December 9, 2018 1:32 pm
Updated: December 10, 2018 12:08 am

The West Block, Season 8, Episode 14

Watch the full broadcast of The West Block from Sunday, December 9, 2018 with Mercedes Stephenson.

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THE WEST BLOCK
Episode 14, Season 8
Sunday, December 9, 2018

Host: Mercedes Stephenson

Guest Interviews: Minister Dominique LeBlanc, Premier Scott Moe, David Mulroney

Location: Ottawa

On this Sunday, the prime minister and the premiers facing off: sparks fly as Ottawa’s agenda is sidelined. Can Trudeau get the premiers back on track? The prime minister’s point man on the provinces is here.

Story continues below

And from threats of a walkout to the controversy over the carbon tax and oil, is it all political drama? Or are the complaints legitimate? We’ll ask one of the premiers.

And, the arrest heard around the world. Canada puts the queen of Chinese tech behind bars. Will China strike back over Huawei?

It’s Sunday, December 9th. I’m Mercedes Stephenson, and this is The West Block.

In what could be a preview of the coming election, the Liberal government squared off with the provinces in Montreal at the first minister’s meeting. Tension and turbulence dominated the meeting before it could even get started. Drama as the premiers’ revolted over Ottawa’s agenda, demanding the oil crisis and asylum seekers be made priorities instead of the prime minister’s plans to discuss interprovincial trade and the environment.

Several premiers threatened to walk out. Here’s how the day ended up.

Premier Rachel Notley: “Any kind of meeting that we have that focuses on the prosperity and wellbeing of Canadians that doesn’t substantially focus on that issue is not a meeting that is well-designed.”

Premier Doug Ford: “They changed the goalposts. They changed the rules on the eleventh hour of the game here.”

Mercedes Stephenson: Minister for Intergovernmental Affairs Dominique LeBlanc joins me now from Montreal.

Minister, welcome to the show. Thank you for joining us.

Minister Dominique LeBlanc: Well thanks for having me. Good morning.

Mercedes Stephenson: At this meeting, minister, you went into it with a lot of drama. People were threatening to walk out. They didn’t actually walk out of the meeting but did you make any progress?

Minister Dominique LeBlanc: I think we did, Mercedes. I think it was a constructive and productive meeting. You’re right; there were all kinds of speculations and all kinds of drama the night before. In fact, the evening before the meeting, on Thursday evening, we had a very cheerful, positive dinner at a Greek restaurant in Montreal and the meeting, I think, opened with a clear focus on the economy. Obviously, the energy sector occupied at the front end of the meeting, a lot of discussion. The premiers, the prime minister were focused on how to manage some significant challenges in certain sectors of the economy and what they could do collaboratively together. So the meeting, as you say, started with all kinds of speculation and ended, I think, very constructively, in fact, with a joint communiqué focused on the actions that the governments will be taking together.

Mercedes Stephenson: Minister LeBlanc, Premier Ford came out and he said that your government is “moving the goalposts” when it comes to the carbon tax and climate change. Is that true?

Minister Dominique LeBlanc: No, we didn’t move the goalposts at all. Those goalposts were set in 2016 in a Pan-Canadian framework which was the result of a bottom up process, where governments worked collaboratively for a long time to develop and share targets, to meet Canada’s objectives. What Mr. Ford did is, in fact, he evacuated the playing field. So he may have trouble seeing the goalposts because he’s no longer on the field. He’s actually sitting in the stands looking at the goalposts. So maybe if you choose to take yourself off the field, it might appear that the goalposts shifted, but nobody else in that room and other premiers, expressed surprise that that was the conclusion coming from Ontario because it doesn’t seem to be shared by others.

Mercedes Stephenson: So why do you think that he’s saying that, then, if that’s not what’s happened in the room?

Minister Dominique LeBlanc: And I would encourage you to talk to other premiers who were surprised to read those comments, we are. In fact, that’s not the case. What we’ve said, Mercedes, is that all governments need to work together to deal with climate change—

Mercedes Stephenson: But, isn’t that what Premier Moe indicated as well?

Minister Dominique LeBlanc: To face the real challenges that climate change represents.

