The West Block – Episode 21, Season 9

The West Block: Jan 26
Watch the full broadcast of 'The West Block' from Sunday, Jan. 26, 2020 with Mercedes Stephenson.


Episode 21, Season 9

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Host: Mercedes Stephenson

Guests: Dr. Peter Donnelly, Minister Marilyn Gladu

MPs Panel: Mark Holland, Mark Strahl, Laurel Collins

Location: Ottawa

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “…Looking to work together on bringing forward real measures to help Canadians.”

Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer: “Now while Trudeau has said many of the right things over the last few weeks, we haven’t seen him walk the walk.”

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh: “There might be times where there’s not going to be agreement.

WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus: “There is still a lot we don’t know. We don’t understand how easily it spreads or severity.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “We’re, of course, looking at any extra measures that need to be taken to keep Canadians safe.

Global Anchor Dawna Friesen: “Another Conservative who was widely expected to run for the party’s leadership said today he’s out.

Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner: “The fact that we don’t have significant western Canada in the race right now is a concern to me.

It’s Sunday, January 26th. I’m Mercedes Stephenson, and this is The West Block.

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Mercedes Stephenson: MPs will return to the House of Commons tomorrow. Liberal, Conservative and NDP caucuses have been in Ottawa preparing for that day, lots of big issues on the agenda and lots to talk about.

And joining me now, our MPs panel: for the Liberals Mark Holland, for the Conservatives Mark Strahl, and for the NDP Laurel Collins.

One of the big things that Canadians are talking about and really concerned about this week is the new virus: Coronavirus. It’s been all over the news. Canadians remember SARS all too well and there’s a lot of concern, Mark, about what’s being done to protect Canadians. Do you think that the government is prepared for this and what steps are being taken?

Mark Holland, Liberal MP: Absolutely. Look, we always have to be very concerned when there’s any sort of outbreak of this nature. We’re working with, obviously, our international partners and with governments and with our folks inside of Canada to make sure that we monitor the situation very carefully. You want to make sure you get public safety right, but you want to make sure you don’t overreact because that can have consequences, obviously, as well. We’ve seen two cases now in the United States. There are no cases in Canada. International emergency has not been declared at this point, so we believe the situation is well in hand, but we’re monitoring moment to moment, to make sure that as it changes and as it evolves that we’re responding accordingly.

Mercedes Stephenson: Do you know if the government’s looking at limiting travel at this point. Not necessarily a travel ban but limiting it to areas of China that have been affected or travel from China to Canada?

Mark Holland, Liberal MP: So right now, obviously, China itself has certain travel restrictions that are in place inside of its jurisdiction. At this point, we haven’t made additional travel restrictions. But again, we have to react in real-time on the information that we’re getting. So as the situation evolves, hopefully the situation alleviates and it ameliorates, and if it does, then the concerns will pass for this particular outbreak. But if it does evolve in a different direction then we’ll respond accordingly.

Mercedes Stephenson: Mark, obviously something like an emerging virus is not something you want to politicize, it’s not something that you want to be partisan about, but do you think that the government’s doing enough to protect Canadians?

Mark Strahl, Conservative MP: Well, I think that public safety has to be the number one concern here. And you’re right, it isn’t a partisan issue. It’s one where the Official Opposition stands ready to assist in any way that we can with the government. I think we would be looking for those partnerships, the open dialogue. The transparency with Canadians, quite frankly, I think Canadians want to know what’s going on, what the latest is so that they can make their own decisions perhaps on travel. And obviously, we have lessons learned from some previous outbreaks that were managed ably by the Public Service and the government at the time. So we’ll take our direction from the WHO and from the Public Health officials. We put our trust in them in these times to give the best advice to Canadians so that we can protect them and we can give them the opportunity to make good decisions. So we stand with the government here to make sure that Canadians have all the information that they need to make the choices that they’ll make.

Mercedes Stephenson: What is the NDPs take on this?

Laurel Collins, NDP MP: Our health critique, Don Davies, spoke with the health minister. We’re glad to see this government having a rapid response and taking this seriously. It is a concern for Canadians. We want to make sure that public health is our top priority, and that we have people at the ports of entry that we’re really taking this seriously, but as everyone around this table has said, we want Canadians to know and have transparency around what’s happening.

