The West Block — Episode 49, Season 9

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WATCH ABOVE: Watch the full broadcast of The West Block from Sunday, August 9, 2020, with Mercedes Stephenson.


Episode 49, Season 9

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Host: Mercedes Stephenson

Guests: Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, Minister Navdeep Bains,

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, Professor Bessma Momani

Location: Ottawa, Ontario

Mercedes Stephenson: This week on The West Block: devastation in Beirut.

Dawna Friesen, Global News Anchor: “Negligence may have led to the massive explosion in the port.”

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Karina Gould, International Development Minister: “I believe all Canadians; we are deeply saddened and of course, shocked by the absolute tragedy that occurred.”

Mercedes Stephenson: The race for a COVID-19 vaccine.

Anita Anand, Minister of Public Services and Procurement: “The Government of Canada has entered into agreements with Pfizer and Moderna to secure millions of doses of their vaccine candidates.”

Miranda Anthistle, Global Toronto Anchor: “The announcement comes amid mounting pressure on the FED’s after countries in Europe and the U.S. managed to secure deals ahead of Canada.”

Mercedes Stephenson: And calls for more government action.

President Donald Trump: “I signed a proclamation that defends American industry by re-imposing aluminum tariffs on Canada. Canada was taking advantage of us, as usual.”

Mercedes Stephenson: Last week, U.S. President Donald Trump imposed a 10 per cent tariff on Canadian aluminum or announced that he was planning to.

In a press conference, the Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said the government intends to impose dollar-for-dollar countermeasures in retaliation. Here’s her response to some questions that I had for her in her press conference on Friday.

Mercedes Stephenson: Deputy Prime Minister Freeland, what does this move by President Trump say about Canada’s relationship with the United States after of the efforts that you have poured into nurturing this relationship and trying to avoid more tariffs, the signing of NAFTA and yet still, we find ourselves right back to where we started.

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Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland: You know, Mercedes, I think what this announcement yesterday says, is that this U.S. administration is the most protectionist administration in U.S. history. We have known that for a long time. Canada has worked hard in the face of very protectionist policies from the U.S. to preserve our country’s privileged access to the U.S. market. The reality, though, is this is a protectionist administration and I think the important point for Canadians to understand, and above all, for Americans to understand, is that the first casualties, the first victims of these tariffs will be Americans themselves. That’s what’s so unfortunate about all of this.

Mercedes Stephenson: How far are you willing to go in terms of retaliation if the Americans keep escalating?

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland: What Canada’s policy will be what it has been throughout our—throughout the term of this government, which is that we do not escalate and we do not back down. Our retaliatory tariffs will be reciprocal, balanced, dollar-for-dollar, and that’s going to be our policy throughout.

Mercedes Stephenson: Joining me to talk more about this is Navdeep Bains, the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry. Welcome minister.

Innovation, Science and Industry Minister Navdeep Bains: Well thank you very much for having me on, Mercedes.

Mercedes Stephenson: So, I think one of the big questions Canadians have coming out of this, and we’re hearing right now it’s aluminum tariffs, but steel could be next. What is your government prepared to do to help support Canadian industry?

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Innovation, Science and Industry Minister Navdeep Bains: Well, we’ve been very clear that we’re going to stand up for aluminum workers. We did so in the past, in 2018 when we provided support to our workers, and we also responded dollar-for-dollar in terms of the retaliation and when it came to these unfair, unjust tariffs that we’re imposed under Section 232. We’re taking a similar approach now, as mentioned by my colleague, Minister Freeland. We’re going to consult with Canadians and Canadian businesses to understand the best way to respond to this. But the bottom line is we will continue to defend Canadian aluminum workers. We always have and we always will.

Mercedes Stephenson: We have a clip of Donald Trump when he announced these tariffs. I want to play it and then get your reaction to it. Here’s President Donald Trump. 

President Donald Trump: “Several months ago, my administration agreed to lift those tariffs in return for a promise from the Canadian government that its aluminum industry would not flood our country with exports and kill all our aluminum jobs, which is exactly what they did.”

