The West Block, Season 8, Episode 44

Click to play video: 'The West Block: July 7'
The West Block: July 7
Watch the full broadcast of The West Block from Friday, July 5, 2019 with Eric Sorenson – Jul 7, 2019


Episode 44, Season 8

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Host: Eric Sorensen

Guest Interviews: Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil, Minister Guy Lauzon, Minister Frank Baylis, Minister Fin Donnelly

Hill Hobbies: Minister Marco Mendicino

Location: Ottawa


Eric Sorensen: On this Sunday, breaking down barriers. Premiers gather in Saskatoon this week, the last time before the federal fall election. Will there be a consensus or controversy on trade, energy and health care?

Plus, close to 60 MPs will not seek re-election in October. We’ll ask a Conservative, a Liberal and a New Democrat why they’re leaving.

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And, Hill Hobbies, our summer series that takes a glimpse of what MPs are up to when they’re not on Parliament Hill. This week: a musical interlude with Liberal MP Marco Mendicino.

It’s Sunday, July 7th. I’m Eric Sorensen, and this is The West Block.

Well, July is here but there’s no vacation for politics this summer. We are only three months from a federal election and just two days from a gathering of premiers, many spoiling for a fight with Ottawa. That sounds familiar but how times have changed. Cast your mind back to July 2015, the last time that premiers met before an October federal election. What’s different? Well first of all, there were women premiers then. There’s not one anywhere in the country today. And, almost everyone here is gone, mostly Liberals. One Liberal still standing from this picture: Premier McNeil of Nova Scotia.

And joining us now from Halifax, Nova Scotia: Premier Stephen McNeil. Mr. McNeil, you haven’t aged a day from those pictures four years ago.

Premier Stephen McNeil: [Chuckles]
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Eric Sorensen: Let me ask you—

Premier Stephen McNeil: Which one of us is the politician?

Eric Sorensen: [Chuckles] The Liberal premiers back then had a Conservative prime minister in their crosshairs. This week in Saskatoon it’ll be the other way around. Hardly any Liberal governments are left. Your poll numbers are down. The federal Liberals are down. What is wrong with the Liberal party these days, do you think?

Premier Stephen McNeil: Well I’m grateful for Nova Scotians to give me an opportunity to have a second majority government here in our province to continue to build the momentum that we’ve been able to do and turn the economy around and grow a population, retain more young people, but I believe this first ministers meeting will be like the one four years ago. It won’t just be focused on the current prime minister. It’ll be any issues that we have. We’ll ask all federal leaders where their stances are as they’re heading into a federal election campaign.

Eric Sorensen: Do you have a sense, though, why Liberals have fallen out of favour over the last few years?

Premier Stephen McNeil: I think if you look across the country, the electorate is volatile. There’s no question about it, we’ve seen regardless of the political stripe. In the last six years, we’ve seen successive governments fall in different provinces, both Conservative, New Democrat and Liberal governments. I don’t think it’s a particular political stripe. I think the fact of the matter is we’re now moving in a different direction. In some provinces, their citizens have chosen a new government. But when it comes to the first ministers meeting that’ll take place in Saskatoon, it will be a focus on not just the federal Liberal government, it’ll be about where will all the other federal leaders stand when it comes to universal health care or the investments in health care, how do we continue to take down barriers, labour mobility? How can we help grow the economy?

Eric Sorensen: To health care, one of the issues there, I don’t want to say it’s a crisis across Canada but there have been shortages. You’ve had problems with, say, anesthesiologists in Yarmouth, but across the country there aren’t enough doctors it seems, family doctors, to go around. What’s the prescription as far as you’re concerned?

