The West Block – Episode 32, Season 11

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Watch the full episode of The West Block with host Mercedes Stephenson – June 5, 2022


Episode 32, Season 11

Sunday, June 5, 2022

Host: Mercedes Stephenson


Defence Minister Anita Anand

Former Governor General David Johnston 

Location: Ottawa, ON


Mercedes Stephenson: This week on The West Block: Canadian pilots pushed into the danger zone. China escalates with aggressive new tactics that risk a mid-air collision, the Global News exclusive on Chinese fighter jets buzzing Canadian planes from just a few metres away, while flipping Canadian crews the middle finger.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “The fact that China would have chosen to do this is extremely troubling.” 

Mercedes Stephenson: Plus, military sexual misconduct. A scathing report demands an overhaul of the Canadian Armed Forces. After years of more of the same, Justice Arbour says it’s politicians who must make the changes.

Former Supreme Court Justice Louise Arbour: “The minister and the Department of National Defence have an important role to play.”

Mercedes Stephenson: Will Defence Minister Anita Anand take on that responsibility when the government has denied and deflected before?

Former Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan: “I was just as surprised as everyone else.”

Mercedes Stephenson: And it’s the queen’s Platinum Jubilee. We’ll speak with former Governor General David Johnston about his relationship with the queen and her 70-year reign.

Former Governor General David Johnston: “So I go into the kitchen and lo and behold, here is the queen setting the table. So I began to help her set the table.” 

Mercedes Stephenson: It’s Sunday, June 5th, and this is The West Block.

Hello and thank you for joining us today. I’m Mercedes Stephenson.

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In 2022, ‘hot-dogging’ pilots were something we expected on the big screen in Top Gun but not in real life.

“Top Gun” Paramount Home Entertainment: “I can’t get them off my tail.”

Mercedes Stephenson: That is until China started to change its tune and aggressively buzzed Canadian jets on a UN mission from as close as 20 feet away. This has happened over two dozen times, and the Canadian military says it’s unsafe and unprofessional. But that hasn’t stopped China.

Defence Minister Anita Anand joins me now to talk about this, and of course, that very important report from Louise Arbour into military sexual misconduct. Thank you for joining us, minister, a busy portfolio for you as always. I’d like to start with what’s happening with the Canadian Air Force and China, because it’s such an incredible story about how close these jets are getting. The Canadian planes are on a United Nations mission. It’s completely sanctioned. They’re over international airspace and this seems really dangerous. And your government has asked China to stop on, my understanding, is three separate occasions, but they are not stopping. What’s the next step to address this?

Defence Minister Anita Anand: Well Mercedes, I couldn’t agree with your more. This is an extremely serious and concerning situation. In their interactions with the RCAF aircraft deployed, Chinese aircraft simply did not adhere to international air safety norms. And, what they did do is to approach sand attempt to divert our patrol aircraft from their flight path, and these interactions are unprofessional. They put the safety of our RCAF personnel at risk, and in some instances, the RCAF aircraft felt sufficiently at risk that they had to quickly modify their own flight path in order to increase separation and avoid a potential collision. We have, and will continue, to address these concerns through diplomatic channels.

Mercedes Stephenson: If there’s a possibility of a mid-air crash here, which could kill the whole crew, that’s obviously very, very serious and it seems like a potential military escalation. Is that a concern for you?

Defence Minister Anita Anand: We will always stand up for the safety of our aircrews. Chinese aircraft must maintain a professional distance from RCAF aircraft flying in a UN sanctioned mission in international airspace. Period.

Mercedes Stephenson: Minister Anand, I want to transfer now to another very important topic, which of course is military sexual misconduct. It’s something your government has said that you are committed to changing. And that report from Louise Arbour came out on Monday. You were there. I was there. We were talking about it. And one of the things that really struck me about this report that was different from the many, many reports that both of us have read about the issues in the military, is that it laid the responsibility for change at your feet and at the prime minister’s feet. It said look, the military is not going to change, left to their own devices. Politicians are the oversight and they need to do something. So what does oversight of the Canadian Armed Forces look like for you as minister, to bring these changes about?

Defence Minister Anita Anand: Well I believe deeply in the structure of civ-mil relationships that is set out in the National Defence Act. In other words, I do have oversight and must work in conjunction with the chief of defence staff and the deputy minister and our respective teams, to ensure that reform of the Canadian Armed Forces occurs along the lines of what Madame Arbour recommended in her report. And that is why I agree with and support all of the recommendations, and I do expect our officials to examine quickly how we can bring this to fruition. And if not, why not? I will move to implement 17 of the 48 recommendations right away and have asked my officials to bring forward the plan for the remainder of those recommendations. Two procedural guideposts which are extremely important are the appointment of an external monitor, as well as reporting to Parliament before the end of 2022. Both of those recommendations, we are working on right now.

