March 31, 2019 12:45 pm
Updated: March 31, 2019 10:44 pm

The West Block, Episode 30, Season 8

Watch the full broadcast of The West Block from Sunday, March 31, 2019 with Mercedes Stephenson.

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THE WEST BLOCK
Episode 30, Season 8
Sunday, March 31, 2019

Host: Mercedes Stephenson

Guest Interviews: Minister Randy Boissonnault, Bob Fife, David Akin,
Grand Chief Stewart Philip

Location: Ottawa

Unidentified: “We need to intensify our engagement with China in order to resolve this quickly. It’s a critically important market for western Canada.”

Story continues below

Chrystia Freeland, Foreign Affairs Minister: “The existence of these tariffs for many Canadians raises some serious questions about NAFTA ratification.

Andrew Scheer, Opposition Leader: “Both former ministers should be able to speak freely about their involvement in the SNC-Lavalin affair.”

Tracey Ramsey, NDP-Ontario MP: “The Liberals are more interested in protecting the prime minister than finding the truth.”

Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, Liberal-Ontario MP: “Do I think that Prime Minister Trudeau is best suited to do the job? Do I think that the Liberal government is best suited to do the job? Without question.”

Protestor: “People in Grassy Narrows are suffering from mercury poisoning.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “Thank you very much for your donation tonight, I really appreciate it.”

“Last night, I lacked respect towards them and I apologize for that.”

Mercedes Stephenson: It’s Sunday, March 31st. I’m Mercedes Stephenson, and this is The West Block.

Former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould submitted new evidence to the justice committee last week. The evidence included voice recording, e-mails, text and a written statement.

The Liberal dominated committee voted earlier this month to shut down their probe of alleged political interference in the SNC-Lavalin affair. So, will they reconsider that in light of the new evidence?

First, let’s take a listen to some of the new evidence:

Michael Wernick: “Because I think you feel that the government has to have done everything it can before we lose 9,000 jobs in a signature Canadian firm.”

Jody Wilson-Raybould: “Right. So, I’m—again, I’m confident in where I’ve—I’m at, and my views on SNC and the DPA haven’t changed. This is a constitutional principle of prosecutorial independence that Michael, I have to say, including this conversation, previous conversations that I’ve had with the prime minister and many other people around it, it’s entirely inappropriate and it is political interference.”

Joining me now from Edmonton is Liberal MP Randy Boissonnault, who is a member of the justice committee. Welcome to the show, Randy.

Minister Randy Boissonnault: Thanks very much.

Mercedes Stephenson: So Randy, you’ve had a chance to listen to the audio recording and the evidence. And in it, you hear the prime minister mention numerous times by the clerk Michael Wernick, he makes it very clear that he is acting on behalf of the prime minister and that the prime minister wants this. Do you think the prime minister should appear before the committee to answer some of these questions about whether or not he was involved and whether what Mr. Wernick is saying accurately represented his position?

Minister Randy Boissonnault: Well I think what we heard, and certainly what I heard in the tape and in the testimony yesterday, was essentially a confirmation of what we already knewStephen There was no—nothing unlawful and Ms. Wilson-Raybould states that again in the testimony. It’s also clear that she wasn’t directed to have SNC-Lavalin go from trial to a remediation agreement. It’s also clear and, you know, after 10 witnesses, 13 hours of testimony, 600 questions, what do we know? We know that SNC-Lavalin’s going to go to trial. We know that Anne McLellan is going to take a look and see whether attorney general and minister of justice roles should be in the same person or not and the ethics commissioner will continue his investigation into the matter. So, for me, it was a confirmation of things that we already knew.

Mercedes Stephenson: But you hear the clerk say in it that he’s just come from talking to the prime minister that he’s in a mood about this, that he has certain expectations about what he wants to happen and that he’s worried. He’s worried about a collision, about loggerheads that this isn’t good. He’s worried about the consequences. And he then says that he’s going to go and report back to the prime minister. The Prime Minister’s Office says he never talked to them about that. Why would the clerk say he was going to report that to the prime minister if he didn’t?

