The West Block – Episode 48, Season 8

Watch the full broadcast of The West Block from Sunday, August 4, 2019 with Mike Le Couteur.


Episode 48, Season 8

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Host: Mike Le Couteur

Guest Interviews: Senator Dennis Patterson, Susan Delacourt, Jordan Press

Hill Hobbies: NDP MP Don Davies

Location: Ottawa


Mike Le Couteur: On this Sunday, climate change is affecting the north more quickly than the rest of Canada. The government has promised to protect massive parts of the Arctic Sea and promised millions in infrastructure. Is it enough? We’ll talk to the senator for Nunavut.

Then, dates for the debates are set. Parties are filling their war chests. Politicians are testing their lines. We’ll unpack the politics as the election campaign looms.

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And, I hit the court with NDP MP Don Davies. We’ll talk drop shots, and the drop of the writ in this week’s Hill Hobbies.

It is Sunday, August 4th. I’m Mike Le Couteur, and this is The West Block.

Now Canada’s north is warming three times faster than the rest of the world. This summer has brought record temperatures and even wildfires to the global Arctic. In Canada, melting ice is opening new shipping lanes. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in Nunavut last week to unveil a vast marine protected area and millions of dollars to ensure local Inuit communities benefit from the new measures. Northern leaders welcomed the new changes.

Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami President Natan Obed: “This is a new way of seeing conservation, not only in Canada but globally.”

Nunavut Premier Joe Savikataaq: “We’re proud Canadians, but we don’t want to be forgotten. And this is one great example of how things are bringing us back in, and we need to ensure responsible development and long term economic potential for the high Arctic.”

Mike Le Couteur: And for more on climate change and the future of Canada’s north, I’m joined by senator for Nunavut Dennis Patterson. Senator, thanks for taking the time to join us today.

Senator Dennis Patterson: My pleasure.

Mike Le Couteur: So, you’ve represented the north for decades. How have you seen the climate change during your lifetime?

Mike Le Couteur: You know where I live in Iqaluit, on Baffin Island, Inuit in particular, use the sea ice for travel, and so do I, to get to my cabin. I’ve used the—been out on the sea ice and it’s been perfectly safe into July in years past. This year, in April, it was starting to get dangerous. The ice was melting from underneath, with warm currents. It’s been very difficult for travel, and some hunters have been lost because of this rapid change in warming.

Mike Le Couteur: Yeah, and it’s something that I think locals are seeing a lot as well, but also you as a special role here, you were the Chair of the Senate’s special committee on the Arctic. You released a wide ranging report called Northern Lights: A Wakeup Call for the Future of Canada. Now, first give me your initial take—your take on the initial measures that the government announced just this week. Do they adequately respond to that wakeup call that you signalled in that report?

Senator Dennis Patterson: Well, it is welcome that there were announcements about involving the Inuit in particular, in protecting and monitoring a new marine conservation area. That’s certainly very welcome. When the Oceans Protection Act was passed—the Oceans Act was recently passed in the Senate. I did call for amendments which would guarantee the full involvement of northern governments in developing these new conservation and protected areas. Unfortunately, the amendments were watered down. I think in the long-run, what we want to see is that the northern people and their elected governments will be involved in management of the offshore the same way as happens in Atlantic Canada. So this is a step in that direction, but there’s a lot further to go.

Mike Le Couteur: And mentioning that, in your report, I’ll just quote from it here. You said that, “Arctic policy in the past has been developed by well-intentioned but ignorant southern bureaucrats.” How has that been felt in the Arctic? And what has that really hindered in really going forward for the Inuit people?

