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The West Block – Episode 1, Season 12

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Watch the full episode of The West Block with host Mercedes Stephenson – September 18, 2022. – Sep 18, 2022

THE WEST BLOCK

Episode 1, Season 12

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Host: Mercedes Stephenson

Guests:

John Baird, Former Cabinet Minister

James Moore, Former Cabinet Minister

Mary Simon, Governor General 

Location: Ottawa, ON

 

Mercedes Stephenson: A new leader and a new era for the Conservative Party of Canada: Pierre Poilievre prepares to shakeup politics on Parliament Hill.

And, Canadians remember the Queen.

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I’m Mercedes Stephenson, and welcome to a brand new season of The West Block.

Pierre Poilievre’s clear victory signals a major shift in Conservative politics. What’s his strategy to win over Canadians outside the tory base?

And how will the governing Liberals respond?

We talk political strategy with former Conservative ministers John Baird and James Moore.

The Queen made 22 official trips to Canada over her 70-year reign. Governor General Mary Simon reflects on her legacy.

Pierre Poilievre is the firebrand new leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, who won the leadership in a complete landslide. His style brings a major shakeup to Parliament Hill. Poilievre’s campaign clearly resonated with the Conservative base. He signed up a record number of new members, and he appealed to people who were fed up with the rising cost of living, labour shortages and vaccine mandates. And while Poilievre has promised a return to Conservative principles, he’s also floated unconventional ideas like replacing the governor or the Bank of Canada. Now, Poilievre must transition from the fight to lead the Conservatives to convincing Canadians that he could be prime minister.

Pierre Poilievre, Opposition Leader: “Canadians are hurting and it is our job to transform that hurt into hope. And that is my mission.”

Mercedes Stephenson: Joining us now is former cabinet minister James Moore, under the Harper government and former cabinet minister as well under the Harper government, John Baird, who was also the co-chair of Pierre Poilievre’s campaign. Two very experienced Conservatives. A lot of folks are looking at this and saying is it Harper 2.0? Is this a total difference? What’s the approach going to be? John, as the co-chair of the campaign, I’m sure you have some insight into this. What can we expect to see from Mr. Poilievre as he transitions into this role now as the leader of the Official Opposition?

John Baird, Former Cabinet Minister: You know, I think a strong and effective and loyal opposition makes a government better and Pierre’s going to be working awfully hard to make this government better. He’s going to hold them account[able] from day one. And then, over the period between now and election day, he will come forward with a series of proposals to present to the Canadian people, a new option, a better option. It’s not just good enough to throw the bums out, you need to replace them with a strong and effective government and I think that’s the case Pierre will be making between now and Election Day.
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Mercedes Stephenson: James, what has to change between past Conservative leaders like Andrew Scheer or Erin O’Toole, on the ideas they proposed which didn’t resonate with Canadians in two consecutive elections for Pierre Poilievre to bring potential success to the Conservatives?

James Moore, Former Cabinet Minister: One of the virtues of Pierre’s leadership is that he’s been in politics for some time, which is to say he has seen success and failure through the course of his political career. And I think he will draw upon those lessons than things that worked and things that didn’t. But I think the biggest and most important thing is the posture and the sense that politicians, you know, often think about—you’d think that politics is about them, their ideas, their pet projects, their passions. And voters tend to think that elections are about them and their ideas. And the voters are right. It’s about them and their ideas. And I think one of the reasons why Pierre had success in the campaign is that he didn’t go out like you see very often happen in leadership campaigns which is somebody comes out and says I would like to be your prime minister. I would like to be your leader. Here’s my resume. Here’s why I’m such a great person.

Now Pierre, from the very beginning, talked about the public’s issues as he saw them. Then he tried to connect and tried to reflect back to the public what their principle anxieties are. And after he became leader of the party, you know, he went straight to the issues of cost of living, the economy, inflation, frustrations that Canadians have about being able to make ends meet or owning a home. Those are real core bread and butter issues that every public opinion piece of data that is out there shows those are the number one issues that Canadians are concerned about. And if Pierre focuses on that, I think he’ll find a very, very big audience beyond the Conservative base.

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John Baird, Former Cabinet Minister: I could echo what James said, that this is—Pierre’s campaign was incredibly successful. He was able to reach out and communicate with people in a way that I’ve never seen before in Canadian politics. I’ve never seen rallies outside of a general election campaign with thousands of people in every region of the country. I’ve never seen him connect on the issues with—particularly with young people and new Canadians. And this—the success of the campaign was really about one thing. It was about Pierre and his message to Canadians that help is on the way, that he hears their frustrations. He hears their concerns. At the same time, hears their hopes and aspirations for a better life for themselves and their family.

