THE WEST BLOCK
Episode 33, Season 11
Sunday, June 12, 2022
Host: Mercedes Stephenson
David Cohen, U.S. Ambassador to Canada
Patrick Brown, Conservative Leadership Candidate
Location: Ottawa, ON
Mercedes Stephenson: This week on The West Block: Canada and the United States on the world stage. From Chinese escalation and war in Ukraine…
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “It is extraordinarily important to be there for each and to be there for our allies around the world.”
Mercedes Stephenson: …To defending North America and our homeland.
David Cohen, U.S. Ambassador to Canada: “Canada needs to make a judgement of what is enough to spend?”
Mercedes Stephenson: We sit down with U.S. Ambassador David Cohen about two democracies facing threats from abroad and inside.
And, the possibility of energy security through Alberta.
David Cohen, U.S. Ambassador to Canada: “We’ve always been interested in more oil and gas, from Alberta or from anywhere else.”
Mercedes Stephenson: And, a leadership race or a coronation? The future of the Conservative Party.
Patrick Brown, Conservative Leadership Candidate: “I don’t see us winning any new seats. Actually, I see us losing seats if we run on the same discriminatory policies that Pierre Poilievre’s had a history of supporting.”
Mercedes Stephenson: With party membership numbers out now, can any candidate not named Pierre Poilievre, win? We’ll speak with leadership contender Patrick Brown.
It’s Sunday, June 12th, and this is The West Block.
Hello, I’m Mercedes Stephenson. Thanks for joining us today.
Well, it’s not quite the ‘bromance’ that Justin Trudeau had with President Obama, but it was clear that the Liberal government was looking to signal a close relationship with the United States at the Summit of the Americas this past week, sending a clear signal to those at home and abroad.
U.S. President Joe Biden: “We have no better friend in the whole world that Canada. And that’s not hyperbole. That’s real. And you’re a good personal friend as well.”
Mercedes Stephenson: President Biden says he’s planning a visit to Canada in coming months, so what’s likely to be on the agenda? Well, I sat down with U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Cohen, to find out what’s ahead for our two countries. Here’s that conversation.
Ambassador Cohen, thank you so much for joining us. It’s great to have you on the show.
David Cohen, U.S. Ambassador to Canada: Well thanks for inviting me. It’s good to be on the show.
Mercedes Stephenson: I know that you are a friend of Canada’s. I’ve been to the United States, lived in the United States. It’s such an incredibly special relationship, and we talk about it and it’s easy to get into the platitudes but there are real challenges, too. Not just between our countries but in them. Whether people are on the left or the right, they’ll talk about they feel democracy is backsliding. We’re in a world where there is war in Ukraine, where the Chinese government is becoming increasingly aggressive. What do you think is the key priority in the relationship right now for Canada and the United States going forward?
David Cohen, U.S. Ambassador to Canada: So I think the key priority is to build on the strength of the relationship and the durability of the relationship. There have been some rocky moments before Joe Biden became president and I think there’s a need to rebuild some trust and to engage on some of the areas where we may not be in full agreement on day one and to take advantage of the affection and the closeness that we all feel on both sides of the border for working together and growing a relationship. So, I think the key issue is engagement and working together to nurture what is, I think, for the United States our most important relationship and allyship from a trade perspective, from a defence perspective, from an intelligence perspective and from a personal perspective and to grow it.
Mercedes Stephenson: We’ve heard our prime minister, Justin Trudeau, speak quite a bit about the backsliding of democracy and it’s not so veiled that he’s talking about America and with the hearings on what happened on January 6th going on in the United States. What are your thoughts as an American on the state of democracy there? Should Canada be concerned? Should Canada be looking at recalibrating its relationship with the United States?
David Cohen, U.S. Ambassador to Canada: So I think the prime minister is absolutely right to talk about risks to democracy. President Biden talks about it as well, because democracy is under challenge. There’s no doubt about it. But it’s not only in the United States. Canada with the trucker convoy had its own wrestling with challenges to democracy, and there have been challenges to democracy in Germany and Brazil and Japan, frankly throughout all of Europe and it is a challenging time for democracy. There is this—all around the world—this populous movement of extremists who are using populism to attempt to undermine democracy and you have Russia and China where it’s very much in their interest to undermine democracy. But you are talking to the eternal optimist here. I’m always a glass half full kind of a guy and I firmly believe, I revocably believe, that democracy will prevail. We may have to work through some issues. There may be some rough patches, but at the end of the day you combat these rough patches with the strength of democracy, with dialogue, with working together with other democracies. And we’re here just having wrapped up the Summit for the Americas, where democracy was front and centre throughout that entire summit. Everything from who got invited and who didn’t get invited to the conversations that occurred in the summit and it was an opportunity for the hemispheres democracies to get together to reaffirm their faith in democracy and it is exercises like that that build the strength of democracies and I think as long as we have leaders like Joe Biden and Justin Trudeau that democracy will always prevail over autocracies like what exists in China and in Russia.
