THE WEST BLOCK
Episode 4, Season 9
Sunday, September 29, 2019
Host: Mercedes Stephenson
Guest Interviews: NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh
Strategist Panel: Richard Mahoney, Anne McGrath, Fred DeLorey
Location: Vancouver, British Columbia
British Columbia: With 42 seats in the House of Commons, this province has the most electoral districts west of Ontario, and it’s here in the lower mainland and on Vancouver Island, where the parties are pushing to win seats, and candidates are feeling the pressure.
Brad Vis – B.C. Conservative Candidate: “I believe that for Mission-Matsqui, the Conservative party, if they want to form government, they have to win Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon. I think this riding is critical, and that’s why I’m out day after day, seeking to earn the trust of the voters and knocking on doors like crazy.”
“Biggest thing that we’re after, guys, is getting more lawn signs out.”
Conservative Brad Vis is not the only candidate trying to take this seat located just outside of Vancouver from the Liberals.
Green Party candidate, John Kidder says he wouldn’t be in the race if he couldn’t stand the pressure to win.
John Kidder – Green Party Candidate: “Of course there’s pressure. The pressure that’s mounting all across the country really is, I think, a pressure to figure out how we’re going to get a rational government out of this, and it doesn’t seem from the evidence that we’re going to get a rational government from either of the two major parties if they had a majority.”
Mercedes Stephenson: Environment and affordability are two big issues in B.C.
Sonia Theroux – Leadnow: “We’re trying to encourage people to include climate in their decision-making.”
Mercedes Stephenson: And in this campaign, activist groups are registering with Elections Canada to make their voices heard. Third parties like the left wing lead now whose holding phone banks and backing candidates who have signed onto their climate agenda.
Sonia Theroux – Leadnow: “Our hope is that we send a cohort of champions and heroes that are willing to apply pressure from within the House of Commons to deliver the kind of climate action that people are asking for”.
Svend Robinson – B.C. NDP Candidate: “This riding is ground zero for Kinder Morgan, for the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, and there is a huge sense of betrayal by the Liberals.”
Mercedes Stephenson: NDP candidate Svend Robinson is back into federal politics after a 15 year break, running in Burnaby just north of Vancouver.
Svend Robinson – B.C. NDP Candidate: “It’s a huge issue in my constituency and it’s one that is, I think, driving many people to support my candidacy, frankly.”
Mercedes Stephenson: The NDP is hoping to flip this riding from the Liberals, but Liberal candidate Terry Beech is optimistic.
Terry Beech – B.C. Liberal Candidate: “So if you go economy, environment, affordability, child care, housing, you know, you’re probably hitting about 80 per cent of what you’re hearing on the doors most of the time and there’s a lot of other issues kind of mixed in there.
My strategy for elections is the same as my strategy for life and my strategy for work: never take a day for granted, work as hard as you can, and we’ll let the chips land where they may.”
Mercedes Stephenson: So while the Liberals and Conservatives try to pick up or retain seats in the lower mainland, over on Vancouver Island, of the seven seats, the Greens hold two and are running hard against the NDP for the remaining five.
On election night, all eyes will be on British Columbia, as it may be here where the final votes are counted that we learn who will form the next government.
Mercedes Stephenson: It’s Sunday, September 29th. I’m Mercedes Stephenson, and this is The West Block.
In just over three weeks, Canadians will elect a new government. Liberals and Conservatives have been locked in a battle for first place with the polls showing that the race is just too close to call at this point.
Meanwhile, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh has been campaigning hard in British Columbia, trying to hang on to his party’s 12 seats in that province. Singh, hit a leadership high with his response to the Trudeau blackface controversy, but it doesn’t seem to be doing much for his numbers in the polls.
Late last week, I caught up with Mr. Singh on Vancouver Island to discuss the fallout of those images and his pitch to be the next prime minister of Canada. Here’s that conversation.
Jagmeet Singh, welcome to the show.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh: Thank you so much.
Mercedes Stephenson: We’re sitting here in a coffee shop, and people all across Canada have been talking about race in this election in a way that we haven’t previously. How big of a role do you think race is playing in this election, and how does it affect you?
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh: So I think it’s come to light because of what we’ve seen with Mr. Trudeau. So certainly it’s come to light, and I think there’s a really good opportunity for us to have a really honest conversation. Racism is something that exists in Canada. We’re certainly not like the States, but we’re not also some sort of paradise where there is no systemic barriers. There are, and I think it’s important for us to say well what are we going to do about it?
