THE WEST BLOCK
Episode 26, Season 11
Sunday, April 24, 2022
Host: David Akin
Anna Veduta, Anti-Corruption Foundation
James Moore, Former Stephen Harper Cabinet Minister
Mike Moffatt, Smart Prosperity Institute
Location: Ottawa, ON
David Akin: This week on The West Block: Russia’s war in Ukraine enters a new phase, as Russian forces battle for control of Eastern Ukraine.
In the past two months, thousands have been killed, millions displaced.
Anna Veduta, Anti-Corruption Foundation: “Putin’s corruption kills, literally. It’s not a figure of speech.”
David Akin: We speak to a close ally of jailed Russian Opposition Leader Alexei Navalny, about the impact of Western sanctions and Putin’s information war.
And then there were eight. Eight candidates have paid their first $50 thousand to compete for the Conservative leadership, but which one can build a winning coalition? Brad Wall and James Moore on the challenge ahead.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “We know that housing is a real challenge.”
David Akin: Can new federal policies cool a hot housing market? We get an affordability reality check.
It is Sunday, April 24th, and this is The West Block.
Hello and thank you for joining us. I’m David Akin. Mercedes Stephenson is off this week.
Last week, Ottawa announced a new round of sanctions targeting 14 Russians with close connections to President Vladimir Putin, including two of his daughters. Putin retaliated with sanctions against 61 prominent Canadians.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Putin should expect more.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “And Canada remains determined to be there to support Ukraine, to be there to push back on Russia including with crippling sanctions of a scale never before seen against a major economy.”
David Akin: But are the sanctions having an impact on Putin?
Joining me now is Anna Veduta. She is the former spokesperson for jailed Russian Opposition Leader Alexei Navalny, and she’s the vice-president of his Anti-Corruption Foundation.
Anna, thank you so much for joining us today from Washington. And I guess the first question we have is, there are economic sanctions, there are sanctions against the oligarchs and Canadians want to know inside Russia is the perception, are these sanctions working?
As for economic sanctions, unfortunately yes, people in Russia start to struggle from them and this is the consequence of the war that Putin launched without asking the people of Russia and without, you know, getting their permission for that. So yes, the sanctions are working.
David Akin: Anna, let’s talk about the so-called information war. How is your organization, how is the West, going to get through the propaganda of Putin? How do we get true information about this war to everyday Russians?
David Akin: I’ve only got a brief time, maybe 30 or 40 seconds, and I wondered—I’ll as you this last question. What is it that might stop Putin?
David Akin: Anna Veduta in Washington, D.C. Anna, good luck with your work. Thank you so much for joining us today.
We’ll be back in a minute. Is eight enough for the Conservative Party leadership race? We’ll ask Brad Wall and James Moore what they think, up next.
David Akin: The Conservative leadership race cleared a key benchmark last week. The deadline came and went to get into the race, and eight candidates have filed their papers and paid their $50 thousand entry fee. Next deadline to pay the full $300 thousand is April 29th. I’m going to check in on the race. I’m pleased to be joined by two leading lights in the Conservative movement in Canada. Brad Wall is the former premier of Saskatchewan, and James Moore served in Stephen Harper’s government as industry minister, heritage minister among other roles.
Gentlemen, great to have you here. Neither of you have endorsed a candidate in this race, but I know that you would both endorse the idea of a Conservative Party ending up at the end of it, whoever is the leader, in a stronger position to compete for votes, a stronger position to challenge for government. So looking at what you see now, the policy ideas, we’ve got some talking about health care, some talking about housing, looking at the tone of the way the race is unfolding, Brad Wall, I’ll start with you. What do you think of the race with that goal in mind, building a party that is going to compete for votes at the end of it?
Brad Wall, Former Saskatchewan Premier: Well, I think we’re seeing a pretty robust debate around if not specific policies, then direction for the party. If the two national frontrunners are Poilievre and Charest, I think that’s the case. There are eight in the race. I noted this week that supply management became part of the campaign, as one of the leadership candidates made that a centrepiece policy. And so I think that’s a feature that we’re going to looking at over the next weeks of the leadership race. I think most Conservative members would agree, David, that coming out of this, they obviously want to be in a position for the party to test more effectively for government in 2025, should the NDP-Liberal alliance last that long. But I think, David, I think it’s important for us to remember that Western Conservatives and maybe rural Conservatives, bluer Conservatives, who may have held their noses and voted the sort of voted the party way in the last election under O’Toole, even though they mightn’t have not have agreed with what was not necessarily a fiscally Conservative platform, not agreed perhaps with the party moving towards a carbon tax, not agreed with the leader sort of rushing to genuflect the Bill 21 Quebec issue just posted at that leaders debate. They did vote with the party last time. They stuck with it, I think, for the most part. But I’m not sure that’s the case now. So it’s true the party needs to come out of this, you know, with more accessible vote, but it really depends on what the party might have to dilute or sacrifice in terms of policy as to whether that would be in the unsuccessful, in keeping the Conservative Party together that, for example, Stephen Harper was able to so effectively for so many years.
