The West Block — Episode 5, Season 10

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Watch the full broadcast of The West Block from Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020, with Mercedes Stephenson – Oct 25, 2020


Episode 5, Season 10

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Host: Mercedes Stephenson


Robin MacLachlan, Liberal Strategist

Melissa Lantsman, Conservative Strategist

Robin MacLachlan, NDP Strategist

John Bolton, Former National Security Advisor to Donald Trump

Minister of Seniors Deb Schulte

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Location: Ottawa, Ontario

Mercedes Stephenson: This week on The West Block: a high stakes game of chicken on Parliament Hill avoids a snap election.

Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole: “He has not consulted Dr. Tam or experts ahead of threatening a general election in the second wave of a pandemic.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “The choice is up to the opposition parties, Mr. Speaker.”

Mercedes Stephenson: Donald Trump’s former national security advisor on the U.S. election and the biggest security threat facing Canada.

John Bolton, Former National Security Advisor for President Trump: “I think China poses the biggest existential threat to the West as a whole in the 21st century.”

Mercedes Stephenson: And what the Trudeau government is doing for vulnerable seniors in COVID-19.

Are you concerned about seniors’ mental health?

Minister of Seniors Deb Schulte: “Absolutely.”

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

Well, the Liberal government survived another self-inflicted confidence vote last week, avoiding a snap election. It all came down to the WE Charity controversy, with the Conservative and the Bloc pushing for a so-called anti-corruption committee to probe into government spending. The Liberals fired back, though, saying that the motion dripped of non-confidence in the government and brought it to a confidence vote. The NDP found themselves, once again, propping up the Liberals and shutting down the motion. Everyone says they don’t want an election and yet here we are.

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Joining me now to unpack all of this and what it means is Conservative strategist Melissa Lantsman. We are also joined by Robin MacLachlan, an NDP strategist and Richard Mahoney, Liberal strategist.

Thanks for coming on, guys. What a crazy week on Parliament Hill. We’ve seen confidence votes before in minority governments. I’ve never seen one over the creation of a committee.

Richard, everyone says they don’t want an election and yet here we are playing chicken with the prospect of an election. Why did the Liberal government do this?

Richard Mahoney, Liberal Strategist: A really question because the folks watching it at home are probably thinking an election? What election? Why are we having an election? So, I think a couple of things are going on. One, the government was focused on COVID exclusively until towards the end of June when they realized the CERB, which they had rolled out very quickly, you know, to eight or nine million Canadians, didn’t cover students. So they unveil a program to cover students. They propose to outsource it to WE. Within a week they reversed that decision and cancelled the program and then we have a series of parliamentary committees over the summer looking into that and how it happened and all the mechanics, [00:02:30] the prime minister testified, everybody testified. And so of course, the opposition wants to go more into that. So, in the end, I think the prime minister was [00:02:40 just sort of saying that] he’s not going to let the opposition parties, which they can do in a minority Parliament, totally run the table on his and decide what it is that they will investigate or what they won’t investigate and what it is that Parliament will spend its time on and won’t.

Mercedes Stephenson: It’s pretty counter brand from how the Liberals had sold themselves with transparency and accountability, although I guess there’s accountability in trying to trigger a vote.

Melissa, do you think this becomes the new tactic that whenever the government is confronted with scrutiny they don’t want, they will threaten to go to an election and try to twist the NDPs arm into keeping them in power?

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Melissa Lantsman, Conservative Strategist: Well, [00:03:13 inaudible] beginnings of what you saw. I think this was very much a trial balloon for the Liberals who claim they didn’t want an election, but, you know, I think there’s reason to believe [00:03:25 inaudible] and with the NDP, frankly, on their back foot in supporting them, so effectively running a majority. But to frame this as a game, or chicken, or parliamentary antics, I think is where actually everybody is wrong. I think there’s a serious issue here that the government has spent hundreds of billions of dollars throughout this pandemic and there hasn’t been a budget. There hasn’t been the ability to scrutinize that spending through Parliament. You know, what Richard forgot to say is that they actually prorogued this to stop investigating the WE scandal, brought it back saying we will be accountable and then, you know, call a confidence motion on something that we’ve never had a confidence motion on, or at least not in the last 150 years.

