The West Block — Episode 36, Season 9

The West Block: May 10
Watch the full broadcast of The West Block from Sunday, May 10, 2020 with Mercedes Stephenson.


Episode 36, Season 9

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Host: Mercedes Stephenson

Guests: Workforce Development, Disability Inclusion Minister Carla Qualtrough, Conservative Leadership Candidate Erin O’Toole,

Former U.S. Ambassador James Blanchard

 Location: Ottawa


President Donald Trump: “… could have been stopped in China. It should have been stopped right at the source, and it wasn’t.”

 Dawna Friesen, Global National Anchor: “Canada reached a testing milestone. More than 1 million people have now been tested for COVID-19.”

 Dr. Theresa Tam, Chief Public Health Officer: “We go into the next steps of living with COVID-19.”

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Official Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer: “At a time when our economy needs stimulus, Justin Trudeau has given it a tranquilizer.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “Once we get through this, there will be plenty of time to talk about what the future of Canada looks like.”

Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-François Blanchet: “We cannot stop considering any other topic than COVID.”

 NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh: “Workers want to work, but they need to be safe.”

 Green Party Leader Elizabeth May: “There’s a real risk of jumping the wrong way and hurting both our economy and climate action.”

 Mercedes Stephenson: It’s Sunday, May 10th. I’m Mercedes Stephenson, and this is The West Block.

Conservative MP Tom Lukiwski: “…so is not just raining, it is pouring. In this government, despite their rhetoric was in my view, completely unprepared from an economic and fiscal standpoint, to deal with the situation that we have before us today. How will we recover?”

Mercedes Stephenson: That was Conservative MP Tom Lukiwski. The parliamentary budget officer is predicting a deficit of up to $250 billion. Meanwhile, the government continues to spend billions more, trying to help workers and businesses impacted by COVID-19 and they’re promising to spend even more if necessary. So how will we pay for all of this?

Joining me now is Carla Qualtrough, minister of employment, workforce development and disability inclusion. How are you this morning, Minister?

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Workforce Development, Disability Inclusion Minister Carla Qualtrough: I’m well, thank you.

Mercedes Stephenson: Minister, we saw a pretty frightening, for many people, jobs reports on Friday, saying that 2 million jobs were lost in April alone, putting Canadians—more than 3 million Canadians out of work. Is that in line with the numbers that you were expecting to see?

Workforce Development, Disability Inclusion Minister Carla Qualtrough: Well, like many others, we had predicted it was going to be a little higher so that was slightly good news. But of course, so many Canadians are suffering and so many businesses are at risk and it just made me personally, more resolute in my commitment to help people and confident in the decisions we’ve already made.

Mercedes Stephenson: The statistics showed an interesting trend, in this particular case that women, especially those who were working in hourly wages in the service industry, places like hotels, restaurants and retail, were particularly hard hit, especially those who have young children, pre-school aged children. Anyone with kids knows, and I don’t have children but I have friends who do, that child care is really expensive. Are you looking at something to help those women in particular, to help them get back into the workforce so that they can leave their children with someone they trust and find a job when one comes back up?

Workforce Development, Disability Inclusion Minister Carla Qualtrough: Well, a couple things. First of all, I heard somebody describe it yesterday as well, women are on the front lines of this, they’ve also be sidelined by this and that’s a really wicked combination. We know that as we look forward, we have to look at a social infrastructure not just bricks and mortar. And how we recover in a way that makes sure we don’t leave anyone behind, particularly women, because we will not succeed as a country if we don’t address the gaps that have been really clearly highlighted in this pandemic.

Mercedes Stephenson: So do you think that child care support is a possibility there?

Workforce Development, Disability Inclusion Minister Carla Qualtrough: Oh, I absolutely think that’s on the table, Mercedes. I don’t know the details. I can’t share those with you, but I can tell you we’re looking at a really progressive way to handle our recovery as a country.

Mercedes Stephenson: One of the programs your government has had is the wage subsidy to help keep people employed. The prime minister announced late last week that you were going to be extending that but not by how long. Do you have a ballpark on whether you’re looking at extending it by a couple of weeks, a couple of months, till the end of the year, any sense of that?

Workforce Development, Disability Inclusion Minister Carla Qualtrough: I think it will be in the months range. To tell you the truth, we’ve not settled on the exact, partially because we’re waiting to see how things work in the first couple of weeks of this program. So we know in the first week, for example, we had about 1.7 million workers be covered of about 97 thousand businesses. About 120 thousand businesses have applied. The more people get back on the payroll, the less people we anticipate accessing the CERB, the more then we may look to extend the wage subsidy but perhaps look at alternatives to the CERB. So, we really need the next one or two weeks, to see how this all interacts.

Mercedes Stephenson: What would some of the potential alternatives to the CERB be, because right now I believe you’re eligible for four months of it but not beyond that, and for a lot of folks that could be running out in the middle of the summer before the economy has rebounded?

