THE WEST BLOCK
Episode 35, Season 10
Sunday, May 23, 2021
Host: Mercedes Stephenson
Dominic LeBlanc, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister
Brian Bowman, Winnipeg Mayor
Anita Vandenbeld, Liberal—Ottawa West—Nepean
James Bezan, Conservatives—Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman
Randall Garrison, NDP—Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke
Location: Ottawa, Ontario
Mercedes Stephenson: This week on The West Block: Canada’s first-dose vaccination rate accelerates. What does it mean for reopening the border and a return to normal? How will we know when it’s safe? Minister Dominic LeBlanc is on the show.
While some parts of the country are loosening restrictions, a cry for help from Manitoba. Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman joins us.
Partisan paralysis at the House of Commons defence committee, as Liberal MPs battle the opposition over whether to call more witnesses, we’ll talk to the players. Plus a hint about when Canadians might get a new governor general as a possible fall election looms.
It’s Sunday, May 23rd. I’m Mercedes Stephenson, and this is The West Block.
Canada now outpaces the United States in terms of single COVID-19 vaccine doses that have been administered. In fact, the rates have doubled in five weeks, reaching nearly 20 million jabs in arms. But as more Canadians get the shot, questions remain on what the summer might look like. Will we be able to travel to other provinces, for example, or go across the border? Will there be enough second doses coming fast enough to hit the government’s benchmarks and ease restrictions?
Joining me to talk about all of this is Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc. Thank you so much for joining us today, minister.
Dominic LeBlanc, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister: Good morning, Mercedes.
Mercedes Stephenson: One of the topics that we’ve been hearing a lot about over the past week, and certainly, I think on a lot of Canadians minds, as we are in the May 2-4 weekend, is when they’ll be able to travel again both inter-provincially and to the United States. What benchmarks is your government looking for before you think that kind of travel is going to be safe and when can Canadians expect that?
Dominic LeBlanc, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister: Mercedes, it’s a great question. We’re hearing it all the time, obviously, I hear it from people in my own family, my colleagues. Everybody, understandably, is impatient for a time when it’ll be safe and appropriate to once again, travel—plan to travel within Canada or travel abroad. The decisions around travelling between Canadian provinces are properly in the hands of provincial governments. We’re focusing on international travel. I’ve had a number of conversations, as has Omar Alghabra, for example, with the airline sector. My colleague, the minister of immigration, is working on some potential options around international vaccine certification in terms of travelling internationally. Those decisions will be governed by what public health advice we get from experts, from doctors and scientists in Canada. They’re looking at things like obviously the COVID case count, the positivity rates for incoming travellers. They’re looking at the stress or capacities of health care systems and obviously, Mercedes, vaccination rates are a critical piece of that calculation. We’re hoping that as the vaccination rates continue to increase, as they have been over the last number of weeks and hopefully the case counts across the country continue to come down, there’ll be a moment where it’s appropriate to plan those trips. We’re not there this weekend, but we understand peoples’ anxiousness to get there.
Mercedes Stephenson: Your government is discouraging Canadians from crossing the border to get the vaccine in the U.S. in some border communities that are offering that. Why is that? Why don’t you want people to cross and get the vaccination, instead have them wait here when they’re looking at wait times and saying well what if it takes me two months before I get my first vaccine?
Dominic LeBlanc, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister: So obviously we’re doing whatever we can to accelerate the number of vaccines that can arrive in Canada and be handed over to provincial authorities to be administered. Last week alone, four and a half million vaccines arrived in Canada. The good news is Pfizer alone has confirmed over 2 million a week for all of the weeks in June and into July. We’ll have millions of Moderna vaccines arriving, so we’re very confident in our ability to get as quickly as possible, the vaccines necessary for Canadians in Canada.