Mercedes Stephenson: I guess my question there to you, Minister Bains, is when you hear this, what’s your reaction in terms of why you think the president is doing this, and doing it now at a time that’s so devastating for the Canadian economy that’s already been hit by COVID-19?

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Innovation, Science and Industry Minister Navdeep Bains: Yeah, this is bad economics. This is not good for the Canadian economy or the American economy. It’s not ironic that the president was standing there and making these remarks in front of Whirlpool. Those appliances and the price of those appliances will go up because of these tariffs. That means that consumers will pay more. That means it makes those appliances less competitive, which means it can impact American jobs and Canadians jobs as well. And so that’s what we want to avoid, particularly in this pandemic as we’re dealing with economic fallout because of COVID-19, we want to avoid these kinds of measures, which makes it more difficult for us to compete within North America and internationally as well. And so it’s very counterintuitive to the basic economic policies of an integrated marketplace that we negotiated under the new NAFTA.

Mercedes Stephenson: Do you think that NAFTA is essentially moot when something like this is happening? I mean what was the point of negotiating NAFTA if we ended up here anyhow?

Innovation, Science and Industry Minister Navdeep Bains: No, we’re very fortunate to have negotiated a new NAFTA. We still have privileged market access to the United States. This issue with regards to aluminum and steel tariffs, this was dealt with an in a side agreement. We also fought very hard for Chapter 19, to deal with other disputes going forward, but I think we must recognize that the U.S. is a critical market for Canada and negotiating a new NAFTA provides stability, continuity and predictability for Canadian businesses, which means it’s good for Canadians workers who rely on businesses to make investments. And the new NAFTA was well-received by unions and the broader business community.

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Mercedes Stephenson: Minister Bains, I want to switch gears a bit to another announcement that you made late last week about vaccines in Canada and signing an agreement with Pfizer to try to get COVID-19 vaccines. We’ve had a lot of scientists on this show and your government always talks about being informed by science. A lot of those scientists, especially the virologists, are saying it’s unrealistic to think that there will be a vaccine anytime within the next two years. Do you think by talking so much about vaccines and trying to move towards that, you’re giving Canadians unrealistic expectations about the pandemic?

Innovation, Science and Industry Minister Navdeep Bains: It’s difficult to say with any precision when a vaccine will be developed. What we want to communicate to Canadians is that we’re exploring all possible options by investing in Canadian scientists. For example, we announced a $56 million investment in VBI, in Ottawa. We also negotiated international partnerships with Pfizer and Moderna. And the bottom line is we want to be in a position if and when a vaccine is developed, to make sure that Canadians have access to that vaccine. And it’s important that we take proactive measures and steps to do so. But with respect to the timeline of when a vaccine will be developed, it’s difficult to say with any degree of certainty when or if that will happen, but I can tell you right now these are important investments that we need to make, especially here in Canada. We have a long and proud history in supporting our scientists and researchers. Remember, we were able to develop the vaccine for Ebola here in Canada. We were also able to sequence the DNA for SARS here in Canada. So it’s we shouldn’t let up. We shouldn’t give up, and we need to support our scientists and that’s exactly what our government’s been doing.

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Mercedes Stephenson: Minister Bains, changing gears one last time, because I know this falls under a file you deal with a lot on industry. There was a really shocking allegation made earlier this week in a law suit that a Saudi kill team had tried to enter Canada, an assassination team, to kill a former Saudi intelligence agent who is living here. The same kill team who went on to assassinate Jamal Khashoggi. Now, you’re government has made a decision to go forward with the export of military vehicles to Saudi Arabia that are built in Canada. Hearing this information about the Saudis trying to send a kill team to our sovereign soil, does that put any red flags up for you on supplying the Saudi government with military equipment?

Innovation, Science and Industry Minister Navdeep Bains: So you raise a very important set of questions. And as you’re aware, the matter is before the court so I can’t comment on any specifics with regards to the allegations that have been made. But it’s important to note that we are monitoring the situation, we’re keeping a close eye on this file. We recognize the economic benefits associated with making these light armoured vehicles here in Canada, but we’ve had a history here with Saudi Arabia where we’ve gone back and forth to make sure that we remain true to our principles around human rights and that we will not waiver from that.

