June 2, 2019 11:30 am

The West Block, Season 8, Episode 39

Watch the full broadcast of The West Block from Sunday, June 2, 2019 with Mercedes Stephenson.

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THE WEST BLOCK

Episode 39, Season 8

Sunday, June 2, 2019 

Host: Mercedes Stephenson

Guest Interviews: Unifor President Jerry Dias, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister,

Story continues below

U.K. Minister of State John Penrose

Location: Ottawa

Announcer: “Vice-President of the United States of America.”

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence: “The President and I are absolutely determined to move the USMCA forward and to move it forward this summer.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “Our industries and citizens depend on the flow of goods between our two countries.”

Unifor President Jerry Dias: “My point of view is I’m not supporting Andrew Scheer.”

Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer: “Jerry Dias is not a journalist.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “We’re making no apologies to build a strong independent media.” 

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister: “I’ve actually had a lot of Manitobans tell me they don’t want us to combine political stuff with our party.” 

Protestor: “My body, my choice!”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “This government will always be a staunch defender of women’s rights and for the woman’s right to choose.”

U.K. Minister of State John Penrose: “No one’s ever left the EU before, so no one quite knows how to do it well and it’s proving extremely tricky.”

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May: “I will shortly leave the job that it has been the honour of my life to serve the country I love.”

Mercedes Stephenson: It’s Sunday, June 2nd. I’m Mercedes Stephenson, and this is The West Block.

 Vice-President Mike Pence touched down in Ottawa last week to meet with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and assure him the White House will push Congress to ratify the new NAFTA deal this summer.

But then, only hours later, President Trump announced a 5 per cent tariff on all Mexican imports until Mexico stops migrants from entering the United States. What does all of this mean for ratifying the deal?

Joining me now from Toronto is Jerry Dias National President of Unifor, the largest private sector union in Canada. He is also a member of the NAFTA advisory council. Welcome to the show, Jerry.

 Jerry Dias: How are you today?

 Mercedes Stephenson: Great. A busy, busy weekend after this announcement by Donald Trump that they’re getting ready to put tariffs on Mexico, just when you think you have a done deal with Mike Pence and Justin Trudeau talking about how great it is. What do you think the chances are that this deal will actually be ratified by all three countries before we go to the polls in October?

 Jerry Dias: Well, I think the big holdup is actually going to be in the United States. I don’t believe at all that the Democrats are going to let this thing go through. I mean, they’re pushing on two main points, the one being labour standards, better enforceability. And then, of course, they’re really pushing the issue to reduce it from 10 years back to eight year, for the escalating drug prices on the patents. But I believe this is more political than it is economics, for the Democrats. And frankly, same with Trump, he’s so unpredictable. You don’t know what he’s going do next and if I’m Mexico, I’m saying there’s no way I’m ratifying this thing if Trump is going to start to slap tariffs on them.

 Mercedes Stephenson: Why do you think he’s doing that when he says he wants to push this deal through? He has to know that that’s going to create serious problems for Mexico and their willingness to sign.

 Jerry Dias: Well, I think he’s trying to push Mexico around to make some concessions based on the original agreement. There is no question that if the enforcements standards on Mexican labour rights are not enforceable, then the whole deal is bogus anyway. So we have to make sure that that is ironclad and that Mexico is going to comply. So if he’s using it as a bargaining chip to push them, then I understand his strategy, but ultimately, he can’t have it both ways. Unless Mexico blinks quickly, then it’s definitely going in the tank.

 Mercedes Stephenson: You’re a union leader and you were intimately involved in helping to negotiate this deal. When the Democrats say they have serious concerns about labour and the environment, do you think they have a point? And would the deal have to be reopened to deal with that?

 Jerry Dias: Well, the language that’s in the agreement is pretty good. I mean, a matter of fact, it’s much better than the language that appeared in the agreement 25 years ago. But if there’s some questions as to how they can manipulate the enforcement aspect of it, then you better tighten it up because the corporations are already saying, listen, there’s ways to get around what was negotiated, even on the auto side of things. So if in fact, the corporations are saying that, the Mexican government is thinking about it. Then we better roll up our sleeves and fix it, because there’s no deal unless we can ensure that Mexican worker, the standard of living is elevated. That’s the only way this deal is going to be fair for all three countries.

