The West Block – Episode 27, Season 11

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Watch the full episode of The West Block with host David Akin – May 1, 2022 – May 1, 2022


Episode 27, Season 11

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Host: David Akin


Retired Gen. Philip Breedlove, Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander/Distinguished Chair, Middle East Institute

Marco Mendicino, Public Safety Minister

Roman Baber, Conservative Leader Candidate

Location: Ottawa, ON


David Akin: This week on The West Block:

Lloyd Austin, U.S. Secretary of Defence: “And today, we’re grateful for Canada’s resolute support of the Ukrainian people after Russia’s reckless and lawless invasion.” 

David Akin: Washington leads Western allies in stepping up military support for Ukraine, despite a warning from the Russian president not to intervene.

We speak to a former NATO Supreme Allied commander about the implications if the war escalates.

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The Liberal Government calls a public inquiry into its use of the Emergencies Act to end the trucker blockades.

Marco Mendicino, Public Safety Minister: “The judge will have broad access, including to classified documents.”

David Akin: But the opposition says the government is not being transparent enough when it comes to revealing all the information. We sit down with Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino.

And, we have a one-on-one with Conservative leadership candidate Roman Baber, as the race to be the next leader heats up.

Roman Baber, Conservative Leader Candidate: “I’m running to shake up our party because many Canadians feel that in the last couple years, the party refused to speak up for them.”

David Akin: It’s Sunday, May 1st, and this is The West Block.

Hello and thank you for joining us today. I’m David Akin.

The U.S. defence secretary held an extraordinary meeting last week in Germany with 40 different countries to shore up more military aid for Ukraine.

Lloyd Austin, U.S. Secretary of Defence: “We want to see Russia weakened to the degree that it can’t do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine.”

David Akin: The White House has also asked Congress to approve a $33 billion aid package for Ukraine. So what does this mean for what’s happening on the ground in that country? I’m joined now by retired U.S. Gen. Philip Breedlove. He is a former NATO Supreme Allied Commander. He’s also the distinguished chair at the Middle East Institute.

General thanks so much for joining us. And I’m sure you took note of that conference in Germany. You heard what Defence Secretary Austin said. If you were a commander and he told you we need to weaken Russia, what does that mean? How are we going to measure it and how does the U.S. and its allies like Canada go about this process of weakening Russia?

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Retired Gen. Philip Breedlove, Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander/Distinguished Chair, Middle East Institute: It’s an extraordinary state. And David thanks for having me on your show. But it was not the only extraordinary state, but the fact that we are starting now as a policy to use the word win. In other words, enabling Ukraine to win this war, that is extraordinary. And then to hear those words, which is a whole other level of ambition, for what this war might turn up as far as weakening Russia. I would offer that we’ve already weakened Russia. They suffered a strategic defeat in the North around Kyiv, and they lost a lot of vehicles, a lot of men and equipment. And it’s going to take them some time to dig out from under those problems.

David Akin: This war, of course, has so many unintended consequences for Putin. Most wars have unintended consequences for their aggressors. Obviously, he cannot have expected the West to show the unity that it’s shown. But he is now about to get Sweden and Finland to join NATO, or that it looks very much like those two countries are not going to remain neutral any longer in that whole strategic area of the world. What does that mean to NATO? I’m assuming, I mean Sweden’s got some submarines. Finland’s got a terrifically well-trained military. What would that mean to NATO, to have Finland and Sweden as part of the alliance?

Retired Gen. Philip Breedlove, Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander/Distinguished Chair, Middle East Institute: Well in a certain way, they’ve already been a part of the alliance because of their partner nations and they have been exercising a lot with us. In fact, no disrespect to some of our newest members who come from the Warsaw Pact background, these two nations are almost completely compatible with NATO now. Their tactics, techniques and procedures are the same. Their equipment is all compatible, if not compatible, interchangeable with ours. And so these are two nations that have great military capability and also a lot of experience fighting Russians over the years, and they will bring an immediate capability to the alliance. I welcome it. I would have liked to have seen it when I was the sec. here.