Farah Nasser: Okay. That’s all the time we have. Thank you so much for joining us minister, we appreciate your time.

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Innovation, Science and Industry Minister Navdeep Bains: Thank you very much for having me.

Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, we’re joined by NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh to talk about Canada’s role on the international stage, and our response to COVID-19 here at home.


Mercedes Stephenson: Last week on the Hill: Opposition parties probed deeper into the WE controversy

Peter Julian, MP New Westminster—Burnaby: “…continues to surprise me, the extent to which this was pushed through. Our work as finance committee is to find out how and why that happened.”

Mercedes Stephenson: MPs pressed charity intelligence on their research into the WE Charity.

Elizabeth May, Green Party Leader: “Have you ever seen a charitable entity with a structure of a board of directors, staff, and a separate category called founders, who are also apparently receiving funds from the organization.”

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Mercedes Stephenson: And questions on the rising trade tensions between Canada and the U.S. after another round of tariffs.

Randy Hoback, MP Prince Albert, Saskatchewan: “They don’t have the respect around the world anymore, so we’re easy targets.”

Mercedes Stephenson: Welcome back. Here to talk more about those aluminum tariffs as well as the government’s response to COVID is NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh. Thank you so much for joining us Mr. Singh.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh: My pleasure, Ms. Stevenson.

Mercedes Stephenson: Let’s start out with these aluminum tariffs. They kind of came out of left field, they surprised a lot of people, the worst time for this to be happening to the Canadian economy. If you were the prime minister, how would you handle President Donald Trump in this scenario?    

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh: Well we support the retaliatory measures that the prime minister and the deputy prime minister have announced, but we also believe that we could have made investments and taken steps beforehand to protect manufacturing in Canada, some buy Canada incentives, investments in ensuring that we’ve got a strong manufacturing sector in Canada where we’re supporting with strategic investments and policies to build up our supply chain and build up our manufacturing. We’ve seen that COVID-19 has exposed the weakness in the supply chain where everything is imported. We need to build more here at home in Canada and knowing the volatility of President Trump we should have been better prepared to invest in our Canadian market.

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Mercedes Stephenson: Do you think that the government should be more aggressive in responding to President Trump? They’re saying we will not escalate, but we also will not back down. Should they be escalating?

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh: With any response that we come up with, the focus really should be is this going to ensure that we’ve got a strong manufacturing sector? Are we protecting Canadian jobs? That’s really the focus, and there’s a lot that we can do to ensure that anytime we’re using public dollars that we look at investing it in a Canadian produced product. That aluminum that’s Canadian made should go into products or into projects that are funded through public dollars.

Mercedes Stephenson: Let’s take a look at COVID-19, because that’s the other thing that is still really on all of our radar screens, is dominating our lives. And one of the big questions on a lot of parents’ minds right now is getting their kids back to school in the fall. One of the things that you have asked for as the NDP is federal dollars to go towards child care to help parents go back to work. Do you have any sense that the government is planning to move ahead with that? Have they given you any kind of a promise or a commitment on when that might happen or specific numbers?

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh: So far, Ms. Stevenson, we have not received any commitment from Prime Minister Trudeau or the Liberal government. But to your point, this is exactly what we’re hearing from people. Families are deeply worried about what’s going to happen in September, whether the kids can go back to school and the fact that they can’t find child care. So we need to, at the federal level, make investments and supporting provinces and territories to deliver child care that’s quality, that’s affordable. We really believe in a universal child care, it needs to be there. And COVID-19 has exposed that women have been the most impacted by COVID-19. The participation of women in the workforce has been the lowest in 30 years, so we know that if we invest in child care and ensuring that schools get the funding that they need that this will specifically help women get back to work and that to me is vitally important.

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Mercedes Stephenson: You’ve really backed the federal government throughout this entire COVID crisis. You’ve helped keep them in power because this is a minority situation. Is child care something that you would be willing to bring the government down over if they don’t provide money for that?