 Mercedes Stephenson: Do you think that NAFTA gets blown up if USMCA or CUSMA, depending on what you all it, is not signed by December?

 Jerry Dias: I—I don’t think it’s going anywhere. I honestly believe that the Democrats are going to throw so many obstacles at it that it won’t be signed. And frankly, no NAFTA is better than the original NAFTA that was in place because the original NAFTA, I will argue, was a colossal disaster. I mean, I think about the auto industry. I think about the lost jobs. I think about how four auto plants closed here in Canada, 10 in the United States. They opened eight in Mexico and BMW, if you can imagine, is opening a plant right now where the workers are going to get paid $1.10 an hour. So there’s a lot of work that has to be done in order to make this thing fair.

 Mercedes Stephenson: Jerry, to turn to another one of your roles as the head of Uniform, the federal government has announced a board that will determine who in media, in terms of qualifications can apply for some of that over $600 million in funding that they’ve set aside. You’ve taken to the airwaves and attacked the Conservatives. You put out a campaign saying Andrew Scheer’s worst nightmare. Do you think that when you’ve taken such a political position, Unifor has a role on that board?

 Jerry Dias: Absolutely, we do. We represent more journalists in this country than anybody else: 12,000 members in the media sector. Remember, there’s eight people on the board, eight. Four are represented, the newspaper chains themselves, the media, and four are representatives are journalist. All eight people that stood on the panel have to come to a consensus—so it’s not a question of a vote. It’s a question of a consensus. The other side of this thin is they’re fascinated that, you know, I am anti-Conservative, which I am for obvious reasons. Look at what Doug Ford is doing here in Ontario: $17 million he takes out of women’s programs to deal with violence. Cutting funding for autism, getting rid of 3,000 teachers, and frankly, Andrew Scheer is his puppet. But if you look at it, four of the positions are held by management, which frankly, 77 per cent of the newspapers said in the last election that they’re supporting the Conservatives. So if I have one voice and it’s not me—

 Mercedes Stephenson: So Jerry when you say things like that though, when you say things like that about Andrew Scheer, aren’t you putting the journalists and your union in a difficult position because we see it every day on social media. People are saying the journalists are being bought off. They’re anti-Conservatives and then the union that represents them is out saying this kind of thing about the Conservatives. In an era of fake news, aren’t you putting those journalists in a bad position?

 Jerry Dias: Absolutely not because the whole argument is about journalistic integrity. It’s about free speech. I’m entitled to my free speech just like everyone else. The group I will argue that is putting them in conflict are the editors and the publishers that are openly saying we are supporting the Conservative Party of Canada. So if their owners—if their publishers are quite open in saying that, are you trying to tell me that Canada’s largest private sector union can’t express their point of view? And there’s no question, my point of view is I’m not supporting Andrew Scheer.

 Mercedes Stephenson: I guess the question that a lot of Canadians probably have is do you expect the journalists in your union to fall into line with the unions political positions?

 Jerry Dias: They never have. That’s the humour in this whole thing. I represent the workers of Post Media, The Sun, they have—are not exactly the bastion of union strength. Like look, these are journalists with their own point of view and I totally respect it. Like I don’t buy the argument that somehow, that by the government putting money into this fund, that somehow people are going to go from Conservative to raging socialists. I don’t buy it at all. And I want to also point out that frankly, the whole issue with the labour tax credit was first implemented by Mike Harris back in the late 90s. There wasn’t this debate then. So this isn’t anything new. It’s just being raised today. It’s a political football in Ottawa, but I have a lot of respect for journalists in this country and their ability to make up their own mind. So whether or not they pay their dues to Unifor or their pay cheque comes from Post Media, I would expect that neither of those two things are relevant and it’s all about what they believe and the whole issue of free speech and integrity.

 Mercedes Stephenson: Jerry Dias, thank you for your time. We have to wrap it up there.

 Jerry Dias: Have a great day, thank you.

 Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, we’ll talk to Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister about his meeting with the Prime Minister and the growing influence of Conservative premiers.

[Break]

Mercedes Stephenson: Welcome back. Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister is part of a group of Conservative premiers with growing political clout on the federal scene. Premier Pallister was here in Ottawa last week to meet with Justin Trudeau over a proposed power line to the United States. Relations between the two governments between the two governments have been thorny since Ottawa slapped a carbon tax on the province.

Joining me now from Winnipeg is Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister. Welcome to the show, Premier.

Premier Brian Pallister: My pleasure, Mercedes.

Mercedes Stephenson: We were just talking with Jerry Dias and he says that he believes that there’s a possibility the new NAFTA deal is dead in the water. Obviously, the United States and trade is very important for your province. Do you think that the deal will be ratified at this point? 

Premier Brian Pallister: Well obviously the conjecture, I would hopefully have that this would be that this is going to happen because trade is essential to our province as it is to all the provinces, but in particular, in Manitoba, we are a real free trade province and we’ve really benefitted from increased trade with the United States, frankly, in the face of some these negotiations of the last couple of years. Our trade numbers look really good, but I think what this serves to highlight is the real vital importance of getting rid of these archaic inter-provincial barriers to trade that stand in the way of us doing a better job of creating jobs for each other in our country. So that’s what I’ll be continuing to push at our end and among the premiers as we have these discussions at the premiers meetings coming up.

Mercedes Stephenson: You were in Ottawa last week meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to talk about power lines to the United States from Manitoba. Whenever we think about power and energy, of course, especially when it comes to your province and other provinces that have voted Conservative, I think of the carbon tax. Did that come up and what did the Prime Minister have to say about it? 

Premier Brian Pallister: The carbon tax wasn’t the focus of our discussion. It has been previously, of course, but our focus was on this hydro project which is historic, actually, Mercedes. This is the first time that a Canadian power utility has taken over an ownership position in a trans-national hydro transmission project, and this is a really important project for us, as part of our Green Plan. It also will help our neighbours and in this case, in Wisconsin, Minnesota. Potentially other markets to get off coal produced power and green themselves up in the battle against climate change. So, we’re really excited about moving the project forward. Ottawa stands between us and the project beginning and if it’s delayed much longer than it has been, it’s going to cost tremendous amounts of money for our province, over $200 million in the first year if delays continue. So that was the focus of the discussion, let’s get the delays out of the way. It’s been approved by the National Energy Board, let’s get going with greening our world.

Mercedes Stephenson: So Premier, how is Ottawa standing in the way then?

Premier Brian Pallister: Well, Ottawa has, after five years of preparatory discussion, deemed it appropriate to delay approval that was previously given by the Clean Environment Commission here in Manitoba. Also, that was given by the National Energy Board. This has never happened before. We’ve never had a hydroelectric project delayed by Ottawa on the basis of any argument and now we’ve had them put off their approval not once, not twice, but we’re going into the third time. This delay of it goes on. We’re in the red zone, Mercedes. This is going to be very, very costly and dangerous. And, you know, its fine for Ottawa to talk green, good, but don’t block green. You know, this is a significant and important hydroelectric project that stands to help our climate and it frankly fits exactly with what the—well, proclaimed agenda is of the federal government. So it seems a contradiction that they would block a Green project while being on the verge of approving a pipeline, for example.

Mercedes Stephenson: I know that there’s been significant tension between your government and the federal government to—if you skip just one province over to Alberta, Jason Kenney has said that he plans to campaign against Justin Trudeau in the federal election in the fall. Are you planning to campaign against Justin Trudeau as well?

