THE WEST BLOCK
Episode 43, Season 10
Sunday, September 5, 2021
Host: Mercedes Stephenson
Jagmeet Singh, NDP Leader
Celina-Caesar-Chavannes, Former Independent MP
Naheed Nenshi, Calgary Mayor
Brad Wall, Former Saskatchewan Premier
Location: Ottawa, Ontario
Mercedes Stephenson: This week on The West Block.
Jagmeet Singh, NDP Leader: “People are frustrated. People are upset.”
Mercedes Stephenson: The Singh factor: The NDP leader’s personality, popularity and a public appetite for change—Jagmeet Singh on why he wants to lead the country and whether he would back a Conservative minority.
Jason Kenney, Alberta Premier: “For the love of God, please get vaccinated now.”
Mercedes Stephenson: COVID’s fourth wave crashes over Canada.
Mercedes Stephenson: A critical phase of the campaign, debates that could be make or break.
Mercedes Stephenson: Our political panel on the Labour Day sprint to Election Day.
This is The West Block on day 22 of the election campaign.
It’s Sunday, September 5th. I’m Mercedes Stephenson, and this is The West Block.
The federal election campaign is heating up with just two weeks to go until Canadians cast their vote on September 20th.
We have invited all of the major party leaders to sit down with us here on The West Block, and to give us their vision for the country.
On Friday, I sat down with NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, who was trying to win back Quebecers.
Jagmeet Singh, thank you so much for joining us here in beautiful Quebec City. You’re here making a pitch for votes in a province which was essential in the orange wave. It’s also the province that you’re polling the lowest in. There are questions here about systemic racism, questions about bill C-21. Why are you here making your pitch in Quebec?
Jagmeet Singh, NDP Leader: Well I want people in Quebec to know that in this tough time when people needed help, we were there for them. We were able to bring in some real changes that got people more help. We doubled the CERB, we brought in and increased the wage subsidy, saved millions of jobs, helped millions of people and millions of Quebecers, and we want folks to know we are there for you and we’ve got a plan that’s going to continue to provide help in the recovery. And we put a choice to Canadians and we put a choice to Quebecers: four more years of Justin Trudeau who let the Super H have a free ride, or New Democrats will make them pay their fair share so we can invest in people.
Mercedes Stephenson: When it comes to bill C-21, the federal politicians, like yourself, all talk about it as being something of great concern, banning religious symbols and wearing religious symbols. But everyone sort of says you know what? We’re going to leave it to Quebec to fight it. Some people wonder if that’s kind of a cynical bid for votes in Quebec that it’s a wedge issue here and so the federal leaders don’t want to get involved. Why not say not only do I condemn it as a federal leader, but I would fight it?
Jagmeet Singh, NDP Leader: Well it’s being fought right now. And I’m a lawyer and I understand what that means. It’s an independent process. It’s something I oppose. Obviously, I think it’s wrong. I think it’s discriminatory. I’m strongly opposed to it and it’s being fought right now, and I think that’s important and that should happen. And I want people in Quebec to know, I’m obviously in favour of separating church and state, that women should have the right to an abortion. Women should have the right to be who they are, and that the LGTBQ community has a right to same sex marriage and I support those rights. And those are important rights. I just don’t believe that it’s right to discriminate someone based on the way they look. So, I believe that we can also talk about the things that matter to all Canadians and Quebecers included, how we can come out of this pandemic and I know that there’s ways for us to work together to achieve that.
Mercedes Stephenson: When it comes to election night, we’ll find out who the winner is. It’s been a super tight race, the Conservatives ahead right now in the polls. Before, you’d always said under Andrew Scheer, you would not support a Conservative minority. There is a possibility that Erin O’Toole could see a Conservative minority. Would you support it as the NDP?
Jagmeet Singh, NDP Leader: I want to be really clear on this. I think that Erin O’Toole will be bad for Canadians because he has cut health care and people want us to invest more in health care. I think Mr. Trudeau would be bad for Canadians because he’s promised to bring in things like pharmacare, campaigned on it and then broke that promise. I want folks to know, I believe people will be better off. In my heart, I know they will be better off with a New Democrat government because we’re going to put them first and fight for them and I want them to know that.
