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The West Block — Episode 8, Season 10

Click to play video 'The West Block: COVID-19 response, fallout of Canada’s second wave' The West Block: COVID-19 response, fallout of Canada’s second wave
Watch the full episode of The West Block with host Mercedes Stephenson – Nov 15, 2020

THE WEST BLOCK

Episode 8, Season 10

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Host: Mercedes Stephenson

Guests:

Official Opposition Leader Erin O’Toole

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister Marco Mendicino

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi

Location: Ottawa, Ontario

Mercedes Stephenson: This week on The West Block: COVID-19 cases on the rise.

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “We’re seeing record spikes across the country, so I urge the premiers and the mayors to please do the right thing.”

Ontario Premier Doug Ford: “We don’t need the nanny state telling us what to do.”

Mercedes Stephenson: Provinces at a tipping point.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney: “This two-week push is, I believe, our last chance to avoid more restrictive measures.”

Mercedes Stephenson: Municipalities sounding the alarm.

Toronto Mayor John Tory: “Please stay home.”

Mercedes Stephenson: And time to get tough on China.

Official Opposition Leader Erin O’Toole: “Canadians want to see a principled Canada on the world stage, not a naïve leader like we see with Mr. Trudeau.”

Mercedes Stephenson: It’s Sunday, November 15th. I’m Mercedes Stephenson, and this is The West Block.

The surge of second wave COVID-19 cases has hit the country by storm. Both Ontario and Quebec continue to break daily records. Large outbreaks are straining Manitoba’s health care system, and Canada’s top doctor says if we don’t contain the virus now, cases around the country could climb as high as 10,000 a day by December.

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The prime minister says the federal government will have the provinces and territories backs, but in a pointed reminder to the premiers said resources are not infinite.

Opposition parties continue to probe into the Liberal government’s response to COVID-19. For more on that to get the latest from the Official Opposition, is Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole. Welcome to the show.

Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole: Great to be with you.

Mercedes Stephenson: We’ve been seeing record numbers for some now and that is continuing. The Canadian Medical Association put out a warning late last week saying that the measures that are being taken right now to mitigate the virus are not sufficient and that that they believe we are facing a crisis. There are doctors in the media saying that Canadians are going to die unless there are not more measures taken. Would you support the premiers bringing back lockdowns and do you think that that needs to happen to stop the spread?

Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole: Well the Prime Minister of Canada needs to partner with the premiers wherever possible and collaborate not confront, which Mr. Trudeau likes to do too often. This is why, Mercedes, we’ve been so frustrated with the lack of rapid rollout in Canada. Many of our allies around the world have used rapid tests to give certainty to get the frontline workers back if they’re worried about an exposure, reduce quarantine times, and help keep the economy moving as much as possible. But obviously, public health needs to be a paramount consideration and provinces are trying to restrict the spread as much as possible, learn the lessons from the first wave of the pandemic in terms of long-term case, those sorts of things. And so as prime minister, I would be looking to partner with them and then really advance approvals, control the border better. So I think collaboration’s needed during a public health crisis.

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Mercedes Stephenson: I know you’re the leader of the Opposition so you have to criticize the prime minister. In fairness, though, it is up to the premiers to decide whether or not they want to activate shutdowns in their provinces in hot spots, so I just want to come back to that with you. Do you think that the premiers should be looking at lockdowns, given what we’re hearing from medical doctors?

Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole: Well I know the premiers in my own province, Premier Ford, is working with the public health leadership within Ontario. I know that cities, some of the large city mayors are working with their teams to try and limit the ability for people to gather to be exposed and I know they’re also trying to make sure that the economic impact is not as profound, so it’s a very, very tough balance. But I see every premier of all stripes, to be honest, doing what they can to make sure that the spread is reduced, to educate the public to promote mask use. My issue is the first wave. We were slow on the border. We were slow with emergency response programs. The tracing app is not a national tracing app and we didn’t have the tests that Mr. Trudeau promised in March, so the federal government needs to do a better job and should collaborate wherever possible.

