THE WEST BLOCK
Episode 28, Season 11
Sunday, May 8, 2022
Host: Eric Sorensen
Karina Gould, Families, Children and Social Development Minister
Peter MacKay, Former Conservative Cabinet Minister
Sabrina Nanji, Queen’s Park Observer
Robert Benzie, The Toronto Star
Location: Ottawa, ON
Eric Sorensen: This week on The West Block: Shockwaves in the United States after a leaked Supreme Court draft opinion to overturn abortion rights.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “In Canada, everyone has a right to safe and legal abortion.”
Eric Sorensen: But how will the government address lack of access in many parts of the country? We’ll speak to the minister of families.
Leslyn Lewis, Conservative Party Leader Candidate: “You did not even go to the trucker protest.”
Jean Charest, Conservative Party Leader Candidate: “You cannot make laws and break laws.”
Pierre Poilievre, Conservative Party Leader Candidate: “And censorship you would expect from Justin Trudeau but instead, we’re getting it from this Liberal.”
Eric Sorensen: Conservative leadership candidates square off in their first unofficial but very heated debate. Former leadership candidate and cabinet minister Peter MacKay weighs in.
Doug Ford, Ontario Premier: “If you want to get it done, you have one choice.”
Andrea Horwath, Ontario NDP Party Leader: “That’s job number one: defeating Doug Ford.”
Steve Del Duca, Ontario Liberal Party Leader: “Doug Ford doesn’t have the capacity to lead this province.”
Eric Sorensen: Ontario voters head to the polls June 2nd. A race to win and could be a race for second.
It’s Sunday, May 8th, and this is The West Block.
Hello and thanks for joining us. I’m Eric Sorensen.
The U.S. abortion debate spilled into Canada last week, with much of it here focused on women’s access to abortion services in areas outside of major urban centres.
The Liberal government has promised to expand access, but when and how? We’re joined now by Karina Gould, the minister of families, children and social development.
Ms. Gould thanks for joining us. First question: Do you agree that there is not enough access to abortion services in this country?
Karina Gould, Families, Children and Social Development Minister: First of all, let me just say that I think what happened on Monday in the United States with the leak of the proposed—draft proposal when it comes to Roe versus Wade, is something that is very alarming. And what we need to be ensuring here in Canada, is that we are protecting that access, that’s number one, and then we need to make sure that we’re expanding it. And so, you know, we need to be doing everything we can to ensure that if someone needs access to sexual and reproductive health services that that service is available to them wherever they live in this country.
Eric Sorensen: Well, you’ve had a few days now to sort of take in what happened south of the border, and the government has had seven years to take action. Are you committed to increase an access to abortion in that case? And if so, how will you do it?
Karina Gould, Families, Children and Social Development Minister: Well, we’ve already taken a number of steps. And let’s be clear, the first thing we have to do is protect it because just like in Canada, we’re not immune to the forces that want to limit or restrict a woman’s right to access abortion services in Canada. In fact, you know, in the House of Commons right now, there are a number of Conservative MPs that voted just last year to restrict a woman’s right to access abortion So we have to, first of all, stand up and protect it. We’ve already taken action through the Canada Health Act in New Brunswick, for example, where they limited women’s rights to access surgical abortions and so we held back some of the Canada Health transfers as a result, and we’ll continue to do that across the country if necessary. There are Conservative premiers in this country right now who are taking steps, whether it’s in New Brunswick to limit access, or whether it’s in Ontario where, you know, Premier Doug Ford actually overturned a law that would have protected health care providers and patients seeking sexual health and reproductive services from being the target of protest. That buffer zone law that was put in place, one of the first things he did was overturn it. So, we still have work to do here in this country, but that’s absolutely the work that we’re committed to doing at the federal level.
