The West Block – Episode 21, Season 11

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Watch the full episode of The West Block with host David Akin – March 20, 2022 – Mar 20, 2022


Episode 21, Season 11

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Host: David Akin


Sean Fraser, Immigration Minister

Allan Rock, Former Canadian Ambassador to the United Nations

Scott Aitchison, Conservative Leadership Candidate

Location: Ottawa, ON


David Akin: This week on The West Block: Providing a safe haven for Ukrainian refugees.

Sean Fraser, Immigration Minister: “In this dark hour, we are with you.”

David Akin: Canada opens the door for emergency residence for those fleeing the war. We’ll speak with Immigration Minister Sean Fraser.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Ukrainian President: “Thank you. [00:00:22].”
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David Akin: The Ukrainian president appeals to Canada and Western allies for a no-fly zone, as NATO leaders get set to meet in Brussels for an extraordinary summit. Former Canadian ambassador to the UN, Allan Rock joins us to discuss the limits of Western support.

And, from a coronation to an actual context, the crowded Conservative leadership race gets another contestant, today. Ontario MP Scott Aitchison tells us why he’s the best pick to lead his party.

It’s Sunday, March 20th, and this is The West Block.

Hello. Thank you for joining us. I’m David Akin.

More than 3 million Ukrainians have fled the country since the Russian invasion began almost a month ago. People have been streaming into nearby countries like Poland, Romania, and Moldova, all to escape the fighting.

Since the start of the war, more than 3,300 Ukrainian nationals have come to Canada. Now, Canada is easing immigration rules for Ukrainians and allowing temporary emergency residency of up to three years.

Joining us now to talk more about this is Immigration Minister Sean Fraser, joining us from Halifax.

I want to first of all, talk about the numbers. We heard from the Canada Border Services Agency that since hostility started, about 3,300 Ukrainians have come to Canada. I know you’ve been counting since January 1st, and if you add all that in, we’re about 9,200 Ukrainians here. What is your department planning for, in the context that I think we ended up with like 73 thousand Syrian refugees, how many refugees from Ukraine should we be planning to take in?

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Sean Fraser, Immigration Minister: First of all, thanks very much for having me, David. I really appreciate your willingness to shine a light on what Canada’s willing to do to support the vulnerable Ukrainians who are fleeing Ukraine.

To answer your question, it’s hard to predict the precise number that we should plan for and that’s why built a program that was designed to respond to demand rather than a pre-determined allocation as we do with ordinary refugee resettlement programs, which are typically spread over many years. We needed to be in a position given the massive numbers of people who were flowing out of Ukraine to the West. To respond to the demand that we see, and as the facts change, the flexibility that we built in by building a system that’s based on the way that we welcome visitors to Canada, allows us to handle significant numbers. And just to put it into perspective, the system in an ordinary year when it comes to visitors can process up to a couple of million people a year. But with respect to Ukraine, we’re seeing, as you mentioned, since the first of January, more than 9,250 have arrived already and about that many have applied again, to come under the expedited process. And now that we’ve launched the program this past week, we’re going to keep a very close eye on the numbers to see how many more applications come in now that we’ve introduced this new expedited platform with fewer barriers to entry.

David Akin: The reason I asked how many Canada might be planning for or expecting is because I’m just wondering how big the crisis gets. We know the UN agency that tracks this says we’re approaching 3.5 million people have left Ukraine, and I’m wondering if you’re getting intelligence from that global scale? Could it be 5 million people leaving Ukraine, 8 million people? I mean, surely the West, broadly speaking, has to be able to go: Do we have the resources to house that many people at least temporarily on the borders or Ukraine?

Sean Fraser, Immigration Minister: Well realistically, there are no certainties when it comes to war and we need to be prepared to deal with whatever situation may arise. When I think in particular, of countries that border Ukraine to the West that is already seeing millions of people flow out, there’s not a choice as to whether they can handle the numbers of people. The people are coming regardless of what those countries would have. The Canadian perspective is that we need to do our part.