Mercedes Stephenson: Mr. O’Toole, I know that you’re bringing a motion before the House this week; it’s your Opposition Day motion relating to China. You’re calling on the federal government in it to say no to Huawei within 30 days. You’re also calling on the government to develop a strategy to address operations of Chinese agents within Canada that have influence Canada or in some cases, have attempted to intimidate Chinese Canadians. I know you have a policy which is a very tough stance on China, but some folks say the government has been less likely to go ahead with that because they’re concerned about the welfare of the two Michaels: Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. And while I think that there’s a lot of Canadians who might support what you’re proposing, are you concerned about the effect that this could have on the two Michaels?

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Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole: No, in fact, we’ve been advocating for the two Michaels from the days they were taken. When Trudeau called their cases regular consular cases, misled Canadians with respect to why they were arrested by China. They’ve been in prison for over 700 days, Mercedes. Over a year ago, in less period of time, the Liberals promised a decision on Huawei before the last election, that was a year ago. All of our allies have made the decision on Huawei and the 5G, all experts say that Canada cannot be an outlier. We can’t put risks to our future digital economy by allowing Huawei, a state-owned Chinese enterprise to help construct it. The Trudeau government never makes tough decisions; they kick them down the road. So what we’ve said is we know they know what the answer is. In the next 30 days, they should be honest with Canadians, honest with our allies and highlight the risks and the intimidation that hundreds of Canadians and families are feeling from Chinese communist influence operations in Canada. We’re bringing a motion to have a serious public education discussion and make the government take these issues seriously, finally.

Mercedes Stephenson: And those are issues that we have reported on extensive here at Global News, especially on the intimidation of Chinese Canadians by the Chinese state here in Canada, particularly if they’re presenting dissenting opinions against the Chinese Communist Party. Australia has taken a tougher stance and you cite that in your motion, but they’ve also faced some pretty serious repercussions for doing that, including massive cyber-attacks. Do you think that Canada is ready for the inevitable retaliation from China if we get tougher?

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Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole: This is where we need to work with Australia and our Five Eyes allies, Mercedes, to make sure that we have a counterbalance, both in terms of size, economic strength, to counteract the intimidation that Beijing does. They’ve been doing it against Australia. They’ve been known to do it against Japan and other countries. The more we work with like-minded allies, the more we can counteract that influence and it’ll reduce their ability to isolate Canada or isolate Australia. This is why we have to get in line with our allies. Canada’s the only country that has not made the decision that Huawei can’t be part of the 5G infrastructure. The democratic world is watching for Canada to see if Mr. Trudeau is going to finally get serious with China from a security, human rights and a trade perspective, or is he still going to have this naïve admiration for the basic dictatorship. This is a time for leadership and that’s what we’re pushing for with the motion.

Mercedes Stephenson: Would you be willing to take some tougher steps like cutting off, for example, foreign student visas for students who are coming from China, or even potentially sanctioning China?

Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole: We’ve talked about the use of Magnitsky sanctions with respect to the two Michaels and possibly with respect to the horrific human rights abuses of Uyghur Muslims within China. We can no longer turn a blind eye and I’ve said, Mercedes, in the last 20 years, all parties, all democratic countries, tried to engage hoping that China and the WTO and other things would start moving towards respect for rule of law for human rights, it’s gone the opposite. So when things are not working after a generation, it’s time for some leadership to take a different approach. That will never happen under the Trudeau Liberals who’ve been unfortunately, way too close and inappropriate with some of the relations with Communist China. It’s time for a fresh approach to leadership and that’s what the Conservative government in waiting is offering.

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Mercedes Stephenson: Can I ask you to elaborate on that? On your comments about members of the Liberal Party who have been too close to China. Who is that?

Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole: Mr. Trudeau himself. He appointed to his transition committee, a senior person from the Canada-China business council. He attended Cash for Access fundraisers with figures close to the regime in Beijing who made donations to the Trudeau Foundation, Mercedes. As the minister who announced the Afghan War Memorial for Ottawa, the Trudeau government cancelled that memorial while Beijing influents were planning through the Trudeau Foundation to put a statue to Pierre Trudeau in Montreal. He’s been too close and naïve from day one. So this is what Canadians want: a more serious, principled leader at home and on the world stage, and that’s what they’ll get with me.

