THE WEST BLOCK
Episode 39, Season 9
Sunday, May 31, 2020
Host: Mercedes Stephenson
Guests: Toronto Mayor John Tory,
Liberal MP Rob Oliphant, Conservative MP Garnett Genuis,
Former Chair of the Hong Kong Democratic Party Emily Lau
Mercedes Stephenson: This week on The West Block.
Farah Nassar, Global Toronto News Anchor: “Canadian military personnel sent into nursing homes here in Ontario have observed shocking conditions.”
Mercedes Stephenson: Long-term care.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford: “It’s gut-wrenching, and reading those reports was the hardest thing I’ve done as premier.”
Mercedes Stephenson: City’s needs.
Toronto Mayor John Tory: “COVID-19 is the greatest threat that our city has faced in its generation. It continues to take lives and we know that it is present across our city.”
Mercedes Stephenson: Then, China.
Dawn Friesen, Global News Anchor: “Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou lost the first round of her attempt to avoid extradition to the United States.”
Official Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer: “I gave the prime minister four opportunities to condemn the attack on the freedom of the people of Hong Kong by the Government of China. He refused.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “With hundreds of thousands of Canadians living in Hong Kong, we’ve a vested interest in its stability and prosperity.”
Mercedes Stephenson: This past week, we’ve heard disturbing reports about the conditions in long-term care homes. Meanwhile, south of the border, horrific images of the moments before the death of George Floyd and the violent reaction that followed. Meanwhile, here at home, allegations of police misconduct. And all this is happening while municipal leaders are asking for more money to keep their services going because of COVID-19.”
Joining me now is the mayor of Canada’s largest city, Toronto, Mayor John Tory. Thank you for making time to talk to us, mayor.
Toronto Mayor John Tory: It’s a pleasure, Mercedes.
Mercedes Stephenson: I know you’ve been very busy dealing with COVID-19 but also on your radar, allegations against Toronto Police of misconduct. These come at the same time as we are seeing those devastating images coming out of the United States in the relationship to the death of George Floyd. What are your thoughts on these media stories we’re seeing and the concerns about racism that we are facing, both here in Canada, and in the United States?
Toronto Mayor John Tory: Well, I mean, racism is a reality in both countries. Certainly in Toronto, we set up an Anti-Black Racism Action Plan because we acknowledge the fact there was anti-black racism in the city. But, when it comes to any particular incident, most of the all, the ones that have happened very recently, there is an independent process that is in place that is now working to ensure the answers that are sought by the family, and this is a tragedy no matter what way you look at it, but the family is seeking answers, so am I, so are the police, so is the community. And so in that sense, this process will produce those answers, and I think the best thing we can do as Canadians, I think, or want to do, is to await the outcome of that process, let an investigation take its course so that the facts and conclusions of an independent investigator are on the table and that will hopefully provide, as tragic as this thing is no matter what, it’ll provide some answers for us all.
Mercedes Stephenson: Mayor Tory, I want to ask you about long-term care homes. I know that they are a provincial responsibility, but many of the ones that we’re talking about, in terms of that military report that was so disturbing, are located in or around the GTA. What were your thoughts on that report? And what do you think needs to be done, to ensure that people all across Canada, but especially in your City of Toronto, are receiving the care that they deserve?
Toronto Mayor John Tory: Well, I mean, this is a scandal no matter, you know, which way you cut it, and no matter, you know, when it happened. It happened to become uncovered in the time of a pandemic because what we have here is a failure to meet a standard of care most of us would expect for our parents and grandparents and the most fragile of elderly people. And, you know, we own 10 long-term care residences, the City of Toronto does, and ours have been found by objective studies that have been done to provide a higher level of care, but still not perfect. And so I think that as you sort of go through the spectrum of the long-term care industry, if I can call it that, there is lots of things that need to be improved. And I think what’s going to be required here, is what I understand we’re going to get, which is a transparent, fully inclusive, and by that I mean you have past employees, past family members and so on, of people who have been in these residences, to come forward and tell their story so that we can get right to the bottom of something that clearly, we have fallen short on as a society, and I expect that’s true in other parts of Canada, not just in Toronto or in Ontario. We happen to have a lot of these residences because we’re the biggest city in the country, as you said, and the biggest region in the country. So, there are a lot of questions to be answered. There are a lot of people that need to be heard from. We have to do better, and I’m sure that’s where the province is going with what I hope will be a very transparent, very open inquiry that will get right to the bottom of this and get all the answers we all need.
Mercedes Stephenson: I do want to get to funding for cities, but just before, you said something interesting, when you mentioned that the homes that are owned by the cities were not found to be lacking in the same way. Do you think that the answer here is having governments take over the homes instead of allowing privately run homes?