David Akin: Obviously, Putin has been making all sorts of threats. He certainly doesn’t want to see Finland and Sweden join NATO. This week, we saw—or last week, I should say—we saw Putin use the phrase: Any allies that interfere with Russian forces in Ukraine will suffer a lightning quick response. I’m assuming that’s got to mean missiles. What did you take of that, and do you think it’s an easy job to differentiate Putin’s bluster from what may be actually a credible threat?

Retired Gen. Philip Breedlove, Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander/Distinguished Chair, Middle East Institute: Well first, let’s just examine what he’s doing. To his credit, he has deterred NATO, the EU and the West in an incredible way. Look at all the things that we are not doing that we say to him and we remind him that we’re not doing. And so we are deterred, and now I think we’re beginning to take those steps to try to climb out from under that deterrence. And what we see is Mr. Putin trying now to use even more inflammatory and scary language to further deter us from taking action, and I think it’s very good that the West is now stepping up to the plate and starting to take those steps that would begin to reverse that deterrence.

David Akin: You’ve been on the record saying we tried sanctions years ago. We tried sanctions in 2014. We’re doing sanctions again and they are not changing the behaviour of Putin’s regime. So if not sanctions, though, what are some of those steps that you’re looking at and seeing now that the West, Europe, the United States, Canada need to do? What’s beyond sanctions?

Retired Gen. Philip Breedlove, Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander/Distinguished Chair, Middle East Institute: Well, when I teach at university, I use a simple model called DIME for the American coin: Diplomatic Informational Military and Economic. Diplomatically, we should be going after Mr. Putin right now. People are saying we can’t remove him from the Security Council. Why not? If this is not the time and if the reason is his horrible war on the civilian population of Ukraine, if this is not the mode to make that change, then shame on us for not trying. We need to move out. He should not be going to the G20. We need to eliminate Russia from the world stage over how they are comporting this war.

Informationally, he has a massive disinformation campaign, now aimed primarily internally at his own audience. But we need to be outing him with the truth.

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Militarily, we need to start taking those steps that the defence minister spoke about at Ramstein and we need to keep enabling Ukraine to win this war.

And then economically, keep the pressure on. The sanctions aren’t a waste, it’s just that history has determined over and over and over that it’s not—that alone will not change Mr. Putin’s actions.

David Akin: Now general, I wanted to get your opinion about the capability of the Russian forces. As they gear up for new attacks in the East, they’ve redeployed some forces from Kyiv down into the East, into the Donbas. They’ve got a new general. Is it that simple? Should we expect the Russian forces that failed so miserably in the North, to all of a sudden be successful?

Retired Gen. Philip Breedlove, Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander/Distinguished Chair, Middle East Institute: Yes. So this is hard, and they only took a couple weeks and a lot of structural problems are not going to change in two weeks. But for sure now, they have unity of command and unity of purpose under this new commander, and we already see a little bit more discipline on the battlefield. They are moving slower than maybe they wanted to, but they are showing some differences. They will encounter the same logistical problems and other things that they have before, so it’s not a done deal in the East. And we need to get there now with our aid to the Ukrainians. We’re sending aid, but it’s hitting the western side of the country now and it’s a long way away from the fight.

David Akin: Philip Breedlove, thank you so much for joining us today. Very much appreciated.

Up next, convoy blockades, the Emergencies Act, and now a public inquiry. Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino joins us next.

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David Akin: In court, in Parliament, and very soon at a public inquiry, the federal government is defending its use of the federal Emergencies Act, to deal with the convoy protests of last February. And the man at the centre of each defence pretty much, is Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino who joins us now.

Great to be here. Great to have you on set. It’s good to have these things in-person.

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Marco Mendicino, Public Safety Minister: In-person. Yeah. Good to see you, David.

David Akin: I want to go back to that—the cabinet discussions you were having. The protests were underway. The Windsor Bridge is blocked. Coutts is happening. The protest is here and we heard from Minister Lametti, Minister Blair, probably from you, that the police have all the authorities they need to deal with it. The Windsor blockade gets cleared and then something changed and you declared the Emergencies Act. That was the sequence of events. Windsor’s done. What happened that—or what was the information that you and your cabinet colleagues got that said no, we need the Emergencies Act now?

