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The West Block – Episode 53, Season 9

The West Block: Sep 6
Episode 53, Season 9. Watch the full broadcast of The West Block from Sunday, Sept. 6, 2020, with Mercedes Stephenson.

THE WEST BLOCK

Episode 53, Season 9

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Host: Mercedes Stephenson

Guests: Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault and Alberta Justice Minister Kaycee Madu

Journalist Panel: Kristy Kirkup, Abigail Bimman

Location: Ottawa, Ontario

[Crowd cheers and applause]
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Mercedes Stephenson: This week on The West Block.

Robin Gill, Global National Anchor: “The toppling of a statue of Sir John A. Macdonald has reignited the debate over how to honour Canada’s first prime minister!”

Mercedes Stephenson: Statues and monuments called into question.

Unidentified Woman: “There’s a problem, and you’re not addressing it”

Andrew Scheer, MP for Regina: “Sir John A. played a critical role in building this great nation.”

Mercedes Stephenson: Canada’s first black justice minister.

Jason Kenney, Alberta Premier: “At a time when we are all rightfully more sensitive to the reality of racial prejudice, Alberta will have the first ever Canadian justice minister of African origin.”

Mercedes Stephenson: And, is a fall election in the cards?

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “We’re putting together a throne speech now that will set out this ambitious agenda before Parliament. And parliamentarians can decide, because we’re in a minority situation, whether this government has the support to move forward.”

Mercedes Stephenson: Historical controversy calls for statues to be removed and rallies in support of, well, those same statues, and rumours as well of a fall election. We have a lot on the agenda, and here to talk about all that and more is Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault. Thank you for joining me, Minister.

Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault: Pleasure to be here. 

Mercedes Stephenson: Sir, the first thing that I wanted to talk about with you is what people are buzzing about certainly here in Ottawa but across the country as well, and that’s the possibility of a fall election. Your government has been talking about transformative change in the throne speech. There are sources who are saying the government is looking at moving fiscal anchors into significant new social programs and new territory. Does your government want an election this fall?

Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault: No, clearly not, and I would argue that Canadians don’t want an election either. I mean we are still in the midst of the worst pandemic and the worst crisis we’ve seen in the last 100 years. Many Canadians have lost their jobs, they’re wondering how they’re going to make ends meet and we’re still deploying a number of measures to help support Canadians, Canadian businesses, Canadian organizations. Certainly in my sector, arts and culture, etc., has been severely impacted. So I think the last thing that people want at this point is an election.

Mercedes Stephenson: If you feel that way, why introduce all of these significant new programs that we’re hearing are likely to be in the throne speech, that are sources in financing that the government is going to abandon their fiscal anchors, reports that it could be as much as 100 billion being spent that fundamentally transforms the way that Canadians are governed?

Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault:  Well, when it comes to rumours, I like to say hear all and trust nothing. We’ll see what will be in the throne speech. I mean, clearly our government is an activist government. We’ve done a lot to help Canadians, and I think the pandemic has shown us that there are some pretty serious cracks in our social [00:02:58], which is why we had to put together, very quickly, the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), which 8 million Canadians benefitted from. So, I think there needs to be some thinking about what do we do next? Do we simply go back to the way things were, or do we try to build Canada better from an environmental perspective, from a social perspective and also from an economic perspective.
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Mercedes Stephenson: I do want to switch gears to ask about your file specifically, and what we’ve been seeing going on with protests across Canada that have seen statues torn down, one of Canada’s first Prime Minister John A. Macdonald torn down and beheaded earlier this week when it fell to the ground. You’re the heritage minister, what are your thoughts on the solution here? Do you think that tearing down statues is the right approach? Or do you think that history should be taught but the statues should be kept revealing the full history, including the parts that have largely been taken out?

Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault: Well clearly, we need to do a better job at telling Canada’s history. And when we look at our statues across the country, it’s only part of the story that we’re telling. We rarely talk about the role of Indigenous people in Canada. We rarely talk about Canadians that are from an immigration that have contributed significantly. So I think that as we go forward, we need to be very mindful and make more space for these people whom we’ve largely forgotten in the past. Now that being said, I don’t think it’s—it shouldn’t, and it won’t be up to a handful of people to decide how this is done and a group of protestors. These things have to be talked about. We have to come to decisions together on how we do it and do this in an orderly manner. Taking down statues like that is clearly not the way to go. Even Indigenous leaders in Canada have said that they didn’t think that these protestors—certainly didn’t speak for them and didn’t reflect necessarily the way they wanted to do this.

