THE WEST BLOCK
Episode 15, Season 11
Sunday, February 6, 2022
Host: Mercedes Stephenson
Marco Mendicino, Public Safety Minister
John Baird, Former Conservative Party Cabinet Minister
Charles Bordeleau, Former Ottawa Police Chief
Location: Ottawa, ON
Mercedes Stephenson: This week on The West Block: From protest to what police and some politicians call an occupation in the nation’s capital.
Peter Sloly, Ottawa Police Chief: “The lawlessness must end.”
Doug Ford, Ontario Premier: “It’s not a protest anymore, it’s become an occupation.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “There is not a right to shut down our democracy, our democratic process. There is not a right to abuse, intimidate and harass your fellow citizens.”
Mercedes Stephenson: Anger and frustration over COVID rules boils into the streets across Canada as protests spread.
We’ll speak with Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino about what the demonstrations mean for national security.
Erin O’Toole, Conservative MP—Durham: “Hear the other side.”
Mercedes Stephenson: And Conservatives overthrow their leader, Erin O’Toole. As caucus infighting spills out into the open, is the party self-destructing? Former Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird weighs in.
It’s Sunday, February 6th, and this is The West Block.
Hello and thank you for joining us. I’m Mercedes Stephenson.
It is now day 10 of the protest that has paralyzed Ottawa. Hundreds of transport trucks, vehicles and thousands of people have come to Parliament Hill and the surrounding streets to loudly protest COVID-19 mandates, from vaccines to masks, while others are demanding that the prime minister and Liberal government resign. Protesters are moving in, literally delivering saunas, building structures, storing large amounts of propane and fuel, and some are even riding on horseback with one man carrying a Donald Trump flag.
Police have described the demonstration as dangerous and volatile. Meanwhile, GoFundMe has cut off the $10 million that organizers had raised, citing evidence from police about illegal activity and violence. Organizers and the protesters say they come in peace and are just fed up with far reaching government rules. And they’re not going anywhere until the mandates do.
We are joined now by the minister responsible for public safety and national security, Marco Mendicino. Thank you so much for joining us today, minister. Obviously, the situation on Parliament Hill and unfolding across the country that has drawn everyone’s attention, a lot of politicians have described this as an occupation, others endorse it. How would you describe what we’re seeing in Ottawa?
Marco Mendicino, Public Safety Minister: Well I think in some places across the country we’ve seen demonstrations, but we haven’t seen significant disruption like we are seeing in Ottawa. I think if you were to ask a number of the residents in Ottawa, certainly they would tell you it feels like an occupation. There have been significant interruptions to people getting to work, families dropping off kids. People have been threatened, harassed and worse, and they have every right to expect that the law will be enforced. Ottawa Police is the police and jurisdiction, but RCMP have accepted and approved all of the requests for additional resources on the ground. At the end of the day, this is a convoy about vaccines, 90 per cent of Canadians who’ve gotten vaccinated, including truckers. The convoy can disagree, but they’re not above the law and there should be a peaceful resolution to this as soon as possible.
Mercedes Stephenson: I just want to go back to asking you, do you think that this is an occupation or do you think it’s still a protest in Ottawa?
Marco Mendicino, Public Safety Minister: Well I think that there are elements that are concerning. And certainly where, you know, you see people who are bringing in, you know, propane, jerry cans, when you hear about people who have been threatened, harassed and assaulted, and where there isn’t law enforcement, then they don’t feel safe and that’s why it’s really important that we see Ottawa Police Service step up the enforcement. There are charges that are being laid. There are criminal investigations. All of that, of course, is being undertaken by the police. The police are not an extension of the political part of the government, but Canadians have a right to feel safe and certainly we’ll keep supporting however we can.
Mercedes Stephenson: Do you think that the Ottawa Police have done an adequate job here? I mean when you see propane being hauled up onto Parliament Hill, I think back to the Canada 150. If you’d tried to take a canister of propane through that security, it never would have gone up and that was certainly a peaceful event. In fact, it was a party. And now we see it right in front of the Prime Minister’s Office, right in front of large crowds, even if there was to be an accident and nothing intentional, there’s a significant safety risk there a lot of folks are saying. Are you satisfied with the job that the Ottawa Police have done or do you think it’s time for the federal government to step in when the police are saying we’re overwhelmed, we’re afraid of violence. In fact, we’re so concerned about violence that we don’t think we can really tell people what to do in this situation.
