THE WEST BLOCK
Episode 19, Season 5
Sunday, January 24, 2016
Host: Tom Clark
Guests: John McKay, Rona Ambrose, Frank McKenna
Tom Clark: On this Sunday, the Liberals have been in power for over three months and still no plan for our ISIS mission. Why is it taking so long? We’ll put that to the parliamentary secretary for the minister of defence.
Then from marijuana to an arms deal with Saudi Arabia, why are the Conservatives changing their tune? We’ll ask Interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose.
Plus, Atlantic Canada needs people and refugees need a home. Former New Brunswick premier Frank McKenna is here with a big idea.
It is Sunday, January the 24th, and from the nation’s capital, I’m Tom Clark. And you are in The West Block.
Tom Clark: Well the promise during the election campaign was pretty clear. Canada would pull its fighter jets from the Middle East if the Liberals took power. Well they did and three months later, things aren’t quite as black and white. Canadian jets are still dropping bombs and the Liberals have yet to announce what comes next. So with the world watching and waiting, there are increasing questions about whether this delay is costing Canada. Take a listen to one:
Speaker: I think we would have been able to continue playing the very active role in protecting ourselves by engaging there as well as contributing to regional security and to a much fuller extent had the government been able to make a decision about a month ago.
Well joining me now from Toronto, is the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Defence, John McKay. Mr. McKay thanks very much for being here.
John McKay: Hi Tom.
Tom Clark: So where’s the plan?
John McKay: Happy to. Well as you know, we did have an election. [Chuckles] We had an election about three months, about three months ago, and Mr. Trudeau’s position was well-known then and I think, you know, 70 per cent of the Canadian population said time to look at what our commitment might be. It wasn’t a case of withdrawing the commitment but rather a re-evaluation of the commitment and so the Canadian public, I think, expressed to us a concern that they didn’t want us to get much further involved in this until we had a very clear plan. And since then, Mr. Trudeau has—
Tom Clark: But that’s the point. Where is the plan? I mean normally in war you don’t have the luxury of sitting there for three or four months to try and figure out what you’re going to do. It’s not a complicated thing. You’ve said you’re going to pull out the jets. The jets are still there. The jets are still bombing.
John McKay: Yeah, yeah.
Tom Clark: Ah, you know—
John McKay: But it is—
Tom Clark: So?
John McKay: Well it is a complicated thing and the jets are still there and the mission is continuing and you don’t want a gap between the mission that is there and the mission that will be. And so in some respects we do have the opportunity to try to look at every opportunity to get this right. As you well know, this is a very complicated area of the world and I’d say to you, and to your listeners, name one mission in the last 100 years that’s gone right? And if you can name it, I’d be quite interested in it.
Tom Clark: Well I’d say — you asked, so I’d probably say World War II.
John McKay: Okay.
Tom Clark: And probably World War I and probably Korea, but listen, let’s move on.
John McKay: No, no, no, but I’m talking about the Middle East because going back to World War I, that is in some respects the origins of a lot of these difficulties under the Sykes-Picot Agreement—
Tom Clark: I understand that—
John McKay: This is a very complicated area.
Tom Clark: Fair enough, but let’s take a look at the calendar. In three weeks’ time, Canada will be at the meeting of all the coalition members, all 27 of them. The Americans have already said everybody coming to that meeting has to come with a wallet because they’re going to ask everybody to step up. So, the question is, will we have our plan in time for that meeting?
John McKay: I think that’s a reasonable assumption. We do have a government that does like to develop a fairly broad consensus. In the previous government there was a one-man show, so it was kind of easier to arrive at a plan. I think there have been broad and extensive consultations by both the prime minster and the minister. And I think that the elements of a plan are taking shape and we will be in a position to be a vigorous and robust contributor to the conflict.
Tom Clark: A former Liberal defence minister, Minister Pratt, has written that Canada could probably change its mission successfully to fighting in Africa alongside the French in places like Mali. Is that an option for Canada to move from Syria and Iraq into the African campaign?
John McKay: I suppose it’s an option. I can’t say whether it is or it isn’t being considered, but there are conflicts in all of those areas. This is a, as I was indicating earlier, a very complex conflict, and literally is around the world. So what is our most optimum, our most beneficial, our most useful contribution? And over the last two or three months we’ve been trying to arrive at what is the most beneficial thing that Canada can do given the resources that we have available to be deployed, and the skill sets. And we have some pretty impressive people in our military with intelligence skill sets and with training and assisting skill sets and so how they will be deployed, I think we’ll have to wait for that, but David’s right.
