The West Block – Episode 20, Season 9

The West Block: Jan 19
Watch the full broadcast of 'The West Block' from Sunday, Jan. 19, 2020 with Eric Sorensen.


Episode 20, Season 9

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Host: Eric Sorensen

Guests: Minister Patty Hajdu, Howard Dean

Strategist Panel: Susan Delacourt, Joel-Denis Bellavance

Location: Ottawa

David Lametti, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada: “We’re dealing with people at a very vulnerable time in their life.”

Audrey Parker, Assisted Dying Advocate: “I knew when I got that awful news, I had to make a really big decision: Would I live my life in fear? I’m asking you to speak out for the rights of suffering Canadians.”

Judge: “Do you solemnly swear?

Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives: “I hope that the senators do not become part of the president’s henchmen.

JF Champagne, Foreign Affairs Minister: “The world is waiting for those answers and we will not rest until we get them.

Dawna Friesen, Global National Anchor: “A high profile contender has entered the race.

Kim Wright, Public Affairs Expert: “But can they catch fire, because that will be what the Conservatives are looking for.

It’s Sunday, January 19th. I’m Eric Sorensen, and this is The West Block.

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Eric Sorensen: The law is almost 40 years old, but it has brought into our lives one of the most profound and deeply personal legal considerations: when and how to die.

Since time immemorial, belief in the sanctity of life basically meant a moral determination to preserve life in every way possible till the end comes.

But technologies and medicine and a more nuance view of the meaning and quality of life have thrust new considerations before society and before almost every family. We have legalized bringing about death sooner, and for new reasons and new criteria.

The law in 2016 went too far and not far enough, depending on your beliefs and your experiences. And now the government must look at it again already, because the Quebec court of appeal has declared one of the provisions unconstitutional that a patient must face “a reasonably foreseeable death before seeking to die with the help of a doctor.”

And joining us now is the Minister of Health Patty Hajdu.  Ms. Hajdu, thank you for joining us. You opened up an online survey for Canadians on assisted dying and over a three-day period your department tells us, you had 150,000 responses. What does that tell you?

Patty Hajdu, Minister of Health: Well, I think it speaks to the personal experiences of people in end of life and the passion that families have spoken about the subject since the initial legislation. I think it also speaks to just how profound this subject is for so many families across Canada. And I’m really grateful I have to say, to Canadians that they’re taking the time to answer the survey, because certainly their responses are going to help us get a better sense of what Canadians think and the diversity of those thoughts across the country.

Eric Sorensen: It has always felt like this law was kind of a work in progress even as you put it in place because there would be more to do in the future, and here comes the Quebec court setting aside one provision that death must be reasonably foreseeable. What does that mean? Like what are you going to have to do in that area? Are you going to have to broaden the opportunities or the conditions for which people can decide to seek assisted dying?

Patty Hajdu, Minister of Health: Well certainly, the court in Quebec found that that particular criteria was unconstitutional and so it falls on the federal government, then, to determine how we get the balance right of autonomy of decision-making that a person has the right to, under the constitution, as defined by the courts, but also how we protect people in sometimes very vulnerable times of their life or in very vulnerable situations. And that’s the nature of the conversation that I’ve been having with stakeholders in the roundtables, and I have to say the practitioners who have been doing the assessing and the delivery of medical assistance in dying and the researchers have given a lot of thought to those very matters.

Eric Sorensen: The law had anticipated, I guess, some of these considerations because it put in place four years ago that there would be a review by June of 2020.I think for some of the stakeholders, this can’t come fast enough. What are some of the areas you feel you do need to address?

Patty Hajdu, Minister of Health: Well, for sure, obviously the decision of the Truchon decision, I think that is one area that obviously, we know we have to address very quickly because we don’t want different levels of access across the country. But there are still some very challenging pieces around access issues that I think will benefit from the larger review that’s scheduled for June of 2020 and that are—those are issues around, for example, mature minors, or what to do when the only condition that someone’s suffering from is one of mental illness. Those are really challenging spaces, and I think for us, obviously, the input we’re receiving now is not limited only to the Truchon ruling. People are providing us perspectives and sometimes very real life experience helping people with those conditions and in those circumstances.

Eric Sorensen: And can you also address, say, advance directives? I mean, for some people, death is not going to be imminent, but if they have dementia or Alzheimer’s, they may be in a position later on where they can’t then give consent, so they want to be able to set out what their wishes are, far ahead of time. Is that something you think you can address?