Mercedes Stephenson: Minister LeBlanc, it sounded like Premier Moe also thought that you were moving the goalposts.
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Minister Dominique LeBlanc: But again, Premier Moe might also be one of the people who decided to leave the playing field. You can characterize—

Mercedes Stephenson: But does that mean they don’t understand what’s happening in the room?

Minister Dominique LeBlanc: They can choose to characterize it however they want, Mercedes. They’re also going to court. I’ve never heard a climate scientist say that the best way to fight climate change is to put somebody in a black gown with a big brief case in front of a court of appeal. That doesn’t strike me like the most effective climate action plan.

Mercedes Stephenson: When it comes to Alberta, there’s certainly been a lot of concern about oil out there, about the crisis that Alberta is facing. I know that Premier Notley has repeatedly asked your government to buy cars to do oil by rail. Is that something you were able to come to an agreement on in the meeting?

Minister Dominique LeBlanc: You’re right, Mercedes. Premier Notley, and in fact, all premiers, the premier of New Brunswick, of my province, a number of other premiers, expressed a real concern about the price differential, the price discount that’s facing Canadian energy resources. It’s most acute in in Alberta but they’re not alone in facing that challenge. That’s an economic concern for the whole country. Our government wants to work, obviously, with Premier Notley and the Government of Alberta to do what we can. She has made that suggestion. She described it as a medium term solution, but I think there are short-term sort of deadlines as when one might have to order these railcars. I don’t think they sell them on the shelves at Costco. So, the challenge is for the governments to work together on every possible solution, and we committed to having that conversation with her and to continuing that dialogue.

Mercedes Stephenson: You’re continuing the conversation, but if this is an industry in crisis, why not just commit to buying those railcars?

Minister Dominique LeBlanc: So significant actions like that, it would represent a considerable amount of money for taxpayers. The rail industry in Canada is an important part of the Canadian economy itself, so the government obviously, needs to understand what those potential actions might mean in terms of that sector of the economy, in terms of broader effects on other sectors of the economy. But it’s certainly an interesting idea and one that we said we would look at expeditiously with her government. But we weren’t in a position today to agree to that, but we certainly committed to understanding all of the elements of that particular suggestion.

Mercedes Stephenson: As the minister in charge of intergovernmental affairs, are you concerned about the increasing Western alienation polls reflected in Alberta? We’re hearing it in public commentary. Many Albertans feel that the federal government is not empathetic or sympathetic towards their situation.

Minister Dominique LeBlanc: I, obviously, worry about people who speculate on such things because I think it’s very counterproductive to working together in a federation to deal with the real economic challenges that are facing Western Canada and Alberta. We’ve said from the very beginning that we would work with the Government of Alberta. But in fact, to be fair, other provincial governments are also very much interested in working with Alberta and the Government of Canada on all of these opportunities, on everything we can do to assist this sector. So it was the first substantive item that was addressed in the meeting when we convened on Friday morning and that issue, the Alberta energy, economy occupied a significant portion and properly so of the conversation and it was constructive and it was collaborative. And I think it was instructive for all those that were there. So if the objective was to use this meeting to have a better understanding of how we can work together quickly to deal with this challenge, then the meeting was a success.

Mercedes Stephenson: Thank you very much, Minister LeBlanc.

Minister Dominique LeBlanc: Thanks very much, Mercedes. Appreciate the invitation.

Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, we’ll get the view from the other side with one of the premiers who was there.

[Break]

Mercedes Stephenson: Welcome back. Justin Trudeau promised to get along better with the provinces than Stephen Harper did, but divisions were on display and tempers flared as the prime minister met with the premiers.

There are divisions even among the provinces, too, over how to handle federal-provincial relations.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “Premier Ford put forward a plan that represents a step backwards. He exited the cap and trade agreement that he was in with Quebec and California, and he thinks we should make pollution free again.”

Mercedes Stephenson: Saskatchewan Premier Scott Mo joins me now.

Premier Moe, welcome to the show. Thank you for joining us.

Premier Scott Moe: Thank you so much, Mercedes.

Mercedes Stephenson: So going into these meetings, you weren’t happy with the agenda. Are you satisfied that the federal government listened to your concerns?