Mercedes Stephenson: Robin, where does this leave the NDP? Because they back the government, saying it’s too dangerous to have an election despite the fact the United States is having an election, three different provinces are having elections. But, you know, they’re not polling well so I can understand not wanting the government to fall, but how long can they balance that between holding on to some influence and some power and just becoming essentially the people who are propping the government up?

Robin MacLachlan, NDP Strategist: Well I’d say the NDP had Canadians’ backs. Canadians don’t want an election, they’re quite scared. They know they’re mostly in a second wave across Canada and they’re worried that the government may not be there when they need them. So, Melissa’s right that this is a serious issue. The problem for the Conservatives and the Liberals was they didn’t take a serious approach. The Conservatives overplayed their hand by trying to label this an anti-corruption committee, rather than trying to get a committee that could hold the government to account because Liberals were filibustering, they were stonewalling. They were deliberately trying to ensure the opposition couldn’t get the answers they wanted to hold the government to account. So thank goodness there was an adult in the room in Jagmeet Singh in the NDP, and he voted to make Parliament work, because that’s what Canadians want.

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Mercedes Stephenson: Richard, do you believe that the Liberals do want an election? It sure seems like they’re trying to provoke one with three confidence votes back-to-back.

Richard Mahoney, Liberal Strategist: No, I don’t think so. But I do think the other side of that is I do think they’re probably ready to fight one if they have to. I think they understand. I think all of the parties understand that Canadians would be wary about an election right now. But as you said in a previous question, other elections have gone. The American election is going on. B.C. is having one. New Brunswick just had one. So if we have to have one, we, I think the Liberals were prepared to do it. I don’t think they want one.

Mercedes Stephenson: We just have a few moments left, so I want to go quickly to Melissa and to Robin. Do you foresee us getting through the rest of 2020 without an election?

Melissa Lantsman, Conservative Strategist: It doesn’t—it certainly doesn’t look like that. I think the Liberals see this as an opportunity to frankly, go out to the electorate. They saw a majority government—a majority incumbent in New Brunswick. We are probably seeing a majority government for Mr. Horgan in B.C. And the cards are still aligned for them where we haven’t had the economic fallout that I think we’re going to have in the next six to eight months, so why not go to that electorate now? It’s a wise calculation. But to say that you don’t want one and consistently call for confidence, I mean, soon we’ll be having confidence motions around question period until we just go to election.

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Mercedes Stephenson: Robin?

Robin MacLachlan, NDP Strategists: I sure hope we can, and there’s really no reason that we can’t get through this year, and to be frank, through to the budget because that’s what the NDPs got their eyes on is the budget. I mean, that’s what matters. The throne speech was ambitious, it talked about pharmacare, child care and protecting the most vulnerable among us. And the budget is where we’re going to be able to do that, so we should be able to see Parliament work. But what we saw this past week, is concerning because it kind of casts a shadow over this Parliament. It’s like a poison pill into this Parliament. How do you negotiate in good faith with a government you know doesn’t want to be here and doesn’t like this Parliament?

Mercedes Stephenson: Okay, that’s all the time we have for today. Thank you all for joining us. We’ll see you again soon.

Melissa Lantsman, Conservative Strategist: [00:07:26 Inaudible].
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Robin MacLachlan, NDP Strategist: Thanks Mercedes.

Richard Mahoney, Liberal Strategist: Thanks a lot.

Up next, insider details on Donald Trump’s White House: my interview with the former White House National Security Advisor John Bolton.


President Donald Trump: “The only thing we do to make them totally crazy, is we say 12 more years because it drives…right? Then they say, ‘See, he is a fascist.’ Ah, they’ve covered me. They’ve covered me every way. They’ve said, ‘He is so stupid.’ Then they say, ‘He’s not really smart.’ Then they say, ‘He’s trying to take over the entire country.’”

Mercedes Stephenson: That was President Donald Trump at a campaign rally last week. The presidential election is now just over one week away. Ahead of that, we wanted to get some insight into Donald Trump’s mind: what might happen and how this could all affect America’s relationship with Canada. So I sat down with somebody who used to have the president’s ear in the Oval Office and on the national security file, former National Security Advisor, Ambassador John Bolton. Here is that interview.