Mercedes Stephenson: Mark, let’s move on to the Conservative leadership race, three big names out: Pierre Poilievre, Rona Ambrose and also Mr. Charest. And there was a lot of, especially belief, that Mr. Poilievre was running and that he in fact, could be the frontrunner. He dropped out at the absolute last minute and now a lot of Conservatives are taking a look at this race and saying wow, it’s a really narrow field. Is it good for the party?

Mark Strahl, Conservative MP: Well, I think it’s good for the party to have a race where there are choices. I think that that is something that—I mean, we do have multiple candidates in the race and there is still some time. We still have another month where individuals can collect the required signatures and commitments for money to get into the first stage of the race. I think both Pierre and Rona would have been great additions. There were a number of people in caucus and across the country that were hoping they would make the choice to enter into the race. It’s a huge commitment. It’s a huge pressure on family, it’s a huge pressure on your personal life and as Mr. Poilievre said, if you’re not 100 per cent in, you better get now. So I think it’s an awful lot to ask for people to get into that race, but I’m hopeful that there will be more people that put their names forward. We want to have a robust contest where we can debate ideas and give a compelling vision to Canadians as to why we need a new Conservative government.

Mercedes Stephenson: Do you think there’s any way that Peter MacKay doesn’t win this race at this point?

Mark Holland, Liberal MP: I think that what you can guarantee in the world of politics, and particularly minority politics, is that whatever you think is a sure thing is rarely a sure thing. And I’m sure there will be a vigorous competition and that process will play out. I think that, when things seem to be inevitable, weird things happen. And so I tell my members, and they are, you know, focused on the work of the House. The pros, the Conservative leadership will play itself out. There’ll be lots of predictions of certainty about, you know, us and them. But really, you have to live in a minority government issue by issue, moment by moment and really stay focused in the now because the ground underneath you changes so quickly.

Mercedes Stephenson: And it’s hard for the Conservatives to do that when they’re in the middle of a leadership race, but Laurel, there’s only one woman at this point who’s put her name in the ring and she’s actually on the show, Marilyn Gladu, talking about some of the barriers. What do you think of the fact that there is only one woman so far in this race? Michelle Rempel hasn’t ruled it out yet, she hasn’t ruled it in. You know, we talk about more women getting involved in politics, but it seems like when it comes down to it, we often just don’t see it happening.

Laurel Collins, NDP MP: It’s really important that we have women representing us in Canada as MPs and also in leadership races. It’s also important that we have policies that are putting women’s rights at the forefront, and also I would say LGBTQI+ rights.

Mercedes Stephenson: Well, and speaking of that, one of the potential candidates, Richard de Currie came out and said that being gay is a choice. You’re the whip, Mark Strahl, which means you enforce discipline on caucus. Do you think that somebody with those views should be running for leader or expressing them if they’d like to be an MP?

Mark Strahl, Conservative MP: Well, first of all, I think our party policy is quite clear. That is outside of the mainstream of our party. I had never heard of this individual prior to him getting, quite frankly, the media attention that he wanted to get by making those comments. Those are not the views of our caucus and they certainly aren’t the views of our party. Look, people will put their names forward whether or not they are able to actually enter the race or get the requisite signatures, or money, or the application process. We want people that unite Conservatives and unite Canadians. We know that we cannot win if we’re divided as a Conservative movement, and you won’t win a general election unless you can give a vision that Canadians can unite around. So, I think our members are looking for someone who will keep our party united, someone who has that kind of a message going forward. So yeah, there will be—there always seems to be fringe candidates who throw their name in and try to get some attention, and this individual certainly has done that. But, for the credible candidates who are actually going to have a chance to be players in this, they know that we need to unite Canadians and Conservatives in order to have a chance to win.

Mercedes Stephenson: We just have a few moments left, but I want to ask the two opposition parties this question. CUSMA, NAFTA 2.0, whatever you want to call it is in front of the House this week for ratification. Both of your parties are saying well we need to hear more. We’re not sure. Are you seriously considering voting against NAFTA?

