THE WEST BLOCK
Episode 6, Season 9
Sunday, October 13, 2019
Host: Mercedes Stephenson
Candidates Panel: Daniel Béland, Matthew Dubé, Geneviève Hinse
Party Leader Interview: Andrew Scheer, Conservative Party Leader
Strategist Panel: Fred DeLorey, Anne McGrath, Richard Mahoney
Location: Vancouver, British Columbia
Mercedes Stephenson: It’s been a jam-packed 32 days on the federal election campaign. And as we head into the final week, the showdown in Quebec for its 78 seats may determine which party ends up holding the balance of power.
The recent resurgence of the Bloc Quebecois under leader Yves–François Blanchet has changed the political landscape over the past few weeks.
Yves–François Blanchet: “The Bloc is a threat to both the Conservatives and the Liberals but also the NDP, because they focus on, you know, nationalist sentiments. They can really grab the attention of a lot of francophone voters, even if they are more right leaning or left leaning.”
Mercedes Stephenson: It is here in Quebec, where Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer launched his campaign last month, and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has been pushing hard for support. But it’s NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh who may have the most to lose with the Bloc’s momentum according to McGill Professor Daniel Béland.
Daniel Béland, McGill University: “The NDP is weakening in Quebec and they still have 14 seats, but most of them are really in danger now. There is a good chance they will lose most of them.”
Mercedes Stephenson: NDP candidate Matthew Dubé is the last MP of the infamous McGill five: university students who were unexpectedly elected by riding the orange wave in 2011. Now he’s in a tough battle against the Bloc leader for his seat.
Matthew Dubé, NDP Candidate—Quebec: “There’s no doubt that it’s tough, and ultimately, I was very proud in 2015 because after the orange wave, that was really the first election where I was elected on my own steam but also given the quality of the people running against me. It would be something I’d be very proud of and very humbled by if my constituents choose to send me back to Ottawa.”
Mercedes Stephenson: Meanwhile, in another Montreal area ridings, Liberal candidate Genevieve Hinse is hoping to defeat one of the NDPs top Quebec candidates.
Geneviève Hinse, Liberal Candidate—Quebec: “We are either going to end up with Andrew Scheer as a prime minister or we go with Justin Trudeau. Do we want to keep moving forward or do you want to go back to the Harper years? And I fundamentally believe every ridings going to make a difference, including this riding”.
Mercedes Stephenson: And on that, all ridings making a different, all parties can agree, as they battle for those 78 seats in Quebec.
It’s Sunday, October 13th. I’m Mercedes Stephenson, and this is The West Block.
Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer released his party platform late last week. Most of it had already been announced, like eliminating the carbon tax and providing green home tax credits. And now we know how the Conservatives will pay for everything: $35.4 billion in cuts over five years to bring the budget to balance in 2024. So, what else is in the plan? I sat down with Andrew Scheer just after he made his announcement. Here’s that conversation.
Mr. Scheer, welcome to The West Block. Thank you for joining us.
Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer: Thanks very much for having me again.
Mercedes Stephenson: This has been a unique campaign. It’s been a campaign that often we hear this from viewers and from voters across the country has been very negative. People describe it as a race to the bottom, a competition over who’s the bigger liar instead of a vision for Canada. What do you say to voters who are frustrated with your campaign and frustrated with the way that politicians have conducted themselves?
Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer: I’m actually very pleased by our campaign. Every day we’ve had a positive message about how we’re going to make life more affordable for Canadians. We start off almost every day with an announcement about a tax cut or a new tax credit and that is what our message is. So, every campaign, other things come up as well, and we obviously respond to some of the false attacks that the Liberals or other parties might make against us.
Mercedes Stephenson: But you’ve run a lot of attacks against Justin Trudeau and you’re just now releasing your costed platform. It’s Friday before the Thanksgiving long weekend, you had promised to release it before voters went to the advanced polls. That didn’t happen. Why did you wait so long?
Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer: Well the ads that we’re running speak to the question of trust. This election, I believe the ballot question is who do you trust to lower taxes, to put more money in your pocket? And when we look at trust, we can’t trust Justin Trudeau. Broken promises from the last campaign, outright lies that he’s told as it relates to the SNC-Lavalin affair and things of that nature. We promised Canadians that we would unveil our platform with plenty of time for Election Day and before advanced polls.
