The West Block – Episode 1, Season 11

Click to play video: 'The West Block: October 31'
The West Block: October 31
Watch the full episode of The West Block with host Eric Sorensen – Oct. 31, 2021 – Oct 31, 2021


Episode 1, Season 11

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Host: Eric Sorenson


Dominic LeBlanc, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister

Anne McLellan, Former Liberal Party Cabinet Minister

Lisa Raitt, Former Conservative Party Cabinet Minister

Tzeporah Berman, International Program Director 

Location: Ottawa, ON


Eric Sorensen: This week on The West Block: A new look cabinet for the COVID recovery era.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “As an extraordinary team that has reinvigorated…”

Eric Sorensen: Climate change, reconciliation, the economy, amid provincial tensions.

Dominic LeBlanc, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister: “The premier decided to ask a non-binding question on a municipal election in Alberta.

Eric Sorensen: Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc joins us.

An ambitious agenda in another minority government: former Liberal Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan and former Conservative Cabinet Minister Lisa Raitt team up to plot a way forward.

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And, one environmentalist’s wish list for the UN Climate Summit.

It’s Sunday, October 31st, and this is The West Block.

Thank you for joining us. I’m Eric Sorensen. Mercedes Stephenson is away today.

There are nine new faces siting around the prime minister’s cabinet table after last week’s swearing in ceremony, but Justin Trudeau also made sure to keep some of his closest advisors in key roles, among them, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc.

So what are the marching orders for this new cabinet? Joining us now is Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc.

Sir, we’ve had an election. The Canadians gave you back what you already had. But you’ve made some very big changes in cabinet: new faces, new roles. The aim must be with that big change to do something better. What’s—what are you going to do better? What can you do better?

Dominic LeBlanc, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister: I think, Eric, governments can always look at ways to do better. We do that in our own lives. Businesses do that all the time, so we’re always thinking of ways that we can better serve Canadians and that we can move forward quickly on the big issues that matter to people. So, for example, obviously the fight against climate change, global collaboration, working with international partners was a huge issue in the election. That obviously is a big focus of our government’s work. Finishing the fight against COVID, in my conversations with the prime minister and in my role as the intergovernmental affairs minister, we still have to work with provinces and territories to get the fight against COVID behind us and then obviously to focus on the elements of the economy that will need attention, will need work coming out of the pandemic. So those continue to be huge focuses of our government’s work and you saw an enthusiastic group just last week ready to start work right away.

Eric Sorensen: Let me ask you about a couple of specific cabinet ministers: Anita Anand in defence. Can she do what hasn’t been done till now what the prime minister himself called was a “crisis of the culture in the military”? Do you have some high hopes that she can get something done that just you really have been spinning your wheels on till now?

Dominic LeBlanc, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister: I do. I think she’s an outstanding minister. She is also an outstanding jurist. She was a University of Toronto law professor with specific experience in governance issues. So I think that background will be very important in moving very quickly with the military justice system with former Supreme Court Justice Louise Arbour, who is currently undertaking some work in terms of what are the appropriate systems. We certainly share the frustration, Eric, of Canadians when we’ve seen recent stories come to light. We’ve said from the beginning that people who serve in Canada’s Armed Forces, and certainly as we approach Remembrance Day, it’s even more important to recommit to ensuring that the people who serve Canada in this extraordinary way have a safe and respectful workplace, that survivors are heard and are valued by the senior officials in the military. I have every confidence that Madame Anand will be a very, very effective and very swift advocate in terms of putting into place the necessary changes.

Eric Sorensen: You’ve had five foreign affairs ministers in six years, there really hasn’t been an established presence or leadership from the top in that department. Do you think that Minister Joly can help do that because she’s not at the G20 this weekend and it seems to many like it just a figurehead position now where the prime minister is the one that will be out front when it comes to foreign affairs?

Dominic LeBlanc, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister: Certainly the foreign affairs department has never been a figurehead position in the Government of Canada. It’s a fundamental institution in the governance of the country. It’s very important to Canadians in terms of how our country is seen in the world and how we can work collaboratively with allies like the United States on economic issues, on climate change, on refugees. It’s also normal that the prime minister attend summits of leaders of government leaders or heads of state. The prime minister always plays, obviously a role in foreign affairs. Madame Joly has an enormous skillset, a lot of political experience. I think she’ll be an enthusiastic and effective face for Canada in the world. And I have every confidence that Canadians will be very, very proud of the work that she can do for the Government of Canada and for Canada, globally.

