The West Block – Episode 13, Season 9

Watch the full broadcast of The West Block from Sunday, December 1, 2019 with Mercedes Stephenson.


Episode 13, Season 9

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Host: Mercedes Stephenson

Guests: Jenni Byrne, Garnett Genuis,

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, Robert Fife

Location: Ottawa

Andrew Scheer, Official Opposition Leader: “I am staying on to fight the fight that Canadians elected us to do. Canadians expect us to stay united and stay focused on the job at hand.”

Tom Pentefountas, Former Quebec Conservative Candidate: “What I asked them to do for the benefit of the country is to resign immediately, and hopefully we’ll have the new leader in place before the summer. You’re the leader, the buck stops with you and I don’t see how we can turn things around.”

Francois Legault, Quebec Premier: “I would say spend your money on French services, not on trying to attract Quebecers or attract Germans or attract French people in Winnipeg.”

Mercedes Stephenson: It’s Sunday, December 1st. I’m Mercedes Stephenson, and this is The West Block.

Andrew Scheer, Official Opposition Leader: “I am staying on to fight the fight that Canadians elected us to do. There are very serious risks facing this country and Canadians expect us to stay united and stay focused on the job at hand, and that’s precisely what I’m going to do. Now is not the time for internal divisions or internal party politics. That is an unfortunate part of the Conservative tradition in this country.”

Mercedes Stephenson: That was embattled Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer, defiant against a growing course of demands for him to step down. While Scheer calls the bloodletting, “Conservative tradition”, many inside the party blame Scheer for losing the election and are now openly campaigning to force him out in what is looking more and more like a Conservative civil war. Can Andrew Scheer survive the attacks or are his days as the leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition coming to an end?

Joining me now are people who know that party inside and out. In Calgary, Jenni Byrne, former national campaign director for prime minister Stephen Harper, and in Edmonton, Conservative MP Garnett Genuis.

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Start with you, Jenni. You came out a couple of days ago. You broke your silence. You said you know what? It’s time for Andrew Scheer to go. He’s got to resign. He’s got to get out of there. He can’t be the leader anymore. Why do you believe that he can’t stay on?

Jenni Byrne: Well, in conversations that I’ve had with Conservative members across the country people feel the same way that I do. At the end of the day, there is only one question that members are asking themselves and what they’re going to be asking themselves leading into our convention scheduled for Toronto in mid-April and that is can Andrew Scheer win? Can he beat Justin Trudeau in the next election? Be it whatever it is. It could be in a year. It could be a year and a half and two. And where people are at is that he cannot beat Justin Trudeau in the next election.

Mercedes Stephenson: Jenni, why do you think that is? Is it the social conservative issues? Is it environment? Is it his personality? What is it about Andrew Scheer that you believe means he cannot be prime minister?

Jenni Byrne: But I don’t think at this point it doesn’t even matter why. There’s people in Quebec that will say his personal opinion on abortion was an issue. I don’t personally think that’s the case. There’s others that will talk about gay marriage. There’s some that will talk about policy positions like environment or handling issues like his American citizenship or resume. I don’t think at the end of the day it matters. Whatever the reason is that people have, Conservative members across the country don’t think Andrew can beat Justin Trudeau in the next election.

Mercedes Stephenson: Garnett, you’re a friend of Andrew Scheer’s. You’re an ally of Andrew Scheer’s. Do you agree that he should step down as party leader?

Garnett Genuis: No, I don’t. And I think my position reflects the overwhelming consensus of elected Conservative Members of Parliament and I think it reflects where members are at as well. Remember the first caucus meeting, Conservative caucus members overwhelmingly voted not to give themselves the power to remove the leader and, you know, you’ve got some people that are not members of caucus expressing a view. But we haven’t had a single member of caucus come out to take the position that Jenni has. There’s going to be a process. There’s always a process. Stephen Harper went through that process after 2004, where the members got to decide. What was very interesting, is we see people like Corey, tonight, coming out and already essentially conceding the convention saying well, the convention’s going to be rigged anyways, which is, I think his way of saying that whatever that he might want to say the members think, he and others that are opposing Andrew Scheer’s leadership are not at all confident that they can actually bring that support to bear where it counts. So obviously, there’s going to be a few people who are Conservatives who have a different point of view, but I think the oppression of caucus and of the members is clear and will be heard in April.