Mercedes Stephenson: But if you’re not government and you end up being the—well we can say king maker in this case because it’s two male leaders—how do you choose which one? Is there one that you would not support categorically?
Jagmeet Singh, NDP Leader: I want Canadians to know that their—that’s the choice they’re going to have to make, but I can tell them my opinion on that. I think Erin O’Toole will be bad for Canadians. I think Justin Trudeau will be bad for Canadians. I think they will be best served by electing more New Democrats. That is the concrete thing.
Mercedes Stephenson: But if they don’t elect more New Democrats, then what will you do?
Jagmeet Singh, NDP Leader: That’s why I want to leave that choice to Canadians and let them know…
Mercedes Stephenson: But the choice will be yours at the end of the day.
Jagmeet Singh, NDP Leader: I want Canadians to know where I stand. And I’ve made it really clear that when it comes to Conservatives, they cut health care, they have made things more difficult for people and they voted against some of the key things that we put forward in terms of what we would do: taxing the ultra-rich, getting profit out of long term care. But, so did Justin Trudeau. He also voted against taxing the super-rich and getting profit out of long term care. So really, both of them have made a decision about where they stand and I’ve made a decision where I stand, which is for people for our public health care system, for making sure the richest pay their fair share. So really, both Trudeau and—Mr. Trudeau and Mr. O’Toole have decided to side with the super-rich. That’s not my choice.
Mercedes Stephenson: So I don’t hear you saying, though, that you wouldn’t support one of those two parties. Both are options.
Jagmeet Singh, NDP Leader: I’m saying both of them are bad choices for Canadians. Both of them have teamed up…
Mercedes Stephenson: Why won’t you answer that question, though, which one you’d support because it’s an important one for Canadians to know if they’re casting their vote for you?
Jagmeet Singh, NDP Leader: Well I want them to know that they can make that choice, but I’m telling them clearly, I think both of them are bad so choose New Democrats and vote for us. I’m not going to tell them to vote for the Liberals or the Conservatives. I think they’re both wrong. I think New Democrats are the best choice and I’m going to encourage people. Vote New Democrat if you want to make sure the rich pay their fair share, if you want to fight the climate crisis, if you want justice for Indigenous people—vote for New Democrats.
Mercedes Stephenson: When it comes to voting for New Democrats, you know, you are vastly ahead of where you were in the last election when it was kind of a save the furniture, just keep official party status. And now here you’ve had sort of this outpouring of support from Canadians who really like you on a personal level. And I hear this from folks who are not in politics. They’re like, “Jagmeet Singh is the guy who I would want to have over for a BBQ,” or “Who I’d want to go for a drink with.”
You’re a superstar on TikTok. You have almost 800 thousand followers. I think it was 760-some thousand—huge, huge number. Does that translate, though, into support at the polls? Is the guy who you want to have over for a BBQ, the guy who you want to be your prime minister?
Jagmeet Singh, NDP Leader: Well I definitely want to come over to those BBQ’s, so definitely send those invitations over for folks that want me over. I would love to try out your food.
I just want folks to know that I care deeply about people and that they’ve got a choice to make in this election. And I’ve seen the Liberals take people’s vote for granted. They just assume they’re going to get votes. I’ve seen Conservatives take people’s votes for granted. I want to earn your vote. I’m going to fight hard to earn people’s vote, and I believe that people have a choice to make in this election and I’m hoping they make that choice for New Democrats, but I’m going to keep on working hard to earn their support every day.
Mercedes Stephenson: Let’s talk about some policy options here.
Jagmeet Singh, NDP Leader: Sure.
Mercedes Stephenson: Pipelines, big one for you. You’ve talked a lot about Trans Mountain. It’s not really clear to me, though, whether you would cancel it if you came into government, or you had that deciding say. So, if we get to September 20th and you’re in government, do you keep Trans Mountain or do you toss it?
Jagmeet Singh, NDP Leader: So on this one, I’ve been really clear. I’m opposed to it. I think it was a wrong decision. I think Justin Trudeau should have never bought it. I think the expansion is seriously threatening British Columbia’s coastline, the tanker traffic. Indigenous communities have raised serious concerns, so I’m opposed to that. And I want folks to know that that’s always been my position and that will remain my position.