Mercedes Stephenson: Louise Arbour seemed very sceptical of the political will to do this, and she noted that in the interim recommendation she’d given to you and the department, she had to check-in every month to basically force progress. The day that the military sexual misconduct report came out, which your government knew was coming for months, was the same day the prime minister went to a gun control announcement, a gun control announcement that probably could have been made any time this week. What kind of political signal does that send about your commitment and the prime minister’s commitment to getting this done when it kind of gets buried under this other huge political announcement that had no direct hook to that day?

Defence Minister Anita Anand: Actually, I spoke with the prime minister at length prior to the press conference on Monday and we are both in agreement that this report is fundamentally important and the time is now to act and ensure that cultural change in the military does occur and that women and all individuals in the military are able to serve our country free from discrimination, sexual harassment and sexual misconduct. I will say, Mercedes that the question does come and the scepticism is there about whether this time will be different. And what I can say is that I am determined. From day one, I have stated that my top priority is to ensure that all individuals can work in an environment where they’re safe and respected and protected. As well, I have a very strong working relationship with General Eyre and with my Deputy Minister Bill Matthews. And the efficacy of our team will see movement on the Arbour report. Aussitot que possible, 15 recommendations—17 recommendations right away and the remainder we will report on to Parliament before the end of the year.

Mercedes Stephenson: With all due respect, minister, I heard very similar things from Minister Kenney back in 2015 when he talked about Jon Vance and that this was going to be the change. Their government was committed. They were taking it seriously and yet, when you received all these recommendations, it sounded like you were still saying we’re going to study it, we’re going to look at it. And in the report, Louise Arbour actually said there is very little political price to pay when you keep saying you’re examining and analyzing. And it sounded like that’s what you were saying on Monday. So how is it going to be different this time?

Defence Minister Anita Anand: Again, I totally understand the scepticism. And all I can say is you will see the progress as this year unfolds. We have hit the ground running with this report. I have had multiple meetings and conversations this week alone on how we will be moving forward with implementing the report. And as I said, that will include the appointment of the external monitor, which is an oversight mechanism of sort to ensure the efficient and effective implementation of the recommendations. I will report to Parliament before the end of the year, and we will move to implement those 17 recommendations right away. And in terms of further analysis, that you mentioned some scepticism about, the analysis is for the officials in my department to present the roadmap forward for implementing the recommendations, not analysis writ large. It is very, very important to me in terms of the mandate that I have been given from the prime minister in terms of living to the spirit and content of the Arbour report, for us to move forward quickly. And that’s exactly what we will do.

Mercedes Stephenson: And that all sounds great, but it always sounds great when people are looking and saying they’re going to move forward. So I guess my question to you as the minister of national defence then, and would be to the prime minister as well, do the two of you take personal responsibility if there is not a change in the military, if we continue to see these scandals happening in the future?

Defence Minister Anita Anand: Well as I said, I do take it as one of my responsibilities to put in place the institutional structures which will lead to the cultural change in the Canadian Armed Forces and the larger defence team, including in terms of discrimination, which is morally unacceptable and which operationally hampers our ability to affect recruitment and retention. I believe that this is a key moment for the Canadian military. This is the moment that we need to address, the very serious issues laid out in the Arbour report and the report speak for that, because as I said, we have a moral imperative as well as an operational imperative. The efficacy of our armed forces, the ability for us to grow and continue to defend our country and engage in operations nationally and internationally depends on us getting this right. And that is why it is so important to me personally, as well as to our government. 

Mercedes Stephenson: Are you willing to commit to changing the National Defence Act so that sexually based criminal offences are permanently moved to the civilian system?

Defence Minister Anita Anand: I moved very quickly, as you know, to accept the interim recommendation of Madame Arbour so that we can ensure procedural safeguards for victims and survivors of sexual misconduct and sexual harassment. The recommendation laid out in the report, recommendation #5 that you’re referring to does involve the removal of concurrent jurisdiction. That recommendation does require a roadmap forward to be presented to me, and that’s exactly what I’m waiting for from my department in terms of a response to Madame Arbour’s recommendation in that regard.

