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The West Block, Season 8, Episode 41

Watch the full broadcast of The West Block from Sunday, June 16, 2019 with Mercedes Stephenson.

THE WEST BLOCK

Episode 41, Season 8

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Host: Mercedes Stephenson

Guest Interviews: Minister Catherine McKenna, Goldy Hyder, Sasha Kavlicek

Location: Ottawa

Catherine McKenna, Environment and Climate Change Minister: “We will not be accepting amendments that weaken the rules.”

 

Andrew Scheer, Opposition Leader: “When will he realize that his policies are phasing out the energy sector and all the jobs that go with it?”

 

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Catherine McKenna, Environment and Climate Change Minister: “They want to replace environmental review with pipeline approval process.”

 

Tracy Ramsey, NDP-Essex: “And the minister called the new NAFTA a, ‘Win-win-win.’”

 

Chrystia Freeland, Foreign Affairs Minister: “Canada did its job. We negotiated a great deal for Canadian workers.”

 

“There has been no political interference. Her case is now before courts. Ms. Meng has excellent lawyers.”

 

Sasha Kavlicek, Institute for Strategic Dialogue:“News and information that’s shared within peer groups tends to be more impactful. We tend to believe it a little bit more. It’s worrying.”

 

Karina Gould, Democratic Institutions Minister:“We’re starting to think about what those norms and standards should be with regards to the online environment as well.”

 

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Mercedes Stephenson: It’s Sunday, June 16th. I’m Mercedes Stephenson, and this is The West Block.

 

We are just days away from a cabinet decision on whether the Trans Mountain pipeline will be built. Meanwhile, the Liberal government, the Senate and Conservative premiers have been locked in a battle over resource development on Bill C-69.

 

The Senate sent back 188 amendments to the government after conducting cross-Canada consultations. Environment Minister Catherine McKenna rejected a number of those amendments, saying Conservative senators simply copied and pasted them from oil lobbyists. Meanwhile, the industry says the controversial environmental assessment bill will kill oil and gas in Canada. Will the government pass this bill before the House rises on Friday? 

 

Joining me now is federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna. Welcome to the show, Minister.

 

Minister Catherine McKenna: Great to be on the show.

 

Mercedes Stephenson: You’ve got a big announcement coming up this week. Trans Mountain expected in just a couple of days. There’s been a number of delays in making a cabinet decision. Are you going to meet the deadline and make that decision this week? 

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Minister Catherine McKenna: Well we’ve always said that the only way the [00:02:11] Trans Mountain pipeline will go ahead if it’s done in the right way. There’s been a lot of hard work doing Indigenous consultation. Also, making sure we’re doing right by the environment. And so, you know, we’re moving forward in terms of, I think, being in a position to make an announcement. But we’ve always said, it has to be done in the right way and you might have seen that we’ve announced better rules for major projects, which is related because I think what the Trans Mountain expansion showed is how challenging under the Stephen Harper system, where rules were gathered from environmental assessments that you were running into challenges in terms of properly consulting and accommodating Indigenous peoples, also making sure that you had the trust of the public and making sure you were doing right by the environment. So, we need to get this right. Major projects have to have the trust of the public in terms of how we assess them. But anyway, there’s no decision yet but just stay tuned.

 

Mercedes Stephenson: Expected this week, though?

 

Minister Catherine McKenna: Well there’s a deadline and so stay tuned. The goal is—we have been working very hard on this.

 

Mercedes Stephenson: We’ll see if you meet it. Okay, well speaking of C-69, you had a tremendous number of amendments to work through and you accepted some very substantial ones on that, on clarifying the process. You also rejected some very substantial ones, ones that were recommended by Conservative senators, by premiers who are not happy about this, and they’re saying, look, if you don’t accept these amendments, you’re going to kill the oil and gas industry in Canada. What do you say to them?

 

Minister Catherine McKenna: So, I mean—so first of all, we had always said we were willing to look at amendments that made a better bill. And what is—what are better rules for how you review major projects that we make sure we have the trust of Canadians, that we’re protecting the environment, that Indigenous peoples, you’re meeting your constitutional requirement to consult with Indigenous peoples and good projects go ahead. And so we looked at amendments that would do that, but Conservative politicians were pushing amendments that would not consider climate change, that limit public consultation, that would make it optional to consult with Indigenous peoples, even though that’s—it’s required by the constitution. It’s as if they want to go back to the time of Stephen Harper, where good projects couldn’t go ahead in a timely way. So, look, we need to get this right. It’s really important that we have a process, where we can take advantage. There’s a $500 billion opportunity in our resource sector. We were really happy to see the Mining Association support the amendments, support the better rules that we have.