Premier Scott Moe: Well, we will see as we move forward. You know, we had a couple of benchmarks that we wanted to see arrived at through this meeting. We were heard for certain as other provinces were. We had good discussion with respect to the carbon taxation. We’ve always said that provinces should have the rights and the jurisdiction to enact their own carbon plans. There’s a general agreement around the table on what we need to accomplish her in our provincial jurisdictions and where we differ is on the mechanism on how we get there.

Mercedes Stephenson: Bill C69 deals with environmental assessments for energy projects. What are your concerns with that bill?

Premier Scott Moe: Bill C69, we need to ensure that the timelines for these processes actually are achieved and that we have, you know, with the appropriate information is being provided that we are actually within the timelines of what business operates so that we can have good, clean environmentally sustainable projects that are also of an economic value to our communities and to the nation. This is—this bill is the bill that will ensure, if it’s structured properly, which it isn’t at the moment, is a bill that will ensure that we are able to put all sorts of infrastructure projects in to add value to our Canadian economy. Infrastructure projects such as transmission lines for hydroelectricity. Infrastructure projects such as pipelines, to ensure that we can realize full value for what is essentially turning out to be a stranded asset in Alberta and Saskatchewan. A stranded asset that over the number of last years has driven our Canadian economy and has made cause for our prairie provinces to be net contributors to the nation through equalization.

Mercedes Stephenson: Premier Moe, when we heard from the federal government, they talked about the carbon tax. They said everyone’s talking about it, everyone’s behind closed doors trying to come to an agreement. Doug Ford came out of the meetings, though, and said that the federal government is moving the goalposts when it comes to the carbon tax. Do you agree with that?

Premier Scott Moe: Well, there was a conversation that occurred and, you know, I just point us back to the last time we actually had a Pan-Canadian document that was signed by all the first ministers’ in this nation and that was the Vancouver declaration, where all of the provinces agreed to do what they could, understanding the variability and differences in emissions and what’s achievable in each of their provincial jurisdictions with respect to emissions reductions, but they would do what they could to help Canada achieve the Paris Accord commitments that are there. All the provinces are in agreement for that and today we heard that there may be some different requirements that would come in certain areas of the nation which has never been on the table before.

Mercedes Stephenson: We talked to Dominque LeBlanc, who is the minister in charge of intergovernmental affairs for the Trudeau government, he says that people like you and Doug Ford who say they’re moving the goalposts are those who aren’t even on the playing field, and the goalposts are exactly where they’ve been all along. How do you respond to that?

Premier Scott Moe: Well, that is just simply wrong, incorrect and shouldn’t be repeated. The fact of the matter is that in Saskatchewan, we put forward a plan of prairie resilience, which is a plan that was accepted by the federal government. We put forward a plan for a 40 per cent reduction in emissions with our electrical generation capacity and that was accepted by the federal government. We put forward a methane reduction plan in our energy industry that was accepted by the federal government. So most certainly, with all due respect, Minister LeBlanc is poorly informed, and I talk to him frequently and he should ask the question.

Mercedes Stephenson: When it comes to oil, something that concerns your province as well, why do you think the federal government has not taken direct action to try to help the oil industry?

Premier Scott Moe: They need to take direct action to provide the regulatory certainty that our industry needs so that we can look at projects to ensure that our product can get a world price for that product and possibly even add value to it here in the nation of Canada and another province per se and sell it around the world. This is how we succeed as a nation to Canada by working together.

Mercedes Stephenson: Did you have any indication in the meeting that the federal government is considering more than they’ve already done, because they always cite Trans Mountain and their support for the oil industry, but is there any sense that they’re moving towards actually injecting funding or buying railcars as Alberta has requested?

Premier Scott Moe: There was discussion with respect to some of the short-term initiatives that, you know, are just that, short-term initiatives. Essentially, the conversation that we need to have in this nation is around corridors for our energy products and other products that we want to move across the nation, and maybe that’s electricity from hydroelectric facilities that are essentially a stranded energy source in places like Manitoba and Quebec, but we also have to have the consideration of moving western Canadian energy products through those same energy corridors so that we can add value to them.

Mercedes Stephenson: What is Ottawa’s explanation for why they haven’t acted yet?

