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Transcript: Episode 34 April 28, 2013

THE WEST BLOCK

Episode 34, Season 2

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Host: Tom Clark

Guests: Vic Toews, Michelle Rempel, Megan Leslie, Wim Geerts

Location: Ottawa

Tom Clark:

Welcome to The West Block on this Sunday, April 28th, from the nation’s capital, I’m Tom Clark.

Coming up on today’s show, we speak with Canada’s public safety minister, Vic Toews about the Via Rail terror case and why MPs and senators can’t talk to the RCMP without his permission.

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And Canada’s aggressive sales pitch on the Keystone pipeline has become personal with a direct attack on a renowned American scientist.  So is it working?

Then, what is the holdup with Canada’s trade deal with the European Union?  Who will make the next move?  The Dutch ambassador to Canada joins us.

But first, a week after the RCMP announced arrests in a terror plot here at home; Canadians still have more questions than answers.  New information about one of the suspect’s past leads to this question, why was he in Canada at all?  Raed Jaser was arrested in Toronto on Monday but it was not his first encounter with the law.  What were the red flags on his record?  Well here is it is, your weekly West Block Primer:

When the Jaser family came to Canada in 1993, it asked for refugee status.  That was rejected twice but eventually accepted five years later.  All except for the son, Raed Jaser, who by then, had run up a string of criminal convictions that made him ineligible.  Still, he stayed on.  Only in 2004, was he arrested and told again that he had to leave.  But Jaser said he didn’t have a country to go back to and so the government pardoned his crimes and gave him permanent residency status.  By 2012, he and Chiheb Esseghaier were both under surveillance for terrorist activity.  The road ended last week.

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Vic Toews Interview

Tom Clark:

Well joining me now from Winnipeg is Canada’s Minister of Public Safety, Vic Toews.  Minister Toews thanks very much for being here.  I appreciate your time.

Vic Toews:

Yes Tom.

Tom Clark:

When you take a look at the history that we’ve just heard, a lot of people might say well what the heck went wrong?  I mean we had this guy who was clearly committing criminal acts and yet he stayed in the country.  Was it a question in those days of the agencies not talking to one another; security agency not talking to border, not talking to immigration?

Vic Toews:

Well I think for one, there was no clear policy from the prior government on the removal of these individuals and that was complicated by the fact that the legislation was very defective.  And so, we have moved to of course the Fast Removal of Criminals Act, various other amendments that my colleague Jason Kenney, in fact, not just amendments but brand new legislation to remove people more quickly.  Even going down to the issue of revamping the pardon system.

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Tom Clark:

Are you saying though minister that this could never happen again?

Vic Toews:

No, it could happen again but we have taken a lot of steps to ensure that the likelihood is dramatically decreased.  Last year, for example, we increased our removals to record levels never seen before in this country and that is very important.  But there is more work to be done, for example, working with the Americans on the Beyond the Borders initiative to ensure that people don’t even get in to the country.

Tom Clark:

Let me ask you specifically about this arrest because we know that the FBI had asked the RCMP to stand down on the arrest because they were getting a lot of intelligence following these two guys.  The RCMP said at the time of the arrest that there was no imminent or immediate danger to Canada or Canadians posed by these two.  Were you ever given an adequate explanation as to why the RCMP suddenly moved in light…despite rather what the FBI was saying and even what the RCMP was saying?

Vic Toews:

Well I’ve been briefed on this file on an ongoing basis since last year in the fall sometime.  I don’t recall the exact date but certainly I’ve been involved in regular briefings on this matter since at least September, I would say, but I’ve never given any operational directions.  The RCMP was working towards a schedule.  They needed to obtain certain evidence and wanted to proceed after that.  What I can say publically is what the RCMP have said publically that one of the individuals began to act in a strange manner after the Boston bombings and they decided that they simply could not compromise public safety and did not want to and therefore moved on the arrest.  In fact, Tom, I found out about the arrests on the Monday, last Monday when I got off the plane to Ottawa, they advised me that the arrests had taken place or were imminently taking place.

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Tom Clark:

So you didn’t know literally until minutes before the arrests happened that this was all going down.

Vic Toews:

That’s correct.  I knew the schedule that it was moving along but I had no ability to say the exact day.   In fact, I was on constant alert waiting for the RCMP to advise when they would do that and that stretched over quite a lengthy period of time.  For one reason or another, operational reasons, discussions with the Americans, the decision was ultimately made by the RCMP.  I was advised literally, as you say, minutes within the arrest occurring or before the arrest occurred.

Tom Clark:

Final question on this case, anybody who has travelled by train in this country knows that there is absolutely no security on trains.  It’s actually one of the nice things about travelling on trains as opposed to airplanes but since we’ve got this case in front of us now, can we foresee the government moving to increase security on trains in this country?