Toronto Mayor John Tory: Well, look, I’m a person who believes in the free enterprise system, but there’s also no question about that when you are running something for-profit, there’s more attention to the costs and so on, and that might have, and this is why we need to find out in an objective analysis, what we need to find out. Was there in fact, a lower standard of care that was offered, or is offered, in privately run long-term care, as opposed to that that is run either by the non-profit sector or the public sector. And I don’t know what the answer to that is. I just know the objective examination has shown, and I’m proud of this, although we had some problems of our own during the pandemic, but I’m proud of the fact that it says the ones that are run in our case by the city, are providing a better overall results for people and that’s what we want. Don’t we want to make sure that our seniors, our most fragile elderly people are looked after to a standard that we would expect in this wealthy country of ours?
Mercedes Stephenson: Let’s talk about money for cities. COVID-19 has put a tremendous burden on so many levels of government, including municipal ones. You don’t have riders on transit. You don’t have the same tax base as a provincial or federal government. There’s been discussion about shutting down rec centres, hockey rinks, parks, all kinds of things if there isn’t more money. How much money do you need from the federal government and how quickly do you need it?
Toronto Mayor John Tory: Well, I almost hesitate to use the Toronto example because first of all, I know nobody in the country feels sorry for Toronto but secondly, because the numbers are so huge. But, in our case, we’ve fallen short, or we will have fallen short by the end of the year $1.5 billion. And you may say, well how could you possibly come to a number like that? Well if you take, as a fact, because it is, we’re losing $20-some odd million per week on a transit system that normally carries 1.8 million people a day and is carrying a fraction of that then you start to understand how the numbers can add up. We’re already 10 or 12 weeks into this and that’s $23 million each of those weeks. So, they’re big numbers and that’s true of cities across the country, to a different scale or another. And the other thing about cities is they don’t have the latitude to raise money in different ways other than normally through the property tax, and in most cases around the country, they don’t have the right to run a deficit, which I think, by the way, is a good thing and so do my fellow mayors. So, therefore, we need help, and if we’re going to be a part as I know we can be, in fact, as I know we must be, if we’re going to be a part of a robust, effective recovery that really gets this country back on its feet, the cities of Canada, starting with Toronto, I will say, 20 per cent of the GDP in the Toronto area, we’ve got to be on our feet and stable and able to focus on getting the recovery done as opposed to focusing on how to scrape up enough money to keep the transit running or provide child care for people. So, it’s a big challenge for us and we need the help of the other governments, both provincial and federal, to get that challenge met.
Mercedes Stephenson: Mayor Tory, thank you so much for joining us. Thank you for your time and your insights and we’ll catch up with you again, soon.
Toronto Mayor John Tory: I hope so. Thanks, Mercedes. Bye-bye.
Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, Canada-China relations took another dive last week. We’ll hear from two members of the Canada-China relations committee up next.
UBC China Expert Paul Evans: “There were fairly high expectations of Madam Meng’s release, very quickly, that isn’t coming through. And so I think that in the hot and sour soup that is the Canada-China relationship, this has added a little bit more vinegar to that soup.”
Mercedes Stephenson: Welcome back. That was UBC China expert Paul Evans on the ruling by the B.C. Supreme Court that clears the way for extradition hearings for Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou to go forward. It has been met with recriminations and warnings from the Chinese governments.
Joining me now to discuss what happens next are two members of the House of Commons Canada-China relations committee, Conservative Garnett Genuis and Rob Oliphant, who is the parliamentary secretary for the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Rob, let’s start with you. I have here, in front of me, the two statements that were made by the Chinese embassy following this and I’d like to read just a little bit out to you and to our viewers. It describes the whole case as “a grave political incident.” It calls on Canada to immediately release Ms. Meng Wanzhou to allow her to return safely to China. “Not to go further down the wrong path” as they put it. And it also warns about there being consequences and continuous harm to China-Canada relations. Describing this as a political incident and then making what seemed to be threats, do you find this acceptable?
Liberal MP Rob Oliphant: The path that we’re on is not a political path. The path that we’re on is one of an independent judiciary. We have an extradition process that we will continue to follow. We are a country based on the rule of law. We have extradition agreements with countries around the world and we’ll have an open and transparent extradition process. The decision by the Supreme Court of British Columbia is the decision by the Supreme Court. There’s no political interference, it is part of the multi-step process of an extradition process, and the court has spoken and we don’t comment on that. The process will continue. It will take steps and we will stand by that. We’ll be firm on the thing that Canadians believe in, and that’s the rule of law, and that is the independence of the judiciary. This process will continue and countries—all other countries must respect that. And we will stand by that. We will not be bullied. We will stand firm on our system and there is no political interference whatsoever.