Eric Sorensen: Your partner in governing, Jagmeet Singh, says it’s—or suggests it’s a lot of talk and no real action. And I’m not hearing from you, any specifics as to what are you going to do next to address the fact that there is not access everywhere. Even in New Brunswick, which you mentioned, it’s not like there’s suddenly an increase in access.
Karina Gould, Families, Children and Social Development Minister: Well—but so we have to remember that it’s provinces and territories that provide health care services. But that’s why we’re using the tools available at the federal level. The Canada Health Act, for example, you know, we held back funding in New Brunswick. We also held back funding in Ontario just this March. You know, we are using the tools that we have at the federal level, and the other thing that we did in Budget 2021 last year, was we committed $45 million to support community organizations and clinics that support vulnerable groups particular to access abortion services, and we’ll continue to do that. It’s in the mandate letter of Minister Duclos and Minister Ien. And, you know, we will continue to work with provinces and territories because it is enshrined in our Charter of Rights. The Supreme Court decision in Canada in 1988, when the Morgentaler decision came out that it is the right of the security of person, of a woman, to have access to those abortion services. We have to protect it and we have to keep working with provinces and territories to expand that access.
Eric Sorensen: Specifically, would you consider free birth control to assist young people in, you know, not getting pregnant in the first place?
Karina Gould, Families, Children and Social Development Minister: Well, let’s be very clear. I mean, the reason why people access abortion is for a whole range of reasons, and birth control is not 100 per cent effective. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do everything we can to support people who choose to use birth control, to access it. But, I think we have to be clear that, you know, it’s not always because someone’s not using birth control that they’re seeking access to an abortion. So, I think we just have to make sure that that’s there and we need to support people no matter what the reason is that they need to access these services.
Eric Sorensen: No. Just we’re looking at potentially a suite of options. It’s just that we’re not hearing of any yet. You’re saying that you’re kind of addressing it and you’ve, you know, you’ve hinted Ontario, you’ve hinted New Brunswick. That hasn’t achieved anything and there have been several years to go. Will you meet with the premiers or the health ministers provincially to see if there isn’t some, you know, some way in which you can address the problem?
Karina Gould, Families, Children and Social Development Minister: Well those conversations are ongoing. I mean the holdback from New Brunswick and Ontario, which is a strong action from the federal government to say that you have a responsibility to provide these services to your citizens. So we’re using the tools that we have, but none of those happened in a vacuum. I mean, they happened after conversations between the federal and provincial government, between the ministers. You know, those conversations are absolutely ongoing and certainly, you know, the message that we send from the federal government is that, you know, the provinces and territories have a responsibility to uphold the Charter of Rights of their citizens when it comes to access to reproductive and sexual health services and certainly, we will continue to press that and to work with them.
Eric Sorensen: There’s a real possibility that young American women are going to be coming across the border to get access to abortion services here. You’ve indicated that Canada would be open to that. What do you say to that segment of the population in Canada that isn’t comfortable with abortion and would be uncomfortable to see that there’s going to be more access and more people coming into the country so there will simply be more abortions in the country?
Karina Gould, Families, Children and Social Development Minister: Well first of all, it is a charter right of every Canadian to have access to this service. So that is the right that is already enshrined in our charter and one that we must uphold.
The second part of it is that, you know, Roe v. Wade has not yet been overturn. That being said, there is enough support at the Supreme Court level, but it doesn’t mean that access to abortion would be restricted across the entire United States. There will still be states, for example, California that, you know, will be providing access to abortion services. And so it’s unlikely that for a lot of Americans, Canada will be the first choice in sort of where they’re coming, but we would not turn someone away. You know, they would still have to pay out-of-pocket because they’re not covered by our provincial health insurance program. But the fact of the matter is, is that you can criminalize or make abortion illegal. You’re not going to stop abortion. All you’re going to stop is safe abortion and you’re going to stop saving lives. So, you know, the fact of the matter is, is every year, there are 25 million unsafe abortions that happen around the world and there’s very clear evidence that the number, the proportion of abortions that occur in countries where it is legal versus where it is illegal, is roughly the same. It’s just you have safer abortions or you have dangerous ones.