Patty Hajdu, Minister of Health: Well, I think the review in 2020 will certainly touch on the very complex issue of those advance requests. Right now, we are in a listening mode, so I don’t know what this current legislation will address. But, you know, by removing the foreseeable natural death, of course it does open up access to medical assistance and dying, theoretically at least, to a whole bunch of people that are not dying immediately and that would include people that have a diagnosis of a condition that takes a long time to progress. Having said that, that is extremely challenging because we know, and research shows, that people can change their mind, that sometimes people anticipate they may feel in a certain way with a particular diagnosis down the line and they don’t feel that way when they arrive there. And those are the nature of some of the comments that we’ve heard from practitioners and from people that are suffering with conditions like that.

Eric Sorensen: The Quebec court has not given you a very long timeline here. Like that’s March, and you have some of these other things to consider that are going to be later in the year. Do you kind of combine those in some ways? Do you get an extension from the court? Like how do you see this playing out?

Patty Hajdu, Minister of Health: Well, right now, as I said, our goal is to respond to the Truchon decision around reasonable foreseeable natural death, but of course, that opens up questions around all kinds of other challenges that present themselves without the reasonable foreseeable death clause. So it’s hard right now, as I said, to say exactly what the proposed legislation will contain when we table it. But I will say that there are a number of other areas that have irritated Canadians as they’ve tried to use medical assistance and dying that were also reflecting on things like the need to provide immediate re-consenting, if you will, just before the administration and medical assistance and death wish sometimes prevents people from accessing something they’ve requested just days before.

Eric Sorensen: And can you say that you will also be able to address the concerns that some have had that didn’t maybe want some of this in the first place? And if you’re going to go further, that they’re concerns that you don’t go too far or too quickly, that that will also be addressed in your considerations.

Patty Hajdu, Minister of Health:  Absolutely, and that’s certainly the premier that we started with in 2015 and 2016 as we drafted the original legislation. This is a new journey for Canada and it’s really important that we proceed with respect, but also with caution because we know that there are worries and there are concerns that not done properly, this could put people at jeopardy. This could actually do the opposite of the intent of the legislation and disrespect autonomy. And so those are the very difficult and quite philosophical in some ways, considerations that we’re hearing from the stakeholders and that we have for ourselves.

Eric Sorensen: Well these are intensely emotional decisions that I think all families are beginning to recognize they are going to have to confront. And you have much to do and government, and I think Canadians have much to do to think about these things, and I’m sure we’ll be talking to you again. Thank you.

Patty Hajdu, Minister of Health:  Thank you very much for covering the subject.

Eric Sorensen: Up next, the impeachment trial of U.S. President Trump takes centre stage. And will the Democrats find the right nominee to run against Trump in November?

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Eric Sorensen: Welcome back. They are historic proceedings. The impeachment trial of President Trump is now underway in the U.S. Senate. Will Republicans abandon the president? Will there be witnesses? The world is watching.

The whirlwind around Trump has overshadowed the Democratic Party search for a nominee, but the primaries are about to begin, where candidates catch fire or flame out. Former Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean knows all about that and today he’s going to size up the Democrats and Donald Trump at time that is test for both political parties.

Howard Dean thanks for joining us. The Republicans want this trial—

Howard Dean, Former Democratic Presidential Candidate: Thanks for having me.

Eric Sorensen: In the Senate to go away quickly. Can they bring this to an early vote and be done with it?

Howard Dean, Former Democratic Presidential Candidate: They could but they’ll pay a huge price at the polls. There’s five or six Republic senators from swing states that are in some jeopardy, and covering up misdeeds of the president is probably not a great way to get re-elected in places like Maine. So it’s going to be quite interesting. I think McConnell’s probably going to lose some control of his caucus, which hasn’t happened before because there’s nothing that’s more motivating than within an election that you may not be doing well in.

Eric Sorensen: So is it kind of a lose-lose for the president, then, because if they end it early you think it will be a loss, but surely if this carries on for some time, that can’t help the president either?

Howard Dean, Former Democratic Presidential Candidate: No, I think if it carries on, it hurts the president and so far, the president’s been incredibly effective in bending the Republicans to his will. But there’s nothing more stimulating than losing your own election. The president can cause that with many of these senators and that’s why they’re so obedient to him. But in this case, a bad vote, or a whitewash, or a cover-up by the entire leadership of the United States Senate, is not likely to enhance their candidacies in the swing districts.