Senator Dennis Patterson: Well, I think we need to recognize that the Arctic is an increasingly important strategic interest for Canada, and we have the longest coastline and it covers about almost half of Canada from east to west. What we need in Arctic policy is to more fully involve northern governments and also to have Canada invest in the basic infrastructure that’s needed. Right now, there’s only one port on the whole Northwest Passage and another one being built some distance away in Iqaluit as a commitment from the previous government. We rely on satellite communication with no fibre optics and no backup. We have total reliance in Nunavut on diesel power with no alternate energy sources or backup. So there’s a need for Canada to invest in the Arctic just as we’re busy investing in shortening commuter times in southern Canada.

Mike Le Couteur: Now this government last week mentioned that they would be investing in infrastructure for the people of the high Arctic. How far will that go in addition to the housing strategy that they’ve announced knowing that climate change is affecting the housing so greatly? I mean how much does that actually change the equation or does it make up for things?

Senator Dennis Patterson: We have an acute housing shortage in Nunavut. It’s been clearly identified as a shortfall of 3,000 units. So the announcement that was made last week by the prime minister, to provide more money for this much needed housing, and unfortunately we depend 90 per cent on the federal government for our revenue stream in Nunavut with our small population and fledgling economy. This is a great step forward. But we also in the report, called for the development of northern building codes because we are dealing with climate change. So there’s issues of mould and instability of foundations due to permafrost melting, and unfortunately, we’re still waiting to see that northern specific building code developed and we’re still struggling with actually declining contributions from Canada for the maintenance of our aging housing stocks. So, again, a step forward, but more work needs to be done.

Mike Le Couteur: And I know a lot of political parties will be looking to try and court votes up there. Just in the last minute that we have here, what do people of the north need to see from each political party as the campaign approaches. Do they know that these political parties are taking their concern seriously?

Senator Dennis Patterson: Well, I think the issue of housing is a critical one. It affects all kinds of social issues that we’re plagued with in Nunavut, from family violence to suicide, to unfortunately, a TB epidemic. So housing is certainly an issue, and also attention to infrastructure. The final thing I’d like to say is that we don’t want to be so dependent on Canada for our revenues for our government. So, we need to also have a balanced approach, which would include not just environmental protection, but also steps to develop our rich economy. We have rich resources in minerals, in fishery and support for developing those resources will allow us to be more self-reliant and improve our 20+ per cent unemployment rate.

Mike Le Couteur: Thank you very much for your time, Senator Patterson. That’s unfortunately all the time we have today.

Senator Dennis Patterson: Thank you very much.

Mike Le Couteur: Up next, the campaign is kind of already started with fundraising and mudslinging in full swing. We’ll unpack the politics.

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Mike Le Couteur: Welcome back. Now if you’ve been listening to the party leaders recently, you probably think the election campaign is already in full swing. Here’s just a quick sample.

Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer: “He is just not as advertised.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “The middle class can’t afford another Doug Ford.”

Mike Le Couteur: And joining me right now to unpack all of the posturing are the Toronto Star’s Ottawa Bureau Chief Susan Delacourt and Jordan Press from the Canadian Press. Thank you guys for joining us.

The first thing that strikes me about those two clips is how negative it all is. I mean, Trudeau invoking Doug Ford. What happened to Trudeau’s sunny ways, Susan?

Susan Delacourt: [Chuckles] I think they were forgotten the minute Parliament started. I think this is just—this is like the trailer for the election movie and it’s going to be maybe not Quentin Tarantino, but it’s gonna be pretty ugly.

Mike Le Couteur: Yeah. And Jordan, I mean, do you think that we can get to any kind of level of discourse that will be positive here?

Jordan Press: Well David Johnston’s who’s at the base commission is kind of hoping we get to that. And that’s—I think, though, what you’re seeing right now is you’re just seeing them testing out these ideas. You’re seeing how much can they get away. And what seems to be resonating the most, particularly during the summer, when maybe not a lot of people are paying attention, they’re just going to throw these things out there to see what might stick in the summer season, as I said, when people aren’t really paying attention. Maybe that starts changing with the election actually starts, when the campaign begins and they start putting out policies that people are going to be paying attention to maybe closer to that than to the rhetoric.