Mercedes Stephenson: Garnett, how do you think Canada should respond to these kind of threats? And I know your party believes in a tougher position, but I want to be very specific. Does that mean bringing in sanctions against China? Does it mean denying some of their imports? Does it mean denying Chinese tourism coming to this country? What do you think should be done in responses?
Conservative MP Garnett Genuis: Okay. Well let’s parse out a few things. First of all, in terms of the Meng Wanzhou case, much of what Rob said, I agree with about the importance of the rule of law and about this being a legal matter and a question of our international obligations. I would just say I hope the government is consistent and sends consistent signals on that because we have had some mixed signals in the past, such as when ambassador McCallum was confusing the issue through some of the things he said. You had—you’ve had others on the sort of Liberal side of things that have said things. People like former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien that have really not been helpful to our need to send clear signals about respect for the rule of law. But in terms of response to other things that are going on and response to the situation in Hong Kong, the first things that we should be doing is have the government make clear principled statements, for instance, condemning the violation of international law and human rights that take place in Hong Kong. And also, we need to have the parliamentary committee on Canada-China relations able to meet. The Liberals opposed the creation of that committee and they opposed it being able to meet virtually, which is what many committees are doing during these times. So that’s not the final answer, but those are critical first steps: strong statements and the engagement of parliamentarians in order to have a response. I think as we move forward from that, Canadian leadership in multilateral for it to have a strong collaboration on pushing forward measures to deter these kinds of violations of human rights and international law is very important. We saw that under Stephen Harper after the Russian invasion of Crimea. Canada spoke clearly in a principled way and led a response among like-minded countries. Canada could be doing so again, but I do think we see a lot of weakness and naïveté from this government when it comes to engaging with China. We’ve seen that from the beginning and we haven’t seen anything like a principled response to what’s happened in Hong Kong.
Mercedes Stephenson: Okay. Garnett, I’m not sure that’s specific on what you would actually do to deal with China, but I do want to go back to you, Rob, and ask you. When these statements by the Chinese government, which very clearly is planning to take some kind of action against Canada and we don’t know if that will be potentially scooping up more Canadian citizens who are in China or if it will be economic, but they are warning there will be some kind of retaliation by the sounds of it. Right here on this show, the Chinese ambassador clearly linked the cases of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig to that of Meng Wanzhou. Your government is still considering allowing Huawei to operate in this country. Why would you still be considering that? Why not just say no, with what’s going on?
Liberal MP Rob Oliphant: Canada will stand up, and the Canadian government is going to stand up for Canadians’ interests. And we’ll do that respectfully, but we’ll do that strongly. There’s absolutely nothing weak or anything naïve about our approach to China.
I’ve been in opposition. I know what that’s like. You can say anything you want. You can do anything you want. We will take a strong and principled stand on everything, whether it’s our evaluation of Huawei and whether or not it is in the best interest of Canada and Canadians. That is a technical study that is being done. It’s not done on global affairs.
Mercedes Stephenson: But Mr. Oliphant that study has been looked at, and CSIS and CSE had differing views. You don’t have bureaucratic unity on how to move forward, and it’s ultimately a political decision. Why, if the Chinese government is threatening over Huawei, would we allow them to operate in this country? Why would you even consider that?
Liberal MP Rob Oliphant: We’ll take every—everything, what we are doing, and we’ve been very clear, we will have a position of principled engagement. We’ll have a strategic response on areas where we agree and we’ll have a very strong response on areas where we don’t agree. Decisions will be made without that political overlay. We are going to do this to see what is in the best interest of Canada and Canadians. And we’re doing it—
Mercedes Stephenson: Okay. I want to give Garnett a chance to get in at the very end here because we’re almost out of time. Garnett, go ahead.
Conservative MP Garnett Genuis: Well sure, just very clearly, from our perspective, no to Huawei and no to the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). The words the government are saying just aren’t being matched by very reasonable policy measures. Huawei, the Asian Infrastructure Investment bank, this isn’t so much about retaliation, this is about just things that are in our interest, sending hundreds of millions of dollars of the Chinese government, to support their neo-colonial projects within Asia, that’s not in Canada’s interest.
Mercedes Stephenson: I know there’s so much more that we could say about this topic, but we do have to wrap it up there. Thank you both very much for joining us.
Conservative MP Garnett Genuis: Thank you.
Liberal MP Rob Oliphant: Thank you.
Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, what does China’s new security law mean for people in Hong Kong?
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “I think it’s important to support the citizens of Hong Kong, including 300,000 Canadians who really want to see the one country, two systems approach to Hong Kong and China, continue.”