Mercedes Stephenson: So does that mean that you believe Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is being influenced by Beijing?

Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole: Mr. Trudeau is naïve on China and I’ve not been the only one to say that, former ambassador David Mulroney has said that. Mr. Trudeau has some romantic notion perhaps based on his father’s first forays into China a generation ago that this is just an economic opportunity for Canadians. We do not sell out on our values and I think it’s time. Canadians want to see a principled Canada on the world stage, not a naïve leader like we see with Mr. Trudeau. So, he will have to answer why he attended some of those events, Mercedes. I’m saying the Conservatives will have a principled approach. We will stand up for human rights, for security and for a fair, balanced approach on trade.

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Mercedes Stephenson: You’ve made an appeal as the Conservative leader to members of unions to vote Conservative and that has come as a surprise to some people, considering the position of the Harper government on unions and the way that you voted against some bills that dealt with unions. How do you square that 180?

Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole: Well I’ve developed really good relations with many unions, union members and leaders in my own riding: the Power Workers Union, members of Unifor. It’s well-known that Jerry Dias and I have not gotten along on NAFTA or tariff priorities, for example. But I want Canada to get working again. I want opportunities for families, whether in the energy sector, the auto sector, softwood lumber, if I can partner with union leaders who care about the wellbeing of their members just as much as I do, I want to partner. I come from a union town, you know, I’m a kid from a GM family. I have a lot of respect for unions and I think we’re going to try and build some partnerships.

Mercedes Stephenson: Does that make you feel weird at all in retrospect about how you vote?

Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole: No. I’ve been talking, actually, with a number of unions leaders who have concerns about some of the bills from the past. And as we are taking the Conservative Party into the next generation of leadership at a time where we’re seeing the coronavirus, disruption of trade, the rise of China, we need to build new partnerships and I’m willing to work—reach out and work with them. And even some people I’ve spared with in the past, if I can be a partner to them now and help their members alongside their priorities, you’ll see that. I was really proud to see Unifor and Mr. Dias help bring auto assembly back to Oshawa. That’s personal for me and I applaud that on your show. And so that’s what leadership is, is learning, reaching out and building coalitions for the wellbeing of Canadians. That’s what the Conservatives are all about.

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Mercedes Stephenson: Great. Erin O’Toole, thank you so much.

Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole: Thank you.

Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister Marco Mendicino, is here to talk Canada’s stance on China.

[Break]

Mercedes Stephenson: Welcome back. After international outrage over more crackdowns by China in Hong Kong, the Canadian government announced new immigration measures to help Hongkongers come to Canada, taking a tougher stance on China.

Joining me now to talk about all this and more is the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Marco Mendicino.

Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Marco Mendicino: Thanks for having me, Mercedes.

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Mercedes Stephenson: You announced some pretty significant changes in Canadian immigration law relating to people from Hong Kong coming to Canada. You’d previously said that democracy activists would be able to come here. What led you to this decision to try to allow more Hongkongers to come to Canada?

Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Marco Mendicino: Well first I was very pleased to announce the new immigration initiative for recent graduates and young Hongkongers, to pursue a faster pathway to becoming Canadian. This will be good for our economy today. It’ll be good for our long-term prosperity. We’re also going to promote existing immigration roots for those people from Hong Kong who wish to come back to Canada. And finally, we have also announced some additional protections under our asylum system, which reflects the situation on the ground which we are gravely concerned about. But what we hope out of yesterday’s announcement, young Hongkongers will see is an opportunity. An opportunity to come to Canada to work, to pursue their studies should they choose to, and to build the next chapter in their life, and that is about not only strengthening the ties between Canada and the people of Hong Kong but also bringing a longer term prosperity to Canada. 

Mercedes Stephenson: But if China continues the crackdown in Hong Kong, would you be willing to consider broader measures like extending that refugee status to any citizen in Hong Kong?

Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Marco Mendicino: We have introduced a number of measures which reflect the situation on the ground. It ensures that failed asylum claimants here in Canada get faster reassessment when it comes to their removal, which may give them a chance to stay in Canada. It also ensures that people who are seeking asylum in Canada will not be disqualified by virtue alone of having been charged under China’s national security law. These are two measures which are consistent and build on our reputation around the world when it comes to asylum and I know that this is something that will be very much a part of our plan going forward.

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Mercedes Stephenson: Minister, have you considered more aggressive measures towards China? For example, restricting or eliminating students, international students coming from China. There’s a lot of evidence that senior members of the Chinese Communist Party send their children to study in countries like North America and activists say that would send a really strong message to the regime, not only about what they are doing in Hong Kong, but what they have done to Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig and as well, their behaviour around the world. Is your government willing to get tough enough to start cracking down on things like international students?

Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Marco Mendicino: Well Mercedes, as you know, Canada has taken a very strong and principled stand when it comes to the developments that we have seen, which have been concerning, including the passage of the national security law by China, the expulsion of four democratically elected legislatures from the Hong Kong Legislature, as well as the arbitrary detention of the two Michaels who are Canadians. And as you know, in each and every one of those instances, we have responded by suspending our extradition treaty with Hong Kong, by restricting goods to Hong Kong, by revising our travel advice to Hong Kong, and by calling for and demanding the consular access be restored, which is now something that we have achieved when it comes to the two Michaels. But they need to be released, they are being arbitrarily detained and they need to be released. And yesterday’s announcement does come against that backdrop, and we will continue to take those strong and principled stands as is necessary.

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Mercedes Stephenson: Okay, it doesn’t really answer the question I asked you. But I want to move onto asking you about whether you are prepared to evacuate the 300 thousand Canadians who live in Hong Kong, if necessary?

Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Marco Mendicino: Well as you know, Mercedes, the 300 thousand Canadian citizens who are currently living in Hong Kong, enjoy a right of return. And subject to following the COVID health protocols, which are in place to protect all of us, they can come back whenever they choose. We’ve also announced a number of different pathways, which allows immediate family members and now broader family members who have relatives here in Canada, to come and visit in Canada, and that applies to those relatives who live in Hong Kong. And we will continue to find ways to reunite families. No government has done more when it comes to reuniting families in the history of this country. I’m proud of that record.

Mercedes Stephenson: Minister, thank you so much for joining us today.

Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Marco Mendicino: Always great to be with, Mercedes.

Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, COVID-19, the response from cities. I’ll talk to Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi to get the latest.

[Break]
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[Announcer]

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “I reassured the premiers that the federal government will always be there to help, but reminded them as well that our resources are not infinite.”

Mercedes Stephenson: That was Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on his talks with the provinces last week. Collaboration between the three levels of government: federal, provincial and municipal has been key in combating the COVID-19 pandemic. But inevitably, questions of jurisdiction have been top of mind and the source of debate. Just how much should the federal government do? What are the provinces asking for and what are their responsibilities? And at the end of this, who is listening to the cities who are dealing with major outbreaks?

Joining me now to talk more about this is Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi. Mayor, thank you for joining us.

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Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi: Thanks Mercedes, I’m just here to try and lure you back to Calgary that’s all.

Mercedes Stephenson: [Chuckles] Well always a pleasure. I’ll feel a little bit like I’m home here, and of course, you know, I’m concerned as a Calgarian about our city, as a Canadian about cities all across this country. When we heard Prime Minister Trudeau saying on Friday that resources are not unlimited, did that raise concerns for you? I mean, I know cities are having a lot of trouble with budgets. Is your voice being heard in all this between the federal government and the provinces? 

