March 24, 2019 12:02 pm
Updated: March 25, 2019 1:05 am

The West Block, Season 8, Episode 29

Watch the full broadcast of The West Block from Sunday, March 24, 2019 with Mercedes Stephenson.

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THE WEST BLOCK
Episode 29, Season 8
Sunday, March 24, 2019

Host: Mercedes Stephenson

Guest Interviews: Minister Karina Gould, Minister Daniel Blaikie, Minister Lisa Raitt, Minister Bill Morneau

Location: Ottawa

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “I want to thank Michael Wernick for his extraordinary service to Canada over many, many decades.”

Story continues below

Pierre Poilievre, Conservative MP: “The only person left to resign now is Justin Trudeau himself.”

Murray Rankin, NDP MP: “Another effort to change the channel.”

Michael Cooper, Conservative MP: “Where the Liberals have shut down the process.”

Randy Boissonnault, Liber MP: “After 13-hours, 10 witnesses over five weeks, we are confident that we did what we said we would do, which is provide information to Canadians.”

Bill Morneau, Finance Minister: “Our fourth budget. Very pleased with what we’re able to do this year.”

Andrew Scheer, Conservative Leader: “This budget has no legitimacy.”

Robin Gill, Global News Anchor: “The Liberals can’t seem to keep the SNC-Lavalin affair out of the spotlight. Jane Philpott…”

Mike Le Couteur, Global News Anchor: “Told the magazine, ‘There’s much more to the story that needs to be told.’”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “We granted an unprecedented waiver so that people could be heard on this matter.”

Mercedes Stephenson: It’s Sunday, March 24th. I’m Mercedes Stephenson, and this is The West Block.

It has been bombshell after political bombshell over the past week in the SNC-Lavalin scandal.

On Monday, the clerk of the Privy Council resigned. Tuesday, the Liberals on the justice committee ended their probe into alleged political interference and blocked former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould from appearing before the committee again.

The, MPs pulled an all-nighter for over 30 hours voting and former cabinet minister Jane Philpott broke her silence to say there’s much more Canadians need to know. So will the government allow Canadians to hear the full story?

Joining me now from Burlington is Karina Gould Minister of Democratic Institutions. Welcome to the show, minister.

Minister Karina Gould: Thanks for having me, Mercedes.

Mercedes Stephenson: We had a letter released by Jody Wilson-Raybould on Friday to the justice committee saying she has more to say and says she’s not being called back in front of the committee. She’s actually going to submit it in writing as written testimony.

We also heard from Jane Philpott last week in her interview with Maclean’s in which talking about the SNC-Lavalin story and the justice committee shutting down, she said that she believes, “There’s much more to the story that should be told” and also went on to say, “I believe we actually owe it to Canadians as politicians to ensure that they have the truth.”

In light of those two developments, do you believe that there should be an additional inquiry or investigation into the allegations that have been made?

Minister Karina Gould: No. Look, Mercedes, I think this is normal practice when it comes to committees. Witnesses are often invited to submit additional feedback or testimony or whatever evidence that they have after they have testified. The justice committee is welcoming that and, you know, Jody testified in front of the committee for almost four and a half hours. She had a 40-minute opening statement. If you watch it, you know the questions and the answers began to be repetitive. She had a tremendous opportunity to provide additional information at that point and I think that this is appropriate. You know what we were hearing from many people yesterday was, you know, if you feel like you have more to say, then say it. You know, the order and council gave you permission to speak about anything related to SNC-Lavalin and so I think that this is entirely, you know, the right way to do this. And the justice committee members will be ceased with this matter as they have been for the past six weeks and we should also remember that the ethics commissioner is also investigating this. So there are two robust avenues and mechanisms that are looking into this issue.

Mercedes Stephenson: But when the Liberals were in opposition in 2013, and I’m looking at a quote here from Bob Rae, he said that there needed to be a public inquiry into the Senate scandal because, “It would be more fair and the light of day and the light of sunshine would be clear and expose everything and the public could see it.” So, why is it that the government feels that the ethics commissioner is sufficient in this case and there’s no need for a public inquiry, but in opposition felt very differently about the Senate scandal?

Minister Karina Gould: Well, so with regards to our view of public institutions and parliamentary officers, we have tremendous respect for the institutions of democracy and parliament here in this country and feel that the ethics commissioner has absolutely the tools necessary to look into this. But also, I would like to remind you and anyone watching that the justice committee has been studying this for up to six weeks. They have heard from Jody herself. She had four and a half hours to testify to put things on the record.

