THE WEST BLOCK
Episode 16, Season 8
Sunday, December 23, 2018
Host: Mercedes Stephenson
Guest Interviews: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Johanna Mizgala, Geoff Regan, Heather Lank
On this Sunday, one-on-one with the prime minister for a wide-ranging interview on oil, China, and during this holiday season, the faith and values that underpins his work in office.
Then, we’ll tour the hallowed halls of Centre Block, as the country says goodbye to the iconic building for at least a decade.
And maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more. How the Grinch Stole Christmas like you’ve never heard it before.
It’s Sunday, December 23rd. I’m Mercedes Stephenson, and this is The West Block.
Well, 2018 has been a year full of political challenges, from the oil crisis in Alberta to immigration, and diplomatic spats with China and Saudi Arabia, not to mention deficits. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is the man who’s had to handle it all. As Canada’s most powerful politician, he is ultimately accountable. He agreed to sit down with The West Block for a yearend interview, looking at his successes and challenges.
Mercedes Stephenson: Prime Minister, welcome to The West Block.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: Thank you, Mercedes.
Mercedes Stephenson: You’ve spoken in this chamber so many times. It looks a little different today. What message do you want to send to Canadians as we head into Christmas and the election in 2019?
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: Just that political debate that happens here, that happens in the West Block that we’ll be moving to after Christmas will continue to be focused on them, will be focused on bringing people together and talking about how we try to respond to the big challenges we’re facing now and into the future. And the fact that we come together as representatives from every corner of the country to serve and bring forward the concerns of our citizens is one of the extraordinary strengths of Canada.
Mercedes Stephenson: And speaking of concerns of your citizens and big issues, oil, of course, a huge one right now. Your government has announced over $1.6 billion for Alberta, but it’s not for more pipelines or for railcars.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: I think, first of all, we need to understand how much of a crisis folks in Alberta are going through right now, families are suffering. This is an extremely difficult time. We know the only real solution for Alberta oil companies, and for the industry, is to get our resources to new markets other than the United States. That’s been something that has been at the top of the industry’s wish list for about a decade and a half now, and we think we’re getting closer than we ever have before but there is still a lot of work to do.
Mercedes Stephenson: Why not buy the railcars that the Alberta government’s asking for?
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: Our officials are engaged very much with the Alberta government and we’re looking at that as a possible solution. We’ve heard from farmers and other folks who are worried about picking one important commodity over another. We know farmers have had challenges with getting their grain to ports on rail. We need to make sure there are no unintended consequences, but we’re absolutely looking at how the best solution is. We’re working with the Alberta government and if railcars end up being the right solution, then we’ll be happy to participate.
Mercedes Stephenson: In terms of going forward, you are, of course, running Trans Mountain. It goes through British Columbia. British Columbians say, “When Quebec said they didn’t want a pipeline, they didn’t get a pipeline. When we said we don’t want a pipeline, we’re having one bought by the federal government forced down our throat.” What do you say to British Columbians?
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: Actually, the British Columbia government, under Christy Clark, was supportive of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. There was a change in government and the government was opposed, but there were also a lot of folks in B.C., including Indigenous communities, who understand that it is important for us to get our resources to new markets other than the United States.
Mercedes Stephenson: How serious do you think western alienation is?
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: I haven’t met a lot of Canadians in any part of the country that have ill will towards any other Canadians in any other part of the country. I haven’t met—
Mercedes Stephenson: Although Albertans were booing French the other day.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: I haven’t met a lot of Albertans who genuinely wish ill of Quebecers and I haven’t met many Quebecers at all who wish ill of Albertans. I have seen politicians of various stripes in various places, trying to foment negative sentiments and play the kinds of divisive cards that we’ve seen in the past. That’s not my job as prime minister.
Mercedes Stephenson: Is part of this based on votes, because that’s one of the theories. There are only a few seats in Alberta for the Liberal party and therefore there has been a reluctance to act.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: And yet, I bought a pipeline because they’re looking for more seats—
Mercedes Stephenson: But only one pipeline.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: That was the only one for sale at that particular moment. I mean, what do you want me to say? This was the project we needed to move forward in the right way on. It was about to be cancelled by the proponent.
Mercedes Stephenson: One of the big concerns for Canadians this year has been asylum seekers and immigration. Your tweet saying, “Welcome to Canada” is often cited as the reason why these people are pouring across the border. Do you ever regret that tweet?