Workforce Development, Disability Inclusion Minister Carla Qualtrough: So it is a16-week benefit. You can take it anytime in a six month period. So we do have people who are on their first month and we have people who are just about to enter the third month. So we know for many people around July 15th it’s going to end, and we’re looking at again, is it a—do we, you know, step it down? Do we do less money? Do we have a completely different approach where we focus on the wage subsidy? We know there’s a lot of people, say, who can flip back to their EI entitlement, but that isn’t everybody. A lot of really important conversations happening right now, all of which, I think, are really focused on the uptake for the wage subsidy.

Mercedes Stephenson: Is there, as well, a potential to put conditions on that? I know previous governments have looked at that. To access certain programs you had to, for example, show you were applying for jobs that were within driving distance to your home. Is that something your government might look at as the economy starts to reopen?

Workforce Development, Disability Inclusion Minister Carla Qualtrough: It’s exactly the kind of thing we are going to look at. You know, right now the CERB has very basic straightforward criteria. You’re not required technically to be looking for work, although gosh, we hope everybody is. EI, of course, you have to show that you’re looking for jobs. You have to say that you’re available for work. You have to show what jobs you’ve looked at or applied for. We do need to consider putting more rigorous requirements on people to be looking for work. If you look at how we structured the Student benefit, for example, that is required. You have to be looking for work and so we may look to add that rigour to anything that comes next.

Mercedes Stephenson: Minister, last week we had one of your colleagues on the show, Minister Duclos and he said the number one priority for the government going forward is to get people back to work. You’re the minister of employment so I wanted to put this to you. What’s the plan to get 3 million people, and this could grow, who are currently unemployed, back into the job market?

Workforce Development, Disability Inclusion Minister Carla Qualtrough:  Oh, it’s going to be really complicated and it’s going to be multifaceted. So it’s not going to be just relying on the wage subsidy, that’s why we’re creating a lot of job programs. We’re working with industry and sector leaders to look at training and up scaling as a way to get people ready to, you know, maybe a legacy of this pandemic will be a more skilled labour force. We have to look at skills training and we have to look at job creating, supporting existing businesses, figuring out what to do with people who have been displaced by their jobs no longer existing. We’re looking at all the different facets of this and it’s very, very complicated.

Mercedes Stephenson: All of these programs cost money and we’re looking at over a $250 billion deficit, and I know whenever we ask this question the government says they’re focusing on now. But like all Canadians, you also have to look to the future. When do you expect that we’re going to start to find out where the money is coming from to pay for this, whether it’s increased taxes, cuts to programs or if you’re just going to stay in a very deep deficit?

Workforce Development, Disability Inclusion Minister Carla Qualtrough: Yeah, I think it’s a combination of everything you just said. So, first of all, we knew going in this that we had the fiscal bandwidth to be able to do the things that we’re doing, but we also don’t yet know the costs of it all. We don’t know what the costs of the wage subsidy will exactly be. We know what we budgeted, but if we extend it we don’t know yet what that will look like. But it’ll be a combination of accepting that we’re going to have to carry a deficit that’s bigger than I think we would all be comfortable with. But also understanding that the more people we get back to work, the less it’s going to hurt at the end of this.

Mercedes Stephenson: Okay, Minister. Thank you so much for joining us this morning.

Workforce Development, Disability Inclusion Minister Carla Qualtrough: My pleasure, take care.

Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, we’ll talk to Conservative leadership candidate Erin O’Toole about COVID-19, China and his campaign to be the next party leader.

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “This is one of the first recessions we’ve ever seen that has so hard hit the vulnerable workers in the service sector, particularly women, and new Canadians and young people. And that was evident in the March numbers and continues to be the case in the April numbers.”

Mercedes Stephenson: Welcome back. That was the prime minister late last week on the new unemployment numbers. In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, the Opposition is calling for more accountability, but the Conservatives have struggled to have their voices heard as they face the future with an interim leader in the middle of an ongoing leadership race.

Joining me now to talk about that is Conservative leadership candidate Erin O’Toole. Welcome to the show, Erin.

Conservative Leadership Candidate Erin O’Toole: Good to be back.

Mercedes Stephenson: So let’s start with these new jobs numbers and the state of the economy. You’ve been very critical of the prime minister’s performance. What would you do differently?

Conservative Leadership Candidate Erin O’Toole: Well first, I would have moved in late-February, early-March, when I released a plan to stop the coronavirus from spreading in Canada to the degree it did. We didn’t see the government really stop flights or deal with the border until the end of March. We were recommending that the end of February, early March. So we would have had fewer cases from a health transition standpoint. The economic response has been backwards, Mercedes. They put saving jobs and protecting and helping small businesses after setting up the programs that in some ways encouraged people to go on the CERB program rather than saving as many jobs as possible. So only in the last few days have any small businesses received wage subsidy relief. Very few are relieving any rent—rent relief. So small businesses have been decimated, that’s the largest number of jobs are in small-to-medium-sized businesses. So the approach has been backwards. We’ve tried to work with the government, but their approach has often been slow, confused. They brought multiple emergency bills, so it hasn’t inspired confidence.