Eric Sorensen: The government has decided to pause. It’s not appealing the decision, but pausing the process after the federal court order to compensate Indigenous children who were removed from their homes. So the appeal is on hold with the hope of reaching an agreement at the table.

Dominic LeBlanc, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister: Well, our government has acknowledged from the beginning that Indigenous children who were harmed in the child welfare system deserve appropriate compensation. And we have had a longstanding and we think, constructive and productive conversation, in terms of settling these claims and providing just compensation to people who were harmed—to Indigenous children who were harmed and faced such horrible circumstances in past years. We made a generous and ambitious settlement offer again this week. Those are constructive conversations that are happening at this very moment, but we think it’s also important to remind Canadians that we’ve taken positive steps, including collaborating with provincial authorities and changing Canadian legislation to ensure that the very system that took Indigenous children away from their communities, can’t exist going forward and in fact, the authority to protect Indigenous children is properly in the hands of Indigenous authorities where it should always have been. And our effort will be to ensure that this kind of tragedy can never repeat itself going forward, while at the same time, acknowledging the responsibility for compensating justly and generously, the Indigenous children that faced such harm over the years.

Eric Sorensen: You’ve exchanged barbs with the Alberta Premier Jason Kenney. You’ve doubled down with Steven Guilbeault in environment and the previous environment minister is now in natural resources, which used to be sort of the advocate for the industry. So you have that kind of message. At the same time, Alberta is sounding very unhappy. How do you fix that?

Dominic LeBlanc, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister: Well obviously, we continue to work with Alberta and Mr. Kenney’s government. Jason Kenney’s actually a friend of mine. He and I have a cordial and positive and constructive ongoing dialogue. We think that Canadians in every part of the country, including in Alberta, want the government to take concerted, effective action, ambitious action in the fight against climate change, but at the same, recognize that that very work is essential to ensuring long-term sustainable jobs not only in the resource sectors but right across the country. So, we don’t think it’s an either or proposition. I think Jonathan Wilkinson did a terrific job as minister of environment and climate change. He was good in fisheries before that. He’ll be great in natural resources. And Steven Guilbeault also comes to the environment portfolio with a very, very considerable experience in those issues and a credibility in this issues, but as Canadians get to know Mr. Guilbeault as I have in recent years, they’ll also see somebody who understands that the long-term sustainable economic growth of the country also is married to our successful fight against climate change.

Eric Sorensen: All right. Dominic LeBlanc, thank you so much for talking to us today.

Dominic LeBlanc, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister: Eric, thank you for inviting me on the program. Have a wonderful day.

Eric Sorensen: Up next, two former ministers who’ve sat at the cabinet table: Liberal Anne McLellan and Conservative Lisa Raitt—unlikely partners finding common ground on a way forward. What advice do they have for this cabinet and our country?

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Eric Sorensen: From climate change and COVID recovery, to the rising cost of, well virtually everything, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s newly minted cabinet faces big challenges. Joining us to share their ideas for the way forward, two cabinet veterans: former Liberal Deputy Prime Minister under Paul Martin, Anne McLellan; and former Conservative Cabinet Minister Lisa Raitt.

So this is, as one writer put it, the two PMs who got away. You know one from each party. You’ve been working together on a Coalition for a Better Future. This is 109 organizations: government, private sector, non-governmental, education. You want them to work together, to, you know, kind of in concert with one another instead of hubbing and spoking, having the government as the hub and simply spokes from all of these organizations. With all of this new experience you have, Anne McLellan, with your previous experience in cabinet, what is your advice right now to the—to Justin Trudeau and his new cabinet?

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Anne McLellan, Former Liberal Party Cabinet Minister: Well I guess, Eric, if I was focussing on the work that Lisa and I have been doing most recently over these past three months, it would be to focus on economic growth, which leads to shared prosperity. And what I mean by that is that we need sustainable, inclusive prosperity. And, you know, economic growth obviously is important, but as Carolyn Wilkins said this week, the former Governor of the Bank of Canada, what we want is the right economic growth, and that means that you take onboard the fact that there have been people who’ve been excluded from our economic opportunity in this country. It means that you take onboard the fact that our economy is in—at the beginning probably—of a transition to net zero by 2050. But so much of what this government in Ottawa and other governments across Canada need and want to accomplish will depend upon strong, sustainable economic growth.