Mercedes Stephenson: Welcome back. That was Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Canada, along with the U.K., Australia and the U.S., are condemning China for violating an agreement that gives autonomy to Hong Kong under something called the One Government, Two Systems Agreement with China. So, what does the new Chinese security legislation mean for Hong Kong? Late last week, I spoke to Emily Lau. She’s the former chair of the Hong Kong Democratic Party. Here’s that conversation.
Joining me now is Emily Lau, former chair of the Hong Kong Democratic Party. Thank you so much for making time for us, Ms. Lau.
Former Chair of the Hong Kong Democratic Party Emily Lau: Thank you.
Mercedes Stephenson: Can you tell me what the situation is right now in Hong Kong with China bringing this law in and what it will mean for your beloved Hong Kong?
Former Chair of the Hong Kong Democratic Party Emily Lau: They are creating offences of submersion and of liaison for foreign forces, with terrorism and with succession, which I think people in Canada should know, and people from Quebec. So, and these offences, the details have not yet been worked out, but they could be very, very broad. So, people in Hong Kong, many of us, are very frightened that it could restrict our freedom of expression, including my ability to talk to you right now, and also freedom of assembly, freedom of conscience, academic freedom, all these things to do with the mind, because they, in the mainland, they penalize people for exercising free speech. So, and the thing is, this law is going to be foisted on us without consulting us.
Mercedes Stephenson: Emily, how do you feel, personally because you have been an advocate for democracy? We have spoken before in November. Here we are just a few months later, but I wonder if a few months from now, you will be able to have this kind of a conversation with a journalist?
Former Chair of the Hong Kong Democratic Party Emily Lau: Well, I don’t know, my dear, you know. But we live under communist rules, so this is the harsh reality. And the trouble is, the British government, delivered the Hong Kong people to communist rule in 1997, without giving us any protection. At that time, I was like a journalist. I was a journalist like you, and I put the question to then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. I said, prime minister, you signed an agreement with China, promising to deliver over 5 million people into the hands of a communist dictatorship. Is that morally defensible? Or is it really true that in international politics, the highest form of morality is one’s own national interest? And Maggie said, don’t worry, everything’s going to be okay. Everyone is happy with the agreement. And you, Emily Lau, you may be a solitary exception. I can assure you now, I’m not a solitary exception and I think the way Britain abandoned her own citizens is disgraceful.
Mercedes Stephenson: What will happen next in Hong Kong? When we last talked, you’d said hopefully that the international community speaking out would be enough to stop China from advancing further. That has not been the case. Do you think that now there will be violence or there will be an uprising by the people of Hong Kong?
Former Chair of the Hong Kong Democratic Party Emily Lau: So the Hong Kong people will continue to protest, and I hope they will do it in a non-violent way. But we still call on the international community to help us, Canada. You know, there are 300 thousand Canadian citizens living and working in Hong Kong, and hundreds of Canadian companies operating here, so I certainly hope the Canadian government, the U.S, the British, the Australian, I hope they will all speak out. And they all have their citizens here. It’s not as if they have—they’re just doing it for us. They should be doing it for their own citizens. Just imagine how many aircraft carriers, or Boeing, does Canada have to send to Hong Kong if it needs to mount an evacuation? And of course, we don’t want to see the Hong Kong people, like the Vietnamese boat people that we saw in the last century, floating out to sea and Hong Kong was the first port of call. We accepted them and helped them to get a resettlement. We don’t want to see that happening again. But I hope Canada will open its doors to Hong Kong immigrants, and you know, Hong Kong people are very good immigrants. But while we’re here, we will fight, but we want the international community to stand with us.
Mercedes Stephenson: Emily, would you like to see Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Canada, give people from Hong Kong refugee status?
Former Chair of the Hong Kong Democratic Party Emily Lau: Well, I don’t hope that the situation would deteriorate to becoming refugees, but of course nobody knows. But I hope that you can liberalize your immigration policy even a bit more for Hong Kong people, because they would love to apply to come to Canada or to go somewhere where it’s free, where it’s safe.
Mercedes Stephenson: As you know, there’s been a lot of tension between the Canadian government and the Chinese government over the arrest of Meng Wanzhou here in Canada and of course, China’s detention of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig. The Canadian Court in B.C. made a decision that Meng Wanzhou’s extradition trial could continue, that there was a basis for double criminality there. The Chinese government has been warning there will be consequences for Canada. What do you think the future looks like for Canada there, Ms. Lau?
