THE WEST BLOCK
Episode 44, Season 10
Sunday, September 12, 2021
Host: Mercedes Stephenson
Peter O’Toole, Conservative Party 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: Erin O’Toole’s shift to the centre.
Erin O’Toole, Conservative Party Leader: “We did need to re-establish trust. Obviously, we lost the last two elections.”
Mercedes Stephenson: Will his pitch to Progressive Conservatives pay off?
We visit battleground Ontario for a one-on-one with the Conservative leader.
Yves–François Blanchet, Bloc Québécois Leader: “Nice time to insult people.”
Annamie Paul, Green Party Leader: “That was not an insult. It was an invitation.”
Mercedes Stephenson: Party leaders sharpen their attacks.
In a close race where everything is on the line…
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “I am going to be ferocious.”
Mercedes Stephenson: Our panel weighs in on what it will take to win.
It’s day 29 of the election campaign, and this is The West Block.
It’s Sunday, September 12th. I’m Mercedes Stephenson, and this is The West Block.
With just over a week until Election Day, the race to become prime minister is down to the wire.
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole is trying to convince Canadians that he should lead the country.
Like all parties, the Conservatives are campaigning in the area known as the 905. That’s the ring that surrounds Toronto, and on Friday I sat down with the Conservative leader, who was campaigning in Port Credit.
Mr. O’Toole, we’re here in beautiful Port Credit, Ontario, the GTA, a critical area for you to win. And this morning, you were giving a press conference and in that press conference you said the Conservative party has changed. You can trust us. You’re trying to encourage voters to choose you over Justin Trudeau. What does it mean when you say the Conservative party has changed and you could trust us? Were you untrustworthy before? Did you feel this didn’t appeal to Canadians? Take us through that message.
Erin O’Toole, Conservative Leader: Well I’m a new leader, I’m from the GTA. I’d be the first prime minister from the GTA in our history, to represent a riding here. But we did need to re-establish trust. Obviously, we lost the last two elections and in some areas, particularly for folks here in the GTA, they didn’t see us putting up policy that met their expectations, say on the environment and climate change, for example. So in April, I came out with a comprehensive plan on climate change to meet our Paris targets, but to also get the economy moving again.
Mercedes Stephenson: Do you think it undermines some of that trust when you take non-traditional positions for a Conservative party? For example, you’re spending more than the Liberals in the first year. The Liberals say you flip-flopped when it came to gun policy. Some Conservatives are saying look, if you don’t like Erin O’Toole’s policies, wait five minutes and he’ll change it.
Erin O’Toole, Conservative Leader: Well, I want to get the country back on its feet economically and Canadians will remember the previous Conservative government led the G7 in getting back to a balanced budget, ran deficits when you had to get the economy moving again but had a plan to get rid of them. Mr. Trudeau has admitted, including at debates, he has no plan to ever balance the books again. He is borrowing…
Mercedes Stephenson: Well I don’t think he said never. He hasn’t given a deadline for when.
Erin O’Toole, Conservative Leader: He would not give a date and the parliamentary budget officer said perhaps 2070. That is a failure and we have inflation. We have the cost of living crisis because of that spending. He’s borrowing $424 million a day. It’s unsustainable. So we’re spending to help restaurants like here in Port Credit and across Canada: hospitality, tourism, get those sectors back on their feet, deal with some of the mental health and addiction and other pandemic shadows that we have where we have to have strong communities as well. But we have a plan to get back to balance as well, so that will be our approach.
Mercedes Stephenson: I remember the Conservatives targeting Justin Trudeau and making fun of the budget will balance itself. No plan to pay it down. Your plan is essentially the same as Mr. Trudeau’s, though, that you’re just going to grow the economy as a way to pay it down. You’re not going to cut anything except for the child care program.
Erin O’Toole, Conservative Leader: Absolutely not because what Mr. Trudeau’s problem was, is he was spending 6 to 7 per cent more each year on everything. He ran a $100 billion of debt pre-COVID, in good times when we had high employment numbers. He said he would never have a deficit bigger than $10 billion. His last deficit was over $30 billion before COVID. So we’ve got to have a disciplined plan to get spending back down. The parliamentary budget officer just confirmed our plan will deliver on that balanced budget over a decade. We’re taking the time to make sure that there are no cuts; we get the country on its footing.