Marco Mendicino, Public Safety Minister: Well at the time, we were looking not only at one particular port of entry but the entire country.

David Akin: We had Emerson, we had Coutts.

Marco Mendicino, Public Safety Minister: You got it. And White Rock at the Pack Highway in B.C., where by the way, people who were engaging in a blockade had taken an armoured vehicle and rammed it into a barricade that had been set up by the CBSA, posing a real threat not only to law enforcement but to other people who were trying to get through. We had the situation in Emerson, in Manitoba. I’ve recently had the chance to go there, where there were obstructions to important critical supply chains. We had the situation in Coutts, where on February 15th, as you may recall, significant criminal charges were laid.

David Akin: With attempt murder on officers.

Marco Mendicino, Public Safety Minister: Attempt murder, firearms, conspiracy to commit murder. Ambassador Bridge where yes, you’re right, we’d made some progress but where there were threats that blockades could come back. There was a threat that had been made against the Mayor of Windsor Drew Dilkens at the time, involving his own personal safety. There was the situation here in Ottawa, which was a town that was laid to siege. And every time law enforcement would try to come to the downtown core here at the foot of this building, they were swarmed. They were threatened.

David Akin: But what was it in that couple of days then?

Marco Mendicino, Public Safety Minister: I guess what I’m getting at, is that we were continuing to monitor the situation very much in real time, looking at the totality of the situation, which in our judgement, combined with the advice that we got from law enforcement that existing authorities on the books were not effective. And that is the operative word at restoring public safety, which is why we ultimately invoked the Emergencies Act when we did. We did it with a limiting principle in mind and as soon as we could revoke, we did.

David Akin: So to parse that back, it’s fair to say it was mostly the security issue was the more overriding issue than say, economic harm.

Marco Mendicino, Public Safety Minister: No, it was all those factors.

David Akin: Okay.

Marco Mendicino, Public Safety Minister: And, you know, we laid out in a background document when we tabled it in the House of Commons when we brought the motion and we placed it in a couple of big buckets. One was the economic impact, which I know you’re going to come to. Second, was the international concerns raised by some of our closest allies.

David Akin: Let me just stop there.

Marco Mendicino, Public Safety Minister: Yeah.

David Akin: How important was that? Because clearly, the Biden administration, there was elected officials in Michigan who were saying why are we doing business with Canada?

Marco Mendicino, Public Safety Minister: You’re absolutely right. So the Governor of Michigan raised it and the President of the United States raised it. U.S. labour raised it.

David Akin: But that was a factor for cabinet as the relationship with the United States.

Marco Mendicino, Public Safety Minister: No question. And we wanted to make sure—and I was in touch with my own counterpart, Secretary Mayorkas, and he was very supportive at the time, asking if there was any way that they could help from the Michigan side of the border. That was another factor, and then obviously, most importantly, the safety of the lives of Canadians. And look, for, you know, those who want to go back and engage in some revisions and suggests this wasn’t a serious public event, I would encourage them to take into account the fact that there were literally hundreds of charges that were laid, criminal investigations as a result of the independent decisions of law enforcement, who were for large tracks of the blockade and the occupation here, overwhelmed, deliberately consciously by those who were blockading.

David Akin: Now, I mentioned those three things, those sort of three arenas where the government is being asked to defend itself for the use of this. That’s obviously one of the purposes of the inquiry is to examine was it that in fact, justified. And I know there’s been a lot of discussion in all those fora about cabinet confidence, etc. Not really want to rehash that issue, other than to say when Judge Rouleau gets a chance to look at some documents that the public may not get to see, will he get a chance to report on that? Will there be redacted part of his report that once he files on—once this inquiry is done? What is that inquiry report going to say at the end of the day to Canadians?