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: I think, first of all, if people are in the midst of migration around the world right now, it’s not because of a tweet restating almost word-for-word, Canadian policy on refuges, because that’s exactly what it was. And, certainly if people are fleeing the United States right now and are choosing to leave the United States right now. It’s not something I said. It is perhaps domestic realities within the political context in the United States that is driving people to move—
Mercedes Stephenson: The Trump administration.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: Or to make certain decisions. We have made sure that anyone coming to Canada, including through an irregular border crossing like Roxham Road in Quebec, gets a full security screening as soon as they arrive, gets put into our refugee processing system and will have their file properly analyzed.
Mercedes Stephenson: Are you concerned that this is going to turn Canadians against immigration?
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: When you have politicians deliberately disseminating falsehoods, like the global compact on immigration is a binding attack on our sovereignty. I mean these are the kinds of things that unfortunately, the Conservative party has chosen to start spreading as information, when they know, in fact, that that’s patently false. We see a political party going to a place that no mainstream political party in Canada has gone before, which is playing a very, very dangerous game of starting to turn Canadians against immigration, when most Canadians know full well that new families coming to their communities, integrating, creating jobs, creating opportunities, is part of what is growing and strengthening our economy.
Mercedes Stephenson: China has been a huge issue for your government in recent weeks. Do you believe that China is a national security threat?
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: I think China as the world’s second largest economy and growing is going to be a place that Canada needs to have a consistent and very carefully thought out policy on. We need to make sure that there is a framework, a predictable level of protections for Canadian businesses and for Canadians when they go to China, when they engage with China, while at the same time we’re standing up consistently for the rule of law, whether it’s concerns around the South China Sea, whether it’s concerns around a treatment of Uyghurs in Western China. There are questions that we’re always highlighting and we’re very much on those two tracks of engaging substantively in the kinds of value-based issues that Canadians expect, and looking for ways to protect and promote Canadian interests.
Mercedes Stephenson: There are two Canadians who have been detained in China in the wake of the arrest of a CFO of Huawei, here in Canada. A third has been detained too. Global Affairs is saying it looks like isn’t related to that. Have you had a chance to speak with President Xi about the Canadians who’ve been detained?
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: No, I have not reached out to speak with—
Mercedes Stephenson: Why not?
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: Because when you deal with consular cases, and we’ve demonstrated a certain level of success by escalating them through the proper processes, not going already into a place where we might have unintended consequences for a top level of engagement. We function on a rule of law basis. If we’re going to arrest or detain someone, we’re going to do it based on our rules without any political interference. China contends that it is doing the same thing and we’re going to take them at their word on that.
Mercedes Stephenson: You don’t believe there’s a link?
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: We are going to say okay, you’ve detained these people. We are going to take this, as you say, that’s independent from anything else going on. So great, share with us the evidence. Explain to us why you’re doing this. Allow us full consular access. Let’s go through the proper rule of law steps. And this is something that comes down to a really important principle for Canadians. Now there are folks out there who wonder if we’re Boy Scouts, because we’re always applying the rules and being responsible about the rules based order and the rule of law, when other countries are perhaps not doing that. Well, I can’t speak for what other countries are going to do, or what other choices other countries make. But I do know that a rules-based system and the protection of the rule of law, isn’t just about being, you know, good or nice. It’s about protecting all of us and all of our citizens.
Mercedes Stephenson: And that works at home, but it doesn’t necessarily work for Canadians who are abroad, like Canadians in China right now.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: But if we were to start changing the way we obey our own rules, we would then be perpetrating a system where there are no rules.
Mercedes Stephenson: Have you spoken to President Trump and asked him to go to bat to try to help Canada out here? Because his most recent statement that basically this could be a bargaining chip, I can’t imagine that’s helpful.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: Other countries will make determinations about what they say. We will continue to apply the rule of law—
Mercedes Stephenson: But have you asked the Americans for their backing at the presidential level?
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: We have communicated our questions to our counterparts in the United States. I have not spoken with the president on this issue yet.
Mercedes Stephenson: In China, one of the rules is that any company must work for Chinese intelligence if it is requested. Huawei, of course, is hoping to come here to Canada and have their 5G network, and a number of your Five Eyes allies have advised this is not a good idea. They’ve refused it in their own countries. You say the bureaucrats are looking at this, but as the prime minister, after watching this unfold, why would you ever allow Huawei to operate?
