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Transcript Episode 11 Nov. 17

The West Block: Nov 17

THE WEST BLOCK

Episode 11, Season 3

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Host: Tom Clark

Guest Interviews: Peter MacKay, Kathleen Wynne, Alison Redford

Location: Ottawa

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Tom Clark:

On this Sunday morning, Canada becomes the punch line for jokes told around the world.  So where’s the outrage from Canada’s political class on Toronto’s crack smoking mayor?  We’re about to ask.

Rob Ford has confessed to drunk driving, buying illegal drugs and smoking crack.  Some might wonder why he isn’t sitting in jail.  Canada’s Justice Minister Peter MacKay is here.

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And, the premier who calls Toronto home, Kathleen Wynne, on why politicians are tiptoeing around this Rob Ford saga.

And believe it or not, there is a world of news outside the so-called “Ro-Fo” scandal.  Premier Alison Redford joins us to explain why she’s a bit unhappy with Stephen Harper these days.

It is Sunday, November the 17th.  I’m Tom Clark and you are in The West Block.

Well last week, the Conservative Party found a new way to take a shot at Liberal leader Justin Trudeau.  They claim group that he promoted legalizing marijuana to a group of school kids in Manitoba, and said it was, “completely unacceptable and grossly irresponsible”.

Well the Liberals shot back saying Trudeau was simply answering a question from one of the students and that the Conservatives response was shameful.  Local media reports also said that Trudeau in fact, warned the students to stay away from pot, calling it dangerous for young minds.

And joining me now from Sherbrooke, Nova Scotia is Canada’s justice minister Peter MacKay.  Mr. MacKay, always good having you on the show.  Thanks very much for being here.

Peter MacKay:

My pleasure Tom.

Tom Clark:

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Last week you got very upset publically with Justin Trudeau, the Liberal leader over comments that he made.  You even sent out a fundraising letter about this concerning Canada’s marijuana laws.  What upset you so much about what he said?

Peter MacKay:

Well I’ll tell you, it’s one thing to espouse policies of legalization of marijuana but to go into a school where you have children at an elementary level, a First Nation school in Brandon and espouse legalization of marijuana.  If you have those personal views, if you smoke marijuana as Mr. Trudeau does, that’s one thing, but presenting this as a good idea for children, putting that forward, even after having said you know you’re against it.  But then talking about making marijuana more available as a policy, I think is appalling, inappropriate, and I can tell you if I was a parent in that community, having somebody come in, an over 40 flower child, espousing greater drug availability, is something that I think is dead wrong.

Tom Clark:

Isn’t there a problem thought because you’ve got one of your own colleagues, Conservative Member of Parliament, Scott Reid who essentially did exactly the same thing in a school where he actively talked about the legalization of marijuana, how he was in favour of it.  Is there an equivalency there that worries you?

Peter MacKay:

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Well I disagree with Scott Reid as well but I can tell you number one, he’s not a leader.  He’s not in a position to ever change the law.  As I understand it, those were older kids.  It’s relativism and I disagree with what he said as well.  But as I said, Mr. Trudeau is espousing this for the entire country.  It’s something he says if elected he would change.  I think it’s part of some of his wrongheaded policies in other areas, including foreign policy and admiring China, talking about changing mandatory minimum penalties, bringing in a carbon tax.  All of this, I believe is out of sync and out of step with where Canadians see themselves on a number of issues, including criminal justice issues.

Tom Clark:

When we’re talking about people you know talking openly, especially to young people about drug laws, drug policies, you must be furious as the justice minister with Rob Ford, who not only talks about it but admits that he smokes crack, that he drinks while he drives.  This must infuriate you.

Peter MacKay:

Sets a very poor example.  There’s no question about it.

Tom Clark:

Is he in your view, fit for public office?

Peter MacKay:

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Well that’s something that the people of Toronto I’m sure are wrestling with now.

Tom Clark:

But from a political, from a politician’s point of view, do you think that he is still representative of Conservative values or do you think that he is completely outside of the norms at this point?

Peter MacKay:

Well both Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Ford, and others who have admitted to using drugs publically while in office, as I said do not set a very high standard or an example for the country.

Tom Clark:

You brought up mandatory minimums and I want to talk to you about that for a minute because the Ontario Court of Appeal last week said that, in one case anyway, the mandatory minimums for gun possession were unconstitutional because they constituted cruel and unusual punishment.  Are you worried about that?