Mercedes Stephenson: You essentially have the same plan in terms of letting the economy pay this off. I do want to ask you about one thing you’ve said you’d change, that’s the child care program, and that’s a big deal for a lot of families who are here in the GTA. They could be looking at thousands of dollars a month in child care. The Liberals are offering them $10 a day. You’ve said you’d honour the deal for essentially the first year with the provinces, but then it would be cut off. Why not just keep it in place?
Erin O’Toole, Conservative Leader: Because Mr. Trudeau’s plan does not help all Canadian families, and it doesn’t even help any until five or six years from now. I want to help all families, whether they’re here in GTA or some of the suburbs or rural. A shift worker, a nurse here in Mississauga, he or she, if they have an evening shift, there’s no child care option based on what Mr. Trudeau’s promising five years from now. We want to give families as much flexibility as possible, all families, and some of the lower revenue families. We want to give 75 per cent of the costs. We’re going to make sure everyone has options and let families make the best decisions.
Mercedes Stephenson: I do want to talk to you as well about guns, which is something that we hear a lot about in the GTA. Gun violence is a major problem here. You had a plan in your platform. You changed the plan in your platform. Why did you make that decision to change your position on guns from a plan that you said you backed?
Erin O’Toole, Conservative Leader: I’ve made a commitment to keep all restrictions in place, in place. I’ve also made a commitment to make sure we take the politics out…
Mercedes Stephenson: So that includes, just to be clear, the recent ban that was brought in by the Liberal government.
Erin O’Toole, Conservative Leader: Yes, to keep all restrictions in place. As a parent of young kids, a suburban parent, gun control, keeping guns out of the hands of criminals is a priority. That’s important to us. We’re going to maintain that as we take the politics out of the system of classification. Mr. Trudeau uses that to try and divide rural versus urban. We think that actually detracts from public safety.
We’re also making investments in front line support fighting guns and gangs. If you speak to any police officer in the GTA or Montreal or Vancouver or Surrey, where we see a rise of shootings going up under Mr. Trudeau, it’s criminal street gangs with illegally smuggled firearms from the United States. We have to fix that at the border and we have to work with our large police forces to tackle this issue because it’s gotten worse under Mr. Trudeau, not better.
Mercedes Stephenson: But why did you change your position on this?
Erin O’Toole, Conservative Leader: I’ve always said we have to have safe communities and we have to take the politics out of this. And I can be clear with people, we’re keeping the restrictions in place that are in place, and we’re going to fix the classification system so that it’s not used to divide people that actually follow the laws: hunters, farmers, these sorts of people, suggesting that they’re the risk for public safety when we know that the crimes are being committed with illegally smuggled firearms, largely by street gangs and organized crime. Let’s put our resources where we can keep communities safe.
Mercedes Stephenson: You have some rabble-rousers in your caucus. Not everyone’s onboard with your environment policy or with your position on abortion. I think some folks look at that and they wonder who is the Conservative party? You’re the leader as Erin O’Toole. Stephen Harper dealt with this by keeping an iron fist on his caucus. How do you deal with people who even during an election campaign, are coming out and saying the opposite of what you are as the leader?
Erin O’Toole, Conservative Leader I won the leadership of the Conservative party as a pro-choice MP, as an ally to the LGBTQ community. I’m a suburban dad that has a track record of bringing people together. And climate change, why we launched our policy in April, that was an area we had to build trust with Canadians on and everyone running on my team will deliver our recovery plan, which has a plan to meet our Paris commitment. I think, Mercedes, when Canada makes a commitment, whether it’s Paris, whether it’s our commitment to NATO, we have to have a plan to live up to what we commit to. I think that’s the Canada people want to see in the world.
Mercedes Stephenson: The People’s Party of Canada has been a factor in an unexpected way in this election. We have seen groups showing up, both at political rallies and in some cases, outside hospitals with these flags. I’m curious to know, do you think that’s part of your base that is going to the People’s Party of Canada? Are you worried that they could actually affect your electoral outcome and take some of your vote, if you’re moving towards the centre?