Eric Sorensen: His approval and disapproval numbers never seen to budge much. Do you see them budging from this?

Howard Dean, Former Democratic Presidential Candidate: No, you know, I think it’s really a matter of motivation than anything else. If we get our vote—our voters are young, under 35. They vote 70 per cent for the Democrats of colour, the vast majority of Asian-Americans, African-Americans and Hispanics for the Democrats because of Trump’s immigration behaviour and so forth and women. If we get them to the polls, we’re going to win. If we don’t get them to the polls, that’s we’re going to lose, plain and simple. There’s not much swing back and forth, it’s who comes to the polls.

Eric Sorensen: But would it be a mistake to underestimate Trump’s potential to win re-election?

Howard Dean, Former Democratic Presidential Candidate: No, I think it’s a 50/50 jump ball right now. I don’t—I mean, he is despised by half of America, but the other—you know, he’s got 40 per cent there is essentially are cult members and they’re not going to go anywhere. He was truthful, which is one of the rare times, when he said I could shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue and why people would still vote for me. That’s true.

Eric Sorensen: I want to swing over to the Democratic race now. About a year ago, you called—it’s as I recall—for a newer, younger candidate, a generational shift. And in this last year, just about all the younger candidates, the more diverse candidates have dropped off. Is that ultimately—is that—how do you see that playing out? Is that playing out in a good way or a bad way for the Democrats?

Howard Dean, Former Democratic Presidential Candidate: Well, it’s—we’ve done pretty well. In the last three elections: 17, 18 and 19 all by-elections is what you would call them, except for the 18 congressional elections, our membership in the House and the state houses and state legislations has become much younger, much more female and much more of colour. So the revolution is underway in the Democratic Party, it’s about a third completed. Whether we can do the presidency or not, you know, if it is somebody in their 70s and they win, they’ll be a transitional figure. And if it’s not somebody, and if it’s a younger person they may not be, but the good news is we’re having a peaceful revolution of the Democratic Party. It’s not so peaceful over on the Republic side.

Eric Sorensen: We saw you a little bit earlier, 2004, you were the outsider. You ran against John Kerry. He won the nomination but lost to George W. Bush. Do you see any parallels between sort of how you were viewed back then and that you were sort of maybe more of the outsider? And then they went with Kerry and lost anyway, and is there a potential for that this time?

Howard Dean, Former Democratic Presidential Candidate: Sure. I mean, that’s what we—nobody knows who the best candidate to beat Trump is. Obviously, every candidate is claiming they have an opportunity to do that. You know, the race is not exactly the same. As I look back on it, I was really running against the Democratic Party, even though I went on to be the Democratic Chairman. I suppose that was the first recent revolution in the party. Everybody else, all the major candidates but me had voted for the war. They had voted for Bush’s tax cuts. I was against those things. And so—but you know—in the end, the Iowa voters went with somebody they considered to be a safer candidate, which turned out not to be the case. But you don’t know that until you get in the race, and that’s why I like having these four states—four smaller states earlier, so voters can really try to judge them on a personal level and a personal basis.

Eric Sorensen: There are, it looks like, about six candidates now that have the best chance of winning. There’s Biden, Sanders and Warren, kind of in the top tier, perhaps Bloomberg, Buttigieg and Klobuchar coming in behind that. Can you handicap that at all?

Howard Dean, Former Democratic Presidential Candidate: Just for what it is. You know, just as you know, I was leading with 23 days to go before Iowa and I didn’t end up winning because John Kerry just beat me in the field and some of our organizational weaknesses and my personal failings as a candidate led us to defeat. So anything can happen. Anything can happen. Right now, Biden and Bernie Sanders are leading in Iowa, although not by much. And I think your analysis is probably right, any of those four—well the four top candidates would be Buttigieg, Biden, Sanders and Warren in Iowa, but that could easily change and it is quite possible for Klobuchar to come from behind. Bloomberg is not on the ballot because he didn’t file. He got in late and Tom Steyer and some of the other candidates. Michael Bennett is still in the race, he’s a very interesting candidate. But there’s more—most likely that one of the people on the debate stage is going to come out of Iowa with a win.