Mark Strahl, Conservative MP: Well, I think what we have said is that we are the party of free trade, that the majority of the free trade agreements that have been signed in this country have been negotiated by Conservative governments, so we’re not holding up this potential threat to bring down the government over NAFTA. That said, we have asked for specific analysis to be provided to us on sectors that are negatively affected: forestry, agriculture, aluminum, steel, and that information hasn’t been forthcoming. So we’re calling on the government to give us the data, give us the information that we’ve been asking for so that we can make an informed decision about what the impacts will be. That has—we continue to kind of see this majority Liberal attitude, where they don’t think that they have to engage with us in that way. We’re in a minority parliament. We’ve asked for certain things that we think are extremely reasonable.

Mercedes Stephenson: So you’re likely to vote for it. Laurel?

Laurel Collins, NDP MP: We haven’t seen the enabling legislation. We’ve seen the trade deal, but we’re going to be waiting. We’re going to make sure that we’re standing up for Canada, for Canadian workers, for the industries—

Mercedes Stephenson: Would that mean voting against it, though?

Laurel Collins, NDP MP: We’re going to wait and hear from—look at the enabling legislation and we’re going to make a decision based on what our interests and what the Canadian interests are.

Mercedes Stephenson: Well with that thought, we are out of time. But I’m sure we’ll be back soon. Thank you very much, to all three of you, for joining us.

Laurel Collins, NDP MP: Thanks.

Mark Holland, Liberal MP: Thank you.

Mark Strahl, Conservative MP: Thank you.

Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, concern about a new deadly virus spreading beyond China’s borders. What is being done here at home to protect Canadians for the Coronavirus outbreak?

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Mercedes Stephenson: Welcome back. Canadian health officials are keeping a close eye on the new strain of Coronavirus that’s prompted a state of emergency in China. Hundreds of cases have been reported in that country, across Asia and North America. Infectious disease specialists believe the virus likely originated from an animal market in or near the Chinese city of Wuhan. But Canadian health officials say the risk here is considered low.

Joining me now from Toronto is Dr. Peter Donnelly, President and CEO of Public Health Ontario. Thank you so much for joining us, Dr. Donnelly.

Dr. Peter Donnelly, President and CEO of Public Health Ontario: No problem.

Mercedes Stephenson: A lot of people in Toronto remember the SARS outbreak. Toronto really was the epicentre of that. And you said in a press conference on Friday that you are expecting coronavirus to come to Toronto. What do you expect that virus coming to Canada to look like here? How significant do you think the threat is?

Dr. Peter Donnelly, President and CEO of Public Health Ontario: Well, I think it’s likely that we will have a case. And I say that because we have lots of connections with China. We have a major international airport, so it’s entirely possible that we will get an imported case of this new coronavirus.

Mercedes Stephenson: When you look at how you expect the coronavirus arriving here in Canada to unfold and how the health centre and health systems will respond, how do you think that that will differ from what we saw with SARS?

Dr. Peter Donnelly, President and CEO of Public Health Ontario: I think it will be very different indeed, Mercedes. The thing to remember is that we have much better preparedness this time around. So for example, the organization that I lead, Public Health Ontario, wasn’t in existence at the time of SARS. Public Health Ontario, and indeed the Public Health Agency of Canada, really came into being as a result of reflection on the SARS experience, and everybody felt that it made sense to increase the level and concentration of scientific experience and lab expertise, and so that’s why my agency was brought into being. And working along with our ministry colleagues and with our Public Health unit colleagues, I think we are as well prepared as we can be for this and similar threats.

Mercedes Stephenson: There is a test that can be administered for this particular virus early on. That’s different than SARS. Can you tell us a little bit about when you’re testing people? Is it after they’re symptomatic? Is it people, who have been in the cities that are affected? Who’s a candidate for that test and when is it being administered?

Dr. Peter Donnelly, President and CEO of Public Health Ontario: You’re quite right. This is one of the very interesting bits of this story, which is that we already have an accurate, specific rapid test for this disease, and that is so different from what happened last time around. You may remember that last time around, we actually had cases of SARS in the hospital in Toronto before we even knew what was causing the problem. This time round, it’s completely different. We have the full genetic makeup of the virus that’s causing the disease. Public Health Ontario have been able to develop a rapid, accurate diagnostic test, and once more, we can turn that around within 24 hours. So we can tell frontline clinicians whether their patients have this disease or whether they don’t within 24 hours. Furthermore, when actually working with NML in Winnipeg to try and develop a test that’s even more rapid. And that’s a huge step forward because in this sort of situation, what you want to do is to have rapid test results and you want to have certainty so that the frontline clinicians, doctors and nurses know where they stand.

