May 26, 2019 11:30 am
Updated: May 27, 2019 2:09 am

The West Block, Season 8, Episode 38

Watch the full broadcast of The West Block from Sunday, May 26, 2019 with Mercedes Stephenson.

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THE WEST BLOCK

Episode 38, Season 8

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Host: Mercedes Stephenson

Guest Interviews: Retired Capital Sean Bruyea, Warrant Officer Ed Storey,

Former U.S. Ambassador to Canada Bruce Heyman,

Parliamentary Secretary Sean Fraser

Location: Ottawa

Story continues below

Captain (Ret’d) Sean Bruyea, Veterans Advocate: “This has harmed everyone, especially the soldiers.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “We are working with Department of National Defence to make sure that this is done right.”

President Donald Trump: “And hopefully Congress will approve USMCA quickly.”

“You know, she’s a mess. Look, let’s face it, she doesn’t understand it.”

Reporter: “So are you worried about the impact of a possible U.S. ban on Huawei and Chinese telecom companies?”

Bill Morneau, Minister of Finance: “We need to take a measured approach.” 

Jason Kenney, Alberta Premier: “I request leave to introduce Bill 1, the Carbon Tax Repeal Act.”

Sean Fraser, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment: “We’ve been very clear that we’re going to introduce our federal backstop. It’s not free to pollute anywhere in Canada.”

Mercedes Stephenson: It’s Sunday, May 26th. I’m Mercedes Stephenson, and this is The West Block.

Outraged and insulted: veterans and family members of Canada’s fallen, those who paid the ultimate price in Afghanistan, say they now fear they are being forgotten, as the government has unveiled a new Kandahar battlefield memorial in secret. Veterans and family members of the fallen were not invited to this dedication and many found out about it on social media. For them, it is one more example, they say, of a bureaucracy that needs to change.

We asked for both the minister of National Defence and minister of Veterans Affairs on the show today, neither were able to join us, so instead, we’re sitting down with veterans.

Joining me now here in studio are retired Captain Sean Bruyea, an advocate for veterans’ rights, and retired Warrant Officer Ed Storey, who was the driving force behind the operation called Operation Keepsake which helped bring home a key Afghan war memorial from Camp Mirage. ,

Ed, you’re a veteran and you were involved in bringing home one of these memorials. How did you feel when you saw what happened to the Kandahar memorial?

Warrant Officer Ed Storey: I look at it as a lost opportunity. That monument could have been—that memorial could have been placed in another location with similar security and yet accessible to the public, and it could have been something that 50 years from now if somebody wanted to have a parade or have a large group, they could actually go and visit the site.

Mercedes Stephenson:  When you see where it is why is that so insulting for members of the fallen families or for veterans like yourself, when they’re saying look, we just wanted to have a small ceremony so that it’ll be dignified. It’s all about security. It’s all about protecting it. You don’t believe those arguments.

Warrant Officer Ed Storey: No, no. I think there’s more to it than those arguments that have been put forward. I’d hate to think that it was all about money, but perhaps it is. Either way, I mean, it’s an insult to the families of the fallen that that memorial has been placed in a location where they can’t get to it and they never knew that it was going to be unveiled.

Mercedes Stephenson: Did they feel they’re being forgotten?

Warrant Officer Ed Storey: I think so. I can’t speak for families of the fallen, but I’m sure that they feel forgotten. I know I do. It’s like we’re trying to, you know, let’s brush this period of history away and keep it hidden and we’ll move on to something else.

Mercedes Stephenson: Almost like the governments ashamed.

Warrant Officer Ed Storey: Almost, or dare I say, even the military.

Mercedes Stephenson: Sean, you have dealt with government bureaucracy for many years. People look at this decision and the mind kind of boggles. How does a decision like this get made that the families of the fallen weren’t even invited to attend, that veterans weren’t invited to attend. How do you think this process unfolded?