Mercedes Stephenson: But they haven’t had a chance to look at this in-depth and in detail. Don’t you think that runs the risk of playing right into the concerns some voters have that you’re going to govern through significant cuts or what the Liberals have been saying: you’re going to govern like Doug Ford.
Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer: Not at all. And I think when people look at each and every day, we’ve announced fully costed platform announcements, all with Parliamentary Budget Officer analysis and that is in sharp contrast with the Liberals.
Mercedes Stephenson: There is billions of dollars’ worth of cuts in here, cuts that you’re proud of, but would you run an austerity government?
Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer: Not at all. It’s all about choices. It’s the priorities. What we’re seeing is we’re going to take $1.5 billion out of the corporate welfare envelope. Right now the billions of dollars are sent to highly profitable companies, or companies that take the taxpayers’ dollars that they receive and they actually invest it overseas. We’re going to reduce the foreign aid budget by 25 per cent. We also are going to look at how the government operates in and of itself. Not programs and services, but how it spends money within departments.
Mercedes Stephenson: You don’t have a lot of wiggle room with this plan, so if you have to spend unexpectedly or if you’re not able to save in the way that you’ve projected, you could be in big trouble.
Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer: I disagree. I think when you look at the amount of wiggle room we free up by lowering the interest payment charges that the government currently has to pay, that’s billions of dollars a year difference between the Liberals and our plan. That’s significant, and that actually gives us more room to manoeuvre.
Mercedes Stephenson: Why are you looking at reducing the amount of infrastructure spending? I mean you’re saying it’s the same amount the Liberals have committed to but over more time. Cities are saying we need clean water, we need new sewers, we need a transit system, what do you say to those cities?
Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer: What we say to them is that we’re going to be there. We’re going to be there as partners ready to get those projects built. Right now the Liberals don’t have an infrastructure plan to actually get the money going into the ground—shovels in the ground. What we’re saying is that we’re going to spend the exact same amount of money—
Mercedes Stephenson: Over more time.
Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer: Over a slightly longer period of time in order for that plan to work, for the projects to actually get underway.
Mercedes Stephenson: You talk a lot about the difficulty the average family has in making ends meet, and one of the big areas that people say they experience significant expenses—and they can be very expensive for the government in the long term –is the ability to pay for their medication. The other parties are all saying that they would introduce a national pharmacare program. You’re not offering that. Why not?
Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer: Well what we’ve said is that when you look at the Canadian population, up to 95 per cent of Canadians are eligible for some coverage or another, either a workplace plan, a provincial plan that exists already, so we’ve announced that we’re going to start the process for filling in the gaps, and we’re going to start with people who have rare diseases, whose medication often costs astronomically higher than other types of medications. We’re going to start with that, and then we’re going to prudently work with the provinces to fill in those gaps.
Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer: Well, the premier decided that he was going to stay focused on provincial politics. He’s got a big mess to clean up. After so many years of Dalton McGuinty and Kathleen Wynne raising taxes, running deficits, being mired in scandals, he’s got a lot of work on his plate.
Mercedes Stephenson: Is he just too toxic to bring into your campaign?
Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer: When we talk to candidates—so I check in with my candidates every single day, and when our candidates are going door to door, they’re hearing about affordability, they’re hearing about the SNC-Lavalin scandal, they’re hearing about crime in their communities. That’s what they’re focused on. That’s what we’re hearing at the doors: questions about which other politicians are campaigning with federal leaders have never come up at the doors.
Mercedes Stephenson: There are questions about who is Andrew Scheer? You’re still really having to introduce yourself to voters and you fact a lot of criticism from the Liberals when it comes to some of your personal values. They say you’re too much of a social Conservative. You didn’t march in the climate marches. You never marched in a gay pride parade. What do you have to say to voters who wonder, especially moderate voters in this election, who are swing and youth, whether or not your values align with theirs?
Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer: Well my message is the same as it’s always been. And first of all, it’s always a challenge for a leader of the Opposition to be introduced to Canadians. I’ve spoken with other leaders of the Opposition and they’ve all said the same thing that it’s really up until an election campaign that Canadians have the opportunity to get to know you and to hear what you have to say. But we are a big tent party and everyone is welcome in our party.
Mercedes Stephenson: But you personally as the leader, why wouldn’t you marc in a gay pride parade or the climate parade? It seems like there’s no downside to that for you.
Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer: Well, you know, there’s lots of different ways to show support to the LGBT community. I’ve had a motion in the House of Commons to call on the government to do more to help people who are being persecuted because of their sexual orientation. I participated in the historic apology to public servants who were persecuted because of their sexual orientation. And when it comes to the climate march, I saw a lot of signs in that march that said, “Actions, not words.” And when I see Justin Trudeau marching in that protest, it just rings of such hypocrisy and the irony was incredible. Here is a prime minister who is basically marching against himself. And so we decided on that day that we were going to make announcements on significant concrete ways to make life better for Canadians, including investments in public transit, which we know has an impact on reducing emissions.
Mercedes Stephenson: Turning abroad, right now Turkey is making an incursion into Syria. They are killing Kurds, who have been Canadian allies in the war against ISIS. Do you believe that Turkey should remain as a member of NATO, given these activities?
Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer: Obviously, we would expect that all members of NATO live up to the obligations, the international law and human rights. I’m very concerned about the situation. I believe it was a mistake to pull troops out of that part of Syria and basically leave the Kurds who had fought side by side with us against the fight against ISIS, so I’m very concerned at what’s going on there.
Mercedes Stephenson: There are questions inside the Conservative Party here at home about your leadership and about how you’ve done in this election that you’ve not been able to pull it out of the hat or pull ahead. Have you talked to Peter MacKay, who is the name floated as the potential successor since those stories surfaced?
Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer: You know, I am focused on October 21st, and our entire team is.
Mercedes Stephenson: Have you talked to Peter MacKay?
Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer: I speak to Peter MacKay often. I see him at many different events. My current schedule has me here in British Columbia today and debating the other day in Ottawa. But I know Peter is a committed member of our team.
Mercedes Stephenson: We’re here in B.C., and the pipeline, and any pipeline, really, is very controversial here. You’ve pledged a national energy corridor. In order to do that, you may have to override the objections of Indigenous people and of provinces. Are you confident that you’re willing to put that pipeline through, put that energy corridor through at any cost?
Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer: We’re saying we’re going to develop a geographic space with a national energy corridor to address Indigenous concerns, to find out the most environmentally friendly way, the root that takes into account all those sensitivities, that is the best for our environment, and then we’re going to allow projects to proceed.
Mercedes Stephenson: Does that mean, though, that for example, the entire province of Quebec or a First Nation would not have the ability to say no at the end of the day?
Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer: I respect provincial jurisdiction. I also respect federal jurisdiction, and I’m confident that Quebecers will want to choose Energy De Chez Nous.
Mercedes Stephenson: Mr. Scheer, thank you for joining us.
Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer: Thank you very much.
Mercedes Stephenson: We have to take a quick break, but right after this we’ll be back in the studio with our campaign strategists, talking about what to expect in the final week of the campaign. Our war room panel is up next.
NDP Party Leader Jagmeet Singh: “You do not need to choose between ‘Mr. Delay’ and ‘Mr. Deny.’ There is another option.”
Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer: “But you seem to be oddly obsessed with provincial politics. There is a vacancy for the Ontario Liberal leadership, and if you’re so focused on provincial politics, go and run for the leadership of that party, Mr. Trudeau.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “Your role on this stage tonight seems to be to say publicly what Mr. Scheer thinks privately.”
Mercedes Stephenson: Welcome back. Those were some of the standout moments from the English debate this week: lots of attacks. Jagmeet Singh, perhaps the winner, but no clear knockout punch for any of the leaders. So, in this final week, as those leaders now head out to criss-cross the country, continuing to try to convince voters right up to the last minute that their policies are the best and they would be the best prime minister. What are their strategies in the mad dash for the finish line to secure more support?
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, let’s start with you. English and French debates this week: your take on how the leaders came off.
Richard Mahoney, Liberal Strategist: Mr. Trudeau, of course, was under attack. We expected that, he’s the prime minister, from all sides. But Mr. Singh kind of did come across as kind of a chill dude. He seemed kind of relaxed and, you know, there was a chance in this election that he faced a pretty daunting result and I guess he may still because we don’t know, but he did have a good night. I think the challenge for Mr. Trudeau, really now, is, you know, he’s not only defending his record, but he’s got two parties: the Greens and the NDP, who on an issue like climate change, have similar and possibly more ambitious some would say, programs from him. But he’s going to have to try and convince Canadians over the course of these last—this last week and bit of the campaign that his program is the most realistic, and in fact, that, you know, if they want a progressive government, you know, he’s the best option in front of them. So that’s the challenge for his last nine days.
