The West Block Transcript: Season 8, Episode 18

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Episode 18, Season 8

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Host: Mercedes Stephenson

Guest Interviews: United Conservative Party Leader of Alberta Jason Kenney,

Paul Stares, Lieutenant General Mike Day

Location: Ottawa


Premier Rachel Notley: “This has been like a slow car crash happening in slow motion.”


Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “We bought a pipeline. What do you want me to say?”


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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo: “If the detention is not appropriate, we will demand his immediate return.”


Robin Gill: “Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor haven’t been charged, much less had a trial. But today’s senior Chinese government official says the Canadians being held in Beijing broke the law.”


President Donald Trump: “Syria was lost long ago. And besides that, I don’t want—we’re talking about sand and death.”


General Jonathan Vance: “There continue to be Daesh elements that either want to re-emerge or have existed from before or we’re helping identify where those are and help the Iraqis deal with it.”


It’s Sunday, January 6th. Happy New Year. I’m Mercedes Stephenson, and this is The West Block.


Western alienation hits the road next month as hundreds of truckers plan to drive their big rigs all the way from Alberta to Parliament Hill. Organizers say the convoy is in support of the oil patch and to put pressure on the federal government to fast track pipeline construction. The Trans Mountain pipeline project right now is on hold as the Liberal government conducts court-ordered consultations before they can put shovels in the ground.

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Premier Notley says she doesn’t expect construction to begin until next fall, long after Albertans go to the polls. So, what more can Alberta do to speed up this process?


Joining me from Calgary is Jason Kenney United Conservative Party Leader of Alberta. Welcome to the show, Mr. Kenney. Happy New Year.


Minister Jason Kenney: Happy New Year to you, Mercedes.


Mercedes Stephenson: My first question for you. You’re heading into an election year. You’ve talked a lot about what you would do differently from Rachel Notley. But specifically, when it comes to pipelines, how would you have handled the situation differently? How would you have gotten pipelines built?


United Conservative Party Leader of Alberta Jason Kenney: Well I think the huge mistake that Premier Notley made was writing Justin Trudeau a blank political cheque, creating an alliance with the Trudeau government that has done everything it can to prevent us from getting a pipeline built. Prime Minister Trudeau, who vetoed the Northern Gateway pipeline, killed Energy East, surrendered to Barack Obama’s veto of Northern Gateway and has completely bungled the Trans Mountain expansion. She imposed a carbon tax in Alberta supposedly in exchange for market access, a pipeline that hasn’t worked. So I think what we need to do is pull the camera back and understand we’re involved in a strategic fight. There’s been hundreds of millions of dollars spent, largely from foreign sources, in a campaign to vilify Canadian energy. Not Saudi or Venezuelan or Russian oil but Canadian oil, and I think we need to pushback much more vigorously. That’s part of my fight back strategy.


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Mercedes Stephenson: So how do you get around things, for example, like Quebec saying no to Energy East? Do you push the federal government to force the province to let it through? Do you ignore the court order that has put Trans Mountain on pause? How far do you go to make those pipelines have shovels in the ground?


United Conservative Party Leader of Alberta Jason Kenney: Well first of all, it’s the federal government of Justin Trudeau that killed Energy East with the acquiescence of the NDP here in Alberta and the federal government doesn’t need to push it through against provincial objections because under the Constitution, the federal government has the exclusive jurisdiction over inter-provincial pipelines. Now the new premier of New Brunswick, Blaine Higgs is trying to get a revival of the failed Energy East pipeline. And he’s saying—and what Justin Trudeau did was to say well only if Quebec—


Mercedes Stephenson: But Quebec is saying no way. There is no way they’ll allow it to go through.


United Conservative Party Leader of Alberta Jason Kenney: Because Mr.—Prime Minister Trudeau said that it will only happen if the Government of Quebec is in favour. He gave Quebec a veto it does not under the Constitution and then the premier of Quebec said that he was going—that there was “No social acceptability to dirty Alberta oil”, the same week that he got a 10 per cent, $1.3 billion increase in equalization payments. So, at the end of the day, Mercedes, what we would be prepared to do in Alberta is to put on the table, the whole question of equalization in the country. Albertans are generous; they don’t mind sharing some our wealth when times are good here but bad elsewhere. But what we cannot abide is other parts of the country that benefit from our energy wealth, in turn trying to block its development and export. That is not acceptable and we need a fair deal in this federation.


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Mercedes Stephenson: When it comes to that western alienation that you’re talking about, I interviewed the prime minister at the end of 2018 and he said politicians such as yourself are using this as a wedge point, that you’re exploiting that frustration and it’s essentially making things worse. What’s your response to that?