Vic Toews:

Well Tom, even if you were to screen bags and passengers, what does that say about the thousands and thousands of kilometres of rail track?  That doesn’t address the issue of some kind of a device placed on those rail tracks so it has to be an overall security plan.  And unlike the planes where the focus is really on the baggage and the passengers in the context of the bus lines or trains, a very different set of considerations and I leave that to the experts.

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Tom Clark:

I want to ask you something about the RCMP because there’s been this e-mail circulating around the last few days from the commissioner of the RCMP instructing his senior members, his senior brass not to accept meetings or luncheons with parliamentarians or with senators until it is cleared by your office.  Is that true?

Vic Toews:

I don’t clear as the appropriate of any interview.  Interviews are done all the time with the RCMP without them clearing it but there is a communications protocol that does take place between the RCMP and my office, absolutely.  I’m responsible for the RCMP.  I need to know exactly what the RCMP is doing and saying because if I go into the House of Commons and I have no idea what is being said, I’m at a distinct situation where it appears that I’m not carrying out my responsibilities to the House of Commons.  So the communication discussions that go on between us, I think are quite normal and certainly were in effect under the prior Liberal government as I recall.

Tom Clark:

So any MP, and I guess that would include Conservatives MPs cannot meet with senior members of the RCMP without a clearance from your office, that’s what you’re saying?

Vic Toews:

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Well they don’t clear it with my office but essentially what happens, especially if it’s MPs from my party, they’ll come to me and say, look I want to talk to the RCMP and I’ll refer them to an individual and that’s the end of it.  I don’t see any more of that.  But the RCMP clearly has to communicate as an entity, especially on issues of national and public security.

Tom Clark:

Minister Toews thanks very much for being on the show.  I appreciate your time.  Thanks again.

Vic Toews:

Thank you Tom.

Tom Clark:

Well coming up next on The West Block, how is Canada’s international reputation on the environment file holding up?  Two MPs with two very different points of view, that’s next.

Break

Tom Clark:

Welcome back. At the White House, the countdown continues for the Keystone pipeline with no clear signal yet as to where President Obama stands on it.  Meantime, a regular convoy of Canadian politicians have been going to Washington to make the case that essentially the pipeline is in the American national interest.  Well last week, natural resources ministers, Joe Oliver certainly cranked up the heat, directly attacking a recently retired leading NASA scientist who is opposed to the Keystone pipeline.  So, is all of this hurting or helping our case?

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Joining me now to talk about this, the environment critic for the NDP, Megan Leslie and the parliamentary secretary to the minister of the environment, Michelle Rempel; welcome to you both.  First of all, why should Joe Oliver not take on the critics of the Keystone if he’s down there to sell it?

Megan Leslie:

You know, I think if I were a Conservative, you know communications person I wouldn’t send Joe Oliver to do very much, including pitch an idea that actually this government really wants to see get through because every time he opens his mouth he says something incredible.  So we actually, we did a motion, an Opposition Day motion in the House this week on two degrees of warming.  And that came from when Mr. Oliver was doing…what do you do when you talk to the editorial board at La Presse and he said, you know, Canadians are not too worried about two degrees of warming.  And so we were like what is this man talking about?  Of course Canadians care about climate change.  And he say, oh well scientists, the science is still undecided.  No it’s not.  So we draft this Opposition Day motion.  We submit it and yet before we even can debate it, he’s in the news again saying well you know this scientist, this world renowned NASA scientist, James Hanson should be ashamed of himself for his activism on the climate file.  I have trouble with the Keystone project to begin with, which I’m sure we’ll talk about, but if you’re going to send someone to sell it, good lord find someone who can do a better job of it.

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Tom Clark:

Michelle, isn’t this the problem though that when things like that are said, does it not play into a stereotype perhaps among the skeptics in the United States who go aha, you see the Canadians are  troglodytes when it comes to the environment.

Michelle Rempel:

Well you know Megan talked about the Opposition Day motion which they drafted and I had the opportunity to debate it in the House of Commons.  There’s three components to it and the first one that she mentioned was acknowledging the fact that two degrees of warming will have an impact on our environment.  And you know, that particular part of the motion, I support because it is our government policy to address that issue, and I spoke in favour of that component of it.  I mean this is where our government is focused on looking at each industry sector that is a major emitter, right?  So we’ve looked at the coal fire, electricity sector.  We’ve regulated that.  We’ve looked at the light duty passenger vehicle sector etc.  So what we’re trying to do with that though is enact real change when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions, reductions.  But here’s the rub, make sure that we’re being cognizant of the fact that carbon pricing has an effect on consumers and we are still in a state of economic fragility in the country.  So it’s trying to get that balance right.