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: We are certainly taking a look at proposals and evidence by our partners, including the United States on why they’re making certain decisions. We will take very, very seriously what it is we need to do to protect Canadians, but we will not let politics interfere with that process. We’re going to make decisions based on what is right for Canadians, what is the best recommendation of the experts when it comes to national security and intelligence.
Mercedes Stephenson: Prime Minister, as we come into the Christmas season, a lot of Canadians are reflecting on their faith, whether it’s Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanza, Secularism. What does faith mean to you?
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: My Catholicism underpins my values, my approach to the role I have to serve my community and to serve my country and to serve my world and fellow citizens with the best I possibly can. It grinds me—grounds me in a sense that we are just passing through this world and need to serve as best we possibly can with peace and justice in our hearts.
Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, saying goodbye to Centre Block. We take you on a tour of the iconic building before it closes for more than a decade.
Mercedes Stephenson: Welcome back. It is the end of an era. Centre Block is an icon of Canadian democracy. The soaring Peace Tower and ornate halls have witnessed the country’s history. But democracy is on the move, renovations are forcing Centre Block to close for at least a decade. The House of Commons will be relocating to the West Block and the Senate to the historic train station.
I recently took a tour of Centre Block with a few of the people who call it home, starting with the curator of the House of Commons, Johanna Mizgala.
So Johanna, this is the rotunda. Tell me a little bit about this space.
Johanna Mizgala: This is really the main entrance for Centre Block. So what the architect John Pearson wanted people to have a sense of is the depth and breadth of the country, so that’s why you see all of the coats of arms for the provinces and territories and some of the animals and plant life from all across our country so that members when they come here have a sense of where they come from, why they’re here and what they’re here to do. And then, as I said, all of the coats of arms, including the sort of most recent addition to Confederation, of course, with Nunavut. So their coat of arms was put in almost 20 years ago. When they became part of Confederation, we were able to add it onto the space. And that’s one of the hallmarks of Centre Block as well that the sculptors are constantly adding to the space, so that there’s always a layer of the present and looking forward to the future.
Mercedes Stephenson: What was this built from? What are the carvings made of?
Johanna Mizgala: This is limestone and there’s this beautiful pattern in the limestone. If you see, it’s not a kind of solid stone. That’s because there are fossils all over the place within the stone, so you have the sense of the actual land where we come from all over the building.
Mercedes Stephenson: Then Johanna took me to the Hall of Honour. It’s a stunning space that unifies the entire building.
Johanna Mizgala: When you come in, you get a sense of the place right away and it’s obvious when you come into this building that something special happens here and that it’s important. And I think that is really conveyed in a space like this.
Mercedes Stephenson: Next to the foyer are the House of Commons, a place where I’ve spent many hours of my life chasing ministers, scrumming MPs and listening to press conferences.
Johanna Mizgala: When it isn’t being used for those functions, it’s the foyer to the House of Commons. So through those doors, members would come up and they would come into the space. And the ceiling was designed by the architect John Pearson and it’s one of the features of the building that relates most squarely to government, not Parliament. There are symbols of the different ministries, there’s the kind of clear relation that the legislation of the country happens beyond those doors.
Mercedes Stephenson: Then we walked across the building to the Senate foyer.
Johanna Mizgala: In terms of the architecture of the building, of course, they’re mirrors to one another. So there’s a set of stairs and an entrance for the senators to come up. If you come into the space, and we look up, you’ll see that there is another stained glass ceiling, although this one, because of the relationship of the Senate to the sovereign, the symbols are a little bit different, of course.
Mercedes Stephenson: Is there a reason why the Senate colour is red and the House of Commons is green?
Johanna Mizgala: Well red goes back, of course, to the monarchy and to that kind of luxuriousness of a richness of colour. And then on the House side, of course, it’s the House of Commons, the space of the common people. So the green actually relates to kind of the village square and the green lawn of a place where the community would gather for decisions to be made.
Mercedes Stephenson: From the Senate, we visited a sacred spot in the heart of Centre Block, the Memorial Chamber. It contains books of remembrance, naming each person who has given their life in service of Canada. At 11 o’clock each day, a page is carefully turned, to allow each name to be on display at least once a year.
From there, we walked over to a place full of stories, where I met the man who loves to tell them, Geoff Regan, the Speaker of the House of Commons.
What an incredible office this is.