Minister Randy Boissonnault: You know, that is a question—it’s an open question and the prime minister’s statement was very clear yesterday that the conversation between the clerk and the former attorney general wasn’t communicated to the prime minister or the team and so that’s an important fact. It’s an important element in this. And I think it’s also important—like I was at the committee. You mentioned that I’m on the justice committee and I was sitting at the committee when Mr. Wernick very clearly said look, it’s not good to have an attorney general and a prime minister at loggerheads. And I think the prime minister’s been clear and we’ve heard other witnesses say look, we were talking about jobs. We’re talking about a potential head office leaving. I know that if this were an Alberta company, if this was an oil and gas company, you can certainly bet that people would be, you know, defending the company trying to look at any particular—

Mercedes Stephenson: But that did happen in Alberta and there were 100,000 jobs lost.

Minister Randy Boissonnault: Well, there’s also $4.5 billion put on the table to be able to make sure that the Trans Mountain pipeline goes forward in the right way. So when you add that to $1.6 billion in financing that we’ve put on the table for companies to get through the downturn, we are working daily with gov—with businesses here in Alberta. I think what’s important is that it’s also the first time that the remediation legislation was being considered to be used. And so those intense conversations that took place between colleagues were really important. I also think it’s important—

Mercedes Stephenson: But she’s saying that this is constitutionally a no-go, that this would actually violate a principle in the constitution, a prosecutorial independence. Between that question and the question that you just said yourself remains open, what happened with why the prime minister wasn’t told? Why not just reopen this in the committee and ask these questions and get some answers?

Minister Randy Boissonnault: Well the conversation I think is very interesting and I—look, let’s set aside the ethics about taping the clerk of the Privy Council secretly and not letting the clerk know that you’re doing that. Put that aside. What’s clear is that she said look, I know there’s nothing lawful here. Even the clerk kept saying the prime minister wants to make sure that we’re doing everything within the law. These are the kinds of conversations that take place when you’re trying to make sure that you respect the rule of law and that you’re heading down the path of a public policy consideration that can have an impact not just on jobs but on pensioners and on the economy.

Mercedes Stephenson: But she keeps saying that she’s uncomfortable, Randy. She keeps saying I’m uncomfortable. This is inappropriate. I’ve told you I’m not going to do this and it keeps going.

Minister Randy Boissonnault: Well we have uncomfortable conversations on Parliament Hill all the time. Our jobs are pressure. Certainly ministers face more pressure and I think what’s interesting is that it’s clear in what was released by the justice committee yesterday is that the Section 13 notice that Ms. Wilson-Raybould received. She took the Section 13 notice and say okay, that’s enough for me but then, it didn’t—the communication didn’t happen. She didn’t set up a meeting with the prime minister and say look, I’m done. I don’t want any more comments on this. I—this needs to go to trial and essentially case closed. From her perspective, that’s where this erosion of trust and the relationships breaking down are lamentable and we can learn from that.

Mercedes Stephenson: But he seems to be clearly speaking for the prime minister and he keeps saying that he’s speaking for the prime minister. Just to go to one last question because we’re almost out of time.

Minister Randy Boissonnault: Sure.

Mercedes Stephenson: Big questions about whether or not Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott can stay in caucus, especially after this recording. And I know that’s something that you’re going to be talking about this week. Which way will you vote if there’s a vote, Randy, on whether or not Jane Philpott and Jody Wilson-Raybould should be allowed to stay in the Liberal caucus?

Minister Randy Boissonnault: Well look, I ran as a Liberal here in Edmonton Centre to make the lives of Canadians and Edmontonians better and that’s certainly what we are continuing to work on as members of the Liberal government. It’s going to come down to a decision to both Ms. Wilson-Raybould and Ms. Philpott in terms of, you know, their future in the caucus. I can tell you the values that I stand for. I mean we’ve reduced poverty—

Mercedes Stephenson: But would you vote for them to stay in?

Minister Randy Boissonnault: It’s a conversation that is a caucus conversation. You know that those caucus conversations are confidential but at the end of the day, it’s a decision for both Ms. Philpott and Ms. Wilson-Raybould to make.