Mercedes Stephenson: So, are you saying then, that you would have closed the borders before the WHO declared a pandemic, because in February they hadn’t done that yet.

Conservative Leadership Candidate Erin O’Toole: On March 2nd, I released a plan that would have restricted flights from hotspot countries like China, Iran and others and that would have required mandatory medical screening for people coming from countries with cases. That actually was never done until literally when we went into full isolation. I also asked on March 2nd, for the EI program to be stood up and preparing for people that would need to self-isolate and for businesses that would need to be closed. It was about a month before the government acted. So, look, the pandemic was going to hit Canada without question, but the slow response from both the health and economic standpoint is going to make this a deeper health and economic crisis than it needed to be. And Mercedes, I wasn’t receiving the confidential briefings the government was in mid-January. So, I’m disappointed by their slow response, their confused response. We’ve worked with them to improve some of the programs, the CERB, the wage subsidy and others. But when we have time to do a deep dive on the response to this crisis, words like negligent will be used because that has been the response. The government ignored warnings for two months.

Mercedes Stephenson: Let’s talk about where the virus originated, because you’ve been very, very critical of China and the government’s policy on China. Late last week, the foreign affairs minister wouldn’t thank Taiwan when he was before committee. He wouldn’t say the words Taiwan. I’m curious to know if you became the leader of the Conservative Party and the prime minister of Canada, if you would no longer recognize the one China policy, and that’s the idea that China has sovereignty over Hong Kong and Taiwan. It would be a pretty major move and it could affect Canadian trade. Are you willing to go that far?

Conservative Leadership Candidate Erin O’Toole: I would put caveats on the one China policy, Mercedes, because the one country, two systems agreement for Hong Kong has not been fulfilled. It has not been lived up to. In fact, the Chinese have just arrested more people that have been criticizing Beijing’s actions, disrespecting the one country, two systems. And interestingly, Mercedes, two years ago, almost to the day, I asked Prime Minister Trudeau in the House of Commons about the Communist Party of China excluding Taiwan from pandemic planning at the World Health Organization. Two years ago, we asked about Chinese manipulation of the WHO. Irwin Cotler, a former Liberal minister, has suggested WHO and Beijing foot dragging on coronavirus has caused up to 98 per cent of the global cases that could have been avoided had there been transparency at the beginning. So there needs to be a reckoning with Beijing and the Communist Party of China, which has made this global pandemic and economic catastrophe much worse. And I would be willing to adjust policies to recognize that Taiwan needs to be on global pandemic bodies and should not be excluded because of Beijing’s political orders to the UN.

Mercedes Stephenson: Now the prime minister, by the way, did thank Taiwan in his speech on Friday when he presented that, to make sure that got out there. But I also want to take a look at the Conservative leadership race and where you are in that. Peter MacKay is still beating you in fundraising. You’re at about 75 per cent of his levels. He’s at, I believe, just over $1 million. You’re around 750 thousand. A lot of folks who know you—

Conservative Leadership Candidate Erin O’Toole: Let me correct you there, Mercedes. We’re raising more money than Peter now. Those were old figures. We have over 800 more individual donors. So the MacKay campaign is out of gas, out of ideas. We are growing faster in terms of memberships, money, support from Conservatives across the country. And we asked for a pause so that we could focus on coronavirus, but Canadians know that we need a leader in the House of Commons in September, so our campaign is beating the MacKay campaign on all measures and they know we need an MP, a leader who’s in the House in September.

Mercedes Stephenson: You’ve aligned yourself with Ontario Proud. A lot of folks who know you are surprised by how far right you’ve gone in this race. Are you worried that some of this could come back on you and things that appeal to the Conservative base, especially some of the socially Conservative elements, could be a problem for you with the federal Liberals and running ads in a general election campaign?

Conservative Leadership Candidate Erin O’Toole: What’s interesting, I’ve heard people suggest that, but everything I’ve talked in this race, Mercedes, I talked about three years ago. I’m very proud to be a true blue Conservative. You served in the military, worked in the private sector, was in the Harper cabinet. I’ve run a very principled approach to my political career. I also stand up for human rights and have a consistent voting record in that regard. So, I haven’t changed.

Mercedes Stephenson: Okay. We have to wrap it up there, but thank you very much for joining us, Erin.

Conservative Leadership Candidate Erin O’Toole: Thank you.

Mercedes Stephenson: Coming up, the border between Canada and the United States is closed. But how much longer will that be the case as President Trump pushes for the U.S. to reopen despite COVID-19 still killing thousands of Americans.

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President Donald Trump: “From an economic standpoint, I think next year’s going to be a very big year. There’s tremendous demand. You see it with the stock market, where the stock market’s at 24,000, and we went through the worst attack we’ve ever had on our country. This is the worst attack we’ve ever had. This is worse than Pearl Harbour. This is worse than the World Trade Center.”