David Akin: And I want to pick up on that because our refugee programs for Afghanistan refugees or Syrian refugees, I think people understand that those Syrians and Afghanis who come Canada, they’re going to build their lives here. They’re not planning to return, or odds are poor. But I think the feeling is, the Ukrainians that are coming or leaving their country, they hope it’s temporary and they’re going to go back home. Does that change the way you build the program and provide resources for Ukrainians once they get here? Knowing as well, too, it’s not a lot of men. It’s going to be women and children primarily that are coming. That surely means we have to respond differently for the supports that the Ukrainians need once they get to Canada.

Sean Fraser, Immigration Minister: That’s absolutely right and it’s essential that we design a system that’s tailored to the unique circumstances of the crisis that we’re facing now. When I look at a more typical refugee resettlement process, when there seems to be a protracted need to have refugee camps, sometimes led by the United Nations and have the countries of the world make a contribution to welcome those people over time and provide certain kinds of resettlement supports that will establish a person to have the rest of their life lived out in Canada.

With respect to the crisis in Ukraine, we needed to build a system that had that flexibility to respond to the short-term demand, but the supports that are needed may vary greatly. One of the things that we’re seeing is the first influx of people largely already have a connection to Canada, whether it’s family members, a history of travel to Canada. Some have employment connections, and that does require a tailored response. Of course, we have heard as well, as you’ve mentioned that a significant number of the people who are fleeing Ukraine, desperately want to go back. They’re not leaving by choice. They’re leaving because there is a war ravaging their homeland and they do hope to return back when it’s safe to do so, to be reunited with their families who are on the frontlines. There will be some people who hope to stay in Canada, certainly, and we’re working right now to develop a family reunification pathway for people who have family members in Canada now. And of course those who make it to their way to Canada on a temporary basis will have an opportunity to apply through our ordinary immigration streams once they get here, should they wish to convert to permanent residency.

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David Akin: I want to use our opportunity, this last minute or so, to just get up to speed on the Afghanistan program. I think the number right now is we’ve brought around 9 thousand Afghan refugees. We’ve committed to taking in 40 thousand. There may be the perception that we’re—your department, Canada, the government—is putting everything it can into getting the Ukrainians here as quickly as possible and that’s perfectly appropriate, but the feeling is why didn’t we do that with Afghan refugees? Why couldn’t we do what we’re doing with the Ukrainians to get these Afghans who were stranded in third countries to our country?

Sean Fraser, Immigration Minister: Well I take some objection to the characterization that we were trying to do less somehow for Afghanistan. Obviously, the circumstances are very different on the ground. In the immediate aftermath of the fall of Kabul, thousands of Afghans made their way to Canada, but all of a sudden the situation became very challenging not because there was a lack of political will, but because the Taliban, a listed terrorist organization under Canadian law, has seized control of the territory. There’s nearly 10 thousand Afghan refugees who’ve already been approved to Canada that are inside Afghanistan today and don’t have safe passage to exit the country. We’re working with partners in the region, including some who are working to have a presence to move people on the ground in Afghanistan and continuing to advance the resettlement of Afghan refugees in Canada. The circumstances on the ground certainly make it more challenging, but our commitment has not waivered one bit. We want to make good on our commitment to resettle 40 thousand Afghan refugees, who will make their permanent home in Canada.

I was in Alberta the last few days and had an opportunity to meet with some of the new arrivals. Some who had–w—had meetings set up with human rights defenders who’ve come to Canada and others who I just happened to bump into on the street. And I can tell you the ones who’ve made it here now are so grateful for the new lease on life they’ve been given and it just serves as motivation for me to continue to welcome Afghan refugees as quickly as possible. Until we make good on our commitment to welcome 40 thousand Afghan refugees, including many specific individuals who helped Canada during our time in Afghanistan, who are still in Afghanistan today.

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David Aikin: Immigration Minister Sean Fraser. Thank you so much.

Up next, as Russia escalates its assault on civilian targets in Ukraine, NATO leaders get ready to meet this week in Brussels. We’ll talk to former Canadian ambassador to the UN, Allan Rock, about the need for diplomacy.


Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Ukrainian President: “Today, the Ukrainian people are defending not only Ukraine; we are fighting for the values of Europe and the world, sacrificing our lives, in the name of the future.”