Mercedes Stephenson: Well certainly, I’m sure we’ll all be keeping an eye on that this week. Randy, thank you for joining us.

Minister Randy Boissonnault: Thank you, it’s a pleasure.

Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, we’ll unpack the politics of the latest in the SNC-Lavalin affair, plus the trade dispute with China over canola.

[Break]

Mercedes Stephenson: Welcome back. Lots to unpack with the latest submissions to the justice committee: that stunning audio, plus latest showdown with China now over canola.

Joining me to discuss that now is Bob Fife, who is the bureau chief at the Globe and Mail here in Ottawa, and our own chief political correspondent David Akin.

Bob, we heard this audio. It backed up much of what Jody Wilson-Raybould had said. How damaging is the tape to the Liberals in the SNC-Lavalin affair?

Bob Fife: It’s damaging to the prime minister because it’s the prime minister, who was the one who was threatening her. The clerk is very clear saying he’s in that kind of a mood. You don’t want to get him upset. He wants this thing done. I’ve just talked to him. He wants this thing done. He wants a differed prosecution. He wants a special deal for SNC-Lavalin. And when she says I don’t want to do this because it’s—you’re putting—you’re in dangerous ground here for the prime minister because it is political interference in a criminal prosecution. And she says—he says, well, you know I’m going to have to go and tell him this that you don’t want to go along with this. And she says, well, I guess I know when he doesn’t like stuff. I guess—basically she says I guess my future is on the line. And guess what? Her future was on the line because a few weeks later, she was dumped as attorney general. So the onus is not on the Liberal Party or on anybody else but the prime minister. He was the one who wanted this so badly and he was willing to push his attorney general right near the eh—over the edge perhaps of what you should properly do and try to get a special deal for SNC-Lavalin.

David Akin: And yet we heard Randy Boissonnault, the Liberal MP from Edmonton, on the show earlier, basically act as if there was nothing to see here, saying, oh, I was—

Mercedes Stephenson: And that’s what the PMO statement says, we have all the facts now. Thank you very much, nothing to see. We look forward to moving forward.

David Akin: Right. Like, he actually said—I listened to that and we all knew all of this already. And it’s important to note that the Liberal spin line, too now includes lines like, as she said, nothing illegal happened here. I mean that’s the best they’re trying to get out of this is saying nothing illegal happened. Well, you know, that is now quite a debatable—

Bob Fife: It was bad, but it wasn’t illegal.

Mercedes Stephenson: That’s the bar now.

David Akin: That’s quite debatable whether something illegal happened.

Bob Fife: Well, and more to the point, last night—or sorry, Friday night, the prime minister throws the clerk of the Privy Council under the bus. He says—

Mercedes Stephenson: He never told me.

Bob Fife: He said, oh, he didn’t brief me on that conversation that he had with Jody Wilson-Raybould. And so we—needless to say, we go back to the clerk’s office and say, did you or didn’t you? He will have no further comment on this.

David Akin: And now, as is we think again, when we were talking of this, our colleague, Michael le Couteur reported on this on Friday. Where’s David Lametti and the current justice minister, the current attorney general?

Mercedes Stephenson: I asked David Lametti. On Friday night, I asked his press person what is the decision here? What is the deal with the DPA? And all they would say is one has not been issued. They wouldn’t comment on whether or not there’s been a decision because in that letter, she says, if there was a decision to go ahead with the DPA, I would resign. I resigned. Is there one?

Bob Fife: And let’s just go back to the original story. When it was first published on February the 7th, the prime minister, knowing what we know now, he was up to his neck in this sort of thing, comes out and says those allegations are completely false. And Mr. Lametti says yes, they’re false. And you asked him or somebody asked him well how do you know that? And he said, well the prime minister told me. Well the prime minister hasn’t been telling the truth.