Susan Delacourt: It’s also possible it’s based on research they’re doing. We saw this week—this past week in Ottawa, hundreds of Liberals invaded the town for boot camp. And I know they were shown a lot of data, and they were exchanging the data they were receiving at the door. And I know the Ontario MPs, even some of the MPs in other places, were talking about Ford as being the gift that keeps giving to them this summer. They’re getting a lot of Doug Ford stuff apparently at the door. So, I would imagine that no politician, no political leader says things by accident, so whatever is being said this week has been—it maybe is being market tested a bit right now, but it has been market tested as well.

Mike Le Couteur: And the Conservatives doing some market testing also at the Foreign Affairs committee, where they were trying to bring up the whole issue of talking to former diplomats and quashing what they were going to say. And then conveniently it turns to SNC-Lavalin and Mark Norman. So Jordan, I mean, clearly, you know, is their data saying that’s going to resonate with voters at the ballot box?

Jordan Press: Well it sounds like it probably does tell them that. The fact that they are talking about that, they’re trying to build that narrative to say it’s not just one thing. Don’t just look at SNC-Lavalin and think that’s it. They really believe that if they can build that big narrative, if they can show that, then maybe those swing voters who are not quite sure they want to vote Liberal again. Maybe they’ll suddenly start realizing hey, you know what? Maybe the Conservatives have a point and we need to start looking for another option at the ballot box.

Mike Le Couteur: But they voted for sunny ways and all of a sudden it’s heavy handed Justin Trudeau who actually doesn’t believe in all of this, Susan.

Susan Delacourt: Yeah. The Conservatives were doing very well. It’s funny, there’s almost an inside-outside Ottawa thing. Liberals do very well when the political debate is outside this city. Conservatives do very well when the debate is in this city. And they were doing very well over the winter with SNC-Lavalin. If I were the Liberals, and I was talking to some of them this week about this, what was worrying about the SNC-Lavalin story, should be to them, is that people were just making whatever story they wanted out of it. So it wasn’t based on people weren’t intricately reading the details of it. They were pulling the story they wanted out of it and none of those stories were good for the Liberals. So, I think they were all feeling good this week because they’re outside Ottawa, but I also think that we’re going to see the ghost of SNC-Lavalin all the way through the election.

Mike Le Couteur: Yeah. And one of those things that I think a lot of people thinks is a really good indicator of what’s going to happen in the election are polls. We’re going to be inundated with them from now until October. But, I think the better barometer is people putting their money where their mouth is and the fundraising data. And a lot of what has come out, I think, has been shocking. And one of the things that came out for me for second quarter was how the NDP is actually behind the Greens, Jordan.

Jordan Press: Yeah. And that says something about the interest of their base, because the fundraising numbers are important for the parties, but they’re only one indicator. Like you said, you have polls, too, but they’re only one indicator of just how well they’re doing. It’s an indicator of how well their base, how well their backers are actually interested, how motivated are they right now, the intensity of that motivation they have to get out and help the parties win. If you have a party like the NDP that isn’t getting a lot of money coming in, it says something about where those—where their voters are and where their backers are, and whether they actually want to go out and try to then help gain some more votes in the election. So I think it’s problematic for them. If you’re the Liberals, the Conservatives are quite happy. And if you’re the Greens, you are probably ecstatic at the moment that your fortunes are literally and figuratively rising.

Mike Le Couteur: Yeah. And what kind of momentum has that built from that?

Susan Delacourt: Momentum is a really interesting word in here, too, because I went through and I actually compared—I think a lot of people did—the increase of all the parties from March to—from the first quarter of 2019 to the second one. The second one would have been the SNC-Lavalin stuff. The Conservatives didn’t increase all that much. There’s still a fundraising colossus. They’re way, way ahead of everybody else. But they didn’t increase all that much. The Liberals did. There was some increase, which tells you that maybe the base is a bit worried. And NDP did not. They had a little tiny increase. The Greens nearly doubled. The number of contributors and the money they were getting. So that’s—

Mike Le Couteur: But is it significant or is it a double, like you know from two to four? That type of—

Susan Delacourt: Well it’s 700 and something thousand to 1.4 million.

