m impressed with is that Mr. Austin has taken this, you know, on his own accord to say, we think the government that won the most seats, that’s the democratic process. We want a chance to work with that government that has won the most seats and we’re prepared to put our support behind that government for a minimum of 18 months to see if this works.

Mercedes Stephenson: But if he—if he demands that going forward—

Progressive Conservative Leader Blaine Higgs: I think that’s what the people in New Brunswick have asked us to do.

Mercedes Stephenson: If he demands that going forward, would you be willing to give him cabinet positions?

Progressive Conservative Leader Blaine Higgs: We aren’t discussing cabinet positions and I’m not going to speculate on any such things, because he’s making these statements in the public on his own volition that he wants to work with us. And I’m, you know, I’m excited that he’s doing that because I feel that he’s representing the people that voted for him. After all, I think 45,000 people did that. He wants to represent his party and the democratic process and the legislature based on his support that he received during the campaign.

Mercedes Stephenson: What happens if Brian Gallant refuses to step down?

Progressive Conservative Leader Blaine Higgs: Well, eventually when he cannot get support—I mean when—so here we have he’s out numbered. He doesn’t have the numbers. So if he drags this out and he moves into the legislature, he won’t get support on the throne speech. It’ll be voted down at that time. The lieutenant governor will then look to me and say okay, Mr. Higgs, you should form the government. And we will proceed. So all that’s happening here is through Brian Gallant’s actions, we’re delaying democracy. We’re delaying a government to get focused on working on real issues in this province. And it’s unfortunate for someone to be clinging that hard to power.

Mercedes Stephenson: I have to stop you there Mr. Higgs because we’re out of time, but certainly a fascinating situation in New Brunswick and we’ll keep a close eye on it. Thank you for joining us.

Progressive Conservative Leader Blaine Higgs: Yes, indeed. You’re very welcome. Have a good day.

Mercedes Stephenson: That’s it for our show today. We are always eager to hear from you. You can find us online at http://www.thewestblock.ca. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Thanks for joining us and have a great week. I’m Mercedes Stephenson and we’ll see you right back here, next Sunday.

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