Eric Sorensen: Alright. Karina Gould, thank you for talking to us.
Karina Gould, Families, Children and Social Development Minister: Thank you so much, Eric.
Eric Sorensen: Up next, after a raucous opening debate, all six Conservative candidates’ line up for another brawl this week. Peter MacKay knows what it’s like and he joins us next.
Pierre Poilievre, Conservative Party Leader Candidate: “The average trucker has more integrity in his pinky finger than you have in your entire scandal-plagued Liberal cabinet.”
Jean Charest, Conservative Party Leader Candidate: “But Mr. Poilievre, during that period, supported an illegal blockade. You cannot make laws and break laws….”
Eric Sorensen: That was a heck of a debate last Thursday among five of the six Conservative leadership candidates. And who better to talk about where this is going than a former leader of the Progressive Conservatives, former cabinet minister and a former candidate for the Conservative Party leadership, Peter MacKay.
Peter, great to have you. The elbows were up. It was not always civil. Was that debate good for the party?
Peter MacKay, Former Conservative Cabinet Minister: Well acrimonious, not civilized as you’ve said. In short, no, I don’t think that portrays the image that people are looking for in political leadership. Having said that, you know, leadership contest by design are intended to test the medal of potential leaders and their ideas, and to see if they’re tough and able to defend and more importantly, articulate those ideas and vision. But when it becomes personal, when you see some of the, you know, really pointed, kind of nasty exchanges on display in that debate, I don’t think it bodes well and I—frankly, I don’t think the overall public impression of Canadians is positive—is not assigned to any political party, it’s just simply off-putting.
Eric Sorensen: So, you know one of the big questions here for the party is electability. The party has lost three elections in a row. Pierre Poilievre seems to be the frontrunner. After you saw sort of his message, his style, sure maybe he can win the leadership. Can that win a general election?
Peter MacKay, Former Conservative Cabinet Minister: Well I think that is the biggest question that the membership has to ponder. As you framed it, it is what type of leader is electable in the general public, in a general election? Now that election may not come until 2025, so some would argue that the new leader is going to have a significant period of time to craft themselves, possibly even recreate some of the image or the narrative. But in essence, you know, those areas particularly urban centres, places like Atlantic Canada where I am, Quebec, most certainly. Those are areas where the Conservative Party has to make inroads if they want to form a government and let’s never lose sight of that fact. It’s about competitiveness in the next general election. I think that Conservatives have to be, frankly, quite concerned about. Three elections, a possible fourth electoral loss is very hard to swallow for members of this party.
Eric Sorensen: Jean Charest kind of showed—reminded a lot of us of what he is capable of as an orator and a debater. Does he scare the Liberals the most do you think, if it came down to that kind of question? Or is that something Conservative members are going to consider?
Peter MacKay, Former Conservative Cabinet Minister: Well, I think, yes, frankly, to both. I think that’s certainly something that they are considering, who’s most electable. Who is going to give us the competitive edge? Jean Charest is a known commodity. Arguably, all of the candidates before the membership are known and will be more known by the date that they’re elected and then we’ll have this period that I mentioned earlier. Jean Charest is an interesting candidate because he was in federal politics of course, for a significant period of time, a minister in the Mulroney government, been a leader of the Progressive Conservative Party. Then was pulled into, or called to action, to go back to his home province of Quebec, become the Liberal leader, uncontested at that time, and then become premier, although he lost his first election. But—and then he has, you know, a 10-year record as a premier. It’s interesting to know, Eric, as you would know following these matters closely, no provincial premier has ever, has ever become the prime minister of Canada. And Jean Charest makes a compelling case and mentioned that, in fact, in the debate. And so, he certainly has a lot more to answer for in some ways and a lot of previously held positions and current positions to defend other candidates. Pierre Poilievre, I worked with in Ottawa as well. He was part of the Harper government, so has those positions and record to defend as well. So, as the frontrunners, they are very different in many ways and that was on full display in the debate, but let’s not forget the process itself, the membership sales, critically important phase. The persuasion phase, as it’s sometimes called, and then there’s the dynamic of this down ballot support. As we saw in the last leadership contest, this is critical and are there actual or perceived alignments between the candidates? All of that to say, Eric, is this race is far from over. We don’t know what the final voting pool number will look like. And so I think this first debate was really the proverbial shot across the bow for candidates to maybe make an early impression, but there is a lot, and I would suggest the majority, are still undecided.