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Ambassador Bolton, welcome to the program. Thank you for joining us this morning.

John Bolton, Former National Security Advisor to Donald Trump: Glad to be with you.

Mercedes Stephenson: Sir, you’ve stated that you don’t believe President Trump will leave graciously from office if he loses the election and there’s a very real possibility of that happening. As someone who had daily access to Donald Trump and to U.S. national security, how do you foresee this unfolding if the president won’t leave graciously as you’re putting it?

John Bolton, Former National Security Advisor to Donald Trump: Well, I think a lot depends on how quickly the outcome becomes known, whether there are delays in counting because of mail-in ballots and early voting, long lines on Election Day, a lot of which we should be able to handle, but which could delay the result in several states. Trump has said he can’t lose unless there’s fraud and that’s a very troubling statement. I don’t—I’m not as alarmist as some people. I don’t assume he’s going to hold onto his desk and refuse to leave, but I do think there could be turmoil. If he thinks confusion and chaos can help him hang on, can help affect recounts and contest, I think there’s every prospect he’ll engage in it.

Mercedes Stephenson: When it comes to the relationship with alliances like NATO and the international community and allies like Canada, what happens if Donald Trump wins a second term?

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John Bolton, Former National Security Advisor to Donald Trump: Well I think many of these alliances are potentially in jeopardy. As I recount in the book, he came very close at the NATO summit in June of 2018 to deciding to withdraw with NATO. And you know many of his decisions in the first term were made on the basis of American politics, what would be the blowback if he decided one way rather than another. In other words, not based on the merits of the policy proposals under consideration but what’s the political reaction? Now look, every Democratic leader takes politics into account in foreign policy decisions, no question about it. But for Trump, sometimes it was not just a factor, it was the factor. And if he’s re-elected, the main political constrain on him is removed. That guardrail is gone. And I think people will be very surprised with a lot of his decisions in a second term, where freed from this political constraint he’ll do simply what his idea at the moment is, rather than think even in longer political terms.

Mercedes Stephenson: China has been a significant issue for Canada, in particular because we have two Canadians detained there: Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor—a lot of concern about their future. How dedicated was the president really, to trying to get them freed? He’d say that he was raising it with the Chinese president, but we never really had a sense here in Canada of how determined he was or how forceful he was in those negotiations.

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John Bolton, Former National Security Advisor to Donald Trump: Well I think the administration, as a whole, was very determined because what the Chinese did, I think, was bear their fangs. They took the mask off. They took their coronavirus mask off. And when the U.S. sought extradition of the Huawei CFO, Meng Wanzhou, they responded by completely illegitimately seizing these two Canadians. They’ve recently threatened the United States by seizing Americans in China. This is—this is the picture of an authoritarian government and how it deals with foreigners. So, it’s obviously, extremely unfair and unpleasant for the two Canadians who are still in captivity in China. But I just urge everybody to consider whether we confront this kind of behaviour now, together, or we wait 20 years when China feels even stronger. If this is the way they behave when relations are supposed to be good, how will they behave later? It’s a very, very revealing incident about the government in China.

Mercedes Stephenson: Do you think that the Canadian government should be taking a tougher line with China?

John Bolton, Former National Security Advisor to Donald Trump: Yeah, I think it’s—I think we all have to take a tougher line. The Chinese have abused the international trading system. They have stolen intellectual property. They’ve engaged in forced technology transfer. They discriminate against foreign businesses and investors. They have gone through an enormous military build-up. They’re seeking [00:05:33] in the East China Sea and the South China Sea. Within the past six weeks, they’ve initiated two armed attacks against Indian forces along the line of actual control. In the Himalayas, they’ve built up their nuclear capabilities. This is a country with an agenda that they’re pursuing; all the while they’ve become more authoritarian, domestically. You can see what they’re doing in Hong Kong. You can see what they’re doing to the Uighurs in Xinjiang. I think many are familiar with their social metrics index where they rate their citizens as to how good a citizen they are. Just think about that for the future. So it’s not pleasant to contemplate, but I think if we’re going to change Chinese behaviour, now’s the time to get together and do it in a unified fashion.
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Mercedes Stephenson: What do you think the biggest national security threat is to our country in Canada?