Mercedes Stephenson: Jenni, go ahead.

Jenni Byrne: Yeah, I’d just like to jump in quickly and say this isn’t just about the opinion of what caucus is. That is important, but I found it extremely strange yesterday that there was very little caucus support in terms of the appointments of the new deputy leader. I would also like to point out that this is not anything like 2004. I worked for the party at the time, I worked for Stephen Harper. In six months, Stephen Harper helped merge the party—merge our parties, win a leadership race and brought the Paul Martin Liberals to a minority. And by the way, it was touted as going to be the biggest majority in Canadian history by the Liberal Party themselves.

Mercedes Stephenson: Garnett, I’ve heard from members of caucus—go ahead.

Garnett Genuis: Yeah, I’ll just quickly respond to those points. I don’t know where Jenni’s getting this from that there isn’t support from Leona Alleslev. She’s going to be strongly supported in that position and she’s done an incredible job in her last couple of years as a Conservative MP and she’s exactly the sort of person that Conservatives need to bring onside in the Toronto area to win the election.

In terms of the 2004 comparisons, you know, obviously, there’s always differences here and there but the expectations for Paul Martin of winning the biggest majority ever. That was before the breaking of the sponsorship scandal. I mean, the political impact—

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Jenni Byrne: No, that’s not true. That’s actually—

Garnett Genuis: The massive impact of the sponsorship scandal—

Mercedes Stephenson: Okay.

Jenni Byrne: Garnett, that’s actually not—

Garnett Genuis: Well anybody who was—

Mercedes Stephenson: I just want to step in for a moment, Garnett.

Jenni Byrne: Well, I was—

[Cross talk]

Mercedes Stephenson: Because you’re saying that you—

Jenni Byrne: I was there.

Garnett Genuis: I’m sorry. Go ahead.

Mercedes Stephenson: Garnett, you’ve said that you haven’t heard from members of caucus saying that they want Andrew Scheer to go. I have. I’ve heard from a number of members of caucus. They’re sort of waiting to see what happens, but you’ve certainly heard from the grassroots. I mean, in the meetings in Quebec, in Ottawa here last week, and in Alberta. Certainly, Andrew Scheer is hearing from failed candidates who didn’t win. He’s hearing from donors out in Alberta who are saying they’re deeply concerned. This isn’t just about the opinion of caucus. It’s a very grassroots party and I understand that but the grassroots are starting to really say he needs to go.

Garnett Genuis: So, I do not share that characterization of the grassroots opinion, but we’re going to find out in April. Clearly, there are individuals who have a different point of view. That was the case under Stephen Harper. It’s always the case where there’s some individuals that for whatever reason have a different opinion on the direction of the leadership. And look, I, you know, full respect to people who are good Conservatives, members of Parliament and have a different point of view than I do. But what’s striking to me is that the people on the other side of this equation, they don’t want to go through the process. They don’t trust the process that’s going to happen in April. They instead, want to create a distraction and try and force an action before that convention. I say if you think the members are on your side, hey, let’s spend the next month’s focusing on challenging the Trudeau minority government. Let’s have the vote in April. Let’s see where it goes and then if it’s the will of the members, we’ll have a leadership race. But I suspect that when people are actually counted, you’ll find that, you know, the folks that are, you know, a couple of people here and there that are commenting in the media or anonymous sources, you know, coming from caucus, isn’t reflective of where the vast majority of people actually are.

Jenni Byrne: Well, but I’d like to say this is the issue that we’re having. This—the question of Andrew’s leadership has been spoken about among Conservative members, both in caucus and at the grassroots for the last month. The last week, it has gripped to the party in a way that nothing else is being discussed, and it’s going to continue to do that leading into the leadership race. If we continue to do that, we are going to do nothing but give Justin Trudeau a free ride in terms of the next five months because that’s all people are talking about, Garnett, because it is not just an elephant in the room. It’s a bunch of elephants in the room and that is all what people are talking about.

In terms of Leona Alleslev, I do agree with you. Those are Liberals that we need to attract in our party to join the Conservative Party. And that’s great, but that doesn’t mean they have to be given leadership positions. This is a person who campaigned against us, who said very critical things about prime minister Stephen Harper during and after the 2015 campaign. This is not a small position. This was a position in opposition that was held by the cofounder of the party, Peter MacKay. And so, I think in terms of grassroots members across the country, these are the decisions they’re looking at and they’re scratching their head.