Peter MacKay:

Well I’m worried about whittling away of federal legislation and laws, interpretations by the court that undermine and take away from the intent that was passed by the democratically elected Parliament of Canada.  Mandatory minimum penalties Tom, as you know, have been around for a long time, as long as the criminal code.  And for serious violent offences, offences that endanger the public that involve weapons and also drugs, I believe that there are cases that it is appropriate that there is a mandatory minimum penalty.  And these cases, as you know, that were before the Ontario Supreme Court in all cases, the actual penalties were upheld.  The judges went further and talked about a hypothetical scenario and then chose to strike down part of the law but let’s keep in mind that other mandatory minimum penalties recently have been upheld by the courts.  We’ll make a decision in the near future as to how to proceed in this particular case, but as I said, for emphasis, the penalties that were actually handed down in these cases were upheld by the court of appeal.

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Tom Clark:

You say that you’re going to decide what to do, so in other words, there is a possibility then that you may accept the fact that this may be unconstitutional and that you would then, what, amend the law so that there is no mandatory minimum for this very thing that the court was talking about?

Peter MacKay:

Well we’ll have to make a decision on that.  We’re analyzing the case.  As you know it just came down a few days ago so we’re deciding how to proceed, that could also involve an appeal.

Tom Clark:

And presumably an appeal might take you to the Supreme Court of Canada, which I guess is the final arbiter in all these matters isn’t it.  I mean Parliament is supreme to a degree but not absolutely supreme.

Peter MacKay:

That’s correct.

Tom Clark:

Peter MacKay joining us from Sherbrooke, Nova Scotia today.  Thank you very much for being with us today.  I appreciate your time.

Peter MacKay:

My pleasure Tom.  Thank you as always.

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Tom Clark:

Well coming up, Premier Kathleen Wynne explains why politicians are walking on eggshells around Rob Ford.  Stay tuned for that.

Break

Tom Clark:

Welcome back to The West Block.  Last week, Premier Kathleen Wynne urged Rob Ford to, “pay attention” to councillors asking him to step down but she stopped short of calling for his resignation.  Why are politicians so squeamish when asked to talk about Rob Ford?  Well I put that question to her the other day in Toronto where she was hosting a meeting of Canada’s premiers.

Premier Wynne awfully good to have you on the show again.  Good to see you.

Kathleen Wynne:

Pleasure to be here.  Thanks for having me.

Tom Clark:

I want to talk to you about the things that you talked about this week at the ministers’ meetings; pensions, job training and so on but let’s deal with the elephant in the room first.  In your view, is Rob Ford fit for public office?

Kathleen Wynne:

My concern is twofold.  I have a human and personal concern for a man who, I hope is looking after himself and is listening to the advices of people around him who care about him.  That’s the human concern.   As the premier of the province, my focus has to be on whether city council can function and what I said yesterday was that if city council decides that they are having an issue, that they are not able to function, that they could turn to the province and we would be open to, you know, based on working with the Opposition, given we’re a minority Parliament but we’d be open to looking at their request.

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Tom Clark:

I understand as premier you’ve got to be careful about what you say but help me through this, the entire world is laughing at us.  The entire world knows that this guy is a disgrace and has absolutely no right to hold public office, yet the political class in this country seems awfully reluctant to offer that type of commentary.  And I’m just wondering why that is?

Kathleen Wynne:

Well, you know I think that we have to respect the democratic process. And I can tell you that there are people who still support this man, who voted for him and who believe in him, and that is their prerogative.  I believe that he’s a person who needs help. I have said that and I hope that he is listening to people who are advising him in that way but my job is to make sure that decisions that are made by city council can be implemented, that they can do the work of the people of the city.  That is my job.  My personal judgments and my personal feelings are somewhat separate from the point, you know.  Am I disturbed by what’s going on?  Am I disturbed by the behaviours?  Absolutely.  You know we are very different people. We are not the same kind of politician and I think it’s important that citizens and people who are voters pay attention to the people that they elect to office but my job is to make sure city council is working.

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Tom Clark:

You brought up an interesting point. You said that there are a large number of people in this city who still support Rob Ford.  In your range of options that you can offer to the city of Toronto, a lot of people have said, why not just move up the date of the next election.  Why not let the people decide this one instead of a bunch of councillors.  Is that an option for you?

Kathleen Wynne:

Well so I’m not going to pre-empt either the city council’s request to us or the development of you know options that we might be able to put on the table.  But I really think it’s important that the city council make a request if that is what they want to do.  I believe so strongly in local governance.  You know it’s really one of the things that I believe most strongly in and so I need to make sure that any response we make is a response to a request from the city council.

Tom Clark:

I want to move on to some other maybe more important things than Rob Ford.  And I want to talk to you about pensions but just before we do that, I think it’s kind of interesting to take a look at what the majority of Canadians can expect when they retire.  So here it is, your weekly West Block Primer:

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So, you’ve retired but like most Canadians, you don’t have a pension.  But that’s okay; you’ve been paying into CPP your whole career.  The government has you covered, right?  Well let’s see, from the CPP you’ll get a maximum of $12,150 dollars a year but don’t forget there’s Old Age Security.  That’s another $6,612 each year.  So, you’ll be living on little more than $18,000 dollars a year.  Enjoy that cat food.