Ret’d Captain Sean Bruyea: You know the civilian bureaucracy has long had a resentment towards serving members and veterans, that they feel that they’re treated unfairly better than the

bureaucrats would be in a given situation without them really understanding what soldiers and family members of the soldiers go through. So, we have this gaping disconnect. You know, there’s a bit of a culture of entitlement at the senior bureaucracy. They’re quite disassociated from the country they serve that they come up with their own rational for decisions. So in this particular case, there’s no doubt in my mind that this was a face saving move. They wanted to avoid controversy, and as Ed said, they wanted to brush this under the rug because there has been a long tradition of governments, you know, both blue and red, that have basically seen that they can undersell the cost of war, whether it’s financially but also the cost of lives. And by hiding this memorial, Canada can then execute the next mission without thinking about what we paid in terms of lives and family sacrifice to send our young men and women overseas into battle.

Mercedes Stephenson: Whether this was bureaucratic incompetence of a deliberate decision to try to put the Afghan memorial where it could not be easily visited, explain to us as civilians that are watching the show and sitting here, what does it mean for those families and for those veterans, to be able to go to a visible, accessible memorial?

Warrant Officer Ed Storey: For me, it’s a sense of closure. When you can go to a memorial and you can see the names of the fallen and those that paid the ultimate sacrifice. It helps with closure. It goes okay, you know, Canada and Canadians appreciate what we do and the cost that’s incurred in lives to maintain the lifestyle that we enjoy.

Mercedes Stephenson: Sean, how do they fix this?

Ret’d Captain Sean Bruyea: Well, I mean, Ed’s absolutely right and it’s not just the soldiers that need to grieve. I mean, we had Canadians heavily invested in this war. I mean, they were highly supportive, whether it’s, you know, red shirt Fridays or whether it’s the Highway of Heroes. So Canadians themselves that never served have a right to know what’s going on, and I would say that that’s also the answer of how to fix this. We need to broadly involve Canadians, you know, and uncover this secrecy, whether it’s a secrecy of a memorial or passing veterans legislation without debate, you know, right behind us in the House of Parliament. We need to involve Canadians in how we treat our veterans, our serving members that are injured and their families, and the only way to do that, really, is to have a broadly based commission of inquiry. So we learned the cost of war, how our veterans have been treated after they return home, how those families have been abandoned and then that will give political license for the major change that needs to occur.

Mercedes Stephenson: Ed, I know you must have been hearing from other veterans. What’s the sense in the community of what veterans would like to see done here for the memorial to commemorate the war that they fought in?

Warrant Officer Ed Storey: From the emails that I’ve received, veterans want accessibility, and they want also to have all the material that’s associated with that memorial. Letters from families and mementos that were left on the memorial that was all saved: two boxes worth that were so emotional that the team that I was with, we couldn’t catalogue it. Try and read a mother’s letter, it’s overwhelming. So those two boxes are sitting here in Ottawa somewhere, never to be seen. And they could be incorporated with that memorial and give a better overall picture of the loss and how it affected families and colleagues, and Canadians as a whole.

Mercedes Stephenson: One of the suggestions has been possibly the War Museum. Is that a good potential place for it, Sean?

Ret’d Captain Sean Bruyea: Well, I mean if there are genuine concerns about security, then obviously that would address that problem. I mean, ultimately we’re talking about technical barriers to honouring the ultimate sacrifice. No barrier that’s technical should usurp the need to honour that sacrifice, and to allow a nation to openly grieve because when a nation can’t grieve, then the path forward becomes distorted, that we make decisions going forward and when soldiers can’t grieve, then the cost is just immeasurable in terms of they start blaming themselves. If government, you know, does not believe that the right thing to do is to open up this memorial, then how do soldiers deal with all that grief? It’s hard for soldiers to blame government, so what they end up doing is blaming themselves and that turns into addictions, dysfunctional behaviour and ultimately, it turns into suicide.

Mercedes Stephenson: Well, and you have a tremendous number of metals there, Ed, for your service. How does it affect you?

Warrant Officer Ed Storey: Just—well, just the fact that all of the work I put into helping bring that memorial back, and the fact that I’m not welcome to go and see it, is very disappointing.

Mercedes Stephenson: Sean, the overall relationship between veterans and this government has been strained. What do you see as the major flash points right now?

Ret’d Captain Sean Bruyea: So, right now, I mean, we have that lump sum that replaced life-long pensions. This government was brought in, you know, into power in large part with veteran’s support that believed that the government was going to replace that lump sum with a real life-long pension that existed before. All they did, was convert that lump sum into an annuity and they just did basically a marketing change and heavily pushed, you know, basically the new and improved, you know, lump sum program. So this has become—veterans are seeing the affect now. April 1st, it came into effect. Soldiers are seeing the results of this improvement which is, you know, a cheque for $10 or $20 extra a month.