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Garnett Genuis: Yeah, with all due respect—

Mercedes Stephenson: Jenni, what about people who that, you know, at least give him a second chance, a second election. Stephen Harper got a second election. Most leaders do. It’s too soon to be pushing him out.

Jenni Byrne: But, Mercedes, as I said, 2004 was different. We picked up—in Ontario, for example, we picked up share of the popular vote and went from two seats to 24 seats. We picked up 22 seats in the province of Ontario.

Garnett Genuis: Yeah, we won the popular vote.

Jenni Byrne: In 2000 and—yeah, we won and we went down in votes in Quebec and Ontario.

Garnett Genuis: We picked up seats on Ontario.

Jenni Byrne: So, I don’t think it’s an automatic. It’s not—no, we actually went down in votes. We—

Garnett Genuis: We won the popular vote, in total.

Jenni Byrne: We went down in votes.

Mercedes Stephenson: But where you won the vote, Garnett was in Alberta and you won the vote in Saskatchewan. But in key areas that you have to win to go forward like Ontario and Quebec, that was not the case and that’s the criticism here.

Garnett Genuis: I’m not going to—

Mercedes Stephenson: And I’m wondering, though—

Garnett Genuis: Yeah, I’m just going to respond to that. I’m not going to say we ran a perfect campaign. There’s a data driven process that’s being led by John Baird and it’s going to provide reports back. We made substantial gains in some regions of the country. There’s particular areas such as the greater Toronto area, where obviously, we didn’t get the growth that we were hoping for. But that’s a point I need to respond to Jenni made earlier.

Mercedes Stephenson: Okay. I’m sorry Garnett, I do have to stop you there because we’re actually out of time on the panel, but certainly, I’m sure, an issue we’re going to be coming back to and we appreciate both of your time today. Whether or not Andrew Scheer will be staying on as leader, we’ll be keeping a close on that going forward for the next week. Thank you, both.

Jenni Byrne: Thank you.

Garnett Genuis: Thank you

Mercedes Stephenson: Coming up, premiers meet in Toronto tomorrow. With national unity tensions running high and premiers taking each other on, will they have any kind of unified message for Ottawa?

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Mercedes Stephenson: Welcome back. Canada’s premiers meet tomorrow for the first time since the federal election, and tensions are running high as relationship between the premiers seem to be fraying. After an election that showed many western Canadians feel isolated and ignored by the government in Ottawa, the premiers will be out talking about national unity and some of the issues driving that alienation, like equalization. How will they navigate these heated and precarious topics?

Joining me now is one of the premiers who’ll be sitting that table and in fact, he’ll be running the discussion in Toronto tomorrow, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe. Thank you for joining us, Premier Moe.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe: Well thank you so much, Mercedes.

Mercedes Stephenson: You talked about a new deal for western Canada after the election, changing the equalization formula. You’ve been an ardent opponent to the carbon tax, but there’s been a lot of disagreement between the premiers in recent days and weeks. What are your priorities going to be as you sit down to have these discussions with your provincial counterparts from across the country?

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe: Well, the priorities will be is there are a few items where the premiers can come to consensus from coast to coast to coast in this nation as premiers of our respective jurisdictions. Showing up and having a discussion on a number of topics, coming to consensus on behalf of not just the people that we represent in our province or territory but on behalf of all Canadians.

Mercedes Stephenson: How important is equalization and rejigging that formula going to be when you sit down tomorrow?

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe: Well, there’s two ways that we share our wealth in this nation. One is through the equalization formula. One is through the Fiscal Stabilization program and we’re going to be discussing both of those so that we can ensure that we continue to share wealth across this nation but also have a program that is responsive to areas, jurisdictions that are experiencing a drop in their GDP growth or where their economic fortunes have suddenly dropped to some degree. So, we’re going to discuss both of those in the essence of ensuring that both programs are doing what they were designed to do and any opportunities that we have to, you know, further support some of those provinces that have had some downturns in their GPD growth.

Mercedes Stephenson: Do you think there’s any chance of Premier Legault actually agreeing to any of those changes?

