THE WEST BLOCK
Episode 28, Season 12
Sunday, April 2, 2023
Host: Mercedes Stephenson
Mike Duheme, Interim RCMP Commissioner
François-Philippe Champagne, Industry Minister
Armine Yalnizyan, Atkinson Fellow on the Future of Workers
Craig Alexander, Former Deloitte and TD Bank Chief Economist
Mercedes Stephenson: The RCMP at a crossroads. Can the Mounties still do it all?
I’m Mercedes Stephenson. Welcome to The West Block.
Calls for a major overhaul of the RCMP after a critical report into the mass shooting in Nova Scotia: How can the force rebuild trust with Canadians? I ask the interim commissioner about the path forward and what the force is doing to investigate China’s interference in Canada.
And hits and misses for Canadian consumers after a major telecom merger and the federal budget.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police are a symbol of this country around the world but the forces reputation and morale seem to have taken hit after hit in recent years.
On Thursday, a blistering report was issued over the Mounties performance in the worst mass shooting in Canadian history, where a gunman executed 22 innocent people in Nova Scotia. The report found the force failed in almost every way. Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino says they will do better going forward.
Marco Mendicino, Public Safety Minister: “We are committed to making the changes that are necessary not only to mend the trust between the police and the community here in Nova Scotia, but to ensure that this kind of tragedy never occurs again, and so that we can keep all Canadians safe.”
Mike Duheme is the interim RCMP commissioner and he joins me now. Welcome to the program, commissioner. Thank you for joining us.
Mike Duheme, Interim RCMP Commissioner: You’re welcome, Mercedes. Glad to be here.
Mercedes Stephenson: I know you are out in Halifax where there is a hurting community and in many ways, a hurting police force with the members who I have spoken to there. This tragedy has affected many people and many Canadians watching it are concerned about the future of the RCMP. What would you say to reassure them about the direction of the force?
Mike Duheme, Interim RCMP Commissioner: Thanks Mercedes. We have 30 thousand plus employees that come to work every single day, and the mandate that we have is to ensure the communities and the people of these communities are safe. And I’ve been here as a commissioner for the last two weeks and I’ve met people here in Nova Scotia and I’ll eventually be going across Canada and I’m always amazed of the dedication and professionalism of our members throughout the country.
Mercedes Stephenson: There are recommendations in this report that echo previous reports and this is not the first time that the RCMP has had a truly tragic incident that has seen the loss of multiple lives. A lot of those reports and their recommendations don’t seem to be implemented. Will this one be different?
Mike Duheme, Interim RCMP Commissioner: Well I’ve committed to the families, to the survivors, to the victims’ families, to our employees and the members that I’m committed to, to go through the entire report and we will be following up on every recommendation there is. We do have a team that will be dedicated to ensuring these recommendations are actions and the progress report will be published on an external website to which the people, the Canadians, Nova Scotians, can hold us accountable by looking at the progress that we’ve been making on these recommendations. Mind you, some recommendations are under—will be under my authority, within my mandate. The others, what we’ll be doing is looking at working with key partners, stakeholders and making sure that we progress with the recommendations that are not necessarily directly under my mandate.
Mercedes Stephenson: Commissioner Duheme, a lot of folks say the RCMP just can’t continue being everything to everyone. I mean, your force has to do everything from issuing traffic tickets, to the Emergency Response Teams you were on that deal with firearms complaints, to federal policing dealing with foreign interference, organized crime, drug trafficking, counter intelligence. The FBI in the U.S. is not out giving people traffic tickets. You have a limited number of people. Do you think that the force can continue to do contract policing, federal policing, municipal policing and do them all well in light of what this report has revealed?
Mike Duheme, Interim RCMP Commissioner: Well I think we always welcome the option to review the structure that we have. Currently, the RCMP really has two specific mandates. One is a federal mandate, and the other one as you can appreciate is a contract mandate. And I understand there’s some work being done currently just to look at the structure that we have in different provinces when it comes to our frontline policing work.
