THE WEST BLOCK
Episode 15, Season 8
Sunday, December 16, 2018
Host: Mercedes Stephenson
Guest Interviews: Andrew Leslie, Michael Hirson, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer
On this Sunday, between China’s crosshairs, Canada feels Beijing’s wrath after detaining a top Chinese executive. With warnings from China, there’s more to come. What should Canada do next?
Then, we sit down with the man who wants to be the next prime minster, Conservative leader Andrew Scheer. From the oil crisis to the deficit, we’ll ask what his plan for Canada is.
And, a rare moment of harmony on Parliament Hill, as MPs of all stripes, get together to go Christmas caroling.
It’s Sunday, December 16th. I’m Mercedes Stephenson, and this is The West Block.
Canada is caught between a rock and a hard place, between two super powers to be exact, as China lashes out over the Huawei arrest. Two Canadians detained in China in a week. Now, Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly has postponed her trip there, and late last week Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland travelled to Washington, D.C. looking for American backup.
How is the government handling this file? Joining me now here in studio is parliamentary secretary to the minister of foreign affairs, Andrew Leslie. Mr. Leslie, thank you for joining us.
Andrew Leslie: It’s my pleasure, Mercedes.
Mercedes Stephenson: At this point, is the government wondering if they made a mistake and were used by the U.S. in arresting Ms. Meng?
Andrew Leslie: First of all, no, the government did not make a mistake, and let me try and explain why. We were responding to a request for extradition of warrant, submitted as per treaty with the United States to us, so it’s not a question of the Government of Canada say yes, go ahead. It’s a question of allowing the judicial system to do its duty because we respect the rule of law.
Mercedes Stephenson: So there was no political interference in this?
Andrew Leslie: Absolutely categorically not.
Mercedes Stephenson: Explaining that to China is a little bit more difficult and with President Trump coming out and basically using this as a bargaining chip, how do you explain that to Beijing and do you think that they believe that there wasn’t political interference?
Andrew Leslie: I think that there are some very wise people who have some experience with Canada that reside in around the centres of power in Beijing. So they fully understand it. It’s probably difficult for certain members of the Chinese population to understand just how fervently the majority of Canadians cling to the principle of the rule of law and an independent judiciary.
Mercedes Stephenson: Do you think that you’re making progress with Beijing in terms of convincing them to give you access to Canadians and perhaps to dial down the heat on this file?
Andrew Leslie: I think that’s a critical point and right now, the minister’s role, the prime minister’s, mine and many others is to do just that. Diplomacy, this is the time for careful nuance discussions. Unfortunately, we’ve not been able to establish personal contact with one of the detained persons, nor are we yet aware of the specific charges. And the good news, if there is any in this very unfortunate tale is that the minister has reached out to both the families of the concerned citizens and told them that this is literally top of mind for the Government of Canada.
Mercedes Stephenson: Do you have any sense of how these two Canadians are being treated in detention in China?
Andrew Leslie: The one that was seen by Ambassador McCallum Foreign Minister, National Defence, appears to be in good health. He appears not to have been mistreated. There was a direct dialogue and face-to-face with consular officials, but we’re still not aware of the specific charges and of course, we’ve yet not received personal contact with the second one.
Mercedes Stephenson: Are you prepared for further repercussions?
Andrew Leslie: In Canada, the respect for rule of law, it’s an absolute.
Mercedes Stephenson: But is Canada prepared for further repercussions from Beijing?
Andrew Leslie: We are working very hard with our Chinese friends, our Chinese colleagues and Chinese partners as well, because they are our second biggest trading partner, as you know. We are cautiously optimistic that we will see our way through this without any further repercussions from other side and the time now is for reason dialogue.
Mercedes Stephenson: Is Canada considering tariffs or sanctions on China?
Andrew Leslie: As far as I know, there are no such discussions underway. What we’re focused on right now is separating the whole idea of the consular issue from the two detained Canadians. The respect for the rule of law, and I keep on banging on about this, but it’s central to our theme of all that we do internationally.
Mercedes Stephenson: And I think it’s been very clear, but one last question. Should your government be considering putting out a travel warning to Canadians that they could be arrested if they go to China?
Andrew Leslie: The travel advisory right now, calls for people to exercise a very high degree of caution. To be balanced and fair, that has been in place for some time.
