THE WEST BLOCK
Episode 3, Season 11
Sunday, November 14, 2021
Host: Mercedes Stephenson
Kirsten Hillman, Ambassador of Canada to the United States
Elizabeth May, Green Party Parliamentary Leader
Location: Ottawa, ON
Mercedes Stephenson: This week on The West Block: A long awaited reunion for the so-called Three Amigos.
President Joe Biden invites Prime Minister Trudeau and Mexican President Manuel Lopez Obrador to Washington.
Will the summit signal a new direction for Canada-U.S. relations? We’ll speak to Canada’s ambassador in Washington, Kirsten Hillman.
Steven Guilbeault, Environment Minister: “I recognize that expectations are high, as they should be. That’s because the stakes are very high.”
Mercedes Stephenson: A climate report card for COP-26. Did the U.N. summit Glasgow get a passing grade when it comes to fighting climate change? And what will it mean for Alberta and Saskatchewan?
The Green Party’s Elizabeth May has been at the negotiations. We’ll get her assessment on Canada’s role.
And, Canada remembers. Honouring our veterans.
It’s Sunday, November 14th, and this is The West Block.
Thank you for joining us today. I’m Mercedes Stephenson.
For the first time in five years, the leaders of Canada, Mexico and the United States are meeting face to face in Washington on Thursday. There’s a lot to talk about from ending the COVID pandemic to fighting climate change, but it’s the relationship between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Joe Biden that will be front and centre for Canadians.
Joining me now is Canada’s Ambassador to the United States, Kirsten Hillman. Thank you so much for making time for us today, ambassador. I know you must have a very busy schedule as this three amigos summit is approaching. What do you expect to be the priorities at the summit for Canada and for all three leaders?
Kirsten Hill, Ambassador to the United States: Thanks Mercedes, it’s so good to be with you today. So, you know, it’s been a long time since we’ve had a trilateral, a Three Amigos summit, and I think, you know, in that time we’ve been through a lot. Our continents been through a lot, our world has been through a lot. So I expect the leaders will want to sit down and talk about the things that are most pressing for them domestically and in our region. Top among them, of course, is getting to the other side of COVID, making sure we get those vaccination programs concluded and we get people vaccinated, but also climate change, protection. There are migration issues in the region that are very important to Mexico, getting our economies back on track. You know there’s a long list of things that they’ll want to talk about in terms of doing things together today and hopefully charting a path for this partnership going forward.
Mercedes Stephenson: One of the criticisms that we’ve heard from people like Mary Scott Greenwood, or from the Business Council of Canada, is that it seems to be difficult at times to get the Biden administration’s attention, that they say they’re an ally and it’s certainly more predictable to deal with than the Trump administration, but it seems like it’s America first and then everyone else and there’s a difficulty getting on their radar screen or getting them to see our side on the issues. Obviously, you’re the person who has to execute these policies on the ground. What is your experience like dealing with the Biden administration and are you concerned that America first is pushing Canada way down the list?
Kirsten Hill, Ambassador to the United States: Well I think the first thing I’d like to say is that I never have any challenges getting in to talk to the Biden administration when I have something that Canada needs to talk to them about. Whether that’s the White House or, you know, cabinet secretaries, our ministers are able to contact them, I’m able to contact them. So we are able to talk to them when we want to on things that matter to us and on things that matter to them. I think that you do note however, and I think it’s fair to say, that the administration has a lot of very pressing domestic priorities that they are trying to advance here in the United States. They have passed their infrastructure legislation. There’s another large bill of social infrastructure bill called the Reconciliation bill down here in the U.S. that they’re working hard to pass. And there are bills regarding just keeping the government financed and moving forward. All of these things take up a lot of time and energy, but it doesn’t diminish our ability to talk to them about our bilateral relationship or ways in which we want to interact, you know, in the world. And I think the progress that we made at the G20 and the COP-26 really underlines that.
Mercedes Stephenson: Where are we at on Buy American, because this is a big concern for a lot of the Canadian auto sector? There’s a tax incentive there that would really advantage American producers. It could be very damaging to the Canadian auto industry. Do you get a sense that American lawmakers and the American presidency is open to making an exception for Canada there, or getting rid of that part of the bill?