Mercedes Stephenson: John, you know, I think there’s no question he had an incredibly successful campaign. Over 300 thousand new memberships, that’s a record. But some of the things that he talked about that helped to raise the money and sell the memberships are things that might not resonate so well with Canadians in the suburbs, talking about support for the convoy. Calling vaccine mandates vaccine vendettas. Talking about introducing bit coin as a legitimate currency, replacing the governor or the Bank of Canada, the World Economic Forum (WEF) conspiracy theorem stuff. I mean, this is something that prime minister Harper went to all the time. And now you have a former Harper minister portraying it as people who are trying to rule the world. These things could potentially be problematic for him. How does he balance the people he…

John Baird, Former Cabinet Minister: Let’s deal with a number of…

Mercedes Stephenson: Go ahead.

John Baird, Former Cabinet Minister: Let’s deal with a number of these. First of all, he never said we’d replace the Canadian dollar as the—with another form of currency. The Canadian…

Mercedes Stephenson: Not replace but that he’d introduce it as we should look at bit coin.

John Baird, Former Cabinet Minister: You used the word replace, so I wanted to correct you on that. Listen, the convoy was a protest that lasted a few weeks. That’s long over now. I think Pierre was…

Mercedes Stephenson: An illegal one.

John Baird, Former Cabinet Minister: Pierre was listening to the concerns that Canadians were expressing. Not just frankly in the convoy, but from coast to coast to coast. There is a fatigue on the vaccine mandates. There’s one rule for the prime minister, another rule for everyone else. And I think he speaks for the vast majority of Canadians that they—or it’s the ArriveCAN app or whether it’s Pearson Airport hiring masking—mask police to harass people when they come in to travel. And I think, you know, he was able to get his message across. He’s a very effective communicator and elections are about the future. They’re not about the past. And that’s something important.

I say this as well, one of the brightest minds in Canadian politics in my lifetime is former prime minister Brian Mulroney. And Brian Mulroney said to me once, “You know why I won? People were tired of Trudeau. Do you know why Chretien won? People were tired of me.” Well I think Canadians are getting very tired of this prime minister and this government. And that’ll be a big part of the next election campaign. It’s time for them to go, and here’s a better leader and a better team with better policies to replace those.

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Mercedes Stephenson: I believe Brian Mulroney also said, “You dance with the one that brung you,” which comes down to, again, James, to how do you balance sort of this flirtation at times with a fringe, things that on the other hand, resonated with lots of people and then transitioning that to a general election, because as we know, what wins you the Conservative leadership isn’t necessarily what wins you a general election. To John’s point, sometimes it’s just about voting out whosever in and it doesn’t matter so much who it is or what the ideas are on the other side. But is this going to be a difficulty for Pierre that he’s going to have to confront the things he said that no doubt, the Liberals are going to be trying to shove out in attack ads?

James Moore, Former Cabinet Minister: Look, nobody in about a century has won four elections in a row. The Liberal government is clearly adrift and I think that—I think Pierre’s is going to get a broad, open, honest hearing by Canadians. I think Canadians are open to changing government and they’re going to give Pierre a good long hard look as a prospective CEO of a G7 country and a leader of Canada’s government. And so, you know, for Pierre, it’s not good enough for the incumbent government—for the public to want to get of the incumbent government. In order to become prime minister, you have to earn it. You have to earn it. And Pierre has shown through his hard work, his ability to build an unprecedented ground organization signup, you know, over 300 thousand members to the Conservative Party that he has the organizational capacity, the energy, to run a competitive campaign. And in the posture and the issues that he chooses to focus on, that’ll determine whether or not the public sees him as somebody who is a vehicle and a champion for the issues that they have a dominant concern about. And I think that’s what has to happen. We have people talked about a pivot or a moderation. Pierre doesn’t have to do any of that. I think what Pierre has to do, and what the party has to do, and the caucus has to do, is level up, carry yourself, speak as if and think alike and present yourself as an alternative government. The Canadian public broadly, is prepared to have a change in government. I think they want a credible, substantive pan-Canadian alternative to the incumbent Liberal government. The door is open. Conservatives have to present themselves, level up and speak to Canadians on the issues that they care about and I think they’ll get a big fair hearing by Canadians and I think the opportunity is there to win. And I think Pierre recognizes that and his team recognizes that, and I think it’s going to be a very interesting fall session of Parliament and going into 2023.

Mercedes Stephenson: John, how serious do you think Alain Rayes’ departure is? Obviously, there was a real scorched earthed policy there with the text messages that were sent, instructing people to basically harass his campaign office and make these phone calls. Do you think that that was a warning shot? Do you think there are more MPs who might leave? Are the Conservatives united internally?