Former Chair of the Hong Kong Democratic Party Emily Lau: Well, I think the Canadians have great respect for the rule of law and independence of the judiciary. And I think that’s exactly what your prime minister has said. So, I think you should carry on as descent, upstanding Canadians, upholding your own core values if other bigger powers act like a bully. I don’t think the Canadians will allow themselves to be bullied, especially when you know your courts are doing the right thing.
Mercedes Stephenson: Emily, thank you so much for your time, today.
Former Chair of the Hong Kong Democratic Party Emily Lau: Thank you.
Mercedes Stephenson: That’s all the time that we have for today. Thanks for joining us. If you’re in Ontario and east, please stay tuned for another edition of The West Block coming up next. For our viewers in the west, check your local listings. We’ll have more for you this evening. See you next week.
Additional West Block programming aired in some markets on Sunday:
Mercedes Stephenson: On The West Block this week: Canada’s pitch for a seat on the UN Security Council.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “It is a means, a means to continue important dialogue in support of multilateralism.”
Canada’s Ambassador to the UN Marc-André Blanchard: “We are a leader in the world. The world is expecting us to take some leadership role and this is an important one.”
Mercedes Stephenson: Then disturbing reports about long-term care homes.
Ontario Minister of Long-Term Care Merilee Fullerton: “We were looking at fixing a system that had been neglected and ignored for decades.”
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh: “There is more emphasis on the bottom line than care for seniors.”
Mercedes Stephenson: Plus, the race to leader of the Conservative Party.
Conservative Leader Candidate Erin O’Toole: “Oh, the MacKay campaign is out of gas.”
Conservative Leader Candidate Peter MacKay: “And we continue to build the support that we need, in my view, to win this contest.”
Mercedes Stephenson: In just over two weeks, we’ll find out if the government’s campaign to win a seat at the United Nations Security Council is successful. Canada is competing against Ireland and Norway for one of two openings at the council. For weeks, the prime minister has been making calls to fellow global leaders, looking to rally support for Canada’s bid. But why is this seat such a priority for the government?
Joining me now is Canada’s ambassador to the United Nations Marc André-Blanchard, your first time on the program. Welcome, sir.
Canada’s Ambassador to the UN Marc-André Blanchard: I’m so happy to be with you. Thank you for the invitation, really.
Mercedes Stephenson: We are so interested to talk to you about what is happening for Canada at the United Nations right now. It’s a very exciting time, a very high pressure time, but I have to ask you the question that we hear from so many Canadians. They look at the United Nations and say look, this is an organization that wasn’t able to intervene in Syria. They’re deadlocked because of Russia and China on the Security Council. All this time, all this money, why should Canada want a seat on the Security Council?
Canada’s Ambassador to the UN Marc-André Blanchard: Well, we see that it’s true that there are some conflicts where the UN is not as efficient as we would it to be, but then there’s a lot of conflicts with the UN every day it does its job. Just to take, like there’s probably, what? Fifteen conflicts around the world, where you have more than 100 thousand peacekeepers tonight, when we all go to sleep that are taking care of that and that’s the work of the UN. And like humanitarian assistance in this crisis of pandemic, the biggest player in the world is the United Nations. So yes, there are some difficulties and some challenges at the UN, but there are some very good sides of the UN. You know, I—there was a secretary general who said, you know, the UN was not like created to take the world to heaven, but it was created to ensure that we wouldn’t go to hell. And so this is, really, I say to people who criticize UN. UN is not perfect, I agree with you. We want to make it better. And on the other hand, it’s a huge opportunity for Canadians because when you’re around that table, you are more relevant. And when you are more relevant, you have more influence in the world. And when you have more influence in the world that means more opportunities for Canadians in Canada but also abroad. So this is why it’s important for Canadians and this is—I actually believe it’s being a good citizen of the world, but it’s also in our own interest as Canadians.
Mercedes Stephenson: So I know part of what you’re always doing when you’re vying for a seat like this, is counting. How many votes do you have from other countries? And I’m know you’re unlikely to reveal that to us on the program, but what’s your sense of Canada’s chance here because we are up against two countries that contribute far more in terms of international aid and peacekeeping. They’re well-liked. That’s Norway and Ireland. So, what do you think our chances are?
