THE WEST BLOCK
Episode 11, Season 9
Sunday, November 17, 2019
Host: Mercedes Stephenson
Guests: Kerim Uras, Yves Francois Blanchet, Jagmeet Singh
President Donald Trump: “It’s a great honour to be with President Erdogan. We’ve pulled back our troops because I think it’s time for us not to be worried about other people’s borders.”
Yves Francois Blanchet, Bloc Quebecois Leader: “If they are trying to create an oil state in western Canada, they cannot expect any help from us.”
Jason Kenney, Alberta Premier: “You cannot have your cake and eat it too.”
Jagmeet Singh, NDP Leader: “They’re not a national party. If they want to do something that’s national, if they want to develop something that’s going to benefit all Canadians, it’s us.”
Mercedes Stephenson: It’s Sunday, November 17th. I’m Mercedes Stephenson, and this is The West Block.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House last week. The meeting comes on the heels of a ceasefire reached between Kurdish and Turkish forces in northern Syria, after Turkey, a NATO member, launched attacks into this area.
According to the United Nations, 92 civilians have been killed, and hundreds of thousands of people displaced due to the Turkish incursion. Despite President Trump’s praise for Turkey, many within the international community are asking if Turkey should be allowed to remain in NATO.
Joining me now is Turkish Ambassador to Canada Kerim Uras. Thank you very much for joining us, sir.
Kerim Uras, Turkey’s Ambassador to Canada: Thank you.
Mercedes Stephenson: The Turkish government has made incursions into northern Syria holding a few kilometres on that side of the border, about 10 or 20. Can you tell me what the status of the territory is right now there for the Turkish government and what your intensions are in terms of the future for that territory?
Kerim Uras, Turkey’s Ambassador to Canada: Sure. Well, you know, we have a long border with Syria. It’s 911 kilometres to be precise. This safe zone would be 444 kilometres, and now we have reached into a depth of about 30 kilometres along that 400 kilometres, so it’s a long strip of land we’re talking about. And we have now cleared that area from the terrorist organization. At first, when our operation started, there was, of course, the civilians were getting out of harm’s way and moved, but now they have moved back and now we are in the phase of picking things up and like repairing water, distributing medicine, aid, food and returning the area to normal.
Mercedes Stephenson: The United Nations says that 200,000 people have been displaced as a result of that operation and that Turkish allies, who have been operating on behalf of the Turkish military have been responsible for extra judicial killings, beatings, abuse, disappearances. Are those the methods that Turkey approves of?
Kerim Uras, Turkey’s Ambassador to Canada: Of course not, and we are very meticulous to uphold international law and humanitarian law, but there are also Syrian forces there and there can be rogue elements within them. But I’m happy to tell you that they are being now investigated and they will be—if there was any action that you mentioned, they will be punished accordingly. I understand they are actually in jail those people who have done something you can’t approve of kind of actions.
Mercedes Stephenson: There are some who say that your president should be charged with war crimes because of those events.
Kerim Uras, Turkey’s Ambassador to Canada: Well, there are also those like President Trump who said he’s a great leader. He did a great job and the ceasefire is holding, so I don’t know who you take your cue from, but I would say, of course, there are those who complain. Those who wanted to establish a separatist Kurdish State in Syria, carve up the country, of course, they are not happy with our operation and that’s understandably so, but we are—I would like to underline we are not against the Kurds per se. We have no issue with them. We are against a terrorist organization, a prescribed terrorist organization, full stop.
Mercedes Stephenson: Well, one of the individuals leading the Kurdish forces in that area, General Mazloum Kobani Abdi, he was the leader of the Syrian Democratic Forces, a key ally of the United States and of NATO in fighting ISIS. Your president has called him a terrorist.
Kerim Uras, Turkey’s Ambassador to Canada: Indeed, and now we—he showed actually, President Trump a video about his actions and he’s responsible for the killing of a few hundred civilians plus the NATO army members which are the—from the Turkish army, and it was quite convincing. So he’s not even a Syrian. He’s a Turkish citizen.