Kirsten Hill, Ambassador to the United States: So the tax provision you’re talking about is under discussion on Capitol Hill. It is in a draft that may pass the House. While it’s under debate and discussion within the House, we are working very hard to make sure that we bring the facts to the table for the lawmakers, to explain to them why that tax credit while of course, it’s not good news for Canada, it’s also really not good news for the U.S. The degree of integration that we have in our auto sector will mean that that tax credit will disrupt our very efficient and effective supply chains in the auto sector, supply chains that literally tens of thousands of American jobs rely on. So we’re working hard to get those facts on the table for the U.S. Congress, but that’s just the first step. In this legislative process here in the United States, a bill passes the House, then it is up for discussion, debate. There needs to be a bill in the Senate as well and the Senate version and the House version then need to be, you know, brought together into one version. So we’re talking to the Senate, we’re talking to the House of Representatives, we’re talking to the White House, we’re talking to members of the administration, cabinet members, and we’re explaining to them that this tax credit just isn’t in the U.S. interests. It will hurt American jobs. It’s inconsistent with their international commitments, including their most recent commitments under CUSMA with them. And frankly, you know, we should all be working to create more EVs together and maximize the number of EVs that are on the roads. And this provision won’t do that. It’ll disrupt the rapid and very competitive EV sector that we’re trying to build here in the Canada-U.S. ecosystem.
Mercedes Stephenson: Thanks. And yeah, I should clarify because you were correct there. There are two total different bills. There’s the Buy America bill which has to do with domestic contracts, and there’s a separate bill that they’re looking at on the automotive industry. Both don’t spell good news for Canada, so good to hear that you’re engaging on those. Line 5 is another big issue for a lot of folks here in Canada that people are concerned about. Of course the state of Michigan wants to shut that pipeline down, very important to the Canadian economy. What kind of response are you getting in Washington to the appeals to keep that pipeline going?
Kirsten Hill, Ambassador to the United States: Well yeah. Well I think that, you know, there are a lot of people in Washington who recognize that that is a very essential piece of infrastructure who recognize that it’s a piece of infrastructure that has operated safely for over 60 years. But there are concerns in Michigan, as you know well, from some who are afraid that this pipeline might need to be refurbished or that it might pose risk to the Great Lakes. And what I say is Canada cares about the health and safety of the Great Lakes as much as any American and all Michiganders. And we believe that there’s a way in which we can work together, and primarily, you know, Enbridge working with the state of Michigan, to make a safe pipeline even safer. They’re working on that. They have sought to negotiate a solution there. Those negotiations haven’t born fruit yet, but we are also having discussion with the U.S. federal government. Those discussions are really just about to get underway so there isn’t a lot to report on that. They’re setting up sort of the parameters of those discussions. Who will talk to who? What the timelines will be and, you know, we’ll have more to say on that in the coming weeks or maybe months.
Mercedes Stephenson: Ambassador Hillman, another big topic that is less than news now that we have the two Michaels here home safe and sound. You were deeply involved in the discussions about their freedom and everyone is so glad to have them home. But that issue of China becoming an increasing political and military superpower is still very much a concern. People are trying to figure out where the Biden administration fits on all of this, what their positions are. What kind of discussion are we having with our American counterparts about our policy and our strategy towards China/
Kirsten Hill, Ambassador to the United States: Yeah, that’s a great question and yes, we are all very, very happy to have the Michaels home. I think that, you know, what I can say is that China is an enormous consequential country that impacts almost every aspect of the lives of Canadians as well as Americans, as well as our allies around the world. And we’re all kind of grappling with how do we have a sophisticated approach to dealing with this country that is a very significant country on the world stage? So, you know, we’ve seen recently, efforts to work with China in the fight against climate change and to get China to take some commitments that are essential if we’re going to fight this serious problem as a globe. It’s essential for them to step up and be part of that fight. At the same time, there are other areas where it’s harder to work together and obviously areas around human rights and peace and security and arbitrary detention, you know, this is much, much more difficult. And there, we have to work with our allies to find ways to try to make sure that this kind of behaviour that is contrary to the values that we are trying to advance in the world is minimized is to the extent possible, contained or ceases. Complicated, but the only way to really get that kind of thing done is to work with like-minded allies and all be pushing in the same direction. So there are many different ways in which we need to be working with China. We need to recognize that they’re an economic force in the globe. They’re a market for many, many countries and that’s not going to change. So we have to approach the relationship in a sophisticated sort of multi-faceted way and very much working with our allies. And we’ve talked to the Americans about that regularly. We talked about each of these different areas of activity, and then we talk about strategizing with other partners around the world.