Canada’s Ambassador to the UN Marc-André Blanchard: Ireland and Norway are very good countries, they’re very well-liked countries around the world and so is Canada. Canada is a great country. Canada brings so much to the world. I’m so—really, it sounds corny, but I’m the most—I always say that I have the best job in the world because I represent the best country in the world. But putting that aside, the issue that we raised about peacekeeping and aid, but it’s also about the impact that the country has, and Canada has a lot of impact. Just think about the leadership of Prime Minister Trudeau, when he reunited, Thursday of this week, 52 world leaders to actually discuss the financial consequences of the pandemic. We were actually working with Jamaica as part of the co-host with the secretary general and within a week, 53 leaders from the world answered our invitation and said yes, we want to be part of that discussion. That’s what Canada does best: it convenes, it puts issues on the table and we are trying to bridge the issues. That has always been the role of Canada in history and that’s when we were at our best and that’s what we want to contribute on the Security Council, but also on the cases the COVID-19 recovery. You know, we’re facing the worst humanitarian crisis in history, since the last 100th century, but also the worst economic crisis in the last 100 years—sorry, not century.
Mercedes Stephenson: Ambassador, does that mean that we are committing to putting more money into COVID-19 for these other countries around the world through the UN. Are we committing to more peacekeepers? Are we committing to more international aid? It’s one thing to say Canada’s a great country and we should be at the table, but at the end of the day, are we putting our money where our mouth is?
Mercedes Stephenson: Ambassador, I’m sorry to jump in, but we just have a few moments left and I do want to ask you about the effect of Canada’s dispute with China over Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig. What effect is that having on your bid, because the Chinese are incredibly influential at the United Nations, they pay for the roads and wells in Africa. Africa is the biggest voting bloc. So, I’m curious to know if you think that that is potentially damaging it. Or, are people sympathetic towards Canada and more likely to vote for us because of that?
Canada’s Ambassador to the UN Marc-André Blanchard: Well, you know, there’s 193 reasons why the countries will vote or not vote for Canada when will come the elections for the Security Council and it’s different reasons. It’s a lot about many different things and for the 193 countries that will vote, they will have 193 different reasons whether they’ll look at our foreign policy, the bilateral relationship we have, the influence that we have in the region, our focus on some aspects of policy that they particularly appreciate. So it’s not only one issue. Of course, all issues have, to a certain degree of an impact, but I think in this case, in the case of the vote on this, it’s actually Canada is a good position. We—I think it’s—but we will never know until the votes—all the votes are cast. It’s a very, very contested election. It’s always like that.
Mercedes Stephenson: Alright. Ambassador, that’s all the time we have for today. Thank you so much for joining us and good luck in your campaign.
Canada’s Ambassador to the UN Marc-André Blanchard: Thank you very much. Thank you for having me and I’m—we’ll work as hard as we can, because I think Canadians have a big role to play. Thank you.
Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, abuse, neglect and more, a new report that highlights disturbing problems at long-term care homes. After decades of people raising the alarm, how can we change the system to care for our elderly with dignity and care?
Ontario Minister of Long-term Care Merrilee Fullerton: “These homes were inspected about 45 times. So when we look at the homes, we typically have to provide a supportive measure, so there’s compliance orders, there’s a number of more serious issues, if there is outright neglect. And we work with the homes to support the staff and make sure that they can provide the standard of care to the residents. But this—we’ve been in a staffing crisis with our personal support workers for years.”
Mercedes Stephenson: Welcome back. That was Ontario’s long-term care Minister Merrilee Fullerton. The disturbing military reports obtained by Global News allege abuse, neglect, cockroach infestations, and COVID-19 patients left to wander, while others are left to wallow in soiled bedding and clothing in long-term care homes across Ontario and Quebec. Yet many say that they’ve been raising the alarm about these conditions across Canada in homes for years. So, what can we do to give dignity back to our elderly who are living in these facilities?
Joining me now is Dr. Samir Sinha, Director of Geriatrics at Mount Sinai and the University Health Network hospitals in Toronto. Thank you for joining us, doctor. These reports, just shocking for a lot of people, they make you feel physically sick when you’re reading them. How widespread are these kinds of issues in long-term care homes across Canada?
Dr. Samir Sinha, Director of Geriatrics at Sinai Health: I think what we’ve seen is over the years, is that Canada has, you know, as all of our provinces and territories that are responsible for providing this form of care, have really been underfunding the system over the years. You know, Canada, for example, spends 30 per cent less than our other industrialized countries do on long-term care, which is home care and nursing home care, and most of our spending, about 87 cents on the dollars goes towards putting people into homes and caring for them there. But the challenge that we have is that when you underfund the system, it means it’s hard for us to build the types of facilities that we need and also, when we don’t fund it well enough, we have huge staffing shortages because those who are working, such as personal support workers, nurses and other professionals, make far less than they do working in a care home than they would in a publicly funded hospital. So that’s why 80 per cent of homes prior to this were having trouble recruiting and retaining staff, which becomes part of the root of the issues that lead to poor quality care.
Mercedes Stephenson: So how much money do you think needs to be put into care homes, to bring them up to the standard that not just you’d want for a loved one, but you would want for yourself when you age and end up in one of these places, and where do you think that that money should come from? Is it the federal government or the provincial government?