Mercedes Stephenson: Are you stretched too thin? I mean, I’ve talked to folks who are posted with the RCMP in Nova Scotia and they talk about—and I’ve spoken to people here in O-Division, Ontario as well—people being flown in constantly to try to backfill but there’s simply not enough people. And if there were to be another incident like what happened in Nova Scotia in 2020 again today, it’s not clear that the response would be different. Are you confident that the force could handle something like that?
Mike Duheme, Interim RCMP Commissioner: I realize that the challenge with resourcing is not one that’s new and of late, within the law enforcement community there’s less and less an appetite to join as a regular—as a police officer. But what we’re doing is we’re using our current resources to make sure that they are mobilized and are looking at the immediate threat, or they’re prioritizing the work that needs to be done. And yes, as you mentioned, there are some files for which—when people have special skillsets that we have to fly them in to assist on key files. For instance, I think about the visit of the President Joe Biden when he was here a couple weeks ago. We had to fly in additional resources for that that had a skillset.
Mercedes Stephenson: Yeah. And I understand that with the president’s visit, but my understanding this is normal policing that the RCMP’s already committed to that there’s not enough people for in Halifax. But I do want to change gears because I want to ask you a little bit about your previous portfolio. Just before you became commissioner, you were the deputy commissioner for federal policing. Federal policing also is a very, very broad mandate, but it includes things like foreign interference from China. That’s something the RCMP has been talking about and public safety’s been talking about it lately. Can you give us some insight from your time in that job about what you saw from China in terms of interference in Canada and what the RCMP was doing about it?
Mike Duheme, Interim RCMP Commissioner: Well the RCMP when it comes down to the federal policing, our national security program has the mandate to investigate any criminal activity when it falls into the foreign interference space and we are actively engaged. We have several files that we are pursuing. We’ve had success in some files. I think of the file that we had in the province of Quebec where there was an individual working for Hydro Quebec. We were successful in laying charges against this individual and we have other files that are moving forward that we will be successful in laying charges.
Mercedes Stephenson: I’m curious to hear more about those charges because we heard the testimony at committee that the RCMP had managed to basically shut down these police stations that were set up by Beijing here and there was a few of them. But it’s not clear to me if people were actually arrested or charged in that. Can you tell us if that’s the case?
Mike Duheme, Interim RCMP Commissioner: Yeah. I can say, Mercedes, that the investigation is ongoing and I encourage the people in those areas, such as Toronto and as well as Vancouver, and the latest one in Montreal, to come forward with information. And we’ve reached out. We have our community engagement folks that are reaching out. We’ve provided a number in which they can contact us. And if in doubt, they can always contact their police jurisdiction who will forward the information to the RCMP.
Mercedes Stephenson: And I appreciate the call for people to come forward, especially from these communities that are being targeted, but I’m curious to know if under the law you think you could charge people who are operating these police stations for China and Canada? Because one of the concerns has been are the laws in place in Canada to actually criminalize some of this?
Mike Duheme, Interim RCMP Commissioner: Well, if you look at—if there’s any form of intimidation or harassment on the community itself, that’s a charge in itself. So again, we have the—our investigations are continuing in those matters and if we gather enough evidence to lay the appropriate charges, we will do so.
Mercedes Stephenson: There’s been some concern that the RCMP has said that they are investigating the leaks to media from CSIS about what are some very sensitive allegations and documents, but that they’re not looking into the allegations that there was foreign interference in the elections. Why is it that the RCMP is investigating the leaks but not the allegations of foreign interference?
Mike Duheme, Interim RCMP Commissioner: So I can confirm that we are investigating the leaks that stem from the services document. When I was before the parliament—the committee, I did mention that we did not receive any actionable intelligence and when I mean—what I mean by actionable intelligence is intelligence that can be used in a criminal investigation. And the intelligence that needs to be used in a criminal investigation must be submitted in a manner that it is disclosable before the courts when we lay charges.
Mercedes Stephenson: Do you feel that CSIS has potentially stood in the way of that? Because I know talking to police officers in the past, one of the tensions has been between what they can actually get CSIS to share with them in a way that law enforcement can act, because intelligence and evidence as you say, are two very different things.