Mercedes Stephenson: You had this moment, and I’m sure it was not a moment that you ever wanted, but it was thrust upon you on the campaign trail when the images and video of Justin Trudeau and blackface, and brownface came out, and you could tell it was so raw and so emotional for you, and everyone across the partisan perspective said that was a moment of great leadership, but also a moment of great personal pain for you. Justin Trudeau called you to apologize. What did he say?
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh: I said I was going to keep it private and so I don’t want to disclose that, but for me what was unique about that moment was I wasn’t actually thinking about myself, because—well racism was hard for me. I was always able to defend myself, so it wasn’t as hurtful to me as it was to others. It was something that still I have pain from it.
Mercedes Stephenson: Does the fact that he hasn’t fully disclosed what he was doing in that blackface video impact on how sincerely you view the apology?
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh: I think the not being open about what happened is just creating more questions, and I think it’s fair that Canadians are asking these question.
Mercedes Stephenson: You are the only racialized party leader in Canada. You wear a turban. You’re also campaigning in Quebec. Bill-21 there, obviously very, very controversial and you couldn’t do your job in Quebec. Why won’t you commit to fighting that bill if you become prime minister?
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh: There is a court challenge that’s going on and I think that court challenge is very important and I support it, and it’s something that should not be interfered with, and I don’t want to jeopardize that court case in any way with any sort of comments that I might make about that court case. I do recognize there’s jurisdiction, but that court case is challenging the fact that there’s a very discriminatory law.
Mercedes Stephenson: What do you say to people like Tom Mulcair, former NDP leader who’ve implied that you don’t have the courage to do it, or that it’s about seats?
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh: I’ve got the courage. I’ve taken on big challenges in my life and I’ve never backed down, and I’m not afraid to fight when it comes to people’s rights.
Mercedes Stephenson: Trans Mountain pipeline, obviously very controversial here in B.C. You’ve said that you don’t support it.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh: That’s right.
Mercedes Stephenson: Would you support the building of any pipeline that would carry oil in Canada?
Mercedes Stephenson: What do you say to taxpayers’, though, who say we’ve spent $4.5 billion on this pipeline and there are tens of thousands of jobs in Alberta on the line. How do you explain that to those people that you simply cancelled that pipeline?
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh: I want to say to those workers, I know there’s better ways for us to make investments that will create a more stable workforce and a more stable economy that creates jobs that are long-lasting.
Mercedes Stephenson: Would you give Indigenous people a veto over national energy projects?
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh: I would respect them and give them dignity.
Mercedes Stephenson: Is that a veto?
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh: That would be a collaborative approach.
Mercedes Stephenson: But is it a veto?
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh: No, it’s more working with communities to make sure that they get things done in a way that respects their authority and their autonomy. It would be in line with prior and informed consent. So that’s what I would do, absolutely.
Mercedes Stephenson: Is there a point where as prime minister you would determine a project to be in the national interest and run it through despite Indigenous refusal to allow it to go across their land?
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh: I wouldn’t contravene that principle, that free prior and informed consent. To me, that’s a guiding light and a guiding principle. So I’d make sure it’s in line with that. And if it’s not in line with that, then no, I wouldn’t go ahead.
Mercedes Stephenson: Is it the job of the prime minister to say look, this is in the national interest and the project is going ahead?
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh: The track record of the past has shown that if there’s not community’s onside, if they are strongly opposed, if Indigenous rights aren’t respected, projects don’t succeed.
Mercedes Stephenson: We’ve talked a lot about the environment and you have some pretty big climate goals, and we know that this is top of mind for a lot of Canadians. One of the goals that you’ve talked about is meeting the IPPC goals within 11 years, by 2030. That would take some pretty drastic change. What does that change look like?
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh: It means reimagining our economy where people feel like it’s rigged against them and they feel like they’re not getting ahead on it.
Mercedes Stephenson: But how do you do that in terms of specific policies because you would have to crack down massively on emissions?
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh: Absolutely, so any fossil fuel subsidies in reinvesting that money into clean renewal energy, investing in public transit, in electrifying transportation, and the three biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions are transportation, buildings and energy production. On each of those fronts: massive investments for us to go to zero emissions.
Mercedes Stephenson: But have you added up the actual numbers on that?
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh: As we develop more new technology and implement those technologies, we can get all the way there and beyond that.
Mercedes Stephenson: You’ve made some other pretty big promises that are very attractive to a lot of people, but potentially very expensive: national pharmacare to be implemented very, very quickly. National dental care, support for people who are struggling to pay their rent. How many billion dollars in new spending are we looking at?
