THE WEST BLOCK
Episode 50, Season 10
Sunday, October 24, 2021
Host: Mike Le Couteur
Carla Qualtrough, Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion Minister
Catherine McKenna, Former Liberal Cabinet Minister
Amanda Connolly, Global News Political Reporter @ amandacconn
Location: Ottawa, ON
Mike Le Couteur: This week on The West Block: Closing a pandemic chapter.
Chrystia Freeland, Deputy Prime Minister: “We’re now in a new phase. One that is very different from the darkest days.”
Mike Le Couteur: Broad pandemic supports are done, making way for targeted programs.
We speak with Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough on the way forward.
Tackling the climate emergency…
Dr. Maria Neira, World Health Organization (WHO): “Climate change is affecting the pillars of our health: food, water.”
Mike Le Couteur: World leaders are heading to Glasgow with new climate change commitments while falling short on Paris targets.
Former Environment Minister Catherine McKenna on what more Canada needs to do heading into the U.N. Climate Summit.
It’s Sunday, October 24th. I’m Mike Le Couteur, and this is The West Block.
Thanks for joining us. I’m Mike Le Couteur. Mercedes Stephenson is away today.
Well many of the federal pandemic relief programs that helped millions of Canadians pay their bills have come to an end.
Since the pandemic isn’t over, starting today there are new programs in place to help Canadian workers and businesses that continue to be affected by COVID-19. The new benefits target the hardest hit sectors and will be around until May of 2022.
Chrystia Freeland, Deputy Prime Minister: “Our support needs to be more narrow, more targeted and less expensive.”
Mike Le Couteur: The hardest hit sectors: tourism and hospitality will get the most help. A special recovery program will be in place for businesses, like restaurants and hotels, for the next month with plans to introduce legislation that will extend it until next May.
The Tourism and Hospitality Recovery Program will provide wage and rent subsidies to businesses with a sustained 40 per cent revenue decline over the past year. Other businesses not in those sectors can apply for a similar program with a sliding scale. These other businesses would quality if they have sustained revenue loss of at least 50 per cent, with a subsidy starting at 10 per cent. Business groups were happy with the extension of the benefits, but say the devil really is in those details.
Dan Kelly, Canadian Federation of Independent Business, Toronto: “The bar is too high and the subsidy too low to make a big difference for many businesses that are hanging on by their fingernails.”
Mike Le Couteur: As of March 13th, 2022, the subsidy rates for the rest of the programs will be cut in half.
The Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit and the Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit will remain. The new Worker Lockdown Benefit will replace CRB. It’s for workers whose jobs are affected by a public health lockdown and will give employees $300 a week if they aren’t already collecting EI.
And joining me right now is the Minister of Employment Carla Qualtrough. Minister, thanks for being here. A lot of these benefits are now much more targeted, but at the same time your government will be leaving behind thousands of Canadians who were depending on the CRB to pay their bills. What do you say to them?
Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Employment: Thanks Mike, for having me. You know the reality is the economic and public health circumstances have changed from when we put in the CRB, since September of 2020. So we understand with the job numbers where they are, with the unemployment rate where it is, where job vacancies are, that we really needed to move to a move targeted approach that really focus on the sectors that haven’t recovered and to support workers when they’re in a situation of lockdown. We know that these were always intended to be temporary measures, and I would just say, you know, it’s where we are in the evolution of this pandemic and it’s actually a reflection of how we’ve succeeded economically in recovering.
Mike Le Couteur: Now part of it, and another one of the programs, is the Canada Recovery Hiring Program. It’s being extended. Subsidy is also being bolstered a little bit to 50 per cent, but we’re still hearing from businesses who are telling us anyways that they’re having trouble filling—finding workers to fill those jobs. So is that program really achieving what it was set out to achieve?
Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Employment: Really important question. We’ve been hearing a lot from businesses about the labour shortages they’ve been experiencing. These labour shortages were there before the pandemic and we’re really trying to put in place active measures like the hiring program, the wage subsidy that incentivize work and aren’t as passive, say, as the CRB was, which was appropriate at the time, but we think we’ve moved on.
Mike Le Couteur: And when you say you think you’ve moved on, I mean do you really think that if they’re having trouble finding these workers that it’s really setting out what it needs to do, or do you think more needs to happen there?
Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Employment: Well I think it’s a combination of a bunch of things. So absolutely, the hiring program is one tool we have. We have got—we’re investing significantly in training where we’re encouraging businesses to use the wage subsidy. The hiring program is underutilized and I think that’s a matter of us getting the message out that if you want to give people more hours, if you want to hire more people, if you want to increase the salary of the people you have on your staff, that’s all eligible under the hiring program. So I spent a lot of time putting that message out in my own community because I think businesses don’t necessarily understand the breadth of the—the scope of the criteria for this program.
Mike Le Couteur: Now one of the issues that employers could be facing also is the mandatory vaccinations for certain workers, for certain jobs. If an employee does make the decision not to get vaccinated but it’s required for their job, do they or don’t they qualify for Employment Insurance?
Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Employment: Again, important question. So if an employer has a clear policy with clear consequences and it’s well understood that non-compliance, so this condition of employment could lead to dismissal, if they are dismissed, they typically would not be able to access EI for these reasons because of course, a fundamental principle of the EI program is that claimants have to lose their employment through no fault of their own. And this would be seen typically as a choice. Now of course, every case is a case by case basis, certainly not the minister’s purview at all to arbitrate these things. But as a matter of course, typically they would not be eligible.
Mike Le Couteur: So how concerned are you when you hear already that lawyers are warning that you could see a great number of challenges here and, you know, what are you basing the grounds on what you’re saying right now, your assertion that they couldn’t collect EI, if you are having a lot of lawyers saying that there could be these challenges and that it could possibly overrun the system with these challenges.
Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Employment: Yeah. I mean certainly, I don’t weigh-in on the legality of this. But we’re confident that the Employment Insurance Act stating that—you know basically it says if a claimant, so an EI claimant is disqualified or disentitled form receiving benefits because they left their job, either they were fired or they dismissed—sorry, I shouldn’t say fired—as a result of their own misconduct, which in this case would be non-compliance within existing policy, there is grounds for not getting EI. But I—you know as with any new policy or circumstance, this is case by case. This will have to go through the courts or through the Social Security Tribunal and not my place to weigh-in on the merits of any one particular case.
Mike Le Couteur: So help me try and understand this because we’re dealing with a labour shortage, yet as a government you’re saying that you’re comfortable with excluding all of these people and making sure that they also don’t get EI. So how do we sort of square that circle of we need workers, but as a government you’re comfortable with these people being excluded from certain jobs and not getting EI?
Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Employment: Well you know effectively, Mike, we know that vaccines are the most effective tool against COVID-19, and we also don’t want people putting fellow employees or fellow workers at risk. We don’t want workplaces to have to shut down because of an outbreak in a workplace, and we announced the details of our mandatory vaccine policy for employees of the Public Service. We are encouraging other businesses to follow suit, and we just think it’s good public health policy but also economic policy to have safe, healthy workplaces and therefore, we want people to be vaccinated and right now, we’re still in the middle of this pandemic and we need people to be vaccinated. We need workers to be vaccinated, of course if they can be.
Mike Le Couteur: Yeah. I want to switch gears for a quick second here. Last week, your government introduced the vaccine passport to be recognized hopefully by a number of other countries. So what countries is your government in consultation with right now to make sure that it’s recognized, especially when you consider that the land border with the U.S. or the softening of restrictions of the border with the U.S. is coming just at the beginning of November. A lot of Canadians are looking to try and travel, so have we started the discussions with the U.S. and what other countries will be recognizing our national passport?
Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Employment: Well absolutely. First of all, having a standardized national proof of vaccination based on the Smart Health Canada standard is one way to bolster the credibility, the reliability and the acceptance of our, what we would call PVC, which is proof of vaccination credentials. We’ve been working over the past months with a number of international organizations to ensure that these credentials are recognized. We do the same for passports to make sure that countries recognize this. We expect that all countries that are currently accepting Canadian travellers will accept our PVCs, our proof of vaccination credentials, and, you know, all countries that are currently accepting travellers are accepting all forms of vaccine certification. But that work is ongoing and I think as the world, which really has a vested interest, and people moving around and visiting and getting back to whatever normal looks like, we’re all working together to make sure our citizens can safely travel between countries.
Mike Le Couteur: On the vaccine passport specifically, how closely are we working with the U.S. and how soon can you say, or can we say, that they will recognize that vaccine passport?
Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Employment: I don’t have a timeline for the last part of your question, but we’ve been working with the U.S. a long—you’re talking to an MP who has Point Roberts right as a neighbour and we’re working very closely with the U.S. on this issue.
Mike Le Couteur: Okay. Minister Qualtrough, we’re going to have to leave it there. Thanks so much for joining us today.
Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Employment: Thanks Mike, take care.
Mike Le Couteur: Up next…
Catherine McKenna, Former Liberal Cabinet Minister: “Well, it may be raining out, but I am so excited because I’m launching a new initiative at COP26. Stay tuned, it’s going to be awesome.”
Mike Le Couteur: That’s former Liberal Cabinet Minister Catherine McKenna. We’ll ask her about life after politics, which includes the U.N. Climate Summit in Glasgow.
Mike Le Couteur: Former Liberal Cabinet Minister Catherine McKenna surprised many political watchers when she decided not to run again in the last election. And before she was infrastructure minister in the Trudeau government, McKenna was the minister of environment, leading Canada’s fight against climate change. She’s out of politics but still in the fight against climate change and now on a more global scale. McKenna is heading to the U.N. in New York this week before heading to Glasgow for COP26, that’s the U.N. Summit on Climate Change. And Catherine McKenna joins me right now.
Thanks so much for joining us, and first question: You’ve left politics, but clearly you haven’t left this fight on climate change. Tell me why you think it can be more effective to fight climate change out of politics than inside the corridors of power?
Catherine McKenna, Former Liberal Cabinet Minister: Well look, I think I was pretty clear when I decided to leave that it was to focus on my kids but also on the fight against climate change. And pollution doesn’t know any borders. We have a climate plan here in Canada. We need to always be doing more, but we’ve done things like put a price on pollution, phase out coal, make historic investments in sustainable infrastructure, and we need the world to do that and we need momentum going into COP26 and beyond. So that’s really what my focus is on. I will always be someone who sees climate change as the biggest issue and do whatever I can.
Mike Le Couteur: On that, you gave a bit of a hint on Twitter in the last few days, last week, saying that you have a big initiative coming. Now it seems to me this would be a great opportunity for you to break this news on our show right now. So why not do that right now?
Catherine McKenna, Former Liberal Cabinet Minister: Well Mike, I’m actually partnering with the United Nations and some other folks so I am not going to do that, but stay tuned and there will be an invitation to Canadians to participate because I think—I mean the initiative is intended to show yes COP is a moment in time, but people have been taking action on climate change before COP26 and when they tear it all down, people will continue to be taking action. So it’s going to be great. I’m really excited about it, but everyone’s just going to have to wait. We’re launching next Friday.
Mike Le Couteur: You can’t fault me for trying I guess, eh? So looking ahead to COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, people are already lowering expectations, unfortunately. The reality is that countries are far off their targets right now, Canada included. So new reports are showing that Canada won’t hit its emission reduction targets, what happened when you were minister and since, that has allowed Canada to come up short?
Catherine McKenna, Former Liberal Cabinet Minister: Well okay. So first of all, I think it’s really important to be clear that we haven’t missed our targets. The targets are a 2030 target so we’re pretty far away from 2030, and we’ve already shown the pathway to how we will meet what we set as an initial target in 2015, reducing emissions by 30 per cent. And the Paris Agreement requires you to ratchet up ambition, so to be more ambitious. So we announced, Jonathan Wilkinson, the prime minister announced that we would reduce emissions by 40 to 45 per cent, and we’re bringing in new initiatives all the time. And I think there’s some really important work that’s being done, including for the oil and gas sector. They have to be part of it. Emissions have to go down from that sector because they’re a very significant portion of Canada’s emissions. But we’re doing things like phasing out the internal combustion engine by 2035. Imagine, like no cars that will be sold in Canada will have any emissions associated with them. Massive retrofit programs, massive investments in public transit. But we all have to do the work. Look, I think COP 26—it’s going to be hard because we need to see the ambition. You’ve seen everyone call for it, including Greta. And it can’t just be talk, it has to be action. Canada has shown what we’re going to do and we know we need to do more, but every country needs to do that and bring it to the table that is the whole purpose of the Paris Agreement, everyone doing their part.