Mike Duheme, Interim RCMP Commissioner: I don’t think it’s a source of tension, but it’s—there’s two different ways of operating. We’re the services that are operating with the intelligence and we need the intelligence to be actionable from a criminal perspective. But it’s been like that for numerous years. There’s been committees to look at how do we action—how do we bring intelligence into evidence? That’s ongoing and that’s been a sticking point for several years, but there are teams that have been working on it to see how we can change that.
Mercedes Stephenson: Do you think that the RCMP has been too slow to respond about concerns of Beijing operating in ways that are trying to influence Canada’s democracy?
Mike Duheme, Interim RCMP Commissioner: I—again, Mercedes, we operate in the criminal sphere. I’m not quite sure what the other departments would have in intelligence. They would probably have intelligence that sometimes I would never even see. But where we’re at, I only get it when it becomes in the criminal space.
Mercedes Stephenson: Would you like to see more laws on the books so that the RCMP would have more tools to actually be able to go after some of this? Because my understanding is that some of it’s simply not criminal right now so there’s not much the police can really do.
Mike Duheme, Interim RCMP Commissioner: Well, when you ask any police officers if we can have more laws, if we can have additional legislation that would ensure that it would assist us as we move forward, but also ensure that there’s safety of the public and Canadians. I’d say yes, I’m favourable for that—very supportive.
Mercedes Stephenson: Just quickly on gun control. How is the program going with trying to acquire the firearms that the government has now prohibited? Is the RCMP making and progress on that gun buyback program?
Mike Duheme, Interim RCMP Commissioner: There are still discussions with public safety on that. As you’re aware, public safety has the policy piece on that but we’re working closely with them.
Mercedes Stephenson: One last question. I know you were in Haiti back in January. There’s lots of discussion about Canada potentially having a mission going there. There is, from my sources, I’m hearing a high possibility it could be the RCMP because they’re talking about potentially training police. Do you think the force has the capacity to do that?
Mike Duheme, Interim RCMP Commissioner: So we’ve been working very closely with the Haitian national police. We actually have increased our footprint in the area just to make sure that we have that—the communiqué. We have a line of communication with the director and ensure that we can assist in any which way we can, currently with the number of resources we have there.
Mercedes Stephenson: Commissioner Duheme, thank you so much for joining us. I know it’s tough when you’re the interim guy, but we appreciate the answers and sharing your morning with our viewers. Thank you.
Mike Duheme, Interim RCMP Commissioner: Thank you very much, Mercedes. Have a good day.
Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, will a blockbuster merger between Rogers and Shaw lead to lower consumer prices? We’ll dig into that and the big takeaways from the federal budget.
Mercedes Stephenson: Communications giant Rogers is taking over Shaw in one of the biggest corporate mergers Canada has ever seen valued at $26 billion.
Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne initially refused the deal but now says the merger will be a watershed moment in lowering costs for Canadians who are currently paying some of the highest wireless prices in the world, that is, as long as the company’s uphold their side of the bargain.
François-Philippe Champagne: “And if Canadians do not begin to see clear and meaningful reduction in prices within a reasonable amount of time, I will have no choice but to seek further legislative and regulatory powers.”
Mercedes Stephenson: Will the merger really mean lower bills for Canadians? The announcement comes after a week where the government pitched its consumer-friendly budget.
Joining me now to answer some of these questions are two economists who knows those answers: Armine Yalnizyan, she’s an Atkinson Fellow on the Future of Workers; and Craig Alexander, he’s the former chief economist at Deloitte as well as TD Bank. And it’s important to note before we start all of this that Shaw Communications and Corus Entertainment, the parent company of Global News are owned by the Shaw family based in Calgary.
Welcome both of you to the show. Thank you for joining us today.
Craig Alexander, Former Deloitte and TD Bank Chief Economist: It’s a pleasure.
Armine Yalnizyan, Atkinson Fellow on the Future of Workers: Thanks for having us.