Erin O’Toole, Conservative Leader: No. The Conservative Party of Canada is a big tent party. We represent all Canadians, all backgrounds, all walks of life and I’ve been trying to grow that tent because our country’s facing a lot of challenges and the last thing it needs is division. The last thing it needs is anger and driving wedges between people. We need to fight COVID together and we need to have a plan to get the country back on its feet economically. That’s the plan we launched on the first full day of the campaign.
Mercedes Stephenson: Vaccines? You’ve said that you don’t want to make it mandatory for people to have to be vaccinated to fly or get on a train, but you’ve also said that you want there to be a 90 per cent vaccination rate in Canada. Do you think that that’s dissonant to be telling people 90 per cent should be vaccinated but you’re not going to require it for things like travel?
Erin O’Toole, Conservative Leader: No. In fact, I think we haven’t been doing a good enough job of telling people how they’re safe and effective for use. It’s why I was proud to be with the other leaders yesterday to talk about promoting vaccinations. We need to answer questions, inform, bring people together not create and us versus them at a time we need to be together fighting COVID. So what we need to do is promote vaccines, answer questions that people have but also use daily rapid testing, use masking, use all the measures that we’re used to, to fight COVID.
Mercedes Stephenson: But if you don’t have to get vaccinated because you’re going to be able to do rapid testing, how do you get it to 90 per cent? That’s a very high number and you’re not even requiring that of your candidates.
Erin O’Toole, Conservative Leader: There are some Canadians that have had bad experiences with the public health system that have questions that you have to build trust. You’re not going to build that trust, Mercedes, by pushing people away, by attacking. In fact, the position I’m taking, which is promoting vaccines, using all tools, but respecting the decisions people will make, is the exact position of the Civil Service that Mr. Trudeau had to cover up when he tried to use this issue to divide people in an election he called in a pandemic. So what is leadership? Putting yourself first trying to get a majority in a pandemic like Mr. Trudeau, or actually trying to bring people together, trying to encourage and work with folks to tackle COVID-19 as a country, not as an us versus them approach.
Mercedes Stephenson: You’re a veteran. If you become prime minister, what will you commit to do about military sexual misconduct?
Erin O’Toole, Conservative Leader: As you know, this issue has really, really upset me. I’ve got a teenager daughter that has talked off and on about maybe following what dad did. Until we clean this up, I’m not sure she could serve free of a culture of harassment or sexual misconduct. Women that want to serve their country should be able to serve with our respect and free from that type of culture. So for half a year, I’ve been calling for a freeze on promotions and salary increases for general officers and an independent process to adjudicate complaints, concerns and actually clean up the entire culture that can’t investigate itself. I care about this as a father. I also care about this as a veteran because the Canadian Armed Forces is an important institution for our country and we want it to be an example to the country and it hasn’t been lately.
Mercedes Stephenson: Does that mean that you have an independent commission looking into this? Does that mean that you have someone who’s reporting to Parliament about what’s going on? How do you get outside of that chain of command?
Erin O’Toole, Conservative Leader: Yes, I’ve talked about having the ombudsman report to Parliament. In fact, what is really, really frustrating is Mr. Trudeau covered this up for three years, his whole office. Minister Sajjan whose been caught misleading, quite frankly, lying to Canadians on multiple occasions. He fired the ombudsman when the ombudsman brought this complaint from a woman serving our country. I think he failed women in uniform and he should have resigned. We need to have that ombudsman report to Parliament so that we can have a process that is free from being manipulated by Mr. Trudeau’s office or Mr. Sajjan’s office, and we have to take this seriously because there’s such a decline in trust right now. Not just in the Canadian Armed Forces but in our federal government and the Prime Minister’s Office itself.
Mercedes Stephenson: Mr. O’Toole, we know you have to get back on the campaign trail, but thank you for taking the time to sit down with us today. And we’ll be watching closely on election night.
Erin O’Toole, Conservative Leader: Thank you for a beautiful chat in Port Credit.
Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, the election campaign hits the homestretch. The West Block political panel weighs in.
Mercedes Stephenson: This is it, the final spring to the finish where Canadians will choose their prime minister in a race that has been deadlocked and could come down to razor thin margins across the country. So what can we expect going forward?
Joining us now is The West Block’s political commentary panel: former Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall; former independent MP Celina-Caesar-Chavannes; and Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi.