David Akin: Michael Wernick at committee, what did he say? That Globe and Mail article that Bob Fife wrote was defamatory, that we should sue. There’s nothing in it. It’s a pack of lies. Actually, Mr. Wernick, we’ve now got you on tape. It wasn’t a pack of lies at all. It was exactly as was reported and exactly what Jody Wilson-Raybould testified. So, you know, this is the thing. We have seen polls that in this right now, Canadians are paying attention. That’s the first thing. They do understand this. Trudeau’s numbers are taking a terrible hit and so are the Liberal party’s. And if it’s a he said, she said, Canadians are pretty much sticking with she said.

Bob Fife: Well, she’s got the tape. And, you know, the Liberals are now mounting an effort as well as using friendly media to say well this was just unacceptable of her. How can an attorney general tape a conversation? I think that we’ve all been in a situation or we know people who have been in a situation where their boss was trying to get rid of them or was trying to get them to do something that they knew was ethically and morally wrong, and those kinds of situations you tape. And that’s what she did, she taped.

Mercedes Stephenson: And now there’ll be questions for Justin Trudeau. But another question for Justin Trudeau is what he’s going to do on the latest trade dispute: China canola. We’re talking about billions and billions of dollars, thousands of jobs. We spoke with Jim Carr, who is the minister in charge of trade and diversification. Take a listen to what he had to say about China’s allegations that our canola is somehow contaminated.

Minister Jim Carr: “We believe that the canola that we have sent to China is the highest quality in the world. The CFIA has inspected twice and found no impurities. We are asking the Chinese officials to show us if there are any impurities and we’ll work through.”

Mercedes Stephenson: The government finds itself, Bob, in the middle of two trade disputes, one over USMCA and the tariffs and canola. This is a lot of money on the table. How serious is the situation economically for the government?

Bob Fife: This was devastating to canola farmers. I mean we’re talking billions and billions of dollars. This is, in many of their cases, their only client. Unfortunately, there’s not very much the government can do because China is playing rough. They want the Huawei executive released. We can’t release them because we have an extradition to deal with the United States and of course, the prime minister says, you know, the rule of law is paramount here. So we are—I don’t see an easy route out of this. We’re going to have to—I do think the gov—the foreign affairs minister should go to China, try to see if she can resolve this, even if it comes back with a tail between her legs. But we have to make that kind of effort so farmers know we’re really trying.

David Akin: We do have an election underway right now in Alberta and the federal government is one of the bogey men in that election. Like a lot of provincial elections, you want to beat up the Feds but Jason Kenney, the leader of the United Conservative Party, the leader in the polls, you know, this has come up. This is one more example why you need a strong Alberta government to stand up to Ottawa, even though, I think it is unfair to say, to blame the Trudeau government. There’s nothing necessarily they did wrong here, it’s the Chinese government overreacting. They are the bad guys here. But it’s just one more example of how, for better or for worse, in, you know, an election [00:15:22 for it] right now in Alberta, the federal government and Justin Trudeau’s brand is getting beat around the ears.

Mercedes Stephenson: Now looking south of the border, we had Chrystia Freeland in D.C. promising tougher talk on USMCA if those aluminum and steel tariffs don’t come off. The steel producers are saying we’re about to shut down factors, we’re about to lose jobs. Is Donald Trump listening?

Bob Fife: Well, clearly he isn’t listening and looks like our only way out of this, aside from lobbying in Congress and U.S. state governors is that we’re not going to sign the NAFTA—the new NAFTA deal until we get those tariffs lifted. But, as far as Trump is concerned, he’s had every opportunity to do so. This has dragged on and he’s not going to do that. And we probably can’t even rely on him to help us get the Chinese to allow our canola back into the market because Trump will always say hey, we’ll just sell that—our American farmers can sell to them.

Mercedes Stephenson: We have to wrap there. Thank you very much to both of you for joining us today on the show.

Bob Fife: Thank you.

Protestor: People in Grassy Narrows are—

Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, the government has vowed reconciliation with Indigenous Canadians is at the top of their agenda but is the government keeping its promises?

[Break]

Mercedes Stephenson: Welcome back. The prime minister issued an apology last week after this video became public. The protestor in the video was drawing attention to the plight of Grassy Narrows First Nation, which has suffered mercury poisoning for decades and is still waiting for a promise treatment centre.

