The West Block – Episode 16, Season 9

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Watch the full broadcast of The West Block from Sunday, December 22, 2019 with Mercedes Stephenson. – Dec 22, 2019


Episode 16, Season 9

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Host: Mercedes Stephenson

Guests: Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau;

Patrick Brazeau, Independent Senators Group

Location: Ottawa

Bill Morneau, Federal Finance Minister: “Their economy is strong and growing. We have challenges in Alberta and Saskatchewan with changes in the resource sector, but the view is positive.”

Pierre Poilievre, Conservative—Carleton: “The deficit is $7 billion bigger than Liberals promised.”

Bill Morneau, Federal Finance Minister: “We’ve certainly heard the request from the provinces. We need to take a look at what’s being proposed.”

Unidentified Indigenous Woman: “And our communities and our homelands are facing something that’s very dark. You have people who they feel so desperate that they take their lives.”

Mercedes Stephenson: It’s Sunday, December 22nd. I’m Mercedes Stephenson, and this is The West Block.

It’s been a busy week for federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau. On Monday, he released the fall fiscal update, revealing a much deeper deficit than expected. The current projected numbers show that Canada is expected to be in the red this year, to the tune of $26.6 billion. That’s about $7 billion more than was expected, and that doesn’t include most election promises the Liberals made.

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Later in the week, Morneau sat down with his provincial counterparts who are demanding changes to the fiscal stabilization program and want more health care spending.

Here’s what some of those provincial counterparts had to say about the meeting.

Travis Toews, Alberta Finance Minister: “Well I was very satisfied with the robust, quite frank discussion. Very, you know, genuinely thankful to the other provinces who supported our position on fiscal stabilization, but, you know, time will tell. I can’t overemphasize the fact that timing’s important here.”

Tom Osborne, Newfoundland and Labrador Finance Minister: “Each of the provinces and territories have supported us today. I’m absolutely certain we’ll see a refined program.” 

Scott Fielding, Manitoba Finance Minister: “Because I think there is a united front on the health expenditures.”  

Rod Phillips, Ontario Finance Minister: “And the minister is engaged around the 5.2 per cent increase. That is about delivering the core service that we have today.”

Joining me now from Toronto is Finance Minister Bill Morneau. Minister, thank you for joining us.

Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau: It’s great to be on your show, Mercedes.

Mercedes Stephenson: Let’s start with the chat you’ve been having with premiers and finance ministers from across the country. They’ve been asking you for more money. In particular, in the form of the Fiscal Stabilization Fund and they’re asking for three things: for you to set a lower limit to provinces to quality, to take off the cap per capita in terms of the dollar amount provinces qualify for, for each person in their province, and also to look at retroactive payments to the provinces, dating back a couple of years. I know that you have officials looking at this, but when are you expecting to have an answer from them on whether or not you’ll be accepting the provinces requests?

Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau: As you point out, a review of the fiscal stabilization approach, that approach that we’ve had now for many years, was at the top of the list. The request was, as you say, for those three items to be considered. In answer to your question, we’re going to do that analysis. I committed to the finance ministers that we would take their idea on how we could review that. We do the analysis to look at the fiscal implications and that I’d get back to them soon. And what I told them soon meant, from my perspective, was in January that we’d be able to get back to them at least with a timeline and the process that we’re going to go through. So, the work starts now and I’m looking forward to having that continuing discussion.

Mercedes Stephenson: The retroactive part, in particular, is the part that a lot of provinces really want, but it could cost the federal government billions of dollars. How seriously are you considering that part of the request, given these provinces are saying—and look, it’s Christmastime—this is really urgent, we have people in need?

Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau: It’s really premature for me to answer that question. We need to take a look at what the request is. I really, literally got the suggestion or the document that they gave me on Tuesday so we’re at the beginning stages of our analysis. There was never an expectation that we would be able to have an answer immediately. But we will look at that and we are going to be seriously considering the request. That’s what a commitment means from our standpoint, and I’m looking forward to getting back to them. I also know that there are other things that the provinces are interested in us looking at, which is normally the case of these meetings and we’ll be looking at those requests as well. So, there’s more to say in this, but until we’ve done the analysis, we really can’t get to any conclusions.