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh: The Trudeau government spent $14 billion on a fall economic statement to give the wealthiest corporations the ability to buy corporate jets and limousines. They spent $4.5 billion on a pipeline and they waived or forgave $6 billion in corporate loans, a one year loan of government spending from Mr. Trudeau to the wealthiest, most powerful corporations more than pays for our commitments.
Mercedes Stephenson: So you’re saying you wouldn’t have to raise taxes at all, and you wouldn’t have to cut anything other than those corporate welfare programs?
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh: What we would do is we would raise revenue and we would make better choices.
Mercedes Stephenson: In the past, you’ve appeared at rallies and marches that supposed Sikh independence and some people are wondering what would a relationship with India look like under Prime Minister Jagmeet Singh?
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh: Well I believe we’d have to have good relationships with everyone in the world, and India’s included. I believe in the right to self-determination, but I don’t believe it’s my position to weigh in on what the answer is. So I believe in anyone’s right, whether it’s in Scotland, whether it’s in Spain, whether it’s in any community that is making that decision is up to them to decide, but I support their right. Whether it’s in Quebec, it’s their right to decide I’m going to work towards creating unity in Canada. With India, I believe that there are some serious human rights violations that have to be called out.
Mercedes Stephenson: One of those events that you appeared at had a poster up of an extremist leader of the group that occupied the Golden Temple in 1984. What do you say to people who say they’re concerned that you may support extremism?
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh: I would say I reject violence. Look at my life, I’ve been a lawyer and I’ve been someone that’s used the legal system to defend the rights of people, to defend the rights of those who don’t have rights themselves.
Mercedes Stephenson: Which brings me to my final question on your leadership, because you’re asking for Canadians for their vote to make you the prime minister. You’ve struggled at times as a new leader in the NDP to raise money. Sometimes it seemed like you really didn’t know your policy files. You didn’t make it to New Brunswick, which created a backlash. Obviously those are all learning experiences, but what do you say to people who say, you know, I don’t think he was ready to be the leader of the NDP. Is he ready to be the leader of the country?
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh: I’d say I’m open to always learning and I will always try to improve, and I think that’s something that people can see in me as someone who’s always willing to improve and I continue to do that.
Mercedes Stephenson: Mr. Singh, thank you for taking the time to join us on this very busy election day.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh: Thank you very much.
Mercedes Stephenson: Coming up, we’ll breakdown the highs and lows on the campaign trail, and what to expect this week with our strategy panel.
Mercedes Stephenson: A busy full second week on the campaign trail, lots to breakdown so let’s get right to it.
Joining us now for our war room panel: Richard Mahoney for the Liberals; Anne McGrath for the NDP; and Fred DeLorey for the Conservatives.
Anne, we sat down with Mr. Singh as you just saw. He talked about a lot of programs which he said will amount to billions of dollars, and he also talked about increased revenue, but he said that wouldn’t be in the form of increased taxes. Where is the NDP planning to get that revenue from?
Anne McGrath – NDP Strategist: Well I think the increased revenue will come from a tax on the super-rich, the people with more than $20 million, and it’s a 1 per cent tax. I think what he’s probably talking about is, you know, people outside of that category where there’s not going to be any increase in taxes, in the general population.
Mercedes Stephenson: And that would be enough to pay for over $10 billion of programs.
Anne McGrath – NDP Strategist: There are other sources of revenue that the NDP is looking at. They’re looking at things like fossil fuel—an end to fossil fuel subsidies. There are other places to look for revenue.
Mercedes Stephenson: It seems in a way that this has been a bit of a theme in this campaign, Richard, among all of the political parties. People come out and they make grand announcements and there’s very little behind that policy to explain how they’re going to pay for it, how it’s going to get done. I think of the Liberal promise on cell phones bills. We’re going to make them less expensive. How? Well we’re going to sit down and talk to the cell phone companies. Is it responsible for politicians to be out there making these promises, all trying to outcompete each other on how they’re going to make your life better when really, no one seems to have done the math?
