The West Block – Episode 5, Season 9

Watch the full broadcast of The West Block from Sunday, October 6, 2019 with Mercedes Stephenson.


Episode 5, Season 9

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Host: Mercedes Stephenson

Guest Interviews: Tamara Taggart, Laurel Collins, Tom Dingwall

Strategist Panel: Fred DeLorey, Anne McGrath, Richard Mahoney

Location: Nova Scotia

Chelsea Pridham: “I got a phone call from my doctor asking me to go in to see her, and then she told me that I had what’s called neuroendocrine cancer.”

Mercedes Stephenson: Thirty-three year old Chelsea Pridham’s cancer diagnosis came in May. In July, part of her colon and intestines were removed, the surgeon told her she was 98 per cent cancer free. Chelsea, still in recovery, is too scared to celebrate.

Chelsea Pridham: “I’m thinking about that 2 per cent, and wondering what I’m going to do if I have pain, or if I don’t feel well, or, you know, where do I go, because unfortunately, my family doctor closed her practice last week.”

Mercedes Stephenson: And Chelsea is not the only patient without a family doctor, adding more stress for emergency rooms.

Dr. Tim Holland, Doctors Nova Scotia last president: “I’m a family doctor and I also work emerge. I’ll see folks in the emergency department who’ve been without a family doctor for some time, and not uncommonly be diagnosing cancer in an emergency department”.

Mercedes Stephenson: Dr. Tim Holland is the past president of Doctors Nova Scotia.

Dr. Tim Holland: “And so we’re seeing, you know, patients calling up dozens of family doctors’ offices trying to get on the list.”

Mercedes Stephenson: The situation is so bad in Nova Scotia; they have a hospital report, just like a weather report.

Alan Johnson, News Announcer 94.1 FM: “I had one listener call one day and he said, ‘There are so many hospital closures on your newscast, why don’t you just broadcast the ones who are open, it’s a smaller list.’”

Mercedes Stephenson: And that health care list for doctors and better ER services is one of the top issues in the election campaign.

Jim Bickton, St. Francis Xavier University: “That leads into other things like money for hospitals and other kinds of infrastructure, even wellness facilities. It’s all balled up in that bigger health care concern.”

Mercedes Stephenson: The battle here in central Nova is between the Liberals and Conservatives over health care and the environment. This is Conservative MacKay country, where first Aylmer and then his son Peter MacKay held the seat for decades.

In 2015, though, it turned red and now the Conservatives have brought in country music star George Canyon to win it back.

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George Canton, Conservative Candidate—Nova Scotia: “My dad was in health care, he was a chief tech of the Aberdeen Hospital right up the road, his whole life. And dad said to me 20 years ago, ‘We’re in trouble.’ It’s in a downward spiral.”

Mercedes Stephenson: Liberal candidate Shawn Fraser says there is a role for the federal government to play in easing the health crisis.

Sean Fraser, Liberal Candidate—Nova Scotia: “Of course, most people appreciate that health care is a constitutional responsibility of the province, and I think they’re right to expect not just an increase in the transfer payments, but innovative solutions that will help improve the quality of our provincial system.”

Mercedes Stephenson: But for cancer patient, Chelsea Pridham, there’s little hope those transfer payments will be coming any time soon, even after the election.

Chelsea Pridham: “I’m not the only person that’s dealing with something like this, and that’s scary. I mean it’s really scary.”

Mercedes Stephenson: It’s Sunday, October 6th. I’m Mercedes Stephenson, and this is The West Block.

Welcome to day 26 of the federal election campaign. We’re now into the second half of a highly competitive campaign that has been dominated by digging up dirt on the leaders and the horse race in the poll, but if often seen there’s little discussion about policy. What we do know is there’s real issues affecting Canadians lives, like health care as you just saw, along with the environment and affordability.

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Here to dig into some of those issues: three star candidates, none of whom are sitting MPs. In Victoria, we have Laurel Collins, for the NDP; Tamara Taggart joins us from Vancouver for the Liberals; and in Toronto, Conservative candidate, Tom Dingwall.

Tamara, I want to start with you because we just saw a little package for our viewers on how serious an issue health care is in this election, especially in places like Nova Scotia, where people have a lack of doctors. The Liberal party is promising to do more in the way of pharmacare, and to make sure more Canadians have doctors, but they’ve been very light on details on how they’re going to make that happen. What can you tell us about your plan?

