February 3, 2019 1:27 pm
Updated: February 4, 2019 1:49 pm

The West Block, Season 8, Episode 22

Watch the full broadcast of The West Block from Sunday, February 3, 2019 with Mike Le Coteur.


Episode 22, Season 8
Sunday, February 3, 2019

Host: Mike Le Couteur

Guest Interviews: Minister Karina Gould, Ben Rowswell, Sean Hinton

Location: Ottawa

Geoff Regan, Speaker of the House: “Welcome to a new House. Bienvenue.”

Chrystia Freeland, Foreign Affairs Minister: “Canada and the Lima Group of Juan Guido as the interim president of Venezuela.”

Story continues below

Matthew Whitaker, U.S. Acting Attorney General: “The grand jury in New York has returning indictment alleging 13 additional crimes committed by Huawei, its CFO, and goes all the way to the top of the company.”

Dan Coats, U.S. Director of National Intelligence: “China remains a significant threat to the United States government.”

Ralph Goodale, Public Safety Minister: “Our country and Canadians are sound and secure and national security will not be compromised”.

Jerry Dias, Unifor President: “General Motors is going to take a billion dollars a year out of our economy.” [Crowd chanting: “Solidarity! Go, go, go! Solidarity!”]

Bill Morneau, Finance Minister: “We can be competitive, create jobs for the future.”

Mike Le Couteur: It’s Sunday, February 3rd. I’m Mike Le Couteur, sitting in for Mercedes Stephenson. And this is The West Block.

Domestic elections have become the target of foreign players, while all eyes in this country are looking ahead to October when Canadians will head to the polls. Fake news, bots and hacking, all threaten to interfere in the electoral process. Now most of the activities expected to originate outside Canada’s borders. It’s a problem we’ve already seen play out in the United States and the United Kingdom, as well as France. Ottawa has announced its plans to fight back. But, will it be enough?

Joining me right now is Karina Gould, Canada’s Minister of Democratic Institutions. Thank you very much for joining us. So, the goal of this is to make sure that we’re blocking any specific country that is targeting us. Be honest, is it Russia and China?

Minister Karina Gould: Well, so what’s important to note and to remember, and what I want to assure Canadians is that the Government of Canada is taking threats to our democracy very seriously. In essence, it doesn’t really matter where the threat is coming from because what’s important is that Canadians can have confidence that when they go to the ballot booth, they’ll have the information necessary to make an informed choice. And foreign state actors or non-state actors, what they’re ultimately trying to do is to create confusion and chaos, and we want to assure Canadians that the Government of Canada has a plan in place, a process to inform them and that they can have confidence when they go to the ballot booth.

Mike Le Couteur: But, I think Canadians also want to know where it’s coming from and that’s why I’m asking very pointedly. Russia was meddling in the U.S. election and our relations with China are not at the best, so that’s why I think a lot of people want to know and want to hear from you, is it Russia and China that are top of the list when it comes to threats possible on our election?

Minister Karina Gould: So what we’ve seen over the past two years is new incidences of foreign interference that we haven’t seen before. I mean foreign interference, as I’ve stated many times, and you know, as many previous ministers could state, is not something that’s new in our elections. What’s new are the tools that they’re using to get directly at Canadians. And of course we saw, you know, incidents of this in the U.S. presidential election and the French presidential election and the German parliamentary elections, the U.K. referendum on Brexit and we’re taking all of those learnings that we’ve seen from different episodes around the world, applying them here to Canada, best practices, to ensure that our elections are not only free and fair but also secure.

Mike Le Couteur: Okay, clearly you don’t want to name the countries so that’s fine. But what about the proxies that’ll be working with groups here in Canada? Security—cyber security experts are saying that one of the biggest issues is that it’ll come from within, even though it’s funded from other foreign nations and that they could either be funding far right or far left. What is the government going to be doing to make sure that we’re looking at a tax from within as well?