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe: Well, equalization is a, you know, a very divisive conservation at times across this nation. It’s a conversation—it’s a program that many feel is not fair to all provinces in this nation, but it’s also a program that many provinces do rely on in this nation. And so it has been around for some time and likely would take some time to alter, to change or to fix any of the challenges that may be identified in that program. The Fiscal Stabilization program, on the other hand, there’s an opportunity there to address a program that was designed to be very reactive. And when you look at the lack of investment of that program in provinces over the course of the last decade, or better, it has proved to not be that reactive. So it is a program that definitely should be looked at and we’re going to have some, I think, very good discussion around the Fiscal Stabilization program.

Mercedes Stephenson: When I was looking at your agenda and your priorities, I noticed the word equalization wasn’t in there and neither were the words carbon tax. Have you put a little water in your wine heading into these meetings in hopes of getting a unified position coming out versus getting some of the demands you were making immediately after the election?

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe: Well, this meeting is coming together by the request of a number of premiers that reached out to myself as council and federation chair in light of the divisions that manifested themselves across this nation, not just in the province of Saskatchewan but in many other areas of this nation on election night. Those were divisions and frustrations that were identified by the prime minister. And so premiers had reached out, asked if there is a place for the provincial premiers and the territorial premiers to come together, to provide some opportunity to show consensus not only to the minority federal administration that we now have but also show that the premiers from coast to coast to coast in this nation are coming together to ensure that they are providing proper and appropriate leadership on behalf of all of the people that we represent.

Mercedes Stephenson: But heading into this meeting, it hasn’t been a very friendly relationship between the premiers. You’re a Saskatchewan guy. Saskatchewan, of course, notorious for its western hospitality and I’m sure you’ll use that to try to get people onside. But how do you heal some of the divisions here when you’re talking about cracks in national unity and you have Alberta attacking Quebec, Quebec attacking Alberta, Manitoba and Quebec now not getting along, Ontario is in there, too. That’s a pretty challenging environment to get unity out of.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe: We have some divisions, deep divisions across this country and those were very evident with the results on election night and the differentiation we have in provinces and territories across this nation. This meeting is to discuss points that we can agree on, to discuss can we come to a consensus on a few items, to provide, as I said, not only guidance for this minority administration that we have governing this nation now, but also to provide the assurance to all Canadians that although we have, you know, a number of things that we do not agree on, there are a number of things that we do agree on and we’re going to move forward on those.

Mercedes Stephenson: There’s been calls from Conservatives across the country this week for Andrew Scheer to step down as leader of the Conservative Party. You, of course, are a Conservative as well, sir. Do you think that Mr. Scheer should remain on as the leader or is it time for him to resign?

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe: Well, listen, all parties have a process for this type of discussion to play out and the party members ultimately will have a say. From Saskatchewan’s perspective, we have 14 seats. The Conservative Party did very well here as they won each and every one of those seats. From across the country perspective, the Conservative Party received more votes than any other party in the most recent election that we had. I think they’re up 20 or 25 seats, if I remember correctly.

Mercedes Stephenson: So, you think that he should be able to stay on until the leadership review. He shouldn’t consider stepping down before then?

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe: Well there’s—like I say, there’s a process in place that I always think the party processes that are place, whether it’s the Liberal Party, the NDP Party or the Conservative Party, or our party in the case, in Saskatchewan. Those processes are there for a reason and we should allow them to play out.

Mercedes Stephenson: Premier Moe, thank you so much for joining us today.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe: Thank you, Mercedes. I appreciate it.

Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, from a Conservative gorilla campaign to take out Andrew Scheer, to the speech from the throne on Thursday, we’ll unpack the politics of the week ahead.

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Mercedes Stephenson: Welcome back. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is set to recall Parliament for the throne speech on Thursday. Justin Trudeau heads back to the Hill with a minority for the first time. In the week since the election, the prime minister has kept a low public profile, opting instead to hold a series of meetings with opposition party leaders, premiers and mayors from across the country. What kind of tone can we expect from Mr. Trudeau? And what will his strategy be to stay in power?

Joining me now is Ottawa Bureau Chief for the Globe and Mail, Robert Fife. Welcome to the show, Bob. Thanks for joining us, again.

Robert Fife, Globe and Mail Ottawa Bureau Chief: Thanks for having me on.

