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The West Block – Episode 15, Season 9

The West Block: Dec 15
Watch the full broadcast of The West Block from Sunday, December 15, 2019 with Mercedes Stephenson.

THE WEST BLOCK

Episode 15, Season 9

Sunday, December 15, 2019 

Host: Mercedes Stephenson

Guests: Minister Michelle Rempel Garner, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh

Journalist Panel: Robert Fife, John Ivison

Location: Ottawa

 

Andrew Scheer, Official Opposition Leader: “I just informed my colleagues that I will be resigning.”

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Claude Carignan, Conservative Senator: “The accumulation of bad decision, we lost confidence in Andrew Scheer.”

 

Peter Kent, Conservative—Ontario: “Defeated in an election that featured fear and smear.”

 

Dawna Friesen, Global National “The party has been paying the private school fees for his children.”

 

Peter Kent, Conservative—Ontario: “We don’t know who did what. We don’t know who knew what.”

 

Yves-Francois Blanchet, Bloc Quebecois Leader: “If aluminum is not is not strongly protected in this treaty, the Bloc Quebecois will vote against it.”

 

Jagmeet Singh, NDP Leader: “Some of it that I’ve seen so far is encouraging. A deal that hurts workers, is a deal that, to me is not one we should sign.”

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Mercedes Stephenson: It’s Sunday, December 15th. I’m Mercedes Stephenson, and this is The West Block.

 

Andrew Scheer, Official Opposition Leader: “I will be resigning as the leader of the Conservative Party of Canada. I intend to stay on as leader of the party and the Official Opposition. And after some conversations with my kids, my loved ones, I felt it was time to put my family first.”

 

Mercedes Stephenson: That was part of the sudden resignation of Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer last Thursday that shocked many political insiders and observers. It came following two months of public bloodletting for his failures on the election campaign and his post-election performance. 

 

Andrew Scheer supporters deny he stepped down because of a story broken by Global News that he used party funds to pay tuition expenses for his children, to attend a private religious school.

 

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Can Scheer stay on as interim leader? And what does it mean for the Conservatives?

 

Joining me now is one of those caucus members, Michelle Rempel Garner. Welcome to the program, Michelle.

 

Michelle Rempel Garner, Conservative—Calgary Nose Hill: Thank you for having me.

 

Mercedes Stephenson: When this news came down about Mr. Scheer’s expenses and him using party money, which was approved by the party’s executive director, but using party money nonetheless, to pay for his children’s private school education. What was your reaction?

 

Michelle Rempel Garner, Conservative—Calgary Nose Hill: Oh boy. I mean, you have to realize that this came out as he was resigning this week. So, you know, my—

 

Mercedes Stephenson: Did you know he was going to resign?

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Michelle Rempel Garner, Conservative—Calgary Nose Hill: I didn’t. I don’t think any of us did. So, you know, it was a lot to take in. It’s one of those days where you wake up and it’s like well, the day is not going the way I thought it was going to today. So, I think, you know, I know the party issued a statement. This is a question for the party now. We have mechanisms to look at these types of issues. I know that the statement that was made was within—they believe it was within the expenditures, but certainly, you know, I just want to make sure our donors are confident and that’s going to be a question for our national council and the Fund going forward. 

 

Mercedes Stephenson: What have you heard from your constituents and your donors on this issue?

 

Michelle Rempel Garner, Conservative—Calgary Nose Hill: To be honest with you, I’ve heard more in the last, you know, several hours about where we’re going from here. I think that there’s, you know, a lot of people—I mean I’m from Alberta, right? So what people are looking for is a signal from us that we’re going to continue to fight for jobs in Alberta. People are, you know, want a signal of stability, and that’s what I’ve been trying to push forward. Certainly, you know, looking at review and where we’re going, I think that’s all very important and my understanding is that our national council, people that are on our Fund, and certainly caucus as well, those are all things that we’re undertaking and that we’ll be going forward with. So, I guess, you know, again, it’s a lot to digest, but we now have an opportunity to, really, I think, set a bold new vision for our party and I think that’s where we need to be focussing our efforts. 

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Mercedes Stephenson: I do want to look forward, but just before we wrap up on the funds—

 

Michelle Rempel Garner, Conservative—Calgary Nose Hill: Sure.

 

Mercedes Stephenson: I know the party put out a statement saying the executive director negotiated this, that they felt it was appropriate. But senior members of the party, including former Prime MinisterStephen Harper, did not feel it was appropriate so that’s why I’m wondering if you feel that it’s appropriate.