Tamara Taggart, Liberal Candidate—B.C.: It is definitely a priority. It’s something that I do hear on the doors when I’m knocking on doors. It’s not the number one people are talking about in Vancouver, but as somebody who’s had cancer and has used the health care system, and whose life was saved by the Canadian health care system, I know that it’s a priority.

Mercedes Stephenson: Your party, the NDP, is promising to do more on pharmacare, but tremendously expensive and not a lot of details on how they’re planning to pay for that. Where does the money come from? And while it sounds like a great idea, it doesn’t do anything about doctors.

Laurel Collins, NDP Candidate—B.C.: This is something that I’ve been hearing all the time in my community. There are people who are, you know, making these impossible choices between paying for food and paying for essential medication. This is something that the Liberals actually have been promising, a national pharmacare program since 1997 and each time they get elected, they fail to deliver. At least this time they are admitting that their system is going to be patchwork, that it won’t actually be a universal system. You know, we’ve also had our platform fully costed by the Parliamentary Budget Officer, and what we’ve proposed is we’re going to increase the tax on people who own wealth over $20 million, it’s a super wealth tax. And if we just get the people who are at the very, very, very top to pay their fair share, it means we can actually invest in the services that people depend on.

Mercedes Stephenson: Tom, your party is the only one not making big expensive promises on health care. That saves money, but a lot of Canadians are saying look, I want to be able to pay for my prescriptions. I need that. I need a doctor. Why aren’t the Conservatives promising more?

Tom Dingwall, Conservative Candidate—Ontario: Our party is the only party that’s committed to increase transfer payments from the federal government to the provinces by 3 per cent a year to assist with health care. We’ve also committed $1.5 billion in new imaging equipment for hospitals, for ultrasounds and MRIs, to make sure that people are not waiting on a waiting list for these lifesaving types of tests. We are committed to making sure that we have one of the best health care systems in the world, but we are not going to over commit and make promises that we can’t keep. We need to make sure that we’re being honest with people, being honest with Canadians, and that’s something that the Liberals have not done.

Mercedes Stephenson: I know health care is an important one, but another big one is affordability and deficits. Tamara, your government had promised to balance the deficit by 2019. The Liberals are running promising more deficits. A lot of big economists are saying that we could be heading into a major global recession next year. Is your party prepared to take the country into that when they’re promising so much spending?

Tamara Taggart, Liberal Candidate—B.C.: I do know that we have the lowest unemployment rate in over four years. I know that Canadians are working. We’re finding homes for people. We’re building homes for people with the National Housing Strategy. We are moving forward. We are saying yes to things, because we know that Canadians need that. We are trying to repair 12 years of a Harper government, where the answer was no to everything and cutting services for the most vulnerable people, the people that need it the most.

Mercedes Stephenson: Tom, the Conservatives still haven’t released a costed platform. We don’t have a sense of how much their programs are going to cost, but they keep harping on the deficits. It seems like a lot of Canadians, if you look at the polls, just don’t care about deficits anymore.

Tom Dingwall, Conservative Candidate—Ontario: Well, not caring about deficits is exactly how Ontario got into the trouble that we’re in right now. I’m talking to people at the doors that are making good livings and struggling to make ends meet. They literally have no money left at the end of the month, and with the carbon tax, the increase in taxes on over 80 per cent of middle class families by this Liberal government, if they continue down the path they’re going, deficits are differed taxes, and eventually they’re going to be coming for your money. And what’s happened, and I’ll just start by saying this is 2019. The Trudeau government promised to be balanced in 2019. This is another promise that they chose not to keep. Every promise they broke, they broke by choice, and that’s what people need to understand. A promise is only as good as the person delivering it, and if you can’t trust them to keep their promise, everything that they’re promising has absolutely no meaning. We are going to make life more affordable for people. We are trying very hard to focus on families, on our seniors, on our veterans, to make sure that we take the GST off your home utility bills, that we cancel the carbon tax, which is making life more unaffordable for everybody.

Mercedes Stephenson: Laurel, the NDP has made a lot of big promises. They’ve never been about balanced budgets. It’s a left party, and they have a different ideology, but when it comes to things like the oil sector, there’s been promises to try to transition those workers. Basically, no details on how. You have Rachel Notley, the former NDP Premier of Alberta coming out and saying she doesn’t even know if she can vote for the party in this election. Is this still a party that Canadians across the country can vote for?