Marco Mendicino, Public Safety Minister: Mercedes, I share that concern. I’ve seen the same images as you and I’ve seen other images around fireworks at the National Monument. I mean we saw some protesters over the weekend who were riding horseback. I think that all of these things are very important questions for the Ottawa Police Service to reflect upon. We have seen some other demonstrations in other parts of the province and around the country where people have been able to express different views but with safety, and I do think that there is a long-term reflection for everyone. But at the end of the day, what we within the government can do is to provide support where we can. I had a good call with Mayor Watson and following that, we were able to confirm additional resources that would be provided by the RCMP and we’ll step up as much as we can.
Mercedes Stephenson: People have asked why not call in the military? Why not from your perspective?
Marco Mendicino, Public Safety Minister: Well first and foremost, there is a sequence to how it is that local law enforcement is supported and I think it’s just important to remind your viewers that were the Ottawa Police Service not to feel as though they had the capacity to enforce the law on the ground, that under the law, the first step would be for the police and the mayor to request the Ontario Solicitor General to provide additional support through the O.P.P. That has not occurred as of this moment. And I think in the long-run, we want to rely on the law enforcement to deal with the public order event. This is not a military operation and as you know, Mercedes, you’ve covered that subject matter extensively over the years. The military and its purpose are not designed to keep the peace local in our communities. So it’s obviously a last resort. In the meantime, it’s important that Ottawa Police do their jobs on the ground.
Mercedes Stephenson: What is the national security picture in this because there have been concerns about foreign elements potentially funding. The GoFundMe has been frozen over concerns about violence and harassment according to GoFundMe, but we’ve also heard the Ottawa Police chiefs talk about the involvement of the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security. If they’re involved, that would be something your department would know about. So what is the picture of who are the people participating in this protest at an organizational level and funding it? And is there any truth to the fact—pardon me—any truth to the allegation that some of this funding is coming from the United States, or some concerns that I’ve heard from national security sources that some of the funding could be coming from China or from Russia.
Marco Mendicino, Public Safety Minister: Well it would be inappropriate for me to comment on any ongoing investigation, but what I will say in general terms, is that it is concerning when you see a large amount of money come in. And I think it is appropriate that GoFundMe asked questions about what were the source of those funds and more importantly, what they were going to be used for. And clearly from GoFundMe’s point of view, there were sufficient flags that they felt it was important to suspend the distribution of those funds and to decide what they were going to do with it. I also know that the standing committee on public safety will be studying this issue very carefully and I do think that we need to be very cognizant of the fact that there can be influence, but those studies and those actions will be undertaken by the committee and law enforcement independently.
Mercedes Stephenson: You are a lawyer but you’re also a politician. And we’ve talked about this just in this interview even that the demands that are being made here are political and beyond the demands, the frustration that a lot of folks who are out there protesting and folks who aren’t calling, for example, for the prime minister to step down or for the Liberal government to be taken away and a government of citizens to be installed. People were just saying look, I’m really frustrated with the vaccine mandate and I want my life back are frustrated by your government’s unwillingness to meet with them. Former Sergeant of Arms of the House of Commons Kevin Vickers, who of course was involved in the ending, the shooting that happened up there in 2014, he was also Liberal leader in New Brunswick, so this is not a Conservative politician, has said that the government maybe should look at meeting with some of these people to try to de-escalate things, to try to listen and see if there are some rational demands to at least make them feel heard. Do you think that by coming out and taking the very tough tone that you have publicly and that the prime minster has publicly has fuelled some of the radicalism in this? And do you think that perhaps you should meet down—pardon me—should meet up with some of the more centrist and rational elements here?
Marco Mendicino, Public Safety Minister: One of the elements of living in a democracy is that there will always be disagreements and disagreements in an exchange of ideas, including on the pandemic has been one of the great engines of progress. And I will say that for those who have that sense of fatigue, I think we all feel it. There have been highs and lows in the pandemic and we all want to get back to life as normal pre-COVID.
In our view, and we laid this out in an election very transparently, where Canadians had the freedom to choose, we believe that the best strategy to get there, to get back to normal, is through vaccinations. And you can disagree with that…
Mercedes Stephenson: But do you think that you should be meeting as politicians with people who are engaged in the protest to try to de-escalate it?