Mercedes Stephenson: Minister Anand, I’m sure we’ll be following up with you on that in the future. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Defence Minister Anita Anand: I look forward to our next conversation. Thank you so much, Mercedes.

Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, as the queen celebrates her Platinum Jubilee with pomp and pageantry, we’ll find out what Her Majesty is really like and discuss the future of the monarchy with former Governor General David Johnston.

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Mercedes Stephenson: Governor General Mary Simon met with the queen during the Platinum Jubilee celebrations in the United Kingdom. The queen has a special bond with Canada. She’s made 22 official visits over her 70-year reign. While her relationship with Canada and Canadians is close and historic, there are questions about the monarchy’s future.

I sat down with former Governor General David Johnston at his residence near Ottawa, to talk about his personal encounters with the queen and whether the royals will continue to be a part of Canada.

Your Excellency, it is so nice to see you. Thank you for making time for us today.

Former Governor General David Johnston: What a delight to be with you, Mercedes. Call me David.

Mercedes Stephenson: You’ve always been such a warm and personable public figure. And I remember meeting you when you were the governor general and you were telling me about how you and your wife vacuumed on Christmas dinner. You set your own table. You’re very down to earth. And when we were chatting just before the interview, you were talking a little bit about the queen and what she’s like, and I was struck when you described her as being very down to earth, too. Not a lot of Canadians have had an opportunity to meet the queen. Tell us what she’s like.

Former Governor General David Johnston: I wish more Canadians could get to know her more personally. I mean, we see her somewhat removed, aloof, the monarch and so on, and she carries out those responsibilities very well, Mercedes but she’s a remarkable human being. She is very practical, great sense of humour. Very thoughtful and gracious and is just a master of setting people at ease. And I can tell you stories about that if we have time of just how…

Mercedes Stephenson: We would love to hear some of those stories, absolutely.

Former Governor General David Johnston: Well one is we were really fortunate, Mercedes, my appointment as GG was announced in this June of 2010, to be sworn in in October. And the custom is, you go to London, to Buckingham Palace for tea with the queen, for her to present the oath of office, the Commission so to speak and that’s it. Well, we were invited to come in August to visit. And to our great delight, we learned that they spend the month of August at Balmoral Castle in Scotland. And that’s a 50-thousand acre estate and they secure the perimeter, but in the centre where the so-called castle is, it’s a great manor house and it’s all very informal. And we came with every stick of—every stitch of formal clothing we thought we would need and we never put any of it on during the weekend. We wore leisure clothes. But the first night—we were there for the weekend—it was the Friday night and we were sitting at the dinner table and the queen, who loves horses, she’ll take a call from her horse manager before she’ll take the prime minister’s call. And my wife, who ran a 36 horse stable in Waterloo before we came to Ottawa, loves horses. And so she says, “My dear, Sharon, we will spend the morning in the stables with the horses and my husband and your husband can do what they want to do, seeing where the honey is an so on.” And Sharon had a big smile on her face and then she looked down at her feet. And then she said, “But I don’t have any leisure shoes.” And Prince Phillip looked under the table and to her feet, “Same size, I think, my dear.” So the queen goes up to her bedroom and comes back with a pair of Brogue’s and that’s what Sharon wore for the weekend. And that was the queen.

Mercedes Stephenson: That’s amazing. What did it feel like spending time at Balmoral with these two people who we typically see on a balcony or on our money but not as human beings?

Former Governor General David Johnston: Well they made us feel as if we were members of the family and were there for just a pleasant weekend with them. And it was just that: pleasant weekend. Not much of the formality. The end of time when we left on Sunday, one of the ladies-in-waiting handed me the Commission and some other medals and so on, and she said, “You’ll probably need these somewhere in your office just to make it official.” And then she said as we were leaving, “I do read letters, you know.” And I said, “Well, I will be happy to write letters, Your Majesty. And when you find that they are dull and boring, let me know and I’ll cease and desist.” So I began the custom of writing to her every—almost every quarter. And not a kind of a diplomatic ambassador’s level but some of the insights into what was going on in Canada and to some extent about our family. And she was very interested in our family.

Mercedes Stephenson: And do you still write to her now?

Former Governor General David Johnston: Yes. Less so, but yes. As the letters—again, her wonderful sense of humour—when we were there, we had a Saturday BBQ at shepherd’s huts that had been made over to have kind of an outdoor celebration. And when we arrived there, Prince Phillip got out of the Land Rover, which he drove, and she got out of the Land Rover, which she drove with Sharon, and he began to BBQ venison and I went over to help him. He’d shot the venison the previous weekend on the property. And it was very clear that he didn’t need my help, so I go into the kitchen. And low and behold, here is the queen setting the table. So I begin to help her set the table: knives and forks and so on. It wasn’t four fork kind of thing, etc. She says, “You do that very well. Your mother would be very pleased.” And I thought my mother would one, be a little bit astonished, but she would say, “I hope you can also be a good governor general.” And the custom of that’s the queen.