Laurel Collins, NDP Candidate—B.C.: Absolutely. We have a bold, ambitious climate plan, and it has commitments around retraining for workers, for transitioning workers, having a just transition. But you asked a question around affordability, and I just want to touch on—in my community here in Victoria, we’re in a housing crisis. We’ve committed to half a million new much needed affordable units of housing, actually investing in housing again, and taking the housing crisis seriously. And our climate plan, similarly, is about making life more affordable, seeing the connection between social inequality and the climate crisis, making sure that we are actually ending fossil fuel subsidies. The Liberals promised in 2015 that they would end fossil fuel subsidies, but we’re still giving over a billion dollars a year to profitable oil and gas companies.

Mercedes Stephenson: Tamara, I want to ask you about gun control because it’s been another big topic this week, although it got drowned out a lot by the dual citizenship and the two planes. The Liberals are proposing to allow cities to ban handguns. Isn’t that supposed to be a federal responsibility?

Tamara Taggart, Liberal Candidate—B.C.:  I think that what the Liberal government is suggesting, we’re talking about banning military style guns. There’s no reason to have those in Canada. We don’t want to have another mass shooting in Canada. It’s a military style gun. And as for handguns, it’s giving municipalities the tools that they need to make those decisions, to make their communities safer.

Mercedes Stephenson: The mayors are saying in some cases, Tom that they don’t think this is going to be effective, but others are saying look, more has to be done about guns and gangs. Andrew Scheer made an announcement about it this week, but people are saying look, at the end of the day, threatening gang members with tougher sentences doesn’t deter them. That’s not the reason why they get into or stay out of crime.

Tom Dingwall, Conservative Candidate—Ontario: Right. Well, I’ve been a police officer for 27 years. I worked in homicide for many years. I can tell you that criminals that are prepared to break multiple laws now are not going to hesitate to break what is effectively a by-law when you allow a city to ban handguns. Handguns are already banned, and this is the misleading part of the Liberals’ plan. They’re running a plan of fear and misinformation, frankly. No one is allowed to carry a handgun in Toronto, and it is not lawful licensed gun owners that are the ones walking around downtown Toronto shooting people. This is a gang and gun violence issue, not a lawful gun owner issue. The Liberals promised $327 million back in 2017 to properly equip our frontline officers, our border services, and they didn’t give the money. They withheld it. While people were being shot, that money did not make its way to the Police Services, where they could actually use those resources to conduct intelligence led investigations.

Mercedes Stephenson: I have to step in and wrap it up there because that’s all the time that we have, but thank you all for joining us and good luck on your campaigns.

[All respond: Thank you.]
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Up next, we’ll get the latest on the campaign strategies for the week ahead, and what to expect with our war room panel.


Mercedes Stephenson: Welcome back. Two campaign planes, dual citizenship, and two stories that dominated the headlines this week and symbolize what so much of this election seems to have been about, both driven by party war rooms, but what does it all mean for the campaign, and is the tone hurting or helping our democracy?

Joining me to break all of this down is our strategy panel: Fred DeLorey for the Conservatives; Anne McGrath for the NDP; and Richard Mahoney for the Liberals.

Richard, these two stories, at the end of the day, people look at them and they go, you know, it’s a bit silly: two campaign planes, dual citizenship, we’re trying to choose who’s going to run the country and this is what we’re supposed to pick from. They’re both driven, as we said, by campaign war rooms. Why do war rooms do this? Why do they think this kind of politics is effective?

Richard Mahoney, Liberal Strategist: War rooms do this because they’re trying to throw the others guys off their game. They are trying to disrupt whatever the message that the Conservatives are trying to get on a broader set of issues to the electorate. The Liberals will try and say, you know, let’s see if we can’t mess up their day. They’re trying to tell a story about who these people are, and maybe in these kind of sometimes irrelevant things: two planes, whatever, dual citizenship and all that, you’re telling a wider story about that. So for example, the Liberals, on the dual citizenship, I don’t think any Canadians think that it’s wrong to have dual citizenship, but Mr. Scheer himself criticized other leaders: Mr. Mulcair, Mr. Dion, the former governor general for having that. And so it’s they’re trying to tell a story. Not that it’s a bad thing that he’s a dual citizen, but rather, is he something that he doesn’t—other than what he pretends to be? Is he not advertised as the thing goes? Is that the story? So—but it sometimes, as you say, falls flat, because people go what are the big issues? That doesn’t matter to me whether they guy’s got two planes, or one plane, or half a plane.