Mercedes Stephenson: Minister?

Minister Karina Gould: They’ve heard from the clerk of the Privy Council from Gerry Butts, from her former deputy minister, the deputy minister of justice. They have had much occasion to—

Mercedes Stephenson: But minister, they haven’t heard from Minster Philpott.

Minister Karina Gould: Look into it. And we’ve—it’s all been in public.

Mercedes Stephenson: But they never heard from Jane Philpott—

Minister Karina Gould: Well, so that’s an interesting question.

Mercedes Stephenson: And she’s saying that she had a lot—

Minister Karina Gould: Because one of—but, so—but, so that’s an interesting question because Jane, you know, as I’ve been seeing, you know, throughout different reporting over the past couple of days, you know, is—hasn’t actually been present in any of the meetings that were being discussed. If Jane has something to say, she’s a parliamentarian and she can absolutely exercise her privilege to say that as any parliamentarian can, something that we’ve seen, you know, confirmed by numerous parliamentary experts. And so there is an opportunity for her to share and, you know, I think anyone feels that if there is something that needs to be said that Canadians need to know about, then they should definitely put that on the record. I think it’s what we expect of politicians no matter what.

Mercedes Stephenson: But she was pretty clear in that interview in Maclean’s in saying that she thinks the alleged interference was inappropriate and that it’s in a very serious criminal case. What’s the harm in allowing these women to appear before the committee and to voice their concerns? And aren’t you worried that otherwise there might be a perception that this is a cove-up?

Minister Karina Gould: So, Mercedes, Jody has written to the committee. She has said that she will be sharing more information. She is absolutely within her right to do that. They both have mechanisms available to them if they choose to, to share this with Parliament. And those are their decisions that they are taking and how they pursue this matter. You know, I can’t speak on their behalf. They have to do that and, you know, the prime minister has waived both cabinet confidence and solicitor-client privilege for Jody, something that is really unprecedented. It’s only happened four times since 1987 and so she can speak to anything with regards to SNC-Lavalin and that is the same as it is today as when she testified in front of the committee a few weeks ago.

Mercedes Stephenson: Do you believe these two women can stay in the Liberal caucus?

Minister Karina Gould: So both of them have stated that they continue to believe in the Liberal party. They both have stated that they support the agenda and the values and the programs that we have put in place.

Mercedes Stephenson: Minister, we have to wrap it up there because we are out of time. But thank you very much for joining us today.

Minister Karina Gould: Thank you so much for having me.

Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, will the ethics committee take up the SNC-Lavalin affair? The opposition is here to tell us what they want.

[Break]

Mercedes Stephenson: Welcome back. The opposition wants the ethics committee to take on the investigation into whether Justin Trudeau’s government tried to inappropriately interfere in the SNC-Lavalin affair. That committee is set to meet on Tuesday. Here to talk it with me in studio for the NDP is Daniel Blaikie and in Toronto, Conservative Lisa Raitt.

Lisa, let’s start with this remarkable letter that was sent by Jody Wilson-Raybould on Friday, saying that she still has evidence she wants to give to the justice committee. They’re not recalling her to testify so she says she is going to put it down in writing and send it in. Are the Conservatives going to try to get the justice committee to reopen their probe into this?

Minister Lisa Raitt: For sure. We’re going to use any means that we can in order to allow Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott to come forward and tell the complete story, because that’s what Canadians want to have, the complete story. But they need to have that waiver from the prime minister in order to do so. I’m glad that Jody Wilson-Raybould is sending the packet of information in. She took it under advisement during her testimony, whether or not she would submit it. I’m glad she’s doing it. I just can’t believe the Liberals are losing the opportunity to actually cross exam her or test her on the evidence. If they don’t re-open the committee, it would be a shame.

Mercedes Stephenson: Daniel, do you think that they’ll re-open the committee or do you think they’re going to stick to their guns?