The comments the prime minister made in that video drew condemnation from many Indigenous communities and criticism that the government is not doing enough on the reconciliation file.

Joining me now to discuss this from Vancouver is Grand Chief Stewart Philip. Grand Chief, you had a chance to see that video. What did you make of it?

Grand Chief Steward Philip: Well it was deeply disappointing to know and understand at this late date in the game that the vision and the promises Justin Trudeau that were announced in October 2015 have not come to pass. All of the promises and the commitments that he made have simply been set aside and now that he’s under tremendous pressure from the Jody Wilson-Raybould SNC-Lavalin issue, Mr. Trudeau is really revealing himself to be who he really is, which is a very self-centred, conceited, arrogant individual and I think that was demonstrated with his very smug, mean-spirited response to the Grassy Narrows demonstrator. That situation is incredibly tragic. Many, many people have died. Many people are handicapped and living with the legacy of mercury poisoning and, you know, he’s such an arrogant individual. It’s very disturbing and very disappointing.

Mercedes Stephenson: The prime minister did apologize for his tone and what he said in that video. I take it that that apology doesn’t mean much to you.

Grand Chief Steward Philip: No. You know, I think at this late stage in the game, again, we’re used to Justin Trudeau’s apologies and alligator tears. It’s not about apologies. It’s about getting it right.

Mercedes Stephenson: How would you describe the relationship between the government and Indigenous communities under the Trudeau government compared to previous governments?

Grand Chief Steward Philip: Well, I think started off with a great sense of hope and anticipation that the Trudeau government was going to fully embrace a UN declaration on the rights of Indigenous peoples and the TRC calls to action were going to be fully implemented, that there was going to be a seismic change with respect to our jurisdictional issues and the other issues around energy in this country. And as time has moved forward, all of those promises have been simply swept aside and have not come to pass. And here we are, six months out from the next federal election and we’re faced with the Trudeau government totally unravelling, coming apart at the seams and without question, the sun is setting on Justin Trudeau.

Mercedes Stephenson: Do you think it’s that the government isn’t committed to reconciliation or that it’s simply much more difficult than they were anticipating and it’s taking more time and more effort to solve what are some very complex problems?

Grand Chief Steward Philip: Well, quite honestly, I think that the clip that we witnessed, the most disturbing part of that clip, aside from the smugness and the mean-spirited remark on the part of the prime minister, was the spontaneous applause from the Liberal Party members who were attending, which to me is a reflection on the heart and soul of the Liberal Party, which for many, many decades has had this arrogant sense of entitlement, that they are a national party that is so accustomed to forming government and I think that’s the central issue here. Prime Minister Trudeau paid a lot of lip service, you know, to this historic changes but I don’t think the party itself was, you know, that much in support of those visionary statements made by Prime Minister Trudeau in the early days of his tenure.

Mercedes Stephenson: Grand Chief, there are some who say, you know, you are a British Columbia chief. You’re very close to Jody Wilson-Raybould and her family. Are you upset because of what happened there or is it also about the government not meeting the promises that you feel they put out there?

Grand Chief Steward Philip: It’s both. But believe me, British Columbians, the Indigenous community in British Columbia, were so proud when Jody Wilson-Raybould was appointed as justice minister. We have had the privilege and the honour of working with her and we know her to be deeply committed, very conscientious and an absolute work horse. And she’s very meticulous in terms of preparation and keeping records of meetings and so on and so forth. And we knew immediately that the efforts to smear Jody Wilson-Raybould were politically motivated and needless to say, we were deeply angered by how terribly she was treated as an Indigenous woman. When the prime minister said there was nothing more dear to him than relationships with Indigenous peoples and in a very misleading way has always held himself out as a feminist.

Mercedes Stephenson: Well Grand Chief, we do have to wrap it up there. Thank you very much for your time and for joining us today.

Grand Chief Steward Philip: Thank you.

Mercedes Stephenson: That’s our show for today. Thanks for joining us. I’m Mercedes Stephenson. Have a great day and we’ll see you right here next week.

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