Mercedes Stephenson: Well and I imagine some of those are things like health transfers. That’s something the provinces have brought up, but your government’s going to be facing a lot of financial demands. You’re cutting taxes, as per your campaign promise, but at the same time, you’re facing a serious situation with the Canadian economy. Growth dropped—the GDP dropped—pardon me—1.3 per cent in the last quarter. In Alberta, the unemployment rate for young men is at 20 per cent. You’re looking at a deficit that is ballooning and going much higher than what you were expected to. It’s about $7 billion beyond what you projected in your March budget. We’re now looking at, if you add in the campaign promises on top of that, which are worth anywhere between $9 and 15 billion, more than $40 billion in deficit. How do you maintain Canada’s triple-A credit rating, as you’ve been tasked to, when you are in a fiscal situation like this?

Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau: Well that’s a lot of things you just said, Mercedes. I think I should bring it back to a high level for people. First of all, our economy is strong and growing. We do these fiscal forecasts with the help of outside private sector economists. We had 14 economists take a look at our economy and give us their sense of where we’re going. All of them are projecting growth. We’re projecting next year to be growing at the second fastest level among G7 countries. And with respect to our approach, I mean not only are we reducing our debt as a function of the economy over time, we’re also reducing our deficit as a function of our economy. You know, I had the opportunity yesterday, to be in Washington and met with Steven Mnuchin, the U.S. Treasury secretary and, you know, when we talked about this, I pointed out that our approach, you know, modest deficits that are helpful for our economy at around 1 per cent of GDP is very different than the American approach, which is currently around 5 per cent of GDP. So, we’re going to continue to invest. The first and most important step that we’ve taken as a government is giving money back to people. So reducing taxes, and that’s significant because it’s going to be $3 billion more in people’s pockets next year and that’s going to help $20 million Canadians and its’ $6 billion more when it’s fully folded in, in 2023.

Mercedes Stephenson: But when you talk to some of the big bank economists, Minister, they say this government does not have a great fiscal outlook. They don’t have a lot of room to manoeuvre, if something happens. There’s not a lot of slack here. Kevin Page, who’s the former Parliamentary Budget Officer, said this is a weak plan because you’re cutting taxes at the same time you’re looking at spending more. There’s only one option and that goes into a bigger deficit. Are you concerned that you don’t have a lot of room to manoeuvre?

Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau: Of course, there will always be demands. So in our situation, where we’re trying to meet up to a declining amount of debt is a function of our economy and trying to make sure we continue to make investments. There will be demands that will be important for us to consider how we appropriately deal with them. As a finance minister, there’s always going to be a situation where there’s more demands than there is available funds. That’s the nature of the role and I’m confident that we can continue to deliver on behalf of Canadians, focusing on growth, focusing on employment and thinking about what actually matters to people. So the idea that we’re reducing their taxes is important, but the idea that we’ve found a way together with Canadians to have the strong employment and wage growth, that’s what really matters to people and when they’re thinking about how they—whether they’ve dealing with their situation right now with the holiday season, or facing up the challenges of raising their families.

Mercedes Stephenson: But you do have limited supply and an awful lot of demands for you to meet the promises on things like national pharmacare, which could cost billions of dollars that the opposition is going to be pressuring you, for demands from the provinces, who are in some cases, in very real crisis asking for that money, demands to keep that credit rating at the same time. How do you prioritize among making sure you keep us on track as a country in terms of the debt-to-GDP ratio, and yet at the same time meeting those demands?

Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau: This is always the challenge. We can’t just do one thing. So we do need to do these things together. I think among the things you just talked about, obviously the idea of dealing with our approach to fiscal stabilization is something that we’re on right now, and that’s the commitment I made to the provincial finance ministers. The objective of maintaining a strong fiscal track that enables us to be not only having a triple-A credit rating, but a declining net-debt-to-GDP and the capacity to deal with any future economic challenges. You know, these are all the objectives that we are going to ensure that we meet and the issue will be appropriately prioritizing the things that we need to do. We’ve said, though, that some key priorities are essential. We’ve said that we want to make sure that Canadians feel safe and that we deal with ensuring that they’re healthy. So health care is going to be important. It was important in the campaign. Canadians know that access to pharmaceuticals is not where it should be in our country so we’re going to continue to work on a universal approach to pharmacare. So we have many things that we want to do, Mercedes. They’re all important and I’m looking forward to getting at that in the new year.

Mercedes Stephenson: Minister Morneau, is there a red line for you on how deep into deficit your government is willing to go?

Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau: I think you’ve seen our fiscal update. So our projection is that we will have a declining amount of deficit and that we will have a declining amount of debt that is a function of our economy. We’ve also said that there’s a need for us to continue investing. So that projection is probably the frame that you should use as you think about what we’re going to try and achieve.

Mercedes Stephenson: Does that mean you’d be willing to go into deficit beyond $40 billion?

Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau:  What I’m saying is our government’s approach is exactly what we’ve laid out, you know, the hypotheticals about what might or might not happen in the future, are very dependent on where we go in the economy. We expect strong growth that’ll allow us to continue to make these investments and, you know, what we’ve said our important criteria for success are is a declining net-debt-to-GDP, is a triple-A credit rating, and is having the capacity in the case of need to deal with it, while we continue to invest. So those are the important fiscal anchors that we’ve maintained and we’re going to continue to maintain them.

Mercedes Stephenson: Okay, that’s not a ‘no.’ Minister, than you very much for joining us.

Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau: Okay, thanks very much. Take care.

Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, dying too young. We talked to Senator Patrick Brazeau about why young Indigenous men and boys are so overrepresented in the number of deaths by suicide in Canada and what he’s doing about it.

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Mercedes Stephenson: Welcome back.  From Attawapiskat to Makwa Sahgaiehcan, you’ve heard the reports.

Unidentified Indigenous Woman: “Look at our young people, you know, who are so desperate, and they feel so lost and unwanted that they take their own lives to stop their pain.”

Mercedes Stephenson: We’ve seen the images and the pain of the loss of so many young Indigenous lives taken early by suicide. Suicide amongst Canada’s Indigenous people is high. A recent report from Statistics Canada shows that the rate of suicide among Indigenous Canadians is three times the number of that of Canada’s non-Indigenous people.

Unidentified Indigenous Man: “Please, let’s do something. Let’s quit losing lives. We all love children and we should all try to save them.”

Mercedes Stephenson: Indigenous young men and Indigenous boys are particularly overrepresented in the statistics of death by suicide. So why are so many of them dying so young?

Joining me now to discuss this important issue is Senator Patrick Brazeau. Senator, thank you for coming on the show.

Patrick Brazeau, Independent Senators Group: Good Sunday to you, and thank you for having me.

Mercedes Stephenson: This is something you’ve had a very painful and personal experience with. You are a survivor, you had a suicide attempt. Can you tell us a little bit about what led to you feeling that way in your experience?

Patrick Brazeau, Independent Senators Group: Well essentially, you know, to make a long story short, I had a good upbringing. I had great parents, you know, they taught me a lot of good principles and morals, but when I lost my job back in 2013, you know, I basically, you know, I had no more money. I had no more self-esteem. My ego was shattered and I took it very hard. And I never thought that I would have even had contemplated having thoughts of committing suicide but I did, and I hit rock bottom and luckily I didn’t succeed.

Mercedes Stephenson: When you look at these suicide rates for Indigenous men and Indigenous boys, and Indigenous people-at-large, just want to highlight some for our viewers because it’s pretty astounding. For First Nations people, it is three times higher rate than for non-Indigenous people. For Inuit people, it is nine times higher. For Métis, two times higher. It is highest among people between the ages of 15 and 24, and in particular, Indigenous men and Indigenous boys. What are the factors that are driving this tragic situation?

