April 14, 2019 12:18 pm

The West Block, Season 8, Episode 32

Watch the full broadcast of The West Block from Sunday, April 14, 2019 with Mercedes Stephenson.

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THE WEST BLOCK

Episode 32, Season 8

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Host: Eric Sorensen

Guest Interviews: Minister Bill Blair, United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney,

Jared Wesley, Jen Gerson

Location: Ottawa

Story continues below

Prime Minster Justin Trudeau: “Every single person who comes to Canada gets the full treatment within our asylum system.”

Jenny Kwan, NDP MP: “Will the Prime Minister stop talking out of both sides of his mouth and withdraw this legislation?”

Bill Blair, Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction: “What Canadians are buying from an illegal dealer is a product that is unregulated, untested; often unsafe.”

Rachel Notley, Alberta Premier: “Our government is absolutely focused on helping all Albertans come through this recession.”

Jason Kenney, United Conservative Party Leader: “But I’ll certainly be working to end the Trudeau-Notley alliance.”

Catherine McKenna, Environment Minister: “We have a climate plan that works with everyone.”

Andrew Scheer, Conservative Leader: “Everyday essentials will become more expensive this year, thanks to the Trudeau carbon tax.”

Eric Sorensen: It’s Sunday, April the 14th. I’m Eric Sorensen, and this is The West Block.

Asylum Shopping: the federal government wants to stop people from seeking refuge here if they’ve already applied for asylum elsewhere. Critics say it’ll deny the most vulnerable people the hearing to which they’re entitled. The aim is to combat a big increase in asylum seekers coming from the U.S. So, will it work? And is it right?

And joining us now: Bill Blair, the minister for Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction. Thank you for being here.

Forty thousand irregular plus, irregular asylum seekers crossing the border at places but not at border points, you can see that you’ve got a border issue to deal with. But in an election year, it seems to be an election issue as well. What is this new law going to achieve in your view?

Minister Bill Blair: Canadians expect us to uphold a system that is efficient and well-managed, but also one that respects the rule of law. And so we’ve been working very hard over the past several months to encourage people not to cross irregularly. But if they are seeking asylum, to come to a regular point of entry, and we’ve achieved a fairly significant level of success.

A year today, year-over-year comparisons, it’s down about 47 per cent and so we’ve achieved some level of progress in that, but we’ve also ended budget 2019 and made very significant investments in creating a more efficient system so that people can have a determination of their eligibility earlier, so they can get on with their lives. And for those who perhaps got in the wrong line, who are seeking rather to immigrant to Canada, there’s a right way to do that and it’s not through the refugee protection system. And so we’re also encouraging people to make their applications for immigration appropriately. And for those who, for example, they’ve already arrived in a safe country and have made an application, the principle of asylum primacy is that you make your application for asylum at the first safe place at which you arrive and many people, we have found, have been in the United States sometimes for one—well, even up to five years, have established themselves there, made an application for asylum, even have had children in the U.S. and then they’ve chosen to come to Canada in an irregular fashion to make an application here and what we want to do is discourage that and encourage them to stay in the first safe place that they’ve arrived and to pursue their application in that place.

Eric Sorensen: And I want to ask you about that being whether it’s as safe a place as it always was, the United States. But first, whether or not this is the right way to go about it because the Supreme Court, years ago, said that asylum seekers are entitled to a hearing, not just an interview.

Minister Bill Blair: And they’ll get a hearing. But what they’ll get—

Eric Sorensen: Will they all get a hearing?

Minister Bill Blair: What they’ll get is access. Before, if someone has come in, who quite frankly, is not entitled to asylum in this country, and there are a number of reasons how that determination can be made, but if someone comes in and they’re still subject—before we would remove them from Canada, they get full access to what is called a pre-removal risk assessment. That’s a hearing with a lawyer. The determination of that assessment is also subject to judicial review, it can be appealed. And if any individual, regardless of how they’ve come into the country, if they are deemed to be at risk, they will be protected. We’re not going to send people back into a dangerous situation. They’ll receive the protection of Canada but we want to encourage people to get in the right line, to use both the immigration and the asylum application process appropriately. I think we have an obligation to those who truly are in need of protection.