Back to our earlier conversation about travelling internationally, crossing international borders is not something that’s recommended. In a number of cases, I spoke to the premier of Manitoba, for example, a few weeks ago. His—the project that he had with neighbouring states to vaccinate truck drivers who cross the international border for essential purposes in their job as truck drivers, that was a good example. We’re in ongoing conversations with the American government, with President Biden’s administration around getting any vaccines from the United States into Canada that could be delivered into Canada and then safely administered in your local community by local health authorities or pharmacists as provinces decide. That remains the priority for us. But again, if public health authorities come to us and say there’s a specific plan in a specific border community that in their view does not pose an increased risk, of course we would look at that. But for the moment, Mercedes, our priority is very much on getting vaccines into Canada and then safely administer it to Canadians. The great news is so many Canadians want to get vaccinated. I’m waiting for my second dose of Moderna like so many other Canadians. I think it’s a great thing if we can get them into Canada quickly and have people fully vaccinated.
Mercedes Stephenson: Quick question. I know that we’re looking for a new governor general. Where are you at in that process?
Dominic LeBlanc, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister: We’ve had our sort of committee, our advisory committee that’s preparing a short list for the prime minister, has had 11 meetings. We started on March 24th was our first meeting and we’re—we’re sort of wrapping up. We have arrived at a much shorter list than when we started our conversations as a group. We’re at the stage now where all of the necessary vetting is being done. Obviously, we want to ensure that there’s a robust and comprehensive vetting process. I’m confident in the next few weeks we’ll have completed that specific work and then the prime minister will have to reflect on an outstanding Canadian that he could recommend to Her Majesty.
Mercedes Stephenson: So are you down to a single candidate now?
Dominic LeBlanc, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister: No, no, no, the—our committee, Mercedes, won’t give the prime minister only one name. We’re going to give him a short list of names. He’ll have a number of names from which we think an outstanding Canadian can be chosen to serve in that role. It’s going to be a list of more than one and less than 10.
Mercedes Stephenson: Do you think it’s important to have a governor general in place before we go to a federal election?
Dominic LeBlanc, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister: I don’t know when there’d be a federal election, Mercedes. We’re not looking for an election. We, unlike the Conservatives and the Bloc Quebecois, we don’t vote non-confidence in our own government. The Conservatives do all the time, maybe they’re looking for an election. We’re focused on governing, but we also—it’s not the election speculation that would drive this. It’s the chief justice of the Supreme Court has been acting as the administrator-in-chief of Canada. It’s not a situation that should continue for many more months, so we’re hoping that the prime minister will be given a list, as I say, in the next few weeks and that we can then proceed to choose the next governor general. It’s not something that’s going to drag on for months and months at all.
Mercedes Stephenson: Okay, Minister LeBlanc, thank you so much. Have a wonderful rest of your long weekend.
Dominic LeBlanc, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister: Well and to you too, Mercedes. Have a great weekend. Thanks for having me on your program.
Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, Manitoba is sounding the alarm, calling for federal support: An interview with the mayor of Winnipeg on what’s needed.
Mercedes Stephenson: Welcome back. Manitoba is a hot spot in this country as the province grapples with the third wave of COVID-19.
Last week, the prime minister spoke with both the Premier of Manitoba Brian Pallister and Winnipeg’s Mayor Brian Bowman. The message: Manitoba desperately needs support from Ottawa. Pallister asked for more health care workers and contact tracers, but the mayor of Winnipeg says that it’s the provincial government that needs to do more for support and even called for the military to help. Mayor Brian Bowman joins me now for more.
Thank you so much for making time for us, mayor. What is the situation in Winnipeg right now?
Brian Bowman, Winnipeg Mayor: Well it’s, I mean it’s pretty dire. I mean, our test positivity rate is at an all-time high of 16.1 per cent. Our provincial government over the last four days have been having to ship ICU patients to Ontario and we’re grateful for our neighbours in Ontario for helping Winnipeggers and Manitobans in their time of need. But the situation is pretty serious right now and so we’re not in a spot that we want to be as a province and as a city and so it’s a difficult time for Winnipeggers right now.