United Conservative Party Leader of Alberta Jason Kenney: Look, this is the prime minister who drives wedges everywhere he can. He’s the prime minister who when prime minister Harper was in office said that the country was a mess because “Albertans were governing the country.” This is not—look, I think we have an opportunity here, to reinforce national unity. Albertans don’t mind sharing some of our wealth, as long as our partners in the federation are willing just to actually develop that resource or oil and gas to get a fair global price for it. We’ve been in a period of prolonged economic stagnation and decline in Alberta in the past few years, partly because Canada’s largest export product, the third largest oil reserves in the world, Alberta oil, has been sold at a huge discount compared to the global price. That’s partly because we cannot get to global markets with a coastal pipeline. All we’re asking for—


Mercedes Stephenson: Mr. Kenney—


United Conservative Party Leader of Alberta Jason Kenney: Yes, Mercedes.


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Mercedes Stephenson: When it comes to that frustration, though, there’s been some undesirable elements that you’re seeing trying to attach itself, some through the yellow vest movement. You’re a former minister of Immigration and some of these statements are racists. They’re xenophobic, they’re anti-immigrant. Are you worried that that frustration could be exploited by some groups who have some pretty concerning values?


United Conservative Party Leader of Alberta Jason Kenney: I’m not exactly sure what you’re referring to, Mercedes. I can tell you in the last few weeks there have been multiple huge rallies with thousands or collectively tens of thousands of Albertans calling for fairness in the federation for a coastal pipeline to be built. Perhaps amongst those tens of thousands of people there were a handful with kooky ideas which anybody would—which I would certainly condemn. But that doesn’t change the fact that Albertans right across the political spectrum are simply asking for fairness in the federation. This is not a marginal, a political goal. This is the—I think something that’s in the best interests of all Canadians.


Mercedes Stephenson: I also would like to ask you about China because this was something you spoke a lot about when you were at the federal level. Obviously, very tense relationship right now, do you think that the federal government should be doing more to see the two Canadians who are detained, released?


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United Conservative Party Leader of Alberta Jason Kenney: Well, I can tell you having dealt with consular affairs as a federal minister in the past, these are often delicate matters. It’s sometimes behind the scenes diplomacy is the most effective approach. But sometimes you need to be a little bit more voluble. I don’t know the details of these cases. I’m going to have to leave it to the best judgement of the Ministry of Global Affairs, but I think it does—you know, weakness invites weakness and other countries need to understand that if they effectively kidnap Canadians that there will be repercussions.


Mercedes Stephenson: We just have a couple of seconds left, but do you think Canadians should be careful travelling to China right now?


United Conservative Party Leader of Alberta Jason Kenney: Well I think Global Affairs has already given a travel advisory to that effect and I hope that we can restore good commercial relations. That’s important, but obviously, Canadians who might think they would be vulnerable wherever they travel have got to be mindful of those facts.


Mercedes Stephenson: Jason Kenney, thank you so much for joining us.


United Conservative Party Leader of Alberta Jason Kenney: Thanks, Mercedes.


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Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, what geopolitical hot spots should we be watching in the year ahead?




Alberta Conservative MP Michael Cooper: “The purpose of delegation is to engage with Chinese officials, to meet with business leaders, to meet with representatives at the NGOs and others, to talk about the important bilateral relationship between Canada and China.”


Mercedes Stephenson: Welcome back. That was Alberta Conservative MP Michael Cooper. He’s part of a bipartisan parliamentary delegation that’s heading to China this weekend, despite strained relations between the two countries as two Canadians remain in detention in China.


Late last week, the state department issued a travel warning urging Americans to exercise increased caution in China. And, in a study released late last month by the Council on Foreign Relations, there is a note about potential conflict in the South China Sea as one of the geopolitical hot spots of 2019. Could that spell more trouble for Canada? And what are the other hot spots we should be keeping an eye on?

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Joining me now from Washington is Paul Stares, Senior Fellow for Conflict Prevention and the Director at the Centre for Preventative Action at the Council on Foreign Relations.


Paul, what do you think of this group of Canadian law makers who are travelling to China? Is it a good idea when tensions are so high between Canada and China right now, to go over there and try to mend fences or would it be better to send a signal and refuse to go on this trip?


Paul Stares: No, I think it’s very important to engage the Chinese now, to show that this kind of behaviour, this sort of tit for tat response is unacceptable and it has to be dealt with in the appropriate manner and so I think it’s important that this delegation goes ahead and it’s important, moreover, that the United States stands firmly behind Canada and the Europeans do, too.


