THE WEST BLOCK

Episode 26, Season 3

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Host: Tom Clark

Guest Interviews: John Baird, Paul Johnson, Preston Manning, Naheed Nenshi

Location: Ottawa

Tom Clark:

Story continues below

HangZhou Night Net

On this Sunday, Ukraine puts its troops on combat alert as Russia invades Crimea.  Foreign Minister John Baird is here with the latest.

And, Preston Manning on what’s wrong with politics today and how to strengthen Canadians’ confidence in the democratic process.

And then, Calgary’s Mayor Naheed Nenshi on the problems facing Canada’s cities and the big question of whether he will make the move to federal politics in 2015.

It is Sunday, March the 2nd. I’m Tom Clark from the nation’s capital, and you are in The West Block.

Well events are moving very quickly in Ukraine.  Russian troops have taken control of the Black Sea Peninsula, that’s the location of the Russian Fleet in Ukraine.  And now there are reports that the Russians have moved deeper into Crimea in one case, surrounding a Ukrainian military barracks demanding their surrender. Diplomatic efforts are at a fever pitch. The American and Russian president’s spoke for an hour and a half last night; nothing was resolved.

Well joining me now from the Ukrainian Capital of Kyiv is Global’s Paul Johnson.  And Paul, I can see you’re standing in Independent Square. I want to ask you about the mood, is there a sense there of impending war?

Paul Johnson:

I think there really is. I mean the prime minister himself has said that this country, at this time, is on the brink of disaster.  Those were the words that he used.  If you talk to people down at Independent Square, the crowds in fact are a lot bigger today than they have been in the past couple of days.  People are very worried, their full of anxiety.  While it’s been peaceful here for a number of days now, they are very concerned about these events that are happening elsewhere.  Number one, the Crimean Peninsula where it seems the Russians basically have taken over and are consolidating their control and there could be some flare-ups with some of the Ukrainian forces that are there.  They are very worried about what may happen and some of the Eastern regions of Ukraine where there are a lot of Russian speakers; they are concerned that that might be Putin’s next move.  And of course, they are also wondering what is going to happen at the foreign capitals that have shown an interest here.  What is going to come out of Washington?  What’s going to come out of London?  And what’s going to come out of Brussels?  People tell me they have been hearing a lot of talk.  What they want and they say they need at this point, is action.

Tom Clark:

Paul in many respects, Ukraine is a broken state.  Does it even have the capacity now to defend its own borders?

Paul Johnson:

That’s a big question at this point.  From what we can gather, the total size of their military is about 130 thousand soldiers.  We are hearing anecdotal reports today that some messages may have been sent out through the media and through social media to try to reach their reserve forces, to try to get them ready and mobilized and put on a war footing, and that this possibly might include all men under the age of 40.  We haven’t seen really any buildup though around the City of Kyiv.  You don’t see Ukraine military formations.  You don’t see aircraft.  We know they do have a military.  Are they in any shape to repel the Russians?  That’s a huge question.

Tom Clark:

Very quickly Paul, the people that you’ve spoken with in that square in the few seconds we’ve got left, what are they telling you?

Paul Johnson:

Well they are worried.  They don’t want to give up on the situation.  They are very sceptical of Vladimir Putin’s justification for this entire invasion, which is what it seems to be, that they need to protect Russian people.  The Russian people we’ve met, and we’ve met some right down here in the very seat of the revolution, in Independent Square.  They tell us they are not having problems.  They are not in any danger.  In fact, some of those Russians were even saying they think Vladimir Putin should get out of Ukraine.

Tom Clark:

Paul Johnson from Independent Square. Paul thank you very much this morning – appreciate your time.

Paul Johnson:

My pleasure Tom.

Tom Clark:

Late yesterday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper called an emergency cabinet meeting to discuss the crisis.  Afterwards, he issued a statement strongly condemning Russia’s military intervention.  Canada is recalling its ambassador to Moscow for “consultations” and is withdrawing from preparation meetings for the upcoming G8 meeting in Sochi, Russia.