Minister Daniel Blaikie: I don’t know what they’re going to do. I mean, if there’s been one consistent theme in this story it’s that I just think the Liberals really don’t know what they’re doing. I think if you take a step back and you said is this a government that’s serious about ensuring that these women who have raised important issues of principle get to tell their whole story. Their behaviour doesn’t fit that at all. I mean, so we’re—we had, I guess, an investigation at the justice committee. Certainly, we heard some testimony, but there was no report issued by the committee on the testimony that they heard. The opposition is trying to bring it up and rightly at other committees. I suggested in the House yesterday when Jane Philpott’s story broke that the House meet in a committee of the whole to hear from them, because we’re looking for ways to just get these women to be able to tell the truth about what happened. They’ve been very clear that there’s more to tell. So if you look at the way the government is handling this, this is not the behaviour of a government that’s serious about creating the conditions for people who obviously have something important to tell that Canadians want to hear, to be able to do it.

Mercedes Stephenson: Lisa, do you think that you’ll have a better chance at the ethics committee? It has a Conservative share, but there’s still a Liberal majority. Do you have any indication they’re going to be more receptive to this than the justice committee was?

Minister Lisa Raitt: It’s a different set of Liberal MPs who sit on the ethics committee or at least supposed to. I don’t know whether or not they’re going to substitute in different people on Tuesday. And certainly, they’ll make the pitch—meaning our guys will make the pitch—to say the reasons why we believe that there should be some kind of availability for people to come forward and tell the story in full. And we’ll have to be in the hands of the committee to see what happens. Just having the chair isn’t necessarily the winner. We have to have one of the Liberal MPs to vote with the opposition on this.

Mercedes Stephenson: Lisa, what happens to Jody Wilson-Raybould’s written testimony if justice doesn’t re-open the probe? Will the Canadian public ever have a chance to see it?

Minister Lisa Raitt: My understanding is that yes that these are documents that are being sent into the committee. If she were to give her testimony to the committee, it would all be available and open to Canadians. The notion that it would not be allowed to go to Canadians, I think, has to be put in place by a vote of the committee, meaning a Liberal would have to say, I move that we do not release this material. That would be extraordinary, Mercedes. I can’t imagine how people would take that lying down that they know that the material is coming that’s going to help clarify the matter and then the Liberal MPs vote to supress it? I think I’m going to bet on the fact that this testimony will come out.

Mercedes Stephenson: Daniel, if the justice committee says we’re not going to let anyone see this or we will but we’re not talking about it any further and the ethics committee says no thanks, taking a pass. What are your next steps to try to continue to press this issue? Are there other committees or other ways that you can pursue this?

Minister Daniel Blaikie: Well of course, you’ll know that the NDP has been calling for a public inquiry, because not only do we need to create the space for Jody-Wilson Raybould and Jane Philpott to be able to tell their story, but we also would like somebody whose clearly independent to be in charge of investigating what’s going on and to deliver some findings to Canadians, to give them a sense of what actually happened, what were the salient point and what conclusions should be drawn. We never had that at the Liberal justice committee anyway. What they’ve done by shutting that down isn’t blocking Canadians from getting good findings. I don’t think those were on offer in the first place, but what they did do is block further testimony. So public inquiry is certainly what we think is the gold standard and what we should be doing, but there are other ways. So part of that is, you know, you probably heard Liberals recently saying well, they could just get up in Parliament and tell their story and they’re protected by parliamentary privilege. Well, I mean, anybody who’s been in the House for any amount of time knows that MPs just can’t get up and talk about whatever they want, whenever they want. And so if the government was actually proposing that in good faith, what they would be doing is working with the other parties to set aside time in the House of Commons. That’s another option. I mean all of these things are less good options than having a proactive plan for a properly ordered inquiry that hears from everybody that ought to be heard from. And so yeah, we’re going to keep looking for options. There are some options available, but as we go down the line, they’re all the next best option.

Mercedes Stephenson: Lisa, what do you say to people who say this is a game of political cat and mouse? You know, why do they keep saying, I have a secret. I have something to say, but not just coming out and saying it. If it’s so bad, if it’s so serious, why won’t they stand up in the House and simply say what they have to say?

Minister Lisa Raitt: Well I find it interesting that the Liberals are trying to put the onus and the blame on Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott, saying that well they could just come forward can’t they? When the reality is, is that their legal advice says that they can’t, that they must be relieved of their obligations that they feel they have by the prime minister. So it’s really in their hands. And the reality is what this all boils down to at the end of the day is that somebody in the Prime Minister’s Office and the prime minister himself try to put pressure on the attorney general because they are worried about an election coming, both in Quebec and federally because this notion of 9,000 jobs that SNC-Lavalin going, well we’ve pretty much put that to rest haven’t we? That’s not the case. That’s not what the CEO said. That’s not what the CEO told the prime minister, so this number phantomly appears as a try to push a narrative on the attorney general when it comes down to votes in an election. And that has to be looked into. That is crass political interference with a criminal justice issue and Canadians want to know exactly what happened.