Mercedes Stephenson: Minister, I do want to ask you as well about Facebook, Twitter, some of these internet giants that are here in Canada. There’s been a lot of discussion, including in your cabinet, of whether these platforms are taking responsibility for some of the content that’s being posted there and calls to do more to regulate that, also concerns about free speech. What’s your approach in terms of getting these big internet giants that are not based in Canada, to take responsibility for things that are put up that either insight violence or hate speech or in some cases are basically just massive social media gang-ups? 

Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault:  Well, we have made a commitment to fight on online hate, child pornography and really incitement to terrorism. And we are seeing a lot of that online, and we are also seeing that these platforms can’t regulate themselves. We’ve tried that and it’s simply not working. Now there’s a big difference between saying that we’re going to regulate these hateful things and these appalling things and we’re going to put an end to free speech on the internet. That’s really not what this is about, just like we have free speech in our society but people can’t say everything they—you can’t verbally abuse someone. We have courts that have put measures around free speech. Well, we’re doing it in the real world. We can do it on the virtual world as well. And then this is something that myself, my colleague, Minister Bains, obviously Justice Minister Lametti are working on, and we will be coming up with legislation in the very near future.

Mercedes Stephenson: Minister Guilbeault, thank you very much for your time.

Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault: Thank you.

Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, an interview with Canada’s first black justice minister.

[Break]
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Jason Kenney, Alberta Premier: “First black Canadian justice minister, or attorney-general, or solicitor general, who is a man who has experienced racial prejudice firsthand.”

Alberta Justice Minister Kaycee Madu: “As Minister of Justice…”

Mercedes Stephenson: The father of three was born and raised in Nigeria, where he attended the University of Lagos and graduated with a law degree.

In 2005, he immigrated to Canada to practice law in Alberta.

[Crowd clapping and chanting: Kaycee, Kaycee, Kaycee…]

Mercedes Stephenson: In April of 2019, he was elected to the Alberta Legislature.

[Crowd chanting and clapping: Black lives matter! Black lives matter!]
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Mercedes Stephenson: Madu’s appointment comes after a summer filled with anti-black racism demonstrations and questions about systemic racism in Canada’s justice system and police forces.

Just hours into his new job, Madu wrote: “I am determined to make sure our justice system represents all Albertans in a way that is fair and accountable.”

Unidentified man: “Regardless of political stance, it comes down to people that look like us being in those positions of power.”

Mercedes Stephenson: Madu says modernizing the Police Act will be a necessary step towards ensuring equality for marginalized people before the law. He joins us now for a one-on-one interview from Edmonton.

Welcome to the show, Minister. Thank you for joining us.

Alberta Justice Minister Kaycee Madu: Thank you, Mercedes, very glad to be here.

Mercedes Stephenson: Minister, one of the big discussions that being had in Canada right now is about systemic racism in the courts and in policing. Do you believe that that exists in Alberta?

Alberta Justice Minister Kaycee Madu: You know, Mercedes, there is no question that we have, still, a lot of work to do when it comes to issues of racial equality and justice from the perspective of the minority community. There is no question that I have firsthand heard concerns with respect to policing and the justice system and administration of same. There is no question, Mercedes that as I have explained publicly that this is one area that I have got lived experience. And so there is something that we will continue to work on, but one that I think that despite the present difficulties that we have made progress and continue to make progress. And I am excited to be able to further the work towards progress.

Mercedes Stephenson: You mentioned your firsthand experience with racial injustice. Can you tell us about that?

Alberta Justice Minister Kaycee Madu: So Mercedes, as I have said previously, when I came to this country, I came with nothing. And my first employment was at a small unit at the University of Alberta Hospital called Patient Food Services, where I had the honour and privilege to be able to wash the dishes and made meals for citizens who are going through a period of adversity at that point in time in their lives. It was from there that I would go on to work for Legal Aid Alberta, where I saw firsthand, you know, the issues that confront those who don’t have what it takes to go through our justice system from a financial point of view. It was from Legal Aid that I went to work for the provincial government. And Mercedes, while I was in provincial government, as perfect as we have made progress, we still have, sadly, folks like myself who have the difficulty, you know, to achieve their full potential within the public service and most of our public institutions. I always give an example of when I was about to article. You know, I would send hundreds of applications on a weekly basis under my real first name, which is Kelechi, spelled K-E-L-E-C-H-I. And I would hardly get a call back or an email back. And that got me thinking. You know, Mercedes, where I was born and raised in Southeast Nigeria, people who are named Kelechi are called K.C., simply K.C. You know, and I had to create a name out of K. C. And that is how I now came about my first name that I go with today: Kaycee, K-A-Y-C-E-E. It was not until I was able to do that that I began to see progress in terms of job interviews. And that tells you that your name and who you are, regardless of your qualifications and competence, you know, still defies your success or chances of making progress in some of these professions. And I have been clear that issues of racism are real. I don’t want to for one second, minimize, you know, that particular point because I do see a lot of our fellow citizens, Albertans, and folks across our country from the minority community, complaining bitterly about issues of racism. Because I have lived it, I know it is real. But that is not to say that our society have not made progress. We have made tremendous progress and I am excited at opportunity, as I said to further that particular work towards a more perfect society.