Mercedes Stephenson: If you’re opposed to it, does that mean you cancel it, though, if it’s already being built?
Jagmeet Singh, NDP Leader: When it comes to what we do with the asset, you know, we’ve got a decision that Justin Trudeau made and we’ll take a look at it once we’re in government to look at what that means.
Mercedes Stephenson: But give us, though, if that’s a yes or no, whether or not—I mean it is where it is. It’s not like a national security secret. We know the pros and cons on the pipeline. As a leader, what’s your position on it?
Jagmeet Singh, NDP Leader: My position is that I’m opposed to it. I’ve been opposed to it and I’ll remain opposed to it. I think it’s something that was the wrong decision. I would rather spend money on investing in renewable energy. I’d rather spend money investing in creating jobs right now. I’d rather invest in supporting workers in resource sectors, in oil sands and energy sector workers that need jobs right now and have lost their jobs because of the volatility of the market. I’d want to create jobs for them now. I want to invest in them now. I think this was a bad decision.
Mercedes Stephenson: I don’t think it answers whether or not you’d cancel it, but let’s move on to China. We are coming up on the 1,000 day mark of the detention of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig. If you were prime minister, how would you handle this? Would you consider trading Meng Wanzhou for the two Michaels? Would you take a harder stance on China and sanction them? What’s the NDP’s approach to this?
Jagmeet Singh, NDP Leader: On this—on this issue, I’ve been very open and critical about Mr. Trudeau when it comes to things around pharmacare or on health care, around the environment. When it comes to Mr. Spavor and Mr. Kovrig, this has been a very difficult matter and I feel like Canada’s doing the best we can. I think we’ve just got to continue to apply whatever pressures we can. Using our diplomatic tools and working with international allies to apply that pressure on China to secure the release of these Canadians. These are people that have, as you’ve mentioned, have been in custody for…
Mercedes Stephenson: Isn’t that what the government’s already doing, though?
Jagmeet Singh, NDP Leader: Well this one I’m not—I’ve been very clear when I’m critical about things, it’s because I think there’s a different approach I would take. And I pointed that out with the environment and with the health care, with taxing the super-rich. On this one, I’ve not been critical of Mr. Trudeau because this is one where I get how complex it is and the efforts are being made.
Mercedes Stephenson: Vaccine passport is something that’s on a lot of Canadians minds. Right now, it’s provincial. Do you think that this should be a federal issue? And I’d also ask you as a lawyer who’s concerned about civil rights, human rights and privacy rights, how you balance the public health aspect of having a document like that and also at the same time, protect peoples’ privacy.
Jagmeet Singh, NDP Leader: I think—well on the idea of balancing peoples’ individual liberties and security and safety, it’s something we do often and it’s an important balance that we’ve got to strike. With the vaccine passports, I think having a document that the federal government produces, which shows your proof of who you are and that you’ve been vaccinated would just make life easier. My wife and I were just filling out the forms and she was saying this is so complicated to try to prove her state of vaccination when going to Newfoundland and Labrador, a very important thing to do. But she said, “Wouldn’t it be just easier if we just could just show proof?” I said, “That’s what we’re fighting for.” We believe that there should be a federal document, easy simple to use. You can travel across Canada, travel internationally, but we should definitely have a document that shows who you are and that you’ve been vaccinated. Make it easy and make it easy for Canadians to travel within our country.
Mercedes Stephenson: What do you have to achieve between now and election night? What’s—we’re now into sort of, you know, the final spring—what is in your sights?
Jagmeet Singh, NDP Leader: Our goal is to keep on putting that choice to Canadians. To let them know that better is possible, that we can achieve the things that we want, that we don’t have to be stuck with kind of the same choices of previous governments coming out of a crisis, which either mean cutting help to people or putting the pressure back on the same folks that have had a tough time. We’re offering a third option, and I want Canadians to know that they can choose this third option, which is let’s make the billionaires pay their fair share. The rich companies that make money in Canada, stop hiding that in offshore tax havens, but start paying back their fair share. And then we can invest in people and the solutions that people need. I’m going to make that case to Canadians, take that across the country and let folks know we can tackle the housing crisis and invest in health care, and make sure Indigenous people have justice. We can do these things. I believe it and I’m being optimistic and hopeful for it.