 

Michelle Rempel Garner, Conservative—Calgary Nose Hill: You know, it’s fair. I mean, the reason I’m kind of torn is like, you know, Andrew’s resigned, right? So I think as public servants, we always have to be very careful about perception in using funds for personal expenses. I’m certainly very careful with that. And, you know what? If former Prime MinisterHarper was out on this, I can just kind of imagine his voice when he would say something like this. There’s probably a bit of a concern there. But that said, you know, I don’t want this to be the thing that we’re looking at with regard to Andrew’s overall tenure. You know, I think he’s resigned. We should be looking at the Fund and how it’s managed going forward. I think that’s totally fair, and giving people across Canada some level of assurance that we’re focussed on holding the government to account.

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Mercedes Stephenson: Are you concerned that by leaving him in as the leader until there’s a new one that you’re opening yourself up to more attacks or that people may not be willing to donate? Because we don’t know if there’s still money going to him during this time period, to pay for the children’s schooling. 

 

Michelle Rempel Garner, Conservative—Calgary Nose Hill: I mean, the reality is, it takes a lot of effort and management to ensure that any caucus in Parliament, but certainly a large one like ours, the Official Opposition, is managed with stability, especially going through a leadership period. And, you know, you start looking at the opportunity cost of, you know, do we go through an interim leadership while we’re having a main leadership? And for me, I think, you know, Andrew was the Speaker of the House. Andrew knows parliamentary procedure. We had a very good session in Parliament in the last, you know, the last Parliament before the election, in terms of holding the government to account. So I also think there’s some merit in stability.

 

Mercedes Stephenson: What kind of leader do you think the party needs?

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Michelle Rempel Garner, Conservative—Calgary Nose Hill: That’s a great question. You know, I think we need somebody who’s really bold and wants transformative policy that very clearly and unabashedly and enthusiastically will come out and support the rights of all Canadians regardless of their sexuality, their gender, their background, and somebody that gets that, you know, Canadians want—they don’t want transactional politics. They want transformative politics. They want policy that reflects, you know, the place of Canada and the world. We’re a world leader. So, I want somebody who gets that and can do that. I want somebody who can reach across generations, build new voter coalitions and, you know, we’re how many years post-Harper now? You know, like Stephen Harper left such a big mark on the party, I want somebody who can be that big.

 

Mercedes Stephenson: Do you know who that person is? Do you have someone in mind who you’d back?

 

Michelle Rempel Garner, Conservative—Calgary Nose Hill: You know, I think it’s sort of you have to realize like from a caucus member perspective, we’re all processing the fact that, you know, we were thinking we were going to be in a leadership review that was happening in April. We’ve just had our leader resign and I think it’s a bit too early to start speculating on that. Now, is the speculation occurring? Of course, I’m not ignorant to that. But, for me, you know, I’ve gone through a leadership recently and I didn’t endorse anyone. I’ve grown a lot in the last four years since the last time we went through a leadership and I am going to have a role to play one way or the other. And for me, it’s I want boldness and we’ll see how that plays out.

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Mercedes Stephenson: Would you be willing to put your name forward?

 

Michelle Rempel Garner, Conservative—Calgary Nose Hill: Again, I think it’s too early to speculate. I will say as, you know, a woman in politics, I think the inclination is always to sort of shrink back and go like oh, well, you know. And I think there’s a lot of women who automatically self-deselect in situations like this so I won’t do that, but I also am not going to start speculating when we’re so fresh out of the gates, if you will. For me, I’ve given a lot of thought the last—you know, since this happened about where do I go from here? Where do I spend time and talk to caucus colleagues, people that are close to me about this. I really think it’s time that we revision, not change our principles or anything, but really have a deep think about what the Conservative Party of Canada is in a 2021 campaign or whatever it’s going to be, and that’s exciting and that’s what I’m going to be spending time thinking about.

 

Mercedes Stephenson: Okay. Not ruling it out, though. We’ll keep an eye on you. Thank you very much for joining us, Michelle.

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Michelle Rempel Garner, Conservative—Calgary Nose Hill: Thanks.

 

Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, a conversation with NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh.

 

[Break]

 

Mercedes Stephenson: Welcome back. Party leaders across the House and across the aisle offered words of praise last week to Andrew Scheer when he announced that he was stepping down as Conservative leader. NDP leader Jagmeet Singh was one of those people and he joins me here now in studio. Welcome back to the show.

 

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh: Thank you very much.