Mercedes Stephenson: I know the United States has put out a travel risk advisory for American citizens going to China, warning them there can be arrests. In Canada there’s been pressure on the Canadian government to maybe up the warning that exists here. Do you think it’s safe for North Americans to go to China right now?


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Paul Stares: I think yes, it’s basically. They have to be—exhibit some caution and avoid any kind of contentious or controversial behaviour when they’re in China, not go looking for trouble. But otherwise, they should be perfectly safe.


Mercedes Stephenson: China is one of the big hot spots that you identified. What makes it so dominant as an area and a country that we really need to be looking at in 2019?


Paul Stares: Well it’s obviously, one of the biggest economic powers in the world and one of the largest military powers in the world and it’s role and influence and world affairs is only going to increase in the 21st century and we have to find a way to work with China to deal with areas of conflict but also work together to deal with many common challenges, whether it’s climate change, global trade proliferation. There are no ends of major global challenges that will require cooperation with China.


Mercedes Stephenson: The Middle East, of course, is always a challenge no matter what administration’s in power. But with the Trump administration and this sort of unpredictability and the recent announcement that Donald Trump is going to pull troops out of Syria, where do you see the Middle East going this year?


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Paul Stares: Well as many people acknowledged in our recent survey, there’s broad concern that the situations going to deteriorate in the coming 12 months so there are many potential flashpoints from Syria to Yemen, rising tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran and we have this recent announcement by President Trump that he wants to pull out U.S. forces from Syria. The problem is, is that when we pull out of places, others step in and that can cause all kinds of problems, which then drag us back in at a later date at greater costs. So there’s a lot of concern about what President Trump’s decision may presage for the region and whether actually this is a good move by the United States.


Mercedes Stephenson: One of the countries that have stepped into the void, of course, is Russia, increasing influence in certainly, Syria and the surrounding area. It’s also a country that you talk about in your hot spot survey. Where do you see Vladimir Putin’s Russia going in 2019?


Paul Stares: Well they’re clearly worried about their economic situation and failing domestic support for the Putin regime at home and I think there’s broad concern that he may put pressure on Ukraine to distract public opinion at home. And we’re seeing this already with the recent flare-up in tensions with Ukraine close to Crimea. And I think we can see maybe as we move closer to the Ukrainian elections in March, that we might see some heightened sort of cyber influence operations inside Ukraine, some potential medaling in the election that we’ve seen elsewhere by Russia and that could be a real source of tensions between the West and Russia.


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Mercedes Stephenson: If you had to pick sort of the single biggest hot spot that Canadians and Americans should keep an eye on in this coming year, what would it be?


Paul Stares: The place that most concerns me is either a sort of return to heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula. If the so-called nuclear deal with North Korea starts to unravel, then we can see tensions ratcheting up in North Korea again this year. The other, I think, sleeper issue is Taiwan and as we moved into election season there and for 2021, Taiwan could be a much more contentious issue that it has been in the recent past and that could be a real challenge to both United States and Canada.


Mercedes Stephenson: Paul Stares, thank you so much for your time today.


Paul Stares: You’re very welcome.


Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, President Trump says he will bring home American troops. What does it mean for thousands of deployed Canadians around the world?


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President Donald Trump: “We’re talking about sand and death. That’s what we’re talking about. We’re not talking about, you know, vast wealth. We’re talking about sand and death.”


Mercedes Stephenson: Welcome back. That was President Trump last week explaining why he is pulling U.S. troops out of Syria. Next door, in Iraq, Canada has about 850 troops. How will the U.S. withdrawal affect our mission in Iraq? Here to talk about that and whether Canada is prepared to deal with threats here at home, someone who knows a thing or two about security in his first television interview since retirement, Lieutenant General Mike Day, the former head of Canada’s Special Operations Forces and of course, a former NATO commander, too.


You watch President Trump quite closely, this very sudden decision to pull out of Syria, Iraq next door, what does it mean for Canadian soldiers on the ground?


Lieutenant General Mike Day: So Mercedes, I think we need to understand why we’re there to begin with before we understand the consequences of his decision. And it’s not just the decision and we can debate the pros and cons of American presence in that whole region. But the consequence is as much as anything is about how he made the decision, the consultations that obviously didn’t take place. Forget with allies, not even within his own team. And so, for Canada, what we’re seeing is a region that is going to be increasingly left to its own. If America isn’t there, it doesn’t pull other allies in. It doesn’t lead the debate. It doesn’t have an impact on the agenda and as a consequence, there is more chaos. There’s more anarchy and that should concern not just Canada, it should concern everybody.