Patrick Brazeau, Independent Senators Group: Well, there are many factors, and as a matter of fact, 75 per cent of suicides are committed by men. And so after the experiences that I underwent and what I went through, you know, I went to rehab several times and I got to meet a lot of people who had mental problems and addiction’s issues and whatnot, and it’s at that moment that I had decided that I was going to try to do something for these people. As a matter of fact, I was out in Edmonton talking to young First Nations children last week, in-between grade 7 and 11. And, you know, it went well and I shared my story, and I shared how there can be hope regardless of what the problems that may go through. And just as a side note, two of the educators after I came back from Edmonton last week, wrote to me and said—after and because of my speech that there’s a young student who actually reached out for help. And so the educators took that person in and now are trying, you know the best they can to offer that help. But again, it’s just, you know, we as humans, we go through a lot of struggles, and men in particular, I believe, because of—I’m speaking for myself—you now, I was taught to be strong. I was taught to be competitive. I was taught not to show emotion growing up, but then when I started having problems, I was—I felt guilty and I felt ashamed to ask for help. And it’s only after many years of struggling that I did reach out for help and I got the help that I needed and I’m better today.

Mercedes Stephenson: And I think we have to address something that your critiques would say, and this is not going to be a surprise to you, but people say look, he was—he plead guilty to assault. I doubt his credibility. Is he serious on this issue? How did that play into your decision to get more involved and what do you say to your critiques?

Patrick Brazeau, Independent Senators Group: Well, I don’t pay attention to my critiques anymore. You know, I don’t know—you know, 10 years ago, when I was named to the Senate, I wanted things to move rapidly. I wanted to get things done, but unfortunately, that’s not how it works. And I found out the rough way that life doesn’t work like that either. We have to be patient. We have to let things unfold and we have to work at things in order to make changes. And so, you know, I look at all the Indigenous Peoples, I look at the North Shore in Labrador, the suicides of Indigenous Peoples that took place there and Saskatchewan, and, you know, every life matters. And unfortunately, governments, you know, they offer assistance and perhaps funding, after serious tragedies, but what are we doing collectively as a society to try and prevent as many of those tragedies as possible before they actually occur. And so this is what I’m trying to do and as a matter of fact, I’ve—I got involved with a new foundation in Montreal called the Aquarium Foundation, made up of, you know, some of the best psychologists and psychiatrists, you know, in Montreal, and perhaps even in the country because, you know, they want to help, you know, with situations like these, but it’s also a question of resources. And so, I don’t have all the answers, but I do have experience in this matter. You know, after I tried, unsuccessfully, two suicide attempts, you know, I don’t question myself anymore. I’m doing this because I care about people and like I said, every lives matter, but in particular, First Nations lives matter and we have to take care of the most vulnerable citizens in this country. And it’s alarming to me that in the entire world, the highest rate of suicide are in our Arctic communities. We are in Canada and why aren’t we doing more to try and help these children? Because they need hope, and unfortunately, many of these children, First Nations Indigenous children are in remote areas where they can’t access services.

Mercedes Stephenson: What would you like to see done in terms of providing hope, providing psychological and psychiatric services and the kind of supports that these people—that these young people in particular, need, but more broadly, that Indigenous Canadians need?

Patrick Brazeau, Independent Senators Group: When we’re talking about Indigenous kids and boys and men and Indigenous Peoples-at-large, some—some of these people don’t have access because they’re in remote communities. Some—you know, some communities you have to fly in to—to reach a particular community. And so what I would like to see, because I did introduce a motion in the Senate for a Senate committee to study issues of mental health and suicide prevention, is to have the resources, the financial resources available and the resources on the ground, and for people to have easy access to help if they need it. I’ve surrounded myself with people who are a lot more experts than I am, but, you know, I see this as my—as a new calling for myself.