Thank you all so much for joining us. Brad, I want to start with you because we were just hearing from a fellow Conservative, Erin O’Toole. He says, you know, people can trust the Conservative party. They’re moving towards the centre. They’re a changed party. Obviously everyone knows they need to win the 905, but do you think there’s a risk of alienating Western Canada with this approach?
Mercedes Stephenson: Mayor Nenshi, you’re out in Calgary. There’s a lot of anger out there. There are a lot of folks who are talking about voting PPC. Do you think that that’s a threat to the Conservatives?
Naheed Nenshi, Calgary Mayor: No, not out here. You know, I was speaking with a Conservative MP and just asking him today how his door knocking was going and he agreed that there’s a lot of anger. People are angry at our premier. They’re angry at the prime minister. They’re even angry at Mr. O’Toole, though I don’t know why they’re angry. He hasn’t done anything yet. But they’re not—they don’t have to worry too much out here. That’s the perpetual problem with being here in Alberta, which is that we tend to get ignored a lot. The Conservatives take us for granted and the other parties don’t see any uplift in being out here. But even if the PPC were to really jump in and take a piece, and the PPC’s strategy, whether it’s on purpose or not, is very interesting. This sort of anti-vax, anti-mask vote is there. I know people who are, you know, anti-vax because they’re quite left wing, who now have PPC banners on their social media. But ultimately, maybe you go from a 70 per cent margin to a 60 per cent margin in some ridings in rural Alberta. You still win the seat.
What I thought was really interesting, and I bet you’d agree Brad, is that in these debates that we had this week, I heard nobody really defending the jobs and the economic impact of the energy sector in talking about a transition. I believe climate is one of the things that this election will turn on, but it was really interesting how very few, not even Mr. O’Toole or Mr. Trudeau really went to but the energy sector is also important. And I think that’s really where you’re seeing the battlegrounds lay out in this election.
Mercedes Stephenson: Okay. Celina, you’re in the 905, what’s your feeling on how the Conservative-Liberal game is playing out there?
Mercedes Stephenson: You talked about disappointing moments in leadership and in the debate, and I know Mayor Nenshi, another part that disappointed a lot of folks was how the federal leaders dealt with the issue of Bill C-21 in Quebec, a bill that discriminates against people who wear certain religious symbols. All the party leaders basically came out and said you can’t question this bill because doing so is tantamount to calling Quebecers racist. What did you think of that response?
Naheed Nenshi, Calgary Mayor: Well, you know, I’m still wearing purple here in Calgary, red and blue and this frankly, is one of the reasons. And if we’re just going to be super political about it as a political analyst panel here, this could be a big problem for Mr. O’Toole, for him actually coming out and saying explicitly which the other leaders have not said, I will never challenge Quebec in court on Bill 21. How does that play in Brampton or in my home riding of Calgary Skyview where Liberal candidate George Chahal is a threat, very South Asian, very Punjabi that Mr. O’Toole was saying I won’t stand up for the rights of Sikhs in Quebec. So this could be actually a very big problem for him. The others, though, are no better. And here’s the thing that frustrates me. My city council, which is right wing, left wing, all mixed up all together, unanimously condemned Quebec’s Bill 21. This is a bill that says that members of three groups: Muslim women, Sikh men who wear a turban and Orthodox Jewish men who wear a kippah, have certain jobs that they cannot do. That includes the leader of the Opposition in Montreal, who wears a kippah. On that stage, you have a man who wears a turban, who is a lawyer, and by all accounts is a good lawyer, who in Quebec could never be named a judge because of his religion. That’s discriminatory and there’s nothing wrong with calling that out. And if Quebecers, Mr. Blanchet in particular, wanted to have a debate about why that discrimination might be justified in their context, that’s one thing. But me thinks the lady protests too much, which any time you raise it, a blatantly unconstitutional law that has been passed with the notwithstanding clause because we know it’s blatantly unconstitutional and you say you can’t talk about this because then you’re racist.
Mercedes Stephenson: Powerful words from our panel today. We appreciate your time. Unfortunately it’s all the time we have for this week, but we will be back next week for your final take on the election before Canadians head to the polls.
There’s eight days to go until Canadians vote. We’ll be right back after this.
Mercedes Stephenson: Well, that’s all for our show as we head into the final week of the election campaign. Thanks for watching. We’ll see you here next week right before Election Day. I’m Mercedes Stephenson for The West Block.