Minister Karina Gould: So, what’s important to note is, in the late fall, we passed bill C-76, which is the Elections Modernization Act. And this was something that, you know, we actually took recommendations from all different political parties to secure our elections from foreign interference and from foreign funding. And so we tightened up loopholes that would enable any kind of foreign funding to take place to domestic groups, third party or political, and to really make sure that those rule are as tight as possible here in Canada. And so I think Canadians should have confidence that if that were to happen, that would break our laws and we would be able to enforce the law through the Commissioner of Canada election as well as the RCMP.

Mike Le Couteur: Now to safeguard against this, to monitor this, during the writ period is its five bureaucrats. A lot of people have asked. I’m going to ask you now. Why not the chief electoral officer? This is the person who is non-partisan. He is the person entrusted by Parliament to watch over our elections. Why isn’t he on this?

Minister Karina Gould: So, you know what? It’s an excellent question and I think—I really welcome the opportunity to talk about it because the chief electoral officer is obviously someone Canadians and this government trusts and, you know, holds a very special place in ensuring the administration of our elections. And he in fact, put out a statement just after the announcement reiterating his job, which is to administer the elections. And Elections Canada will be focused on that. You know him as the chief electoral officer but also the thousands of Canadians that Elections Canada employs in the lead up to and on Election Day, to ensure the smooth running of the election. This group of top civil senior servants are also impartial. They’re bureaucrats, they’re civil servants. They serve no matter which government is in charge.

Mike Le Couteur: But some of them have been appointed by your government so that’s why some people may say they’re beholding to you.

Minister Karina Gould: No, they’re career civil servants, right?

Mike Le Couteur: Right.

Minister Karina Gould: And so they’ve been, you know, gone through the civil service and they’ve served, you know, governments of all different stripes and their job, particularly during an election period, we have something called the caretaker convention. And this ensures continuity of government during the election period. And so it’s within that kind of convention and tradition that they will be tasked with, you know, informing Canadians, should something happen. And what’s really important about this is we don’t want it to be tainted by partisanship. We want it to be impartial. And so Canadians can trust both the message and the messenger, should they need to be alerted. There’s a possibility that nothing will happen as well.

Mike Le Couteur: Right. Now I think everybody can admit, the real battleground here for interference will be social media: Facebook, Twitter, others. In your press conference last week, you were talking about how you had conversations with these groups, with social media companies. Why aren’t you doing more to actually engage them more and compel them to pull down fake news or to have them as a more active partner in this?

Minister Karina Gould: So, one thing that I think is really important with regards to social media platforms is that it’s not just the Government of Canada that has expectations but Canadians as well. And Canadians are rightly skeptical of the social media platforms. I mean, we’ve seen over the past couple of years how they’re platforms have been manipulated by bad actors to spread disinformation and to try and create confusion amongst voters in other countries. And, you know, we don’t see a reason why that wouldn’t be different here.

Mike Le Couteur: But can’t you regulate them in some way to help here?

Minister Karina Gould: So we have regulated them in two important ways with our Elections Modernization Act. First of all, we’ve banned them from knowingly accepting foreign funding for political advertisement, something that we did see they did during the U.S. presidential election. And we’ve also required them to have an online registry of advertisements during—of political advertisements during the pre-writ and the writ period. So those are two things that we’ve done in law.

Now, the first thing that I’ve asked them for, and I expect that they will want to cooperate because they will want to demonstrate to Canadians that, you know, they have taken steps to address the vulnerabilities that were manipulated on their platforms in previous elections around the world and to say that that’s not going to happen here. But to take actions that they’ve done in other jurisdictions. So for example, in the U.S. during the midterm elections, they have an ad transparency centre on Twitter. Apply that here in Canada, right? If you’re doing something in the upcoming EU elections, parliamentary elections—

Mike Le Couteur: So are they willing to? Are they willing to do that?

Minister Karina Gould: Those are the conversations that we’re having right now and those are the expectations that we’ve laid out as a government.

Mike Le Couteur: But do you think that you can have that by October because obviously, time is going to be running out here?

Minister Karina Gould: Those are my expectations and now it’s up to social media platforms to demonstrate to Canadians that they take our democracy and they take our elections seriously and they’re going to comply with that.