Eric Sorensen: Some may not be getting, though, the kind of immigration and refugee board hearing that was envisioned and has been in use up to now. Some will get something that is something less than that and the reason is? Why is that happening? Is it happening because of the changes in the U.S. and the U.S. has become, under the Trump administration, more hardlined towards asylum seekers. So of course they’re coming here. They’re coming here because they know they’re not going to get a fair deal down there.

Minister Bill Blair: Well, first of all, I believe and the UNHAR believes that the United States remains a safe third country and literally tens of thousands of people seeking refuge in the United States believe it as well. But what we’ve had under the Safe Third Country Agreement, if a person comes from the United States, a safe country and seeks asylum in Canada, they are turned back if they cross regularly. But over the past two years, we’ve seen a phenomenon where people are choosing to avoid that rule and crossing irregularly, where they are exempt from the requirement that they seek asylum in the first place, the first safe place that they’ve landed. And so we want to make sure that there is no incentive or advantage to cross irregularly and so we’re working very hard to make sure that our system is always fair and always compassionate. And when people who come to this country who are fleeing war and persecution, we want to make sure that Canada is always able to protect those individuals and help them make a life in Canada that will benefit both them and this country. And for those who choose to immigrate, there’s a right way to do that. We have a great immigration system and we would encourage people to make that application to our immigration system and come in through the right way.

Eric Sorensen: The reality is some will continue to come across the border irregularly and I guess you will be facing a challenge, maybe legal challenge as we go forward. But let me leave that for the moment because I want to ask you also about cannabis. This is the hat you were wearing much more so until the law was developed to make it a legal product in this country. But legal sales have fallen far short of expectations, what’s the problem?

Minister Bill Blair: Well, it depends on your expectations. Quite frankly, what we did is, we lifted the criminal prohibition to create an opportunity,where we could robustly regulate every aspect of production, distribution and consumption of this substance in our country. And the federal government is regulating and overseeing a licensed production system where companies are licensed to produce. They’re overseen and inspected by Health Canada to ensure that Canadians can have access to a product of known potency and purity. The provinces and territories have had responsibility to build out a retail framework and to regular that retail framework. Some of them made very quick progress, others are a little bit slower in that progress and certainly, they’ve experienced, because it’s a new market, it’s a very new experience and organized crime wasn’t sharing their sales data with us and so the provinces have and the LP’s have been working on how to establish appropriate supply chains for their consumers. I remain confident that as that new retail environment is built out by the provinces, as Ontario gets more stores opened and consumers have access to a product at competitive price and quality and choice, that they’ll make the legal and socially responsible choice and a healthier choice. And so we’re very confident that, you know, as we make that progress, we’ll displace that illicit market and we’ll achieve our public policy goals of protecting the health of Canadians and making our community safer.

Eric Sorensen: Well the black market is probably getting a bit more of a goal than they might have anticipated themselves because of the difference in prices of demand on the street is finding, but the moment, let’s see if it, as you say, sorts itself out as we go forward. And we’re out of time, but Bill Blair, thank you.

Minister Bill Blair: Thank you, Eric.

Eric Sorensen: Up next, Albertans go the polls on Tuesday and we’ll talk to frontrunner United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney.

[Break]

Eric Sorensen: Welcome back to The West Block.

Historically, Alberta has the most uniform, homogenous voting pattern in Canadian history. From the small-c conservative Social Credit government starting in 1931, followed by the Progressive Conservatives from 1971 onward, which is why that 2015 NDP victory was so stunning.

Now here’s the electoral map from as recently as 2008. And this is what we saw for decades: Tory dominance, provincially and federally. Now there was some opposition in Edmonton and in Calgary, but otherwise it was a sea of blue.

Now by 2012, the Conservatives still won a majority, but the alternative Conservative party, Wild Rose, established a big footprint, mostly in southern and central Alberta. Meantime, the NDP was gaining on the left in Edmonton as the Liberals were beginning to fade.