Mike Le Couteur: Wow, that kind of real traction—

Susan Delacourt: Yeah. That tells you that in the midst of a very bad spring and winter—spring mostly for the Liberals, people were looking at the Greens.

Mike Le Couteur: Yeah. Just before we go, I want to touch on one last thing Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland did finally meet with her Chinese counterpart. Do you think that this is a thawing that we’re seeing now?

Jordan Press: It’s a step. And the way that Chrystia Freeland described it when she was talking to reporters was this is a—it’s just a positive step. It’s not going to be—it’s not the end of this. We—there’s still a lot more to do. The fact that she had a face-to-face meeting is something that she had been rebuffed previously to get. So the fact she had one is something to look at, but it’s not to say this is the end of the story.

Mike Le Couteur: But Susan, finally positive news on this file.

Susan Delacourt: Anything is—that helps those two Michael’s get out. It’s just this is horrible. We’re getting close to a year. I think it is, as Jordan says, it’s going to be slow and steady and baby steps. But I think still, a lot of the work is being done behind the scenes.

Mike Le Couteur: Yeah, okay. Thanks very much for that, guys. Susan Delacourt of the Toronto Star and Jordan Press of the Canadian Press, appreciate it, guys.

Coming up, we take the good with the badminton and hit the court with NDP MP Don Davies for this week’s Hill Hobbies.

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Mike Le Couteur: Welcome back. The volley of words across the aisle of the House of Commons isn’t the only back and forth NDP MP Don Davies enjoys. I recently caught up with Davies to hit some birdies for this week’s edition of Hill Hobbies.

[Playing badminton]

NDP MP Don Davies: It’s always the easy one. Tips for a rookie: hit it deep, hit it to the backend when you can, get the guy moving around.

Mike Le Couteur: And you’re just saying that because you love the drop shot?

NDP MP Don Davies: No, I just gave away my entire game plan. Actually, it’s we really are the conscious of the nation.

Mike Le Couteur: [Laughs] Tell me all the rules and maybe I’ll win.

NDP MP Don Davies: See, we can’t win government, but we can tell you exactly what you need to do. This is NDP badminton, is to look that way and hit that way.

Whoops. You shocked me by getting that one. Geez, I could do this all-day long.

Mike Le Couteur: I gotta ask ya, why badminton?

NDP MP Don Davies: Well, it goes back to high school. Many decades ago, I was on the high school badminton team and after, you know, a few years of getting away from it, I picked it up a few years ago sort of as a hobby and to stay in shape and I’ve always loved the game and it’s a great way to stay in shape and have fun.

Mike Le Couteur: How do you stay in shape and maintain that balance? How important is that on the Hill to have that physical-mental balance because it’s so stressful up there?

NDP MP Don Davies: Last couple of years I’ve really taken it more seriously. The job is stressful, it’s long hours. It’s hard to eat well. And frankly, you need some outlet for the stress and long hours, so I think it’s really important for people in this life to pay attention to their health and I am the health critic for the NDP. So, as I was getting to be a larger critic, I thought it’s important to maybe practice what I’m hearing and get in shape.

Mike Le Couteur: Do you have people to play with, though? I mean, partners to hit around a couple of birdies?

NDP MP Don Davies: I haven’t in Ottawa. I do in Vancouver, and particularly with my wife. My wife and I play with another couple, a husband and wife team. So we get out every Tuesday night in Vancouver when we can.

Mike Le Couteur: How competitive are you?

NDP MP Don Davies: Ah, more competitive than my wife.