David Akin: And James, let me take that and put a slightly different twist on it to you. When I hear Western Conservatives, and of course, James you’re one, a little more West in fact, than Brad Wall is—when I hear Western Conservatives talk about accessible votes, it sometimes is a pejorative term, meaning we have to be Liberal light in order to be—get votes in Eastern Canada. What do you see about—in this race so far in terms of candidates who want to appeal to Conservatives, unapologetically, and yet also come out of this in a stronger position?
James Moore, Former Stephen Harper Cabinet Minister: Yeah, I think it’s a bit of an elementary and false narrative to say that, you know, if you moderate, you win. If you’re proud and strong, you lose. I don’t think that’s true. I think a lot of Conservatives think that the final campaign of the Harper government in 2015, we put some water in our wine, and with Andrew Scheer’s performance, you know, stylistically there was a sense that we were sort of a little bit more apologetic in our conservatism, sort of Stephen Harper with a smile was the narrative. And then with Erin O’Toole, there’s a perception again, that whether it was on the carbon tax or putting forward a platform that wasn’t more fiscally conservative, that the party put even more water in its wine. And I think if you look at the fact that no prime minister in Canadian history has ever won four in a row. It seems like Justin Trudeau is on the back nine of his time as prime minister of Canada. The next election campaign certainly after this coalition deal looks very much like a change campaign where Conservatives will be in a position to be seriously considered as the next government of the country. When that’s the case, then everybody stands up and says well, here’s what I want my party to really look like, and stop being sort of strategic about this and cute about it, but be strident and be proud to be Conservative. And I think that’s why you’re seeing Pierre Poilievre get a good degree of support because of the energy that he’s bringing to the campaign in the way that he is sort of being thoughtfully aggressive about being proud to be Conservative again. And I think that speaks to a lot of base Conservative Party members who want that energy into the race. But party members, and those who are in the race, they do need to make a choice. Do you want to be in politics, or do you want to be in government? Do you want to be a Conservative Party that it refines what conservatism is? Or do you want to be a governing party that comes to the table and presents Canadians with ideas that are conservative in terms of their ideological instinct, but are pragmatic and realistic in terms of what Canadians will tolerate in a government going forward. And I think that’s the real test of whether or not the party comes out of this as a governing alternative to the Liberals.
David Akin: The reason I was glad to have both of you guys on this program today, is because your time in government resulted of building coalitions of Conservative minded voters. And Brad, the Saskatchewan Party is the greatest example, bringing together Liberals who are in Saskatchewan and Progressive Conservatives upset at getting beaten by the NDP and somehow a farmer in north of Swift Current was finding common cause with a voter in suburban Regina and you built a great coalition in Saskatchewan Party. Same thing with the Harper Conservatives, building coalitions of voters. So think again about this leadership race, are you seeing—if you accept that thesis—are you seeing some leadership potentials reaching out to say these are some of the common denominators where we’re going to be Conservatives and win, and we have to somehow come to some agreements?
David Akin: And James, I’d like to hear your thoughts on that, too. I only have about 30 seconds, but I mean, B.C.—the B.C. Liberals, another great example of a provincial party that has built a coalition around free enterprise as the common denominator. What do you make of that?
James Moore, Former Stephen Harper Cabinet Minister: Eight candidates in the race with diversity from different regions, gender, ethnic and generational tastes and flavours of conservatism. The Conservative Party needs to come out of the race, I think more unified than all of its constituent parts. So it’s one thing in the race to have some division and diversity and push and pull and people disagreeing. All that stuff is good and it’s important for the party to hash out differences and disagreements. But at the end of the day, if all these folks come together and they are larger and stronger and more efficient, more effective, better communicators and come together as a team, I think the Conservative Party in the next campaign will be in a phenomenal position to offer Canadians the opportunity to be the next government of this country. But they need to do that and they need to speak, I think with some consistency and some clarity about what conservatism in the country looks like. You know understand that, you know, in politics, you know, a lot of politicians think that politics is about what politicians think and what their ideas are, what they want. Voters tend to think that elections are about them and their needs, and it’s the voters who are right. It’s about them and their needs. And so as a party coming out of this, hopefully united, hopefully being thoughtful about it, presenting a contemporary set of policies through a Conservative lens to a country that’s ready for a new government, then the Conservative Party can do very well. But they need to stay focused, disciplined and united in the end.
David Akin: James Moore and Brad Wall, I’d love to chat for another half an hour about that, but that’s the tyrant of time that we have in television. Thank you so much. Brad Wall, former Saskatchewan premier. James Moore, former Harper era minister.