Mercedes Stephenson: Obviously, you don’t want to flood the health care system, especially during cold and flu season when people are having symptoms that could be just a regular cold or flu. So, who are you giving this test to and when should people consider seeing their doctor?

Dr. Peter Donnelly, President and CEO of Public Health Ontario: Okay, that’s a very good point. Look, there is a very tight case definition for a good reason, which is that we only want to do these tests on people who are—are at significant risk of getting the disease. So at the minute, for example, someone would have to have a travel history to the particular area of China that is affected before one would do this test along, of course, with the relevant clinical signs that would suggest that it might be an issue.

Now one of the things that we do at Public Health Ontario is that we have clinicians and scientists who are available to discuss in detail with clinicians, concerns that they might have about an individual patient. So we talk to colleagues in hospital. We talk to colleagues in the Public Health system, so we make sure that we do the test on the right people and that we don’t do the test unnecessarily.

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Mercedes Stephenson: Okay, Dr. Peter Donnelly. Thank you so much for joining us. We know you’re very busy and we appreciate your time.

Dr. Peter Donnelly, President and CEO of Public Health Ontario: No problem. Thank you.

Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, only one woman has put her name forward to seek the Conservative Party leadership. We’ll ask Marilyn Gladu why she thinks that is.


Mercedes Stephenson: Welcome back to The West Block. Conservative MP Marilyn Gladu announced her intentions to run for Conservative Party leadership earlier this month. She was first elected in 2015 in Southwestern Ontario’s Sarnia—Lambton region and has held opposition critic roles for science and health portfolios. She is the only woman in the race and she has been recognized for her ability to reach across party lines.

Marilyn Gladu joins me now. Marilyn, thank you so much for coming on.

Marilyn Gladu, Conservative MP: Well thank you for having me.

Mercedes Stephenson: So, obviously, a lot of big news in the leadership race recently, including a number of high profile candidates who have decided not to run: Rona Ambrose, Pierre Poilievre, and Jean Charest. You are running. You’d like to be the leader of the party and one assumes the prime minister of the country. What do you think of the state of the leadership race right now?

Marilyn Gladu, Conservative MP: Well it’s certainly in flux with, as you say, some big names announcing they weren’t running. The big surprise this week of Pierre Poilievre stepping down, that really opens the race up and so I look forward to a healthy discussion for the party about where we need to be in order to grow the base and win the next election.

Mercedes Stephenson: It’s been a party that’s really been divided since the election. There’s been tremendous, and at times, a very nasty infighting. Do you believe that you can unite the party and how would you do that?

Marilyn Gladu, Conservative MP: I can. I’m a very positive person. I was voted the most collegial, so certainly when it comes to people of diverse views, I can bring those together and harmonize the team. I think if we’re going to expand the base, we have to have that more positive tone. That was something I always liked about the way Rona Ambrose led, and really, I think that’s the key to bringing us together.

Mercedes Stephenson: Now speaking of divisive, one of the big issues was social conservative values in the last election. Andrew Scheer, the leader, right now has said that he would not march in a Pride parade. He told Global News that. You’ve said you would march in a Pride parade, then, earlier this week in an interview with CTV News. Richard de Currie, one of the other candidates said that he thinks being gay is a choice. I know you tweeted saying that you disagreed with those comments, but how do you unite a party where you have people running for the leadership who still believe that being gay is a choice. People inside the membership were saying look. We don’t need a leader who will march in Gay Pride parades. That’s a difficult divide to bridge.

Marilyn Gladu, Conservative MP: True enough, but I think we have to look at the Conservative policy supports same-sex marriage, and so you can’t be offside with party policy if you want to be the leader. And, I think it’s okay for people to have different opinions, but it’s about how we treat each other. Everybody needs to be respectful and we have to stop pitting one group against another group and say look it, you know, as free Canadians, everyone has the right to their own beliefs, their own opinion. But, in terms of how we work together as colleagues in the country, we have to love and respect everyone.