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh: Well, throughout this pandemic we’ve taken really strong stances. There was a point where Prime Minister Trudeau was going to cancel CERB in the early part of the summer and we took a line saying we will not support some confidence motions if the government does not commit to actually extending CERB. So we’ve not shied away from forcing this government to do what’s right for people. Many times they were not going to help, whether it was students or people living with disabilities and seniors, and we forced it. It was because of New Democrats that these things came to be. Similarly, we believe that child care is one of those vital, important issues that we’ve got to fight for. People need it. Families and parents want to know that their kids are safe and so we’re going to continue to fight for those families, for those kids and for women to be able to get back to work. So this is something that’s very important for us.

Mercedes Stephenson: But is it important enough that you would be willing to bring a government down if they didn’t come forward with adequate funding?

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NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh: Well in the past, we’ve had very tough negotiations and a lot of those negotiations we’ve signalled what we care about and then we go to the table and negotiate hard. This is going to be one of those as well. We’re signalling very clearly that this is important for us and we’re going to fight hard to make sure the federal government delivers. And then when it comes to our ability to leverage our pressure on the federal government, on the Trudeau government, we’re going to do whatever we can to force that—the government to do what’s right for people.

Mercedes Stephenson: When it comes to the WE affair that we’ve been talking about for weeks now, you’ve not been as critical as the prime minister and the minister of finance as the Conservatives have. Do you believe that both Prime Minister Trudeau and Minister Morneau should be able to remain in their jobs in the wake of the allegations that have come out and the revelations?

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh: Well, what I’ve been hearing from people is a deep concern that this seems to be a pattern of behaviour. When SNC-Lavelin, that scandal broke, and it was found that the ethics commissioner found that Prime Minister Trudeau did indeed breach the ethics rules that we have in place. That that was a pattern of behaviour that now is continuing and people are worried that what is happening behind closed doors? The prime minister makes these great announcements sometimes, but then behind closed doors negotiates to help out powerful CEOs avoiding criminal sanctions and helps out a company, an organization that was directly benefitting his family. These are not what Canadians want to see as priorities. They don’t want to see a government, a prime minister or a Liberal government helping out their friends and families. They want to see a government working for people. And so now with this pattern of behaviour emerging, people are really worried and I’m also worried. But it doesn’t seem to be isolated to just the prime minister, it includes also the finance minister, and we’re worried that it might include others as well. So, we’re waiting for the—

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[cross talk]

Mercedes Stephenson: So does that mean that they should stay in their jobs then, Mr. Singh?

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh: Well, I think that as the evidence emerges, as we get more and more evidence that question’s going to come to light more and. More. Tomorrow is an important day. There’s going to be some documents released that we’ve been waiting for that will expose some of the contradictions. And maybe once we reveal—once we look at those documents, it’ll give us a better picture of what we should do next. But it’s clear that there is a pattern of behaviour emerging that’s very troubling to Canadians that the government—the Liberal government is working to benefit themselves, doing different things behind closed doors than what they say in public. And that is something that is deeply troubling.

Mercedes Stephenson: Jagmeet Singh, leader of the NDP. Thank you so much for joining us today, sir.

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NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh: Thank you. Thank you, Miss Stevenson.

Mercedes Stephenson:  Up next, political science professor Bessma Momani will join us to discuss that tragic explosion in Beirut.


Announcer: You’re watching The West Block on Global.

Karina Gould, International Development Minister: “On behalf of the Government of Canada, and I believe all Canadians, we are deeply saddened and of course, shocked by the absolute tragedy that occurred in Beirut. I announced up to $5 million in terms of the immediate response to the crisis in Lebanon, $1.5 of this will be dispersed immediately.”

Mercedes Stephenson: Welcome back. That was International Development Minister Karina Gould on Canada’s response to the ammonium nitrate explosion in Beirut last week. Two thousand, seven hundred and fifty tonnes of this highly combustible chemical caught fire at a port and caused an explosion that killed over 100 people and left thousands injured.