 

Mercedes Stephenson: You thanked Andrew Scheer, you were very magnanimous. Most people are in the House when somebody is stepping down, and what is obviously a difficult personal moment, but you didn’t comment on your thoughts on the story that had broken at the time, which was that he was using party money approved by the executive director of the party, but using party money that would have come from donations to help pay for his children’s private school education. Do you think that’s an appropriate use of funds?

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NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh: I mean that’s a decision between Conservative members, the party and Mr. Scheer that they’ll have to work out. I think people would look at where the donations go and expect that there would be some expenses that relate to the work of a leader and the travel of a leader for party purposes, but this probably wouldn’t be what people would expect money would go to so I’m sure people are concerned about that in the Conservative Party.

 

Mercedes Stephenson: There’s always a little bit of a top-up, or I shouldn’t say always, but often, a little bit of a top-up for a leader. Tell me about your top-up and what kinds of things does the NDP allow you to use your money for as a leader?

 

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh: Well, I don’t get a top-up per se, but it is something that’s very normal, and previous leaders have had it. One of the things that makes sense is when you’re travelling for strictly party purposes, it’s a fundraiser or something to generate more party excitement or enthusiasm, those types of events would be where you would be spending party funds. Obviously, the campaign is entirely run by donations so that’s where you’d be using donated resources to do the work that you do during a campaign.

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Mercedes Stephenson: At times, you struggled as a leader. When you first came in, people said going into the election that you’re going to have significant problems. You did lose seats, but you came out as the person who many Canadians said spoke to them the most clearly, that they felt they could connect with you. You seemed like a normal person. Andrew Scheer didn’t have that connection. People didn’t seem to make that with him. I think there’s people that would be surprised that we’re sitting here with you today and you’ve sort of come out on top and Andrew Scheer who was talking about his election performance and had more numbers, more strength, more money going in, is the guy who is gone. What do you think of when you look at this whole situation?

 

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh: Well it is—it is kind of interesting if you look at the irony of it all. I would say that the strength of the campaign, for me personally, I don’t point to my personal performance or a particular moment. I think that what we did as a team, and what I did as a candidate, was anytime I had an opportunity to make the discussion about what people are going through, to talk about the people that I want to represent and I want to fight for, that’s what I did and that’s what we did as a team, and I think that’s the strength of the campaign. People looked at different moments and said maybe at the blackface moment where Mr. Trudeau made it about himself and said oh, I feel bad that I did it, and Mr. Scheer made it about who should be prime minister. I talked about people and what people were going through. And so a lot of folks praised that, but I really just wanted to talk about the impact it would have on a lot of young people who looked at that and felt maybe like they didn’t belong and felt hurt and I wanted to speak to them. And so throughout the campaign, that’s what I tried to do and that’s what our team tried to do. How do we really capture what people are going through, the pain that they feel or the fear that they’re going through? And how do we provide some solutions to those problems with things like investments in housing, and making sure our healthcare system works, and make sure the workers aren’t left behind, and we fight the climate crisis meaningfully while creating jobs. So that’s what we tried to do.

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Mercedes Stephenson: Let’s talk about NAFTA because there is a new NAFTA deal, NAFTA 2.1, whatever you want to call it. This thing’s had a million names. But first, let’s listen to what you had to say early this week about the deal and the NDP support for it.

 

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh: Sure.

 

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh: “This one, we’re not coming out with our position on whether we’re supporting or not. I want to read the deal, understand the details of it first. But I can say that some of it that I’ve seen so far is encouraging and that is a good thing.”

 

Mercedes Stephenson: And now you have had a chance to have a look at some of the text of that deal. Do you support NAFTA?

 

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh: So looking at it, it’s something we’re still working through. We’re going to speak with some of the folks impacted. There’s been some concerns raised about the impact on aluminum and steel and looking at some of those concerns. But what I can say is that after the briefing I received and after the reviewing some of the text, we’ve seen that the victories or the positive gains that we’ve been pushing for, seem to be there and what we’d called for, for a long time was that there’s three major concerns: workers weren’t being protected, the environment wasn’t really being protected and the changes in the agreement that the prime minister initially was going to sign would have meant that medication prices would have gone up by a lot. And so those are three really deeply concerning things. Those seem to be addressed in a pretty meaningful way, and I want to acknowledge that it wasn’t that the prime minister, Prime Minister Trudeau did this work or that the Liberal Government did this work, it was really the Democrats in the south that worked to make sure the deal was better for our own workers. So I think we should never be in this position again, where American politicians are making a deal better for Canadian workers. Our own government should be doing that, and so we’ve proposed some solutions to that for the future.