Mercedes Stephenson: Ambassador Hillman, that’s all the time we have for today. Thank you so much for joining us and good luck at the Three Amigos.
Kirsten Hill, Ambassador to the United States: Thank you so much, it’s great to talk to you.
Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, Elizabeth May is a veteran of U.N. climate summits. Will the commitments made at COP-26 make a difference? We’ll speak to her from Glasgow next.
Mercedes Stephenson: Since November 1st, intense negotiations were underway at COP-26 in Glasgow, to address climate change with concrete actions for the world to follow. Canada pledged to do its part, including: cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 40-45 per cent by 2030, capping oil and gas emissions to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050; ending thermal coal exports and phasing out conventional coal fired electricity in Canada by 2030; and Canada has also committed to only selling zero-emission cars and vans by 2040 and on top of that, has also promised to end deforestation. Obviously, that is a long list. Can we achieve it? And is it enough? Well, the Green Party’s Elizabeth May has been watching and negotiating these commitments closely. She is there representing the Green Party for Canada and she joins me now from Glasgow.
Elizabeth, thank you for making time for us. How are you?
Elizabeth May, Green Party Parliamentary Leader: Well it’s been, as you can imagine, a very stressful last two weeks and results were not what we had hoped. So I’m reflective I’d suppose you’d have to say—reflective and tired.
Mercedes Stephenson: I can imagine. So when you’re talking about some of those results, I mean we just read what felt like a laundry list of pretty significant promises. So when you look at these promises, do you think that we’re likely to even achieve the ones that we’ve made? Is this realistic? Is there a plan to actually get to these goals and to these numbers that the Canadian government is setting out?
Elizabeth May, Green Party Parliamentary Leader: We have to do more and faster. And that is globally not just Canada. So this is the framework place that all countries come together, and Canada’s commitments fall far short of what the science requires, although as you read them out, as you said a laundry list, but the fundamentals are about holding to no more than 1.5 degree global average temperature increase. Virtually all of the rest of the industrialized world has already done more than Canada has done and has pledged to do more again. But still, the collectivity of all the promises made here in Glasgow don’t hold us to 1.5 degrees. So as Antonio Guterres, the U.N. Secretary-General said in the waning hours of these negotiations, hanging onto 1.5 degrees, which is essential to ensure our children have anything like a liveable world, he said that commitment is now on life support.
Mercedes Stephenson: Can you take us, Liz, through that 1.5 degrees a little bit, because I think it’s something we hear a lot. We hear a lot of it in the media and I’m not sure it’s always clear why that number has been selected or what happens if we have climate change that goes beyond 1.5 degrees.
Elizabeth May, Green Party Parliamentary Leader: Oh gosh, thank you for asking because it is not an easy concept. First of all, the full commitment is to hold to 1.5 degrees global average temperature increase, compared to what it was before the industrial revolution. It doesn’t sound like much, 1.5 degrees but when you consider it’s a global average number, it’s a big number. Just to give some context, the global average temperature today compared to what it was 10 thousand years ago when Canada was under several kilometres of ice, that difference is only 5 degrees global average temperature increase in Celsius. So 1.5 is huge. We already have increased global average temperature globally by 1.1 degree Celsius. But as we know, Canada is experiencing faster rates of warming than other parts of the world; particularly our Arctic is warming three times faster than this global average figure. So what we did in Paris, and I do want to give credit to our Minister of Environment at the time, Catherine McKenna, Canada was the first industrialized country to step up and support the calls from the developing world, from low-lying island states that know that they will literally cease to exist with sea level rise unless we act faster and cut more deeply than anything that’s currently pledged.
Mercedes Stephenson: Liz, I understand your point about this not being enough to achieve the 1.5 degrees and how critical it is that that happens, but on the other side you also have provinces like Alberta and Saskatchewan and folks out there who say, look, if we get cut off tomorrow from a carbon economy, there will be thousands of people out of jobs and the economic damage will be in the billions so this is too much, too fast, economically. What do you think of that?