Marco Mendicino, Public Safety Minister: Well ultimately, what it will say to Canadians will be up to Judge Rouleau. And we’ve afforded him the full scale powers of a commissioner, to compel witnesses, to compel documents, to compel information, including classified information, so that he has all of the record that he needs, to not only take a look at the invocation of the Emergencies Act, which again, we’re confident was the right call to make in all the circumstances, but equally to make some practical and tangible recommendations going forward so that it never happens again.

David Akin: You guys—when I say you guys—cabinet, obviously having been through that, have a good idea on how to make sure that doesn’t happen again, either blockades or border crossings. Mostly blockades at border crossings. I know it was held here in Ottawa. I lived through it myself. But it was really that blockades at border crossings that causes real international, potentially damage.

Marco Mendicino, Public Safety Minister: There was definitely an impact there, for sure.

David Akin: So what would have the CBSA, I mean some of the agencies that you’re responsible for, the CBSA, the CSIS’ of the world. Have they already learned some lessons from that?

Marco Mendicino, Public Safety Minister: I think we all have. I certainly hope that we all have. But I would just point out that while it’s important that the government have those discussions internally within the community of public safety, national security, that it’s equally important that we look outside of government to get some advice, including from independent public office holders like Judge Rouleau and to also branch out into the community, to learn more about what the impacts were, you know, what was driving the illegal occupation. And I would highlight that I am concerned in my capacity as minister of public safety, about the ideological extremism that sparked the occupation here in Ottawa and the blockades. As you’ll recall, there was a manifesto that was published that demanded that all vaccine mandates be revoked or else the governor general should unilaterally remove the prime minister from office.

David Akin: They were misinformed on how our government works, but nonetheless.

Marco Mendicino, Public Safety Minister: Indeed, they were absolutely misinformed. But the nonetheless, exactly, it incited thousands to descend into the nation’s capital. You also had some organizers come right out and say that the only way this thing’s going to end is with bullets. And then subsequent to that, you do have confrontation…

David Akin: Were you getting any information that some politician’s lives were being, if not lives, physical safety was in fact being threatened?

Marco Mendicino, Public Safety Minister: Well I was worried about everybody. I was worried about, you know, public safety. I was worried about national security. And we were taking this situation extremely seriously because it was. And I would point out that there’s, I think, a very conscious deliberate effort by some within our political discourse, to try and diminish and engage in some revisionism. I think that’s reckless. We took a responsible decision. We have a burden and a responsibility to protect Canadians. We didn’t want to invoke the Emergencies Act. We were always, I think, very reluctant to invoke it.

David Akin: It was there for 10 days, just to…

Marco Mendicino, Public Safety Minister: Very briefly. And, you know, I think that that a direct rebuttal to some who would say this was going to be an overreach. No, it was a very time limited, very targeted and charter compliant act which we invoked, and then we revoked it as soon as we could.

David Akin: Marco Mendicino, Minister of Public Safety, thanks so much for coming in. Appreciate it.

Marco Mendicino, Public Safety Minister: Thank you.

David Akin: Alright. Up next, Conservative leadership candidates continue to criss-cross the country looking for votes and one of those leadership hopefuls joins us next.

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David Akin: It costs $300 thousand to get into the Conservative leadership race and all that money had to be in to party HQ as of Friday. Our next guest made that cut. Roman Baber is an Ontario MPP, elected as a Progressive Conservative in York Centre in 2018. But last year, in 2021, Roman was ejected from the PC caucus by Doug Ford because he objected to lockdowns and other public health measures. We’re going to talk about that in a minute. But first, welcome Roman. And I wondered, first of all, raising that kind of money, that’s a lot of money, so you need a lot of people to support you. Tell us who your base is. Older, younger, urban, rural, East, West, what’s the Roman Baber base look like? Who are your supporters?

Roman Baber, Conservative Leader Candidate: David, thank you. Indeed, I’m now a verified leadership candidate. We have raised the $300 thousand and the necessary signatures from across the country. And look, we’re a truly grass root movement, made of Canadians coast to coast that are concerned about the erosion of Canada’s democracy and Canada’s opportunity. Our message on the need on restoring Canada’s democracy is resonating with voters and we’re in the habit of exceeding expectations with our campaign and I hope that we’ll continue to do so.