Premier Stephen McNeil: Well it’s a global situation. It’s not unique just to Canada, but I think one of the things is continuing to move towards a new delivery model, one where we continue to build collaborative care centres where not only do we have family physicians, as part of that, nurse practitioners, family practice nurses are part of that. How do we continue to build centres of excellence with inside of our province to ensure the efficiency of access to surgical time and ensuring that we have a very similar standard across the country? One of the things, though, that we continue to do, is making sure that the accreditation that’s taking place for anesthesia or any other specialty in one province is recognized in others so that we continue to get the mobility of our workforce and those who can practice in the particular province they want to live in.

Eric Sorensen: Another file item, of course, is energy and there are interprovincial splits. When it comes to pipelines, there are carbon taxes. Where do you see progress being made on that file?

Premier Stephen McNeil: Well it’s my hope, certainly, that we continue to move forward to have an energy corridor, whether it is a pipeline conversation or hydroelectricity. We need to share our resources with Canadians, in my view. The fact to get our resources to each coast makes a whole of sense. It broadens our customer base to be able to make sure that we get the maximum value of those resources, at the same time, sharing them with each other and each province.

Eric Sorensen: Premiers have been talking about that for decades, really, to break down those barriers. There’s been some success. Where do see the next maybe breakthrough in trying to make it easier for interprovincial trade?

Premier Stephen McNeil: Well listen, it’s critical. I’ve been a proponent of this from the very beginning. We’re signing deals with Europe, with the U.S. and we have these barriers inside of Canada. We need to continue to take down those barriers. We’ve improved that when it comes to labour mobility, ensuring that training is recognized in our respective provinces to allow many of our global companies to work across provincial borders. At the same time, when it comes to the health care accreditation that I spoke to you earlier about, we need to make sure that we allow that mobility to take place but also just taking down the restrictions when it comes to the movement of goods and services. With every barrier that we put in place, it makes it more difficult for economic growth. The sooner that we can take down these barriers, the better off we are.

Eric Sorensen: I want to ask you about something else and that’s China. Nova Scotia has strong trade ties with China: lobsters, etc. You have been there seven times. The outgoing ambassador to Canada from China visited with you. He had been harshly critical of this country then he seemed to back off of that. What do you see—I mean, with your experience in you visiting there several times, is there anything that you see that you could offer to try to bridge the divide that has occurred now between China and Canada?

Premier Stephen McNeil: Well we need to continue the conversation. There’s no question that China believes that Canada is in the middle of a fight between the U.S. and China. They have a hard time understanding why we’re there. I think the fact that we need to continue to demonstrate to them why the federal government is art of this, why they’ve become part of this. But from a provincial point of view, my role has been, and will continue to be, to ensure that I go in to continue to open up the lines of communication, continue the dialogue, continue to build on the work that we’ve been doing over the last six years now. It is an important trading partner to us and it has always been my belief that the best way to solve our differences, whether it’s with China or other jurisdictions is through dialogue not protectionism, but to go in, continue to work to try to a solution to the challenges facing both of our countries right now.

Eric Sorensen: Alright, Premier McNeil in Halifax. Thank you for joining us.

Coming up, what do retiring MPs take with them when they leave Parliament Hill behind?

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Eric Sorensen: Welcome back. With the election looming, MPs are preparing to defend themselves against a new slate of candidates who want their jobs. But some are stepping away from the fight and putting life here behind them.

To talk about why and what’s next, we’re joined by Conservative Guy Lauzon, Liberal Frank Baylis and Fin Donnelly of the NDP. So gentlemen, the question for all of you is why now? And I’ll start here in studio with you, Guy. You’re 75, is it any more complicated than that?

Minister Guy Lauzon: Well, I’m 75-years-old with lots of energy. But you know, this is an all-consuming job, Eric, and you have to sign on for four years. So I had to think about am I going to have the energy in four years’ time that I have now. And my wife, my loyal wife has been beside me for 15 years and it’s time to spend a little time in Florida.

Eric Sorensen: That sounds good, I think, to all of us. Frank Baylis, you and Fin Donnelly are more in a mid-career stage, but you’re leaving after just one term in a relatively safe Montreal riding. Is it a case of you tried it and you didn’t like it, much?

