The West Block – Episode 22, Season 11

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Watch the full episode of The West Block with host Eric Sorensen – March 27, 2022. – Mar 27, 2022


Episode 22, Season 11

Sunday, March 27, 2022

Host: Eric Sorensen


Kurt Volker, Former U.S. Ambassador to NATO

Bob Rae, Canada’s Ambassador to the United Nations

Jagmeet Singh, NDP Leader

Location: Ottawa, ON


Eric Sorensen: This week on The West Block: A show of solidarity for Ukraine as Western and NATO leaders pledge more military support and more sanctions against Russia.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “As an alliance, and as individual countries, we need to continue to do everything we can to get them that support.”

Eric Sorensen: But is the threat of chemical weapons a red line that will force NATO to do more?

Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary General: “It will be a blatant violation of international law.”

Eric Sorensen: What does that mean? We’ll talk to former U.S. Ambassador to NATO, Kurt Volker.

Kurt Volker, Former U.S. Ambassador to NATO: “We are witnessing, before our very eyes, the premeditated destruction of entire cities.”

Eric Sorensen: As the way enters its second month, the UN votes overwhelmingly to blame Russia for the humanitarian crisis.

Canada’s UN Ambassador, Bob Rae, on what more can be done to hold Russia to account.

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Candice Bergan, Interim Conservative Party Leader: “Can the NDP, Liberal Prime Minister, tell Canadians how much this backroom deal is going to cost them?”

Eric Sorensen: The NDP agrees to support the Liberal government for up to three years, in exchange for spending on big priorities like dental care and pharmacare. But will New Democrats pay a steep price in the next election? We’ll ask NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh.

It’s Sunday, March 27th, and this is The West Block.

Hello. Thanks for joining us today. I’m Eric Sorensen.

Ukraine’s president is pleading with NATO and European leaders for more help. He warns that Vladimir Putin won’t stop with Ukraine. NATO is deploying four more battle groups to Eastern Europe, but is that enough as concerns grow over new threats from Russia to use chemical weapons.

Joining us now is former U.S. Ambassador to NATO, Kurt Volker. He has also served as the U.S. special representative for Ukraine negotiations. Ambassador Volker, it’s very good to talk to you. You know, the most powerful collective in the history of the world, NATO, it seems largely sidelined in Ukraine and Volodomyr Zelenskyy is saying give us just 1 per cent of your tanks. Give us just a few of your jets. Is there more that NATO can do?

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Kurt Volker, Former U.S. Ambassador to NATO: Absolutely, there is. I think that the steps that NATO has taken are important. We shouldn’t minimize the importance of reassuring our allies in the East, Baltic States, Poland, Romania, etc. That is important. Also, Biden himself, warning Putin against the use of weapons of mass destruction, that’s important as well. But there is more that NATO could do.

I’d say the first thing is it could declare and should declare an interest that Ukraine must survive as an independent, sovereign state in Europe. This is a NATO interest, and we will do everything possible to ensure that outcome. That would be a powerful statement.

I think NATO should also make a warning against the use of nuclear or chemical or biological weapons, something that President Biden did, and the G7 did, which kind of tilts towards sanctions. But Putin should know that there will be a forceful response against his forces if he is to use any kind of WMD.

Another thing that NATO could do is to commit to coordinate and increase the quantity and quality of defensive material getting to the Ukrainian military. Allies are doing this individually. Canada’s done a lot, the United States has done a lot, U.K., Poland, but more is needed and NATO can provide a clearing house function to match donors with needs and ensure the safe delivery to the Ukrainian forces. This is a role that NATO could take on. And then you hear Zelenskyy pleading constantly, for more types of equipment. I don’t see why we don’t figure out how to get the Polish MiGs deployed. He needs more air defence systems, air defence missiles. He needs more shore to ship missiles, to go after the Russian navy in the Black Sea. All of this ought to be on the table and things that we’re looking at.

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And then finally, he’s always asked for a no-fly zone. And I think we have to keep that option on the table. I respect those who say this would put us in direct conflict with Russia, but at the same time, look at the civilian casualties and think about what we can do.

Eric Sorensen: Well, and the concern I think is, especially when you talk about things like sending MiG jets, is that that and other military hardware, risks widening the war to something beyond Ukraine. Legitimate concern?

Kurt Volker, Former U.S. Ambassador to NATO: Look, if you’re Ukrainian, there is no wider war. They are shelling your cities. They’re killing civilians. It put 10 million people into a displaced status. They’re away from their homes, 3.5 million leaving the country already. There is no wider war for them, this is it.