Mercedes Stephenson: Is it time to upgrade that?
Andrew Leslie: We will see right as of just a few minutes ago when I checked it before coming into the office, it had not changed. Before you do go, I would urge all people to get hold of the Department of Global Affairs or look at our websites for any further additions or additional information that might be required to ensure your safety and security. But like I say, we stand ready to serve. Oh, and by the way, if you’re going to travel, make sure you get hold of the consular office in the country that you’re travelling to and let us know.
Mercedes Stephenson: Are Canadians in China at risk?
Andrew Leslie: I don’t believe so. I don’t believe so. I think that they have been taken into custody for very specific reasons, which have not yet been articulated to us. And when the Minister of Global Affairs directly asked the Chinese ambassador if there was a direct linkage, he was told there was not—she was told there was not.
Mercedes Stephenson: Andrew Leslie, thank you very much for joining us.
Andrew Leslie: Thank you.
Mercedes Stephenson: What should we expect from China with that perspective? Michael Hirson joins us. He was the former U.S. Treasury point person in Beijing and now heads the China division of the Eurasia Group out of New York City.
Michael, what do you think Chinese officials view this as? We’ve seen retaliation. We’ve seen them detain Canadian citizens. Why is China reacting this way?
Michael Hirson: I think from the perspective of Beijing, they’re in a difficult political balancing act. Clearly, the arrest of this leading business executive, the daughter of the founder of Huawei, who is a household name in China, a business icon, is arousing significant nationalist sentiment in China. At the same time, you’ve got a fragile truce between President Xi Jinping and President Trump. And what we’ve seen in recent days is the Chinese side really make efforts to keep this truce going despite the arrest of Ms. Meng from Huawei. And so, essentially Canada is caught in the middle. China is venting by retaliating against Canada because it feels like from a strategic point of view there are limits to what it can do directly against the United States.
Mercedes Stephenson: So the Chinese government knows it’s not really the Canadian government behind this, but that’s the easy target.
Michael Hirson: I think that’s right. I think there’s also a sense of real frustration on the part of Beijing that Canada would be willing to honour this request from the U.S. And I think there’s a broader issue here that China faces, which is that it’s been, I think, the Chinese have been quite surprised at the willingness of U.S. allies to stand by the U.S. on some of these really intense geo-political issues between the U.S. and China in the last year or so. In other words, China thought that there would be more of an opening to sort of hive off U.S. allies from the United States, because of the frustration of these countries with President Trump’s policies. But what you find is that many of these allies, including Canada, are not so quick to downplay their relationship with the U.S. and many of them share these concerns, national security concerns about aspects of Huawei and China’s foreign policy.
Mercedes Stephenson: So Donald Trump came out earlier this week and said basically perhaps this could be a bargaining chip in the trade deal and that maybe the Huawei executive could be released if China could come to an agreement with the U.S. Should the American president be providing more public support to Canada on this?
Michael Hirson: Yes, I think he should and politicizing this creates some real awkwardness for the Canadian side, because here you have Canada saying look, this was an issue of rule of law, of an independent judiciary and law enforcement system honouring a request from the United State. And then the president politicizes it, which implies really, maybe this is not so much about rule of law and this is really about a political quid pro quo between the U.S. and China. So I think it’s very awkward for the Canadian side, but it also creates some political risks for Trump at home. We’ve seen President Trump prioritize trade deals with China over some of the national security concerns that are bubbling up, and there is very broad political support in the U.S. for addressing these national security concerns. So you’ve already seen U.S. officials, members of Congress come out and say no, this is not a bargaining chip. And so I think President Trump is going to have to be careful in terms of the degree to which he politicizes this because he will face blowback at home.
Mercedes Stephenson: Michael, what should Canadian official be prepared for in terms of further retaliation and how do you see this playing out?
Michael Hirson: It will depend clearly on what happens over the next few weeks. The fact that Ms. Meng has received bail in Canada, I think, helps lower the temperature, at least a little bit. There’s also the possibility that if she is extradited to the U.S., clearly that will displease China, but it might also shift some of the focus of this back onto the United States from Canada.
Mercedes Stephenson: Michael, thank you so much for your time today. We appreciate you joining us.