Mike Le Couteur: Well hopefully they’ll listen to you and to Canadians. Minister Gould, thanks so much for joining us today, I appreciate it.

Minister Karina Gould: Thanks for having me.

Mike Le Couteur: Well, still to come, training Canadian workers for the jobs of the future. But first, the battle for Venezuela’s future comes to Ottawa tomorrow. What exactly can Canada and its western allies do for the nation in crisis?


Mike Le Couteur: Welcome back. Venezuela is caught between two men who both claim to be the legitimate leader. President Nicolas Maduro is clinging to power backed by the military. But a growing number of countries, including Canada, are recognizing Juan Guido as the legitimate leader. A possible pass the peace will be discussed in Ottawa tomorrow as Canada hosts a meeting of the Lima Group. It’s a regional block of countries committed to finding a peaceful solution. They are also united in their support for Guido.

And joining me right now from Toronto is Ben Rowswell, Canada’s former ambassador to Venezuela and the president of the Canadian International Council. Thanks very much for joining us.

Ben Rowswell: Thank you.

Mike Le Couteur: The first question is when members of this Lima Group meet tomorrow, what do you think will be top of the agenda?

Ben Rowswell: So, the members of the Lima Group are confronting a situation in Venezuela that’s split between two completely different factions. One faction that enjoys the majority support and the majority of the population support the faction led by Juan Guido. And another faction led by Nicolas Maduro that has the bulk of the weapons, all of the security forces, the army, the police on one side. Those two sides of Venezuela have to come together for there to be a peaceful resolution of this dispute and they’re going to be discussing how that comes about. That will probably have to happen through some fresh set of elections, since the 2018 elections were fraudulent and Maduro had cancelled an earlier recall referendum that would have been an opportunity for the citizens of Venezuela to provide their opinion of whether he’s a legitimate president or not. How to actually organize elections in this highly divisive, highly polarized environment is going to be quite difficult and I think that will occupy the bulk of the conversations on Monday.

Mike Le Couteur: Yeah, I wanted to ask you that because we have the solution. It seems relatively simple, but how do you get there when you consider that Maduro is not going anywhere anytime soon?

Ben Rowswell: Well, there is tremendous pressure being brought to bear by the citizens of Venezuela and I can vouch for the fact that that’s being recognized by the armed forces. They have not yet moved in to try and disperse the protests. They have not yet moved to arrest Juan Guido, the interim president. They have tried to intimidate him, but the armed forces seem to be in a sort of a wait and see mode. There are some incidents of repression happening, but the armed forces are clearly recognizing the reality that the vast majority of Venezuelans are against the president that up until now, they have declared their loyalty to. There almost are certainly some discussions inside the Maduro camp about how to get out of this, given that it’s obvious that they’ve gotten themselves into a dead end through years of remaining in power in spite of dropping support and declining support in a terrible economic crisis. And at some point, there’ll be people inside the regime that won’t want to get things right with the future rulers of Venezuela and will want to save their skin.

Mike Le Couteur: And I wanted to ask you about that because a lot of people have said okay, is it time for a military solution? We saw John Bolton last week. He had a pad of paper, on it written 5,000 troops to Columbia and we wonder whether or not that’s a real solution here. Or does it have to come within where the military that’s supporting Maduro right now has to stand up and realize it’s got to choose a side? Because as we know, all those generals are doing pretty well under Maduro and it’s more the underlings that are sort of looking at this and going I don’t know if we can continue this.

Ben Rowswell: The solution can only come from within Venezuela. This is a Venezuelan problem. Venezuelan’s have spoken. They are clear about what solution they want. And the role for the rest of us is to support them and to follow what Venezuelan’s are doing. It’s totally irresponsible for outside powers to be threatening military intervention or in the case of some, actually intervening militarily already. There are actual Russian forces that are operating inside Venezuela. There have been Cuban intelligence officials there for years and years, providing advice and support to the Maduro government and of course, we now see these totally irresponsible remarks from President Trump, from John Bolton, his national security advisor about military options as well. So one topic I hope the Lima Group will be discussing in Ottawa on Monday will be how they discourage outside forces from either threatening or actually launching some kind of military intervention? The Venezuelans really need to be left to themselves to do this on their own without those kinds of threats.