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Mercedes Stephenson: But the oil industry has come out and so has Jack Mince, who’s an economist at the University of Calgary, Goldy Hyder who’s on the show right after you, who is with the Business Council of Canada and they’re saying this could be the death now, for the industry, that the amendments that were refused are key to making sure the industry sees more investment and is able to survive.

 

Minister Catherine McKenna: Look, that’s just absurd. I think people are learning the wrong lessons from the Trans Mountain expansion. Right now we’re in the situation we’re in because that was a process under Stephen Harper, where rules were gutted when it came to environmental—looking at environmental considerations when it came to properly consulting with Indigenous peoples and as a result, good projects couldn’t go ahead. But we were always clear, we’re not here—this isn’t a pipeline approval process, and this is what Andrew Scheer wants. He wants—instead of it being an environmental assessment process—

 

Mercedes Stephenson: But this isn’t Andrew Scheer, this is industry groups. This is economist. This is business council saying there are serious problems with this bill the way that it is. 

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Minister Catherine McKenna: But the majority, as I say, the majority of projects are mining projects. We’ve worked with them on amendments and we also have the support of the Assembly of First Nations. But look, what do Canadians expect? They expect that when you look at major projects, you’re going to consider the impacts on the environment. You’re going to consider the impacts on Indigenous peoples and meet your constitutional requirement, and good projects will go ahead in a timely fashion. That’s what we’ve designed.

 

Mercedes Stephenson: So you don’t believe that this will kill the oil and gas industry.

 

Minister Catherine McKenna: That is totally absurd. But what we are not going to do, and Andrew Scheer, she had secret meetings with the head of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and his campaign chair, to talk about how they could win the next election.

 

Mercedes Stephenson: In fairness, I don’t think that you guys make all of your meetings public either, but I just want to change gears because we do have to get to the carbon tax still. Big project for your government, you announced this week that you’re going to be imposing it in Alberta on January 1st. Why wait until after the election?

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Minister Catherine McKenna: Well we have to do it right. We’ve always said that there has to be a price on pollution, it can’t be free to pollute. Alberta has to be part of the national climate plan. Alberta has the highest emissions in the country, but we need to do it in the right way and we need to do some analysis. But we’ve been clear, we’re moving forward on this. And actually, really interestingly today, the Pope announced with major energy companies at the Vatican their support for carbon pricing. So you now have the major energy companies like Shell saying we need to put a price on pollution and you have major asset managers like BlackRock, businesses, insurance companies who see the risk, so it’s not just, you know, our government that’s doing this. It’s governments around the world that are putting a price on pollution.

 

Mercedes Stephenson: Well but if you take that argument, too, and you said it’s one of the most economically efficient ways there is to control the carbon footprint. The parliamentary budget officer came out this week and said you’re not going to meet your Paris targets unless you significantly increase the carbon tax. So why not do that? Why introduce a carbon tax if it’s not going to get you to the Paris targets?

 

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Minister Catherine McKenna: Look, we’ve always said it can’t be free to pollute and that’s part of any credible climate plan, but everything we do is in the prism of yeah, we’ve got to tackle carbon pollution, but we also have to do it in a way that’s affordable and that grows the economy. We’ve created a million jobs, lowest unemployment rate in four decades. We’ve got a price on pollution, we’re giving money back to people, but we’re doing a whole range of other measures because we’re not just going to do a price on pollution. And so, if you look at how we’re going to meet our target, we’ve been 100 per cent clear that we’re committed to that and we all know that the world needs to do more. We are phasing out coal, we’re investing in renewables, we’re investing in energy efficiency and clean innovations. And just this week, we announced we’re tackling plastic pollution. We’re also doubling nature. We’re doing more tree planting, more incentives for electric vehicles. That’s our plan to meet our target.

 

Mercedes Stephenson: Lots of plans and I’m sure we’ll hear more about this in the coming election. That’s all the time we have for it today, but thank you so much for joining us.

 

Minister Catherine McKenna: Great to be on the show.

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Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, the Prime Minister heads to Washington on Wednesday to meet President Trump. Trade and China are on the agenda, what will Trudeau ask of Trump?

 

[Break]

 

Welcome back. The Prime Minister heads to Washington on Thursday to meet President Trump. Ratification of the new NAFTA agreement and how to handle China are both top of the agenda.