John Bolton, Former National Security Advisor to Donald Trump: Well, I think China poses the biggest existential threat to the West as a whole in the 21st century. And it’s not inevitable that this had to happen. You know, but our policies really, in the West as a whole, we’re premised on incorrect assumptions going back to the reforms Deng Xiaoping initiated in China in the mid-1980s when people thought they’re moving away from Marxist principles, they’re moving toward market principles. This will change their international behaviour and it will change their domestic behaviour and specifically, they’ll become more democratic. That has not happened. Xi Jinping is the most authoritarian leader in China since Mao Zedong and there’s no indication that’s going to change.

Mercedes Stephenson: Ambassador Bolton, we truly appreciate your time. Thank you so much for joining us, sir.

John Bolton, Former National Security Advisor to Donald Trump: Well thank you very much for having me.

Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, what has the government done for seniors during the second wave of COVID-19? A one-on-one interview with the Liberal government’s Seniors Minster Deb Schulte to get to the bottom of just that.

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Mercedes Stephenson: There’s no question that Canadians across this country are feeling the impact of the second wave of COVID-19, but seniors are being particularly hard hit. Some living on a fixed income are now struggling with the increasing cost of goods and services, resulting from the virus. Others are suffering in isolation, unable to see friends and family because of the risk that they face. But long-term care homes have been the epicentre of so much of the Canadian tragedy when it comes to COVIDo-19. Eighty-five per cent of deaths in this country in the first wave happened in long-term care homes and led to calls to do more for Canada’s seniors. But what has Ottawa done to address this problem?

Last week, I sat down with Canada’s Seniors Minister Deb Schulte, to discuss what the government has done and where they’re at on their promises to do more for Canada’s aging population.

Minister, thank you so much for joining us.

Minister of Seniors Deb Schulte: It’s a real pleasure. Thanks for having me.

Mercedes Stephenson: Seniors are the people who have so much been at the focus of this pandemic that we’ve all been suffering through, but they’ve suffered so disproportionately to the rest of the population. You’re the minister for seniors, a lot of Canadians I think, don’t even know we have a minister for seniors, so can you tell me a little bit about what you’ve been doing throughout the pandemic? 

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Minister of Seniors Deb Schulte: Absolutely. Yeah, and it’s been a real privilege to serve as the senior minister. It’s been incredibly difficult for seniors across Canada. First, we know that they’ve had some financial difficulties because there were added costs as a result of the pandemic. They’ve had to be staying home more because they’re more vulnerable. So they’ve ended up having more issues with isolation and access to services and supports. And obviously, we have the seniors that are in long-term care and that’s a tragedy that’s occurred in Canada with so many lost with the pandemic.

Mercedes Stephenson: With 85 per cent of the deaths being long-term care facilities, and most of those being seniors, do you think that the Canadian government has failed seniors in COVID-19?

Minister of Seniors Deb Schulte: No, I would say that the Canadian government has stepped up and obviously, it is a jurisdiction that is with the provinces and territories. But we’ve been there right from the very beginning to help with financial support, with the Canadian forces when asked to intervene and those that were spiking and having difficulties. We also provided $3 billion to support in essential workers top-up of wages to help make sure that we had the employees that we needed in the long-term care facilities because there was a shortage of people being able to serve in those facilities.

Mercedes Stephenson: One of the promises your government had made back—it feels like eons ago—but in the 2019 election, was to increase the OAS. We had talked about this with the finance minister. We’ve talked about it with others. The government has said that they are still committed to doing this, but it was supposed to happen by July? It has not happened. Are you still committed to increasing the OAS for seniors? And when can seniors expect to see that money?

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Minister of Seniors Deb Schulte: Absolutely. You saw in our throne speech that we’ve recommitted to providing those 75 and above, a 10 per cent increase in their old age security. But during the pandemic, what we were focused on is making sure seniors got an amount of money right away. So we were making sure that we were focusing on those seniors that needed it during the pandemic, and that’s why we did what we did.