Mercedes Stephenson: It’s a bit of the same thing with the Conservative and the planes. Okay, there’s a second plane. That seems hypocritical when you have a party that’s saying we’re all about the environment and they are doubling their carbon emissions as they go across the country. But—well, they also bought the carbon offsets. Obviously, campaigns think this is effective, and yet we haven’t seen anything moving in the polls. Why not focus on your opponents weaknesses when it comes to policy instead of this kind of mudslinging?

Fred DeLorey, Conservative Strategist: Well we certainly do. We put a lot of effort into the policies that we’re pushing out. Mr. Scheer’s announcements, every day he’s making—roughly—he’s making an announcement. But at the end of the day, it’s on all of us to focus on that. But we get caught up into this.

Mercedes Stephenson: Well and the war rooms are driving it by releasing information.

Fred DeLorey, Conservative Strategist: Of course they are. Yeah, they’re pushing it. At the same time, like you know, Mr. Trudeau was talking about the environment. He’s a supposed champion of the environment. He attended a protest on it, but his record shows that, you know, he doesn’t have a plan on the environment. He has no way to reach his targets, and now he’s actually flying around with two planes? It exposes the hypocrisy. So it’s important at the same time while we’re pushing our message to also show the contrast and what the other sides actually doing and what they’re actually trying to do.

Mercedes Stephenson: So Anne, it is mudslinging, but it does expose hypocrisy on both sides. You look at the story as an NDPer. Which one, the plane or the dual citizenship, do you think is more damaging?

Anne McGrath, NDP Strategist: I think they’re both damaging, and I think that to get to the issue of like the mudslinging and how the war rooms are operating and that kind of thing, I think that in an era of increasingly leader-centred campaigns, people care about the character of the leader. And so this speaks to character, whether it’s hypocrisy or even this idea of a double-standard, right? That, you know, even in both of these stories, I would venture that many Canadians don’t even know what a carbon offset is. It’s inside lingo. It’s, you know, it’s kind of meaningless. I would bet many Canadians would never even think of having dual citizenship. It’s not—these are not—you know that you’re kind of appealing to a group of voters who don’t have your experience in life, and who see you as increasingly elite and out of touch. And I think as an NDPer, that’s what I look at when I see this. I see the elitism, being out of touch, not being focused on the issues that matter to Canadians. So I would prefer, and I hear from voters as well, like whether it’s in focus groups, or at the doorsteps, or whatever, and for me, I would have preferred if the big story this week had been about how we step up and meet our obligations to First Nations children instead of having, you know, the Trudeau government basically deciding that they’re going to challenge a court ruling that found them in violation of the rights of Indigenous children.

Mercedes Stephenson: Anne, when it comes to the dual citizenship, do you think that people really question somebody’s loyalty if they hold dual citizenship? Is this a real issue for somebody who wants to run the country?

Anne McGrath, NDP Strategist: I don’t think it’s a big issue for a lot of people. I think that the issue of hypocrisy and double-standards is really more what this is all about. I think that most Canadians wouldn’t have a problem with this. However—and one of the things that I thought when I’ve looked at this also is how much did his staff know about this? So with a case of the, you know, the Conservatives went after Mr. Mulcair for having dual citizenship: French and Canadian, and it was quite a big deal, but we all knew that he had French citizenship and we had talked about how to deal with it, and it was, you know, we were prepared. It looked to me like they were—the people around Mr. Scheer may have been taken off-guard by this. And that goes back to, for instance, the blackface, brownface thing, where I wondered why in the vetting process and in the preparation process, it looked like his staff also were taken off-guard by this.

Mercedes Stephenson: Fred, the question for me when he said he made the steps to renounce his citizenship in August was why didn’t he do this when he first became the leader of the Conservative Party when the Conservatives had the history of attacking other people for the same thing?

Fred DeLorey, Conservative Strategist: Right. Look, he did make the decision to renounce it. I think the leader—any leader that’s running to be prime minister should have citizenship in just one country, and that being Canada. I think it’s an important symbolic thing for us to have. So he did take the steps to renounce it before the campaign began and he’s no longer a U.S. citizen, once the paperwork is approved. And he’s been very forthcoming with that once he started, you know, going down that road to do this.