Mercedes Stephenson: We just have a couple of seconds left so I want a quick yes or no from both of you on a tough question. If you had MPs sitting in your cause like Jane Philpott and Jody Wilson-Raybould criticising the leader, would you allow them to say? Lisa first.

Minister Lisa Raitt: So we have a different—it’s not yes or no for us. We have a process. We would vote on whether or not they would be allowed to stay in caucus and I’d have to hear from them specifically. But if it’s the same fact set as what we have, I would vote yes, keep them.

Mercedes Stephenson: Daniel?

Minister Daniel Blaikie: I mean this isn’t a typical case of criticising the leader. This is a case of whistleblowing within government on serious political interference and the independence of the justice system.

Mercedes Stephenson: So you’d let them stay?

Minister Lisa Raitt: Yes.

Minister Daniel Blaikie: Well, they need to be able to say what they’re going to say and if they want to stay, that’s something that there should be some kind of appropriate decision-making process.

Mercedes Stephenson: Okay. We have to wrap it up there. Thank you very much to both of our MPs. We’ll talk to both again soon.

Minister Lisa Raitt: Thank you, Mercedes.

Minister Daniel Blaikie: Thank you very much.

Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, the government tabled its election year budget last week. Finance Minister Bill Morneau is here with the highlights.

[Break]

Mercedes Stephenson: Welcome back. The government unveiled its election year budget last week with about $4.2 billion in new spending and another significant deficit. The budget promises money to help students with their debt, millennials with their first homes and cash for skills training. But will these programs help Canadians? I sat down with Finance Minister Bill Morneau the day after the budget. Here’s that conversation:

Mercedes Stephenson: In the budget, one of the big things you promised is the first time homebuyer’s incentive. Now, it’s aimed to help, you said, people in Toronto and Vancouver in particular, where it can be so expensive to buy a home. But the RBC chief economist Robert Hogg said that the action addresses the demand side of things but not the supply and as a result, from him, “It’s likely to raise prices and that will erase any kind of benefit.” So why are you doing this?

Minister Bill Morneau: So this year we did a number of things. And first and foremost, we did focus on supply. We put in place $10 billion of investment financing for rental construction financing. That’s an important supply measure. We put in place a $300 million fund for municipalities to apply to tell us how they can increase supply. So these are big and important measures, but the measure that we’re talking about for first-time homebuyer’s, what we’re doing is we’re looking at those people that just can’t quite get into the market. So it’s for people that have $120 thousand or less in annual income. It’s a program that is intended to allow them to have a shared equity mortgage with the CMHC, with the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation, meaning that they can actually move some of that mortgage to the CMHC, reduce their monthly mortgage payments and get into the housing market sooner.

In terms of its impact on demand, we’ve modelled it out and based on the constraints we’ve put, we don’t see an impact on demand and a very, very modest one. What we do see is that this can potentially take our current first-time homebuyer market, which has about 100,000 buyers to maybe 120, 130 or a 140,000 families getting into a first-time home.

Mercedes Stephenson: Why do you think in Canadian taxpayers’ financial interests to help Canadians buy a first-time home instead of allowing them to rent?

Minister Bill Morneau: We want to do both. We’ve obviously increased the ability for rental housing to be constructed and that’s really important. What we’re doing here is we’re saying that there’s a vehicle that we look at that can actually be an appropriate vehicle for people to get a shared equity mortgage. These kinds of shared equity mortgages actually exist in the private sector already. What we’re able to do is do it so that it’ll be on a larger scale, it’ll help people with that optimism. And from the standpoint of the overall economy, a lot of what you seen in our budget this week is we’re talking about, you know, we’ve already made significant investments that have helped middle class Canadians to feel more optimistic. We’ve made improvements in their situation with the Canada Child Benefit. People are in a better economic situation right now, especially in terms of jobs. But we’re trying to create that optimism for the future. We all know that confidence is required for people to be able to be going out and doing things they need to do to get more successful. That’s what we’re trying to encourage with these sorts of measures and we think it will be better for our overall economy as well as obviously better for the families that take the advantage of this.