Mercedes Stephenson: So do you have a sense of the timeline on when they can see the OAS increase?

Minister of Seniors Deb Schulte: So we’ve committed to it in our platform. We’ll be working on that as we move forward, so stay tuned.

Mercedes Stephenson: Your government has promised guidance, national guidance on long-term care homes. When can we expect to see that?

Minister of Seniors Deb Schulte: So, we are working already. The process has started. The prime minister had conversations with the premiers to initiate the conservation on how we’re going to move forward, the national standards. So that process has already started. There’ll be lots of conversations and obviously, we’ll be sharing the information as we move forward.

Mercedes Stephenson: I’m curious to know when it comes to those standards, what are your thoughts on how you enforce them? Is it, for example, the provinces committing to having regular inspections of these homes? Is it making health care dollars contingent on promises, promising to make these implementations because I think people are hungry for the idea that there should be standards, nationally, in the homes? But how do you make that a reality for the vulnerable people who are in those homes?

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Minister of Seniors Deb Schulte: So these are the important conversations that we’ll have to be having with the provinces and territories. You know, how do we move forward? How can we work with them to support them? And there are a variety of different ways to do it and those are the conversations that we’ll be undertaking.

Mercedes Stephenson: Are you concerned about seniors’ mental health?

Minister of Seniors Deb Schulte: Absolutely.

Mercedes Stephenson: Now in the second wave, you just think—your heart breaks for these folks who are in long-term care homes—yeah, it’s emotional for me too. I can see it in your eyes—who have dementia. I mean…

Minister of Seniors Deb Schulte: I’ll tell you why. Because I had my mother-in-law in a long-term care facility and she passed away in June. So I am totally aware of the challenges that families have had across Canada. I’ve got my father-in-law in a senior’s residence and the challenges that he has with us not being able to see him and the mental health, the strain of him losing his wife. Not being able to see her as she deteriorated because we weren’t able to be with her. So it is very emotional. I’m emotional, too, because I’ve lived it. And I hear the stories and I’m on the phone and I’ve got the e-mails and I’m with people every day that are struggling with this issue. So, we are seized with how do we address that isolation, and I talked a little bit about the New Horizons for Seniors program and how we’ve put more money in that and how that is helping, not just in the communities but in long-term care centres, too, because we provided money for those devices to be distributed. And I can tell you that was a lifeline in how we connected with our mother-in-law—with my mother-in-law before she passed. She was able to see us on the screen and we were able to talk to her. It’s not the same. We couldn’t hold her hand, but we could at least see her and know that she was being care for well. Those were important things to know and you can really only do that when you see people.

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Mercedes Stephenson: Minister, a lot of seniors are frustrated because they feel that they did not receive the funding that others groups did. They saw money going to people who had lost their jobs. They saw money going to students, to young people and they’re saying look, I can’t go back to work. I’ve lost my savings. Why isn’t the government doing more? Why isn’t the government supporting seniors more, financially?

Minister of Seniors Deb Schulte: Well thank you very much for that because, you know, we have been focused on seniors and delivering financial support for seniors and what we did in July, was provided those on Old Age Security (OAS), an additional $300 tax-free. Those who are on Guaranteed Income Supplement, they got an additional $200. So, if it—for couples that were on Guaranteed Income Supplement, they got an additional $1,500. That is if you include it with a GST top-up. They got $1,500 of direct financial support tax-free.

Mercedes Stephenson: What about seniors who aren’t low-income seniors? How much would they have seen?

Minister of Seniors Deb Schulte: So if they’re on Old Age Security, so they were talking 6.7 million seniors would have received individually, the $300 and couples would have received $600.

Mercedes Stephenson: And what about those who say $300 wasn’t very much if you’ve seen your investments tank?

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Minister of Seniors Deb Schulte: So, you know, in terms of investments, you know, we went to look at how we could help there and that’s where we did the Registered Retirement Income Fund (RRIF) reduction of 25 per cent to try to help those with investments.

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

Minister of Seniors Deb Schulte: Thank you, appreciate it.

Mercedes Stephenson: That’s all the time that we have for this today. Thank you for tuning in. I’m Mercedes Stephenson for The West Block, and we’ll see you right here next Sunday.