Minister Frank Baylis: Well, you know, many things come together when you make a decision like this. Like Guy, my wife would like to see a bit more of me, that’s one. My business partner would like me to come back and help a bit more in my business, and also, I was not happy with some of the things in Ottawa, the way the debates take place and lack of what I call constructive debate, maybe a lack of civility and respect too. So all of these things came together for me and I thought, you know, maybe I’ll just take a step back.

Eric Sorensen: Fin Donnelly out in Port Moody—Coquitlam, you came in just ahead of the NDPs you could call it a rogue wave in 2011. Now one third of your caucus is leaving, are you getting out because the best days for this party are behind them, at least for now?

Minister Fin Donnelly: No, not at all, Eric. First of all, it’s been an absolute honour to serve. For me, it’s been a decade, 17 years if you include local politics. I’ve loved it. I’ve, you know, served and enjoyed being a part in the nation’s capital. And, you know, I wouldn’t change a minute of it. Then I’m very hopeful for our party going forward. Like my colleagues, I definitely would like to spend more time with my wife and family and I think that’s as they’ve expressed a tough thing of this job. But I’m really looking forward to transitioning back and focusing on the Fraser Watershed Initiative, which is my passion and why I got into politics in the first place.

Eric Sorensen: You all mentioned family. I think that a lot of Canadians don’t realize the degree to which family is affected by jobs that are as all-consuming as this. So in whatever you’re going to do next, was your experience in Parliament something that can be useful going forward? Guy, I think of you, just all the contacts and people you’ve come to know over the years.

Minister Guy Lauzon: The riding of Stormont—Dundas and South Glengarry have been so good to me, Eric, and Francis and I think we’ve made probably 1,000 friends, and real friends, you know, people that we can spend and we can visit, we can spend time with. So I think there’ll be a lot of that. A lot of the—I love people and so I’m sure that we’ll be spending a lot of time. We used to do the parish supper circuit quite frequently and I’m sure that’ll continue and we’ll be able to spend a little more time with each of our friends and that’s really, really important to both of us.

Eric Sorensen: Frank, you seem to be a man for all seasons with medical technology business, film production, acting. Do four years in politics redirect your career in any way?

Minister Frank Baylis: Well as was mentioned by Fin and others, first of all, what an honour. So it was such an honour to have that experience and I think I’ve learnt a lot from it. And as Guy pointed out, I’ve made a lot of friends, a lot of contacts around the riding, absolutely but also across the country and in many parties as well, not just the Liberal party but in the NDP and the Conservative and Green Party as well, too. So I’m going to look to keep up those contacts and build on those friendships.

Eric Sorensen: Fin, you were here for about 10 years, is this a springboard to something else? And I use the use the word springboard knowing that you were a marathon swimmer.

Minister Fin Donnelly: Well, definitely, I’m returning to my passion, which was the environment that’s what got me into politics. And I have served 10 years and I’ve learned a lot, especially in the last two years, specifically, we’ve been trying to create a $500 million watershed restoration fund specifically to restore the Fraser, one of the greatest salmon rivers on the planet, but it’s in trouble. Things are changing rapidly in Canada and we need to restore and move towards a restoration economy. So I’m very much looking forward to transitioning my work and what I’ve learned in the nation’s capital to focus on those efforts right here in British Columbia and on one of the most amazing watersheds on the planet, really. So that is going to take a lot of time, energy and focus, and definitely what I’ve learned in Ottawa can be applied here. But like Frank and Guy, I’ve made a ton of friends. I’ve made friends in the riding but also across parties and certainly with talking to ministers, this job allows you access which is incredible. So, I’m going to continue to use that after October 21st.

Eric Sorensen: I want to ask each of you just the wisdom that comes now that you’re stepping away from being here. What would you leave your colleagues who are going to carry the fight forward? Guy?