Mercedes Stephenson: You mentioned Turkey as a NATO member. There have been some inside NATO who’ve said it should no longer be a NATO member, that it is not a Liberal democracy, that buying the S-400 air defense system from the Russians runs counter to everything that NATO is, because it’s designed to balance Russian influence. What do you say to people who do not believe that Turkey belongs in NATO anymore?
Kerim Uras, Turkey’s Ambassador to Canada: Well I would refer—you refute those claims. We are a staunch ally. As I said, we are the second army in NATO. We allocate an important part of our national resources to defense. Actually, the NATO benchmark is 2 per cent of the GDP, which we have upheld. We are one of the few allies who have done that. So that got some praise from President Trump also, and we are committed to NATO ideals.
Mercedes Stephenson: But you’ve jailed tens of thousands of journalists, protestors, opposition members.
Kerim Uras, Turkey’s Ambassador to Canada: Yes, that’s very exaggerated. I would say the number is 100.
Mercedes Stephenson: 100 people?
Kerim Uras, Turkey’s Ambassador to Canada: 100 journalists, yes. But they are—some were released only recently.
Mercedes Stephenson: But if you’re buying systems from Russia, which NATO is designed to counter, how can you be a member of NATO, and now the F-35 program has been suspended from Turkey because there are operational security concerns. How can you be buying things from Russia and potentially weapon systems from Russia and yet being a part of the alliance that’s designed to counter Russia?
Kerim Uras, Turkey’s Ambassador to Canada: We are now in the process of coordinating that with our staunch ally, the U.S., and of course, it’s not our first choice. It was a necessity for us.
Mercedes Stephenson: Can NATO members trust Turkey, though, if it’s working so closely with Vladimir Putin?
Kerim Uras, Turkey’s Ambassador to Canada: We can be in NATO, be friends both with the U.S. and Russia, and engage constructively.
Mercedes Stephenson: One of the consequences of your incursion into Syria has been that you’ve come into a responsibility for a number of former ISIS fighters because the Kurds had camps there. Do you know if you have any Canadian citizens among those ISIS fighters?
Mercedes Stephenson: Canadian prisoners?
Kerim Uras, Turkey’s Ambassador to Canada: No, no, Daesh prisoners. They were set free. While they were withdrawing, we caught them and put them back in prison. Among them there are no Canadians.
Mercedes Stephenson: Do you think that Turkey will continue to expand into Syria and there’s a chance that you may encounter Canadian citizens there?
Kerim Uras, Turkey’s Ambassador to Canada: It’s possible that we might encounter Canadian citizens, but I don’t think we will expand any further. Now what we are there to do is we have reached our goals, our well-declared goals: the 30 km wide safe zone. And within that area, we are trying to create the conditions to where the refugees, the Syrian refugees in our country, and there are 4 million of them, and we’ve been looking after them for eight and a half years, and we’ve spent $50 billion Canadian dollars for these people, for their education, health care, their wellbeing, I mean, everything: housing and camps. So now, we want to create the conditions where these people will voluntarily return to their own country, and that was one of the reasons why we wanted to establish the safe zone, because it’s a big burden on us. It’s actually a world record, I must say. So we will focus on the positive now. We will rebuild their towns. We have just rebuilt the water system, which was out of order for eight years and we are giving them medicine and food. So we will focus on the positive now and try to pick up the pieces.
Mercedes Stephenson: Ambassador, thank you so much for your time today.
Kerim Uras, Turkey’s Ambassador to Canada: Thank you.
Mercedes Stephenson: Coming up, the Bloc Quebecois may hold the balance of power when Parliament resumes next month. What is their priority in the House, and what does it mean for the West?
Mercedes Stephenson: Welcome back. Just under a month ago, the Bloc Quebecois experienced a resurrection in the federal election, coming back from the political wilderness.