Mike Le Couteur: And how difficult is it as well, the fact that Russia and China are both siding with the Maduro regime right now? Even though you have the U.S. and all of these—the 14 member groups of the Lima Group actually, you know, standing on one side with Guido, the fact that you do have superpowers like China and Russia on Maduro’s side. How difficult is that and how much of an uphill battle does that make this?

Ben Rowswell: Well it’s not going to be the only reason why Maduro is still in power. The country has completely collapsed economically. Half of the economy just disappeared under his rule and the only way that he has any cash to stay in power is loans from China. They’ve loaned something like $65 billion over the period of the Maduro government in order to prop up that economy, so that’s an important source of support for Maduro. And Russia has been extremely clear that it will stick with Maduro regardless of what the population of Venezuela says. He clearly has been relying very heavily on that because there’s no other way that you could imagine how he would stay in power in the face of such massive and determined and consistent opposition from his own citizens.

Mike Le Couteur: Yeah, yet he does. And you were mentioning the key here is likely for everybody to sort of sit back and wait for the Venezuelan people to make their own decisions. So, at this meeting, at the Lima Group meeting here in Ottawa, is the outcome of this going to be let’s just sit and wait more?

Ben Rowswell: So one option that I hope that government representatives are considering, the governments of all of these Latin American countries, plus Canada at the Lima Group, is some kind of statement to all of the outside forces that are propping up the Maduro regime and those like the United States that are threatening military intervention against Maduro, to reinforce that this transition could only take place peacefully, that any security forces that other countries have already deployed into Venezuela should be taken out and any threats of new military intervention from the United States should be taken off the table. A joint statement by the vast majority of Latin America, which is what the Lima Group represents, plus Canada, I think would be a new element in this discussion. I’m not sure it would necessarily lead to a change in Russian behaviour or Chinese behaviour, or to Donald Trump holding his mouth shut. It’s very difficult for him to do, but it would send a signal that the region is united behind there being a peaceful transition in power and there being elections to allow the citizens of Venezuela to choose their leader, free from any foreign interference.

Mike Le Couteur: Well, it’ll certainly be interesting to see what develops on Monday. Thank you so much for joining us, Mr. Rowswell.

Ben Rowswell: You’re welcome.

Mike Le Couteur: Up next, training Canadian workers for the jobs of the future and how determining employee skills will help governments and businesses in the labour market.


Mike Le Couteur: Welcome back. Well, it’s an employee’s market when it comes to jobs here in Canada. The country is experiencing one of its biggest labour shortages in years. Still, wages have been lagging.

Last week, the Bank of Canada pointed to some of the causes. Among them is the struggle to find candidates with the right skills. My next guest has some ideas on how to bridge this divide and what role government could play.

And joining me now is Sean Hinton, the founder and CEO of SkyHive Technologies. Thanks very much for joining us today. Can you please explain—just a basic explanation in terms of what we’re looking at here: labour skills, potential for workers and how governments can sort of help adjust the labour market this way.

Sean Hinton: Absolutely. So everybody has skills, talents and abilities. We just don’t know how to use them. We don’t know how to apply them to a labour market. We don’t know the type of training that we need. And what SkyHive does is it extrapolates that information and helps people find new ways to get jobs, new training to take on new professions.

Mike Le Couteur: How much of a blind spot has this been for governments lately, you know, in the not-so-distant past, in terms of having things like the Oshawa plant close and everybody says, well now what do we do with these people? Has this been a real shortcoming of governments in the past?

Sean Hinton: I don’t think it’s necessarily been a blind spot. I think what this is, is the evolution of technology and we now have, today, the ability to look at the labour market and to look at jobs in training at a much more detailed granular level.

Mike Le Couteur: So logistically, we have this closure in Oshawa. These people have been doing these labour intensive jobs. Some of them say I don’t know what I can do? What happens with you in your firm?