Mike Le Couteur: To your point, you’ve always said that climate change is all about math, and it’s very simple for people to understand that. So how can Canada really be taken seriously in the climate change fight if we continue to extra oil and gas?
Catherine McKenna, Former Liberal Cabinet Minister: Well first of all, it’s a transition and transitions aren’t linear and they’re not perfect. And so, you know, you can’t immediately wave a magic wand and say, you know we’re getting rid of oil and gas. People are use—we use oil and gas. Everyone is using oil and gas, but we do need to transition. We need to figure that out. And that’s exactly what we’re doing. Part of in this election, the Liberal platform was to tackle emissions from the oil and gas sector that is critically important. We phased out coal. We need the whole world to be phasing out coal. There are still countries like Australia have a lot of work to do. But we also need to figure out jobs and I’ve always felt this that you—the transition has to work for everyone, which means you’ve got to dig deep and you have to figure out how are people going to have good jobs while we do everything we need to do to tackle climate change. And let me be very clear: we know what we need to do. The goal is staying well below 2 degrees, striving for 1.5 degrees that was negotiated in the Paris Agreement, that’s the science. And so we’re going to have to do our part the same way every country in the world is going to have to transition as fast as possible, away from fossil fuels. So that’s coal, that’s oil and gas.
Mike Le Couteur: So doing our part but at the same time, you mentioned Australia. There’s also, you know, the U.S. doesn’t have a price on pollution either. How do we use our influence as a country to try and lean on other countries to make sure that they’re coming to the plate with more ambition if we’re trying to bring more ambition?
Catherine McKenna, Former Liberal Cabinet Minister: Well I think that’s a really important point, Mike. And I think, you know, sometimes people say well why is Canada doing this? Why have we committed to phasing out coal when, say, Australia hasn’t? Because you need to have credibility if you’re going to go, you know, tell other countries or encourage other countries or support other countries to doing the hard things we all need to do. And so putting a price on pollution, I’ve been slightly encouraged in the United States they’re having a really tough time getting their infrastructure bill passed, but now they’re thinking well maybe another way to get emission reductions would be a price on pollution. I’ve had many conversations with Americans, including Republicans, who support and market mechanisms to reduce emissions. But this is what I want to do, I mean my focus is how do we scale ambition on climate and how can we share Canada’s lessons? But just get real because you’re right, it is math. So, first of all, we need to get the whole world off coal as fast as possible. We also need to transition off of oil and gas, and that requires a lot of work, a lot of different solutions and ultimately, I’ve been working together. And that’s, you know, you can shame folks, but also you need to show the path because it’s not that easy and I think Canada’s got a great role to play going into this COP. We’re helping to find—we’ll secure $100 billion per year to support developing countries because they’ve done the least to cause climate change and they’re paying the price right now and we need to be supporting them. So, there’s a lot of pieces to this puzzle, but I think Canada’s got a great story and maybe even a better story because it’s hard for us, because we do produce oil and gas and we’ve—you know, coal. And so showing that we’re figuring it out and working really hard, I think is a really important lesson for other countries and a very practical way and as I say, that’s my thing: how do we scale climate solutions all around the world?
Mike Le Couteur: I’ve only got a minute for this last question and it’s kind of a two-parter. So about that $100 billion for the developing nations, what happens if we don’t raise that much money? And what to you, does a successful COP26 actually look like?
Catherine McKenna, Former Liberal Cabinet Minister: Well we have to raise that money. There will be no success in COP unless there’s $100 raised, so Canada’s got to dig deep. Germany’s digging deep. Next week—well sorry, this coming week I’m at the U.N. looking at how we raise the ambition. Germany is there. They’re the co-lead with Canada on raising the $100. I mean look, success ultimately would look like we’ve got a path to stay well below 2 degrees, striving for 1.5. I don’t think we’re going to get there, but the Paris Agreement, don’t lose hope. It requires countries to continuously raise the ambition and guess what? Every single day around the world, people are taking action on climate change. So COP, they’re going to fold things up and go home. People will go home, but people will still be acting and that’s what we need to do. We need to continue pushing as hard as we can, all of us digging deep. It’s not just about governments, it’s about individuals, it’s about businesses and we can do it. We tackled COVID, we’re on our way to getting out of COVID. It’s the same thing with climate. We can do it, but we’re going to have to really work extremely hard and be focused.