When you talk about NATO and Russia, or the United States and Russia even, we have to remember, Putin doesn’t want that. He is losing against Ukraine as it is. The last thing he wants is to engage NATO or U.S. forces. And as a result, I think we can be doing more to set the terms. Not necessarily to attack Russia or to engage directly ourselves unless provoked, but set some terms about cut off the attacks against civilians in cities in Ukraine. If you don’t, we will begin to protect humanitarian corridors and perhaps a no-fly zone.  Do not use weapons of mass destruction. If you do, we have capabilities to hit your forces in Ukraine that you will not want us to do. So we need to start laying out some of these lines for Putin, so that we diminish his appetite for escalation as his forces are being—are losing in Ukraine.

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Eric Sorensen: Do you think there’s more chance that he will resort to these weapons if things, as you say, are going south for him?

Kurt Volker, Former U.S. Ambassador to NATO: I do. If you have to look at this from Putin’s perspective, he has taken an enormous risk of launching this military invasion against Ukraine. It’s not going well. I don’t see how he can be defeated in Ukraine and remain as president of Russia. So he is personally out on a limb here, having to deliver a military victory. And that is not going to be possible in my view. I don’t see how Ukraine will be subjugated to Russia. They simply don’t have the means to do it. So this means he’s in a very dangerous and desperate position, and could very well resort to weapons of mass destruction or something else, trying to pull a rabbit out of the hat, to see if he can still survive. We have to warn him against that.

Eric Sorensen: Can NATO assist in a form of humanitarian corridors, even if NATO troops aren’t the ones? I mean, maybe Sweden’s involved or other countries outside NATO so as not to provoke anymore so, but something that get humanitarian assistance to the Ukrainians in the short run.

Kurt Volker, Former U.S. Ambassador to NATO: Yes. Yes. So first off, there is coordination functions and NATO, as a military organization with a great headquarter staff and experience in matching needs and donors, they can do a coordination function, even on the humanitarian side.

Eric Sorensen: Up next, Canada’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Bob Rae, on the diplomatic push to hold Russia to account for the devastation in Ukraine.

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Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary General: “This war is unwinnable. Sooner or later, it will have to move from the battlefield, to the peace table. And that is inevitable. The only question is: How many more lives must be lost?”

Eric Sorensen: That is a stark assessment about Russia’s invasion from UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres. More than 4 million people have fled Ukraine and the humanitarian crisis in cities like Mariupol, gets worse every day. The UN overwhelmingly passed a resolution condemning Russia’s attack and calls for safe access to humanitarian aid, but is there more that diplomacy can do to hold Russia to account?

Joining us now is Canada’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Bob Rae. Ambassador Rae thanks for joining us. There is terrible frustration, I think, watching what’s been happening over the last several weeks. It’s frustration with what NATO’s able to do, with what the humanitarian response can do, but also diplomacy. And the UN is used to be being kind of handcuffed in that way. Canada and the UN is blaming Russia for the slaughter that’s happening in Ukraine, but what does that achieve if Russia just kind of waves its hand and continue waging war?

Bob Rae, Canada’s Ambassador to the United Nations: Well I think it’s important to hold people to account for their behaviour. I don’t think anybody looking at the facts surrounding the situation could say that it’s anything other than an act of aggression by Russia. It’s a direct attack on Ukraine. So yes, it’s an act of aggression. There are those who would prefer that we not refer to that. That we just talk about what’s a terrible impact. And our—Canada’s view is that we need to name it and we need to hold Russia to account. And the method of accountability takes a long time. It’s complicated. But it is extremely important that we establish that as a basic principle. And there are a lot of discussions underway now, informally, that Ukrainians and the Russians are meeting. They have

had a series of meetings that have been publicized and we don’t know exactly what’s taking place. People are keeping that pretty much under wraps. But it’s important that the parties talk to each other, but it’s also important that the fighting stop. And so we—I think we really need to get to a ceasefire as quickly as we can to a place where troops are not fighting each other, where bombs are not being dropped on families and people, and people are not getting killed. And I think the Russians are reaching a point where they recognize that they’re paying a huge price for this as well.

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Eric Sorensen: The resolution that Canada sponsored had a vote of 140 to 5. That sounds overwhelming, but I’m struck by the 38 abstentions, which includes countries like China and other big countries that almost seem to divide, increasingly, into this binary world of those willing to continue to work with Russia and those who won’t.