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Mercedes Stephenson: How difficult does it make it for the Canadian military to plan operations because we’ve traditionally been pretty reliant on the Americans and American infrastructure in places like Iraq and Afghanistan and that’s not a sure thing anymore?


Lieutenant General Mike Day: It isn’t. I wouldn’t want to overemphasize the impact on the Iraq missions. It’s a pretty constrained construct. I ran the similar type of approach in Afghanistan. This is a training mission, so the immediate impact of the Americans leaving Syria, I don’t think is going to be felt. I don’t think it necessarily increases the risk to Canadians. I don’t think it increases the difficulty. I’m not saying either of those are minimal by the way. I’m just saying the immediate impact isn’t there. It’s really the larger message that Canada and the world needs to absorb about what we’ve now come to expect from an utter lack of American leadership around the world.


Mercedes Stephenson: When you look here at Canada at home, you had to analyze all kinds of threats: terrorism, cyber. What do you think are the big ones in 2019 that actually threaten Canada or Canada’s place in the world?


Lieutenant General Mike Day: Well, Canada’s place in the world’s an interesting question, isn’t it? And, you know, we’ve been insulated geographically for so long, just based on technology. So we have a history of believing that we’re somewhat protected. But today, in this cyber world in the domain that where we’re facing threats on an hourly moment to moment basis in terms of the world becoming smaller, I think we have to really cast our understanding of what a threat to Canada is. Look, we need to think of security in its largest possible sense. Security isn’t just protection from military threats, from terrorist threats. Really, security is about the larger construct of protecting our way of life and Canada does well in the world when the world is the least chaotic possible. And so that’s where we need to start from and we need to look at threats both domestically and quite frankly, internationally from that perspective and then decide how do we bring or how do we contribute to the stability of the world as best we can.


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Mercedes Stephenson: What do you think those threats are now? If you were back in your old job and you were looking at the situation, what would you be concerned about?


Lieutenant General Mike Day: Well, not just informed by, you know, previous jobs that I’ve had both as, you know, one of the strategic planners in the department as well as in our Special Operations Forces, but my time in NATO now and being in the private sector and looking at these things, I think we need to enlarge the aperture. You could make the argument there are really only two existential threats, right? Nuclear holocaust and essentially climate change that we’re destroying the world. I’m not sure that Canadians appreciate, you know, what’s happening in the first and I don’t think that that’s a near and present danger. And in the second, we tend to ignore that is success the governments have and we just continue our merry way. But in a real sense, we come back to the threats to Canada in terms of Canadian territory. They’re not clear and present. I mean, more people die in snowmobile accidents every year than die from terrorist events. So we tend to respond to fear. We tend to respond to visibility as opposed to some of the realities. And so when we talk about those threats, Mercedes, I think we just need to have a more informed view and it’s not about the threats just to 2019, it’s the threats that Canada’s going to face over the next couple of years.


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Mercedes Stephenson: What would those threats be?


Lieutenant General Mike Day: So, we’re going to continue to see, I think, a failing of liberalism at large around the West and social democracies of the world, which will add to chaos, which will make the world more uncertain, which will make Canada’s security more uncertain, certainly make Canada’s trade and economy more uncertain and that has impact. You’re going to see the impact of extreme weather events, not just here at home. I know the chief has talked about that publicly, but quite frankly, in some of the places around the world that have ripple effects. Look, if you took a hunger map of the world and you superimposed some of the demographics of ages 15 to 25 and the booming populations, and then you looked at extreme weather events and then you looked at some of the immigration issues that we’re facing and the diasporas and the mass movement of displaced people., all of that leads to instability. Those are the sorts of things we’re going to face.


Mercedes Stephenson: Do you think that Canadian Forces are prepared and have the resources they need to deal with those situations?


Lieutenant General Mike Day: So, this is always a great question because it presumes that we have to have a finite capacity or capability. Capacity being the number of things we’re able to do, how much capability of the types of things. It’s like the Canadian Forces only needs to be big enough, good enough, well-equipped enough to do what the government tells it to do. So the question I would always return with is what does the Canadian government want its military to do, is the military equal not to the threats of the world, but to achieve government policy.


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Mercedes Stephenson: And that’s a question for the government. Well Mike Day, that’s all the time we have, but thank you very much for joining us.


Lieutenant General Mike Day: Thanks very much.


Mercedes Stephenson: That’s our show for today. We’d love to hear from you. Please visit our website at Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and of course, Instagram. And let us know if there’s something that you would like us to discuss here on the show.


Thanks so much for joining us today. I’m Mercedes Stephenson, and we’ll see you next week.