 

Democrats and Congress want changes to NAFTA 2.0 before they will sign on, and Canada needs President Trump to push China in a key meeting, where he could raise the case of two Canadians who have been detained by Beijing for months. What can Canada expect from the White House?

 

Joining me now is Goldy Hyder. Goldy is the President and CEO of the Business Council of Canada. Welcome back, Goldy. 

 

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Goldy Hyder: Good to be here, Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there.

 

Mercedes Stephenson: Absolutely, and to you.

 

Goldy Hyder: Thank you.

 

Mercedes Stephenson: Just before Father’s Day, you were down earlier last week, Thursday, I believe, in Washington, D.C. You were meeting with some of the key people on the NAFTA file, including Congress people and business people. What are you hearing from them about the chances of this being passed?

 

Goldy Hyder: Well honestly, it’s—I think it’s a good chance that things will get there. The question is when and how? And we spent most of our time meeting with the democratic side of Congress to get an understanding of what are the issues that they’re raising? Are any of those issues about Canada? Are they more about Mexico? What is the process through which that they’re able to move that forward? And most importantly, I wanted to share with them, our timing issues. Given that Canada’s heading into a federal election in October and the government’s desire to run parallel the process of approval, we want to make sure that the American side understood that while we respect your process, respect the fact that you have an independent exercise underway, wanted you to be aware that in Canada, we have an election and we want to make sure that this doesn’t either get up—get caught up in the politics of that election or worse, risks the fact that after the fact, we might have to open the deal up or do something that none of us want to see happen. Let’s get it done. Mexico’s going to get it done as early as this week. Why don’t we follow suit in similar fashion, perhaps a session of Parliament in summer, but let’s get it done sooner rather than later.

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Mercedes Stephenson: Did you get a sense that that message had any traction?

 

Goldy Hyder: Many of the issues that they raised, we feel can be managed outside of the agreement itself, perhaps through independent issues that they have mostly with Mexico is the other thing that came out on the issues of enforcement, on the issues of labour and environment, and we in Canada feel that our labour movement is behind the trade agreement. The Mexicans feel the same way. We’re not sure where the American movement is on this, but perhaps they can talk to each other and see if they can’t push that across the finish line.

 

Mercedes Stephenson: Well, and we had Gerry Dias on the show a couple of weeks ago, of course, he’s the President of Unifor. He’s on the NAFTA advisory council. He said he doesn’t think this deal is going to happen. Do you think it’s going to happen?

 

Goldy Hyder: Yeah, I do think it’s going to happen. I think the first indication is Speaker Pelosi and Ambassador Lighthizer are working very hard to find the—a means by which to address the issues that are being raised in the democratic caucus. I think Speaker Pelosi should never be underestimated. She has a difficult job to do in managing a caucus that’s clearly very desperate. But I think the willingness of Ambassador Lighthizer to address the issues that the Democrats and Congress are raising gives me hope. As I said, the issue to me is when. I’m more concerned about when it happens because if it heads into post-Canadian election or we’re in to 2020, well then maybe all bets are off because we’re into a very partisan—a hyper partisan environment. I think there’s a general sense that sooner to deal with this in 2019, the better for all sides because otherwise the alternative is exactly what? 

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Mercedes Stephenson: Well and that’s what everyone’s wondering, whether the President might blow up NAFTA completely, which is what he’s threatened. The Prime Minister scheduled to meet with him.

 

Goldy Hyder: Yeah.

 

Mercedes Stephenson: One of the other big topics is going to of course, be China because President Trump is going to be meeting with the President of China and no doubt, Canada’s going to ask him to raise some of the issues we’ve had, including the two Canadians that have been detained there. There’s been a pretty significant affect for some of Canada’s agricultural industry as China retaliates through banning certain Canadian imports like canola. Give us a sense of what the chilled relationship with China has meant for Canadian business?

 

Goldy Hyder: Well, I was on your show talking about this a few months ago, pointing out, you know, if I can say tongue and cheek that diplomatic relations are much like a family, and mom and dad are going to squabble from time to time, but we’re watching the children suffer as a result of it, whether you’re foreign students, whether you’re tourists, whether you’re business, clearly there’s a dampening and there’s a chill underway. We don’t like that situation. I think we want to be able to continue to have the cultural exchanges, the social exchanges, the students, the visitors, and yes, continue to do business because when all it’s said and done this is about Chinese citizens and Canadian citizens and prosperity. We want to grow that middle class, we want to continue the investments. We can do short-term manage that situation, but our desire is to see a reset, a stabilization of relationships and it was only seven months ago, I was in China, where we were talking about sectorial trade agreements between Canada and China. 