So premier, we have a problem in this country.  The majority of Canadians don’t even have a pension. Eighteen and a half thousand dollars isn’t a lot to live on for the rest of your life and so on.  In a broader sense, how urgent is this?  And is there a magic solution to fixing it?

Kathleen Wynne:

There’s no magic solution but what is very clear to me is that there is a consensus across the country having spoken with my colleague premiers in the Summer and now, there is a consensus across the country that this is an issue that has to be addressed.  In fact, the federal finance minister has acknowledged that there is a problem. Where we don’t have consensus is exactly when we should make a change, what that change should be, what the model should be, but the fact that we have agreement across the country, that this is an issue that has to be addressed, that there is an urgency to it, I think that’s progress form July until now.

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Tom Clark:

Another big national issue, you’re talking about is the Canada jobs grant.  The federal government has come up with this idea; they’re hitting you up for money.  Where did all of this…this is such a central issue for all levels of government, how did it get so out of sync?  How can the provinces and Ottawa be so on opposite sides of this issue?

Kathleen Wynne:

Well I think what’s really concerning about this is that it’s part of a bit of a pattern in terms of the federal government making a decision about what a program is going to look like or what an initiative is going to be without consulting with the provinces, and without having what I think is an adequate discussion about what the configuration of such a program should look like.  So, what has happened is, the program that is being proposed by the federal government would in fact take training opportunities away from people who need it the most; the vulnerable in our communities in our society, and actually provide training to people who already have jobs.  And that I think is the fundamental problem that we’re dealing with here.  There’s unanimity again across the country that this program is not going to work as it’s configured.  The ministers of jobs and training and labour market have got some principles that they’re working on.  We’ve asked them to present an alternative to the federal minister.  At least now we’re engaged with the federal minister.  It should have happened at the beginning.  It didn’t but at least now we have that engagement and my hope is that we’ll be able to present an alternative that the federal minister can agree to.

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Tom Clark:

Premier Wynne awfully good to have you on the program again.  Good seeing you.

Kathleen Wynne:

Thank you very much – pleasure.

Tom Clark:

Well still to come, Alberta Premier, Alison Redford and what she thinks these days about Prime Minister Stephen Harper.  Stay tuned.

Break

Tom Clark:

Welcome back.  Well earlier this month the prime minister boasted that Canada’s rules on foreign investment are deliberately vague so that he and his government can decide what’s in Canada’s best interest.  But that vagueness has been blamed for a dramatic drop in foreign investment in Canada’s oil patch which saw as much as a 90 percent drop last year.  And it’s not going over well with the premier of Alberta.  I caught up with her in Toronto late last week.

Premier Redford awfully good to have you back on the show again.

Alison Redford:

Nice to see you.

Tom Clark:

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Let me start off…I want to start generally talking about the relationship between the provinces and the federal government.  I mean there are a lot of things being discussed right now but can you characterize it from Alberta’s point of view right now?

Alison Redford:

Well we’re very fortunate to have the prime minster representing Alberta to some extent because he’s our Member of Parliament.  But when I come to premier’s conferences it’s really interesting to listen to people like Premier Ghiz remind us that we are first ministers. That in a federation we have premiers and a prime minister that all run governments that are considered to be equal with separate jurisdiction.  We think there’s a lot of issues that we’re talking about right now that we’d like to engage in a more direct way the federal government on.

Tom Clark:

And by that you’re saying that they’re not engaging you.

Alison Redford:

Well I think that what we’re seeing right now is the federal government responding on a lot of agenda items very quickly, which is important in terms of responsiveness but there’s a lot of premiers who want to make sure that we’re having conversations longer term around things like Canada Pension Plan, foreign direct investment; lots of issues that matter to us.

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Tom Clark:

Let me pick up on foreign direct investment because I know this is a concern of yours right now.  Stephen Harper has said that ambiguity is a good thing to have because as long as you’ve got this big grey area then he can decide on a case-by-case basis whether a foreign investment is a good thing or a bad thing for Canada.  How is that working for you?

Alison Redford:

Well it’s creating a lot of uncertainty in Alberta and around the world.  There’s a real chill on investment right now and I’m not talking about investors from China that are state-owned enterprises. I’m talking about when I go and talk to investment bankers in New York or equity funds in New York or Washington, where they’re saying look, the rules are just not clear enough, that we have a lot of confidence going out.  And these are sophisticated investors.  They understand that depending on the deal there may be a bit of a grey area but our concern is that it’s just not clear enough for sophisticated investors around the world to truly understand what the rules are before they start doing the work to bring their investments to Canada.