John Baird, Former Cabinet Minister: I think it’s regrettable that Alain chose to leave. I think he’s a good guy. I think he obviously had a different view of the party going forward. The Conservatives in his own riding voted for Pierre and that’s something we should [take] note of. I think that he’ll be a one-off. Pierre had a very good meeting with the Quebec caucus. Nine of the ten of them showed up, Alain was not one of them. And I think they’ll be a vital part of our team, whether they supported Pierre or not. I think the size of the majority and the scale of it winning 330 of 338 ridings will allow him to unite the party and it’s much easier than on a 13th ballot win when you win by less than one per cent as Andrew Scheer had to experience.
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Mercedes Stephenson: James, final word to you.

James Moore, Former Cabinet Minister: Erin O’Toole had his challenges of unity internally. You know, Andrew Scheer because of the thinness of his mandate had challenges of Maxime Bernier and others. But also it was Stephen Harper. We forget. Stephen Harper had his challenges in the early days when he became leader of the Conservative Party. You know, there were four Conservative—Progressive Conservative senators who kept the brand going. You know, Rick Borotsik who was an MP and a house leader for the Progressive Conservatives. He broke away and went back to Manitoba. Scott Brison and Keith Martin crossed the floor. John Herron from New Brunswick, he crossed the floor. You know, transitions in leadership can be challenging and if, you know, the Alain Rayes issue is obviously, unfortunate and a minor distraction, but the weight of Pierre’s mandate, as John described, not only that he won 330 ridings, but he won all across the country with such an overwhelming mandate. You know, in a democracy, the majority has rights. And boy, does Pierre have a majority to lead the party, to govern the party and to take it and to move it forward into the fall session and into the next election campaign. He’s got a clear path to lead the party as effectively as he can. And I think if he does the things that we’ve talked about, which is talk about the issues that of concern to Canadians, principally the economy, cost of living, owning a home, inflation, you know, I think he’s going to have a very broad audience and he’s got big success on the horizon if he does all these things well.

Mercedes Stephenson: Well I’m sure it will be a fascinating political battle to watch he and Justin Trudeau going up against each other in the House as that returns in coming days. Thank you both so much for joining us. We appreciate your time.

James Moore, Former Cabinet Minister: Thank you.

John Baird, Former Cabinet Minister: Great to be with you.

Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, Governor General Mary Simon reflects on the Queen’s legacy and the future of the monarchy with Canada’s new king.

Mary Simon, Governor General: “And he’s very committed to reconciliation and finding, you know, ways forward to—to build this renewed relationship that we talk about between Indigenous peoples and the Crown.”

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Mercedes Stephenson: After a remarkable period of mourning, the Queen’s state funeral is being held tomorrow at Westminster Abbey. It’s expected to be an elaborate affair, commemorating a 70-year reign, with a 2 thousand person guest list. Only a few Canadians have been invited to attend. One of course, is Governor General Mary Simon.

I had the chance to sit down with her at Rideau Hall before she departed, to reflect on the Queen’s reign and what we should expect in London tomorrow.

Your Excellency, thank you so much for making time for us today when I know you have a very busy schedule leading up to the Queen’s funeral.

Mary Simon, Governor General: Thank you, it’s my pleasure.

Mercedes Stephenson: I know that in a previous conversation we had, you shared how much you’d admired the Queen. Even as a young girl growing up, you’d looked up to her and you had the opportunity to meet her when you became the governor general. Now upon her death, when you reflect on her reign and on your opportunity to spend time with her in person, what stands out to you?

Mary Simon, Governor General: Well it’s been a very difficult week in many ways, because at the same time that we’re mourning her death, we are also celebrating her leadership over the last 70 years. So it can be challenging in terms of trying to, you know, find that balance and be able to appreciate her as a human being, as an individual. And it’s been sad. Sometimes I have happy moments remembering the times I have met her and how kind and calm she was. So it’s—it’s a mixture of feelings.

Mercedes Stephenson: What advice did she give to you, if any? I know she was renowned for the wisdom that she would share with people after having been in her position for so long. Did she talk to you about being the governor general of Canada and anything that she thought would be helpful to you?

Mary Simon, Governor General: Yes, she did. In fact, the first time I met with her, after my installation was by Zoom, so we had a chat.

Queen Elizabeth II: “You’re taking over a very important job.”

Mary Simon, Governor General: And we talked about the work that I was undertaking and the work that I have done over the last 40-some years. And she said to be gentle with myself and take the time to think through things that are before us. So it was—that has stayed with me ever since I had that meeting with her. And then when I met her in—at Windsor Castle, she was very kind and made us feel very welcome into her home. We went to her house, or to the castle and into her private home, and we talked a lot about what was happening in the world and also about her family. She told us about her family. So it was a very calming experience and both my husband. And I felt that it was a once in a lifetime experience for us and a very inspirational experience for both of us.

Mercedes Stephenson: There are very few people alive today who remember a time before the Queen. She is the only queen that most of us have ever known and we don’t remember what happens when she dies. I know you’re going to London for her funeral. Can you tell us a little bit about what the role of the governor general is at the funeral and what you’re going to be doing in London?