Now, when the two Conservative parties split their votes so evenly in 2015, look what happened in the two big cities: the NDP ran amuck. And so for the first time in 85 years, no Conservative party got above 30 per cent, and that allowed the NDP to win with 41 per cent, the lowest for a winning party in 85 years, going back to the United Farmers government in 1930. And so the conventional wisdom is that a United Conservative party is going to return Alberta back to something like it looked like back in 2008. But is it that simple? Has Alberta’s political complexion changed?

Joining us now from Calgary is United Conservative party leader Jason Kenney. Jason, thank you very much for joining us.

United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney: Good to be here.

Eric Sorensen: I think a lot of people believe that when you and your colleagues pulled all the Conservative forces more or less together, that the political map would return to what it always looked like, which was this ocean of blue with a few speckles of red or orange in Edmonton and Calgary. But it sounds like the race is closer in some ways. What is the challenge you’re finding in kind of just re-imposing, you know, a Conservative government in Alberta as everybody would normally expect?

United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney:Well first of all, it’s not an imposition. I think the mainstream values of most Albertans tend towards a free enterprise view. This is a province that’s been a magnet for risk-takers, entrepreneurs, people with an amazing work ethic and that, I think, is reflected in our policy approach, which is focused on job creation, through reducing the tax burden on employers, cutting red tape, restoring investor confidence, getting to a balanced budget, gradually. So I think that this—I’m certain actually, that this reflects the broad mainstream values of Albertans. I’m confident that will be reflected on the polls on Tuesday. Eric, we’ve had an unprecedented turnout at the advance polls, higher by far than in any time in history. I think that’s indicative that the winds of change are in the air and that’s why while we’re going to stay humble and work hard, we’re pretty optimistic.

Eric Sorensen: It often is a sign of change when you have a high turnout. It can also be that there is such a divide between the two parties. Why do you think that the divide is so great? You seem to be tying Rachel Notley to the federal Liberals over pipelines and I just wonder if you think that this has been the place where you’re able to sort of make the inroads and split off Albertans who have, you know, long held grievances at times with Ottawa?

United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney: I think they’re well-founded grievances. Eric, a recent poll by Angus Reid said half—50 per cent of Albertans support succession right now. Maybe some of that is just people blowing off steam, but beneath is it a very deep frustration and anxiety, a sense of province under siege. Like we’ve done everything that we’re supposed to do: follow the rules, pay big taxes. Contribute massively: $20 billion a year in net to the rest of the federation and yet everywhere we turn, we’re being blocked in and pinned down. Two pipelines killed by Trudeau, two that are barely on life support. A carbon tax, which is massively opposed by Albertans, the tanker ban, the C-69, the No More Pipelines Act, a cap on our oil sands. All of these and other polices, and just the attitude: a premier who said that we’re the embarrassing cousins no one wants to talk about, a prime minister who says he wants to phase out the oil sands. Albertans just feel like Trudeau, not the Alliance, has been a real body blow to our economic potential and that’s why we’re going through a jobs crisis, just a four year period of economic decline and stagnation. So I think folks just want change and they want someone to stand up and fight without apology for the energy that we produce so effectively in this province.

Eric Sorensen: One of the changes that a lot of Canadians are also looking for, though, is leadership on climate change and that, it seems to me, we’re not hearing from Conservative leaders in the country who are just wanting to slash carbon pricing, even though there are Conservatives, some of those, some of them who will say like carbon pricing is the best way to, you know, reduce these emissions. Where is the leadership? People will be looking to you to be able to help lead on climate change, how do you do that?

United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney:So we’re proposing a real common-sense plan that would be a levy on major emitters, that is an incentive for them to reduce carbon intensity and it will support research and development for technology that shrinks carbon output that we can share with the developing world where the real problem is in increasing emissions. This plan would reduce C02 output by about 45 megatonnes. But I make no apology for saying we’re going to scrap the retail carbon tax because punishing people for heating them home in a cold winter or driving to work is not a responsible environmental policy. The premier herself cannot tell us by how much carbon emissions are being reduced by her retail carbon tax. And even the fans of that approach are saying it’s a small fraction of the overall reductions. So, I just don’t think punishing people for living normal lives makes a lot of sense. And by the way, Eric, the so-called free market carbon tax advocates say that it will be put in place of regulations. All we’ve seen, though, is additional regulations. They said it was supposed to be revenue neutral. In Alberta, it wasn’t. It was just an additional tax grab. They said it’s supposed to be progressive with rebates, but the NDP here wants to raise the carbon tax by 67 per cent with no increase in rebates, meaning it becomes a regressive tax on the poor heating their homes. So I make no apology for saying we’ll scrap that.