Mercedes Stephenson: Who is the one international or Canadian politician you would hope to emulate in your career?
Jagmeet Singh, NDP Leader: You know a lot of folks have talked about Jack Layton as being a happy warrior and he’s someone that inspired me to get into politics, so I think about him a lot and I think about how he was able to bring together people in a really inspirational way and it’s someone that I look up to a lot and someone that was the reason why I got into politics. So yeah, I think that’s someone that I look up to.
Mercedes Stephenson: Mr. Singh, thank you for sitting down with us and we’ll see you on election night.
Jagmeet Singh, NDP Leader: For sure. Thanks so much.
Mercedes Stephenson: A loss for the Liberals in a key riding in Ontario. Raj Saini is abandoning his re-election bid after multiple allegations of inappropriate behaviour, saying he denies the allegations and Liberal leader Justin Trudeau has publicly defended him. So what suddenly changed? Our West Block election panel weighs in.
Mercedes Stephenson: With just two weeks left in the election campaign, the latest polls show the Liberals and the Conservatives are neck in neck with a slight Tory lead. When things get close, it’s no surprise that we start to see ads like these.
Liberal campaign ad:
Erin O’Toole: Let’s take back Canada.
Conservative campaign ad:
He says he’ll give you affordable day care and did nothing for six years. Justin Trudeau says a lot of things. But with a record like this, why should we believe him now?
Mercedes Stephenson: Do negative campaign ads work? I’m sure The West Block’s election panel has some experience with this.
Joining me now are former Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall; former independent MP Celina-Caesar-Chavannes; and Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi.
Let’s start with you, Brad. You know negative ads. Everyone says don’t go negative. They’re going negative. What does it tell you about this election campaign?
Mercedes Stephenson: Might have learned from those. Okay, Celina, were you surprised to see the Liberals take a negative tone?
Celina-Caesar-Chavannes, Former Independent MP: I—I’m not surprised, but I think they’re in panic mode. And what we’ve seen here is an ad that looks like it’s recycled almost. Comparing the two ads, while the Conservative ad is a little bit more relevant talking about why are we having an election during a pandemic with Afghanistan, with fires burning? Why now are we choosing to spend all this money on an election? It is impactful. And to Brad’s point, you could have an ad that has a lot of truth in it that has impact, as opposed to it just being purely a negative ad, so to speak. So I think right now what we’re going to see is the impact of that Conservative ad possibly could go in their favour, as opposed to, you know, the Liberal one that seems negative for just negative sake and it seems almost like it was recycled, like they were looking at the bottom of the bag for something that they could say about the Conservatives that everybody kind of already knows.
Mercedes Stephenson: Mayor, your thoughts?
Naheed Nenshi, Calgary Mayor: Well, you know, of course negative ads work. That’s why they’re used. But they don’t work for the reason people think they work. They work not to get people to vote for your candidate. They work to supress the vote for your opponent’s candidate. It’s to get people less excited about your opponent and hopefully not vote at all. And unless you actually have someone, a positive message behind that, it doesn’t actually increase your vote in any way. So I find them extremely cynical. That said, I think that both of these sets of ads miss the mark. While the issue of why is there an election has, I think, hung on a little longer than I thought it would, ultimately it won’t be the ballot box question. As I said a couple of weeks ago, you’re in the restaurant looking at the menu. You don’t like anything, but you’ve got to eat something. The Liberal ad is a bit better because while it is very recycled, it does get to the heart of peoples’ concerns about Mr. O’Toole who has done a 180 from the guy who wanted to take back Canada to the guy who’s in favour of worker rights. However, it could have been a little less recycled and they could have said, for example, Mr. O’Toole will rip up our child care agreement and cost you thousands of dollars. And for some reason, they didn’t go to what I think are the core issues that will actually move voters.
Mercedes Stephenson: Well, we’re expecting to hear some of those core issues at the debate this week, including the latest modeling that we’ve seen on the fourth wave of COVID-19, which is extremely concerning.
Brad, heading into the debates, I know we always talk about them, political junkies, they’re a big deal. Does the average voter watch? Do you just have to not make a complete disaster of yourself in this debate, or how much strategy goes into it?