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Megan Leslie:

Michelle did do a speech you know and I take her at her word that she is concerned about two degrees of warming but we worded the motion specifically that way because I am not entirely convinced that the entire Conservative caucus believes that it’s an issue.

Tom Clark:

Okay but let’s go to pipelines because one of the issues is that it looks as though you’re quickly becoming the party of no pipelines.  I mean, not only the objections that you have to Keystone but you cast your eyes out to British Columbia and Adrian Dix, I know it’s another type of NDP but nevertheless, is saying no to Kinder Morgan, no to Northern Gateway.  I mean, at what point to you risk becoming stereotyped?

Megan Leslie:

Hmmm…I think you know any government certainly any party does have that kind of risk but the thing with the NDP is we are looking at things that are project by project basis.  You’ve heard our leader, Tom Mulcair say publically that we need to look at our own energy security needs first.  We need to think about west-east, right?  We need to think about value added.  We have unmet refining capacity in Canada.  So I’m not talking about building new refineries.  We have refineries right now that aren’t at capacity and that makes no sense.  So let’s look at our own energy security needs.  Let’s think about the fact that we are importing oil while exporting bitumen.  Let’s look at value added.  But then you do have to look at each pipeline as an individual project.  It’s pretty hard to consider any pipeline right now.  We’re on the heels of the Conservative just gutted all of our environmental legislation.  So for example, the environmental assessment process, how do you have trust in that process when it’s been completely eviscerated in the last budget?  So you know when you look at things on a case by case basis, with the current regime we have now, it’s pretty tough to make a case for some of these things.

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Tom Clark:

Well you’re the current regime, so hop in.

Michelle Rempel:

Well I think first of all, the economic argument for energy infrastructure is there.  I mean right now in Canada, we are a price taker for our energy products because we don’t have the access that we need to world market.  So what does that mean?  That means that we are selling our products at a discount as opposed to world price because we don’t have access to market.  I think with regard to environmental assessment, the changes that we made to the…we called it the Responsible Resource Development Package in Budget 2012, were designed to ensure first of all, that there was certainly in the environmental assessment process.  So, as you can imagine, these are major infrastructure projects that have billions of dollars in investment tied to them so we think that it’s fair to say to investors, we’re going to tell you when you’re going to get a decision.  It might be a no but at least there’s a timeline there.  So that was really one of the main components.  We also put in place, things like increased safety monitoring for pipelines.  We have new tanker safety standards etc.  So it’s trying to make sure that we still have the public confidence in the environmental assessment process on the front end but that we’re also managing it on the back end.

Tom Clark:

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In 15 seconds, how do you respond?

Megan Leslie:

I think that the Conservatives have really made a misstep here because I don’t think there is the public confidence.  I don’t think the public trusts them and I think they’re going to have a hard time getting any major energy projects through, whether they are environmentally sound or not because the public doesn’t trust them anymore, and that’s really key.

Tom Clark:

On that note, I’m going to have to stop but this is the type of political discussion and debate that is very helpful.  Thank you both.  Michelle Rempel and Megan Leslie, I appreciate your time.

Well coming up on The West Block why are there no signatures yet on the Canada-European trade deal?  Who and what is holding it up?  The Dutch ambassador to Canada joins us next.

Break

Tom Clark:

Welcome back.  Well a trade deal with the European Union has been in the works for years but the two governments have already missed four self-imposed deadlines.  After years of trade talks, what’s the holdup?  And with the EU getting set to negotiate deals with Japan and the United States, is Canada at the risk of getting squeezed out?  Well joining me now to talk about all of this is the Dutch ambassador to Canada, Wim Geerts.  Ambassador thanks very much for being here.

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Wim Geerts:

Pleasure.

Tom Clark:

I talked about four dates that we’ve missed.  They were the end of 2011, the end of 2012, February of this year, and finally Easter of this year; all come and gone, why haven’t we got a deal?

Wim Geerts:

These are very complex negotiations and so they take years.  That in itself is not uncommon.  And you see in these processes that the low hanging fruit is picked first.  So I think 95 per cent of the deal is pretty clear.

Tom Clark:

That’s the easy stuff.

Wim Geerts:

Absolutely.  So we’re now at those remaining 5 per cent.

Tom Clark:

That’s pretty tough.

Wim Geerts:

You know and we have some tough nuts left to crack.

Tom Clark:

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Well let’s take a look at what that 5 per cent is because I guess each side has red lines.  I mean we’re instructed by our provinces.  You’re instructed by the members of the European Union in terms of what you can agree to and what you can’t.  It seems to be coming down to a question of agriculture.  We want to open up access to the European market, especially for beef and pork.  Is that a red line for you guys?