In a West Block exclusive for more on Canada’s response to the crisis, I am joined by Foreign Minister John Baird from Toronto.  Minister thanks very much for being here.  These events are moving very quickly.  In your view, how close are we now to a tipping point to war?

John Baird:

Well, this is nothing short of the old soviet style actions of President Putin, invading a neighbouring country.  It’s outrageous.  We want to condemn it in the strongest of terms.  Obviously when you take these types of provocative actions, the central government in Kyiv is going to feel the pressure to respond.  And that’s why we’re still want to push President Putin to stop this aggression.

Tom Clark:

One question that has to be asked at this point, we were just talking to Global’s Paul Johnson in Kyiv, and the question is, you know does Ukraine even have the capacity to defend its own borders?  Would Canada support any type of western military intervention?

John Baird:

I don’t think there’s anyone talking about western military intervention; none of our friends or allies.  What we are doing is working together to say in no uncertain terms that this is completely unacceptable and to condemn in the strongest language possible.  Obviously this will be an ongoing issue with our like-minded friends and allies. And we’ll obviously keep in close contact with the government in Kyiv.

Tom Clark:

One thing that Canada has done along with the UK and the United States at this point is to withdraw from preparatory meetings for the G8 meeting that was supposed to take place in Sochi in June.  Is the G8 meeting dead?  And is it possible that there could be a G7 meeting, in other words without Russia at some other place?

John Baird:

I think this decision rests with President Putin. Certainly next month there is a G8 foreign ministers meeting and if he continues with this provocative action, there is certainly no way I or Canada would want to have anything to do with Russian world leadership.  We’ve got to condemn this in the strongest of terms and to say this will have a major effect on Russia’s relationship, not just with Canada but the entire free and democratic world.

Tom Clark:
Minister one thing that we’re not doing, we’re still supporting the Paralympic Games in Sochi right now, why are we doing that?

John Baird:

Well listen, I mean this is not…this is about the athletes and not about governments.  But we sent the Minister of State for Sport to the Olympics last month and I think we’re going to have to obviously reconsider any government involvement, but we don’t want the athletes to pay the price for this.

Tom Clark:

When you say government involvement, what exactly do you mean by that?

John Baird:

I don’t think there’s any way we’d want to have senior level government leadership going there to somehow glorify Russia’s time in the spotlight.  At the same time, this matters a lot to our Paralympic athletes and we obviously don’t want them to be affected.

Tom Clark:
Speak to me a little bit about Russia’s basic claim that they say that they have a base in Crimea.  They need to protect their Black Sea Fleet.  That was a gift that they gave to Ukraine back in the 1950’s.  Is there any justification for Russia protecting its military assets in Crimea?

John Baird:

There’s absolutely no justification whatsoever.  The claims that President Putin puts forward are absurd and ridiculous.  He has no right to invade another country, a neighbouring country that’s struggling for freedom and democracy.  And the excuses and the rhetoric that’s coming out of Moscow are unacceptable.  No one is buying them in the western world and they make President Putin look ridiculous.

Tom Clark:

We have withdrawn our ambassador to Russia.  We’ve recalled him for consultations.  Can you see this escalating and I guess I’m asking for a bit of a preview here, but is it possible that Canada might take the step of expelling the Russian ambassador to Canada?

John Baird:

Certainly yesterday, while I was returning from Kyiv, my deputy minister and associate deputy minister called in and demarched in the strongest of terms, certainly in my time at Foreign Affairs, the Russian ambassador strongly condemned the provocative actions of his country and President Putin.  And we’ll obviously be revisiting this on an hour by hour basis.  What we want to do at the time being is Prime Minister Harper spoke with President Obama.  I’ve been speaking with other colleagues, is how can we act in unison from the democratic world to say this type of soviet era invasion of a neighbouring country in Russia is completely unacceptable, and it will not be business as usual for Russia in the world until this is dealt with.