Mercedes Stephenson: I know the Canadian government promised to spend a lot more on defence, promised—talked about getting to the 2 per cent of GDP that is required for NATO. I read some of your recent comments on the budget. It seemed like you weren’t super impressed with what the Liberal government is spending. Do you think that Canada needs to spend more and how quickly do you think that needs to happen if so?
David Cohen, U.S. Ambassador to Canada: So an advantage of being able to talk live on television is I get a little more nuance to my comments. My comments about Canada’s defence spending were more made in reference to the rhetoric from Canada leading up to the budget, where I think there was an impression created that there would be a larger increase in defence spending that there ended up being. So the—I don’t even like using the word—but the potential disappointment, if you will, was more in comparison to the rhetoric. $8 billion of additional spending in defence, even over five years is an increase in defence spending. It is the largest investment that Canada has made in many years and it’s not the only investment.
Mercedes Stephenson: But is it enough?
David Cohen, U.S. Ambassador to Canada: Well, remember there’s another $6 billion in the budget yet to be defined for defence and there are numerous defence issues that Canada is working on and is committed to that are not covered in the budget, including an announcement on NORAD modernization, which will inevitably involve more resources, including Canada’s decision to proceed with the F-35 procurements, which will be a major upgrade in Canada’s air force. That’s $19 billion over five years that’s also not included in the budget and there is Minister Anand’s commitment that Canada is undergoing a defence review, which also will likely call for additional spending. So I don’t know that I’m in a position to say what’s enough. I mean, I think Canada as a sovereign nation has to decide how to balance its fiscal priorities and how to balance its budget. Canada, though, in making those assessments did pledge in the Wales commitments to move its defence spending to 2 per cent of GDP. This spending does not do that.
There’s a report that was released this week that predicts that on its current trajectory, Canada won’t get to 2 per cent over a five year period, but the report notes that Canada will move closer to the 2 per cent level. And so I don’t think as the United States Ambassador to Canada it’s appropriate for me to say one way or another, what’s enough and what isn’t enough. I think Canada has a firm sense of the importance of defence, particularly in light of what’s happening in Russia-Ukraine, particularly in what you talked about earlier with China’s increasing aggressiveness and I think Canada needs to make a judgement of what is enough to spend by way of defence and how quickly they need to move to be able to get there. And I have a high level of confidence that Canada and the United States are very aligned on defence priority and the need for Canada to invest in its own defence and for Canada and the United States to continue to work together on defence objectives, including in NORAD. It’s a good week to talk about this because the prime minister made a visit to NORAD, his first and the first of any prime minister visiting NORAD since his father visited NORAD in 1977. And I think the symbolism of that was really important and it was important to the United States because it was a very direct expression that this prime minister cares about NORAD, understands the importance of NORAD and is committed to defence.
Mercedes Stephenson: Oil and gas, big topic right now with what’s happening in Ukraine and Russia shutting off the taps, not wanting to be importing Russian oil, because it’s a huge part of that country’s war engine that is contributing to money to fighting Ukraine. You were asked about the possibility of more Canadian and specifically Albertan oil and gas, going to the United States and you said that you basically weren’t really looking for much closer relationship. That certainly hit a hot spot with Alberta’s energy minister. She called the comments “ill-informed and unproductive.” So I guess I want to put that to you and also ask you why wouldn’t you be open to more Alberta oil and gas?
David Cohen, U.S. Ambassador to Canada: So what I said was the United States would always be open to more Alberta oil and gas. Let’s remember, the number one source of oil and gas in the United States today is Canada, and most of that comes from Alberta. We are the number one importer of oil and gas from Alberta and what I said is we’d always be interested in more oil and gas from Alberta or from anywhere else. But, let’s go and define our terms, which is we have a short term crisis with prices at the gasoline pumps. It is completely unclear, in fact, I don’t think you can find an economist anywhere who would say that there’s anything that the United States could do with Alberta or with Canada that would materially impact prices at the gas pumps right now. And you have to look at the short term versus the long term what is the capacity of Alberta to be able to increase its flow of energy to the United States right now in the very short run to be able to alleviate a temporary price situation with prices at the gas pumps and it’s pretty limited. And in this show, I’m not going to get into is it 300 thousand barrels a day or another 200 thousand. Whatever those numbers are, they’re not enough. They’re not going to materially impact right now, today, this year, prices at the gas pump and that’s what I was saying.