Richard Mahoney – Liberal Strategist: Well, I mean, I think we need to put the test to them, have they done the math? At the end of the day when everyone’s released their platforms and their costing by the PBO, will make judgements on how credible each of those plans are. And the cell phone thing, I mean, what the government will do there is use their regulatory leverage to say we want prices to come down. That’s not really a costs item, that’s a using the powers of government item. But yeah, you’re absolutely right about that. The problem with election campaigns is they are big picture issues and we’re trying to each give—each party’s trying to give the public a sense of the direction of where they’re going, and details and so forth like that get lost in the thing, but we’ve got to hold them accountable. Mr. Singh’s comment on raising revenues, at one point in time he said we’ll replace all the bad things the Liberals have done. What are those? Did they get rid of the child benefit that took 800,000 people out of poverty? Are they going to get rid of the changes to the Canada Pension Plan that basically makes folks working in the gig economy have some income security for the rest of their lives? I don’t think they’re going to do that. And there aren’t that many people in this country making over $20 million a year, so there isn’t that much money to get there.
Anne McGrath – NDP Strategist: Well the PBO says that there is money there.
Richard Mahoney – Liberal Strategist: Well sure, there’s money there, but enough for a pharmacare?
Anne McGrath: And in terms of getting rid of some of the things that the Liberals have done, I think one of the things he’s talking about is the corporate tax cuts.
Mercedes Stephenson: Fred, the Conservatives are also promising individual tax benefits, it kind of seems like there’s a competition for the centre here. I mean, there’s been articles where people look and say Liberal, Conservative, at least the NDP stands out and the Greens stand out for their original ideas, but very much, this is a campaign that seems to be a drive towards the centre.
Fred DeLorey – Conservative Strategist: Absolutely. Look, that’s the focus of most campaigns should be trying to get to those voters that make up the bulk of the electorate. At the end of the day, what Canadians are looking for is affordability and that’s what our plan has, what the Conservative plan has. We talk about platform costing, we’re actually taking our platform to the Parliamentary Budget Office and having them cost it. The Liberals created this mechanism to do that and they’re now refusing to actually bring their budget.
Richard Mahoney – Liberal Strategist: That’s not right. They’ve said they will make—use the PBO costing fully at the end of the campaign, when they release their full platform a la budget. So there’ll be a full accountability of that, and you and everybody else will be able to judge whether they’re properly costed and properly paid for.
Anne McGrath – NDP Strategist: I do think that they use of the Parliamentary Budget Officer is a good development, and I’m happy that people are putting those in. And I do think—
Richard Mahoney – Liberal Strategist: A little bit of accountability.
Anne McGrath – NDP Strategist: But I also do think that it’s a little bit dissonant that it was the Liberals that put that in place, which I agree is a good thing, but hasn’t yet put anything in to be costed.
Mercedes Stephenson: Anne, I want to ask you about something else that Jagmeet Singh said. He said it after our interview, which is why we didn’t ask him about it. But he came out and said that basically he hopes Donald Trump is impeached before he has the opportunity to become prime minister. Is that befitting of somebody who wants to be a statesman before they’ve been elected?
Anne McGrath – NDP Strategist: I think what he’s saying—I mean, you know, what’s happening in the United States right now is kind of—I mean, people, Canadians, people around the world are a bit transfixed by this. It’s very dramatic, very unusual, and I think that for Jagmeet Singh, he, like many other Canadians, looks at what this U.S. president has done and is appalled at children being ripped away from their parent’s arms at the border, at, you know, the way that he has—seems to have abused his power as the president to advance his own political interests. I think most Canadians are rolling—doing more than rolling their eyes. They’re appalled at it and they worry about the fact that it is 1) so close to us, and 2) he impact that it will have on world affairs.
Mercedes Stephenson: But is it a risk for him to say something like that, Fred, or is he simply reflecting what a lot of Canadians think and they’re going to go hmm, yeah, me too.
Fred DeLorey – Conservative Strategist: Well again, I think he’s going for a different voter than a lot—than say, other parties are. A lot of the NDPs voter block would probably be quite opposed to Mr. Trump and his policies. So, I wouldn’t be surprised that has—that would have no impact on him in this.
Mercedes Stephenson: Richard, what do you think?
Anne McGrath – NDP Strategist: I think it’s refreshing and honest.
Mercedes Stephenson: Well, certainly puts it out there and—
Anne McGrath – NDP Strategist: Things are so volatile in the United States right now. We really don’t know what’s going to happen.
Richard Mahoney – Liberal Strategist: That’s true.
Mercedes Stephenson: Okay, I want to focus back home here in Canada because of course climate was a big issue this week. Controversial decision by Andrew Scheer not to march in any of the climate justice marches that took place across the country, and then he comes out on Saturday and announces a national energy corridor. Why do you think he would not show up to the marches and chose to make that announcement the day after?