Sean Hinton: So each of these people in the plant has a collection of experiences, whether it’s hobbies, education, or work experience. And what we do is we help them understand the skills that they’ve developed through their time and apply those to finding other jobs, finding new career pathways. So there are likely tons of jobs that they didn’t actually know that they were capable of doing. SkyHive helps them find those [00:18:59 cross talk].

Mike Le Couteur: So an example, let’s say, somebody from the plant in Oshawa. What do you think that the avenues could be for them?

Sean Hinton: There would be attention to detail, there would be teamwork, there would be supply chain management, there would be procurement, all of these skills apply to multiple jobs in multiple occupations, so then it’s a matter of finding the right fit. Sometimes not everyone’s a hundred per cent fit for a job, but they are an 85 per cent fit and then the employer has the opportunity to provide them training to get them to the 100 per cent level. That’s what we do.

Mike Le Couteur: Yeah, and the context of this, obviously, is the labour shortage. And just last week, you had the senior deputy governor of the Bank of Canada, Carolyn Wilkins say that the results of the Bank of Canada’s latest business outlook suggests the labour shortages were at one of their highest levels since the great recession a decade ago. And she said job vacancies are still rising in Canada, now at about 550,000. I mean, is that why you look at this and go we need to address this?

Sean Hinton: Absolutely. I mean, we have a situation where there’s this drastic need for jobs, yet there’s not a way to find an easy pathway to those jobs. And so with technologies like SkyHive, we’re now able to draw a line between lifelong learning, meaning training, into work and then back into training to keep going through the cycle.

Mike Le Couteur: In addition to that, a lot of people say that the wage gap is growing. We’ve seen that it is. How does your technology address that? Because unfortunately, the wage gap also sows the seeds of resentment and nationalism and populism because people are looking at the richest of the rich making more and looking at it and those people in the Rust Belt that propelled President Trump to the win going the government’s not working for me. I’m not earning as much as I could. How does your technology address that? That wage gap issue?

Sean Hinton: We see going back five decades as productivity has grown in the international marketplace, this issue of wage gap. And really what it means is we need to be focused on providing people with the right skills that are in demand. What SkyHive does is it measures the skills that are in demand and the skills that are in surplus. And so if they’re in demand, employers are willing to pay more for those skills and therefore higher wages. The skills that are in surplus are not as in demand with employers and therefore the wage rates depress. And so it’s up to us to now use what we can with technologies like SkyHive, to see where are the skills of the future going and how do we make sure that our population are getting those skills to remain competitive and increase those wage rates.

Mike Le Couteur: Now you’re in Ottawa and as luck would have it, probably pre-budget consultations happening by the government and I assume that because you’re in Ottawa, you’re also meeting with this government. What can you bring to this government and help them use your model and for even the upcoming budget?

Sean Hinton: I think, you know, there have been great efforts by government, to bring together the private sector in training institutions to really help solve this problem. And what we bring is sort of that facilitated meeting point digitally where we’re able to say training institutions, we can understand the skills that are being produced by courses. On the private sector, we can look at the skills that are in demand. And working with government, we can help look at real-time and predictive movements in the labour market to help support focus on training and employment programs that drive to real relevancy with respect to the current and future labour market.

Mike Le Couteur: So right now, I mean, when you’re looking at it, do you see that this government is not going in the direction that they should be when you see the labour market trends?

Sean Hinton: I think there’s a great effort to do that. I think what’s happening is there’s a misalignment between the advancement of the global marketplace, the advancement of technology. One of the issues is with this industrial revolution that’s happening right now, the speed at which changes are happening is very difficult to understand. Because we now have technology, we now are globally connected and so there’s a greater call right now for collaboration between the private sector and governments, to help make sure that we can remain competitive as a country and in our local economies around the country.

Mike Le Couteur: Okay, thank you very much for your time. Sean Hinton, the CEO and co-founder of SkyHive. Thanks for joining us today.

Sean Hinton: Thank you, Mike.

Mike Le Couteur: Well that is our show for today, thanks so much for joining us. I’m Mike Le Couteur. Mercedes Stephenson will be back here next week. Have a good day, everyone.

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