Mercedes Stephenson: Armine, let’s start with you. We are hearing from the government and from these companies that we shouldn’t be concerned about less competition, that it will in fact mean lower prices because of the contingencies and requirements that have been built in, and punishments. There are sanctions here if Rogers does not follow through and other companies. Are you confident that this is going to lead to lower cell phone bills?
Armine Yalnizyan, Atkinson Fellow on the Future of Workers: Well the last time we tried this, we created Videotron, which was a small player in Quebec and has become a much bigger player, and has now been given a chance to spread its lower cost structure to other parts of the country, so maybe that’s the get. But generally speaking, you cannot deal with a country that has got three major players, maybe now a fourth one on the rise that effectively colludes. You know, Rogers, TELUS and Bell not only own the infrastructure, they own the narrative because all these telecoms own the way the news reports the news. And so they have been telling us for decades now that they’re the only players in town and they’re the only ones big enough to deliver the services and yet they keep not delivering great infrastructure, particularly outside of the most profit rich areas. So I’m not holding my breath to see lower prices anytime soon and I don’t think deal does enough for consumers.
Mercedes Stephenson: Well I will say no one tells The West Block what to say, which is why we’re here today. But we want to talk about all of this.
Craig, you know, you look around Canada and telecom’s not the only area where we have just a few big players. I’m thinking about banking. I’m thinking about airlines and this is a conversation that seems to be coming up more and more that Canadians pay a lot more for some of these services, whether it’s telecom or whether it’s plane tickets than you do in other places in the world. Do you believe that that is a factor of lack of competition and just a few big players?
Craig Alexander, Former Deloitte and TD Bank Chief Economist: I think market concentration has contributed to higher prices for a lot of different goods and services that Canadians consume, and I think that the competition bureau when it stood up and said it was opposed to the Rogers and Shaw merger, was basically signalling its concerns about market concentration. And, you know, it goes beyond just the telco sector.
Now, as you said, the companies have made a bunch of promises that if they actually make good on, would be positive for Canadians. They’ve made promises around expanding investment. They’ve made promises around lower prices. But I have to say a little like Armine, I’ll believe it when I see it, because we’ve had a lot of mergers in this country where companies have made promises in terms of retaining jobs or expanding jobs, or lowering prices or improving services and, you know, the economic business history is filled with examples where companies haven’t lived up to their side of the bargain and then subsequent governments didn’t hold them to task over the commitments they make. So, I would say on paper in terms of the message we’re getting, it’s—it’s a positive one. And if the—what is contracted, materializes then it’s a good thing. But, you know, I think you want to have a little bit of scepticism here in terms of the delivery. So, we’ll wait and see.
Mercedes Stephenson: This was also a week because we mentioned where there was a budget that had a lot of little things that were clearly designed to deal with announced people have but also some—some big spending, some big programs.
Armine, when you look at the budget what are your takeaways for hits and misses?
Armine Yalnizyan, Atkinson Fellow on the Future of Workers: Well gigantic miss on EI reform, which every economist in this country will tell you is on the menu for some time over the course of the year. And weirdly, you know, they had this kind of throwaway line: $5.4 million in a budget that adds $46 billion over the next years–$5.4 million on an item called work sharing and that might be the shape of the new recession, where people—employers in particular having so much trouble finding workers, they’re not going to lay them off but they will cut their hours. Now, the less hours of paid work plus higher costs is an affordability crisis already for millions of people and bound to get worse. And there were crickets on that front. Instead, you know, it’s—what Craig just said about on paper this looks like great news. And there was this cheery tone about the best of times are yet to come in the budget, but it’s like what about the times we are in? We just went through the worst scorcher of inflation in 40 years and there’s really a $2.5 billion measure of extra cash to help people out who are the poorest, the people that make less—have incomes of less than $10 thousand may get $234 to help deal with inflation. It was just such a bizarre budget, because as you said, Mercedes, there was a lot of talk about how we deal with junk fees, for Ticketmaster or for, you know, how we deal with the aggravation we’re facing at airports. Like these are aggravations. They’re inconveniences. They’re not a matter of hunger or homelessness. And on the homelessness front, there was absolute deafening silence on what we’re going to do about the affordability crisis of rising rents when we’re pouring more and more people into the rental market. I thought these were two huge misses in this budget and kind of inexplicable, given that they said they were holding their powder dry. Isn’t this the time to use their powder?