Eric Sorensen: Well, Howard Dean, I know you have to be a little bit neutral because of your role with the party right now, but really, thank you for your insight as we head into these last 10 months before the election. Thank you.

Howard Dean, Former Democratic Presidential Candidate: Thanks very much and thank you for the opportunity to let me remind Canadians that we actually do really like you. And when we have a normal president, we’ll be right back working with you and we’re looking forward to it.

Eric Sorensen: Alright, Howard Dean. Thanks.

Coming up, leadership: how is the prime minister doing? And who are the Conservatives going to choose? That analysis up next.

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Eric Sorensen: Welcome back to The West Block. Our journalist panel is here now to unpack the politics of this week, and for a normally quiet January period, a significant week for the Liberal Prime Minister and for the Conservative Party but for very different reasons.

Joining us are Susan Delacourt, national columnist and Ottawa Bureau Chief for the Toronto Star; and JoelDenis Bellavance, Bureau Chief for La Presse.

So, I want to talk a little bit first about the Iran disaster. It is a test of leadership. Joel-Denis, how is the prime minister doing on that front?

JoelDenis Bellavance, La Presse Bureau Chief: I think he’s doing very well. First of all, he’s expressing the sorrow of all Canadians that we’re all feeling after this tragedy, and he’s met all the families that, you know, have lost a dear loved one in this tragedy, and now he’s pushing it further, asking Iran to compensate properly the families and even announce interim compensation for the families to help them. And also, abroad, internationally, I think Canada is putting the right allies to make sure that we are getting the answers we deserve after this horrible tragedy.

Eric Sorensen: It may not seem straightforward, Susan, but I mean, he—you know, the prime minister has to stake out a position with Tehran and Washington, polar opposites, complex relationships at the same time as Joel-Denis was saying, there are Canadians and there are the families of the victims. I mean, he has to thread the needle.

Susan Delacourt, National Columnist and Toronto Star Ottawa Bureau Chief: I—last weekend, I decided to do a little looking into what had been going on behind the scenes and it’s interesting how much of a large scale that this is. And it does show that the government is upping its communications game a bit, I will say. The prime minister accused a lot over the last year of being a very closed shop, has been seeking a lot of advice. Apparently, he went to Bob Rae, who chaired the Air India inquiry about how to handle something like this. And it was Bob Rae who told him: keep your eye on the victims. Make—put—keep them at the—the victims’ families—make sure they’re front and centre. And you have seen the PM doing this. And the Dutch prime minister apparently told him: use the international networks, another thing J-D referred to as well. And you see that both of those things have been going on, and the regular briefings have been interesting. I don’t remember a time where a prime minister in recent memory has held this many press conferences.

JoelDenis Bellavance, La Presse Bureau Chief: I think he had five press conferences in total so far on this issue. So, it just shows how serious he’s treating that issue.

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Eric Sorensen: Susan, I want to ask you this part first. Is it—to get your take on minority government and how is it likely to unfold now? I mean, there’s—we’re beginning from this point—this place, which is unusual, and you’re saying the prime minister, for political reasons, is doing well, for very sad reasons. But how do you see the minority government unfolding?

Susan Delacourt, National Columnist and Toronto Star Ottawa Bureau Chief: I actually think that’s a good way to link it. I think he was humbled by the election. I think the last year, apart from the election, was bruising for this prime minister and the lesson to it all was get out of your little box and seek out advice and talk to people. And minority government, he is going to have to do that. So, whether they’re going to negotiate their way through everything like this is interesting, but they’re off to an interesting start.

JoelDenis Bellavance, La Presse Bureau Chief: Yeah, and you could see that there’s a different style from the prime minister, meaning that in the past, the prime minister would take almost all the media space. Now he’s giving a lot of leeway to his ministers and putting it as a team, so showing that, you know, he’s not alone in his business. But he’s got to go also solid ministers who can take care of business.

Eric Sorensen: And the one thing I wanted to ask you about is how the BQ fits into all of this because Yves Francois Blanchet, he is so not Gilles Duceppe in this and so this should be toxic, right? Oh, he’s going to have to rely on the separatists, but it doesn’t feel like that’s playing out in quite that way.