Mercedes Stephenson: Anne, obviously you work on the campaign. I know a lot goes into debate prep, but I don’t think anybody quite expected the performance that Mr. Singh gave or how it seems to be resonating. What do you attribute that to?
Anne McGrath, NDP Strategist: Well I attribute it to his sincerity, his authenticity, his preparation. He’s very knowledgeable on the platform and what his offer is to Canadians, but he’s also very centred and confident in himself, and I think that that came across. He went into the debate and he went into the campaign with most Canadians not really having any impression of him, and most of the media and the political class, if you can call it that, basically writing him out of the picture and trying to say that the NDP was done, he wasn’t going anywhere, and so I think people were more than just pleasantly surprised. The question, of course, is always whether or not performance like that and the kind of skyrocketing of his personal approval numbers, will translate into actual vote intention. Those numbers seem to be changing now. Generally speaking, when votes start to move this late in a campaign, it tends to continue. So I would love it if the campaign went on another week or two after the 21st of October, because I think it’s only going to keep improving for Jagmeet Singh and the NDP.
Mercedes Stephenson: Fred, we saw Andrew Scheer really come out swinging off the top, with mixed reviews on whether or not that was a good strategy. But the big news for the Conservatives this week, of course, has been the platform release. Headlines everywhere: $35 billion in cuts. Is that what you want going into the last week of the campaign?
Fred DeLorey, Conservative Strategist: Well, the platform that Mr. Scheer put out Friday, it’s a prudent platform. There’s a lot of great things in there for Canadians. In regards to these cuts, this is about slowing spending. It’s not about making cuts. It’s about the Liberals right now are—have out of control budgets They’re not meeting their own targets. They’re blowing way past them. What Mr. Scheer wants to do is have control of the budget so that it makes sense what we’re doing and that we’re living within our means. And we can do that. This is a plan that’s going to see continued growth, and we’re just slowing it down in terms of how much the government’s going to be spending and cutting out wasteful spending.
Mercedes Stephenson: Richard, the Liberals were out right away criticizing it. They’d actually somehow gotten a screen grab of the numbers in the budget inside this document before it had even been released publicly. Do you think that the lack of detail in some of the parts of how they’re going to make the cuts or those headlines about the cuts will make a difference in an era where people are a little bit more ambivalent about deficits?
Richard Mahoney, Liberal Strategist: What Mr. Trudeau’s going to have to say is that the size of these cuts means that a) those cuts are going to affect you. Those are going to be in a reduction of services. And it’s not just Mr. Trudeau who says that. It is—you know, in Ontario here with Mr. Ford, we’re seeing the results of a kind of a not a real platform and not totally costed. And then when we get in there, you’ve got cuts to services, cuts in health care, cuts in education and things that matter.
Mercedes Stephenson: And Anne, it was interesting when you read the budget, they’re being very clear saying we’re not going to cut services. We’re going to cut from the operations cost for things like travel and desk space and cubicle size, I guess apparently the Conservatives think are a billion dollars in there, billions of dollars. And that’s possible, government spending is big, but what’s the risk here in terms of people looking at this and exactly what Richard was saying that the whole time the Liberals have been trying to associate Doug Ford with Andrew Scheer and now they’re able to waive around what looks like a very big number. It’s over five years, but that’s a lot of money.
Anne McGrath, NDP Strategist: Well it leaves it open for one thing, to a lot of parity, because, you know, we’ve already seen in social media, you know, like the shrinking of the office spaces and those kinds of things. It’s a little bit ridiculous to think, I think, to think that you get that much money out of really, you know, like reducing the size of people’s desks and that sort of thing. But the cuts themselves are very serious and quite severe. And, you know, anyone who has been in any Canadian city over the last few years knows that there is a significant infrastructure problem in our cities, and that in order to have healthy and vibrant cities, we do need to do that infrastructure spending and it will improve our economy.
Mercedes Stephenson: I’ve heard there’s already speculation that Andrew Scheer could be done. How damaging is it to the campaign that in the last week of the election they’re already talking about whom the next leader could be, and that could be someone from your neck of the woods, Peter MacKay.