When you start looking long term, we have the co-objective of climate change and the commitments that we’ve made—we the United States—and the commitment that Canada has made to get to net zero emissions by 2050 with interim targets before that, and what I said was that as a policy objective in the energy space, we have to be very careful about making major investments, tens of billions of dollars of investments that will produce more fossil fuels five years from now, 10 years from now, 20 years from now that will increase emissions and make it difficult or impossible to achieve the climate change targets that we need to achieve. So we’re for a balanced approach and that’s all I was saying. Again, we are the most significant purchaser of oil and gas from Alberta. We get more oil and gas from Canada than any other place in the world. We would buy more oil and gas from Alberta if it was available today and we’d be interested in doing so. But over the long term, we’re at least equally interested, take another Canadian energy export in hydropower, where I’ve had a chance to visit Hydro Quebec and extremely impressed with the recent deal that obtained regulatory approval on the United States that will end up supplying a quarter of the electricity for New York City, with the capacity to expand that to New Jersey, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, other north-eastern states in the United States. Clean energy commitment.
Mercedes Stephenson: Any visit to Alberta anytime soon?
David Cohen, U.S. Ambassador to Canada: The answer is yes. I saw on her comment, I’ve never talked to her. I have talked to the premier and I’ve talked about this subject. And he’s invited me to come to Alberta and to see the oil sands and I told him at the time I would be delighted to do so and I’m trying to figure out on my schedule when I can do that. But I’m actually going to try and do that this summer.
Mercedes Stephenson: Ambassador thank you so much for taking the time to sit down with us, it was great to talk to you.
David Cohen, U.S. Ambassador to Canada: Well thank you for giving me all this time and it’s good to see you.
Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, the fractious Conservative leadership campaign hits a membership milestone. We’ll ask candidate Patrick Brown if he still has a path to victory. That’s next.
Mercedes Stephenson: This week, the Conservative Party said 600 thousand people had signed up to vote in the upcoming leadership contest. That’s more than double the number of people who signed up to vote in the last leadership vote in 2020.
Pierre Poilievre’s team say they have registered more than half of those members. So what’s the path to victory for the other candidates? Well we have one of them joining us today. It’s Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown. Thank you so much for joining us today, Mr. Brown. Nice to see you.
Patrick Brown, Conservative Leadership Candidate: My pleasure.
Mercedes Stephenson: So I guess the big question is how many memberships have you sold and do you think there’s a path to victory here in a world where Pierre has over half the members signing up?
Patrick Brown, Conservative Leadership Candidate: Well I don’t think anyone involved in this race believes Pierre Poilievre’s claims of how many memberships that he’s sold because if his claims are correct, then no one else sold any memberships and clearly, that’s not the case.
I know my campaign put in over 150 thousand memberships. We were working from the early morning every day to late at night on a membership drive from coast to coast to coast and we’re proud of our tally.
Mercedes Stephenson: So if Pierre’s numbers are off, and it sounds like you say he’s not telling the truth about them, he’s claiming about 312 thousand. You would still, even if he’s off by 100 thousand, be significantly behind him. So how do you convince people who bought a membership under Mr. Poilievre potentially to vote for you?
Patrick Brown, Conservative Leadership Candidate: Well first of all, I’m not sure how much he’s off. I’m not going to get into a guessing game, but certainly there are five campaigns that want the membership list released and there’s one that doesn’t. That’s Pierre. I think that speaks volumes. I’d also say the fact that he continues to attack my campaign with a scorched earth approach, I think, speaks to the fact that he’s not confident. That doesn’t leave the impression of a confident frontrunner. It looks like a campaign that is worried and in some cases, desperate to resort to those techniques.
Our message is, and continues to be, who can actually win? I know Pierre is taking some positions to drive membership sales, but they continue to make him unelectable. I know one of his major positions was on magic internet money, crypto currency. And if you saw what happened in El Salvador, if you saw what happened since he recommended Canadians invest in crypto currency, 40 per cent of the value lost. Really, these policy announcements that he’s made are a gift to Justin Trudeau, a gift to the Liberal Party. And my message to his supporters, and frankly all Conservative Party members, is we need to elect someone in this race who can win where the Liberal Party has dominated and that’s in suburban Canada. In places like the GTA, we must win if we’re going to have any chance to forming the next government, and I believe I’ve got the policies and the track record that I can do that. I’ve got a history of winning in suburban Canada. I’ve won in Brampton. I’ve won bi-elections in places like Scarborough, where frankly the party, in recent years, has been wiped out.