La belle province delivered 32 seats to the Bloc, and the party now finds itself potentially playing the role of king maker for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s minority government. With the rising tensions between Ottawa and some western provinces, and those between Alberta and Quebec, I sat down with Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves Francois Blanchet. Here’s that conversation:
Mr. Blanchet, thank you so much for joining us on the show today.
Yves Francois Blanchet, Bloc Quebecois Leader: It’s a pleasure.
Mercedes Stephenson: What is the bigger priority for you as the Bloc leader to ensure that Quebec’s interests are represented in Parliament or to try to separate from Canada?
Yves Francois Blanchet, Bloc Quebecois Leader: We understand very well that the mandate we received from the Quebecers was not to tear the Parliament apart, was to prove that this country does not work, was not to go against Quebecers interests in order to prove our point that we should be a country. The party is an independent party and will remain such. We will have to promote and protect the best interests of Quebecers.
Mercedes Stephenson: You’ll only bring the government down if there’s something you believe is contrary to Quebec’s interest. Do you expect that because of that, you’ll be Prime Minister Trudeau’s primary ally in Parliament?
Yves Francois Blanchet, Bloc Quebecois Leader: Actually, I do not think in terms of bringing the government down or not. We will vote in favour of what is good for Quebec and against what is bad for Quebec. I do not believe that Canadians or Quebecers elected a minority government in order to go back in elections in two years. They just decided that that’s the Parliament they wanted. And I suppose that this comes with the obligation to collaborate.
Mercedes Stephenson: You’ve spoken about Alberta oil and you’ve said that you will not support new pipelines being built. Premier Kenney came out and he said that “You,” Mr. Blanchet, “cannot have your cake and eat it too. Pick a lane. Either you can say Quebec that you no longer want to take the energy and equalization resources that come from western Canada’s oil and gas industry, or you can do as we do as Canadians and come together and support each other.” What’s your response to Mr. Kenney’s comments?
Yves Francois Blanchet, Bloc Quebecois Leader: First, I remind Mr. Kenney that the first fight in the coming—in the recent sequence was between Mrs. Notley and British Columbia about Trans Mountain. Quebec was not part of it. So it’s not a fight between Quebec an Alberta. I seem to understand that this fight, this attitude serves his purpose, but this purpose is not mine. What I say is the planet, the country and Quebec, cannot afford going on with this compulsive extraction of oil, burning of oil and then contribution to climate change, which is the worst threat over this planet for the time being. Quebec wants to do things differently. We have clean energy, a lot of natural resources, many expertise’s, research centres. We could do something else with our part of that money because it’s not true that first Canada does not send a cheque to Quebec. That’s not true. That simply does not exist, and he keeps repeating that. I would be glad if he started explaining things with truth instead of some false information as we see.
Mercedes Stephenson: But Quebec does benefit from the money that Alberta taxpayers who are employed in that industry pay in that then go in equalization payments and 44 per cent of–
Yves Francois Blanchet, Bloc Quebecois Leader: Yeah, but Quebecers contribute more to—equalization comes from federal income. And Quebec contributes more to federal income than Alberta does. There would be no oil industry in Alberta if Quebec had not willingly or not contributed to the very beginning of that industry so many years ago. We were the ones providing money to them back then, and we’re not saying keep giving us that money. The Bloc Quebecois does not say that. The Bloc Quebecois says at the end of the day, we would do better by ourselves without your oil, without your money. We should start, all of us, consuming less and less oil, not more and more because we cannot as a country, as a province, as a planet, we cannot afford that. And it seems to me, pretty irresponsible to keep promoting this instead.
Mercedes Stephenson: Forty-four per cent of your oil comes from Alberta. Over half of it is coming through a pipeline. You yourself as environment minister signed off on the reversal of the Line 9 pipelines. Is it okay when it’s in Quebec’s interests but not anyone else’s?