Mercedes Stephenson: Welcome back. That was President Donald Trump. The Canada-U.S. border has been closed for over seven weeks now, and the prime minister says there’s no plan to reopen that border any time soon. But the current agreement between the United States and Canada will expire on May 21st and the president has made no secret of wanting to reopen the American economy. So, what should Canada do in this difficult situation?

Joining me now is the former governor of Michigan and former U.S. ambassador to Canada, James Blanchard. Welcome to the show, sir.

James Blanchard, Former Governor of Michigan and Former U.S. Ambassador to Canada: Thank you.

Mercedes Stephenson: Now this is a dilemma for the Canadian government. How would you advise them to proceed on when they should reopen the border?

James Blanchard, Former Governor of Michigan and Former U.S. Ambassador to Canada: Well, I think they should reopen whenever they feel it’s wise. I would tell you that Detroit-Windsor, which is really the busiest crossing, and I call it the cradle of cooperation between our two countries for over 100 years, there’s a lot still going on which is really good. Agricultural exports, both sides are up, believe it or not. Manufacturing is down, but that’s going to reopen starting next Monday. And the following week, Monday the 11th, Monday the 18th, the health care workers that people in the Windsor area provide health care services to the Detroit area, there’s about 3,000 of them, they’ve been considered essential and have been going back and forth, as well as physicians from Detroit to Windsor. This whole cooperation’s going to be celebrated, I might add, on Tuesday by the Mayor of Windsor, Drew Dilkens and our Consul General in Toronto Greg Stanford and your Consul General in Detroit, Joe Comartin. They’re going to celebrate this cooperation at the border and hand out gift certificates to health care workers. So there’s a lot really going on. The construction of Gordie Howe Bridge is proceeding, so there’s a lot going on in spite of the lockdown on both sides of the border.

Mercedes Stephenson: And the flow of those essential workers and goods is so important to economies on both sides, but President Trump has made no secret that he’s looking at a full reopening, not just essential goods. And the state that you are from, Michigan, we’ve seen armed men in the capital. They’re not happy with the lockdown there. There’s a lot of pressure in the United States to reopen. What happens if President Trump wants to reopen the border and the Canadian government does not believe it’s wise to do so?

James Blanchard, Former Governor of Michigan and Former U.S. Ambassador to Canada: So my—you know, to the extent I give advice to the Canadian government, which is a sensitive thing; do what’s right for your country. You’re a sovereign nation. The cooperation between Michigan and Ontario and Michigan and Canada, it’s going to continue. And I would like to think things are going to open up more dramatically in the weeks and months ahead, particularly this important manufacturing base that we have.

Mercedes Stephenson: Do you think that there is a potential risk that the Canadian government runs afoul of President Trump if they don’t agree to open the Canadian border when he wants to open the American one? This is something that Prime Minister Trudeau has had to deal with before and a lot of Canadians are worried what might the president do if we’re not on the same schedule?

James Blanchard, Former Governor of Michigan and Former U.S. Ambassador to Canada: Yeah, it’s hard to know. I mean, you know, he’s fairly abnormal personality, to say the least. One minute he attacks Canadians, the next minute he talks about how great they are. I would look more to the Secretary of State Pompeo or our commerce secretary, our people there. Look, most of the members of Congress, Senate and House, all the governors consider Canada a very valuable partner that needs to be listened to and worked with. Not lectured to or undermined and that’s—as far as I’m concerned, that’s the reality. President is not often dealing with reality, whether he’s recommending Clorox to disinfect yourself, or foolishly labelling steel from Canada as a national security threat.

Mercedes Stephenson: When it comes to President Trump and the looming election, some Americans have speculated that he might try to find a way to postpone it. Is that actually possible?

James Blanchard, Former Governor of Michigan and Former U.S. Ambassador to Canada: No. Under our Constitution and our laws, the election will be held on November 3rd under our law that’s been there since 1845, before Canada was—well, I don’t even know if it was called the Dominion yet, but it was still British North America, but we’ve had this since 1845. And that will be the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. That will be November 3rd. There’s no way that’s going to be called off. Nor would the inauguration on January 20 be called off. I do know people are worried about it, because again, we have a president who has—is basically abnormal behaviour and it’s really tragic that all of us have to suffer through this, especially our friends in Canada and our friends around the world.

Mercedes Stephenson: The president has been pretty clear in calling out China, blaming them for the virus. The Canadian government has been softer in their approach. Do you think that the Canadian government should be more direct in their criticism of China? Or do you think the president is off-side?