Mercedes Stephenson: That’s incredible to see the person behind all of that protocol.

Former Governor General David Johnston: It’s extraordinary, Mercedes, and I tell those stories and you worry a little bit about kind of taking liberties of, you know, what are private conversations and so on, but for me, she’s a remarkable person in terms of her sense of duty. The leader is servant, and that’s been so important to her. And here we are 70 years later for her time as our sovereign, continuing to maintain the dignity and the stability, and the reliability and the importance of our constitution. And also, she has these remarkable human qualities, and I would really want people to understand that second part of her persona.

Mercedes Stephenson: There have certainly been public challenges to the monarchy in recent years, everything from internal family dynamics, to questions about the institutions colonial history. Where do you see the monarchy in Canada’s future? How does it stay relevant? Should it stay relevant? You’re a very thoughtful person and I’m interested in your opinion on that.

Former Governor General David Johnston: Well first of all, we’re the product of a thousand years of constitutional history and you can evolve a lot during a period of time like that. And it’s a wonderful tradition, to me, the West Minster tradition of democracy with a divided Crown. You have a head of state, which is the non-political monarch and then her representatives: Governor General of Canada, lieutenant governors of the 10 provinces, commissioners of the Territories, and that head of state function is the dignified Crown. It’s the stability. It’s the continuity. It’s ensuring that you always have a government in place, etc., and protecting the constitution. Then you have the other side of the Crown, which is the head of government. That’s our elected representatives, prime minister, cabinet and so on. They have the business of government and the fact that we have those two aspects of the Crown, I think are very helpful because the business of government can be the hurly burly of doing things, raising taxes and making decisions and protecting ourselves. But then you have, as [00:07:29], the Dignified Crown which is responsible for constitutional matters, for honours, for reinforcing the fundamental values and encouraging that there’s a longer term view on how our society functions. And our system has evolved over the years and evolved especially in 155 years or so since Confederation, and it will continue to evolve to meet particular times. But when young people ask me that question, I say, “You know, if you look around the world and you want to identify seven or eight or nine countries that may not be perfect but really have well-functioning democracies, who would you have? I’d bet you’d have on that list: Norway, Sweden, Denmark, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand, Canada. What’s common to those? They all have hereditary constitutional monarchies and they work pretty well and have been able to work pretty well.”
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Mercedes Stephenson: What did you think of the calls for the Crown to apologize for its history with Indigenous people in Canada and Indigenous people in other colonies?

Former Governor General David Johnston: Well it’s a very tricky business. I think it’s been very important that there be apologies as to what’s happened on the residential schools and other things, but the Crown, the queen or the king, whoever happened to be in power at that time, do not have the power. The power at least in the last 150 years has been our elected representatives as the head of government. And the head of state while signing things into law, etc., are not the ones that are actually the architects or the executioners of a particular policy. I guess Queen Victoria was not quite on the throne yet, but when our residential school system came into being in 1870 or so, Queen Victoria didn’t say there’ll be residential schools in Canada. That was the decision by our government’s, etc. And so I think it’s appropriate for the head of state to apologize on behalf of governments for the tragedies that occur. But in terms of direct responsibility, our system doesn’t have that, nor should it. We’re a democracy and our elected governments make those decisions.

Mercedes Stephenson: Your Excellency, thank you for sitting down with us and sharing your memories and your perspectives. I know Canadians love hearing from you and we certainly appreciate the chance to have this conversation.

Former Governor General David Johnston: A delight, Mercedes, all too short as always.

Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, we’ll be right back with more of the sights and sounds from the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations. 

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Mercedes Stephenson: Today is the final day of celebrations to mark the queen’s Platinum Jubilee, a time to reflect on her 70 years on the throne.

The queen was only 27 at her Coronation on June 2nd, 1953. She pledged a life of duty and service to the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth.

Queen Elizabeth II: “I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service.”  

Mercedes Stephenson: Now at 96-years-old, Her Majesty is graciously slowing down but clearly, no less dedicated.

That’s it for our show for today. Thanks for watching. We hope to see you here next Sunday. For The West Block, I’m Mercedes Stephenson.

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