Tom Clark:

Foreign Minister John Baird joining us from Toronto.  Minister thank you so much for taking the time this morning to be with us.  I appreciate it.

John Baird:

Thanks Tom.

Tom Clark:

Now before these latest events in Ukraine, we spoke with NDP leader Tom Mulcair about the crisis; the government’s decision to keep the Opposition out of Baird’s latest trip to Ukraine and his musings about a coalition with the Liberals.  You can find that interview on our website:  杭州夜生活thewestblock桑拿按摩.

Well coming up, Preston Manning on the biggest problem facing Canada’s Conservatives.

And then later, roads, housing, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi on the fix for Canada’s big cities.

Break

Tom Clark:

Welcome back.  Well it’s like Woodstock for conservative Canadians.  The Manning Conference in Ottawa draws hundreds, thousands of people to discuss and refine the small “c” conservative response to issues as well as identifying what’s next.  Well joining me now, the man who inspired the concept, the CEO of the Manning Centre, Preston Manning himself.  Mr. Manning always great to have you on the program.

Preston Manning:

Good to talk to you Tom.

Tom Clark:

Take me on a little bit of a tour; look over the horizon a little bit and tell me what the greatest challenge is for the conservative movement in this country.

Preston Manning:

Well I think one of the challenges is on the economic front.  I mean Conservatives have been strong on that front; I feel that that’s where they’re strong.  We have some polling data that indicates while people support these conservative type concepts, or at least we thought of them as conservative; balance the budgets or hold the line on taxes; expand trade, that a fair number of Canadians don’t automatically associate that anymore with conservative parties.  So there’s a fair amount of work that has to be done to build support for one of the main areas where conservatives have a contribution to make.

Tom Clark:
Is it sort of along the lines that Canadians assume that the economy is going to be well-managed because that’s the essential job of any government, that the Conservatives are losing that branding?

Preston Manning:

Well it may be that and it may be that this theme has been hammered away on for so long and has kind of become part of the woodwork that people don’t associate it with any particular party or government any longer.  But I do think it is a Conservative strength but work has to be done to build support for that strength.

Tom Clark:

I wanted to ask you, last time you and I talked, we talked about the environment, and you were saying that from a conservative point of view that the conservatives and I mean small “c” conservatives have to be less defensive about the environment, and treat it more as their own issue.  Since we talked about that last year, has there been a shift?

Preston Manning:

Well I think there’s slow progress but not as fast as I would like to see.  I think Conservatives could be very positive and proactive on the environment; conservation and conservative comes from the same root.  This living within your means which fiscal conservatives profess to be committed to is actually an ecological concept and conservatives believe in markets and markets can be harnessed to environmental conservation.   So I think there’s a growing interest in those ideas, particularly among younger people, but there’s lot to be done to get the politicos more comfortable with it.  I do think this new environment minister, Leona Aglukkaq from of course Nunavut with a real consciousness of the Arctic and how important the environment is.  I think she has a chance to kind of make a fresh start on environment and the balance with resource development that’s hopefully a positive development.

Tom Clark:

I’ve got to move on but there’s an area that I want to talk to you about and that is the execution of politics in this country.  You know, I hear from people outside the government but also inside the current government that their concern about a tone of nastiness and vindictiveness that comes out and I remember watching you when you first came to Parliament Hill.  You not only gave respect but demanded respect in political discourse when you were here.  Is there a danger of conservatism being equated with a mean-spirited view?