Bob Rae, Canada’s Ambassador to the United Nations: Yeah, I think it’s—I think that’s right. I mean, there are a number of countries that abstain. There are countries that abstain almost as a matter of principle, because they don’t believe that we should be talking about responsibility. And that’s—if you like—that’s a value difference or a philosophical difference that we have. We believe we should. Then there are those countries with whom Russia has a very close relationship. Sometimes it’s trade. Sometimes it’s troops. Sometimes it’s arms. Russia is a huge arms exporter in the world. They export mercenaries in the world. They fight a lot of battles that people don’t necessarily even know about on the front page. And then of course, there are a couple of big countries like China and India that have their own reasons. I think that in China’s case, they are so closely tied to Russia in a lot of the debates and issues in the UN that they are not going to go against them. But on the other hand, the fact that China abstained rather than voting with Russia, is I think, significant and is on the other side. India, I have to say, is a country that continues to be very neutral in its positions, with the exception of its ongoing conflicts with China and with Pakistan. We have to be very careful as a country, to listen to why our country’s abstaining. We’re doing a lot of checking out, talking to the representatives here and also talking in those countries trying to get a better sense of what their position is. I think we appreciate some people feel they don’t have much choice but to abstain. Some people feel that they owe one to Russia, which is really too bad in my view.

Eric Sorensen: What more can Canada do at this point going forward, do you think?

Bob Rae, Canada’s Ambassador to the United Nations: Well I think there’s a big five, I call it. I mean, the first one is, as I said, we’re moving, I think, towards a process of encouraging a ceasefire as much as we possibly can. And we are going to be doing everything we can to get there in a principled way, in working with all the parties, including Ukraine, certainly as our ally in the region. We’re going to be dealing with the humanitarian situation, the accountability issues, the sanctions question and the additional assistance that we need to provide to Ukraine. And all of those things are on the table for Canada. I think we continue to step up and we’re going to continue to do so. The Prime Minister indicated yesterday that Canada’s defence spending is going to be steadily increasing. I think that’s an inevitability, given the nature of some of the crises that we’re facing around the world. And that’s something we have to face up to as Canadians. It’s going to be more expensive for us living in the world than it was before, because the cost of conflict is very high and we’re not living in an easy world at the moment. We’re living in—the world is a difficult place right now.

Eric Sorensen: It’s a terrible situation. It’s very frustrating, I’m sure for you and for all of us, watching what’s happening over there. There’s so much more to talk about, but thank you for joining us today.

Bob Rae, Canada’s Ambassador to the United Nations: Thank you, Eric. It’s good to talk to you. It’s a pleasure to see you again.

Eric Sorensen: Up next, the big political story in Ottawa. Could the Liberal-NDP deal have unintended consequences for New Democrats? In a moment, we’ll talk to NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh.

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Eric Sorensen: The NDP’s agreement to help keep the Liberals in power until 2025 received the stamp of approval from one of the most esteemed figures in the party.

Ed Broadbent, Former NDP Leader: “This is by far the most significant, both in detail and principle, agreement that has ever been reached between a governing party and the NDP.”

Eric Sorensen: Under the deal, the Liberals commit to national dental care and pharmacare programs in exchange for NDP support on confidence votes. But, with the Liberals moving farther to the left, does the partnership threaten the future of the NDP?

Party Leader Jagmeet Singh joins us now. Mr. Singh, it’s good to see you, and very good to see you in-person. We haven’t had many interviews like this lately.

Jagmeet Singh, NDP Leader: Thank you, it’s an honour to be here and a pleasure to be in-person, in-studio.

Eric Sorensen: It’s an unprecedented agreement. You’ve moved several policies forward that you feel very good about and I think a lot of people do, including as we heard, Ed Broadbent. But there is the perception that this is a coalition. You’re going to have regular House meetings, whip meetings, oversight meetings, staff meetings. How is it not a coalition and how does the NDP, over time, not begin to lose its identity and become invisible in all this?

Jagmeet Singh, NDP Leader: Well we remain an opposition party. We used our power to get help to people, because people went through a tough two years. It’s been a pandemic, rising costs of living, a war that makes all of us feel less safe. And in that midst, we thought Canadians have been telling us get us help, and we need to get them that help. So this is to get them help and that does not in any way preclude us from opposing the government, voting against bills. We are not in a coalition. I didn’t ask for one. Frankly, I don’t think they would have ever offered one, knowing my position, and we’re not in one. And so it’s clearly, we’re an independent party in opposition, but we’re working together on things that New Democrats have fought for.

Eric Sorensen: Will people take that opposition seriously, or will you just be seen to be kind of putting forward, you know, some opposition but in fact, you’re there to back them up when they really need it?

Jagmeet Singh, NDP Leader: Well, we know in confidence we’ve agreed to not make the government fall, to create another election. But just as recently as earlier this week, we had an opposition day motion, where we asked the government to consider going beyond just taxing big banks and insurance companies and to include big oil and gas, as well as big box stores that have made record windfalls in this difficult time. While people are struggling, they’re doing really well and they did not support that motion. We voted, of course, in favour of our motion. They did not support it. So there are clearly differences of opinion. We believe that the wealthy should pay their fair share. They still don’t fully agree with us on that. And we have different opinions, so we’re going to continue to fight to show folks that we are there for you, we’re going to fight for you and we are absolutely a different vision of how we can move this country forward.