Mercedes Stephenson: When it comes to abortion, another big topic for Conservatives. What would your policy be on that subject? Would you allow MPs to bring forward legislation that would introduce changes or reopen the subject? Or is that off limits if you become the leader?

Marilyn Gladu, Conservative MP: Certainly party policy says we are not going to reopen that debate, and so you want see any government type legislation coming. But in a democratic state, I think we have to allow people to talk about anything. As Canadians, we shouldn’t be afraid. So if a member wants to bring a bill, I personally don’t believe it will be supported. Seventy-seven per cent of Canadians want to have abortion services available and for them to have their rights and freedoms, those have to be available. And I think if people want to bring something forward, we can discuss it, but I just don’t think it will resonate.

Mercedes Stephenson: Now, you’re saying you’d allow them to bring it forward. Stephen Harper had a stricter policy on that. He did not want people talking about it at all. Are you worried that if you allow that kind of legislation to be introduced, it could come in as the Conservative Party legislation? Or would it have to be something where a MPs introducing it as a private members bill?

Marilyn Gladu, Conservative MP: It would have to be private members business. I mean, I believe in their democratic right. They’re duly elected to bring whatever they think they want, but they have to be prepared to know that the party wouldn’t necessarily support that because it’s not our position.

Mercedes Stephenson: There are people who say that even allowing that to be introduced reopens the topic in a way that could walk back women’s rights. You’re the only woman in the race. Does that concern you?

Marilyn Gladu, Conservative MP: No. I really think that if you look at where Canadians are on this issue right now, any bill that came forward would probably not succeed in walking back rights. I think the only topics of discussion that I’ve heard, people are not happy about those that determine the gender and abort the fetus if it’s a girl. I’ve heard people are not found of that. And I’ve heard some concern about late term abortions, but that’s a very small percentage. So overall, I would say let’s have a health discussion. As Canadians, we can do that and I don’t think it’s going to change the current situation.

Mercedes Stephenson: When it comes to climate change, the party took a lot of criticism during the election for not having a stronger climate policy. You’ve said that you’d allow the provinces to decide whether or not they want a carbon tax. You also have experience in this. You’re an engineer. You’ve worked in oil and gas. Why wouldn’t you keep the carbon tax that the Liberal government has put in place?

Marilyn Gladu, Conservative MP: Well, the reality is it’s very punishing on people that are lower income that are just trying to get their groceries and heat their house. Really, in order to get an effective reduction, a carbon tax isn’t the best method. So I’m going to bring a credible plan. As an engineer, we look at where are the emissions happening in Canada? And what specifically will you do to reduce those? So in terms of major industrial emitters and transportation and buildings, those are the top three emissions. And I would bring a combination of a regulatory regime to the major emitters and an incentive program.

Mercedes Stephenson: You are the only woman running for the leadership.

Marilyn Gladu, Conservative MP: Indeed.

Mercedes Stephenson: Why do you think that is? Why do you think there aren’t more women who want to run for the Conservative leadership?

Marilyn Gladu, Conservative MP: I used to be the Chair of the Status of Women committee, and we studied why there weren’t more women in politics and what the barriers were. And two of the barriers that were identified were fundraising and networking. And so I wondered if the rules that were put forward in this race, which were designed to keep us from having 14 candidates, whether or not those disfavoured women, obviously I’m ready to climb the mountain, but could it be a discouraging factors for others? I’m not sure.

Mercedes Stephenson: And you think it may be?

Marilyn Gladu, Conservative MP: And it may be, based on the research.

Mercedes Stephenson: That the rules of the race are pushing women away.

Marilyn Gladu, Conservative MP: Well, if you talk to people like Equal Voice who are actively trying to promote more women in politics, they would tell you that these re some of the reasons that women don’t enter.

Mercedes Stephenson: Marilyn Gladu, thank you very much for joining us.

Marilyn Gladu, Conservative MP: Hey, thanks for having me.

Mercedes Stephenson: That’s all the time we have for today. For The West Block, I’m Mercedes Stephenson. Thanks for watching and have a great week.