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Mercedes Stephenson: It seems a long way around.

 

Goldy Hyder: And so, it’s not impossible that that channel can be changed again quickly. But our fate is very much tied to the actions of the United States. They asked for this. We’re honouring the extradition request. We need their help to get us out of the situation, particularly for the two Michaels that you spoke about.

 

Mercedes Stephenson: Jean Chrétien, former prime minister had suggested perhaps, Meng Wanzhoushould simply be released, former CFO of Huawei. Is that something that the Canadian business community would leave behind? 

 

Goldy Hyder: No. You know, we’ll leave the politics to the politicians. We’ll leave the judiciary to the judicial thing. We believe in the rule of law. We believe that political relationships should get to a place where we can talk to each other. I think what’s unfortunate about where we are right now is that it’s almost like everybody’s frozen out. No one’s talking to anybody and in business we think talking to each other is a good way of finding a way forward, but it’s also important to have a strategy. What you’re talking about and what’s in the press is largely tactics. I’d like to understand, what is the strategy to normalize relationships with China? We can’t have a trade diversification policy away from the United States if we believe that it’s going to exclude China. We need to get back to a better place and that means don’t provoke. That means, you know, be shrewd, be strategic on how you manage this situation. And yes, it does mean calling on your ally in the United States to say look, we’re doing this for you. We need your help so please don’t, you know, think that once you have your trade deal that you can somehow push this under the carpet. We need your help in this area and our lives are very much intertwined. The lives of these two Michaels are very much intertwined with what’s going on between the U.S. and China and so we need to assert ourselves in that conversation. 

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Mercedes Stephenson: We just have a few moments left, but I want to talk to you about an op-ed that you published last week on Bill C-69. The government has rejected a large number of the amendments proposed by Conservatives. You’re not the oil industry, but you were saying this raises serious concerns about the oil industry’s ability to survive in Canada.

 

Goldy Hyder: Yeah, now look, the Business Council represents a diverse sectorial base in the country from coast to coast. There are members of ours that are pleased with some of the changes that were made from the mining industry and others. But I also represent members who are in the oil and gas industry and in the pipeline industry and what I hear from them, and I’m only relaying what I’m hearing from them, is the bill as it’s currently constituted, will not result on the investment that’s necessary to build the infrastructure because the predictability, the certainty, the confidence that one needs in the regulatory regime, is not going to be there. And I don’t put this just at the feet of this government. Successive governments have politicized infrastructure. We should not have done that. We should have let well enough alone and trusted our regulatory system and empowered them to get to the right answer.

 

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Mercedes Stephenson: Goldy Hyder, thank you for joining us.

 

Goldy Hyder: Great to be here, Mercedes. Thank you.

 

Mercedes Stephenson: Coming up, 90 per cent of Canadians say they have fallen for fake news. Why are we so willing to consume and spread this misinformation? And what can you do to protect yourself? 

 

[Break]

 

Mercedes Stephenson: Welcome back. Ninety-per cent of Canadians have fallen for fake news. That’s according to a new poll for Canada Centre for International Governance and Innovation, and most of that fake news is found on Facebook. So, who is behind this misinformation and why do we fall for it? 

 

Sasha Kavlicek is the CEO of a British think tank that studies online hate and disinformation. I sat down with her last week. Here’s that conversation.

 

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Sasha, thank you so much for joining us today.

 

Sasha Kavlicek: Thank you for having me.

 

Mercedes Stephenson: A poll out this week that has a lot of Canadians talking, saying 90 per cent of Canadians have fallen for fake news, which was defined as partially or wholly fake information. A lot of that coming through Facebook, does that statistic surprise you?

 

Sasha Kavlicek: And we haven’t even got to deep fake, not yet, which is the technology that will really get us stumped on fake news. It doesn’t entirely surprise me. News and information that’s shared within peer groups tends to be more impactful and we tend to believe it a little bit more. It’s worrying, but what we see in relation to misinformation today is that the picture is more complex than that, because it isn’t just about false information or indeed, false means of distributing that information through obvious botnets.

 

Mercedes Stephenson: Who are the people that are behind this fake news and this disinformation, and why are they doing it?