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Mercedes Stephenson: Why is this happening now? How did you get to where you are, because when I think about Toronto or Calgary or Ottawa or some of the other places we’ve had hot spots in the third wave, it seemed to peak a couple of weeks ago and it’s happening in Manitoba right now.
Brian Bowman, Winnipeg Mayor: Yeah, I mean it’s—it’s pretty clear. I mean it’s been clear for many weeks. Doctors and many others, myself included, were calling at the time for stronger more proactive measures. The measures that have been put in place just simply haven’t gone far enough to affect the outcomes that we all desire and so the provincial government brought in some new measures for the next five days that still allow non-essential businesses to remain open. You know, we definitely need our residents to follow the letter and the spirit of the provincial public health orders and so I think everybody has a part to do. But I think if you’re asking for a cause, I mean it’s pretty clear that the health orders have been too reactionary and needed to be stronger and more proactive a long time ago.
Mercedes Stephenson: So you don’t think that the premier has done enough to prevent this?
Brian Bowman, Winnipeg Mayor: Well I think the provincial government, really it’s, you know, this is a provincial government that has been taking measures to, you know, to protect us, but I mean they could have gone and they should have gone a lot further. And the challenge right now is our ICU doctors and nurses are telling us that they’re at capacity. I mean when you start shipping patients to other provinces because you simply don’t have the—the human resources, you’re past that critical phase and so, you know, real concern about what’s in store for our patients in the coming weeks and as well as the stress and strain that it’s putting on those in the health care sector. And so when I spoke with the prime minister earlier today and just apprised him of how—how urgent the situation is there and he assured me the federal government is there to provide support. Our premier needs to put in the request and needs to be effective at getting resources wherever they need to come from to help right now, though, because we know that the ICUs are in a terrible state right now. And so concern for COVID patients, but also for non-COVID patients who may have adverse effects as a result.
Mercedes Stephenson: Do you have any sense of where that support might come from? When you were talking to the prime minister or the federal government, are we talking about the military coming in? Are we talking about nurses and doctors from other provinces? What might that look like?
Brian Bowman, Winnipeg Mayor: You know, it could be—it could be any of those options and quite frankly, my—my concern is just making sure that the premier and the provincial government’s effective at getting those resources wherever they need to come from. I did say to the prime minister whether it’s Canadian Armed Forces or nurses or doctors from other jurisdictions, anything the federal government can do to help our provincial government get the staff that they need would be appreciated. And so we know Canadians, you know, crisis after crisis, Canadians pitch in and we’ve seen that happen in other provinces. And of course, if our provincial government is successful in getting those additional resources, its’ going to help us weather the storm that we’re in right now as a community.
Mercedes Stephenson: When it comes to vaccinations, obviously the long-term solution, I know there have been discussions, some provinces, about trying to vaccinate in hot spots around the clock, accelerate it. Are you looking at asking the provincial government for something like that in Manitoba?
Brian Bowman, Winnipeg Mayor: Yeah, I mean we’ve been suggesting they consider all options, whether they’re drive-thrus 24/7, just anything to get more vaccines deployed as quickly as possible. Part of the challenge is the data sharing practices are not incredibly robust and so municipal leaders don’t necessarily know exactly what demographics, where those areas of need are so that we can be more effective in supporting provincial government. The concern is in the coming weeks and months we may hit a bit of a wall in terms of the number of residents who are willing to get a vaccine. I’ve got my, you know, I went with my wife three weeks ago today to get my AstraZeneca and I’m glad that I got that shot. I’ll be going for my second shot in due course. But you know the vaccine hesitancy is a real issue and really breaking down the barriers that exists in our community to make sure people have the information they need and are informed so that they can, you know, hopefully get the vaccine as quickly as possible.
Mercedes Stephenson: Does that mean that you don’t think AstraZeneca should be limited as a first shot, that all options should be available?
Brian Bowman, Winnipeg Mayor: Well I’ll leave it to the health professionals in terms of which shots should be given to whom. I just—you know the first shot that was available for me was AstraZeneca so I took it and I’m glad that I did.