Premier Brian Pallister: Well, I found our dialogue—actually the Prime Minister and I have had excellent discussions and I think they’ve grown more fruitful as we learn about each other’s people. And so I would say I was not displeased with the discussions. I think we’re fundamentally perhaps at odds about the nature of how you might define reconciliation. The Feds seem to want us to accommodate or pay certain interest groups that are advocating against the project. We’re not interested in doing that. We believe that real reconciliation means listening, not cutting cheques. So we’ve listened over a five-year period. We’ve had literally hundreds of meetings with Indigenous groups. We have heard their concerns. We’ve acted. We’ve actually, for example, changed the root of the hydro line, so 75 per cent of it is no longer using Crown land, which would affect Indigenous concerns about hunting and berry picking and things like this. So, we’re ready to work and have been working with our Indigenous community actively for a long time. So this is, I’m afraid, more about political science than it is about climate science and we—we frankly think this is a great opportunity for the federal government to say yes to a Green project that’s right in line with what they’ve been claiming they want to see happen in our country and in our world. 

Mercedes Stephenson: Premier, I have to ask you about a question that came up here in Ottawa. The Vice President, of course, was visiting late last week. He sat down with Justin Trudeau and abortion came up on the agenda. There’s been a lot of pressure on Conservatives federally on this issue, questions about whether or not Conservatives in Canada want to see that issue reopened. It’s something the Liberals have been attacking them on. Do you believe that there is a desire among Conservative Canadians to revisit the issue of abortion? 

Premier Brian Pallister: No, frankly, I don’t, and I think it’s a good example of desperation and dog whistle political techniques more than it is about a genuine attempt to address the issues that Canadians are most concerned about. And I believe that Canadians are concerned about good jobs, about economic growth, about fair taxation and quite frankly, they’re concerned about making sure that our climate obligations to the next generation are upheld and that we leave a legacy of a cleaner planet. 

Mercedes Stephenson: Do you think it was appropriate for the Prime Minister to raise that with the Vice President, to raise the issue of abortion? 

Premier Brian Pallister: No, I don’t.  

Mercedes Stephenson: Okay, Premier, thank you very much for your time. 

Premier Brian Pallister: My great pleasure, Mercedes. Talk to you soon. 

Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, money laundering, Chinese organized crime and European politics. We’ll talk all of those topics with British Minister of State John Penrose.

[Break]

Mercedes Stephenson: Welcome back. For months now, Global News has been following the money, revealing Chinese organized crime and money laundering in B.C. casinos and real estate.  

Last week in Ottawa, experts called for action against the international underground economy.

The United Kingdom has been battling this for years. I spoke to the British Prime Minister’s point person on anti-corruption earlier. Here’s that conversation.

Joining me now is John Penrose. He is the U.K.’s Minister of State for Northern Ireland as well as the Prime Minister’s point person on anti-corruption. Welcome to Canada.

U.K. Minister of State John Penrose: Thank you very much.

Mercedes Stephenson: You’ve been here talking about money laundering. It’s something that we’ve certainly had a lot of concern about in Canada recently, calls for an inquiry and more to be done. Can you tell me a little bit about the advice that you were giving at this conference about what governments can do to try to combat this problem?

U.K. Minister of State John Penrose: Broadly speaking, the biggest answer to this is being transparent, is making it impossible or as hard as you possibly can for criminals to move dirty money around the globe and in the process try to make it look like it’s clean and then they can invest it in legitimate assets and places to live in, whether it’s Vancouver or London or Manhattan, it doesn’t matter. And so what you’ve got to try and do is to make sure that they can’t move it without it being spotted. And that’s all about just saying who controls companies. Shell companies can be used to move money around the globe and other kinds of organizations: trusts and the like as well so that whenever they try, we can follow the money and at that point we can get the assets back. We can take them off them. We can hit them in the pocketbook where it hurts and ultimately, once we’ve done that, we can track down the individual concerned and we’ve then got the case—the court case, to put them in jail, if necessary.

Mercedes Stephenson: So, can you explain to me a little bit about how you do that tracking. How do you find out who owns the companies, who’s behind them because that’s been one of the big difficulties here in Canada.

U.K. Minister of State John Penrose: Yeah. 

Mercedes Stephenson: You see the company’s name you might suspect is behind it but there’s not a way to find out.  

U.K. Minister of State John Penrose: And that’s a problem the world over. There is an answer, but it does require lots of countries to do the same thing, which is to basically say you have to reveal who runs the company. It isn’t just enough to say there’s another company behind that and another company behind that and another company behind that. You’ve got to say no, who’s the person, the living breathing person with a pulse who actually owns it or who controls it, you know, in some way or other manages the thing. 