Eric Sorensen: Let me ask you about this because one of the places you’ve been challenged hard during this campaign is defending your party that still seems to attract certain homophobic elements. You’ve evolved over time. You’ve said that you still have for example, running for you, an MLA, Mark Smith who had said some things that were, you know, anti-homosexual.

United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney:Offensive.

Eric Sorensen: So these are issues that you’re still facing. How do you convince, I guess, an increasingly younger demographic that you are a modern leader for the future?

United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney:In the case of that candidate, you know, he actually—he made offensive comments in private life for which he has unequivocally apologized. He voted for the inclusion of transgender rights in Alberta Human Rights Code and has supported gay-straight alliances and has said—as far as I can see in his elected public life, nothing that was offensive towards people. Ours is a broad coalition. We have the largest provincial political party in Canada: 160,000 members. It reflects the diversity of today’s Alberta. Over a quarter of our candidates come from visible minority: new Canadian, refugee, Aboriginal backgrounds. We do reflect the diversity of the province. We are committed to protecting the rights of people and human dignity. And that’s why I think we have the support of something like half of Albertans.

Eric Sorensen: Alright, Jason Kenney. Thanks for joining us.

United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney:Thanks for the opportunity.

Eric Sorensen: Coming up, we will further unpack the politics of the Alberta election.

[Break]

Eric Sorensen: Joining us now in Edmonton Jared Wesley, a political science professor from the University of Alberta, and in Calgary, journalist Jen Gerson.

So Jared, I’ll start with you. What are the polls suggesting to us right now will happen on Tuesday and are they to be believed?

Jared Wesley: Well, the polls are pointing to Calgary being the major battleground in this election, which is what we knew going in. Most polls suggest the UCP has anywhere between a five point and a twenty point lead, depending on the methodology and the structure of the polls. But it definitely does suggest the NDPhas a pretty steep hill to climb in the last week of the campaign in order to get back in it.

Eric Sorensen: There was an expectation, Jen, that when we saw the Conservatives come together in a united way, it would be something like we have seen in the past in the way that political map would unfold. Do you see that happening and is it more competitive than you might have expected?

Jen Gerson: I don’t like to make predictions about Alberta because if there’s one thing that I’ve learned after being here for 10 years and covering politics for 10 years, it’s the idea that Alberta is a politically homogenous place is mostly a stereotype. There’s a lot more going on between underneath the surface of politics here than the voting results will necessarily show you. I’m not surprised that this is a competitive election. I think most of the polls, especially the ones showing a very, very strong UCP lead are kind of dodgy, to be blunt. I think that we’re going into Election Day with the UCP showing a small lead, but the trend lines are favouring the NDP. I still think the smart money’s probably on a UCP win, but the idea that there’s going to be some kind of UCP super majority similar to what we saw back in the 70s and 80s, I think that’s pretty suspect.

Eric Sorensen: Jared, tackle, I guess, Rachel Notley for us. First of all, are there reasons why she is doing maybe better than some might have expected and other reasons that are holding her back?

Jared Wesley: Well, for about three years now, public opinion polls and surveys have showed that Notley is running about 10 to 15, even 20 points ahead of her party in terms of popularity. So the Rachel brand itselfis helping her party in a way that it’s not happening on the other side with the UCP, where Jason Kenney is running well behind his party. I think part of her challenge is that she is a New Democratic premier in a province that historically has not favoured that party. The brand itself is not very strong. And even if she tries to defend her record on the economy, polls consistently show that Albertans trust Conservative leaders and parties with the things like economic growth, jobs, pipelines, intergovernmental relations and so on. And the UCP has been very effective this time around in turning this election into a question about the economy and jobs.