Up next, a real estate reality check. The average price of a home in Canada is $800 thousand. Will Ottawa’s housing affordability plans work? We’ve got one of Canada’s top housing policy analysts with some answers.
David Akin: We have a housing affordability crisis in Canada. Everyone says so, including the federal government, which put lots of measures in the budget to deal with that problem.
My next guest, Western University Business School Professor Mike Moffatt, has been thinking about writing about this problem for years, most recently with the Smart Prosperity Institute right here at the University of Ottawa.
Mike, great to see you. And you were looking over the budget, we all were, housing was clearly the priority. Give me the nickel tour of what you saw in there: the good, the bad, the ugly. What did you make of it?
Mike Moffatt, Smart Prosperity Institute: Well it absolutely was the centre with chapter one right at the beginning. I think that the good parts were the recognition that we have a supply issue. The government is talking about doubling supply over the next 10 years, going from about $1.9 million to $3.5 million new homes across the country. I think that’s fantastic.
I think the issue that’s sort of uglier side, or the bad side is there’s not really a plan to get there. That they’re talking about this housing accelerator that would add 100 thousand homes, which is great but that’s, you know, about 5 per cent of the target that they’ve set for themselves. And I think the ugly part is some of the measures that they talk about is speculation. It gets a little bit into sort of blaming foreigners for our issues, where, you know there’s a lot of domestic speculation that’s going on as well.
David Akin: We pointed out this week that cabinet members, I think 11 or 12 are landlords themselves, so that’s domestic investments.
Mike Moffatt, Smart Prosperity Institute: Well exactly, and apparently it’s different if it’s domestic. And apparently it’s different if MPs do it. But—you know, so I thought that was a little bit problematic, how they’re kind of pinning it on non-Canadians, where both Canadians and non-Canadians absolutely play a role in our housing market.
David Akin: So, if supply is the issue, and I think a lot of people, you’ve written about this, it’s a big problem. But, you know, the average price of a house is $800 thousand bucks or something like that right now, and that’s spiked 11 per cent in the last year. Does doubling the supply in a year, or doubling the new builds, is that actually going to make homes more affordable? And how might you do that if you wanted to increase supply?
Mike Moffatt, Smart Prosperity Institute: Well I think that last question is a hard one. How do you actually do that? So in theory, yes, if you were able to double supply that that would cause affordability and we’re going to see prices start to cool off as the Bank of Canada lowers interest rates. We’ve got a bike hike coming on June 1st. So absolutely, if we were able to double that, we would have more affordable housing across the country. The key question is: How do you do it? You know, how do you actually, you know, get the zoning permits from municipalities? How do you get enough labour? Because we know the skilled trades are getting older and we’re not replacing them at the rate we need to. So there are all these bottlenecks, and I think the issue for the federal government is most of those have to do with provincial policy, municipal policy and decisions that higher education makes. There’s not that many federal policy levers open to the government.
David Akin: And this is the first party leadership race, I can recall the Conservatives, where housing is actually one of the issues that certainly some candidates who talked about. Pierre Poilievre is out there for—he’s been out there for the last couple of weeks, saying if he’s ever prime minister, he’ll essentially withhold infrastructure money to big municipalities if they don’t speed up building permits. Does this sound like an idea with something to chew on?
Mike Moffatt, Smart Prosperity Institute: Well it certainly, and we hear Ford—Premier Ford—saying similar things in Ontario. And I—the thing I find interesting about this, is both Poilievre and Trudeau have indicated that we need to do more at the municipal level. The policies don’t actually seem that much different, but the tone is where Trudeau’s talking about, okay, we’ll work with municipalities. We have this housing accelerator. It’s all about sort of carrots, where the Poilievre side is more about sticks. But it’s kind of the same thing where both of these party leaders, or perhaps future party leader, is—I don’t want to presuppose the outcome of that race—but they’re both talking about using the federal spending power to influence municipal decisions.
David Akin: Just quickly, I want to just loop back on one thing you said. Probably the most influential policy maker is going to be the Bank of Canada.
Mike Moffatt, Smart Prosperity Institute: Yeah, absolutely. So, with that inflation print of 6.7 per cent, which is higher than anybody was expecting, you know, we were thinking that the next Bank of Canada rate hike would be either 25 or 50 points. Now we’re hearing it might be as much as 75. So if that happens on June 1st, you’re going to see a lot of people pull back and go okay, you know? Maybe I don’t want to take out that 5-year mortgage, buy that new home, given how expensive interest rates are going to be.
David Akin: Mike Moffatt from the Smart Prosperity Institute. Thanks so much for coming in.
And that is our show for today, folks. Thank you so much for watching. I hope we’ll see you next week on The West Block. I’m David Akin. Have a great day.