David Aikin: And that was the Ukrainian President speaking to the U.S. Congress. Volodymyr Zelenskyy is appealing to Western allies directly to step up and do more to help Ukraine.

NATO leaders, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, are meeting on Thursday, in Brussels, for an extraordinary summit. For more on the diplomatic efforts and the conflict, I’m very pleased to be joined by former Liberal cabinet minister, but more importantly perhaps, former United Nations Ambassador Allan Rock. It’s great to see you, Allan. And let’s start with those Zelenskyy speeches to the Canadian Parliament, the U.S. Congress, and the German Parliament. Remarkable speeches, I thought, and that he was not letting Western leaders or the West, off the hook.

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Allan Rock, Former Canadian Ambassador to the United Nations: Nor can he. I mean he’s desperate. He’s a remarkable leader. The speeches were so compelling, and he makes a case that it’s hard to answer. And what’s making us all feel so desperately frustrated at this point, is the fact that we all want to get in there and push this bully back across the border and defend with Zelenskyy, the sovereignty of the Ukraine, but we can’t. And the situation’s all the more difficult for two reasons. First of all, the Security Council, to which we might usually look for some form of relief, is dysfunctional. It’s missing in action. And the second thing is the consensus, which I agree with, is that if we push Putin too far, we might just take a gamble, we could lose and the stakes are too high. A nuclear response is just too big a risk. So what can we do? That’s really the question. I don’t want to minimize what we are doing. The sanctions are unprecedented in their strength and their breadth. The military aid we’re providing pushes the limits. The surveillance from the air, we’re providing through NATO so the Ukraine’s can—Ukrainians can know where the Russians are and their air force. If there’s one more thing, I think we can do, and this is on the diplomatic front, David.

David Aikin: Right.

Allan Rock, Former Canadian Ambassador to the United Nations: It’s through the United Nations and the General Assembly. In the absence of the Security Council, the General Assembly has an important role to play. And I say, that if Canada were to form a group of like-minded countries and enlarge it and work with allies and build a consensus in the General Assembly for a recommendation. They can’t pass a binding resolution, but they can pass a recommendation that has very large moral force, calling for a peacekeeping group that would be selected from contributions not from the U.S. and Canada, but from Africa, from Asia, hopefully from China, which is a big contributor on the peacekeeping side.

David Aikin: Well, your successor at the UN, Bob Rae, our current UN ambassador, you know, he has been on the record, I chatted with him last week, saying that veto, or we give Putin the ability to veto and we have to take away that ability for him to veto diplomatically, militarily, and the UNGA, the General Assembly, would be the spot that you can start to reduce Russia’s veto at the UNSC.

Allan Rock, Former Canadian Ambassador to the United Nations: Yes, and I think it’s time to get more specific about that. And I think a recommendation for the creation of humanitarian corridors, which the International Committee of the Red Cross is working on even now Together with a peacekeeping force to enforce it and protect people. And if we can get China to contribute to that, it’d be a wonderful coup. But have a presence on the ground that’ll make us feel at least we’re doing something to provide protection to those who are so very vulnerable.

David Akin: Without provoking a nuclear response.

Allan Rock, Former Canadian Ambassador to the United Nations: That’s right. That’s right.

David Aikin: I’m curious about from sort of the diplomatic sort of—your diplomatic experience. The U.S. president last week, called the Russian president a war criminal. I mean, he was unequivocal about that. Many commentators have, and I think it’s pretty clear; there are crimes against humanity happening here. What does that have an effect when the U.S. president is saying to the Russian guy, you’re a war criminal?

Allan Rock, Former Canadian Ambassador to the United Nations: Well I, for one, was delighted to hear it. Because the fact of the matter is, he is a war criminal. It’s a crime to cross that border with his army. It’s a crime to target civilians, let alone maternity wards and hospitals. It’s a crime to unleash your military against people who are not combatants or fighters. He is a war criminal, and let’s put that on the table and let’s mobilize international public opinion against this guy. And by the way, I think the key in all of this is going to be China. Turkey’s important as well, but China, I think, is wavering. We saw last week, some news stories out of China that they were very reluctant to lend enthusiastic support that some of the things Putin’s been doing. They’ve now stopped exporting certain parts to Russia. I think that Xi Jinping is looking at the international response to this and wondering whether he want to be associated with a pariah.