Eric Sorensen: We hardly have time to touch on the others, like Leslyn Lewis, Patrick Brown. Among the other candidates, is there somebody you’re looking for to be able to pierce what last Thursday seemed to be just sort of a two-person debate?
Peter MacKay, Former Conservative Cabinet Minister: Well, you know, one of the individuals who came across, I thought, in a very calm and deliberate way was Scott Aitchison. He, in fact, called out the party. Is this what Canadians want, he said in essence. Leslyn Lewis, I think is leaning in more, taking perhaps a more aggressive stance and going after Poilievre on some of his positions. And Roman Baber is, you know, the classic sort of underdog in a way. Although, I thought he conducted himself very well. Also presented a more measured and thoughtful voice. He has a compelling story as someone who came to Canada from Russia as a teenager and has really, I think, excelled and lived the Canadian dream as he puts it. And so, I think that, you know, we have a lot of quality candidates and some very interesting ideas that are yet to be flushed out in the course of the campaign. So, we finished sort of the entry-level stage. Now we’re into the frantic and arguably most important element and that is membership sales and getting support at least into position to vote for us.
One thing to keep in mind, Eric, it’s not how many memberships you sell. It’s how many people actually mark the x. That is sometimes overlooked.
Eric Sorensen: Peter, we’ll—I’m sure we’ll want to check in with you again. It was great talking to you.
Peter MacKay, Former Conservative Cabinet Minister: Thank you, Eric. Great talking to you.
Eric Sorensen: Up next, the Ontario election campaign is off and running. The big question: Can anyone beat Doug Ford? Two Queen’s Park journalists will breakdown the race, next.
Eric Sorensen: The Ontario election is in full swing and Doug Ford appears to have a big head start. An Ipsos poll done for Global News gives Ford and the PCs a 13 point lead among decided voters. In what might be a fight for second, the Liberals and NDP are neck and neck, and the Greens are further back. Worth noting, 13 per cent were undecided. The poll taken just before the race began.
Joining us now, Sabrina Nanji, Founder of the Queen’s Park Observer, and Robert Benzie, Queen’s Park Bureau Chief for the Toronto Star.
Well, Doug Ford appeared to be cooked a couple of years ago, Sabrina, and we’ve been through a pandemic. What turned it around for him?
Sabrina Nanji, Queen’s Park Observer: Yeah, what a difference four years and a pandemic can make for the Conservative leader, Doug Ford. He’s closing out the first week of the campaign sitting pretty. I’m sure the Conservatives are feeling good right now, as you mentioned, you know, leading the pack by far in a lot of recent polls and even in the GTA, too, which I think is an area that can make or break you, and the bigger question is whether he can pull out a majority or a minority. And he’s doing well in the GTA, and even Toronto proper in one recent poll that we saw. So, it still feels like it might be anybody’s game. You know, it’s still early in the campaign and campaigns matter. We’re still waiting on some platform details and a full platform from the Liberals. But the Conservatives are going in and feeling very confident.
Eric Sorensen: Rob, history favours Ford in this being elected to a second term, that’s usually the way the vote goes in Ontario. Ontarians almost always vote for a premier of a different stripe from the prime minister, and here’s the premier having a kind of a relationship with Justin Trudeau just on the eve of the campaign. Explain what that’s all about.