Mary Simon, Governor General: I’ll be participating in some events. There will be a session with King Charles III with the governors-general of the Commonwealth. And also, there will be other events where we can perhaps get together and just talk about the legacy that Her Majesty has left behind for us to learn from, continue our learning from her own experience. And these are really like, I think, important events leading up to the funeral.

At the funeral, I’ll be representing Canadians in my capacity as governor general. And I will also be able to talk to the King about the condolence that we are conveying to him and his family. And I think that’s the kind of thing that I’ll be doing.

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The biggest part of what I’ve been doing since the death of Queen Elizabeth is here in Canada. We had to have a cabinet meeting and proclaim the King—King Charles III. And also, we’ve had different events happening here. We had the condolence book and a lot of Canadians have come here to sign the condolence book and leave flowers and notes. The kind of thing you see that’s happening in London is also happening here. And I know that other governors—lieutenant governors of the provinces have also been doing different events to honour and remember the late Queen Elizabeth. So these are things that we don’t normally do and it’s something that’s never really been done since we’ve all been on this earth. It was some-70 years ago that it happened when Queen Elizabeth became queen. So it’s a new experience for all of us and to carry the responsibility of making sure that things are going smoothly in terms of the evolution of who—you know, that the king is taking over the role of the late queen. And these are things that we really have to talk about within our own organizations and I think we’ve done okay. I think we’ve done quite well in terms of making sure things are going smoothly.

Mercedes Stephenson: You recently spent time with King Charles. What is he like?

Mary Simon, Governor General: I think—I mean, I think he’s very different from his mother, but I think as he said, he’s going to carry on the legacy and the commitment that his mother has made throughout her life, you know, the commitment to service and to represent people in a way that is bringing different cultures and people together. I think this is something that he is committed to and when I was—when he was here, we had a lot of opportunity to talk about Indigenous issues. And he’s very committed to reconciliation and finding, you know, ways forward to build this renewed relationship that we talk about between Indigenous peoples and the Crown, and to reconcile in a way that will allow us to provide safe space and space for different cultures and languages. And he has told me directly that he’s committed to working on these issues and hopefully I’ll have a lot of opportunities to continue working with him.

Mercedes Stephenson: What do you think that reconciliation with the Crown could or should look like?

Mercedes Stephenson: You’ve worked very closely with him. You live in his riding, I believe.

Mary Simon, Governor General: Reconciliation with the Crown has many facets. The role that I’m playing as a non-political representative of the Queen in Canada is to bring people together to discuss how we can build this relationship in such a way where we will start to recognize and respect different cultures, because we live in a very multi-cultural country. There are many different cultures across the country and I will be talking to them all over the next few years. And I think it’s to build that renewed relationship and to come to a place where we can say that the relationship between Indigenous people and the Crown is moving forward. Rather than being static, it’s moving forward and there’s been a lot of work done even during the reign of the Queen. The Crown-Indigenous relation has been a big commitment on the part of government to renew that relationship and there will be a lot of new things happening I’m sure, because it’s an evolution. The relationship evolves. It needs to be a living process, not something that you just leave and come to it every once in a while. But rather, to keep continuing and finding ways to better build that relationship, because as we all know, you know, we do have a dark history in Canada in relation to Indigenous people and particularly residential schools. And that is something that I’m very committed to working on with other Indigenous people and also other Canadians, because this is about Canada. It’s not about just Indigenous people and it’s not just about other Canadians. It’s about Canada as a country and how we can build a better future for all of us.

Mercedes Stephenson: Your Excellency, thank you so much for taking the time to sit with us today and to share your thoughts and we wish you a safe journey to London and back.

Mary Simon, Governor General: Thank you very much. I’ll be thinking of all of you.

Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, Prime Minister Trudeau will lead the Canadian delegation to the Queen’s state funeral. That includes three former prime ministers, two former governors-general, Indigenous leaders and several well-known Canadians. We’ll have details on how you can watch it all live, right after this.

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Mercedes Stephenson: Queen Elizabeth will be laid to rest tomorrow, following a state funeral at Westminster Abbey in London.

The Queen has been lying-in-state, where thousands of mourners have waited hours in lines that stretched upwards of 8 kilometres for a chance to pay their respects and say goodbye.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Governor General Mary Simon are leading the Canadian delegation as world leaders gather to remember the Queen.

You can watch our live special coverage from London, starting at 5am EST with Dawna Friesen and Farah Nasser and coverage of the Canadian commemoration here in Ottawa, including a military parade past Parliament and a ceremony at Christ Church Cathedral.

That’s all for our show today, but I hope you’ll join me tomorrow for our special here out of Ottawa. For The West Block, I’m Mercedes Stephenson.

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