James Blanchard, Former Governor of Michigan and Former U.S. Ambassador to Canada: Well look, we ultimately have to work with the Chinese. I don’t think anybody, and probably the same of Canada, believes that the Chinese have been forthright in the degree to which this disease was a serious threat. I mean, it’s a closed society. The government is basically a dictatorship. So, I don’t think anybody’s happy with the amount of information we received. On the other hand, we have to work with China in the years and months ahead. And it’s just that simple. We have to work with them. We need to have a reasonable trade agreement and I’m sure the same is true for Canada. Look, the president is—you know Harry Truman had a motto on his desk. He had a little sign that said the buck stops here. Mr. Trump’s motto is let’s hand the buck off to anybody. Let’s find scapegoats, let’s attack governors, let’s worry about China, let’s attack different businesses, I mean, it’s a distraction from the reality that our president delayed substantially, dealing with COVID-19. And that has aggravated not only the health of our citizens, resulting in more deaths than were necessary, but also aggravated our recession, which is now a very deep recession. At some point, we’re going to have more people out of work than there are people in Canada. I repeat that. At some point, we’re going to have more people out of work. We’re already pushing, I believe, 30 million, than there are people in Canada. This is a tragedy that we have to deal with that’s going to affect all of on both sides of the border: our jobs, our families, our—the health quality of our civilization. So we have to work together and we have to work with the world as well: Europe, China, Japan, Korea included.

Mercedes Stephenson: That is quite the sobering number and we appreciate your time and your analysis. Thank you for joining us, Ambassador.

James Blanchard, Former Governor of Michigan and Former U.S. Ambassador to Canada: Thank you.

Mercedes Stephenson: That’s all the time that we have for today. For The West Block, I’m Mercedes Stephenson. Thanks for joining us. And to my mom and all the mom’s out there, especially those trying to juggle work, home schooling and keeping your kids safe and healthy during a pandemic, Happy Mother’s day and thanks for all you do.

Additional West Block programming aired in some markets on Sunday:

Dr. Theresa Tam, Chief Public Health Officer: “People can go out and still maintain some physical distancing. For some sake of mental health, physical health, that is actually important.”

Ontario Premier Doug Ford: “Start doing testing. I don’t know what the big problem is with them testing. It’s frustrating as anything.”

 Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe: “Moving forward as a society, we need to get back to paying people to go to work.”

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 Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister: “We want you to be safe and secure in the workplace and we want you to be back in the workplace.”

 New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs: “Now we feel like okay, people can move around the province, but we need to protect our borders.”

 British Columbia Premier John Horgan: “We’re here to announce the beginning of our opening up of elective surgeries, the phase two of the B.C. Restart plan.”

Mercedes Stephenson: Hello. I’m Mercedes Stephenson, and this is The West Block.

 Dr. Theresa Tam, Chief Public Health Officer: “The testing remains a very key aspect of the next phase because we want to tread carefully. And if there’s any inkling of cases or clusters, provinces will be honing in on those really, really fast so that we don’t get any further escalations after we’ve calmed down the first wave. So, that is going to be our primary interest.”

Mercedes Stephenson: That was Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam. British Columbia will begin reopening its economy this week. First, there will be some medical services and then provincial parks later in the week. By the long weekend, people are going to be able to get together in small groups again. Then hair salons, retail stores and museums will begin to reopen their doors. All of this will be allowed to continue as long as the COVID-19 cases remain low. So, how is B.C. going to achieve that? And what will public health officials be looking for, to make sure this works?

Joining me now is B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix. Thanks for joining us, Minister.

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B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix: Hello, Mercedes

Mercedes Stephenson: Your province has been remarkable successful in fighting COVID-19. What do you attribute that success to?

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix: I think consistently, we’ve followed the science. We started in our five regional health authorities, under the direction of our Deputy Minister Dr. Bonnie Henry, who your viewers from B.C. will know very well by now, following the science in January.

In February, we talked about testing, we did more testing than any other jurisdictions in North America at a time when we needed to find and break links of transmission mostly linked to people coming back from international travel. And so we’ve significantly followed the science.

Since then, we’ve kept our eyes open. So when the situations occurred in Italy and in Quebec around spring break, there were changes then so we’re going to continue to do that. And so we have a less closed economy and now we’re proceeding very carefully to some reopening. First of course, in the health system itself with the redoing and starting up what are called scheduled surgeries or elective surgeries again. And we’re going to start that process after the May long weekend.

Mercedes Stephenson: I think it’s remarkable because you didn’t shut down as much and yet you’ve come out with better numbers and you’re ready to reopen. When you look at other provinces, what advice do you have for them as they begin their reopening process?

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix: Well, I think you have to be very careful. There’s no vaccine. There’s no cure for COVID-19. And so the steps we have to take now are the steps we all have to take for a significant period in front of us, in dealing with this situation. Physical distancing, that’s our friend. That’s our tool to operate a little bit more and more openly and function more as an economy while we’re dealing with this situation. I want to be very respectful of all the jurisdictions in Canada. One of the reasons that we were more successful in B.C., perhaps, in stopping the spread of the virus is we learned from Quebec which had an earlier spring break. A lot of people came back from Quebec, from France, from the United States, from other places and they came back sick. And that warning from Quebec allowed us to take very decisive action in advance of our school spring break here in B.C.

Mercedes Stephenson: Do you think that maybe the approach was backward, then, in terms of shutting down the economy instead of establishing some of the things that you did in terms of physical distancing that other provinces took and that was taken federally?