Tom Clark: Yeah, I think a lot of people have been saying perhaps we waited long enough. But let me ask you this final question, you know the last government signed a deal with NATO that said we would spend 2 per cent of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on defence. The previous government just ignored that and spent almost—just half of that. Is your government going to honour our commitment to NATO to spend 2 per cent of our GDP on defence?
John McKay: Well as you know we have fiscal challenges, shall we say, going forward. The economy is somewhat flat-lined and DND will be competing for those funds. I would on behalf—
Tom Clark: So is that a no?
John McKay: I would be very vigorous in our assertions that we do want to honour our commitments. We do live in a very complex threat environment and DND is the appointee end of that threat environment. And so I think that the minister will be at the table being very vigorous for not only our NATO commitments but our NORAD commitments, our domestic concerns, etc.
Tom Clark: So okay, that’s 2 per cent. John McKay thanks very much for—
John McKay: [Laughs] I wish that was true if you could do that.
Tom Clark: Thanks very much for joining us.
John McKay: Yeah, yeah, okay.
Tom Clark: Coming up, is the Conservative Party undergoing policy changes or changing position, simply as the Opposition Party?
Tom Clark: Welcome back. Well late last week, a firestorm swept across the political landscape going from east to west. A group of Montreal area mayors came out against the Energy East pipeline. The Saskatchewan premier, among many others, came out against the Montreal mayors.
Rona Ambrose is the Federal Interim Conservative Leader and she joins me now from Calgary. Ms. Ambrose thanks very much for being here. Listen in a situation like this, does somebody have to win and somebody lose or is there a compromise that can be cobbled between these two sides?
Rona Ambrose: Well I hope there is. I hope cooler heads will prevail. I hope that Mayor Denis Coderre did not mean the insult that he did end up giving to most Albertans. I think he thought when took a shot at the Wildrose Party; it was just a political party. But right now, they are really representing and reflecting the views of Albertans – and that’s the frustration with the lack of support for pipelines even after the new premier — NDP premier — here in the province has come forward with a very strong climate change plan, hopeful that that would make the case for pipeline and access to tidewater. So, it’s very frustrating for Albertans. Over 100,000 Albertans have lost their jobs and to hear a Canadian politician basically trying to deny the livelihood of Albertans has really made an impact here. And I think that Mr. Coderre needs to rethink what he has said. I think he has done it purely based on local politics, but this is a much bigger issue. This is about a part of the country that’s suffering and another party that could help. So I would encourage him to come to Alberta, talk to Albertans, listen to the facts on the ground, and make a decision about it based on facts.
Tom Clark: Okay, on that point, when you say he should go out there, are you offering to take Denis Coderre out to Alberta?
Rona Ambrose: I would love to. I would love for him to come to Alberta and hear from the community, hear about the world-leading climate change policy that Alberta has, the world-leading environmental policy that Alberta has. I think he needs—
Tom Clark: You want him to go with you?
Rona Ambrose: I would love it if he came with me, but if he doesn’t perhaps the Mayor of Calgary can host him, whatever makes him most comfortable. But he should come and also see how tough the situation is here, economically for Albertans. And yes, the oil prices are low, but part of building for the future for job creation and opportunities for Albertans is pipelines and Energy East is a pipeline that if Kathleen Wynne and Denis Coderre could see fit to actually look at the facts and think about the country as a whole not just their local politics. I think it would be—they would do a great service to the federation and to their friends in Alberta.
Tom Clark: Sorry, do you want the prime minister to get involved in this?
Rona Ambrose: Listen, my pitch to Trudeau is, he knows this—he is very good friends with Denis Coderre, he is very good friends with Kathleen Wynne, so pick up the phone and talk to them. I hope by now he knows the importance of pipelines, particularly Energy East which has broad support, we thought — at least from premiers other than Kathleen Wynne. Even the premier in New Brunswick is supportive and we need job creation in New Brunswick as well. So I hope that Prime Minister Trudeau can pick up the phone and use his influence with Kathleen Wynne and his influence with Denis Coderre and get them onside for a project that really is about nation building.
Tom Clark: I want to switch gears here very quickly, Ms. Ambrose, and it’s about the nature of the shift from being in government to being in Opposition. You know, during the last campaign, one of the big policies of your party was a snitch line for barbaric cultural practices. You had two of your ministers standing up pitching this. Do you still want there to be a snitch line for barbaric cultural practices in this country?
Rona Ambrose: [Chuckles] Look, I was very clear in my first press conference is that I don’t support it. And I know you think that’s a switch, but Tom, I am the leader of the party now. My leader of the caucus, we’ve discussed these things and we take positions. So no, I do not support it. And listen, I worked with–
Tom Clark: Okay but a lot of Canadians might ask you this question though, if you didn’t agree with it, why didn’t you say so during the campaign?