David Aikin: Just for our last question, I wonder about Canada’s role. I heard Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly last week, talk about our role as being able to convene people, to bring people together. We’ve obviously taken a side in this conflict. Where do you see Canada, particularly looking forward to the NATO meeting this week?

Allan Rock, Former Canadian Ambassador to the United Nations: I know she was criticized in some corners for what she said, but you know, I think we have to admit, we’re not a military superpower. Our influence in this world does not come from our military, no matter how much we spend. The fact is, our influence in this world, our reputation at the United Nations, is for the ability to bring people together, find common ground, yes, convene. And that’s what I think we should do now in the General Assembly. Let’s bring those 141 countries together again, with a strong recommendation to establish a peacekeeping group, to patrol safe and humanitarian areas as a first step toward protecting the population of Ukraine.

David Aikin: And at NATO, Trudeau’s off there on Thursday. Where do you see NATO then fitting in?

Allan Rock, Former Canadian Ambassador to the United Nations: Well I think they’re going to have this very discussion. I think they’re also going to be talking about how far they can go without provoking the bear. What about these MIGs in Poland? Are they needed in the defence of Ukraine? And if they were to be sent, would that cross a line in Putin’s mind that would result in a reprisal. I think they’re going to be talking about whole range of things. How far can we go to assist Ukraine? These next couple of weeks are crucial, David. If Ukraine can survive these next two weeks, with the weakening Russian force and the growing public sentiment against Russia, I think the dynamics of a negotiation could be very different. So we’ve got to get through these next two weeks.

David Aikin: Yeah, let’s cross our fingers. Allan Rock, good to see you again. Thank you so much for joining us, really appreciate it.

Allan Rock, Former Canadian Ambassador to the United Nations: Pleasure. Thank you, David.

David Aikin: All right. Well, up next, Ontario MP Scott Aitchison, is the new name in the Conservative leadership. He’s launching today. And we’ll ask him why he believes he should lead the Conservative Party. He’s up right after this break.

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David Akin: Now at one point in the Conservative leadership race, many in the party thought it would amount to a coronation for Ontario MP Pierre Poilievre. But it is turning into more of a contest and more of a crowded contest than many thought. And today, one more contestant gets into the race. His name is Scott Aitchison, he is a two term MP for the Ontario Cottage Country riding of Parry Sound—Muskoka. And Scott joins me now from Huntsville, Ontario, the town, of course, where Scott was mayor before entering federal politics in 2019.

Scott, welcome to the program. Let’s jump in right away with the first question, which I’m sure you’re going to get asked a lot. Why? Why should Conservatives pick you to be leader?

Scott Aitchison, Conservative Leadership Candidate: Well let me first say thank you, David, for having me on the program. It’s great to be here. But I think that people should choose me because they recognize that Ottawa is not working. It’s a divisive and the rhetoric—it’s all about division in Ottawa and I think Canadians have had enough of that and I think they’re ready for a new approach.

David Akin: Your party, in the last few weeks in the House of Commons, has made quite a point of noting that the Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the leader of the Liberal Party, has been contributing to that division, making it very personal, demonizing the trucker convoy, etc. But there is a candidate in the race, and I just mentioned him, Pierre Poilievre, who has made himself very popular by doing just that against his opponents, demonizing the prime minister, people on the left, who disagree with him. So, that to me, says you disagree with the tone in Mr. Poilievre’s politics.

Scott Aitchison, Conservative Leadership Candidate: I disagree with the tone of our federal politics for the last several years, actually. I think, you know, both parties are guilty of using division and differences of opinion amongst Canadians, to divide us. Whether it’s difference of opinion or differences of where we live: east versus west, urban versus rural. There’s no shortage of it on all sides of the aisle and I think that Canadians have had enough of it. I think it’s actually tearing our country apart. I have years of experience in municipal politics where we build consensus, we work together and we bring people together. And that’s what I think our country needs. It’s what I offer. And I’m looking forward to cross-crossing the country and presenting myself as the option to bring not just Conservatives together, but to bring our country together.