Michael Hirson: Thank you.
Mercedes Stephenson: Coming up, he wants to be prime minister but does he have a plan? Conservative leader Andrew Scheer joins us.
Mercedes Stephenson: Welcome back to the show. 2018 is almost over, which means all eyes will be on the Parliament Hill prize, the 2019 election. Conservative leader Andrew Scheer wants the country’s top job. That means dealing with the oil crisis, immigration and a deficit. So, does Scheer have a plan? I sat down with the Opposition leader to find out.
Mr. Scheer, welcome back to The West Block.
Minister Andrew Scheer: Thanks very much for having me.
Mercedes Stephenson: China has made some very serious threats against Canada, as a result of the arrest of the chief financial officer with Huawei, including the detention of Canadian citizens and there are Canadian citizens who are being detained in China right now. How would you deal with that situation?
Minister Andrew Scheer: Well obviously, we have to make sure that the government is providing every possible service to Canadians who are in trouble overseas, especially when it comes to a country like China. It’s clear that we have a government that has been pursuing closer ties with China. Justin Trudeau has admired the basic dictatorship of China in the past. But, as we see now, we have major concerns about what close relationships would look like. We’ve been calling on the government not to be so naïve in their approach to China. They’ve allowed for takeovers of Canadians companies, including companies that have sensitive technology. We’ve been calling on them not to allow Huawei to participate in the 5G spectrum.
Mercedes Stephenson: Do you think that sanctions or tariffs or ruling out a trade deal of even expelling the ambassador are warranted?
Minister Andrew Scheer: We do have to make sure that China knows that we are serious about protecting our citizens who are overseas.
Mercedes Stephenson: You’ve been very critical of the government when it comes to pipelines and the Alberta oil crisis. In terms of immediate term solutions, what would you do differently?
Minister Andrew Scheer: Justin Trudeau and the Liberals have literally done nothing to move this project forward. They bought it with taxpayers’ money after American investors pulled out. The government gave them a cheque for four and a half billion dollars on their way out of the country and here we are months later, nothing has happened. I’ve called for legislation that clearly defines federal jurisdiction, appointing a special ministerial representative for the minister of First Nations Indigenous Affairs so that the consultations can be done properly. And I’ve called for an end to foreign advocacy groups being point of the approvals process. Those are all things that should have been done months ago. Now we have the province of Alberta talking about things like purchasing rail cars. That’s not going to solve the problem.
Mercedes Stephenson: So you wouldn’t support buying rail cars?
Minister Andrew Scheer: Well, I understand why the Government of Alberta come from. The situation in Alberta is very, very dire, so it’s natural that you have a provincial government that’s looking for literally any solution that might improve the capacity issue. But it’s not a long-term solution. Moving oil by rail is not the most environmentally-friendly way to do it. It’s not the safest way to do it. Pipelines are the answer.
Mercedes Stephenson: But if the crisis is now, would you be willing to give the oil companies or the province a bailout?
Minister Andrew Scheer: If we had—what is necessary in the energy sector is confidence that big projects can get built. The reason why we’re talking today as policy makers about purchasing pipelines or rail cars or production limits is because there is no confidence, because investors are pulling out. That’s why projects aren’t happening, that’s why drilling companies are leaving. If you had a government that said here is the framework, here are the steps we’re going to take today, to start getting these projects built that confidence would return, the investment would return.
Mercedes Stephenson: If it was that easy, though, wouldn’t the Harper government have done it? I mean, you’ve talked about bringing in constitutional powers, invoking the Constitution to ram it through, but the reality is you could get held up in court as Indigenous communities object to that, too.
Minister Andrew Scheer: These things have happened in the past, where you have court rulings that say that aspects of the approvals need to be done over again. When you have a government that’s willing to do that, it can be done and then they get built. The previous Conservative government got four major pipeline projects built, over 1 million barrels a day in increased capacity getting our energy to market. The system works. When Justin Trudeau took over, there were three major pipeline projects on the books. He killed Northern Gateway, he cancelled Energy East and he had to buy out Trans Mountain and now he’s doing nothing with it. And I believe what we’re seeing is a deliberate strategy, a deliberate decision of the Liberals to starve out the energy sector by making sure that new pipelines aren’t built in this country.