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Mercedes Stephenson: So does that mean you’re going to vote in favour of this when it is introduced for ratification in the House?

 

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh: Well we still need to speak with some of the stakeholders impacted. So, while I see some of those positive gains, and those are important, I still want to make sure we reach out to all the people impacted and one of the specific areas where there’s been some concern being raised is the differential treatment of aluminum sector versus the steel sector.

 

Mercedes Stephenson: But the head of the aluminum, basically producers for Canada, came out and said we support this deal.

 

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh: Right, and there’s the head of companies and then there’s the workers. And often, we’ve seen industries make decisions or governments make decisions that the top of the industry, the heads of the industry say it’s great, but then the workers, they have a different story. They talk about job losses and struggles they’re going through. So I want to confirm that—

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Mercedes Stephenson: So you might be willing to vote against NAFTA over the aluminum sector.

 

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh: Well I want to make sure that the deal is something that’s good for Canadians. And what I’ve seen in the past is deals sound good in the heads of organizations or industries, the richest CEO’s say it’s a good deal, but then when you speak to the workers, they actually lose jobs and they’re not actually in a better position. So, I want to make sure we do our due diligence. We’ve looked at the text and we looked at some things, but there’s more work to be done. I want to speak with more folks, but I want—my goal is this: that in any trade deal that we sign, the benefit shouldn’t flow to the CEO of a company or to the executive board of a powerful corporation, the benefit should flow to Canadian workers. And if that isn’t the case, it probably shouldn’t be a deal we move ahead with. If it does benefit Canadian jobs and Canadian workers, then it’s something we should go ahead with.

 

Mercedes Stephenson Thank you very much for joining us.

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NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh: Sure, thank you.

 

Mercedes Stephenson: Coming up, we’ll unpack the politics of the public battle inside the Conservative Party.

 

[Break]

 

Conservative National Caucus Chair Tom Kmiec: “We’ve discussed it together, and by unanimous agreement, we want Andrew Scheer to stay on our full leader.”

 

Mercedes Stephenson: Welcome back. That was Conservative National Caucus Chair Tom Kmiec.Questions about Andrew Scheer support despite what he said in front of the cameras. 

 

Here to talk about that joining me are two very seasoned and experienced journalists who have seen it all on the Hill, the Globe and Mail’s Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife and John Ivison from the National Post. 

 

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Caucus is publicly saying they support Mr. Scheer, but do you think he’ll be able to stay on as interim leader, Bob?

 

Robert Fife, Globe and Mail Ottawa Bureau Chief: That’s a good question. It depends on how much of a blowback there is in the grassroots about the fact that the Conservative Party Fund was paying for four or his five children’s private education. That is a bombshell of a story and we haven’t seen the end result of what’s going on. I mean, I know that a lot of people in the party are very angry about that and they’re concerned as well that leadership candidates will be asked, well should he pay back the money? They are—you can be sure when MPs get home, their constituents will say why did this happen? Shouldn’t he be paying back the money? So, I think it’s still a problem for Andrew Scheer. So whether he can remain as interim leader, we’ll wait and see, but the jury’s not out on this yet.

 

Mercedes Stephenson: And John, the party’s executive director is saying look, there’s nothing to see here, totally normal. We often pay a top-up to party leaders. This was typical, I had an agreement. Does that logic fly in your experience that people would be using money for this kind of thing, for private school tuition?

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John Ivison, National Post Columnist: I think thatthere’s always been a discretionary fund for leaders and I think Harper had one. You know, for example, if they fly to a government event and then they have to fly to a party even afterwards, then there’s that money goes towards some party expenses. But, I think that there was a distinct lack of transparency here and I think that many party members, who donated, did not think that they were paying for Andrew Scheer’s children’s education. Whether it’s the discrepancy or the differential between Regina fees and Ottawa fees, or the entire fee, it wasn’t clear to me what the end result of that was. I asked that question. They didn’t clarify. 

 

Robert Fife, Globe and Mail Ottawa Bureau Chief:And they sure haven’t.

 

John Ivison, National Post Columnist: If it was the full amount, that’s a lot of money. You know, $15,000, potentially per kid, for multiple years. So, I think Bob’s right, there’s still some questions to be asked, but I think there’s—the main question was whether Andrew Scheer was going to leave. There’s no great animosity towards him as an individual. A lot of people like him as a person and I think that he will be given the benefit of the doubt, I think.