Dr. Samir Sinha, Director of Geriatrics at Sinai Health: Well, I think that first of all, we have to appreciate that as Canadians, we’re all responsible for what’s actually happened this far. We never enshrined provision of long-term care in our Canada Health Act, even though, you know, many people were requesting that. And so we have a system that unfortunately has been grossly underfunded. And so I think the first part we have to say is what do we actually want for our long-term care as we move forward? Right now, we’re spending $22 billion, and if we keep doing the same level of care that I don’t think any of us find acceptable, we’ll actually have to spend $71 billion in 2050 just to keep up with what we’re currently doing, which is not good enough. But if we look at what other countries are doing, they’ve actually put more money into home and community care, which is often cheaper and more in line with what people want. So I think we first of all have to say, what do we want as Canadians? What does good quality look like? And then after that, then we can figure out how we fund it. And maybe that’s more federal funding, maybe that’s more provincial and territorial funding, but I’m glad that Premier Ford and others have said, you know, where money has been an issue before around long-term care that money’s no longer the issue, which is great. And so now I’m hoping that we now invest what we need to do, but we have to figure out first of all, what is it that we are going to do?
Mercedes Stephenson: Why do you think it is that this was under the radar for so long, because I’ve heard from a lot of paramedics, in particular, I’ve heard from firefighters, doctors, nurses, family members, saying people knew there was bad conditions in the home. Why is it that we seem to just be realizing this as a country, now?
Dr. Samir Sinha, Director of Geriatrics at Sinai Health: I think—let’s be honest, right? You know, when we were creating Medicare 50 years ago, the average Canadian was only 27 years of age and most of us didn’t make it past our 60s. As a society, we don’t necessarily value those who are old and those who are vulnerable. There are about 425,000 Canadians currently living in care homes across the country, and most of them have dementia and many can’t speak for themselves. And the workers who work for them are—tend to be poorly paid, racialized women, who are again, who are less visible members of our health care workforce. So, it’s—this has been a group that’s been easily ignored and I think we’ve deluded ourselves over time by saying, well, it’s just a few bad actors. It’s a few bad homes, it’s a few bad, you know, things that are happening. But I think really, we have allowed—all of us have allowed the system to go underfunded, to allow lapses in care to occur to an alarming extent, and I think this is our opportunity for now, for us—where it took our army to tell us that we are our own worst enemies, to say we now—if we actually want to respect the type of care that all of us one day may need to receive ourselves, then we need to actually take a hard look and say, maybe we should treat this like we have treated hospitals and physician services as part of our Canada Health Act, and I think that’s really the root of the issue, to deal with our societal ageism, once and for all.
Mercedes Stephenson: And it’s just so upsetting to think about the conditions that as you put it, these incredibly vulnerable people, people who can’t speak for themselves, are being exposed to. Premier Doug Ford has said he wants an independent commission to look into this. Do you think that we need provincial or national inquiries to have some accountability here as well as looking forward to the changes that need to be made?
Dr. Samir Sinha, Director of Geriatrics at Sinai Health: Yeah, I think we need both. I think we need to have both a look at this, because this is not just an Ontario issue or Quebec issue. Every province and territory has been struggling to provide good long-term care services. Now some of them are just saying if we just had more money, and now they’re looking to the federal government—
Nat’s Sound Piece: “I’m sorry?”
“You are under arrest.”
Mercedes Stephenson: Violence south of the border.
“Okay. Do you mind telling me why I’m under arrest, sir?”
Mercedes Stephenson: This CNN reporter, handcuffed and arrested, while covering violent protests following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
“Please! Please, I can’t breathe.”
Mercedes Stephenson: Seen here, being held down by police. Then in Toronto, late last week.
Speaker: “Family members say they don’t believe Korchinski–Paquet would have jumped off the balcony, and they have made allegations that the 29-year-old was pushed.”
“The police killed my daughter.”
Mercedes Stephenson: Allegations of police misconduct against a black woman: questions about race, policing and politics.
Joining me now to discuss this is Conservative candidate Leslyn Lewis. You have your PhD, Dr. Lewis. You are an accomplished lawyer. When you look at these images coming out of Canada and the United States over the past few days, what are your thoughts?
Conservative Leader Candidate Leslyn Lewis: Well, my first thought, Mercedes, is that this is a very interesting clip for you to be asking a Conservative leadership contestant of Canada. But since you’ve asked, I think that, you know, my prayers go out to the families and to people who are suffering under COVID because, you know, there are heightened strains and pressures that people are feeling, and so I feel that we, as leaders, have to make sure that we don’t escalate situations and that we make sure that our first responders are not overworked and that they receive the necessary training for heightened situations and that we deal with issues, including mental health issues within the community. And also, that we deal with communities who are suffering a greater impact from COVID included racialized communities.