Mercedes Stephenson: Sir, how do you do that as the justice minister in Alberta? What changes do you want to make because I know you’ve been asked about the defund police movement. You don’t agree that that’s the answer. So what are the changes that you think need to be made to policing and to justice and how will you do that?

Alberta Justice Minister Kaycee Madu: So, the changes that we are looking to make are changes that will address the specific concerns that minority communities and Indigenous communities have raised with respect to the application of the justice system and the way our police services interact with them. As you know, the premier of my province has authorized or given me the direction to review the Police Act. That work is underway. One of the concerns that I have had way before I became  lawyer, way before I became an elected official, way before I became the Minister of Municipal Affairs or the Minister of Justice, is the issue of carding and street checks, that I know for sure that there are problems there. And as Minister of Justice, from that community, I am committed to making sure that those concerns are addressed. So that particular work is underway.

Second, Mercedes, is, you know, the court system. I think that is important that we’ve got a court system—court rooms. And those who walk within the four walls of our court room must reflect todays Alberta. You know, if we want to have a public buy-in and confidence into our justice system from all walks of life, including folks from the minority community and Indigenous community, I think it’s important that we have folks who work in those court rooms reflect todays Alberta. So as Justice Minister, I know have the opportunity to appoint judges to the provincial court, the level of court that I am responsible for. And you are going to be seeing progress in that particular regard. I do think there are qualified, you know, minority lawyers, people who have spent their entire life and working in the justice system who deserve a shot at the bench. And I am prepared and committed to making sure that that becomes a reality.

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Mercedes Stephenson: Minister, thank you so much for your time today. We appreciate it.

Alberta Justice Minister Kaycee Madu: Thank you so much, Mercedes. Have a good day.

Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, journalists on the Hill join me to talk about the possibility of a snap election, the Canadian economy, and the other top stories from the week.

[Break]
[Announcer]
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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “As we move forward in reimagining what the Canadian economy can look like in the coming years, we have an opportunity to go greener. We have an opportunity to be fairer, to reduce barriers for women’s participation, for Indigenous participation in the workforce.”

Mercedes Stephenson: Welcome back. That was Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on what to expect from the government’s upcoming throne speech later this month.

Joining me now to unpack this and the week’s headlines, including election speculation and the possibility of abandoning fiscal anchors, is Abigail Bimman from Global National and Kristy Kirkup from the Globe and Mail.

Thank you both for joining me. Kristy, a lot of discussion this week about whether or not there’s going to be a fall election. What do the parties have to take into account when they determine whether or not this is a good idea?

Kristy Kirkup, Globe and Mail reporter: I think that a lot of it comes down to finances and how much money they have because ultimately we know that the NDP, they say they’re election ready and they’re not going to determine whether they’re going to support a throne speech based on their financial situation, but ultimately, an election campaign right now would be extremely costly. The Conservatives as well, have a brand new leader. Are they ready to take essentially the leadership campaign that Erin O’Toole just ran and ramp it up into a national campaign? Are the parties actually ready? In a minority Parliament, you always have to be ready for an election call, but these are extraordinary times and fundraising by the way, there’s no big fundraisers there. You know, this has really affected the way that political parties are pulling in cash. They’re trying to get creative, but you know, it’s one thing to try and get a bunch of people in a room and fundraise that way. Trying to fundraise on Zoom is a whole other battle.

Mercedes Stephenson: Abigail, one of the things they have to think about, too, is how Canadians will react to this election. Is there a risk that voters punish people who call an election during a pandemic? Or is there a possibility they look back, they watch what’s happening with some of the provincial elections and say, see, it can be done. 

Abigail Bimman, Global News reporter: I think that’s a very important point to consider on top of those points that Kristy raised because I think a lot of Canadians don’t want to go to the polls right now. And, you know, you hear MPs from different parties acknowledging that and saying when they speak to people in their communities that’s not what they’re interested in doing. The backdrop of the pandemic aside from just making, you know, fundraising more difficult, it’s changing fundamentally how Canadians live their lives and how they think and whether they want to be dealing with an election on top of that is something that’s going to be very important for each of those parties to consider going forward.