Eric Sorensen: The Liberals are being accused of moving to the left, but is the NDP moving to the right? For example, will you support increased defence spending towards the 2 per cent of GDP that is the NATO target?

Jagmeet Singh, NDP Leader: Well we’ve said that 2 per cent NATO target is something we do not agree with, and we think that’s an arbitrary number that Canada does not have to meet. And so I put that very clearly towards the prime minister that we should not meet that 2 per cent. But we have long believed in a position of making sure workers have the right conditions to do their work that our armed forces are asked to do tasks and work that they don’t have the equipment for. I think about an example from one of our New Democrat ridings on the island, where there are helicopters that are so old that the armed forces use, that their replacement parts are no longer made. So the army has to build their own replacement parts, to put into helicopters they fly around for search and rescue missions, which to me is completely inappropriate. That should not be the way things are. So, we believe that there should be, of course, increased support for the tools that they need, as well as staff. And we’ve seen a drop in personnel and we ask our military to do lots of things, like going in to help during the pandemic in seniors’ homes. So we know that they need help and support and we’re okay with that. We think that’s the right thing to do, but we do not support the 2 per cent of NATO.

Eric Sorensen: These are very costly programs that are coming forward. The NDP is perceived to be seen to care about spending on these programs but not always being aware of what the cost will be. How does all of this get paid for?

Jagmeet Singh, NDP Leader: Well we’ve got a couple of different steps around how to pay for it. First of all, our dental care program is phased in. So it’s all in one shot, it’s going to happen in phases. The first phase will be for children under 12. We’ve costed out the entire program, which is about $4 billion for the first, if it was all done at once, because there’d be a big uptake, lots of people who didn’t get care for their teeth would get it immediately, and then it would taper off at about a billion a year, according to the PBO. So what we’re suggesting now is, obviously much less, it’s just for children under 12. And we’ve also suggested in the agreement as well, a way to pay for it, which is the surtax the Liberals promised to do on big banks and insurance companies. We’re worried that they’re not actually going to follow through on it, so we’ve included that into the document. So it’s in the agreement, that tax which would cover this program, as well as others.

Eric Sorensen: One of the ways in which a minority government can hold a government to account is in committees, and do you lose your teeth in being able to hold them to account if at the end of the day you’re not going to—you want to not obstruct government?

Jagmeet Singh, NDP Leader: Well, I think the goal of government should be to get things done. And one of the things that’s important to get things done, is to hold the government to account, to hear from witnesses, to ask questions, to challenge decisions, to have oversight. That’s very different, that’s constructive versus obstruction, is what we’ve seen where there’s just needless filibustering or blocking of motions, or needless motions that don’t actually achieve the goals of oversight, that are just simply attempts to smear mud, as opposed to getting things done and getting to accountability. We are absolutely not going to be precluded in any way from holding the government to account. And it’s expressly stated in the agreement that that is a very important function that opposition parties serve and we’re going to continue to serve.

Eric Sorensen: You saw in British Columbia how the Green Party eventually got squeezed out by the governing party. There’s a risk that could happen here. You said earlier in the week, electorally, it would probably be safer to just keep fighting. What is the risk for the NDP, then?

Jagmeet Singh, NDP Leader: Well, I look at this and say, you know, there may be risks, but there are also incredible opportunities. When we say to Canadians, why vote for New Democrats, they often see us fighting for them but they don’t see results. And people want to know, what’s in it for me? What are you going to get me and my family? How are you going to make my life better? Now we can say with 25 MPs, we got people dental care. Their teeth are going to be able to get fixed. We’ve got pharmacare. Steps forward to make sure medication is covered. We’ve got investments for housing, help to fight the climate crisis. That’s just with 25. Imagine you sent more of us. Imagine you created an NDP government. This is certainly a very historic expansion of the health care system, but this is still the best that we could get in the context of a Liberal minority government. Imagine a New Democrat government, where we can do more to make sure the wealthiest pay their fair share and invest that back into people.

Eric Sorensen: Justin Trudeau said—we’re almost out of time here—Justin Trudeau says he’s going to run in the next election. Are you committed to running in the next election? And do you accept a bad outcome as being worth it if this doesn’t go well for you electorally?

Jagmeet Singh, NDP Leader: Well, I’m an optimist. I’m absolutely running again and I’m an optimist and I’m confident we can show Canadians that there’s a lot of worth in electing New Democrats, and it makes people’s lives better and we’ve shown that.

Eric Sorensen: Good to see you in-person.

Jagmeet Singh, NDP Leader: Thank you, sir.

Eric Sorensen: All right. Thank you again to Jagmeet Singh. And that is our show for today. Thank for watching. We’ll see you back here next Sunday. For The West Block, I’m Eric Sorensen.

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