Mercedes Stephenson: Well mayor, thank you so much for your time. Please stay safe and stay healthy, and we wish our best to the people of Winnipeg and Manitoba.
Brian Bowman, Winnipeg Mayor: Thanks very much. Have a great weekend.
Mercedes Stephenson: Coming up, members of the House of Commons defence committee join me for the latest on their investigation into sexual misconduct in the Canadian military.
Mercedes Stephenson: The House of Commons defence committee is supposed to be looking into sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces, but the committee is seized by partisan politics that are paralyzing its progress, as the government insists no more witnesses need to appear, while the opposition say there is much more to be investigated.
Joining me now to talk about this are three MPs from the committee: Liberal Anita Vandenbeld, Conservative James Bezan, and the NDP’s Randall Garrison. Thank you for joining us.
I know that there’s been lots of debate and discussion, so let’s start with the most basic question: Where are we at right now and what the committee is doing? Anita
Anita Vandenbeld, Liberal—Ottawa West—Nepean: Yes, thank you, Mercedes and thank you for having us on the program. Today’s meeting, it was a special meeting that was called ended at the time that it was meant to end, and I think what we’re seeing right now is a number of procedural tactics to try to drag out the study at a point where what I think we all really need to see is concrete recommendations. I’m still hoping the committee could come to a consensus around those recommendations that impact survivors. I think we heard from a number of witnesses. The study was meant to be three days. It’s gone on for four months. And I would really like, at this point, to make sure that in the coming weeks we’re able to get a consensus report with the kind of recommendations that are going to help us to move ahead.
Mercedes Stephenson: Okay. James and Randall, you both look like you disagree with that. I take you have a different impression of what’s happening in committee right now.
James Bezan, Conservative—Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman: Well the only one’s that’s doing procedural tactics are the Liberals with their ongoing filibusters and blocking witnesses from appearing and that over half our time in committee has been spent either suspended or in filibusters by the Liberals stopping people like Zita Astravas, the former chief of staff to Minister Sajjan from appearing before committee. What does she know that the Liberals are going to this length to block her from appearing before committee regarding the allegations against General Jonathan Vance? It is [0:02:03 abhorrent] to watch the Liberals try to make a mockery of Parliament to avoid accountability and to cover up for both Justin Trudeau and Harjit Sajjan and what they knew and what they didn’t do to stop sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces.
Mercedes Stephenson: Randall, who is it that you’re wanting to have appear before committee who hasn’t yet?
Randall Garrison, NDP—Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke: Well Zita Astravas has been on our list for a long time and the minister of defence took upon himself to say she wouldn’t appear. But I think the important point, and I just have to go back to what Anita implied here, the important point is it’s the Liberals who are obstructing this committee, nobody else. Today, for example, the chair abruptly got up and left the chair, left the room, and then the rest of the Liberals signed out of the meeting. So what we had was a walkout by the Liberals, who would rather waste time, cancel meetings—suspend meetings. They’re the ones using the procedural tactics to try and prevent us from getting to the answers we need. And the answers we need are why nothing happened that was really effective to change the sexual misconduct culture in the Canadian forces. Somebody obviously knows the answer to that question and the Liberals don’t want us to find that answer.
Mercedes Stephenson: Anita, I understand what you’re saying about wanting to get the report and to get recommendations, but by the same token, the government has appointed Louise Arbour to do this. She’s an expert looking into it. You have a new position created in the Canadian forces, why is it so essential that the committee has to wrap up this study and make recommendations that one would assume would be coming, potentially from Ms. Arbour instead of hearing from more witnesses?