Preston Manning:

Well I think there is but I think it’s broader than that Tom.  I think there’s a danger of politics being associated with just negativity.  I think it actually started here when the Bloc was the Official Opposition and there was hostility particularly between the government and the Bloc.  I mean they wanted to break up the country; it was understandable.  And then it was compounded by the three minority governments where everybody’s in campaign mode every day.  People are afraid that they’re going to lose their jobs so I think all of that has added to this negativity.  And two of the things we try to tell Conservatives, and particularly younger people, is if you want to attack a position that’s okay but don’t attack the person.  Attack the position but not the person.  And my father used to have a saying that he gave to his partisans about once a year too.  He said; remember that the public are never as partisan as the partisans.  They will never love you and your gang the way you love them.  And they will never hate your opponents the way you might hate them.  There’s a line there and you step…you know you deify your position and demonize your opponents.  You cross a line where the public starts to get all…and I think attention has to be drawn to where those lines are.

Tom Clark:

Is there an easy fix for it?  I mean education and you telling young Conservatives in particular just what you said but how do we fix this right now?

Preston Manning:

Well there may be through some of the polling data by showing the politicos that you can cross a line where this negative becomes a negative for you in terms of public support.  That’s the language most of those folks understand and yes, so I think there are things that can be done.  And all the parties have got to work at it because it’s a kind of a mutual thing.

Tom Clark:

Preston Manning it’s always a pleasure to talk to you; always great to have you in the studio.

Preston Manning:

Thank you Tom.  Thank you for having me.

Tom Clark:

Thank you so much.

Well still to come on The West Block, a one-on-one with one politician who has no trouble getting votes.  Naheed Nenshi is coming up next.

Break

Tom Clark:

Welcome back.  Well all the economic talk here in Ottawa is about a balanced federal budget next year.  The talk in Canada’s major cities is all about staggering cost for vital infrastructure and who’s going to pay for it?

Among the cities asking that question is Calgary and its mayor, Naheed Nenshi joins me now.  Mayor Nenshi awfully good to have you on this program.  Thanks very much for being here.

Naheed Nenshi:

Hi.  Terrific to be with you.  Thank you for taking the time.

Tom Clark:
How much money does your city need right now for vital infrastructure?

Naheed Nenshi:

These numbers are staggering.  For transit alone, I need $13 billion dollars, and I’ve identified $1 billion. When we include things like roads, and clean water, and social infrastructure like fire halls and parks; we’re looking at a number well north of $30 billion dollars over the next 20 years or so.

Tom Clark:

Wow.  Now the federal government has got the Building Canada program; $14 billion on the table.  Is that not enough at least to get you going?

Naheed Nenshi:

Well it’s a beautiful start but let’s keep in mind that they announced a $14 billion program but when you take out the commitments they’ve already made, a special commitment they made to small and rural municipalities and so on, what we’re actually looking at is $9 billion a year.  Excuse me, $9 billion over 10 years; less than $1 billion a year to be spread across the whole country, large and small municipalities.  They’ve thrown universities and private sector organizations into the mix so this is barely a drop.  It’s a drop we appreciate very much but it is not going to make a difference to the millions of Canadians who are stuck in traffic every day.

Tom Clark:

So what do you do?  You’ve got these huge costs; you had some enormous costs because of those floods of course and looking ahead costs.  If you’re not getting it from the feds, where are you going to get this money?

Naheed Nenshi:

So here’s the problem, cities in Canada have very, very limited revenue generation tools.  We’re not allowed to run a deficit and we never do, and all we have is the property tax which is a horribly ineffective, inefficient regressive way of taxing people.  So let’s talk fiscal imbalance for a minute, remember that term?  It was much in vogue a few years ago.  Well we got it wrong.  The real fiscal imbalance in this country is not between provinces, it’s between different orders of government.  Take me as an example, my total tax revenue from property taxes every year is about $1.6 billion.  I have a $3 billion budget.  City of Calgary taxpayers send to the federal government, $10 billion dollars a year more than we receive in all federal services.  My budget’s $3 billion, we send them $10 billion.  So you understand the issue here.  I don’t have my hand out asking for please sir, can I have some more.  What I’m asking for is a small tax rebate so that we can invest in the infrastructure we need so that people will continue to live and work here and pay taxes to the federal government.  If employers can’t trust that their employees are going to get to work on time.  If people say, you know it’s just not worth living here; I’m losing hours a day of my life that could be with my family, I could be somewhere else, then that tax base disappears fast in today’s global world.  So we have to continue to make sure we’re investing in things like transit and clean water, and wastewater infrastructure, in parks, and roads because otherwise those taxpayers are going to disappear.  Those jobs could be in Dubai or Shanghai as easily as they could be in Calgary.