Elizabeth May, Green Party Parliamentary Leader: Well first of all, no one’s saying we’re cutting it off tomorrow. We have to make the commitment yesterday so we plan ahead. And we have a just transition at the very key concept that we plan ahead so that the regions of the country, or of any part of the world that are fossil fuel production dependent, or if their workforce is dependent, that we make the transition. But the good news around our energy supplies, is that Canada is a real—I mean, I remember when Stephen Harper called for us to be an energy superpower—well, we can be, but it’s going to be solar and it’s wind and it’s geothermal and it’s tidal. Now, for people in Alberta and Saskatchewan who don’t want to see the end of fossil fuels, it’s kind of like keeping on wishing if you were in the horse and buggy business or in the earlier part of the 1900s that you could hang onto the jobs that everyone had in making wagon wheels and stabling horses and making buggy whips. There’s a technological revolution. The reality is that the investment money is moving to renewables. The excitement around a new green economy is unstoppable. The question isn’t whether we’re going to be able to produce fossil fuels forever, it’s the question of can we ensure that we phase out our dependence fossil fuels fast enough so that the damage done by burning them is constrained at a point that allows us to have a stable climate. We’re never going to get back the climate we had when I was growing up. We are in a new regime of extreme weather events that are dangerous. I mean, 600 people died in British Columbia this summer because of the climate crisis and the heat dome that sat over much of B.C. This is not a theoretical risk. This is a daily reality of climate emergency. We have to respond to it and in doing so we have to ensure that those places that were producing something dangerous are protected from a negative disruptive impact on their lives.
Mercedes Stephenson: Liz, there’s some folks who say if Canada meets all of our goals and does all of this, there’s still the issue of big countries like China or Russia who are not doing their part, or big auto emitters like Volkswagen who aren’t signing on. Have you seen any progress towards that at COP-26, or are we continuing to try to push progress here in Canada and other countries like that while some of the really big emitters do nothing?
Elizabeth May, Green Party Parliamentary Leader: Let’s be clear, we are a big emitter. We’re one of the 10 countries in the world that in absolute terms not just per person, in absolute terms, we’re one of the 10 biggest polluters. And because the emissions that we emitted 20 years ago are still in the atmosphere, the emissions from 40 years ago are still in the atmosphere, Canada is a big polluter and our record despite—I mean I know we’ve had good announcements, many good announcements over the last number of years, but our emissions keep going up. Our fossil fuel subsidies keep going up, so we don’t have a great record. And we are asking poorer countries to do more. But the reality is at this meeting, for the first time, Prime Minister Modi of India being here on behalf of that government said that they will be producing half of all their energy from renewable sources by 2030. They took a target for net-zero by 2070, which is unacceptably weak, but it’s the first time we’ve seen India step up with targets in the near term to 2030. China committed in a tandem press conference with the U.S. climate envoy John Kerry, to do more. And the key words in the U.S.-China declaration were that this is a decisive decade, right? So this net-zero by 2050 discussion that is really dominating Canada’s climate targets was called out frequently at this conference. We have to have really deep cuts by 2030. Canada’s 40-45 per cent reductions are against our 2005 levels. You know the host country, the U.K., is cutting by far more than that against its 1990 levels. So Canada is 21 per cent above 1990 levels. The rest of Europe is substantially below 1990 levels on the order of 40, 45 per cent below 1990. So again, the base year matters. Canada’s record isn’t good. Our commitments are still too weak. And yes, we can achieve them, but we can’t achieve them while we’re building pipelines and we can’t achieve them while we’re increasing subsidies and we can’t achieve them when we think we can frack our way to natural gas. There are things we must do in this country that we have not yet committed to do, but I think the direction is a good one. I’m not going to say that it isn’t important to take steps in the right direction, but it’s too late for steps. We need leaps.
Mercedes Stephenson: Okay. Elizabeth May, thank you so much for joining us from Glasgow today.
Up next, a West Block tradition honouring Canadian veterans as we reflect on the service and sacrifice of those who put their lives on the line.
Mercedes Stephenson: On Thursday, the country took two minutes of silence to remember the fallen who sacrificed their lives for our freedom here in Canada and to protect vulnerable people around the world.
A hard Remembrance Day for many veterans after a very difficult year for the military and the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban.
We here at The West Block, would like thank all of our veterans and those still serving in uniform for their service and leave you today with these images of Canada remembering. We’ll see you back here next Sunday.
Ray Pavlove, Canadian Veteran: “I just wanted to be a part of, you know, the ceremony, the respect and the honouring of our fallen, and their families and all the rest. So that’s important to me.”
Kathryn Foss, Canadian Veteran: “I do have a few people, friends of mine, colleagues, classmates that were lost overseas. I guess the biggest sense of loss I have is not being able to continue to serve. It was part of my identity. It’s part of living and breathing every day.”