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Robert Fife, Globe and Mail Ottawa Bureau Chief:  But I don’t think the party’s national director is going to be around for very long. People want a head. He’s the guy who approved it. I think he’s going to get fired. And here’s the problem it has for the Conservatives. Stephen Harper did not send his kids to a private school. They went to a public school. Justin Trudeau, Mr. Elite, which Mr. Scheer ran on in the election campaign, sends his kids to a public school. And now we’ll find out that Mr. Scheer, who has tried to present himself as a Mr. Ordinary guy, who by the way, lives in Stornoway, very nice subsidized mansion in Rockliffe, which is the most elite area of the city, has a car and driver, makes over $250-some thousand a year, asked the party to pay for his kids to go to a private school. This is not going to go over well.

 

John Ivison, National Post Columnist: When you go to the Conservative website on the donation pages to support Andrew Scheer, I don’t think the donors thought they were doing that quite literally. 

 

Mercedes Stephenson: [Chuckles] People thought it was that direct. Well, when you look ahead, because now we’re talking about who else is going to run? Who’s going to step up to the plate? Who do you think, John, is sort of your top three for frontrunners here?

 

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John Ivison, National Post Columnist: Well, the one—none of know because it’s—people are still mulling their options. But the one thing that I would say that I saw Gérard Deltell this morning saying—or on Friday, saying whoever it is has got to be bilingual. And I think that is the minimum price of entry. I mean, just having just covered the election campaign, if you’ve got to win votes across the country, not just in Quebec, but in francophone areas of the rest of the country, and be in a French language debate, you’ve got to have a reasonable level of French and English. I mean, Deltell’s problem might be the other way around that his English might be considered not good enough. But I think he’s inside the caucus is a realistic contender. I think Erin O’Toole in the inside caucus is realistic. I think there’ll be one candidate from the Progressive side, it’ll probably be Peter MacKay, but I think a lot of people like Mark Mulroney. He may be a candidate.  A lot of people like Rona Ambrose, but I think Rona Ambrose is not going to like the idea of giving up a very comfortable lifestyle and coming back into politics.

 

Mercedes Stephenson: Brad Wall was promoting her on Twitter last week as a potential leader.

 

Robert Fife, Globe and Mail Ottawa Bureau Chief: And Bernard Lord, the former New Brunswick premier is seriously mulling a run for the leadership. He is perfectly bilingual. Rona Ambrose’s French is not bad, a lot better than Peter MacKay’s. She would be the greatest threat for the Liberals, which is why they’ve been talking about seeing if they can get her appointed ambassador to Washington to take her off the playing board, because I have no doubt that if Ms. Ambrose had been the leader in this election campaign, the Conservatives would be back in power. She’s a fiscal Conservative, but she is not afraid to walk in Gay Pride Parades. She doesn’t make social progressive socially—she’s not a social—

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Mercedes Stephenson: Conservative.

 

Robert Fife, Globe and Mail Ottawa Bureau Chief:She’s not a social Conservative in the—or at least she doesn’t make it a major issue of her—ever in her campaigning. So, she’s to me, the one we really have to watch and whether she’s actually going to win.

 

John Ivison, National Post Columnist: I think the idea of Justin Trudeau having to fight against a female candidate from Ontario or Quebec is his worst nightmare.

 

Mercedes Stephenson: And part of this question is about how much of the problem was Andrew Scheer and how much is the party because there still are, even if Andrew Scheer goes, elements in the party that are social Conservative that are very influential. Is this the turning point for the Conservative Party where they choose a different kind of conservatism?

 

Robert Fife, Globe and Mail Ottawa Bureau Chief:  You know this is a good question because the Conservatives have to make up their mind whether they want to be a party of special interest or whether they want to be in government. And, you know, Mr. Harper was successful in telling the social Conservatives we can do some things, but we are going—we want to be in power. And if we’re going to be in power, we have to be a big tent party, and we can’t be the voice of social Conservatives. And the problem that Mr. Scheer had is that he, wink, wink, nudge, nudge, said I’m the party of social Conservatives and that did not go over well with urban Canada. And they cannot win unless they broaden it out and become more of a centre right party, and they also, we all know, have to come up with an environmental plan that wasn’t taken out of the books of the oil industry.

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Mercedes Stephenson: John?

 

John Ivison, National Post Columnist: Yeah, I agree entirely with that.

 

Mercedes Stephenson: All the time we have for today, though. I’m sure we’ll be back again. Thank you very much to our journalists.

 

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

 

John Ivison, National Post Columnist: Thanks.

 

Mercedes Stephenson: That’s all the time we have for today, thanks for watching. For The West Block, I’m Mercedes Stephenson.