Mercedes Stephenson: Well we know that they are getting the election year ready to go in case they have to. There’s calls being made about who might be able to manage campaigns. There’s calls being made about the possibility of booking planes and buses in case this all happens. A lot of this is going to centre around the throne speech and what’s in that and whether or not the opposition can support it.

What did you make, Kristy, this week of the reports that the Liberals could be looking at spending as much as $100 billion more, abandoning fiscal anchors that senior officials inside the Finance Department are concerned about how much money this government might be looking at spending?

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Kristy Kirkup, Globe and Mail reporter: Yeah, I think this is definitely going to be an incredibly significant time for the government. We know of course, that pandemic spending has been extraordinary and the government is also looking at steering the way forward, moving into the recovery phase and what does that look like. Based on what the prime minister has said and cabinet ministers’ have said, they are looking, again, at kind of a green recovery path. We don’t have full specifics on what that will include, but I think that there is the indication at least as far as, again, the NDP and the Green Party are concerned, it seems as though there could be quite a tilt left in this throne speech, perhaps enabling those parties to support the government and then, you know, with the non-confidence vote there wouldn’t be an election. So, I think that what we’re hearing from the government is a very strong signal that this is going to be a bold plan that they’re going to put forward. That is the rationale they put forward for proroguing Parliament altogether, that there desperately needed to be this reset because of the unprecedented situation we’re in. But, you know, Globe sources have been suggesting, again, that because of the unprecedented level of spending that this is making bureaucrats really nervous and they want to see exactly what the government has in mind because again, this is really talking about a big amount of money going out the door.

Mercedes Stephenson: Abigail, what are you hearing in terms of how they have to figure this out because on the one hand, we are living in unprecedented times? On the other hand, we are looking at unprecedented death.

Abigail Bimman, Global News reporter: Well, you know, if you’re hearing these suggestions from the Prime Minister about this—these big plans and a big way to move forward, then they’re feeling like Canadians are liking their plan and liking the big programs that have rolled out already in terms of, you know, the high uptake of the CERB and how much Canadians needed that financial assistance. So, it’ll be interesting to see exactly where they go with that throne speech. But also remember, we never had a budget this year, right? We had that fiscal snapshot that we were all trying to figure out what exactly that meant. So, it’ll be interesting to see how detailed this throne speech really is about their plans, both in terms of the fact that we, you know, need a clear picture of where things are and going forward, but also whether there is appetite for an election after the Liberals put those cards on the table.

Mercedes Stephenson: Well, one of the things I’ve been hearing is that the opposition parties may not vote the government down on the throne speech, but the budget could be another issue. You could also slip a poison pill in there if you’re the government to force the oppositions’ hands, say well we didn’t cause the election, they did. You know, in all of this, Erin O’Toole, new Conservative leader. Kristy, what are your thoughts on his performance so far? The latest polling seems to show that he’s picking up steam, albeit not a lot yet. How have his first couple of weeks been?

Kristy Kirkup, Globe and Mail reporter: You know, I think from a communications perspective that it seems as though Erin O’Toole, he seems pretty comfortable. He ran in the last leadership race for the Conservatives. Of course, he was not successful and Andrew Scheer became the leader. But you can see this time around, he does have that experience and he has been around Parliament Hill for a long time. He’s been a cabinet minister and so he does bring those skills to the table. This isn’t, you know, a new politician. This is someone who does bring that experience. I think in the last week, of course, there was the unfortunate incident with the tweet from Kerry-Lynne Findlay and questions about why Erin O’Toole did not immediately say anything about that. We did hear he held a news conference this week and he suggested that he did reach out to Jewish leaders to indicate that the Conservatives are a strong supporter. But at the end of the day, I think that this was an unfortunate moment for the Conservatives, especially for a new Conservative leader. And I want to see how he’s going to kind of wrangle the caucus. You had Andrew Scheer out this week in Regina doing a Sir John A. Macdonald event, where a lot of people were suggesting that perhaps he was, you know, igniting some of the controversy around Sir John A. Macdonald monuments. So, I’m really curious to see the dynamics moving forward with the caucus and as well how he can kind of really, you know, put a mark on the party, and show where he’s going to take the direction of the party.

Mercedes Stephenson: Okay. That’s all the time we have today, but thank you very much Abigail and Kristy for joining us today. And that’s all the time we have for the show today as well, but we’ll be right back here next Sunday on The West Block. Have a great long weekend.