Anita Vandenbeld, Liberal—Ottawa West—Nepean: Well this is exactly—exactly the point. We had many, many witnesses, including the former clerk of the Privy Council, the minister for the six hours, the chief of staff to the prime minister and the secretary to cabinet, all of whom said essentially the same thing, which is that everybody acted in good faith at the time and that there was a desire to do an investigation but no information in order to be able to do it. And we’ve heard that consistently across all of the witnesses. I would very much like the committee to be able to work on the reports. There have been a number of meetings where we started and were going to look at the reports and then new motions came forward to bring yet more witnesses and now to re-bring witnesses that were there before because I think they’ve run out of new people to call. And I think the important thing here, is that the next study we’re doing is on military justice and we have former Justice Morris Fish, who is about to finish an incredibly important review of the military justice system, my hope is that we can—that actually review the reports and then move on to hear witnesses because for women who—and men—who have experienced this, the military justice system is key. We need to look at what we’ve done well over the years. We need to learn from the things that didn’t work and we know from survivors that a lot of harm has been done and our focus needs to be on that. And so to answer your question, I think the important thing now is instead of recalling more and more witnesses…
Mercedes Stephenson: Well in fairness, though, your government has had the recommendations since 2015 on getting things outside the chain of command, on having reports to Parliament and has refused to make a public commitment to doing any of those things despite having six years to do so. But I do want to also ask Mr. Bezan and Mr. Garrison, you know, you keep calling witnesses, why haven’t you called General Vance? Why haven’t you called Admiral McDonald? Why haven’t you tried to call any of the alleged perpetrators here?
James Bezan, Conservative—Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman: So in this, Mercedes, and it’s been over 105 days now since you first broke this story and the Liberal government has been back on their heels with their cover-up that you exposed, you know, that they’ve been doing for the past three years and the playbook is always the same. Now we don’t want to, you know, interfere in the current investigations by the CFNIS into General Vance, Art McDonald and others, but the playbook from the Liberals is always the same, is that it’s been a cover-up. They’ve taken no action at all on sexual misconduct in the armed forces, especially at the highest ranks and they only step out of the shadows when the media have been able to break the stories of now several general and flag officers who have been accused of sexual misconduct. So it’s because of the work of the media that we are able to know about these different allegations out there. We’ve got to let, you know, everybody’s entitled to due process, but the political leadership on this in particular, has been terrible. Whether it’s Justin Trudeau not knowing or he claims he doesn’t—didn’t know about, who made the decision not to tell him, why do they continue to only come forward with the proof of these allegations after the fact when it breaks in the news? And Mr. Sajjan continues to dither and delay, you know, Justice Deschamps’ report sat on his desk for almost six years and he did nothing with it and instead made excuses and provided cover to people like General Vance and others who are now standing accused of sexual misconduct.
Mercedes Stephenson: Randall we just have a few…
James Bezan, Conservative—Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman: Our men and women in uniform deserve so much more. There’s serious consequences because of this lack of political leadership, and if we’re going to change the leadership within the military and change the culture, then it is inherent that we get it right at the top and starting in the Prime Minister’s Office.
Mercedes Stephenson: We just have a few minutes left, but last word to you, Randall.
Randall Garrison, NDP—Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke: Well clearly the Liberals like to talk about the many things they did over the past six years, but the fact that while Operation Honour was in effect, there were more than 800 complaints of sexual assault or sexual harassment in the Canadian military. In any other organization, this would be a crisis. And in 2018, someone decided not to investigate General Vance, the person in charge of Operation Honour. Or if they didn’t, then no one cared enough to ask the important questions about how we could have such serious charges against so many senior officers in the Canadian forces. So if we want to get to the bottom of this, we can’t just go forward saying we’re going to do it all over again and we’re going to make the same promises we made before, we have to know who decided that there wouldn’t be serious action taken, who decided that the full recommendations of Madame Deschamps would not be followed.
Mercedes Stephenson: Alright, that’s all the time we have. I know we will be revisiting this because things are not over at the defence committee. Thank you all very much for joining us today.
Randall Garrison, NDP—Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke: Thank you, Mercedes
James Bezan, Conservative—Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman: Have a great day. Thanks.
That’s all the time we have for today. For The West Block, I’m Mercedes Stephenson and I’ll see you right back here again, next week.
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