Mercedes Stephenson: Even though they’ve spent billions on a pipeline.
Minister Andrew Scheer: But it’s not being built.
Mercedes Stephenson: Moving on to immigration, it’s something else that you’ve been very critical of the government about. When you look at the situation on the border, how would you handle that differently? Because legally, the government is saying they can’t stop people from coming across. There’s an international law obligation. Would you have the RCMP refuse people the ability to cross the border?
Mercedes Stephenson: But what could they actually do to stop it?
Minister Andrew Scheer: Well, as I said, at the very least, they could start by opening up talks with the United States on closing the safe third country—
Mercedes Stephenson: Which they say they’ve done.
Minister Andrew Scheer: Well, at first they said they weren’t going to do it then they said that they might do it and then months later we find out that maybe they have been. I mean, they’ve been completely all over the map on this. There are aspects of our immigration law that apply at official boarding—border crossings that could be applied in other areas. They have come to the House of Commons with nothing.
Mercedes Stephenson: You were criticized quite heavily because of your tone on immigration, in particular, the UN compact on migration. You said it would affect Canadian sovereignty. A former Harper cabinet minister, Chris Alexander, came out and said that was factually incorrect. It’s a political statement, not a legally binding document. Why would you say that if it’s not true?
Minister Andrew Scheer: Well, he’s factually incorrect and the criticism is unwarranted. I came out with a very, very thoughtful and straightforward approach to my belief that it was wrong for Canada to sign on to this compact. The statement that somehow signing onto international treaties has no impact on Canadian law is completely false. There are several court decisions that reference international agreements that Canada has signed onto in their decision. So judges will say, well this is what Canada has signed onto, therefore, this is what must happen domestically. In fact, there is a section of our immigration law that specifically spells out that international treaties and accords and compacts will be factored into how the law is applied.
Mercedes Stephenson: But that’s not the same as controlling who Canada lets into the country.
Minister Andrew Scheer: But it does have an impact on our sovereignty. Anything that we sign onto that then has an impact on how our laws are interpreted our how rules are enforced or how our regime is operated here does have an impact on our ability to set out own course for things.
Mercedes Stephenson: Looking forward to the election, there is a significant deficit right now that the Liberal government has run. How do you approach that without having an austerity platform, to achieve your promise of balancing the budget?
Minister Andrew Scheer: I have no doubt that the Liberals are going to go down this road where they’re going to rack up massive deficits as they already have and then start fearmongering about what might be necessary to come back to balanced budgets. But I can assure you that when we come out with our campaign platform, it will have a path back to balanced budget as we have done—
Mercedes Stephenson: Won’t you have to cut programs to do that?
Minister Andrew Scheer: As we have done in the past, where we haven’t had to cut transfers to provinces for important services like health care and education or transfers to individuals. A lot of the spending that is causing these massive deficits is because the rate of growth for government spending is way beyond population growth and inflation. And by just controlling the growth of government spending, we can eliminate a great deal of this Liberal budget—deficit.
Mercedes Stephenson: You’re also going to be competing against Maxime Bernier in the coming election for votes. What sets you apart from him?
Minister Andrew Scheer: Look, Maxime has made a personal decision to go out on his own because he didn’t want to work together as a team and I think people see that. I’ve said to Conservative members that I would focus on the common ground that unites all Conservatives together and we’re going to fight for lower taxes, for an immigration policy that puts lawful immigration first and is compassionate and orderly. We’re going to fight against deficits. We’re fighting against the carbon tax. We’re going to be proposing new ideas that increase individual liberty and lower taxes and a more dynamic private sector. So those are things that will keep Conservatives excited about voting for me and my party in 2019.
Mercedes Stephenson: Mr. Scheer, thank you so much for your time.
Minister Andrew Scheer: Thank you very much.
Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, the sweet sounds of MPs singing from the same song sheet, a rare sight on Parliament Hill.
Mercedes Stephenson: Welcome back. When it comes to politics, it’s rare to see parties singing from the same song sheet. But holiday magic happens on Parliament Hill, too. Take a listen:
Mercedes Stephenson: And we leave you today with another Christmas carol. For The West Block, I’m Mercedes Stephenson. Thanks for watching and we’ll see you next week.