Mercedes Stephenson: Well certainly an incentive for some voters, especially some millennials. But one thing that wasn’t in the budget in heavy doses was Canadian industry and Canadian business. The Canadian Chamber of Commerce came out and said that the budget, “Failed to address the fundamental issues that continue to undermine the ability of Canadian business to create more jobs and generate more prosperity.” Why wasn’t competitiveness and taxation more of a priority in this budget?

Minister Bill Morneau: Well I don’t actually agree with what you just said and I don’t agree with that statement and I’ll tell you why.

Mercedes Stephenson: The Canadian Chamber of Commerce statement?

Minister Bill Morneau: Yeah, I don’t agree with them at all. Because what you’ll see, if you look into our budget, there’s a whole host of things that we’ve done that we think are really important. What I’ve been hearing from business executives from the last few years are getting the kind of talent they need is critically important. So we’ve made permanent the global talent stream, the ability for businesses to bring talent from other parts of the world to make businesses successful here. We obviously put in place what governments have been looking at how around the world how we can actually ensure people are prepared for the future of work. We put in place the Canada Training Benefit. Businesses have been asking us to think about how we can better train employees. It was an important ask from the Business Council of Canada. We put in place an ability, for people to get up to four weeks of training, every four years and the kind of tax credit that gives them $1,000 to put towards training courses. This will help us to be prepared for the future, really important for business. But then we’ve done some specific things as well. We made the Shred program for the Research Development program for businesses. We made that better for small businesses to be able to use it more appropriately. We’ve put in place financing and programs for the forestry sector. And importantly, for the oil and gas sector in Alberta, we put in place funding for clean resource innovation network, allowing that sector to think about how they can actually make advances and get more of our clean resources successfully out.

Mercedes Stephenson: I want to ask you as well about SNC-Lavalin, because your name has come up over and over again. In this controversy, the CEO of SNC-Lavalin has come out and said he never told the government that 9,000 jobs would be lost if they did not receive a differed prosecution agreement. What did SNC-Lavalin tell you?

Minister Bill Morneau: You know I’m always talking with businesses across the country about how we can have a robust and effective business sector. The specific discussions with SNC-Lavalin would have been along the lines of how can we make sure that we continue to have an effective economy? What I know, in this particular situation, is that I was concerned, as I would be concerned for any business in this country, that we have an opportunity for us to continue being successful.

Mercedes Stephenson: But did you have any independent evidence that 9,000 jobs would be lost? Was there any kind of research done by your department that showed that?

Minister Bill Morneau: The issue, really, I think that you’re getting at is that what we always want to do is make sure that as we consider any decision we’re making in government, we need to think about the potential impacts of those decisions. So for me, what I’m always going to do with my colleagues, what I’m going to do with the broader caucus, what I’m going to do with Canadians, is talk about the importance of great jobs.

Mercedes Stephenson: But did you have any hard evidence that suggested the company was going to move and those 9,000 jobs would be lost?

Minister Bill Morneau: Well of course what you have whenever there’s a business that is in jeopardy of, you know, being not able to continue operating, you have a situation where jobs will be at risk. That’s just by definition the reality. And so that’s just something that I should always be bringing forward.

Mercedes Stephenson: When it comes to Jody Wilson-Raybould, you both agree. You met in the House of Commons, you had a discussion. She told you that she wanted you to back off on the SNC-Lavalin file. Did she tell you at that point that her decision was final?

Minister Bill Morneau: I never did have a meeting with Jody Wilson-Raybould on this issue. She walked up to me at one stage in the House of Commons and informed me that our political staff were talking. That’s, in my estimation, what they should be doing. So I’m going to always be working with my colleagues to make sure they understand the economic impacts of things.

Mercedes Stephenson: But did she tell you her decision was final?

Minister Bill Morneau: No.

Mercedes Stephenson: Okay. So you thought there was still the opportunity to convince her?

Minister Bill Morneau: I wasn’t engaged in any convincing. My job is to make sure that people understand the economic consequences of their decisions. And so, you know, I’ll always continue to do that.

Mercedes Stephenson: Okay, Minister we are out of time, but thank you so much for joining us today.

Minister Bill Morneau: Okay. Thank you.

Mercedes Stephenson: That’s our show for today. Thanks for joining us. I’m Mercedes Stephenson, see you next week.

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