Mercedes Stephenson: Thank you both very much for your service and for your time today, I know it’s not an easy thing to talk about.

Warrant Officer Ed Storey: Thank you.

Ret’d Captain Sean Bruyea: Thank you, Mercedes.

Mercedes Stephenson: Shortly after that discussion, the chief of the Defence staff issued an extensive apology and said that all veterans and family members of the fallen will be able to visit the memorial, and public tours will be scheduled.

Up next, will Democrats and U.S. Congress ratify the new NAFTA deal? We’ll ask an insider, former U.S. Ambassador to Canada Bruce Heyman.

[Break]

Mercedes Stephenson: Welcome back. With the House of Commons set to rise within the next month, the clock is ticking for Canada to ratify the new NAFTA deal.

In the U.S. Congress, Democrats are demanding changes before they will seal the deal. Is the future of USMCA in jeopardy just one week after tariffs were lifted?

Ambassador Bruce Heyman knows a bit about negotiating deals between Canada and the U.S. He is the author of a new book called, The Art of Diplomacy: Strengthening the Canada-U.S. Relationship in Times of Uncertainty.

And Ambassador Heyman joins me now from Montreal. Welcome to the show, sir.

Ambassador Bruce Heyman: Great to be here.

Mercedes Stephenson: You’re a very connected Democrat. I know you’re talking to the democratic leadership all the time, and a lot of Canadians are wondering with the Democrat controlled Congress, will they ratify a deal without any changes?

Ambassador Bruce Heyman: Over the last few days, now politicking from the Republican side has not been helpful, I think, in this process, especially the accusations that the Speaker of the House doesn’t understand USMCA and it’s too complex for her. GOP has gone out with talking points against the Speaker on USMCA. That is not constructive or helpful, and also putting conditions on it, on future legislation being conditional to USMCA passage. All of this is a different tone that was happening, you know, mid-week and earlier in the week. But here’s the good news, the Speaker of the House is a professional, she’s an adult. She can compartmentalize these things and she can focus on what needs to get done. And as long as USTR continues to work with her and the democratic leadership, to address the issues that she’s talked about from the very beginning and be able to get those addressed, I think there’s a path to getting this done. But that’s going to be work ahead for USTR and the democratic leadership to find that path of success.

Mercedes Stephenson: How much of a risk do you think that that domestic politicking plays, though, to the overall deal?

Ambassador Bruce Heyman: It’s not helpful. It’s not constructive. It’s completely immature and amateur hour. That being said, I do know the Speaker and I know the people who are working with her, and they are literally just saying, you know, okay that’s happened, let’s put our head down. If we can get a deal that’s good for American workers, American farmers and for the environment on the enforcement side, which is what they’ve been talking about all along, I think this deal has a path to getting passed. It’s narrow. It’s sometime in the summer or early fall, but it has a path to getting done. But I would say the ball’s not in the Democrats court. The Democrats have been talking about this all along. The ball is in USTR’s court to find a compromise, a meeting ground, to satisfy the needs of Congress.

Mercedes Stephenson: And is it possible to do that without re-opening the deal?

Ambassador Bruce Heyman: I don’t know. Look, the complexities and technicalities of side agreements and side letters, and re-opening or not re-opening, I’ll leave that to the negotiators. I think that from the beginning that the Speaker has said democratic leadership is virtually okay with an agreement except they want to make sure that the provisions that were agreed to are enforceable and enforced. And their methods of doing that when things don’t go the way you had expected, what are the enforcement mechanisms that are in place. And those enforcement mechanisms that are built in to the agreement currently are not strong enough for democratic leadership. And they have voiced that from the very beginning and I think that there’s no surprise here. So, if this deal is to get done, the USTR is going to have to figure out how to build that in.

Mercedes Stephenson: Vice-President Mike Pence is going to be coming to Canada.

Ambassador Bruce Heyman: Yeah.

Mercedes Stephenson: President Trump has only been to Canada when he attended the G7 in Quebec. He hasn’t actually come up for that kind of a bilateral visit.