Speaker Geoff Regan: Well, it’s kind of shabby, but they make me use it.
Mercedes Stephenson: Incredible history in this room, too. Tell me a little bit about some of the people who have been here in this room.
Speaker Geoff Regan: Well, there’s this young fellow over here.
Mercedes Stephenson: You may recognize him.
Speaker Geoff Regan: You might recognize him, who was here in December the 4th in 1941. He comes in as a photographer, a young photographer named Yousuf Karsh. Had his camera set up and a light, and Churchill says, “Why wasn’t told this?” His staff kind of chuckled, but he’s still in a good mood. He lights up a cigar and he says to the photographer, “You got two minutes.” But Karsh wants to capture the personality of this guy who is the leader of the free world, so he asked Churchill to remove his cigar. He declines to remove his cigar, of course. So Karsh reaches into his bag and pulls out a light meter, and he walks over to Churchill as if he’s taking a reading so he can adjust the settings on his camera and he says, “Forgive me, sir, perhaps the cigar.” He walks back to the camera and he takes the picture and that’s the reaction he gets, and it becomes perhaps the most famous photographic portrait ever taken.
Mercedes Stephenson: I had no idea that was taken in this office.
Speaker Geoff Regan: Exactly.
Mercedes Stephenson: Thank you so much, sir. We said our goodbyes and I headed off to the only original part of the building, the incredible library where parliamentary librarian, Heather Lank explains why she thinks the space is so special.
Heather Lank: When you walk in, it has a completely different feel from the rest of the building, and you can even smell something different with the air from the books and the wood, because the rest of the building, as you know, is mostly stone. When you come in here, you’re struck by the difference in the tone and the colour and the materials that are used. So, I love the fact that it captures so much of Canada’s history. You also have about 1,600 carvings which are extraordinarily beautiful, and of course, having this statue which draws you eye up towards the done, I think, is something very special. It also has a sense of calm and peace, and this is a place where parliamentarians and their staff can come for reflection, concentration, consultation with our staff. It’s really a bit of an oasis, where they can get important work done on behalf of Canadians.
Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, a Christmas reading that will make your heart grow three sizes.
Mercedes Stephenson: Welcome back. Christmas isn’t about the presents, decorations or the fancy dinners. It’s something we all know but can forget at this time of year, so here’s a reminder from Parliament Hill.
EVERY WHO DOWN IN WHO-VILLE LIKED CHRISTMAS A LOT.
BUT THE GRINCH, WHO LIVED JUST NORTH OF WHO-VILLE, DID NOT!
THE GRINCH HATED CHRISTMAS! THE WHOLE CHRISTMAS SEASON!
NOW PLEASE DON’T ASKY WHY. NO ONE QUITE KNOWS THE REASON.
(Elizabeth May: Green Party Leader)
IT COULD BE HIS HEAD WASN’T SCREWED ON JUST RIGHT.
IT COULD BE, PERHAPS, THAT HIS SHOES WERE TOO TIGHT.
BUT I THINK THAT THE MOST LIKELY REASON OF ALL
MAY HAVE BEEN THAT HIS HEART WAS TWO SIZES TOO SMALL.
(Jagmeet Singh: NDP Leader)
BUT, WHATEVER THE REASON, HIS HEART OR HIS SHOES
HE STOOD THERE ON CHRITMAS EVE, HATING THE WHOS
FOR HE KNEW EVERY WHO DOWN IN WHO-VILLE BENEATH
WAS BUSY NOW, HANGING A HOLLYWHO WREATH.
(Rosemary Falk: Conservative- Battlefords –Lloydminster)
“AND THEY’RE HANGING THEIR STOCKINGS,” HE SNARLED WITH A SNEER.
“TOMORROW IS CHRISTMAS! IT’S PRACTICALLY HERE!”
THEN HE GROWLED, WITH HIS GRINCH FINGERS NERVOUSLY DRUMMING,
“I MUST FIND SOME WAY TO KEEP CHRISTMAS FROM COMING!”
(Rodger Cuzner Liberal-Cape Breton-Canso)
FOR, TOMORROW, I KNOW ALL THE WHO GIRLS AND BOYS
WILL WAKE BRIGHT AND EARLY. THEY’LL RUSH FOR THEIR TOYS!
THEY’LL STAND CLOSE TOGETHER, WITH CHRISTMAS BELLS RINGING.
THEY’LL STAND HAND-IN-HAND. AND THE WHOS WILL START SINGING.