Yves Francois Blanchet, Bloc Quebecois Leader: Let me explain a few things. First, I never said that Quebec does not use oil. I said, however, that we should use less and less and less. Forty-three per cent of electrical vehicles in Canada are in Quebec. This is one very good way to reduce our oil consumption, and I was the one to authorize the change of direction of the 9B Enbridge line. Because of that, we are fully supplied in Quebec, and any other part of oil that would come from Alberta in Quebec would be for the single purpose of exportation through Quebec, then to New Brunswick and then transformation and exportation.
Mercedes Stephenson: Given your experience with sovereigntism and separatism in Quebec, do you think that the separatist sentiment in Alberta is genuine and that there’s a possibility that province could leave Canada?
Yves Francois Blanchet, Bloc Quebecois Leader: I want to say very respectfully that the desire to become a country should be fuelled by something else than anger, resentment. I seem to understand that some people in western Canada don’t feel comfortable in the present form of this country. It’s theirs to make that decision, but the desire to do whatever they want with their oil or their model for economic development based on oil might not be a sufficient reason to fuel a desire to become a country. Western world is trying to go toward that and it’s simply stubborn in some way to say that that’s the only model for western economy. That does not belong to me, but I’m not going to support something which is that dangerous for the planet and for Quebec.
Mercedes Stephenson: One last quick question. Would you consider inviting Premier Kenney to visit you or travel into Alberta? Because some say look, this disagreement between Quebec and Alberta is becoming so nasty, it’s not good for Canadians.
Yves Francois Blanchet, Bloc Quebecois Leader: Two things, if I may. The first one is that if it becomes in any way, nasty, it will not be because of me. A few years ago, I was known as “the goon” because I had quite a temper. Maybe I got older, but I’m doing every effort to remain very polite, very peaceful in the way I do politics. So if it might be helpful for me to go there and have a discussion with Mr. Kenney or anybody else, I think I have the responsibility to do this.
Mercedes Stephenson: Mr. Blanchet, thank you so much for joining us.
Yves Francois Blanchet, Bloc Quebecois Leader: It’s been a pleasure.
Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, what is the NDP looking for in the next session of Parliament? We’ll find out.
Mercedes Stephenson: Welcome back. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to talk about what his party wants if the Liberals hope to secure NDP support in this minority Parliament. But with the NDP dropping to fourth party status and being shut out of the Maritimes, and left with only one seat in Quebec, how much influence do they really have with the House resumes next month?
Joining me now is Jagmeet Singh, Leader of the NDP. Welcome to the show, sir.
Jagmeet Singh, NDP Leader: Thank you.
Mercedes Stephenson: You’ve had a chance to meet with Justin Trudeau. You sat down, you laid out your priorities and you listed a number of them in a letter that you provided to the prime minister. They included things like pharmacare, dental care, reconciliation for Indigenous people. You also talked about cell phone bills. You talked about housing. You know the old saying: if you have 99 priorities, you don’t have one. What’s your redline in this speech that you need to see and able to be—able to feel good about passing the throne speech and to be willing to do that?
Jagmeet Singh, NDP Leader: Well, I put out three specific priorities that are for the throne speech, things that I want to see that the prime minister is taking very seriously and committing to some concrete steps. One is a universal public pharmacare, and that means pharmacare for all, publicly delivered, following the prime minister’s own report, the Hoskins report, which recommends a public system.
Secondly, I want to see some timelines, really concrete timelines around when they would roll out. And so I asked the prime minister to show some openness to implementing a national dental care. And then on climate crisis, I want to see concrete steps, stronger emissions targets but also some accountability so that the government can’t just miss a target without any repercussions, and also a commitment to creating jobs. These are some of the criteria that I look—I’ll look at as signs of a government that’s willing to work with New Democrats.
And finally, one other piece that I—that I think is very important is dropping the appeal against First Nations or Indigenous kids as a starting point for fairness for First Nations, First people of this land would be to drop the appeal against First Nations kids.
Mercedes Stephenson: Let’s take a look at the pharmacare aspect because you mentioned specific funding specific dates and that it would have to be universal. If there are not those three things outlined in the throne speech, if it just says we’re committing to some form of pharmacare, is that a no-go for you? Is that that you will vote it down if you don’t see those very specific items?