Mike Le Couteur: You’ve got more than a decade on the Hill. What do you think your biggest accomplishment as an MP has been thus far?

NDP MP Don Davies: I’ve got a really, really active constituency office, where we have always put casework really, really as our number one priority. I think we handle about 1,500 cases a year. And I gotta tell you, Mike, that when you see a family reunited, you know, a husband walk in to see his wife or children who are brought together who have been separated for years in some cases, there are very few more satisfying political moments than that. And it’s not the kind of thing that hits the news. It’s not the kind of thing you read about. But we work hard on those cases and that’s what really makes a difference. And I think it’s the most important part of an MPs job, frankly, is serving your constituents.

On the macro scale, I would say, you know, I don’t want to sound—have any hubris with this, but I think my party and I put pharmacare on the national stage. You know, four years ago, nobody was talking about it. We campaigned on it last election but really didn’t get much coverage. And I moved a motion at the health committee and really drove the issue forward, along with our leader Jagmeet Singh, and I think now, we’re poised, I think, to be on the verge of bringing the next big expansion to our universal health care system and I think it’s going to be a big issue in the fall election.

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Mike Le Couteur: Opposition parties could make the argument that their best ideas are being stolen by the government. I mean, the NDP championed pharmacare and now the Liberals introducing it and taking it into the election. How much of a concern is that for the NDP that especially when we saw in 2015, there were a number of ideas that were fairly, let’s say, had a tinge of orange to them that were in the Liberal platform.

NDP MP Don Davies: I guess I have mixed emotions it. I mean, sometimes I think the NDP is the idea factory for the Liberal Party, you know? So, on the one hand, I guess there’s a little bit of political resentment when a party who ignores a lot of these issues seems to take our issues at election time for political opportunistic reasons. On the other hand, you know, I think imitation is the best form of flattery and if we propose the idea but other politicians and parties end up being responsible for implementing them, and it’s the for the good of Canadians and at the end of the day I think it’s just a good thing.

Mike Le Couteur: Do you not worry, though, that that could mean less votes for the NDP?

NDP MP Don Davies: I think that Canadians trust the NDP as the original and most sincere and committed party for health care. And I think they know that without a lot of NDP MPs in Parliament—the next Parliament, there’s a very good chance that the Liberals wont’ bring in pharmacare. They promised it in 1997, 22 years ago and they’ve had 13 years of government to bring it in and they never have. If you don’t have a strong group of NDP MPs in Parliament, it makes it real easy for parties like the Liberals to promise one thing during the campaign and then conveniently forget that pledge and not bring it in once they’re elected. So, I think Canadians understand that.

Mike Le Couteur: But being weeks away from the election, so many of the stalwarts of the party are not running anymore. How concerned are you about the party’s fortunes going forward, especially when you consider that Jagmeet Singh has not had the traction that everybody thought he would when he was first elected the leader of the party?

NDP MP Don Davies: Well, you know, they said the same thing in 2011 and we started that campaign at 18 per cent. We finished with 103 seats and at 31 per cent. They wrote off Jack Layton in 2004 and 2006. I think Jagmeet’s going to be a hell of a campaigner. You know, he loves people. I’ve seen him in action, Mike, and when he’s out in a crowd of people, he’s dynamic. People like him, he’s sincere. I think he reflects the face of Canada, and I think we have a very strong campaign and I’m very positive and optimistic about our campaigning and what the final results will be.

Mike Le Couteur: Don, I really appreciate that. That was a lot of fun.

NDP MP Don Davies: Oh Mike, that was great, but the thing about badminton is conditioning. Hit the line. Harder, harder, harder. That a boy. Keep going. Dig, Mike, dig. Dig, dig, dig. That a boy, Mike. That a boy. That’s not bad. We’ll get ya—we’ll get you in shape yet.

Mike Le Couteur: That’s The West Block for this week. Mercedes Stephenson will be back next week. I’m Mike Le Couteur, thanks for watching.

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