Brad Wall, Former Saskatchewan Premier: Well, you know what? I think you’re right. Absolutely. I don’t think people watch a lot of debates other than those that are very involved already and maybe some who are really trying to make the final decision. So performance is important, but you really have to avoid screwing up. You have to avoid taking a big shot, or making a gaff, make a mistake yourself and then appearing in all the reviews on social media. And in the media, the reviews of the debate are more important, frankly, than the debate itself. For good or for ill, I think that’d be my view.
Mercedes Stephenson: We have one more topic that I want to get to, but before we get to it, very quick hot take from the mayor and from Celina on the debates and what to expect.
Naheed Nenshi, Calgary Mayor: I love debates. I did 38 of them when I was in 2010. But they actually—it’s not so much the debate, it’s the coverage of the debate and it’s what the debate says about the momentum and the brand. But I will give one exception, which is I understand from friends in Quebec that the French language debates, especially the TVA debate, are actually very influential.
Mercedes Stephenson: Okay. Celina.
Celina-Caesar-Chavannes, Former Independent MP: To be honest, I don’t think a lot of people watch it. I think when you have a debate, if the individuals are not speaking to people the people who are already going to vote for them, all they’re doing is really solidifying those votes that are ready on the couch. So, I’m not sure if it really influences the switch voter as many would hope.
Mercedes Stephenson: Okay. Our last topic on the panel. Liberals have lost a high profile candidate in a key riding. He was a sitting MP. Raj Saini has stepped aside after allegations of unwanted sexual advances, inappropriate behaviour in the office. He denies all of them. It is too late to replace this candidate. The Tories also lost a candidate to allegations of sexual assault, although they moved more quickly and removed him. We’re not clear on whether or not the Liberals forced Saini out or he chose to step down. How damaging is this to the Liberals, Celina?
Celina-Caesar-Chavannes, Former Independent MP: Well, when the prime minister says that he’s going to keep that candidate, I think it speaks to a leadership issue. Whether the prime minister or the PMO or the—sorry, the leader, sorry—told him to leave or he left on his own. A few days ago, there was support for someone in a Me Too context and I just—I don’t think that that bodes well for his leadership credibility.
Mercedes Stephenson: Brad?
Brad Wall, Former Saskatchewan Premier: This happened to us in the 2007 election campaign and the timing was similar, the issues were similar. The story emerged—not the story, the facts emerged, frankly, and were presented to us after the deadline for being able to appoint or select a new candidate, and so we tried to move quickly at that point as soon as we heard about it and made a change and that’s sort of my comment here, Mercedes. It’ll be important, I think that the leader of the Liberal party will be able to make the case that he made the decision that he, in fact, dropped the candidate, you know, even if it’s a resignation, that it was requested because I think on this particular issue and with this candidate, the leader needs to step up in order to undo some of the damage that’s already been done.
Mercedes Stephenson: Last word to you, mayor. Do you think he jumped or was he pushed?
Naheed Nenshi, Calgary Mayor: I don’t know, but I think Brad is right. The leadership question is the important one here. The messaging from the Liberals on this has been very muddled, to be polite about it. And typically you would say, you know, further allegations have come up and therefore this has happened. But to say we did an investigation, everything’s fine and then to get rid of the candidate. That is a challenging thing to say, particularly given the brand that the prime minister has set for himself.
Mercedes Stephenson: Okay. That’s all the time we have for today, but we’ll be keeping a close eye on these issues and back with our panel after two of the big debates next week. Thank you very much for joining us.
Naheed Nenshi, Calgary Mayor: Thank you.
Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, 1,001 days in custody in China. Canada marks a grim milestone for the two Michaels.
Mercedes Stephenson: Today marks 1,001 days in Chinese custody for Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig.
A solidarity march is taking place near Parliament Hill, where supporters will walk 7,000 steps in solidarity with Kovrig’s daily walk in his jail cell.
Both were arrested in espionage charges in December of 2018, but the Canadian Government believes the arrests are in retaliation for the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou here in Canada.
Last month, Spavor was sentenced to 11 years in prison. Kovrig still awaits his verdict.
Well, that’s all for our show for this week, the third week of the election campaign. Thanks for watching, and we’ll be right back here same time next Sunday. I’m Mercedes Stephenson for The West Block.