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Sasha Kavlicek: Well this is the thing, you know, when—everybody’s been looking at this really, since 2016. And everybody’s been asking really, the big question about Kremlin interference. Now, there is that happening, but what we’re seeing is a much more complex set of actors. We’re seeing transnational non-state actors very active here. The international alt-right has been as much of a player, I would say, as Kremlin sources across Europe, across a whole range of elections of late. And we see an investment in long range campaigns around wedge issues.

 

Mercedes Stephenson: Why is it that social media companies aren’t doing more to counter this? Is it beyond their control? Is it not in their interests? What’s the motivation?

 

Sasha Kavlicek: So, I think that there have been efforts by the companies, to look at this sort of range of harms, if you like, from violent extremism, through hate speech, through the misinformation space. Most of the approach that’s been seen now to date, but, you know, governments have been basically looking at this from a content moderation perspective and they’ve been saying to the companies, you need to do more to moderate or to remove egregious and problematic content. And while there is content that definitely needs to be removed and it’s illegal, so there’s a lot of hate speech that’s illegal, there’s harassment that’s illegal, there’s defamation that’s illegal and we need to do more to apply existing laws online more effectively. That isn’t happening very well right now. There’s a whole lot, of course, that isn’t—that falls into this sort of grey area of legal but problematic content. This is where we need a new tack. We need a new approach. We need to be looking at this from the perspective of the technological architecture of these platforms that essentially tilts in favour of extremist messaging and polarization.

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Mercedes Stephenson: How do you go about countering something that has become so engrained in something that’s so much a part of our lives in social media?

 

Sasha Kavlicek: I think you need a three-pronged approach to this. You need to see policy coming into play, and I do believe that regulation is absolutely necessary. The self-regulatory approach with the companies, I don’t think is going to work. And that regulation needs to focus beyond content moderation on that architecture that I just talked about, the imbalances that we see online that tilt in favour of extremism.

 

The second piece is really competition. We need to provide open data for civic actors, to compete effectively for share of mind online, in order to compete effectively with these extreme ideas and we don’t do that very effectively today. Civil society groups tend not to have the tools, they tend not to have access to the data at scale. It’s in a way, I think something that both government and the companies could come around together, to invest in that kind of machinery, to upskill and upscale the civic response. 

 

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And then thirdly, there is an investment that needs to be made in education. And when we talk about educations of digital citizenship education, it shouldn’t just be for kids. It should be for everybody. 

 

Mercedes Stephenson: What about some of the immediacy that the technology allows, and I think of the terrible attack in New Zealand in March. This is somebody who had a GoPro attached to himself, was live broadcasting his attack, how much of a challenge is it to deal with something like that and the propaganda value that that holds when you can now reach out to hundreds of thousands of people around the world in an instant?

 

Sasha Kavlicek: Well, it’s a huge potential, of course. And one of the things I would say is that that attack gave us an insight into the wider eco-system of these extremist groups. The manifesto, the so-called manifesto that the attacker put out, was put out on all tech platforms. So you see a number of platforms either being co-opted or being setup and created for the purposes of obviating some of the restrictions that we’ve seen on the mainstream platforms: on Facebook, on Twitter, on, you know, on YouTube. And so you have this entire ecosystem now of alternative platforms that enable sort of rabid engagement and communications is sort of the nether regions of the internet, where a lot of the plotting and planning and deployment of information operations happens. And then there needs to be a much better crisis response system in place so that governments and the tech companies, when an attack like this happens, are able to respond in much, you know, in a much tighter timeframe.

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Mercedes Stephenson: We’re in an election year. What should Canadians be prepared for in this election and what’s the possible fallout in consequences of this kind of disinformation being fed into the campaigns?

 

Sasha Kavlicek: I think, you know, one has to be prepared for the fact that there is a whole plethora of actors that will be interested to sow the seats of polarization, potentially hate, but also sort of tilt the system in perhaps favour of one or another party. It’s not just foreign estate actors. It is a combination of non-state transnational actors working often with domestic extreme actors. We’ve seen in the European context that bleeds into Populist Party actors. And one of the challenges is to distinguish between those and be able to develop a response. I think we need to be watching much more closely, the extent to which the social media companies commitments around, for instance, political ads transparency is being delivered on.

 

Mercedes Stephenson: Sasha, thank you so much.

 

Sasha Kavlicek: Thank you.

 

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Mercedes Stephenson: That’s our show for today. Thanks for joining us, and for all the dads out there, including mine, Happy Father’s Day. I’m Mercedes Stephenson, see you next week.