Premier Scott Moe: I think they—I don’t know why they haven’t acted yet. I came to this meeting to engage on that regulatory framework. We did just that and we’re going to follow-up either prior to the end of this year, likely prior to the end of this year and for certain, in the first part of the new year, which we had intended to do anyway. But now, most certainly we are with our minister of energy and resources, as well as the deputy premier will be following-up.

Mercedes Stephenson: Coming out of this meeting, how would you describe Saskatchewan’s relationship with Ottawa?

Premier Scott Moe: Saskatchewan, we don’t agree on everything. Let’s face it, there’s a number of differences that we have with our federal government, but there are a number of places where we are in agreeance as well. But, you know, we need to continue to have conversations around, you know, where we do have agreement. We were happy to see the USMCA deal signed with the U.S. They’re our largest trading partner. There’s still some lingering challenges that I think, in fairness, we’d all like to see cleaned up in the way of the Section 232 tariffs on steel and aluminum, which affect the Saskatchewan economy, you know, quite a bit. We don’t agree on how we can reduce emissions and potentially impact climate change in Saskatchewan. We have a plan that we had put forward that the federal government has accepted. They want to go further and tax hardworking Saskatchewan families and businesses. We don’t feel that’s necessary. We feel we can achieve the targets without taxing the people of Saskatchewan.

Mercedes Stephenson: What will happen if the federal government doesn’t take action on the oil crisis?

Premier Scott Moe: Well, you’re going to see more of what you’ve seen in the past. You’re going to see a fleeing of investment to the U.S. We have billions and billions of dollars that could have been invested in western Canada that essentially is being invested in the United States and other areas of the world. These are regulatory headwinds, whether it’s the inability to have a strong regulatory environment for pipelines so that we can get our energy product to market, or whether it’d be additional headwinds in the way of carbon taxation on an industry just like this. These are headwinds that this industry just simply doesn’t need right now and that is the message that we brought here today on Saskatchewan’s behalf.

Mercedes Stephenson: Premier Moe, thank you so much for joining us.

Premier Scott Moe: Thank you, Mercedes. I appreciate it.

Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, Canada arrests a top Chinese executive. Will China retaliate? We’ll find out.

[Break]

Mercedes Stephenson: Welcome back. It is the arrest that sent shockwaves around the world and through markets as Mounties arrested Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Huawei, the Chinese attack giant. Meng is often called “the queen” of China’s tech industry, but the RCMP arrested her as she tried to change planes in Vancouver earlier this month.

Meng is now facing extradition to the U.S. China has denounced the arrest as serious human rights violation. So why did Canada make the arrest and will China retaliate?

Joining me now from Toronto, is Canada’s former ambassador to China David Mulroney.

David, thank you so much for joining us today. Such an interesting story, why do you think the Canadians made the decision to arrest this high profile woman?

David Mulroney: Well, I think if what’s happened is a request was sent in through the U.S. for extradition. We take that very seriously no matter who it is. I think sometimes we cringe knowing that there will be political ramifications, reverberations, but this is how we operate.

Mercedes Stephenson: So, when the prime minister says there was no political direction in this, you believe this was purely and RCMP decision to arrest?

David Mulroney: Absolutely. I mean, he said—the prime minister said he got a heads-up which would be par for the course. But, not only would he not be asked whether it’s okay, I don’t think he’d want to answer that question, because there’s no way that the prime minister would want to be accused of stepping into something, particularly if as suggested it involves allegations of violating Iran sanctions. He’d want to stay a long way away from that.

Mercedes Stephenson: What is the reaction like to this story in China?

David Mulroney: It’s very interesting. Chinese media has been reporting on it carefully. A few journalists in the more nationalist press have vented their frustration with Canada and with the U.S. But for the most part, it’s been pretty careful and quiet. And on social media, one very vitriolic blogger said read this before it gets pulled down. China monitors its social media very carefully, so there have been little eruptions but it’s trying to keep this from boiling over.

Mercedes Stephenson: Do you think that Canadians who are travelling to China, or working in China have to worry that they could face retaliation and the Chinese government or police could decide to arrest them?