Tom Clark:

We’re talking about the oil patch so let me talk about those documents that were recently released under Access to Information, which provided sort of a fascinating look into your world dealing with the oil industry, specifically about oil and gas regulations on greenhouse gas emissions.  And basically the oil industry seemed to be saying through these documents to your government, look anybody who’s opposed to the oil sands is just an ideologue and we’re never going to win them over and besides which regulations aren’t going to really reduce greenhouse gases.  Do you agree with that?

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Alison Redford:

Well no I don’t and I mean there are lots of people that have opinions in the oil industry with respect to all of this.  But we in Alberta have a very strong partnership with the oil and gas industry.  We also have to have leadership with respect to sustainable development and environmental sustainability and we’ve taken that leadership.  We have a price on carbon and we’re very proud to talk about that when we go to Washington to promote Keystone.  And the Americans are pleased to see that we have it.  So there are people that sometimes get frustrated by the fact that these are long conversations and they take a long time but having that commitment to a strong environmental policy that ensures for sustainable development and takes into account what people are thinking around the world, is what’s led to our success so far, and we’re going to continue to lead in that way.

Tom Clark:

But having said that, we still don’t have oil and gas regulations in Alberta or in Canada for that matter.  I mean is that hurting our case?  If we can’t even say to Washington for example, here’s where we stand.  Is that hurting you?

Alison Redford:

Well we’ve had very good discussions with the federal government about this and we know that they are working on those and they’re working with industry on those as well.  We’re ready to move on that, in terms of the discussions that we’ve had with industry.  There’s been lots of research done.  We certainly signal that to the federal government and there’s a lot of official work being done right now.  The politicians aren’t sitting at tables making announcement but the technical work is being done and I think it will be helpful because everyone want to know that we’re taking this seriously.  Last year we put in the coal fired gas regulations and that mattered a lot because it sent a signal that we understand and appreciate that people want to ensure that we’re developing in a sustainable way.  So I’m very optimistic.  I mean you don’t always get these things done exactly to deadline but we’re making good progress and I’m looking forward to the results.

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Tom Clark:

I’m wondering whether we’ve got to some degree the conversation wrong on oil and especially the oil sands in this country.  It seems to be sort of all or nothing.  One side wins, one side loses.  Is there any way to get passed that?  I mean it seems so far that the oil side has been winning and that has got the backs of the environmentalists up.  But have we got the conversation wrong?

Alison Redford:

Well I think the way you’ve described it is the right way to have the conversation and I think in Alberta, we’ve got a lot of it right.  You know we worked with the Pembina Institute.  We worked with First Nations.  We worked with communities that are very close to energy production throughout the province.  We have a strong regulatory framework.  We’ve made investments with respect to environmental technologies and sustainable development.  We have a price on carbon and we also have a successful energy industry.  When you have economic activity, you are going to have environmental impact but you can’t have an either or conversation.  You’ve got to be able to have some space.  And there are some people that are very committed to the environmental movement, who really think that the conversation isn’t about that.  That it really is about pushing the envelope as far as you possibly can and I know it seems a little facetious, but at the end of the day, if you push that envelope too far, you start riding around in horses and buggies.  And that’s not how we grow an economy.  And I know from the perspective of the people that voted for me in Alberta that want us to continue to have the quality of life that we do and the health care and the education, that they want us to grow the energy industry in a responsible way, and I think we’re doing that.

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Tom Clark:

I’ve got 15 seconds left with you.  You’ve just come back from Washington and because this is on tape we’ll be able to play it back to you when the decision finally comes down.  What’s your guess on Keystone? Have we got it?

Alison Redford:

I’m really optimistic – very vocal support from Democrats now who believe that Keystone matters in their jurisdiction. A lot of senators are talking to the president about this and they’re publically saying that.  So, you know Washington, every single day you’re trying to make new contacts, talk to new people and tell your story as many times as you can.  But after Tuesday, I was very optimistic and I am very, very hopeful.

Tom Clark:

We’ve got that on tape.

Alison Redford:

Okay (laughing).

Tom Clark:

Premier Redford, thank you very much.  It’s always a pleasure to talk to you.

Alison Redford:

Thank you.

Tom’s Take:

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A final word hopefully, on Rob Ford.  We saw today, Justice Minister Peter MacKay virtually clam up on Toronto’s crack smoking mayor.  Now you might think that our chief law officer would have a strong condemnation of Ford who now openly admits that he breaks the law but the most that MacKay could muster was a weak shake of the head.  Why?  Well remember, Ford is a Conservative and he commands still a lot of votes in the GTA.  The federal Conservatives need every single one of them so they don’t want to offend Ford Nation.  This whole farce, which is quickly becoming tragedy, could happen again, if the political class can’t find the moral courage to say there really is a line that can’t be crossed.  It’s a sad day when partisanship trumps principle.

Well that is The West Block for this week.  Have a great week ahead.  I’m Tom Clark.  See you back here next Sunday.