Mike Le Couteur: Catherine McKenna, I appreciate you taking the time being with us. Unfortunately we’re going to have to leave it there. We’ll talk to you soon. Thanks again.
Up next, who’s in and who’s out? There are some big questions heading into Tuesday’s cabinet shuffle. We’ll be joined by Global News’ Amanda Connolly to talk about how these appointments will outline key government priorities. Stay with us.
Mike Le Couteur: Justin Trudeau unveils his third cabinet as prime minister this week. The swearing in ceremony will take place on Tuesday at Rideau Hall with Canada’s first Indigenous Governor General Mary May Simon. Globalnews.ca political reporter Amanda Connolly is here to break it all down for us. Thanks for joining us, Amanda.
Amanda Connolly, Global News Political Reporter: Thanks for having me.
Mike Le Couteur: I guess the first question. It’s the elephant in the room. I mean there’s no way that Harjit Sajjan can remain as defence minister, right?
Amanda Connolly, Global News Political Reporter: This really is the big thing that we’re watching for right now and again, this is—this has been a big problem for the government, their handling of the military sexual misconduct crisis. I spoke with one expert a couple of weeks ago saying this is effectively a sucking chest wound for the government. They just cannot seem to get it under control to really stem the damage flowing from this. And of course, we’re watching for that as we look to the cabinet shuffle next week.
Mike Le Couteur: Yeah. And so without naming other names, I mean how much does the naming of the cabinet really sketch out the priorities that this government will have? Who goes where and especially when you consider child care, environment, those types of things.
Amanda Connolly, Global News Political Reporter: I think that’s a really good question and again, as you mentioned there, child care. There are some really big items on the government agenda right now that they have to have people in those jobs who can actually get things done. I think first and foremost, though, you’re really looking at three things that are going to factor in here. You’ve got the geographic representation, people from all the different across the country. You’ve got the gender balance issue, too, second, which is a big thing for the government here. They have doubled down committing to that, so we’re going to watch for whether that increases the size of the cabinet here, too, and again, as you mentioned, actually getting things done. They’re looking for people here, again, with another election possibly 18 months away, that can jump into these files, get things done and not mess it up while doing it.
Mike Le Couteur: And it’s interesting because there are some backbenchers, who have been doing well, either as parliamentary secretaries, or otherwise that have been really carrying the mail and in a sense, they’ve got to promote them as well, right?
Amanda Connolly, Global News Political Reporter: Yeah. And again, this is, I imagine, a tricky issue for the government. You’ve got people who have been doing the backbench work, parliamentary secretary stuff now for a couple of years in this government and haven’t necessarily seen the promotions that maybe they feel they’re owed or that people might think they are owed. So you’ve got to imagine here, again, a difficult balance for the government looking at who to promote, who they’re going to have to keep relying on to go out there and do a lot of this work in terms of the TV interviews and shoring things up when there are problems for the government.
Mike Le Couteur: And there’s one thing that I thought was always interesting. There’s—you know we sort of talk about it behind the scenes and say oh, this person for sure; they’re definitely going to get one. And sometimes they get passed over, either because of regional representation or for other reasons. How do you think that that’s going to affect caucus morale when there are going to be people who will be passed over and then, you know, they have to take up their role as a backbencher?
Amanda Connolly, Global News Political Reporter: Well they’re in a really challenging position right now and that’s again, because we had this—we just had this election. They did not get the majority that a lot of people think they were looking for with that decision, right? So they obviously are going to have a limited timeframe here. They’re going to be looking to really make an impact and with that, you need your caucus to work together. You have to have that cohesion, that ability to get things done and to have that—that strong cohesive unity in the caucus itself to present a united front to Canadians.
Mike Le Couteur: Because you can really upset some people if they get left off, again.
Amanda Connolly, Global News Political Reporter: Absolutely.
Mike Le Couteur: It’s just one of those interesting dynamics that thankfully you or I don’t have to do. We can just sit here and talk about it, right?
Amanda Connolly, Global News Political Reporter: That’s the best part, right?
Mike Le Couteur: Thanks so much for this, Amanda, really appreciate it.
Well, that’s our show for today, everyone. Thanks so much for spending your time with us. Mercedes Stephenson will be back next Sunday. For The West Block, I’m Mike Le Couteur.