Eric Sorensen: So Lisa Raitt, you come from a Conservative background, but you’re finding things that you share in common with Anne McLellan. I’m, you know, I’m sure they would welcome you into the Liberal cabinet to expand further on how do we not just recover from COVID but springboard into the future?

Lisa Raitt, Former Conservative Party Cabinet Minister: You may be sure. I’m not so sure, Eric. But what I would advise, as Anne has said, for all the cabinet ministers, even if you’re not in what is traditionally thought of as an economic portfolio, remember that it’s all about the economy and economic growth is actually the way in which we can ensure our country prospers. So it’s very important for them to think about it all the time. And we’re not talking about looking at the internal workings of the government and strive to save money and we’re not even talking about how people should be cutting taxes or releasing on regulation. What we’re talking about are the big picture ideas that we need to have a sound plan on how to get to economic growth that is more than the anemic 1 per cent, half a per cent that we’re currently experiencing in the past number of years. And the other thing I would also remind them that they’ve gone through two elections: 2015, 2019 and 2021—three elections, really—with no real discussion about economic growth and how important it is and that they should focus on it.

Eric Sorensen: I want to talk to you both about the fact that you were women in male dominated cabinets and now we are seeing a cabinet with equal numbers and particularly this time, with women now in more senior roles in cabinet. Anne, can that change the dynamic, like for problem-solving around a cabinet table?

Anne McLellan, Former Liberal Party Cabinet Minister: Oh, I think so, absolutely, Eric. Women tend to be—I actually would say are—more collaborative in terms of how they go about making decisions. They, I think, want to listen carefully before jumping to conclusions. They like to understand the whole context of any problem or issue with which they’re presented and so that I think that actually in the long run, and it may take just a tad longer to get there, but I think in the long run it leads to better informed, better calibrated public policy and then of course, the challenge of executing on the public policy. I think generally, women—women do bring a different perspective, often a different way of decision-making, and we cannot forget that the lived reality and experience of many women in public life, is different than that of their male counterparts.

Eric Sorensen: Lisa Raitt, I’d really like to get your view on that as well. I mean, you would have been in a Conservative cabinet. I don’t know how different that might have been, but speak to that—to the issue of like more women genuinely being around and collaborating like you two are collaborating to try to find new ways to make a difference.

Lisa Raitt, Former Conservative Party Cabinet Minister: There’s no question that when you have people around a table that you have things in common with, that you’re going to tend to want to find agreement or find some kind of way to support each other and listen carefully, as Anne points out, and collaborate as best you can. But she nailed it as well when she pointed out that women go through a lot—a pretty different experience in terms of being a political figure than men do. That’s a bonding moment for a lot of women and as a result, there may be some really close relationships around that cabinet table that not only will work together on a personal basis but will work together professionally as well. We’re all human at the end of the day. We like to work with the people that like us and that we like. So that may be something that’ll come into play as well.

Eric Sorensen: Anne McLellan, are there cabinet ministers you’re going to be keeping an eye on to see just what kind of a difference they make?

Anne McLellan, Former Liberal Party Cabinet Minister: Oh yeah, absolutely, Eric. I mean, we have three women in three very senior cabinet portfolios. And the public, all of you in the media, everybody, I think, will be watching. You know, I would like to make one point that I think it’s unfortunate in 2021 that we still focus on the fact that women are in three senior—three of the most senior and perceived to be most important portfolios. I wish it wasn’t treated as exceptional for women to be in those roles. I wish we had come further, faster. But, having said that, we are finally in a situation where you see women not only gender parity with cabinet but you see women in very important positions. And yes I’ll be watching, but I’ll be watching from the perspective of knowing that they will do these jobs exceptionally well.

Eric Sorensen: We only have a few seconds left. Lisa Raitt last thought to you.

Lisa Raitt, Former Conservative Party Cabinet Minister: I’m going to be watching the ministers—the new ministers and a lot of them are junior in terms of time within government. I’m going to be watching the ones that have the regional economic development agencies because I’m very interested in economic growth and I want to see whether or not putting a minister in charge of a specific part of the country is going to have us see better flow of economic growth money into those constituencies.

Eric Sorensen: Lisa Raitt, Anne McLellan, thanks very much for talking to us today. It was great.