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix: I think we’ve all had [00:04:23] Quebec and Ontario have been more serious in terms of spread and so I think you have to deal with the facts in front of you. And very decisive action was taken in B.C. and [00:04:34] action in some areas and other jurisdictions. As you know, people were turning to B.C. from international travel, have a very significantly enforced 14-day self-isolation. About 100 people right now are in quarantine in hotels that we provided here in B.C., to ensure that they—if they can’t manage that self-isolation at home, they do so. We’ve taken—provincial public servants have taken care of that responsibility, even though in many respects it’s largely federal jurisdiction because we do not want to see the introduction of COVID-19 in addition to the COVID-19 that’s in the community now. So I think everyone’s had their own measures to take. I very much admire what other provinces [00:05:18 inaudible] but their circumstances are different from ours and we’re dealing in a science-based way and we’re going to continue to do that in the days and weeks and months and maybe years to come.
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Mercedes Stephenson: Do you think that the federal government should have taken a more aggressive approach at the borders, then? I mean, you took it into your own hand as a province, but others didn’t. Should they have had people at the airports more carefully monitoring where people were going, checking to see if they were actually staying in quarantine, demanding to see the kinds of plans you did and refusing to release them without them?

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix: Well, I think these are the steps we need to take and so I want to be very, very respectful of everyone. I think we’ve had a very good relationship with the federal government, but it’s our strong view that the self-isolation of people returning from international travel is actually quite a difficult thing to do.

Mercedes Stephenson: I’m curious about inter-provincial travel because beautiful British Columbia, I mean who doesn’t like to vacation in the Okanagan or in Vancouver? But you’re still saying you’re not ready for visitors from other provinces. Are you looking at the possibility of putting things like checkpoints in place as Quebec has done, to monitor whose coming into the province?

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix: Well, this is our country, right? This is our country. And so I don’t believe that we can treat provincial borders like international borders. Secondly, our friends in Alberta have done many, many of the things that we’ve done. We’ve had very parallel processes. So [00:06:46 we here] in Alberta, we’re in daily contact with officials in Alberta so we’re working together on these things. So, I don’t think we can treat the Alberta border like the U.S. border and we have—we don’t have any intention to do so. But that said people shouldn’t travel for non-essential travel right now. There may be times when it’s appropriate to go to the [00:07:08 inaudible], but our advice is don’t do it right now.
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Mercedes Stephenson: I’d like to ask you about the Canada-U.S. border because it is scheduled to reopen right now on May 21st. That’s when the agreement expires, but the federal government is saying that they don’t see a reopening anytime soon. If there’s a situation where the United States opens their borders but Canada doesn’t, Canada could prevent Americans from coming here but not Canadians going to the U.S. What tracking measures would you look at putting in place? And are you concerned that you might have British Columbians going across to Washington, going across to cabins or cottages in the United States and then coming home when the COVID rates there are so high.

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix: Well, let’s be clear. If you leave Canada and want to return, unless you’re doing essential work, such as truckers, for example, unless you’re doing that, you have to be in self-isolation for 14 days. So from a vantage point if you think you want to go down to Bellingham to get groceries, you’re going to have to come home, take your groceries and stay self-isolated for 14 days. And I don’t see that rule changing anytime soon.

Mercedes Stephenson: Minister, we appreciate your time and that information from B.C. We wish you the best of luck in reopening.

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix:  Okay, thank you very much. Take care.

Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, fines for sitting on park benches, no cottage visits and no crossing of provincial borders. Have governments crossed a line with our civil liberties?

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Ontario Premier Doug Ford:  “It’s going to be hard to hold back people going back to their cottages. I’ve said before, I’m getting calls about why should I pay my taxes if I’m not allowed to go up to my cottage, on the other note that the people that have businesses up there, rely on cottagers to keep their businesses going.”

Mercedes Stephenson: Welcome back. That was Ontario Premier Doug Ford on people visiting their cottages during this pandemic.

For weeks, Canadians across the country have been in lockdown, told to stay at home. Many have been fined for sitting on park benches or even letting their children play in a park. On top of that, provinces have banned non-residents from visiting. These measures were put in place with the intention of flattening the curve of COVID-19, but have some of those restrictions crossed a line with our civil liberties?

Joining me now is Michael Bryant, executive director and general counsel for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. Welcome to the show, Mr. Bryant.

Michael Bryant, Canadian Civil Liberties Association: Good to be here.

Mercedes Stephenson: We’re going into our eighth week of COVID-19 that has millions of Canadians staying at home, businesses with their doors closed and bans on certain outdoor areas like parks and recreation areas. What’s your biggest concern when it comes to civil liberties around these closures?