Mercedes Stephenson: Well Senator Brazeau, thank you so much for joining us.

Patrick Brazeau, Independent Senators Group: My pleasure. Thank you.

Mercedes Stephenson: And of course, Christmas can be a very difficult time of year. If you’re in crisis and need to reach out for help, please pick up the phone and dial the numbers on your screen. There is someone there to listen.

Up next, our annual Christmas story from Parliament Hill.

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Mercedes Stephenson: Welcome back. As we end the show today, we wanted to take a moment to wish all of you a very merry Christmas, happy Hanukah, happy Kwanza, happy holiday season, from all of us here at The West Block. And with that, it’s time for one of our favourite annual holiday traditions: the reading of a Christmas story by MPs on Parliament Hill. This year: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

T’was the day before Christmas and all through the hills

The reindeer were playing… enjoying the spills.

While every so often they’d stop to call names

But one little deer was not allowed to their games…

(Michelle Rempel, Conservative—Calgary—Nose Hill)

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“Ha ha! Look at Rudolph! His nose is a sight!”

“It’s red as a beet!” “Twice as big!” “Twice as bright!”

While Rudolph just wept.

What else could he do?

He knew that the things

They were saying were true!

(Greg Fergus, Liberal—Hull—Aylmer)


Although he was lonesome, he always was good

Obeying his parents, as good reindeer should

While way, way up North on this same foggy night

Old Santa was packing his sleigh for its flight.

(Matthew Green, NDP—Hamilton Centre)


“This fog,” he complained “will be hard to get through.”

He shook his round head (and his tummy shook too)

Just think how the boys’ and girls’ faith would be shaken

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If we didn’t reach ‘em before they awaken!

(Paul Manly, Green—Nanaimo—Ladysmith)


Come Dasher, Come Dancer! Come Prancer and Vixen!

Come Comet! Come Cupid! Come Dormer and Blitzen!

At each house first noting the people who live there,

He quickly selected the right presents to give there.

(Martin Shields, Conservative—Bow River)


By midnight however, the last light had fled

For even big people have then gone to bed.

He really was worried, for what would he do

If folks started waking before he was through??

(Heather McPherson, NDP—Edmonton—Strathcona)


The air was still foggy, the night dark and drear,

When Santa arrived at the home of the deer.

But all this took time, and filled Santa with gloom,

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While slowly he groped toward the next reindeers’ room.

(Judy Sgro, Liberal—Humber River—Black Creek)


The door he just opened… When to his surprise

A dim but quite definite light met his eyes.

The light wasn’t burning, the glow came instead

From something that lay at the head of the bed.

(Rosemarie Falk, Conservative—Battlefords—Lloydminster)


And there lay… but wait now! What would you suppose?

The glow (you’ve guessed it) was RUDOLPH’S RED NOSE!

Poor Santa’s sad tale of distress and delay…

The fog and the darkness, and losing the way.

(Taylor Bachrach, NDP—Skeena—Bulkley Valley)


The horrible fear that some children might waken,

Before his complete Christmas trip had been taken.

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“And you,” he told Rudolph, “may yet save the day”

Your wonderful forehead may yet pave the way.

(Sherry Romanado, Liberal –Longueuil—Charles-LeMoyne)


And Rudolph broke out into such a grin,

It almost connected his ears to his chin!

So Rudolph pranced out through the door…

And took his proud place at the head of the sleigh.

(Richard Bragdon, Conservative—Tobique—Mactaquac)


The rest of the night… well, what would you guess?

Old Santa’s idea was a brilliant success.

….whenever it’s foggy and grey,

It’s Rudolph the Red-nose who guides Santa’s sleigh.

(Lindsay Mathyssen, NDP—London—Fanshawe)


Be listening this Christmas! (But don’t make a peep…

‘Cause that late at night, children should be asleep!)

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You may hear them call, as they drive out of sight,



 (Bill Blair, Public Safety Minister)

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