Minister Guy Lauzon: Well, you know, I tell you, take this job. This is such an honour, such a privilege. You know, there’s only 338 of us allowed to sit in that House of Commons. That’s out of 35 million Canadians. So that’s the honour that is bestowed on you when you’re elected. And, you know, when I walk up from the—when I stand at the Eternal Flame and I look up at this—this is my workplace. You come into this building, this is your workplace, but the Parliament of Canada is my workplace. What an honour.

Eric Sorensen: Yes, I`ll bet. Frank—

Minister Guy Lauzon: And I suggest to them that they just treat it as that, as an honour.

Eric Sorensen: And yet, Frank, you indicated off the top there that some of the way the debate unfolds here, and it`s not anything new to these last four years that`s been around long enough to see a lot of that, do you have any sort of parting thoughts when it comes to, you know, the partisanship, whether that`s just a necessary evil or is there something we can do with less of that?

Minister Frank Baylis: I think we could do a lot less of it and I don’t think it’s necessary at all. In fact, I believe that the rate of change that’s happening in the world right now, we can no longer permit ourselves to be so unproductive and have such meaningless debates. So, I would encourage anybody new coming in not to come in and just accept the status quo and say well that’s how it is, that’s how it’s always going to be. It doesn’t have to be like that and there really are amazing minds in all parties that could really contribute to making Canada a much better place and I’d love to see us—what I was trying to do was promote a lot more collaboration instead of confrontation. I really think that’s something that’s needed.

Eric Sorensen: Fin, you’re not long in the tooth, but I would think with 10 years behind you, you would have some wisdom, perhaps, or any pearls of wisdom for your colleagues.

Minister Fin Donnelly: Absolutely. One thing that is very noted is while you’re here it’s an honour to serve in Ottawa, however, it goes fast. So if you have a particular passion or focus, you need to work on that quickly, the minute you get elected and take office because before you know it, you’re going to be looking at either another election or a term behind you. So, you know, while you’re there, take advantage of it. That’s the advice I’m giving Bonita Zarrillo who’s the city councillor I’m hoping to replace me in the fall and that’s the advice I got from Dawn Black when she passed on advice to me when I took over in 2009. And other colleagues, you know, when I talk with them, we just realize how even 10 years is a blink of an eye. I was fortunate to get some legislation passed in the Fisheries Act just recently and it was a great way to go out, legacy, banning shark fins from coming into Canada. I know that’s something Frank supported, which I appreciate, and others support that. And you have to be very focused and passionate and really work hard and fast. If there’s a particular issue you want, you have to get that through fast because it goes quickly.

Eric Sorensen: The years go by quickly and so does this segment. Fin Donnelly and Guy Lauzon and Frank Baylis, thank you and good luck to you all.

Up next: striking a chord with Hill Hobbies.

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Minister Marco Mendicino: I could not imagine a life without music.


Eric Sorensen: Welcome back. Our ears are attuned to the discord on Parliament Hill, but in this week’s instalment of Hill Hobbies, we found harmony in the music of melodious MP Marco Mendicino.

[Minister Marco Mendicino playing piano]
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Minister Marco Mendicino: Eric.

Eric Sorensen: Good to see you.

Minister Marco Mendicino: Good to see you.

Eric Sorensen: Sounds great.

Minister Marco Mendicino: Just warming up.

Eric Sorensen: What does it feel like to kind of sit down and have this in front of you?

Minister Marco Mendicino: When I sit down at the piano, I kind of feel like I’m getting back in tune with myself.

Eric Sorensen: I mean it reminded me, like some days I have a baseball and I’ll pick it up and it just transports me back to when I was young: the feel of it, the strings, etc. And I had that sense that as you stepped up it was like, “Ah, yes. I can be transported to this world that I love.”