Michael Bryant, Canadian Civil Liberties Association: This is a public health matter and while there’s a role to be played by police as well as by bylaw officers, it in fact is to educate the public, warn people, but it shouldn’t be about a punishing, ticketing, entering people’s homes, violating their privacy rights, violating their liberty and constitutional rights. But it has become—a policing pandemic has developed in Canada where the powers are drafted in a way that is over broad and vague, or the people who are getting these new powers are enforcing them in a way that’s absurd and has nothing to do with public health and is way too much about abusing power at a time where we in fact should be trying to come together and do our best to follow the guidelines, but this isn’t a public border crisis and yet it’s somehow become that in the eyes of some police and bylaw enforcers.

Mercedes Stephenson: Some would say if there’s not a serious consequence like a heavy fine, people won’t listen. What would be your response to them?

Michael Bryant, Canadian Civil Liberties Association: The reality is that criminologists and social scientists have shown that in Canada at least, these deterrents, they don’t work. I get the logic of them, and you can see why you would need to have that tool being used as a last resort in case somebody decided to try and hold a gigantic free concert in the middle of a city. But that’s not what the tickets have been handed out for. It’s been handed out to people in parks because they were recreating in the park versus walking through the park, versus sitting in the park. And in fact, they were just in a park and they weren’t dangerous to anybody. But the letter of the law, it was argued as being violated. So did all these tickets being handed out make us safer? No.

Mercedes Stephenson: What do you make of these interprovincial travel bans? I mean if you’re here in Ontario, and I can tell you if I look behind me out there on the bridge, you can see the police making sure that people don’t come into Quebec unless they live there or have essential business. Some have questioned whether those interprovincial travel bans are in fact, a violation of the charter, which is supposed to guarantee freedom of movement. What’s your take on that?

Michael Bryant, Canadian Civil Liberties Association: Well, we didn’t have a bunch of case law and jurisprudence and constitutional law developed around this interprovincial trade. There was a bunch of thinking and laws that had developed, but we never had this happen in Canada, ever, since we’ve had a section 6, the mobility rights under the charter. So, we at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, also had the challenge that a lot of journalists have, which is what is actually happening on the ground? When, you know, you’re getting third-hand reports from people, you’re getting some information from the police, but it’s not entirely clear. So, you know, we were basically looking and waiting for the right case to challenge it. But now, what Newfoundland has done, has left us with a view that their new set of laws—

Mercedes Stephenson: Mr. Bryant, can you just walk us through what Newfoundland has done there for our viewers who aren’t familiar with that?

D Michael Bryant, Canadian Civil Liberties Association: Sure. What Newfoundland has done is recently enacted a set of laws that we think are just blatantly unconstitutional. They are over broad. They don’t create exceptions. There is not the necessity for these new laws and there also isn’t any proportionality in amongst other things, what Newfoundland has done, but other provinces have done it, too, is treat their border as if it were a foreign border and they had the power to stop people from entering and arresting them and sending them back. And that’s just not the case. The other thing they did, which is quite incredible, is that they have given to police the unconstitutional power to enter people’s castles—you know a person’s home is a castle—to enter people’s homes without a warrant. And that is clearly unconstitutional. There’s no question. So we are in the process of—

Mercedes Stephenson: So does that mean you’ll be challenging it then?

Michael Bryant, Canadian Civil Liberties Association: Yeah, we’re in the process of retaining Newfoundland counsel and should any day now, be launching an application to try and get this unconstitutional law struck down. This is not Canada. This is not right. This is not constitutional and amongst other things, it is not necessary.

Mercedes Stephenson: When it comes to within provinces, I know a lot of people are wondering about being able to go to their cottage. They’re being told they’re not allowed to. What advice do you have for cottage owners?

Michael Bryant, Canadian Civil Liberties Association: Well I don’t like to advise people to get themselves a big ticket or get arrested, so I’m very sorry to say that even though it is our view that police have never been given the power, and no city has been given the power, to stop people from going to their own privately owned property, or otherwise, to go in and out of a city, or otherwise travel through a jurisdiction, although we think that that is unconstitutional, you know, the best one can do is ask questions when stopped, but if the police order someone to turn around or else will arrest you, then you’re putting yourself in a position where you could face either a criminal charge or a very serious ticket. So I can’t advise people to put themselves through that kind of prejudice, but I can ask the mayors to consult with their general counsel.

Mercedes Stephenson: Okay, Mr. Bryant. We have to wrap it up there. Thank you for joining us and sharing your perspective.

Michael Bryant, Canadian Civil Liberties Association: If you want to get more information: Thank you.

Mercedes Stephenson: Coming up, how has COVID-19 affected our mental health?

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Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland: “Let’s remember to take care of ourselves and of each other. Let’s remember that it’s okay to ask for help, and to feel sad, and frustrated and alone. We are all in this together. And while we do need to practice physical distancing, we don’t have to suffer alone.”

Mercedes Stephenson: Welcome back. That was Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland. The federal government has announced millions for virtual mental health help, for those in need during this pandemic. Stress, anxiety and depression, the impact of COVID-19 is threatening and echo-pandemic as Canadians of all regions and all across the country struggle to cope. Is Canada ready to handle the coming mental health crisis?