Mercedes Stephenson: And Richard, speaking of hypocrisy when we talk about the two planes, why would the Liberals not have just revealed this at the beginning? I mean, you have to think when you’re flying two campaigns [planes], you know the other war room is watching planes, potentially, this could come out. And if you’re out there saying publicly, we’re all about the environment and reducing carbon emissions and a carbon tax, but we’re flying two planes, that could be a problem for you.
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Richard Mahoney, Liberal Strategist: Well, I think from their perspective they did this last time. This wasn’t—they didn’t sort of think it was a secret, number one. And number two, the attack on the two planes is the sort of same thing that a lot of right wing tropes have been doing for years. They used to go at Al Gore because he had a big house and all that sort of stuff. The thing that I think is strange to me is—I mean, you can—Mr. Trudeau’s running a pretty good campaign. There are great visuals. There’s a reason for that, because they’re done all these things. They’ve done all this homework. The thing that’s important to me is the Conservatives aren’t even trying to make climate change and issue in the campaign. Mr. Scheer didn’t show up at any of the climate protests. He basically has a plan that says that they do nothing, and even his attack on this thing shows they don’t want—they want Canadians to think this is someone who won’t even—doesn’t give a crap about climate change.

Mercedes Stephenson: One of the other big issues in the campaign has been abortion that people have talked about. And for the first time this week, Fred, we heard Andrew Scheer come out and say he personally does not agree with abortion, but he doesn’t change the law. Why didn’t he just come out and say this earlier, because a lot of people were willing to say perhaps you could have a different opinion personally than you do policy wise, publicly, but it took him until this point in the campaign and it’s been damaging.

Fred DeLorey, Conservative Strategist: Well, look, Mr. Scheer, I think we’ve all known that he’s been pro-life. That’s always been his position. And he’s also been very clear, as all Conservative and Liberal governments have been that we’re not touching this. That’s not an issue we’re touching. Mr. Trudeau said he pro-life a number of years ago as well. But no government is opening his issue.

Mercedes Stephenson: Tomorrow, it’s the first English leaders’ debate. It’s a lot of people on the stage and a lot of moderators, and some people are wondering how do you break through all of that and come out on top? Anne, what’s the strategy for the parties going in to make their points and make their leader stand out?

Anne McGrath, NDP Strategist: I think that what’s important for the leaders is they have to be calm, they have to be present, they have to be well rested, they have to know the files and they have to know the particular points that they need to make in order to differentiate themselves from the other leaders. So for a leader like Jagmeet Singh, what’s important there is that we don’t allow the Liberals and the Conservatives: Mr. Scheer and Mr. Trudeau, to try and turn this into a two-person race, and to acknowledge that there are other options.

Mercedes Stephenson: Fred, in the Quebec debate, Mr. Scheer seemed to be surrounded. He was taking it on all sides. What’s the Conservative strategy heading into this debate?

Fred DeLorey, Conservative Strategist: Well there’s no question he was the target and I’m sure he will be the target again Monday. His message is going to be to Canadians about how his platform is to make life more affordable, and the other leaders, I think, understand that that message is resonating and they need to go after him.

Mercedes Stephenson: Final word to you, Richard.

Richard Mahoney, Liberal Strategist: Conservatives have made a habit of underestimating Mr. Trudeau and his abilities. The one thing I would say is, to pick on what Anne said; these debates don’t usually have a knockout punch. One debate on a campaign that I chaired several years ago, I remember all the pundits said at the end of the debate, well she clearly won the debate. This is, you know, on points and so forth. And then literally in the aftermath, after the debate when people had tuned in, we saw hunks of our support fall off. It’s because people decided essentially what Anne said, they didn’t like what they were seeing. They found it too harsh. They thought she interrupted too much. They thought that, you know, the whole package of what they saw [00:21:34] didn’t like. Was it a knockout punch? No. Was it the turning point in the election campaign? Absolutely.
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Mercedes Stephenson: And this may be the turning point in what has been a largely deadlocked election campaign, but that’s all the time we have today so I’m going to wrap it up. And we’ll see all of you next week. We’ll see if we’re still in the same position.

Coming up, we’ll look at some of the lighter moments this past week on the campaign trail.


Before we leave you today, the final two debates in the election campaign are scheduled for this week.

Tomorrow, the English language debate with Global National anchor Dawna Friesen is one of the moderators, will be on the air. And you can watch the debate beginning at 7pm Eastern Time right here on Global News.  The second debate will be in French on Thursday.

That’s all the time we have for today, but we’ll leave you now with a few of the lighter moments from this past week on the campaign trail.

I’m Mercedes Stephenson for The West Block. Have a great day.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May: “Well I have to admit that today we have a backup electric car. We have two electric cars on the road today.”

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh: “…of the reduced amount. Yeah, yeah, I like that you’re playing. It’s good. It makes it more interesting.”

[Justin Trudeau training with boxing coach Ali Nestor at the Academy De Combat Ultime Ness Martial in Montreal]
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