Ambassador Bruce Heyman: Yeah

Mercedes Stephenson: What message does it send to Canada that we’re getting the Vice-President instead of the President on USMCA?

Ambassador Bruce Heyman: I will tell you, I think the way the President behaved last time during the G7, his behaviour both during the visit, I would say even before the visit, implementing those steel and aluminum tariffs and then his behaviour during the G7, and then post the G7. I would say that it’s probably, you know, a high-risk move to get him to come back to Canada right now, given his previous behaviour and his ability to go off the rails on Twitter and comments that, you know, I don’t think that’s a bad thing that he’s not coming.

Mercedes Stephenson What is the risk to the Canada-U.S. relationship if Canada does not ban Huawei?

Ambassador Bruce Heyman: So, I think we have to see how this plays out a little bit further. The President overcomplicated this issue, as he does so many issues, unfortunately. On one hand, he says Huawei is a U.S. national security threat and we can’t have this equipment or, you know, any of the implementation on 5G in the United States and he’s gotten a lot of members of Congress all up in arms. And then in the same breath, he sits down and says yeah. Well maybe we’ll negotiate that away in our trade agreement, and so either it is a national security threat or it’s not, and you don’t negotiate that away in a trade agreement. And so, you know, he’s made this too complicated and really put Canada in a tough spot on this. And so look, I think that, you know, I think that we should do things together. It’s about collaborating, but I think that the President hasn’t played all his cards yet on what he really believes on this.

Mercedes Stephenson: So our two Canadians who are detained have now been charged, in jail in China. Do you think the United States government is doing enough to try to help Canada with a situation that’s been caused because we arrested, of course, a very senior Huawei executive at the prompting of the U.S. on an American warrant?

Ambassador Bruce Heyman: When I was the U.S. ambassador, we had a similar case. We had a Chinese national that we requested extradition from Canada. His name was Su Bin. The Chinese were very upset about it. They wanted him back in China. He was stealing military secrets. And, you know, but China never dared do anything to Canada like they’re doing today. And I think it’s a failure of the U.S. administration not standing up for our allies and not standing up for Canada in these examples. I think the other example was with Saudi Arabia. I think the world’s changed where Donald Trump is focusing about me, not we. He’s focusing as an isolationist, you know, make America great. And I feel what makes America great is our relationship with Canada and other allies around the world. I think he’s opened the door to this type of behaviour.

Mercedes Stephenson: Ambassador Heyman. Thank you so much for your time today.

Ambassador Bruce Heyman: A pleasure.

Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, Alberta is axing the carbon tax later this week. When will the federal government retaliate with a backstop?

[Break]

Mercedes Stephenson: Alberta Premier Jason Kenney will repeal the carbon tax in his province on Thursday and Alberta will launch its on constitutional challenge to the tax. Meanwhile, here in Ottawa, senators will be back this week deliberating on two major government environmental bills: the tanker ban and Bill C-69. Will the government accept changes to these bills? And will they take action against Alberta, as they have in other provinces who didn’t comply with the carbon tax.

Joining me now from Halifax is Sean Fraser, Parliamentary Secretary for the Minister of the Environment. Welcome to the show, Sean.

Secretary Sean Fraser: Thank you very much. It’s a treat to be here.

Mercedes Stephenson: Let’s start out in Alberta. Premier Jason Kenney announcing that he’s tossing the carbon tax this week, introducing the legislation to do so. That puts him in line with a growing list of premiers who are fighting that carbon tax. How do you plan to respond to Premier Kenney’s decision to throw it out?

Secretary Sean Fraser: For those provinces who are refusing to step up to the plate, we’ve been very clear that we’re going to implement our federal backstop, to ensure, as I said, that it’s not free to pollute anywhere in Canada.

Mercedes Stephenson: When will your government act to impose a carbon tax on Alberta?

Secretary Sean Fraser: We’ll be looking to move as quickly as possible, once the Alberta government implements what it says it’s going to, to ensure that there’s as small a gap as possible.

Mercedes Stephenson: Jason Kenney says that his government is going to launch a constitutional challenge against the carbon tax. That will make Alberta the third province to do so, but with the legal bills mounting for the federal government fighting these provinces in court, is this a good use of taxpayers’ money?