Fred DeLorey – Conservative Strategist: Well, first of all, I think it’s—you know, climate change is no laughing matter, but I think it’s hilarious that Mr. Trudeau showed up to a protest against his own government, which is essentially what he did this week. You know, the Liberals have no plan on this—no real plan on this other than to raise taxes. Catherine McKenna, the Liberal Environment Minister just last week, came out last week and said they don’t know how they’re going to meet their targets. They’ll figure it out after the election, which is no plan. The Conservatives under Mr. Scheer have an environmental plan, a good one.
Mercedes Stephenson: But why didn’t he march? Is it that he just things there’s nothing to gain by doing that? His voters aren’t in that. Would there have been political risk to him? Why not do that?
Fred DeLorey – Conservative Strategist: Look, I don’t know why he would march or not. At the end of the day, he’s got a very comprehensive environment plan that they put out months before the election, that’s really focused on green technology and making Canada a world leader on the environment, something that we can do under his leadership.
Mercedes Stephenson: Okay, so Justin Trudeau marched, but isn’t meeting his own goals. They talk a lot about the carbon tax and about meeting them, but there’s no hard core policy in place to do so. In terms of who he’s focused on in an enemy in the campaign, I’ve been fascinated, because we started counting the number of times he said Andrew Scheer versus the number of times he said Stephen Harper, and it seems like he’s still very much campaigning against the ghost of Stephen Harper. Why doesn’t he talk about Andrew Scheer who is actually the leader of the other party who’s running?
Richard Mahoney – Liberal Strategist: Well he does, and what he’s trying to say to Canadians is that if you look at the policies at what Mr. Harper did, Mr. Scheer is talking almost daily about little carbon copy cut-outs of what Mr. Harper promised. I mean he said himself; he was Mr. Harper with a smile. I think it’s an abdication of leadership for him to say, and frankly for Fred to say, that those people were protesting Mr. Trudeau’s policies. That’s not what those people were saying. What we need them to say, which is we need our governments all around the world, our provincial governments, our federal governments, our global leadership to do more on this.
Mercedes Stephenson: The French leaders’ debate is coming this week. There’s a tremendous number of undecided voters in Quebec and Ontario. Those are the two biggest provinces where people say I don’t know how I’m going to vote. What is each party strategizing as they head into this week and prepare for the debates, starting with you, Fred.
Fred DeLorey – Conservative Strategist: Well again, it comes down to the main message the Conservatives are pushing. It’s the same in French and English and it’s affordability and how to make life more affordable for Canadians.
Anne McGrath – NDP Strategist: I think for Jagmeet Singh, he will present himself as a modern, progressive leader who can represent the diversity of Quebec and of Canada.
Richard Mahoney – Liberal Strategist: Mr. Trudeau’s got to talk to Quebecers about who is it that you want in the position to make these tough decisions, whose going to lead us on climate? Who’s going to try and make things more affordable for average families?
Mercedes Stephenson: I’m sure we’ll continue to talk about all of the leaders. Thank you very much to our war room strats for joining us today.
Anne McGrath – NDP Strategist: Thank you.
Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, in case you missed it, some of the lighter moments from the past week on the campaign trail.
Mercedes Stephenson: Welcome back. If you’d like to see our extended interview with NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, go to our website: www.thewestblock.ca.
And finally, as we leave you today, we want to show you some of the lighter moments out there on the campaign trail, in case you missed it.
For The West Block, I’m Mercedes Stephenson. Have a great week.
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May: “This nifty item ensures that I can take water on an airplane without taking a plastic cup.”
Reporter: “If you were the prime minister, what is the first thing you’d say to Donald Trump?”
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh: “First thing I would say to who?”
Reporter: “To Donald Trump.”
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh: “Ooph. I, I—I hope he gets, um, impeached before I get to speak to him.”
Reporter: “You’re running to become prime minister, should you be joking about the impeachment of the U.S. president?”
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh: “I wasn’t joking.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “Hello.”
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May: “I also carry my own serviette, so I can avoid taking paper napkins.”
Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer: “Who’s gonna—who’s going to throw me a curve ball? Media. Who’s gonna–?”
Reporter: “Nice day for a stroll.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “Oh, it’s a beautiful day for that.”
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May: “I avoid plastic. Everywhere I go, I have all my own utensils.”
Reporter: “You’re like a Cub Scout.”
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May: “Yep. Oh look, I’ve got a ladybug joined me here. I don’t usually travel with a ladybug. That’s good luck.Green Party Leader Elizabeth May: “Bye team, see you later.”