David Akin: Let’s talk about sort of the—obviously you were sort of thrust into the national spotlight, if you will, as a legislator who left your caucus over the issue of lockdowns. Lockdowns was a big animating force in the last election and that, as you say, looking for to restore some choice, some democratic values, etc. But this, if you win the leadership, the Conservative leadership, you may not see an election until 2025. Is that still going to be an animating factor in three or four years?

Roman Baber, Conservative Leader Candidate: Look, I think it’s an error to think that I’m running on COVID or lockdowns. What we’re running on—what I’m most focused on—is the erosion of Canada’s democracy. We’re watching still, more than 3.5 million Canadians cannot board a plane or a train. Many Canadians are forced to choose between their health and their ability to put food on the table…

David Akin: But Roman, hold on. Surely in three or four years, those 3 million Canadians will be on a plane because the public health measures will have changed. Like in other words, what I’m suggesting is you’re fighting yesterday’s battle, not looking forward to—we had James Moore and Brad Wall on last week that said Conservatives have to focus on the economy. That’s the most important thing.

Roman Baber, Conservative Leader Candidate: If I may, David, and of course I’m going to focus on the economy. We’re printing money—our $1.3 trillion debt is unsustainable and I intend to introduce a very robust energy and natural resources plan, also a housing plan. But in the moment, right now, we still have close to 4 million Canadians that are subject to unprecedented discrimination. But beyond that, beyond the public health measures, we are seeing unprecedented censorship by government, professional regulators and social media. We just saw the seizing of bank accounts without a court order, using what I believe to be—eventually will be found—an unlawful Emergency Declaration. We see Quebec Bill-21, which prevents Canadians from practicing their faith, without a bonafide occupational requirement.

David Akin: What you just said, I’ve heard a lot from, let’s say, Leslyn Lewis, who is against Bill-21, forcing people to divulge vaccination candidates. What’s wrong with Leslyn Lewis as the leader? She ran last time. A lot of people liked her. Why are you a better choice than, in this instance, Leslyn?

Roman Baber, Conservative Leader Candidate: I have a lot of respect for Leslyn, just like every other candidate. I would say one distinguishing factor between myself and many other candidates, as you have mentioned, I was asked to leave the Progressive Conservative caucus in January 2021, in my opposition to the lockdowns. I was not afraid to speak out against the mainstream narrative, against the culture—prevailing culture of the day. I put my political career on the line, because I wasn’t going to continue watching the collateral effect of lockdowns potentially perpetrate remarkable harm on Canadians. And that’s what voters can always expect from me. 

David Akin: Let me ask you then about Pierre Poilievre’s candidacy. You’ve seen the crowd sizes he’s getting. Your crowds aren’t too bad either. I’ve been watching your social media accounts. But he’s getting some remarkable sized crowds. The polls say he’s the frontrunner. He, too, is all about freedom, doesn’t like gatekeepers. You’ve heard his—the phrases he uses. Why are you a better pick again than Pierre Poilievre’s, who’s currently in the House of Commons? He won’t need to run in a by-election if he becomes the leader.

Roman Baber, Conservative Leader Candidate: Again, just like with Leslyn, I think that Pierre’s a very good candidate. He’s articulate. He’s intelligent. And I think that once we end this leadership race, I hope that we all come out united. I do have some distinguishing facts with Pierre Poilievre. For instance, I oppose Quebec Bill-21. I’m not sure that Pierre has the same position. I would also not seek to protect supply management. I would seek to phase it out. But again, as I would say, I have been on the democracy message from day one. I felt that we have an obligation to Canadians and we should not fear to stand up to Justin Trudeau or cancel culture or those that said that we need to lock down 35 million Canadians and make them sick. And I don’t believe that any, in fact, of the leadership candidates articulated that message clearly until the truck convoy came to town.

David Akin: Roman Baber, good luck in the race and thank you so much for joining us today.

Roman Baber, Conservative Leader Candidate: Thank you, David.

David Akin: That is our show for this Sunday. Thank you so much for watching. We hope to see you next Sunday. For The West Block, I’m David Akin.

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