Mercedes Stephenson: There’s this concern in Canada because there has been increasing awareness in the money laundering that’s happening here, particularly through Chinese organized crime and real-estate and in casinos. Is that a reputation that’s starting to reach the U.K. about Canada and raising concerns?

U.K. Minister of State John Penrose: I think some of the reports that have come out about the problems in B.C. are relatively recent so it hasn’t hit many people’s consciousness in the U.K. yet. But the thing which we in the U.K., you know, know about ourselves being host to the City of London is that we are all vulnerable to reputational damage. And it doesn’t take much for a country’s reputation to get dented, and once a country’s reputation is dented, then all the businesses and the banks and the lawyers and the accountants, everybody’s reputation who treat—who seek to do business in that country is dented, too, by association. So we’ve all got a heck of a lot to lose, the U.K. just as much as Canada. 

Mercedes Stephenson: Turning to Brexit. You believe that a deal is possible by that October 31st deadline.  

U.K. Minister of State John Penrose: It’s possible, but it’s difficult. And it’s been difficult all the way through, and it’s one of these things where, you know, anybody who turns around and says it’s easy, you just do X or you just do Y, I think is forgetting the fundamental truth, which is that, you know, for any negotiated agreement, you’ve got to have both sides coming to an agreement and both sides have to say yes. And the difficulty is that, you know, this is a—this is something that no one’s ever done before and no one’s ever left the EU before. So no one quite knows how to do it well and it’s proving extremely tricky because you’ve got 27 countries on one side in the EU, all of whom, you know, want to achieve all sorts of other things as well. Britain wanting to leave and it’s proving extremely tricky.

Mercedes Stephenson: One of the difficulties, of course, is the situation in Northern Ireland, and how do you deal with that? That’s part of your portfolio, Northern Ireland. 

U.K. Minister of State John Penrose: Yeah. 

Mercedes Stephenson: How do you deal with negotiating a Brexit without stirring up the troubles again in Northern Ireland because that has been a flash point?

U.K. Minister of State John Penrose: Yeah, absolutely right and it’s absolutely essential that we don’t, you know, recreate some of the conditions which, you know, destroyed peace in Northern Ireland and which in the 20-odd years, since something called the Belfast agreement which is kind of the foundational peace agreement that brought peace back to Northern Ireland, it’s vital that we don’t put that at risk. So, the essential thing is that the border between Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland is at the moment, it exists on a map but you can drive across it without having to show your passport. You can take goods across it without to worry about customs and those sorts of things. And the crucial thing must be that after we leave the EU, that border must not become a hard border. It must still be porous. It must still be something which you can drive across without having to worry. 

Mercedes Stephenson: Your Prime Minister is set to step down from her position in coming days and there’s questions about whether or not there should be an early election. Do you think that Brits should go to the poll early? 

U.K. Minister of State John Penrose: No, I don’t. It’s a simple answer. And I think there are several reasons for that. One is very simply that I think that Brits need to see that the result of the referendum to leave the EU has been delivered and only once that has been done, because, you know, they voted on that once and there was a very clear answer to it. And they need to see that that’s been done. Once that has been done, then we can think again about other polls, etc., etc. But until that has been done, there’s a job to do and stopping and saying I’m terribly sorry, we’re going to take two months off to have a general election campaign. Don’t worry about Brexit, it can wait. I think people will take a pretty dim view of that and I think they’d be right to. 

Mercedes Stephenson: Minister, thank you for stopping by to join us while you were in the capital. 

U.K. Minister of State John Penrose: Thank you very much for having me. 

Mercedes Stephenson: That is our show for today. Thank you for joining us. As we leave you, we want to honour the 75th anniversary of D-day coming up on Thursday. The segment that you’re about to see was produced by Bryan Mullen and Kieron O’Dea, along with editor and cameraman Trevor Owen and David de la Harpe. I’m Mercedes Stephenson, see you next week.

The West Block – Episode 39, Season 8 — Sunday, June 2, 2019

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