Tom Clark:

You know, I’d said at the beginning of the program that the talk here on Parliament Hill is all about a balanced budget by next year.  Are you, and I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but are you saying that the feds are balancing the budget in a sense on the backs of the cities like Calgary?

Naheed Nenshi:

Well of course they are, of course they are as federal governments before them have done for eternity, and that’s not such a bad thing.  Look, I understand there is a political pressure on the federal government.  Apparently there are some events happening in 2015 of some importance to them and they want to make sure that the budget is balanced before then; nothing wrong with that.  However, what we were expecting is that the Build Canada Fund would have the criteria in it so that more money could go into that fund once the deficit was dealt with. And what we got instead was a 10-year commitment for not enough money over 10 years, and I was a bit surprised by that.  So the criteria themselves which were created without any consultation with municipalities are not great; they need a lot of work, but the other problem is that they made a 10-year commitment for numbers that are completely insufficient towards the needs.  And we would have expected, once the budget was in balance, investing in this country’s infrastructure would be a major priority for whatever federal government we have after 2015.

Tom Clark:
Mayor, because I’ve got you here, I’ve got to ask this question, and it has to do with the emerging political landscape in Calgary and Alberta.  You mentioned that magical date of 2015, the federal election coming up in October of 2015.  Is there a chance that Naheed Nenshi might be running in that?  And if so, let me ask you directly, would you rule out running for the Liberals in the next federal election?

Naheed Nenshi:

Yes, I’d rule it out.  Heck no, what a horrible thing to say.  Look, I’ve got the best political job in Canada right now.  I can’t imagine why I would take a demotion and run for the federal government.  As I always say, I can never quite remember what it is that the federal government does exactly; defence stuff maybe?  But we at the municipal order of government get to do the stuff that keeps people healthy and active and alive.  Frankly alive, we do clean water every single day, and that is tremendously exciting.  Now that said, will there be changes in the federal landscape in 2015 in Alberta?  There may well be but I intend to keep advocating for cities and for my city through that election and beyond.  I was just re-elected after all.  You’re stuck with me for at least four more years in this job.

Tom Clark:

Okay, so Naheed Nenshi, Mayor of Calgary, a very popular Mayor of Calgary, I might add.  Thanks very much for being here today, I appreciate your time.

Naheed Nenshi:

Thank you, I appreciate it.

Tom Clark:

And that is our show for today.  Here’s what we’re keeping an eye on in the week ahead.  In Ottawa, the NDP have promised to keep fighting the government’s Elections Act reforms.  Now the government calls it the Fair Elections Act, the NDP call it the exact opposite.  Expect Ukraine’s crisis to continue to dominate the news and the agendas of most world leaders in the days ahead.  We’ll keep a close eye on that.

And Ukraine isn’t the only country facing serious domestic upheaval.  Venezuela’s government is also being tested by massive protests and so far, the Venezuelan government response to that crisis has been widely criticized.

Be sure to tune into Global National with Dawna Friesen for the very latest on these and others stories.  And remember, we’re also eager to hear from you.  You can find us online at 杭州夜生活thewestblock桑拿按摩.  You can also reach us on 桑拿会所 and on Facebook.

Well, thanks for joining us today, I’m Tom Clark.  We’ll see you next week. Meanwhile, have a great week ahead.

©2014Shaw Media