Marco Mendicino, Public Safety Minister: Well again, I would just simply underline that quite apart from the convoy we’ve been robustly engaging with Canadians in a very vigorous debate about this, and I know that the police have had some dialogue that is perfectly within their domain, and again, operationally independent from the government, with some of the leaders of the convoy. But at the end of the day, we have always been prepared to listen, Mercedes, when it comes to having a discussion around the best way out of the pandemic. Science has resolved that debate. You can disagree with it….
Mercedes Stephenson: Okay, but the prime minister has said that he won’t meet with these people.
Marco Mendicino, Public Safety Minister: But cannot make Canadians feel unsafe.
Mercedes Stephenson: It’s not about the science, but about whether or not he might meet with them. He’s saying he won’t. We’ll see if that changes, or perhaps if you will. But we are out of time for now. Thank you very much for joining us.
Marco Mendicino, Public Safety Minister: Thanks again for having me, Mercedes.
Mercedes Stephenson: Up next: Erin O’Toole ousted as Conservative leader. What’s next for the party? We’ll sit down with former Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird.
Mercedes Stephenson: Just days after Erin O’Toole was ousted as Conservative party leader, the party’s finance critic Pierre Poilievre is throwing his hat in the ring to become the next leader of the party.
Former minister of foreign affairs and Conservative commentator John Baird joins us now. Thank you so much for making time for us this morning, Mr. Baird.
I know you’re a close friend of Mr. Poilievre’s, why do you believe he should be the next leader of the Conservative party?
John Baird, Former Conservative Party Cabinet Minister: Well thanks for having me. I’ve seen Pierre grow over the years. He’s someone who I think will galvanize Conservatives not just in the parliamentary caucus but across the country and galvanize Canadians. You know you get such a unique background. He’s someone who was born and raised in Alberta. He’s been elected in a suburban riding in Ontario seven times. He’s got the brains and more importantly, the backbone to be a very strong leader.
Mercedes Stephenson: You know he’s certainly a strong Conservative. No one’s going to question that. I don’t think anyone questions whether he can win this race. Others are just going to be joining it seems like to raise the profile rather than because they have a chance against him. It’s likely to be essentially a coronation. The question for the Conservative party, though, isn’t whether he can unite Conservatives. It’s whether he can unite Canadians in choosing to vote Conservative. Do you believe that someone who has been so bombastic in their past rhetoric and so hard on their conservatism will be able to draw in people who might have voted Liberal or for another party in a past election?
John Baird, Former Conservative Party Cabinet Minister: Well I think he’s passionate, but I think he’s strong values and principles and I think he’ll have a message that will excite Canadians. I think the first challenge is obviously, unifying Conservatives. We lost 550 thousand votes in the last election, we want those people back. We want to get more Conservatives off the bench and into the game, more Canadians who are increasingly dissatisfied with the performance of the current government, to pay attention. You know, I served in opposition for two years. It’s really tough to be able to punch through. Pierre has shown a demonstrated capacity that he can punch through and get out a message to Canadians. I mean look, he had a million people view his launch in the last 12 hours, 85 thousand people like it, coming on 20 thousand people retweeting it. So he’s already got off to a strong start and shown that he can communicate with Canadians. And I think he’s got a winning message. And listen, I first ran in politics with Mike Harris and then federally with Stephen Harper. People underestimated them and they shouldn’t underestimate Pierre.
Mercedes Stephenson: I think Pierre Poilievre certainly can punch through on social media. He’s got a very powerful presence there. That’s different than getting people to the polls, though, and to vote for you. And a lot of his language is heavy in the rhetoric. He talks about ‘Justinflation’ for inflation, which is something that countries around the world, the United States, the U.K., are also dealing with. He talks about his launch video, wanting to make Canadians the most free: getting to keep more of your money, which he says the government is taking away and people are keeping less. The federal government hasn’t raised taxes. I mean there’s a lot of rhetoric here.
John Baird, Former Conservative Party Cabinet Minister: Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa! Whoa, the federal government raised taxes on January 1st in terms of payroll taxes.
Mercedes Stephenson: That was scheduled. That was scheduled, John. They haven’t raised individual taxes on people.