Rona Ambrose: I appreciate that, I do, but listen, I am the Leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, the interim leader, and when these policies come forward, whatever they are, for instance, my obvious support for an inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women, we discuss them and we take a position on them. So we are the Opposition, we are going to hold the government to account on all of these issues. And—
Tom Clark: Fair enough, but just—I’m sorry to interrupt, but because I do have to ask this. This is not just on one or two issues, this is on a whole range of issues that you said, at the time when you were in government, were very principled positioned that you took, everything from getting rid of the long-form census, now you’re in favour of it coming back. The deal with Saudi Arabia, the arms deal, you didn’t want to say anything about it then, but now you want complete transparency. So a lot of people might saying wait a minute, I don’t get this. How could you have had those strongly held positions on principle six months ago and now those principles don’t exist anymore?
Rona Ambrose: That’s not—I just don’t believe that to be the case at all Tom. I think that’s a ludicrous argument to make.
Tom Clark: Why?
Rona Ambrose: I mean, for instance on the Saudi Arabian deal, Saudi Arabia is an approved country by Canada, by the Government of Canada, on the approved list to sell arms to and that is something that allows a Canadian company to make the sale of armoured vehicles, but since then—
Tom Clark: But it’s not the sale, it’s the transparency. You didn’t want transparency when were you in government and now you want transparency now.
Rona Ambrose: Tom, since then there has been some very serious issues that have happened, human rights issues that have transpired in Saudi Arabia, and so the question now, because there is a new government…
Tom Clark: Well—
Rona Ambrose: …is will this government review that record, and will that have any impact?
Tom Clark: Okay.
Rona Ambrose: Look, we’re the Opposition. It’s our obligation to ask questions of the government.
Tom Clark: Okay.
Rona Ambrose: They are now the government, they’re not in election mode any more and they have to make decisions, and I have to answer those questions.
Tom Clark: Alright, we’re—I wish we had more time to talk about this but will be talking again. Rona Ambrose, the Interim Leader of the Federal Conservative Party, I thank you very much for your time today.
Rona Ambrose: Thanks, Tom. Good to talk to you.
Tom Clark: Up next, over 12,000 Syrians have arrived in Canada, should some of them be forced to live out east to gain citizenship?
Tom Clark: Welcome back. Well nearly half of the 25,000 Syrian refugees have now arrived on our shores. Most have gone to the big cities, but a former premier of New Brunswick says this country is missing a unique opportunity and Atlantic Canada is the answer. Frank McKenna has a very big idea. We’ll hear from him in a moment, but first, how is one family adjusting down east?
Tom Clark (Voiceover): Just down the street from the welcome sign is Mohamad Al-Kafri, his wife, Fadya and two-year-old, Amir. They came here just a few weeks ago, the first Syrians to set foot in Lunenburg County. In every way, this is a long way from their home town Daraa, which is now fully engulfed in the Syrian civil war.
More than 12,000 Syrian refugees have arrived in Canada since the Liberals came to power and most of them have settled in large urban centres like Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, and Ottawa. But he premiers in Atlantic Canada are pressing the federal government to send them more families like the Al-Kafri’s.
Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil: We need people. We have an aging demographic. We have—we need young people. We need people out consuming goods and services, building jobs and creating economic opportunity.
Tom Clark: And frankly Mohamad wouldn’t mind some company. John MacDonald leads the group that brought the Al-Kafri’s to Bridgewater.
John MacDonald: We recognize from the beginning when we knew families were coming, there was special challenges. So in recognizing, we made preparations to address those situations. Number one of course being language, number two integrating them into the community because the ultimate objective is that they become permanent members of this community.
Tom Clark: To do that, to convince the Al-Kafri’s that their future lies in Bridgewater will mean convincing them that there’s as much opportunity here as in the big cities, and that’s a pretty tall order.
Tom Clark: And joining me now is Frank McKenna, the Former Premier of New Brunswick, Vice-Chair of the TD Bank, and also formerly Canada’s Ambassador to Washington. Mr. McKenna thanks very much for being here. Let’s drill down into your idea a little bit because it is more than just trying to get immigrants to go to Atlantic Canada. You’re proposing that they have to, in a sense, stay there for five years before they be eligible for citizenship. In other words, that’s almost like putting up a fence around Atlantic Canada for arrivals. Is this creating almost a two-tiered system of immigrants or refugee settlements in Canada?