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi: You know I think it actually is, but I’ve got to say this is kind of a crash course in Canadian constitutional federalism right here, all the irritating things that we deal with all the time. I had a local reporter this week ask me: Toronto has sort of defied the provincial government and gone their own way, why doesn’t Calgary do that? And I had to explain that in Ontario, public health lives with the cities but in Alberta, it lives with the province. So as you say, the cities are always bearing the brunt of all of this because we are the frontlines. We are dealing with these issues, but we have very limited resources and very limited authority in which to act. I’m sitting here, this is not a fake backdrop—I’m sitting here at the Calgary Emergency Operation Centre where we’ve got a lot of expertise, we’ve got a lot of ability to do things but we’re very restricted legally in what we can do. Now that said, I want to emphasize as we go into this that we’ve had a really good relationship with our government here in Alberta with Premier Kenney and his government, as well as with the federal government. And the most consequential things the federal government has done for cities, was ensure that some of that safe restart money went directly to municipalities. That is going to keep me from running a 9-digit budget deficit this year. The city’s never run a budget before. It’s going to keep transit running and it’s going to help a lot of non-profit organizations survive this and that was a great thing, but even though it flowed through the provinces, the federal government insisted that it go to the municipalities. That made a huge difference for us.

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Mercedes Stephenson: Mayor, have you been satisfied with the restrictions in place in Calgary? Because as you know, this has been a debate, it’s been different ways in different parts of the country. Doctors are saying if we don’t start shutting things down, people are going to die. Businesses are saying if you do shut it down, we cannot survive. It will be an absolute economic disaster. Do you think there should be tighter restriction in Calgary and in Alberta?

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi: Well let me be clear that things are really bad. I think people are starting now to understand things are bad. I feel a bit like Chicken Little for the last several weeks saying things are really bad. We’re getting close to overwhelming our health care system. And people go, well we’re only at 62 per cent utilization of ICU beds, we’ve got tons of room. Not realizing that exponential growth means that to go from 50 per cent to 100 per cent is just one step. You can do that in a week, given that we’re doubling every week here now. So I’m glad that people are finally seeing how important this is. And I kind of reject the current argument that this is about the economy or public health, because if you don’t have public health, you don’t have an economy. Everything will shut down anyway.  The example is often used by some folks who don’t believe in restrictions of Sweden. Well Sweden not only had multiple times the death rate of its neighbours, its economy also contracted 8.6 per cent in the second quarter because people were taking time off to be sick and to isolate. And so ultimately, I don’t like setting it up as the economy or public health, because you can’t have one without the other. And so it’s critical for us to get this right. And I believe in evidence-based decision-making. I’ve been working with a group of academics here at the University of Calgary to really look at what interventions work and which ones don’t. And I’m really happy that the Alberta government this week put in some restrictions because for the last couple of weeks they’ve been implying that this isn’t really that big a deal. And the restrictions, however, I think for a lot of Calgarians feel a bit random. We’re leaving casinos open but we’re stopping kid’s sports. And we don’t really have a great sense of where the contact spread is happening here in Alberta because our contact tracing system is overwhelmed. So what we have to do is look at evidence from other jurisdictions of where spread is really happening and start to crackdown on that instead of sort of ad hoc restrictions. If we don’t do that, then there will be no way to prevent a full lockdown and nobody wants that.

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Mercedes Stephenson: So mayor, am I correct in interpreting that as you believe there should be further restrictions than there are right now. You’re happy to see these initial ones but you’d like to see more?

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi: I believe there should be smart restrictions, maybe some of the ones that are put in place can be lifted and they can be replaced with other ones, but we really need to go to where the source is spreading. So I’ll give you an example. There’s a huge backlash this week after the premier made his announcement from parents saying why in the world are you stopping my kids’ sports which his helping them keep them sane, helping them have a bit of normalcy in their lives, where there’s very little evidence of spread in kids’ sports. Now we don’t actually know if that’s true because two thirds of cases we don’t know where they came from. But if the premier had said listen, we need to keep the schools open and we’re seeing spread in schools, so what we need to do is restrict our kids’ activities outside of school so we can get the virus out of the schools and keep the schools open. I think people would have gone okay, that makes sense. But we’ve got to really be able to justify every one of these restrictions and make sure they’re ones that make sense.

Mercedes Stephenson: Mayor Nenshi, that’s all the time we have for today. But thank you so much for joining us with this update and we sent our best wishes to all the Calgarians out there.

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Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi: Stay safe, everyone.   

Mercedes Stephenson: That’s all the time we have on the show for today. Please stay safe, take care of each other and we’ll see you right back here again at this time next week. For The West Block, I’m Mercedes Stephenson.