John Baird, Former Conservative Party Cabinet Minister: The first thing…well, sorry they did. They did. They raised taxes in a big way when they first got elected back in 2015. And let me say this: Pierre Poilievre was talking about inflation. When you print a half a trillion dollars, Pierre was wording inflation months and months and months ago, and the government and every major economist said oh no, there’ll be no inflation in Canada. Don’t worry. Then it’ll be transitory. And now it’s one of the number one concerns of Canadians.
Mercedes Stephenson: Well and it is for people in countries around the world, too.
John Baird, Former Conservative Party Cabinet Minister: Pierre’s been elected seven times in his suburban Ontario riding. It’s the riding I used to represent provincially, and he’s shown that he’s been able to get those middle-class and working people to support him and to support his message. He actually went up in the last election in terms of his popular vote in his riding and I think he’ll be very strong at communicating particularly in the 905 belt around Toronto, which those voters look like the ones that he represents in Parliament.
Mercedes Stephenson: He’s chosen very strongly to associate himself with this truck protest, lots of pictures posing with them. When I went through his social media, he was talking about how it was a protest of peaceful, salt of the earth Canadians who would give you the shirt off their back. You now have the police chief calling this an occupation, saying this is a city under siege, no sense that Pierre Poilievre is going to back away from backing this protest. Do you now think that’s potentially a political risk for him?
John Baird, Former Conservative Party Cabinet Minister: Well I think Pierre is speaking to the fatigue and anger over government overreaches and obviously, he’d stand up for freedom. But there’ll always be a few bad apples in every basket, but Pierre has strongly supported freedom.
Mercedes Stephenson: Well a city under siege is more than a few bad apples with all due respect.
John Baird, Former Conservative Party Cabinet Minister: I mean some media have said that the Russians have endorsed this or that it’s somehow similar to January 6th in Washington. So let’s be realistic on this. That is a temporary issue. Pierre is speaking to the future of what we can do to make Canada a more prosperous and a more free country.
Mercedes Stephenson: Do you think that he will someone who can unite Canadians, because a lot of folks say there’s just so much division in politics that both sides of the political spectrum are trying to really pounce on this division and to use it for their political gain, whether it’s COVID frustrations or economic frustrations. Do you really believe he can be a unifier and how does he do that? Does he have to change the past tone?
John Baird, Former Conservative Party Cabinet Minister: Well I think unifying the political discourse in the 21st century has become increasingly difficult. Certainly we know the incumbent hasn’t been able to do that, and I think Pierre has a greater capacity than the incumbent. I think first and foremost, though, we need someone with a vision, someone with a direction, someone with strong leadership and someone who gives the people some hope, because there’s opportunity in the future and I think Pierre’s the one to do that.
Mercedes Stephenson: Listening to his video, some folks are saying they thought that it was ‘Trumpian.’ He said things like what the elites control, I’m going to put you back in charge of your life. He quoted you are the captain of your own soul, which is likely the case no matter who the government is. And yet he never mentioned the Conservative Party of Canada once, and some analysts look at this and they say Donald Trump, when he ran, didn’t talk about the Republican Party. He talked about himself. Is Pierre Poilievre going to do this creating a cult of personality? Because he’s not talking about the Conservative party or running for that, he’s talking about Pierre Poilievre and running to be prime minister, as if the leadership race is over.
John Baird, Former Conservative Party Cabinet Minister: Well I reject the comparisons wholeheartedly. He’s not that type of politician. He demonstrably more thoughtful, demonstrably more experienced. I think that what you’re going to see is Pierre present himself as an incredibly popular leader of the Conservative party and then present himself as a viable candidate to be prime minister and to be a successful prime minister when elected.
Mercedes Stephenson: John Baird, thank you so much for joining us. I’m sure you will likely have a prominent role in the campaign and we’ll check back in with you.
John Baird, Former Conservative Party Cabinet Minister: Well I’m looking forward to working with the thousands of people who have already signed on in support. People like Melissa Lantsman, some people like Brad Vis and people like James Bezan, and we’re really excited with the support that we’re getting.
Mercedes Stephenson: Thank you very much, Mr. Baird.
We’ll be right back. After the break, we will talk to a former police chief in Ottawa about the ongoing protests seizing the capital.
Mercedes Stephenson: Welcome back. Ottawa Police have faced cutting criticism from many citizens in the capital city for allowing this demonstration to dig in for over a week now. Residents are raising concerns about intimidation and reports of assaults. They say police are not enforcing the law by allowing this to continue.