Anne McLellan, Former Liberal Party Cabinet Minister: Thanks so much.

Eric Sorensen: Still ahead, a climate change activist, Tzeporah Berman.

Tzeporah Berman, International Program Director: “Our governments are regulating emissions, but not the production of fossil fuels.”

Eric Sorensen: Berman’s Ted Talk on climate has attracted more than 700 thousand views. We’ll speak to her about the UN summit in Glasgow and her to-do list for this country and its new environment minister.

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Eric Sorensen: The UN Climate Summit COP26 begins today in Glasgow. World leaders including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will gather tomorrow. Canada has pledged to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 40-45 per cent by 2030, but climate change activists say Ottawa must do more to get there.

Tzeporah Berman is heading to Glasgow for COP26. She’s the international program director of So Tzeporah, Canada has barely made a dent in its GHG emissions, but it has ambitious goals. So at COP26, does Canada represent a true green partner?

Tzeporah Berman, International Program Director: I think Canada can represent a true green partner. I think we have the capacity in this country to address these problems, but unfortunately right now we do have the worst record in the G7. Our emissions have increased more than anyone else’s since the Paris Agreement. So if Canada’s going to get serious about addressing climate change and building a clean economy here at home, then we have to follow the science and we have to acknowledge that we need to stop expanding oil and gas, both production and emissions, and we need to make sure that in our net zero pledges and in the companies that operate in Canada and the banks, those net zero pledges include an end to the expansion of fossil fuel investments. We have to move away now and we have to plan so that no workers or their families are left behind.

Eric Sorensen: There are Canadians who will be very worried about that. What will happen to our oil and gas industry under that scenario?

Tzeporah Berman, International Program Director: What it means for our oil and gas industry is the same thing it means for the industry around the world. The fact is that we need to wind down production and emission of all oil, gas and coal, and we need to stop expansion now. That doesn’t mean we don’t use fossil fuels. We do and it doesn’t mean we won’t produce them in the future, but we’re going to produce less. So what it means is that we have to plan so that no worker and their family are left behind. But if we continue to ignore that problem, if we continue not to plan, it will be more difficult and—and more people will suffer. So we need to look at economic diversification and—and we need to acknowledge that this is an industry that is going to have to wind down in the next—in the next 10 to 20 years.

Eric Sorensen: Steven Guilbeault is our new environment minister and in terms of optics, this is very new. This is somebody who is a Greenpeace activist. He scaled the CN Tower to hang a banner 20 years ago. What does he mean for Canada at this event and what do you expect from him? What’s your wish list for him?

Tzeporah Berman, International Program Director: I hope what it means is that this government and this cabinet is serious about addressing the climate emergency and that they will follow the science and ensure that our policies and our efforts, both address the emergency and the science. So—so what that means is that we need to ramp up spending significantly on keeping Canadians safe. We need to be putting money towards planning for the fires and the floods and the heat domes because the science is showing us that they will only increase right now. These are not easy issues, but Minister Guilbeault, while he has a reputation of being a strong climate leader and certainly has incredible knowledge of climate policy. He also has a reputation of being fair and of being honest and effective. And so I am excited to see what he’ll do with his new position and I’m hoping that this shows that the Trudeau cabinet will take serious, the climate emergency and the need to move quickly away from fossil fuel production and emissions.

Eric Sorensen: We only have a few seconds. You’ve talked about what it’s going to take over the years, but what do you want to see specifically coming out of this conference that would give you some optimism?

Tzeporah Berman, International Program Director: Well some of the issues that are being discussed at this conference that are absolutely critical are whether or not we’re going to allow companies and our own governments to use offsets as a loophole to continue to allow fossil fuel expansion. We really want to see Canada commit to not use offsets and to have a strong position in the negotiations around Article 6 and to commit to support the developing nations. In Paris, we committed—the countries around the world committed $100 billion a year by 2020. We’re not on track to support that and there are certainly many countries that are not responsible for the climate situation that we’re in who are going to need support in order to address their vulnerable populations. So I’m hoping we see more ambition. I’m hoping we see some specifics that mean that we’re getting serious about shifting our economies and shifting out of fossil fuels.

Eric Sorensen: Tzeporah Berman, thank you for joining us. Good luck in Glasgow.

And that’s our show for today. For The West Block, I’m Eric Sorensen. Thanks for watching.


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