Secretary Sean Fraser: It’s unbelievable to me that the provinces think it’s a priority of their constituents to fight climate action rather than fight climate change. If you actually look at the decision of the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal that came out just a matter of weeks ago, what I find particularly interesting is they clearly declared that the federal government has the constitutional authority to implement the regime laid out in our legislation. But even the descent acknowledged that GHG pricing works to reduce emissions and that the federal government could have jurisdiction to implement a system, whether it’s under the national concern or the power to implement taxation, is the only point that they had a meaningful difference of opinion on. I’m completely confident that we’re going to be able to implement our system on because we have the constitutional authority to do so, and I find it extremely disappointing that there’s now five provinces that seem to be throwing taxpayers’ monies away, fighting a losing battle, purely for political purposes.

Mercedes Stephenson: You don’t think there’s any value in the arguments that they’re making?

Secretary Sean Fraser: Absolutely not. If you look at the decision that was just before the court in Saskatchewan, what they held is that having a minimum standard of behaviour that we expect of provinces, is a national concern.

Mercedes Stephenson: Speaking of global concerns, late last week, the President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte, announced that he was going to ship Canadian garbage back immediately and not wait until next month like your government had proposed. This has now been a five-year dispute. Why did the federal government allow this to fester for so long?

Secretary Sean Fraser: It starts back in 2013, when a Canadian exported shipped mislabelled containers prior to our government taking office, to the Philippines. When it arrived, we didn’t have the regulations in place at the time, to demand the repatriation of those containers. We actually adopted regulations in 2016, to pull ourselves in compliance with the Basel Convention, which is the international treaty directly on point. Since that time, there’s been efforts by the Philippines government to make recovery against the importer, unsuccessfully to date. And the Canadian exporter has not been involved in doing any active business, so recovering amounts from them for what should be their responsibility has certainly been difficult. We’ve been working on this for months now with the government of the Philippines. We’ve offered to pay for the repatriation of the containers so we can take care of them in Canada and dispose of them here. We have gone through the process of expediting a procurement award to a company that was just awarded days ago, and we expect that this is going to move quite quickly. In fact, we expect the first containers to move near the very beginning of June and the containers to be removed from the Philippines by the 10th of June.

Mercedes Stephenson: There’s two fairly important bills in front of the Senate, and of course, the House if coming back this week so we want to talk about those energy bills. One of those bills is C-69, and it has to do with building new energy projects like pipelines. The other contentious bill is the tanker ban. There’s been some rough waters in the Senate for both of these bills. The Senate committee that’s been looking at the tanker ban bill is not recommending the Senate pass it, and there’s been a significant amount of amendments introduced to Bill C-69, including those from the oil industry. Is your government willing to accept those revisions on C-69 or drop the tanker ban altogether if the Senate does not pass it?

Secretary Sean Fraser: I will not tell the Senate what to do. They are independent of the House of Commons, but I would remind them that when it comes to the measures included in Bill C-48, these are measures that Canadians voted for, and I hope that the Senate takes seriously that point of view when they’re considering the recommendation of the Senate committee.

To your question on Bill C-69, what this represents is the government’s attempt to restore public confidence in our environmental assessment process and implement better rules to ensure that good projects go ahead, but that we’re able to stop bad projects when we realize the magnitude of the adverse environmental consequences, to the extent that the Senate has thoughts or amendments that they’re proposing that don’t interfere with the spirit of the bill, of course we’ll consider them in good faith. The purpose of the Senate is to improve legislation, in my opinion. And to the extent that they’ve recommended amendments that will do that, we’d be happy to think about incorporating them into the final version of the legislation.

Mercedes Stephenson: When it comes to the tanker ban, if the Senate doesn’t recommend it, will your government move forward anyhow?

Secretary Sean Fraser: I sincerely hope that the Senate, when considering the recommendations of their committee, understand that it is the will of the democratically elected government, to pass this legislation and they give serious thought to the positions that the government has advanced before simply throwing the bill out the window.

Mercedes Stephenson: Okay, Sean. Thank you so much for your time.

Secretary Sean Fraser: Absolutely, it’s a pleasure. I look forward to our next conversation.

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

The West Block – Episode 38, Season 8 — Sunday, May 26, 2019

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