Mercedes Stephenson: And on the powder, Craig, there were some big, big programs in there but they were sort of saying at the same time this was almost an austerity budget by this government’s history. But there are still questions about growth and about how we’re going to pay for this. They did not decide to have taxes go up. The oppositions still not happy and saying that they should have cut taxes. Do you think the government achieved their goal of putting money into the economy without making inflation worse? And can they pay for the things that they’re putting out there?
Craig Alexander, Former Deloitte and TD Bank Chief Economist: So if you look at the size of the deficit that they are projecting going forward, they’re not really adding materially to inflation relative to the path that we were already on. So, you know, as Armine said, you know, the money that’s going to go to low-income Canadians, which they billed as a grocery rebate that had nothing to do with grocery. It was, you know, an extension of a doubling of the GST credit that covers everything. The—you know, that measure is $2.5 billion. It’s not going to cause inflation. It’s not going to change the Bank of Canada’s thinking about, you know, the appropriate stance of interest rates. So, you know, if you judge the budget on, you know, is it not—you know, is the government not contributing more to and inflation problem? The answer is: yeah, it achieves that. But then when you look at the budget in terms of the measures inside of it, it’s—it’s really concentrated. It’s interesting, some people referred to this as a big budget and other people referred to it as a small budget. And it’s a bit of both because it’s—it’s got, you know, additional money for the health care sector, which we already knew about because the government had negotiated with the provinces and it was big news when that was done. There were measures to address the fact that the United States is now providing massive subsidies to their green energy and green economy sectors, and so the Government of Canada felt that it needed to step up and compete with America in that space. So they had to respond to that, and then there was the measure around dental care, particularly for Canadians that don’t have it, like senior—some seniors and for kids—some kids. But outside of that, it was a long list of a lot of small measures, right, which is what you were talking about. And when we look at the fiscal projection, the government has now changed its tune. It previously had said it would balance the books in five years. Well they’re not planning on balancing ever again. They’re basically saying they’re going to run deficits for the rest of time. And so one of the things that I’m worried about is if we get into a recession, which I actually think has a relatively high probability in the near term, the government’s fiscal situation is going to get worse. They’re going to be forced to provide stimulus once again to support the economy and the government’s fiscal situation is going to deteriorate, you know, significantly from where we are today. So this really wasn’t a budget that I think was keeping the powder dry. And I think that we actually need to have an adult conversation in his country about—about the programs that we’re providing and the cost of them. Not that we need to cut back those investments. I think we need more investment in the care economy, but we need to do it fiscally responsibly.
Mercedes Stephenson: Okay. Well we have to wrap it up there because we’re out of time, but I’m sure we’re going to be back with the state the economy’s in and much more to come on how this budget rolls out. Thank you both so much for joining us today.
Armine Yalnizyan, Atkinson Fellow on the Future of Workers: My pleasure. Thanks for having us.
Craig Alexander, Former Deloitte and TD Bank Chief Economist: Thanks for having us.
Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, uncharted territory in the United States as the former President Donald Trump faces arraignment in New York.
Mercedes Stephenson: Now for one last thing… Late Thursday afternoon, news broke that a Manhattan Grand Jury had voted to indict Donald Trump. Trump will be the first former president in U.S. history to face criminal charges. He’s expected to be arraigned on Tuesday. This will not be a case that is limited to the headlines or the justice system.
The unprecedented moment in U.S. politics will have a profound effect on the 2024 presidential race and will test America’s institutions. And as we all know, what happens in the United States has a ripple effect here in Canada, for our politics, their polarization, and for our national debates.
That’s our show for today. Thanks for hanging out with us on The West Block, and I’ll see you right here next Sunday.