Wim Geerts:

It’s all about giving and taking, so we are able to do more for Canada if we get something in return.  You know, that’s what the whole game is all about and I’m confident that we’ll get there in the next couple of weeks or months…

Tom Clark:

I don’t expect you to negotiate the deal with me right here but if you give us more access to beef and pork in the European markets, what do you want from us?

Wim Geerts:

Well for example, to speak from a Dutch perspective; our dairy sector is very big.  Of course in Canada you have supply management.  We’ve never asked Canada to take supply management off the table but you know you can find a way around it, for example through quotas.  So that’s you know something that’s important for us as a very large country in terms of the dairy sector.  So because we think that Canadians should be paying much less for good Gouda cheese.

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Tom Clark:

I have to ask you this because I think there is one other issue on the table and that is dealing with the east coast of this country in terms of fish processing, Europeans want us to relieve the notion that all fish processing or a degree of processing of fish has to take place in Canada.  That seems to be more of a fight between Ottawa and provinces.  But how complicated is it when you have this problem between provinces and the federal government, in our case over the processing of fish on the east coast and probably the same sort of situations that you have with your member states.  This is not just one government with one government. This is one government needing the ratification in a sense of all the other governments.

Wim Geerts:

That’s right.  Now, it is complex you know and what you see at the federal level, you know it has to deal with the provinces and the territories here.  On the European side we have 27 member states that we have to keep together and of course issues like the one you mentioned will come up and you know they are part of the remaining 5 per cent.  And again, you know I am very confident that we’ll find the political will, both on the Canadian and on the European side to strike a deal.

Tom Clark:

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Briefly ambassador, because you’re opening trade talks now with Japan and the United States, is it even conceivable in your mind that a free trade deal with Canada might not happen?  Is it too big to fail?

Wim Geerts:

It will be a really, really lost opportunity.  Reports have shown…studies have shown that there are you know tens of billions of Canadian dollars to be made in striking a deal on the Canadian side and on the European side.  In Europe, as you know we are a market of one of 500 million customers.  It’s a huge market. So there is a lot of money to be made there and I’m confident that in the end you know people will see that are so many win wins that you know we cannot let this deal go down.

Tom Clark:

But it could go down.

Wim Geerts:

I never say “if”.

Tom Clark:

Listen, you’re about to head back, I want to talk to you personally for a second.  You’re about to end your time in Canada, go back to Holland, but you’re going back at a very interesting time for your country.  Tell me about that.

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Wim Geerts:

Well we have a very exciting week coming up.  On Tuesday, we will have our current Queen Beatrix, who of course lived here during the war at Stornoway, she will abdicate from the throne and her son Willem Alexander will accede to the throne and become our King; King Willem Alexander.  And it will be the first time since 1890 that we have a king.

Tom Clark:

So people have got to get used to the idea that monarchs can actually be males and not just females?

Wim Geerts:

Absolutely and for me too.  Still today, I’m still “her” majesty’s ambassador. As of Tuesday, I will be “his” majesty’s ambassador.

Tom Clark:

Well at this moment, I want to thank you very much for being here ambassador.  Wim Geerts thanks very much and safe travels back to your country.

Wim Geerts:

Thank you very much.

Tom Clark:

Well that is our show for this week but before we go, I want to show you something.  Last night at the White House Correspondence Association dinner, in Washington DC, we saw a more self-deprecating lighter view of President Barack Obama.  He was poking fun at himself and his adversaries.  Take a look at this:

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President Obama:

“I understand second term – need a burst of new energy, try some new things and then my team and I talked about it, we were willing to try anything, so we borrowed one of Michelle’s tricks (picture of himself with bangs).  I’m not the strapping young Muslim socialist that I used be.  Of course even after I’ve done all of this some folks still don’t think I spend enough time with congress.  Why don’t you get a drink with Mitch McConnell, they ask.  Really?  Why don’t you get a drink with Mitch McConnell?”

Tom Clark:

Well President Barack Obama in Washington DC last night.  Well back to reality here in Ottawa.  Here’s what we’ve got our eyes on in the week ahead.  Tomorrow, BC party leaders will be on Global News for their first televised debate.  And on Tuesday, the auditor general releases his spring report with one chapter on tax collection.  And also on Tuesday, interim parliamentary budget officer, Sonia L’Heureux will be at the finance committee to talk about the PBOs economic and fiscal outlook; always an interesting moment.

Remember; go to globalnews.ca for all the latest information on these and other stories.  Well thank you very much for joining us.  I’m Tom Clark.  Have a great week ahead and we’ll see you back here next Sunday.

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