Jagmeet Singh, NDP Leader: So just kind of to turn it around a bit. I am willing to vote against the throne speech, so that’s a fair question. But my goal isn’t to look for ways to tear down the government. I want to look for ways to be constructive. So my goal is, if the prime minister can show some clear signals that it’s not just words, but there’s some concrete steps, that’ll show me that there’s a willingness to be able to work together. I don’t want to draw any, you know, orange lines in the sand, but I do want to show that I’m firm. I’m not just going to sit back and expect or think that—or allow the prime minister to expect that he’ll get support from the New Democrats for nothing.
Mercedes Stephenson: The Bloc Quebecois has 32 seats, and they’ve basically said look, as long as you don’t mess with Quebec’s interests, we’ll keep Parliament in session. We’re not looking to bring the government down right away. They have more seats than you. The prime minister could say thanks NDP, but we don’t actually need you.
Jagmeet Singh, NDP Leader: Well, it’s not about whether the prime minister needs us or the Bloc. It’s about what our goals are. I’m fighting for pharmacare, so if the prime minister wants to move ahead with something that’s going to make people’s lives better, I’m going to push the prime minister to do that and encourage real steps. And if he wants to work with somebody to actually develop something like a dental care program, we’re the ones pushing for that so he’ll need to work with us if he wants to deliver it. He doesn’t have to, though. He can work with anyone else.
Mercedes Stephenson: How do you feel about the prime minister working with the Bloc? I mean, they are a party that says ultimately they want Quebec to be its own country. They have Quebec’s interests first in mind. Does that concern you at all that he could simply rely on them to put his platform through? I mean, he was elected by the people of Canada on that platform, but that reliance on a separatist party.
Jagmeet Singh, NDP Leader: The fact that Mr. Trudeau would rely on the support of a party that doesn’t seem—that seems to be interested in some divisive politics, that seems to be interested in dividing Canada, seems to me, not a good way to go ahead. When we are ready to work with all Canadians and making sure people in Quebec get a fair deal, making sure people in the west get a fair deal, Atlantic Canada gets a fair deal. You know, we’re really the option when it comes to working with a national party that wants to make life better for Canadians. That’s us.
Mercedes Stephenson: There’s a lot of anger in the west right now. There’s a lot of frustration in Alberta. People feel they’ve been abandoned. They feel people are condescending to them, that they’re not understanding how dire the situation is there. When you take a look at what’s happening with Alberta, does it at all make you rethink your position on pipelines?
Jagmeet Singh, NDP Leader: There’s a lot of people that are worried about their future when it comes to jobs and that’s a real fear. And that’s why when I talk about fighting the climate crisis it has to be a plan to also create good jobs. No matter what happens, we know that in Alberta and in Saskatchewan, their economies have gone through bust and booms, and it’s been no fault of the hardworking men and women that go to work every day in those provinces. It’s because of global markets. And I think people deserve a lot better than the volatility of an economy based on just a couple of commodities or just one commodity in the case of Alberta. I think Canadians deserve a lot better, and I’m committed to making sure those folks are not left behind, that we build a more sustainable and long-lasting economy. I know it’s possible.
Mercedes Stephenson: Is it time to look at the equalization formula and maybe revise it?
Jagmeet Singh, NDP Leader: That’s something that we should always be open to, but if you look at kind of what the premiers are doing in some of those provinces, they’re not looking for solutions. They’re looking for divisions. And I don’t think that’s the job of a leader. A leader should be finding solutions to the problems people are faced with, and finding ways to bring people together. That’s not what I’m seeing from some of the premiers in Conservative provinces.
Mercedes Stephenson: Okay. Mr. Singh, thank you so much for your time today.
Jagmeet Singh, NDP Leader: Thank you.
Mercedes Stephenson: That’s our show for today. Thank you for joining us. I’m Mercedes Stephenson for The West Block. We’ll see you next week.