David Mulroney: This is something that people have been talking about. I think it depends on, you know, ultimately where this goes and serious it becomes. I think the Chinese are very frustrated with this. There’s no doubt about that. And if it gets more embarrassing to them, if Madam Weng does not return to China in the near future, pressure will mount for some kind of tit for tat retaliation. We’ve seen things like that from China in the past and we can’t rule it out. I just don’t think we’re there yet.

Mercedes Stephenson: Is there a risk that there could be retaliation on the trade level or in terms of cyberattacks?

David Mulroney: Cyberattacks were always possible. On the trade side, I think what’ll happen is—you know the Chinese make it so that you make no progress unless you have high level exchanges. We had Minister Morneau in China not so long ago. The prime minister has raised this. What they might simply do is, and I think they will do, is turn up the deepfreeze, really postpone high level exchanges.

Mercedes Stephenson: Of course, this all comes at a time when there’s been tremendous tension between the United States and China. The tariff war, which seemed to have a bit of a détente when Donald Trump sat down with his Chinese counterpart around the same time that the senior executive was being arrested in Canada. Does this affect the relationship between the U.S. and China when it comes to trade?

David Mulroney: Hugely. And I mean, I think, the Chinese officials appear to be trying to signal that they’re not going to connect these two issues. They’re very happy to have been granted a 90-day ceasefire. The American tariffs were hurting. I don’t know how long they can continue doing that as Chinese citizens are outraged by what’s happened and they don’t want to get on the wrong side of their citizens. So, depending again, on how far this goes and where it goes, it could completely disrupt things. It’s also true that the United States has had the company, Huawei in its sights for some time. There have been concerns of—that Huawei in effect, although it describes itself as a private company, acts for the Chinese state and enables China’s hacking of U.S. technology. None of that’s been proved, but it’s very much an American concern. They’ve also expressed some concern and some leading Americans have expressed concern with Canada because we have a warmer relationship with Huawei and we’re just about to make a major decision as to whether Huawei could be allowed to be a part of the next generation of information technology, the 5G revolution that’s coming to telecoms very, very soon.

Mercedes Stephenson: Well, and do you think that this arrest perhaps will affect Canada’s decision on that?

David Mulroney: Absolutely. It couldn’t come at a worse time. It makes it very, very difficult for the prime minister, for the government to go forward with a partner—in partnership with a company that has a cloud over its head like this. And I don’t think that cloud is going to dissipate. I’d be surprised if it dissipates soon. So, timing’s really bad for Huawei in Canada and elsewhere. Britain is also a major client and they’re having—they’ve been having some second thoughts.

Mercedes Stephenson: The fact that this arrest warrant was put out by the United States for one of the most high profile Chinese citizens you could imagine. Do you think that it’s intended to send a message to China?

David Mulroney: That’s very much how it’s being read by the Chinese. They’re seeing this as the Americans holding hostage, a leading and much respected Chinese businessperson. I think it’s also true, though, that telecoms companies in China have come under suspicion in the U.S., a violation of the Iran sanctions, a smaller company but still a very important one called ZTE has run afoul of the Americans a couple of times. So, it’s a sector where they have their eyes open and they’re not averse to snapping up major players in corporations that come under suspicion. The interesting story coming out of the United States is whether or not President Trump knew about this when he sat down, as you mentioned, with Chinese President Xi Jinping, because the arrest was happening at roughly the same time. It appears that he didn’t know this, which is a little bit surprising. But even if he had, it’s hard to imagine what he could have said to President Xi.

Mercedes Stephenson: Now, we just have about a minute left, but I’m curious. Do you think that this affects Canada’s ability to get a free trade deal with China? Or are we going to be seen now by the Chinese as having sided with the Americans?

David Mulroney: Well, the Chinese like to politicize their free trade negotiations and they like to portray them as something, a favour they confer on a country after it’s been seen to be good and trustworthy in its behaviour to China. So they’re going to make us fear this and feel this and we’ll be in the deepfreeze for some time. At the same time, China wouldn’t be interested in doing a free trade deal with us unless they had some interests here. So those interests aren’t going to go away. I suspect we’re going to be in the penalty box for a while.

Mercedes Stephenson: David, fascinating. Thank you so much for joining us.

That’s our show for today. Thank you for joining us. I’m Mercedes Stephenson, and we’ll see you next week.

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