Frank McKenna: Yeah, well we have a two-tier system now. One tier everybody goes to Toronto or Vancouver or Montreal and the second tier don’t go anywhere else. So bottom line is Atlantic Canada gets virtually none of the immigrants now, only 2.5 per cent, and the rest of them all go somewhere else. So we really live with a two-tier system and have for a long time. So what my argument is, is really going back to an idea of a former minister of immigration, Denis Coderre where he talks about a social contract where some immigrants are directed to do what they used to have to do a long time ago, is go to certain communities in Canada and spend a period of time. There could be three years, four years, five years, smart people figure it out. And it’s up to that community to keep them there and lay down roots. And after that period of time, they go from having a temporary status to a permanent status. So that’s what I’m proposing and if we don’t do that, we’ll never get roots laid down. If we don’t get roots laid down, we will never have immigrants coming to our region because they want to go to places where there are communities of immigrants and so it’s a catch-22 that we have to break somehow or other.
Tom Clark: Let’s assume that this in place and that now you’ve got thousands of new Canadians arriving in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, PEI, and Newfoundland, can that region handle a sudden influx? I mean part of the problem in Atlantic Canada, you know better than anybody else, is unemployment. I mean they’re going into an area where there really aren’t a lot of jobs.
Frank McKenna: Well, first of all, there’s a big obligation on both sides. And by the way, what I’m talking about is a kind of a pilot project, something that if it works there could work in other rural communities across Canada. But there’s a big responsibility on the part of our citizens in our communities to make sure we settle people, to make sure they’re well looked after and that they’re going to want to lay roots down in the community. In terms of jobs, I would say two things. First of all, there is high unemployment in our region, but the bizarre counterpoint to that is there are thousands of jobs that are going unfilled. We use the temporary foreign worker program to fill thousands and thousands of jobs because we don’t have people to work in those businesses. So we’re bringing in people now by the thousands, so that’s number one. But number two, in many cases, immigrants, especially trained or entrepreneurial immigrants, they not only take jobs, not only come to the region, but they create jobs and that’s what we need. You know when you look at Toronto or Montreal or Vancouver or Calgary, these places, a lot of their growth is fueled by the entrepreneurship of these immigrants who make these terrific industries and products and so on. We don’t have that in Atlantic Canada and as a result we just don’t have that stimulation in our economy to create jobs for other people.
Tom Clark: Let’s keep gaming this out a little bit. So let’s assume that the pilot project has started, so we’re not talking about a lot of people, but there are some rural communities and villages and town that are now seeing an influx of new Canadians coming in, and even though you say, and of course you’re right, that Atlantic Canada has to bring in temporary foreign workers, what do you about the backlash within the community itself of people who might say, ‘Hey look they’ve come here to take my job away. I’m still unemployed and look they’re working.’ Are you setting up the conditions here for a social disconnect?
Frank McKenna: Yeah, I think you’ve put your finger on a very real problem. There’s no doubt when I’m talking to people in my communities at home, that’s the argument that they would make. But on the other hand, when I go to farmer’s markets and places like that around our region or handicraft fairs and so on, a lot of the people there are immigrants who are finding ways of making money and creating jobs for themselves. They come from cultures where you eat what you kill. They come from cultures where desperation is part of their everyday life. Quite frankly, we’ve gotten away from that to some extent in our region because we’re well supported with important programs, social programs, and we need new blood. We need new energy. We need a hint of that desperation from people who will help create other jobs. So our political leadership and our business leadership and our community leadership would have a big responsibility here to convince all of our citizens that we’re better off having more people, people who will go to our restaurants and create jobs, people who will want housing and create jobs, and people who will create small businesses that will create other jobs.
Tom Clark: Frank, in the short time that we’ve got left, can you outline to me what will happen to Atlantic Canada if something like this does not happen?
Frank McKenna: Ah but there—you’ve put your finger on it. You know this is not a perfect idea. I can make lots of objections to it myself, but if we don’t do that, we suffer a slow and lingering death. Our population now, on average, is about eight years older than that in Alberta. Our health care cost increased dramatically and exponentially as the population ages. We’re closing rural schools. We’re closing rural hospitals. Our universities are desperate for students from outside the region. So we’re the canary in the coal mine for rural communities all across Canada. If we don’t do this, Atlantic’s just going to slide from bad to worse. Governments are going to have it tougher and our communities are going to become very hard to sustain.
Tom Clark: Frank McKenna always a great pleasure talking to you. Thanks for taking the time.
Frank McKenna: My pleasure, Tom.
Tom Clark: Well that is our show for today. I’m Tom Clark. Thanks for being here and we leave you now with some images of Syrian refugees trying skating for the very first time. See you next week.