Mercedes Stephenson: So everyone looks forward to the throne speech. It’s Justin Trudeau’s big debut. We’ll get the sense of the tone and tenor and priorities. What does he have to establish when he’s thinking about what to say on Thursday?

Robert Fife, Globe and Mail Ottawa Bureau Chief: Well, he’s going to have to say something to all of the parties and he’s going to have to summon a [00:18:54] note, which is something Liberals have a hard time doing. But he has to do that and you’ve noticed that they’ve been trying to sound like we’re listening to everybody. And so there’ll be no surprises here. He’s going to talk about climate change and a green economy. He’ll talk about pharmacare, the importance of dealing with Indigenous issues. Obviously, he’s going to make an outreach to western Canada in a way that will say we will get this pipeline line built for you and we are aware of your many concerns and we are listening. I don’t think you’re going to get much—oh, and of course, the promise of a middle class tax cuts which will be front and centre of the throne speech. So I don’t think there’ll be really any surprises on that.

The tone as what you’re trying to get at is if they’re going into a House of Commons in a minority government situation, they have to be careful that they don’t offend, unnecessarily, the Bloc Quebecois or the NDP or even the Greens because that is not going to help them if the Conservatives for some reason all vote against them.

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As for the Conservatives—I mean, the best thing the Liberals have going for them is the huge fight going on inside the Conservative Party, they don’t really have to worry about the Conservatives because their knives are out and they’re slashing each other and not Liberals.

Mercedes Stephenson: And how does that affect the Conservatives when they’re heading back into the House and they’re this divided? Can they be an effective Opposition or at this point are they sidelining themselves?

Robert Fife, Globe and Mail Ottawa Bureau Chief: Well, yes they can be an effective Opposition, but on certain areas that they choose to do so. The problem they have is that they don’t like their leader. And the party grassroots clearly is unhappy with that election campaign. He cannot survive, in my view, the leadership review vote, where efforts to try to get him to leave even before the April vote and there’s a number of reasons for that. You’re hearing them same as I. The sense from Mr.—Mr. Scheer was unable to say that he supports the rights of gay and lesbian couples or gay and lesbians. And I know a lot of Conservatives across the country, senior Conservatives, saying that he made them feel like they were bigots and they don’t have a problem with people’s sexual orientations. It’s none of anybody’s business what goes on in the bedrooms of the nation is nobody’s business. And the other thing is a climate action plan that’s got to appeal to more than just the oil industry, which is what that last plan was. And unless they come up with a more credible environmental plan, they’re not going to win the next election campaign. So, they have policy issues to deal with, but more importantly, they have a weak leader. He cannot survive. We’ve seen this movie play out before: Ignatieff, Dion. Weak leaders, the party ripped them apart. We saw it with Joe Clark. So, you will see Conservative MPs, guaranteed, coming out some of these caucus rooms, leaking everything they can to us that are negative about their leader. Some of them at some point come out and challenge him on things they think he’s made a mistake on. He will limp into a leadership review vote and he will barely—he will probably lose it, or if it doesn’t, if he just gets barely passed like 50 or 52 per cent, he can’t survive.

Mercedes Stephenson: What do you think his timeline is on this? There’s people saying he needs to step down before Christmas. Does he survive even to that?

Robert Fife, Globe and Mail Ottawa Bureau Chief: That’s a very good question. He says he is hanging on. He’s getting a message. We saw it in Montreal. We saw it Thursday night, these Conservatives get-togethers. And there’ll be another one in Toronto and they’re having them across the country. They have not been pleasant affairs. He cannot say he came out after listening to candidates and campaign managers and volunteer and grassroots people saying that they want him as leader. So, if he has to—he might want to have a cognac over the—by the Christmas fire and maybe come back in January and say, you know what? I’m going to not run for the leadership. Or, I’m going to open it up and have a leadership vote which I will contest.

Mercedes Stephenson: Not much of a Christmas for Andrew Scheer. Not much of a present there from the party membership, but thank you Bob Fife, for joining us and sharing your analysis.

Robert Fife, Globe and Mail Ottawa Bureau Chief: Thank you.

Mercedes Stephenson: That wraps our show up for today. Thank you for joining us. I’m Mercedes Stephenson, for The West Block.