Robert Benzie, The Toronto Star: Well you know what, Eric? The two-year pandemic, to Sabrina’s point, has changed the dynamic. And Premier Ford has worked very closely with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The provincial Conservatives and the federal Liberals have had to work together on vaccines, on personal protective equipment, on financial supports for Canadians through the pandemic. So that has kind of forced Ford more maybe more into the middle of the road. He’s a different kind of candidate than he was four years ago, much more of a moderate, frankly. I mean, the recent budget that they’ve tabled just before the election that is in fact, the Tory platform, the budget didn’t pass the House, it’s the biggest spending budget by far in the history of Canada, or it’s history of Ontario, the biggest provincial budget in the history of Canada, too, and spending something like $40 billion more than Kathleen Wynne’s last budget. So 25 per cent more than the previous Liberal government’s biggest budget, and that was just four years ago. It’s a big spending Conservative government. It’s not your kind of Mike Harris cut taxes, cut spending type of regime.
Eric Sorensen: So Sabrina where does that leave the opposition parties? It feels like a fight for second or maybe a desperate fight not to finish third.
Sabrina Nanji, Queen’s Park Observer: Yeah, I think the more interesting race here is who’s going to form Official Opposition? You know, we’ve seen the Liberals kind of overtake the NDP in some polls. Of course, you know, politicians love to say the only poll that matters is the one on Election Day, and there’s still a lot of time to go. But I think it speaks to a strong Liberal brand in Ontario and we kind of saw that in the last federal election in September, too, where Ontario voted overwhelmingly in favour of the Trudeau Liberals. So that puts, you know, Liberal leader Steven Del Duca in an interesting position. You know, not a lot of folks know him and we can kind of see the party start to define him a little bit more. They put out some campaign advertising, painting him as a big of an everyman. You know, he’s cracking dad jokes with his two daughters. He’s cooking in the kitchen with his wife. He’s getting personal and speaking about losing his brother. So I think—he’s even got some self-deprecating jokes about maybe his lack of charisma. So, I think, you know, he’s also got a lot of political baggage to overcome, too, and we’ve seen his opponents try to define him before the party does it themselves for the electorate. You know, he—they’ve been tying him to Kathleen Wynne’s more unpopular decisions.
Eric Sorensen: So Rob over to you on Andrea Horwath.
Robert Benzie, The Toronto Star: Well this is her fourth kick at the can, Eric. She’s been the New Democratic Leader since 2009, and in each election she’s done better and better. She took them from 20 seats before 2018 to 40 seats. They have—but can she get the additional 23, 24 seats that she needs to have a majority government? That remains to be seen. The polls suggest that they have a problem against the Tories in some regions of the country and against the Liberals in other regions of the province—country. It’s a—so it’s a tricky three-dimensional chess for the New Democrats. It’s been tough for them as Official Opposition because for two of those years, we were in the pandemic. So yes, they were in the legislature, but there wasn’t the same kind of dynamic in the House because, you know, there weren’t very many people there. A lot of the talk was just on the pandemic and COVID-19. It wasn’t about other things that they now want to talk about. And one of the things I’m watching for is more pocketbook issues from the NDP because I think there’s—that the Tories may be vulnerable on some of that stuff. Gasoline prices hit $2 a litre on Friday in Toronto, a record. So people are feeling the pinch of, you know, soaring 6.7 per cent inflation. I think that there—there could some vulnerability for the Tories on that front, but the NDP really haven’t drawn blood on it yet.
Eric Sorensen: Well, we’re out of the time. But there’s a lot to watch for, so I know you guys will be on top of it. Thanks very much for talking to us today.
Robert Benzie, The Toronto Star: Thanks Eric.
Eric Sorensen: And that is our show for today. Thanks for watching. And to all the moms, we’d like to wish you a very happy Mother’s Day. For The West Block, I’m Eric Sorensen. We’ll see you next Sunday.