(Anita Vandenbeld: Liberal-Ottawa West-Nepean)
“WHY, FOR FIFTY-THREE YEARS I’VE PUT UP WITH IT NOW!
I MUST STOP CHRISTMAS FROM COMING, BUT HOW?
I KNOW JUST WHAT TO DO.” THE GRINCH LAUGHED IN HIS THROAT
“I’LL MAKE A QUICK SANTY CLAUSE HAT AND A COAT.”
(John Nater; Conservative- Perth-Wellington)
THEN HE SLID DOWN THE CHIMNEY. A RATHER TIGHT PINCH.
BUT, IF SANTA COULD DO IT, THEN SO COULD THE GRINCH.
WHERE THE LITTLE WHO STOCKINGS HUNG ALL IN A ROW.
“THESE STOCKINGS,” HE GRINCHED, “ARE THE FIRST THINGS TO GO!”
(Alaina Lockhart-Liberal- Fundy Royal)
THEN HE SLITHERED AND SLUNCHED WITH A SMILE MOST UNPLEASANT
AROUND THE WHOLE ROOM AND HE TOOK EVERY PRESENT
TEN THOUSAND FEED UP, UP THE SIDE OF MOUNT CRUMPET
HE ROAD WITH HIS LOAD TO THE TIPTOP TO DUMP IT.
(Gord Johns; NDP-Courtenay-Alberni)
“POOH-POOH TO THE WHOS!” HE WAS GRINCHILY HUMMING.
“THEY’RE FINDING OUT NOW THAT NO CHRISTMAS IS COMING!”
“THEY’RE JUST WAKING UP! I KNOW JUST WHAT THEY’LL DO!
THEIR MOUTHS WILL HANG OPEN IN A MINUTE OR TWO,
THEN THE WHOS DOWN IN WHO-VILLE WILL CRY BOO-HOO!”
(Cathy McLeod; Conservative-Kamloops-Thomspon-Cariboo)
AND HE DID HEAR A SOUND RISING OVER THE SNOW,
IT STARTED IN LOW. THEN IT STARTED TO GROW…
BUT IT WASN’T SAD!
WHY THIS SOUND SOUNDED GLAD!
(Nick Whalen; Liberal- St. John’s East)
EVERY WHO DOWN IN WHO-VILLE, THE TALL AND THE SMALL,
WAS SINING WITHOUT ANY PRESENTS AT ALL
HE HADN’T STOPPED CHRISTMAS FROM COMING! IT CAME
SOMEHOW OR OTHER, IT CAME JUST THE SAME!
(Cheryl Hardcastle; NDP-Windsor-Tecumseh)
HE PUZZLED AND PUZZLED, TILL HIS PUZZLER WAS SORE.
THEN THE GRINCH THOUGHT OF SOMETHING HE HADN’T BEFORE!
“MAYBE CHRISTMAS HE THOUGHT DOESN’T COME FROM A STORE.
MAYBE CHRISTMAS…PERHAPS…MEANS A LITTLE MORE!”
(Sheila Malcolmson; NDP-Nanaimo-Ladysmith)
AND WHAT HAPPENED THEN…? WELL, IN WHO-VILLE THEY SAY
THAT THE GRINCH’S SMALL HEART GREW THREE ZIES THAT DAY!
AND THEN THE TRUE MEANING OF CHRISTMAS CAME THROUGH
AND THE GRINCH FOUND THE STRENGH OF TEN GRINCHES PLUS TWO
(Larry Miller-Conservative-Bruce-Grey-Owen Sounds)
WITH A SMILE TO HIS SOUL HE DESCENDED MOUNT CRUMPET
CHEERILY BLOWING WHO WHO ON HIS TRUMPET
HE ROAD INTO WHO-VILLE HE BROUGHT BACK THEIR TOYS.
HE BROUGHT BACK THEIR FLOOF TO THE WHO GIRLS AND BOYS.
(Andrew Scheer-Conservative Party Leader)
HE BROUGHT EVERYTHING BACK, ALL THE FOOD FOR THE FEAST.
AND HE HIMSELF, THE GRINCH, CARVED THE ROAST BEAST.
MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!
Mercedes Stephenson: That’s our show for today, thanks for joining us. I’m Mercedes Stephenson, wishing you and your loved ones a very Merry Christmas and happy holidays from all of us at The West Block. See you next week.
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