Former Ottawa Police Chief Charles Bordeleau is here to give us some insight into police operations. Thank you so much for joining us, chief. We appreciate it.
Charles Bordeleau, Former Ottawa Police Chief: My pleasure, Mercedes. Good morning.
Mercedes Stephenson: It’s been quite a week here in the capital. The police have actually come out and said that they feel they can’t enforce certain laws because these are such dangerous protests. I don’t think that that’s something that people in the City of Ottawa ever heard the—thought they’d hear a police chief and come out and say that the police, who we call when we think something is breaking the law to help us, are unable to take this on because they believe it is too volatile and too high of a risk of violence. What are your thoughts on how policing in the capital has been handled over the last nine or so days?
Charles Bordeleau, Former Ottawa Police Chief: This type of demonstration or occupation now as some people are calling it, including myself, is something that we’ve never seen in our city. In my 35 years of policing in Ottawa and seven as chief, we’ve never faced that type of situation in Ottawa. And I think what the big difference here is, is that as opposed to people marching down in the downtown core during a regular demonstration, there were trucks doing that and they stayed there. So that’s one aspect. And the other aspect, and you’ve touched on that, is the impact that this has had on the residents in the surrounding neighbourhood. There are incidents of threats, intimidations. There were assaults. There was reported hate crimes. There were flags being thrown about.
Mercedes Stephenson: There was a video on Twitter. It was posted on Friday night that basically showed protesters kind of chasing police away when they were talking to them. We have seen fuel being taken onto Parliament Hill that I’ve covered lots of Canada Days and if you tried to walk up there with a tank of propane, there was no way you’d get on and folks are looking at this and saying it feels like the police have lost control. So how do we get out of this situation now from a policing perspective and how dangerous do you think it is?
Charles Bordeleau, Former Ottawa Police Chief: Well from a policing perspective, there are opportunities to try and—you know they’ve been successful in trying to negotiate and reduce the number of demonstrators, so that’s one success from that perspective. But now you’ve got a core group of people that have decided to stay and you’ve got an influx coming in this week, so how do you manage those? I think the time for negotiation with respect to police and trying to get them, I think that’s been exhausted to a certain amount of time. So now it’s a matter of the application of use of force to start removing individuals and removing equipment. That comes with some consequences and a high risk of injuries. And I don’t have access to the intelligence that they have, but there may be other threats that are there that are factoring into the equation as to when to move and when not to move. And history has shown that when police go in and use force in breaking down demonstrations, there can be disastrous consequences.
Mercedes Stephenson: The police have taken a lot of criticism for not planning adequately for this and for allowing it to get where it is, but how much do you hold police accountable and how much do you hold politicians accountable for what are political demands?
Charles Bordeleau, Former Ottawa Police Chief: So I don’t have access to the plans, so I think it’s too early to determine whether or not they had the right plans. And if they had the right plans, what went well and what didn’t go so well. So there’ll be time to review that. But I can tell you that, you know, this is—and the chief alluded to it in one of his press conferences as far as this may not be a policing solution—I think a large part, it’s a policing solution that is needed, however, there’s things that can be done at the political level, or not be done at the political level, that will help manage the adverse impacts that we’ve had. We’ve had politicians go up and take pictures with some of the demonstrators, and I can get it when normal demonstrations take place that are contained on the Hill, that’s normal and that’s normal practice for politicians to that. When knowingly they know that this is had a tremendous impact on our businesses, our residents in the downtown core and they’ve been living through hell for the past week with the noise, the diesel smells, the intimidation, that them going out and taking pictures is just like taking a jerry can full of diesel fuel and going out and fuelling those trucks that are actually parked in their neighbourhoods. They’re giving them legitimacy and they’re fanning the flames of this protest and that has to stop because they have a huge role to play in trying to de-escalate and to help Ottawa Police and help this community go beyond this and solve this.
Mercedes Stephenson: Chief Bordeleau that’s all the time we have. Thank you for your insight and your expertise.
Charles Bordeleau, Former Ottawa Police Chief: You’re quite welcome, Mercedes.
Mercedes Stephenson: That’s our show for today. Thanks for watching. We’ll be back here next Sunday. For The West Block, I’m Mercedes Stephenson.