Fred DeLorey, Conservative Strategist: There’s nothing to this story. Same time, you know, this comes up every election. We see Chrystia Freeland now distancing herself from Justin Trudeau this week about SNC-Lavalin, saying it’s not her file. And now there’s speculation that she’s building a team to run for leader. This stuff happens every election. There’s nothing to this, though.
Anne McGrath, NDP Strategist: There’s nobody doing that in the NDP right now. Everybody is more than pleased with Jagmeet Singh and the kind of campaign that he’s fun.
Mercedes Stephenson: Well and he has managed to surge ahead, but, you know, Richard as we head into this final week, Justin Trudeau, obviously has some work to do. He has not managed to pull massively ahead in the polls. No one has, but what’s happening right now, the story of the numbers in the last polls is the fracturing of Liberal support. How do you deal with that?
Richard Mahoney, Liberal Strategist: Well that is the big challenge in front of him. One of the things, you know, that we’ve got a week left. You’ve got basically some pretty big issues in front of the Canadian people. Maybe folks haven’t tuned in as much at least until this week, to the campaign as you would have liked. As people go home for Thanksgiving and have the debates around their table, what Mr. Trudeau and his team are going to have to say to them look, if you want to do something about climate, if you want to grow the economy and invest in transit and infrastructure, there’s more than one party on offer who are saying that to you, but your best bet to do that and to keep that progress going for the country Is to vote for Mr. Trudeau and your local Liberal candidate. So that’s the challenge, and then the next week’s going to tell us whether or not he does that. And he’s going to—to do that, he’s going to contrast himself against Mr. Scheer. Mr. Scheer, who appears to be, for whatever reason, continuingly playing to his base.
Mercedes Stephenson: The Bloc hasn’t played a major role in Canadian politics for some time, but in this election, they are getting a renewed energy, renewed support. How does that dynamic play out in the coming week?
Anne McGrath, NDP Strategist: Well I do think that Mr. Blanchet had a good performance in all of the debates that he has participated in, which is not unusual for a Bloc Quebecois leader in Canadian federal elections. And, you know, the pitch that, you know, it was 2011 when the Bloc lost most of their seats to the NDP in the province of Quebec. And the pitch that Jack Layton made to Bloc supporters was let’s work together (travaille en ensemble). Let’s work together with progressives from across the country, to change the direction of the country and that was very effective. And I believe that what’s happened now is that they’ve now had, you know, a few years where they have had a lot of Liberal seats now in the province of Quebec, and I think that they’re feeling a lot of—a lot of people are feeling somewhat disenfranchised, and again, progressive voters feeling very, very disillusioned with the Liberal government. I think also the issue of electoral reform is really important in this campaign. It’s sort of a sleeper and under the surface, but as we go into the last few days when the Liberals bring out their tried and true strategic voting message, which they always do, they will be saying you can’t afford to go with Mr. Scheer, so you can’t afford to vote for anyone but the Liberals. But progressive voters are looking at that and saying you promised us last time that we wouldn’t have to make choices like that anymore that we would actually have—that would be the fir—the last first-past-the-post election, and that we would have a voting system where everybody’s vote counted. So I don’t think they’re going to be swayed by that.
Mercedes Stephenson: Okay. We have to wrap it up there. Thank you very much to our strategists. The next time we talk, we’ll be one day out from the election.
Up next, we’ll look at some of the lighter moments this past week out on the campaign trail.
Welcome back. For our full interview with Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer, please go to our website: www.thewestblock.ca.
Next week, I will be with you from Toronto, as we get ready for our special election coverage on the big night.
That’s all the time we have for today. We 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 wonderful Thanksgiving.
Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer: “Just because you say something over and over and over again doesn’t make it true. There is no Canadian…”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “It would be nice for you to learn that, Mr. Scheer.”
Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer: “If you want to talk about pretending to be something that you’re not, I’m not sure which Maxime Bernier I’m debating tonight.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “Mr. Scheer, you might remember that—Mr. Singh, you might remember that summer argument over…”
NDP Party Leader Jagmeet Singh: “I’m very different from Mr. Scheer.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “Is that the expression the pumpkin makes?”
Global National Anchor Dawna Friesen: “You’ve talked over each other and you’re both out of time.”