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University of Waterloo political science professor Bessma Momani joins us now to discuss this. Bessma, you’re an expert in this part of the world. A terrible tragedy, obviously, that has struck the people of Beirut. What does this mean for the people of Lebanon? 

Professor Bessma Momani, University of Waterloo: Well I can’t reiterate how awful the situation was before this explosion. You know, the economic crisis, the hunger, the frustration, the feeling of helplessness was at a peak, frankly, in a way that I’ve never, ever seen this country, at least in modern times. So then this hits, which has as many, you know, the viewers may know from seeing the images, has hit almost every home in Beirut in particular, you know glass shard and glass everywhere in people’s homes. The destruction that’s physical is unbelievable. Certainly the long term challenge of getting food in the country now that the port, which is the—bring in about 90 per cent of all goods into Lebanon being destroyed. It doesn’t look good and it doesn’t help that it has, frankly, an incompetent government. So all in all, it was the perfect storm of everything awful that could happen to a beautiful country and people.

Mercedes Stephenson: And Bessma, I think that’s one of the big questions people have. What was ammonium nitrate being done—stored in a port? This is a well-known explosive. It’s been used in terrorist bombings for years. It’s also a fertilizer many farmers use, but it’s known to be an extremely dangerous substance. How will the Lebanese government be held to account for this?

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Professor Bessma Momani, University of Waterloo: Well look, I’m sure there’s some corruption at the port level that is probably going to be uncovered that really transcends even farther than the port authority to real key political backers, but the challenge here is that this is a shipment of cargo that was based on some dispute between shipping vessels, got unloaded in Lebanon. Shouldn’t have been unloaded in the first place, frankly, and then it just got lost in the bureaucracy of incompetent people, incompetent officials, a judicial process that wouldn’t address the issue despite having a number of people on the ground now documenting having alerted authorities to this. But frankly, it’s not a surprise to, I think, maybe Lebanese that this happened because of the bureaucratic, incompetent, corrupt leaders that they have. This is what happens when you don’t have good government in place.

Mercedes Stephenson: Bessma, Canada has promised up to $5 million in support to Lebanon, not being sent to the Lebanese government, being sent through organizations like the Lebanese Red Cross. Do you think that that’s enough to alleviate what’s happened there, and what is the most effective way for Canada to deliver aid to the people who have actually been affected, given the concerns about corruption in the government?

Professor Bessma Momani, University of Waterloo: So kudos on the Canadian government to deliver directly to NGOs and civil society on the ground who are phenomenal. They’re professional, they’re non-sectarian. They’re not corrupt; they’re fantastic and kudos to them. So that’s great, but we are going directly to the people in some way. But frankly, $5 million is a joke. I don’t even know why they’ve announced it. It’s such a small number. You know the average home in Toronto is $1 million. Really? This great G7 country could come up with only $5 million. So it’s a bit funny, you know, with our great history, our great involvement, all the diaspora links and the rest of it that we would have only such a small amount to give, but if we’re going to give, and we need to give fast because there is going to be hunger. There was hunger before and there’s going to be hunger now. This is an import dependent country and the main way of getting stuff into the country is now gone as a facility. So we need to get supplies, we need to talk about it on a larger scale, a debt forgiveness and help Lebanon gets out of its mess with the conditions of governance reform. That’s the key thing. I really do believe that, you know, the Lebanese people can get themselves out of this. But one of the things that we’ve learned with sovereign debt crisis of the past is at some point you gotta say to the banker you’re not going to get your money back. It’s just the way it is because the debt does not come close to the amount of income that that country can generate for the foreseeable future. So it’s an honest conversation that sovereign debt restructure needs to happen and I think some good will from international players to help get this moving along would be fantastic with very clear structural reforms, including governance reforms are required. 

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Farah Nasser: Bessma Momani, thank you so much for joining us with your expertise, as always.

Professor Bessma Momani, University of Waterloo: Thank you, Mercedes.

Mercedes Stephenson: Well, that’s all the time we have for The West Block, today. Thank you for joining us, and we’ll see you right here again, next week. Have a great day.