Mercedes Stephenson: You have a tough decision to make coming up because you’re the mayor of Brampton right now and the papers to run again for mayor are due in August. That’s before the actual vote. Results will be had by the Conservative campaign and counted. Are you going to be putting your papers back in to run for mayor again, or are you going to take your chances with the Conservatives?
Patrick Brown, Conservative Leadership Candidate: Now right now, my only intention is to run for the Conservative leadership. I believe we need to defeat the Liberals in the next election. Canada right now is a financial basket case with Justin Trudeau and his NDP coalition and so we need to win. And I just don’t believe that Pierre has the capacity to win the next election. I think it would be a return of Justin Trudeau and for that reason I’m fully committed to this. I have said, and I’m sure this is part of the equation behind the question, is I’ve said that I would not be interested in running in the GTA for Pierre Poilievre in the next election if he was successful, partly because I don’t believe even a popular mayor could win in the GTA under his leadership. I just think his track record, his history and his positions are too divisive for electoral success in the GTA and frankly, if you look at Doug Ford’s recent success in the GTA, and the success I’ve had in the GTA, it’s with a very different brand of conservatism than what Pierre is presenting.
Mercedes Stephenson: So is that a no that you definitely will not be putting your papers in to run again for mayor in August? Because you said right now, but is that off the table completely?
Patrick Brown, Conservative Leadership Candidate: No. What I’m saying is that I am running for this federal Conservative leadership. I haven’t given any consideration to returning to municipal politics. If we got to a point where it looked like Pierre was going to win this leadership, then certainly that’s a conversation I’d have to have. But I think we’re nowhere near that point. I continue to believe that we can win this leadership. I continue to believe that we can beat Pierre Poilievre and make sure that we actually have the capacity to defeat Justin Trudeau in the next election.
Mercedes Stephenson: You’ve made some foreign policy statements that are controversial, including things like you would no longer designate the Tamil Tigers as a terrorist organization. You have said that you would have a no-fly zone over Ukraine. Canada has the ability to enforce that without the United States. And you’ve also been criticized as being too close to some individuals and groups that are closely associated with the Chinese government in Beijing. That last one is of particular interest to me. What is your position on China and on Beijing, Mr. Brown?
Patrick Brown, Conservative Leadership Candidate: So I’m happy to answer all of those. First of all, when it comes to the Tamil Canadians, we were on the wrong side of that genocide. The UN has recognized that it was the Sri Lankan government that committed war crimes than genocide. The European Union had D-listed the Tamil Tigers in 2017. Canada owes the community an apology and should have done that D-listing and followed the global community.
In terms of Ukraine, I’ve said through NATO we should advocate to at least have on the table, a no-fly zone. The one thing that President Zelenskyy’s asking for is the one thing that NATO hasn’t responded to and I want us to be an ally and a staunch supporter of the people of Ukraine facing the barbaric invasion of Vladmir Putin. It needs to be more than words and press conferences. I want tangible support and actually responding to the Ukrainian government’s request for more tangible support.
In terms of China, I saw there was an article about Senator Victor Oh’s support for my campaign and Councillor Joe Li. Let me say I’ve known those individuals for 20 years. Victor Oh was appointed to the Senate by Stephen Harper, was one of the principle leaders in the Chinese-Canadian community under Andrew Scheer, under Erin O’Toole. He is a party stalwart and so some of the branding that has been given to Joe Li or Victor, I think is unwelcome and unfair. But I would say on issues that relate to China, of course I’m going to be outspoken against the Uyghur genocide. It’s wrong. I support religious freedom everywhere in the world. I support democracy in Taiwan and Hong Kong. At the same time, and I’ve made this clear in the party debates, I believe you can advance human rights and have a viable trade relationship at the same time. I’ve referenced our capacity to export LNG to China. I believe Canada can be an energy superpower and one of the ways is to export our LNG to China that is reliant on coal-fired generation. It would be a win for Canada’s economy. It would create jobs in Canada. At the same time, it would reduce China’s reliance on fossil fuels.
Mercedes Stephenson: Mr. Brown, that’s all the time we have for today. But thank you so much for joining us and we appreciate hearing your perspective.
Patrick Brown, Conservative Leadership Candidate: My pleasure.
Mercedes Stephenson: Conservative leadership candidate Jean Charest will join us next week, and we’ve also extended an open invitation to Pierre Poilievre. We’ll see if he takes us up on that. And we’ll be right back after the break.
Mercedes Stephenson: That’s it for our show for today. Thanks for spending your time with us. We’ll be back here next Sunday. For The West Block, I’m Mercedes Stephenson. Have a great day.