Mercedes Stephenson: If you were to be elected prime minister of Canada, like any prime minister, you would have to deal with Donald Trump. What are your thoughts on how you would interact with the president?
Conservative Leader Candidate Leslyn Lewis: Well, I would interact with him from a position of mutual respect. He is the leader of, you know, one of the most powerful countries in the world. And so, I would—it would just be a situation of mutual respect. I mean the things that I have seen over the last few days with some of the comments that he’s made, I don’t believe that they are helpful and I think that leaders as I said, should always attempt to de-escalate situations and to resolve situations that lead to us, you know, unifying our country.
Mercedes Stephenson: You have put out some positions and have been very open about them, saying that you’re socially conservative, that you are willing to reopen the question of access to abortion, to restrict from what you call coercive abortions or sex selection abortions. You’ve also said that you would not march in a Gay Pride Parade. A lot of people say, look, that is what brought the Conservative Party down in the last election, these are big important issues for people, especially in urban centres and while everyone has a right to have their opinion, someone with those opinions may not have a chance of winning the prime-ministership of Canada. What do you say to those people?
Conservative Leader Candidate Leslyn Lewis: Well, I think that the—my opinions are being actually, misconstrued and actually not summarized in the way that I presented them. My stance on abortion is very clear. I came out with four policies that unify—that are unifying, that the majority of Canadians support. The majority of Canadians do not support misogyny and they do not believe that a fetus should be terminated on the soul basis that it is a female. And so that’s actually a unifying policy. I haven’t brought forth any policies that the majority of Canadians don’t believe in. And, you know, with respect to the Gay Pride Parade, I’m not certain why the media is so obsessed with it, because, you know, I speak to my friends who are gay and they don’t attend the parade. And we don’t seem to have a problem with each other. And I’ve always supported and made sure that I have worked to advance causes for all Canadians, and I will continue to do that, to treat all Canadians with equal dignity and respect. And I don’t think that marching in a parade is indicative of how well you’ll treat Canadians, you know, I see it as something that will advance my political career, and I don’t feel it’s necessary to use a group to do that.
Mercedes Stephenson: The situation in Canada’s long-term care homes, extremely distressing reports that we saw last week. You put out a statement about that, talking about making sure that there are better regulations and standards for our elderly, but as a part of that statement, I noticed you also said that you wanted to stop the expansion of categories for medically assisted death. Now you are a lawyer and this was ordered by a court that the Canadian government had to reconsider the expansion of those categories, so I’m wondering how you square that?
Conservative Leader Candidate Leslyn Lewis: Well, I’m very, very concerned that euthanasia is going to be extended towards, especially individuals who do not have mental capacity. And there’s even talk about extending it towards teenagers without mental capacity, and so I’m very, very concerned about that, that our society is increasingly becoming one that devalues the sanctity of life. And so that’s very concerning.
Mercedes Stephenson: But if a court has said that the government has to look at the categories that it’s too narrow, then isn’t that something that they have to do, legally?
Conservative Leader Candidate Leslyn Lewis: Well, that may be something that they have to do, but there is still a concern that our society is moving towards a complete disrespect for the sanctity of life. And so, as a concerned citizen, I would be very—I find it very disconcerting that we would extend euthanasia to people who do not have the mental capacity to make that decision.
Mercedes Stephenson: When you’ve had a chance to look at some of the reports of what’s happening in the long-term care homes, do you believe that some of this is criminal, and that some of the care home owners and companies behind this, should be held legally responsible?
Conservative Leader Candidate Leslyn Lewis: Well, I haven’t looked a criminal investigation, so I don’t want to draw conclusions about criminality. And I can say that I found the reports that I reviewed to be extremely upsetting. And none of us want our loved ones to be in such deplorable conditions. So I know that provincially, Premier Ford has committed to working on making sure that there’s changes, and the reports clearly indicate that the treatment fell below the standard of care. And I think it’s of utmost importance that we care for the most vulnerable in our society, including our seniors. And we need to foster a culture of respect, which includes providing services that meet the minimum standard of care.
Mercedes Stephenson: Leslyn Lewis, thank you so much for joining us and for sharing some of your time and thoughts on your vision for this country.
Conservative Leader Candidate Leslyn Lewis: Thank you so much for having me. It was a pleasure.
Mercedes Stephenson: That’s all the time we have for today. Thanks for joining us. For The West Block, I’m Mercedes Stephenson.