David Akin: Let me just talk about that idea of municipal politics. I used to cover small councils. I covered one near yours down in Orillia at one point in time. It’s non-partisan. People work by consensus. But there’s another candidate in this race. His name’s Patrick Brown. He’s a big city mayor and he’s won in a city, Brampton, where all five seats are Liberal seats. Why wouldn’t Patrick Brown’s candidacy be suitable as somebody who might be bringing people together?

Scott Aitchison, Conservative Leadership Candidate: Well I just think that we need someone that can appeal to people across this country and I think it’s important to appeal to people in the GTA absolutely. But we need candidates that can appeal to people literally across this country. I think I offer that and I’m looking forward to having a great discussion and great debates with all the candidates, including Mr. Brown.

David Akin: It seems to me there’s been a sort of purity test, if you will, that some candidates want to put forward, and that being where do you stand on the carbon tax and then maybe the other one would be where do you stand on gun control? I wonder if you just give us a quick snapshot as people try to slot you in a little bit, of where you are on the carbon tax and where is your stance on our current gun control?

Scott Aitchison, Conservative Leadership Candidate: Well I think that a purity test is kind of a silly thing and I think the labels are kind of silly as well. I think it’s important for us to be principled Conservatives. I am opposed to a carbon tax but not for the reasons that maybe people might think. It’s not because I just think it’s politically expedient and it’s not because I don’t believe that climate change is a real serious threat. I just—fundamentally, I represent people in this area that can’t afford to put food on the table and heat their homes. And so it’s an added expense that Canadians can’t afford, particularly the most vulnerable in our society. And I just think that we need to be talking about these issues from a Conservative perspective and be consistent in our message, honest with each other and stay true to our word.

David Akin: And on gun control, that came up, as you know, in the last election. There was a flip-flop in mid-campaign, for better, for worse and if you talk to Liberals, that’s when they got wind in their sails. What about gun control if the Liberals try to wedge you guys again on the issues of assault style weapons, etc. I know you’re a largely rural riding and there’s going to be a lot of hunters and farmers in your ridings that you represent. So where are you on the gun control issue?

Scott Aitchison, Conservative Leadership Candidate: Well I think it’s another classic example of a Liberal government that looks to demonize a smaller group of Canadians to appease a larger group. Law abiding firearms owners are among the most responsible people in our society and there’s no question, we need to deal with rising gun violence in some of the larger urban centres, but we know from chiefs of police and form boots on the ground that these guns that are being used in these heinous crimes are generally guns that are smuggled from across the border. We need to invest more in protecting our borders. We need to invest more in lifting up the people that are struggling to get, you know, out of these communities that are struggling. We need to provide hope for young people. When a young person finds that the only hope they have is to join a gang, then we failed that young person and we need to do more to invest in the programs that are going to lift people out of those circumstances and stop demonizing law abiding firearms owners.

David Aikin: In the 40-odd seats in the Greater Montreal area, 40 seats I should point out, that’s more than the seats in Saskatchewan or more than the number of seats in Alberta. A Conservative Party hasn’t won a seat there since 1988, and that was when Brian Mulroney won with a guy named Jean Charest at his elbow. How do Conservatives win seats in a big urban area like Montreal, or an urban area like Toronto, where Conservatives have not had any success, really, since Stephen Harper’s majority? How do Conservatives connect in our big urban cores outside of Alberta and Saskatchewan?

Scott Aitchison, Conservative Leadership Candidate: Well I think our message has to be consistent and I think we have to demonstrate that as Conservatives we can be trusted, that we have the character and not just the policies, but the character and the courage, to stick to our convictions and to speak to the folks that live in these suburban and urban ridings and make sure that we’re addressing the concerns that they have as well. And I think that the only way we can do that is by being united as a party and making sure that our message is clear and consistent and engaging with every community across this country.

David Aikin: Scott Aitchison is the MP for Parry Sound—Muskoka, elected first in 2019, re-elected in 2021, hoping to lead his party into the next general election. Scott, thank you so much and good luck with the race.

Scott Aitchison, Conservative Leadership Candidate: Thanks, David.

That is our show for today. Thank for watching. We’ll see you back here next Sunday for The West Block. I’m David Akin.


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