JoelDenis Bellavance, La Presse Bureau Chief: And Mr. Blanchet has a different style than Gilles Duceppe, as you mentioned. He’s less antagonistic, I would say. He’s seeking consensus. He wants to make sure that Parliament works, and even mentioned that he would like Parliament—this Parliament to live for four years, even though it’s a minority government. So, you will see, I think, some surprises from the Bloc Quebecois. We’ve seen it by seeing the Bloc Quebecois supporting the speech from the throne and the other measures to cut taxes. Will it be the same when the budget comes around? They’ll have their demands, but if the prime minister and their government fulfill some of their demands, I think they’re safe for a few months. If not, a full year.

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Eric Sorensen: I want to turn to the Conservative race. There are about a half dozen that are looking like they may be in. It looks like it might be a smaller field. Is it a more significant field than last time around?

Susan Delacourt, National Columnist and Toronto Star Ottawa Bureau Chief: I still see it as a very fragmented field, and I think the last week has been incredibly interesting on that front. I think, I wrote about this, about John Crosby’s funeral, gave us a real glimpse and sort of the developments of the week. We saw Stephen Harper resurface, and to me, the lesson of the week is that the older Harper party and the older Mulroney Progressive Conservative Party have not yet patched up and we’re seeing interesting symbols of both. You know, we’ve got Peter MacKay who straddles kind of both, but Jean Charest would definitely be the old PC Party in this race. And then a Pierre Poilievre, for example, of the new Harper party. And it doesn’t look like things are sitting all that easily between those two parties.

JoelDenis Bellavance, La Presse Bureau Chief: You could see the signs that there is a little clash between the old Conservative Party, the Progressive Conservative wing of the party and the Conservative Party, the modern one. And so you will have to have a unifying candidate. Who that will be, that remains to be seen. But that race is raising already a lot of interest in Quebec. Why? Because the possibility of Jean Charest running and Pierre Poilievre, you know, he’s, I would say, perfectly bilingual. So you add a lot of interesting elements to this race and it’s just beginning. So, I think we have to watch that race until the end.

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Susan Delacourt, National Columnist and Toronto Star Bureau Chief: Very interesting that Mr. Poilievre chose to do his debut, to come out to our colleague, Joel-Denis here. We’ve been asking for interviews for ages, but he chose to do this–.

JoelDenis Bellavance, La Presse Bureau Chief: In French.

Susan Delacourt, National Columnist and Toronto Star Bureau Chief: In French, yes.

Eric Sorensen: How was it?

JoelDenis Bellavance, La Presse Bureau Chief: Very good. I would say that he would be able to go toe to toe with anybody in French in a debate.

Eric Sorensen: And he represents an Ottawa area riding, but he grew up in Alberta, so he’s clearly going to try and stake out that I am a man for all of the country. Who’s best to take on the Liberals?

Susan Delacourt, National Columnist and Toronto Star Bureau Chief: Oof.

Eric Sorensen: Looking at each other. Do you want to take that one?

Susan Delacourt, National Columnist and Toronto Star Bureau Chief: It’s two different races, right? That’s the problem with leadership is there’s winning Conservatives and then there’s winning people who used to vote Conservative or didn’t vote Conservative. The Liberals will tell you the candidates they like. You know, if you’re talking to Liberals casually, they like Rona Ambrose, they like Jean Charest. And these are the more moderate sort of folks [00:22:21].

Eric Sorensen: They like them as people that they see as more moderate or they like them as someone to run against?

Susan Delacourt, National Columnist and Toronto Star Bureau Chief: Well, if you listen to Twitter, and I recommend that you don’t, especially not on a Sunday morning, you’ll see that the Liberals want Poilievre to run because they think that Justin Trudeau and Poilievre would be a fun battle for them. But I think Liberal-minded voters would probably see more of themselves in a Rona Ambrose or a Jean Charest.

JoelDenis Bellavance, La Presse Bureau Chief: If you talk to people who are inside the Conservative Party, they see Mr. Poilievre as the one who should win that race, the best equipped to win that race. But if you talk to them about winning the elections, their attention turns to Jean Charest because he’s got more experience, some appeal in Quebec. Maybe, you know, there’s some allegations of corruption that’s still flagging him, but it still is, you know, that they would see as the best one to take on Justin during the debate because he’s perfectly bilingual.

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Eric Sorensen: We’re out of time and it’s going to be a fascinating race, especially if you have the people from these different parts of Canada representing different constituencies within the party. That will be fun to watch. Thanks very much. And thank you for joining us. For The West Block, I’m Eric Sorensen. Thanks for watching. Have a good week.