Minister Marco Mendicino: Absolutely, and, you know, work can be tough and it can be challenging and it’s in those moments where I come back to piano and I come back to music. And you’re absolutely right, I find myself kind of doing the same routine: I sit down. I’ll open up the piano and close my eyes and just play what’s on my mind. Sometime that’s classical, sometimes that’s Bach. I like to play Bach when, you know, I’m working problems out in my head. Bach is very mathematical. You know, his fugues are very structured. It’s funny, when I was younger Beethoven really appealed to me a lot more because of his emotional grab of the audience and the listener. You know, I’ve been playing a lot of Disney these days because my daughters are picking up some of the piano through ear. Four years ago it was “Frozen”, which was the big movie of the day, so you know—and I don’t know if I can still—

[Minister Marco Mendicino starts to play “Frozen” on the piano]
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Eric Sorensen: Do you remember when you first saw a piano?

Minister Marco Mendicino: I think I used to drive my parents crazy because I would drive—I probably still do a little bit—but I used to sing in the back seat of the car and I think they recognized that I had pitch and tune. And my mom, who liked to sing as well when she was young, I think, immediately recognized that I might be good at an instrument and she just said, you know, “Would you be interested in playing piano?” And without skipping a beat, I said, “Yes.” So I started taking piano lessons when I was about four or five and I think that they could see that like a sponge, I was taking lessons well. And then that’s what brought me here. That’s what brought me to the [St. Michael’s] Choir School. And so I spent a good chunk of my childhood right in this building here.

Eric Sorensen: Most of us are just going to a, you know, elementary school and it’s pretty standard in a classroom. How different an experience was it for you to be taught here?

Minister Marco Mendicino: Well first of all, music is completely integrated into the curriculum. So you take piano lessons at least twice a week, you practice choral every day and you had to learn how to be disciplined about it. That learning a complex piece required diligence and it required effort. It required mental focus and some of those skills have been very transferable into other walks of life: in my career as a lawyer and now as a Member of Parliament. And so, you know, overcoming some of the fears of performing in front of people, which I had to do when I was at the [St. Michael’s] Choir School, is something that I think has helped instil some confidence in me as time has gone on.
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Eric Sorensen: Is it for you, when you’re playing in front of other people, is it about the music or is there an entertaining thing that you like to enthral people?

Minister Marco Mendicino: I think initially, music was actually a pretty—it was a pretty individual thing for me. Over time, I think it’s become as equally about performing for others. I still get anxious. Like I’m anxious, you know, having to do this in front of some cameras and in front of you, to be honest. But I—

Eric Sorensen: Me too. Which fingers for this note? Middle finger? First finger?

Minister Marco Mendicino: You can use your middle finger.

[Eric plays a note three times]

Eric Sorensen: Yeah.

Minister Marco Mendicino: Want to try that?

[Heart and Soul piano duet]
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Eric Sorensen: Yeah.

Minister Marco Mendicino: You got it! Yay! Way to go! [Applause]

Eric Sorensen: How much do you play now? Do you get the chance?

Minister Marco Mendicino: I try to play as often as I can and it will really depend on the day. But when I’m in Ottawa, I am fortunate in that there’s a hotel that I stay at and there’s a piano there and they’re fantastic. They let me play it whenever I want and it’s usually like late at night. It’s usually 10:30, 11 o’clock at night. And I’ll just go up there and I will play for a half hour or sometimes two hours.

Eric Sorensen: Really?

Minister Marco Mendicino: Yeah. And I’ll just keep playing and playing until I kind of feel back in tune.

Eric Sorensen: Well I envy you that you have this because it’s a lifelong thing, you know, some of the pursuits you have. If you like sports, or what have you, you kind of lose some of that. But this is staying with you and it feels like it something that will be with you forever.

Minister Marco Mendicino: Yeah. And now you and I will have this interview forever in dueting a little Heart and Soul. So you get to take this little piece with you.

Eric Sorensen: I’m going to take lessons now.

Minister Marco Mendicino: You should. You`d be great at it. You’d be great.

[Minister Marco Mendicino playing another piece on the piano]
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Eric Sorensen: That’s our show for this week. I’m Eric Sorensen. Thanks for joining us.

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