Joining me now to discuss this is Margaret Eaton, the National CEO of the Mental Health Association of Canada. Thank you for joining us, Margaret.

Margaret Eaton, CEO of the Mental Health Association of Canada: Thank you, Mercedes, great to be here. 

Mercedes Stephenson: Can you tell us a little bit about what kind of effect you’re seeing from COVID-19 in terms of symptoms that people are expressing, but also in terms of the scale of how many people are experiencing mental health issues right now?

Margaret Eaton, CEO of the Mental Health Association of Canada: Well, thanks very much. There was an interesting poll by Angus-Reid last week that showed that 50 per cent of Canadians are reporting worsening mental health over these recent weeks. So they’re experiencing worry, anxiety and stress, and what we’re seeing across the country in our local CMHA branches, we are in 330 regions across the country, is a much increased number of phone calls coming in. In Nova Scotia, for example, an average day they might get 25 calls. They had one day where they got 700 calls. And in a meeting I had last week with the provinces, those numbers are continuing steady. There has not been a dip in calls to our crisis lines. So we’ve been scrambling to make sure that people get care virtually and on the phone.

Mercedes Stephenson: I’m curious to know, how do you find that virtual care is working for people, because lots of people are used to sitting down, maybe talking to someone in person. What’s the difference with doing that over the internet or over text?

Margaret Eaton, CEO of the Mental Health Association of Canada: You know it isn’t ideal. In many ways we want to be close to each other and be face-to-face, but in this situation we can’t be. And so being on the phone with someone or in video conference as we’re doing right now can be a very useful substitute.

Mercedes Stephenson: I’m wondering about going forward, where the resources will be for mental health, because even before this happened, it could be weeks to months for a person to be able to get in to see somebody who can help them and who can talk to them. And now you could have this whole additional wave of people who perhaps didn’t need that help before, requiring it now. Is Canada, and are the provinces, set up to deal with this wave that’s coming?

Margaret Eaton, CEO of the Mental Health Association of Canada: Well, we were very pleased to see the federal government announce further funding for mental health and that is going towards and online hub called Wellness Together Canada and that is providing some virtual support. We’ve also seen some of the provinces step up. Quebec just announced $31 million for mental health. The Alberta government has announced about $50 million. Ontario similarly, has stepped up with about $10 million. And the B.C. government as well has stepped up with, I believe, over $10 million in funding. So, there is a real recognition that the mental health impacts are going to be severe and it’s the smaller provinces that we’re actually more worried about right now that may not have the big budgets that would allow them to invest in mental health in the same way that some of the deeper pocketed provinces haves.

Mercedes Stephenson: I’m wondering. Is there potentially a bottleneck in terms of the number of care providers who are out there even with this funding?

Margaret Eaton, CEO of the Mental Health Association of Canada: You know that’s been quite wonderful to see. I know that many masters and social work programs, for example, the students have stepped up, the recent graduates. And there are many people sitting at home right now who have these degrees who I believe are being recruited for programs across the country. So, I think the people are out there. The issue will be the resources to fund those services.

Mercedes Stephenson: It’s great to hear about that kind of innovation. I know a lot of people who are at home and waiting for things to open back up, will tell you that maybe they’ve been having a little bit more wine or a little bit more beer or their drink of choice or other things to try to deal with the pandemic and I know a lot of folks are wondering. What’s the line between somebody having a few drinks and where it starts to become a problem where you’re going to that as a result of stress?

Margaret Eaton, CEO of the Mental Health Association of Canada: Yes, you know there are guidelines for, you know, how much is an okay amount to be drinking? And the Centre for Substance Abuse even has a little test that you can take. But I would say if you are in a situation where you are finding that your use of substances interferes with your daily life, with your ability to connect with people or to do your work or your volunteer activities, that’s when it’s time to think about whether you need some support. And it is a big concern of ours right now. We were already in an opioid crisis prior to the pandemic and so we are already starting to hear on our phone lines that there are people who are struggling with opioids and with substances right now. And we’re concerned that we’re going to see incidences of increases of overdoses and in suicide as a result.

Mercedes Stephenson: It’s certainly very concerning. And something that we’d like to ask you, we unfortunately only have a few moments left, but what advice do you have for people at home who are struggling?

Margaret Eaton, CEO of the Mental Health Association of Canada: It’s really important that we reach out to each other. This is Canadian Mental Health Week and our theme for this week is social connection and that value of reaching out to others, because we know that isolation and loneliness can acerbate existing mental health conditions and can create mental health conditions in those who don’t have them. So we need each other right now, now more than ever. So we say pick up the phone; call, text, get in touch.

Mercedes Stephenson: Thank you so much for that advice, and thank you for joining us.

Margaret Eaton, CEO of the Mental Health Association of Canada: Thank you, Mercedes.

Mercedes Stephenson: That’s all the time we have for today. For The West Block, I’m Mercedes Stephenson. Thanks for joining us. And for all the moms out there: Happy Mother’s Day.