Eric Sorensen: Jen, why don’t you pick up on Rachel Notley. First of all, I guess, before we turn directly to Jason Kenney, just what she is achieving and the challenge that she faces still.

Jen Gerson: Rachel Notley has been unable to successfully get a pipeline in the ground with the cooperation of the federal government and there is no question that that is going to be the deciding factor for probably a majority of voters in this province. On the flipside of that, you know, you have the NDP creating a narrative around the UCP Social Conservative base and, you know, I think of the “bozo eruptions” that we’ve seen, numerous dozens of candidates and nominees who have been kicked out of the party because of some to the comments they’ve made publicly or in private around racism, homophobia, those sorts of issues. I think you’d be hard pressed to say that that hasn’t had a serious negative impact on the UCP and its ability to form a majority government. One of the stereotypes of Alberta is that it’s a uniformly socially conservative place and I think that if you, you know, look at any kind of—if you look at Alberta with any kind of sophistication, you’d see that very quickly that’s not really true. And I think there’s a lot of backlash to some of the overt social conservatism of the some of the UCP candidates. So, I mean, those are the two competing forces.

Eric Sorensen: As Jen was talking about it, and one of the challenges, it sounds like for Jason Kenney.has been defending a party that is still attractive to some with sort of homophobic elements in it. Is that hurting him or does it actually shore up in any way with—because sometimes we have a way of reading these things from our urban centres far away, seeing that he might be in some trouble, but maybe not.

Jared Wesley: Well. I think that the Conservatives,rather than even talking about those types of issues: moralism or social issues or social justice issues, including those involved in the LGBTQ community—instead of talking about those, the Conservatives have pivoted time and time again, to talking about jobs and the economy. At one point, as Jen mentioned, there have been so many candidate scandals involved with that party. They actually have a template apology letter. The bottom of it has boilerplate language saying now let’s get back to the issues that Albertans really care about: jobs and the economy. So, I mean, as a student of political campaigning, we know that political parties try to prime the electorate by trying to set the agenda with a particular set of issues. In this campaign, it’s been, you know, almost a master class by the UCP and pivoting back to talk about those issues. And Albertans, particularly those in southern Alberta and Calgary, I think you’ll see very different results here in Edmonton, but southern Alberta, they’ve really bought into that message that the ballot question is all about jobs and the economy and not about these moral issues.

Eric Sorensen: So Jen, are the demographics changing in Alberta enough that it can—if not in this election, you’re seeing that there is a shift at all because it’s hard—it’s not just that there’s a conservatism, there’s also, you know, a very powerful strong oil economy in Alberta and so you don’t hear the same kind of debate going on within Alberta that you might in other places over climate change or what to do about pipelines.

Jen Gerson: Well, I mean, I think that we get back to the stereotype of Alberta versus the myth of Alberta. And I mean, I think I would disagree with your previous guest, the idea that like moral issues aren’t an issue or aren’t in play in some of the inner city ridings the UCP needs to win. I think that that’s just incorrect. I think that those issues are very much in play in urban centres like Calgary and Edmonton. And in areas where they’re perhaps less in play, the UCP is almost certain to win anyway. Demographics, I mean, it’s a question to me about how much the demographics of Alberta has shifted. I mean, this is a longstanding debate in Alberta that somehow because we have younger people, a fairly educated population, particularly in the white job—white collar jobs in the oil and gas sector, that as a result, you know, you would expect to see a more left leaning electorate. What we have tended to see is that the types of left leaning, more progressive voters or centrist voters, that fight tends to happen within the big tent Conservative parties as opposed to outside the big tent Conservative parties and that has to do with more—more to do with sort of regional grievances and regional politics than it does about—than it does to say that there are no progressive voters here.

Eric Sorensen: Well thank you for that. Jen Gerson, Jared Wesley, we’re out of time. but I can tell you that I know you’ll be watching it closely. But I think many across the country are watching the Alberta election very closely on Tuesday. Thanks for talking to us today.

Jared Wesley: You bet.

Jen Gerson: Thank you.

Eric Sorensen: That is our show for today. I’m Eric Sorensen, thanks for watching.

The West Block – Episode 32, Season 8 — Sunday, April 14, 2019 Page 1 of 8

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