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Canada: The West Block – Episode 24, Season 11

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Mercedes Stephenson wearing a purple shirt and smiling at the camera: Host: Mercedes Stephenson © Global News Host: Mercedes Stephenson

THE WEST BLOCK

Episode 24, Season 11

Sunday, April 10, 2022

Host: Mercedes Stephenson

Guests:

Candice Bergen, Interim Conservative Party Leader

Jagmeet Singh, NDP Leader

Dan Albas, Conservative MP and Finance Committee Vice-Chair

Location: Ottawa, ON

Mercedes Stephenson: This week on The West Block: The Liberals shift to new priorities in the federal budget, with billions of dollars aimed at making housing more affordable.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “What did we see and what are we seeing in this NDP-Liberal budget? Well, we are seeing out of control spending, no plan for long-term growth or productivity. We are seeing taxes go up, which in the end, Canadians—everyday Canadians, will be paying for...”

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Mercedes Stephenson: Standing with Ukraine. Canada increases its military and financial aid as Ukrainian civilians are targeted and killed by Russian forces.

Chrystia Freeland, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister: “Putin and his henchmen are war criminals.”

Mercedes Stephenson: The budget promises more money for Canada’s military, but the increase is less than what experts said was needed. We’ll talk to Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland about housing, growing the economy and Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Jagmeet Singh, NDP Leader: “We forced the government to deliver, and we use our power to get people this help.”

Mercedes Stephenson: The NDP throws its support behind the federal budget, but did New Democrats get all they were looking for from their deal with the Liberals? We’ll ask NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh.

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The budget gets a thumbs down from the Official Opposition.

Candice Bergen, Interim Conservative Party Leader: “It is a typical, classic, NDP spend-and-tax budget.”

Mercedes Stephenson: We’ll find out what the Conservatives would do differently.

It’s Sunday, April 10th, and this is The West Block.

Hello. Thanks for joining us. I’m Mercedes Stephenson.

Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland says there’s no single silver bullet to solve Canada’s housing crisis, but she says Ottawa is willing to spend billions of dollars to help Canadians afford to buy a home. Housing affordability was just one of the major priorities outlined in last week’s federal budget.

Ottawa is also spending $5 million on military aid to Ukraine, and increasing its defence spending here at home. For more on this, I’m joined by Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland.

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Thank you so much for joining us Deputy Prime Minister Freeland. We appreciate it. The images that we have seen coming out of Ukraine over the past days are horrific and disturbing. They’re the deliberate and systematic targeting of civilians. You talked extensively in your budget speech about Russia and what is happening in Ukraine. What is your reaction to the latest developments?

Chrystia Freeland, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister: Horror, real sadness, anger and determination. I think that it is so important for us to recognize that what is happening is an atrocity, and it’s happening right now. And I think far worse things are happening than even what we see in the terrible pictures. You know, there is systematic rapes of women in Ukraine are happening, and the accounts I’ve read are just blood chilling. But it’s important to face that, to talk about it and then to be very clear on what we need to do to stop it and to be very clear about what this means to Canada.

Mercedes Stephenson: What does it mean for Canada, because we’ve not yet removed Russian diplomats from Canada as some European Union countries have? There have been calls for Vladimir Putin to be designated as a terrorist, for Russia to be removed from the UN Security Council. What are the next steps to holding Russia accountable for these horrific actions?

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Chrystia Freeland, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister: Well, I think the most important next step is to do everything in our power to ensure that Putin is defeated. That is the single most important security challenge for Canada and the world. Of course, the battle is being fought in Ukraine but is a fight for all of us. And by the

way, let’s remember that it was Russia that was also responsible for atrocities in Syria. It is Russian mercenaries who have very recently been responsible for atrocities in Mali. Putin is wreaking havoc in the world and he must be stopped. Fortunately for us, really fortunately for us, the people of Ukraine are so brave and so smart and so committed, and they are defeating Putin, which is an amazing thing, but they need missiles and they need money to do it. And that was one of the things that it was important for me in the budget that we tabled this week, to provide to Ukraine, and we did that.

Mercedes Stephenson: And I know that the Ukrainians who I spoke to on the ground in Ukraine will be very grateful for that. They were asking explicitly for money, for weapons, saying that is the most important thing to have. But what steps in particular beyond that will Canada take to send a message to Vladimir Putin? It we won’t kick diplomats out of Canada, what will we do?

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Chrystia Freeland, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister: Well you’re right that our budget and the things we provided to Ukraine are responding directly to what the Ukrainians are telling us they need. And actually, I was so surprised, Mercedes, because less than 30 minutes after I finished tabling the budget, I got a text from the Ukrainian finance minister. And he said Dyakuyu. Thank you. So they’re watching what we do. They notice and this is real, real help.

One other element in the budget, which will both provide real help to Ukraine and is a real further sanction on Russia, is measures to extend the powers of our sanction regime. Right now, we can freeze assets. What we need to do is have the power to seize those assets. And that’s really important because as you know so well, you’ve reported yourself on the horrendous destruction in Ukraine. Ukraine is going to need to be rebuilt, and I can think of no more appropriate source of funding for that rebuilding than the seized assets of the Russian Central Bank of Russian oligarchs. And our budget took a really important step to doing that, and we really are now working with our partners around the world. I’ve talked to the Americans about how we’re doing this. I’ve talked to the Europeans about how we’re doing this, and we really want to lead the way. Maybe that’s a little bit pretentious. We really want to work with our allies, to encourage everyone to take this really important step.

Mercedes Stephenson: Ms. Freeland, you took a different tone in this budget than in previous ones. Obviously, COVID now is in a different phase and the need for emergency supports is not there. Walk us through your thought process of when you realized the kind of budget this needed to be when you decided it would be about dealing with emergencies, war, but also fiscal restraints?

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Chrystia Freeland, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister: You know the truth is, Mercedes, you know as I think about your question, I started thinking about this moment, this moment when we would say very clearly to Canadians: now is the time to end the emergency COVID measures. These support measures are over. I started thinking about that from the first day I became finance minister, because I knew—I knew that we needed to do something extraordinary that Canada had never done before in its history. I knew that to avoid a second great depression, we just had to be there and support jobs and support businesses across the country. But I also knew that we would need to do another really hard thing, which is turn off the taps, shift gears and we really started that shift meaningfully in October. And this budget is sort of the moment when, you know, I stepped on the clutch and I slammed it into a different gear.

Mercedes Stephenson: Two of the things that I noticed weren’t in the budget that your government had talked a lot about, was health transfers for the provinces and significant money for long-term care and seniors’ homes, which became something we really were looking at in the pandemic as problematic. Why weren’t those included in this budget, given the pressures on both of those systems?

Chrystia Freeland, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister: Well, when it comes to health, there was, of course, in the budget, a significant and important further health measure, and that is dental care. And given the challenges that Canadians are facing today with affordability, this is a really appropriate moment to be moving ahead on dental care. In my pre-budget consultations, something I heard from a lot of people across the country, which was really heart wrenching, was vulnerable Canadians, people saying, you know, I’m having a hard time buying groceries. I’m having a hard time filling up my car and my truck with gas, and so I’m not sure that I can go to the dentist. I’m not sure I can take my kid to the dentist. And that is a terrible thing. You know, it is unacceptable for a child in Canada, to lose a tooth just because their parents don’t have enough money. So that is an important element in health care and it is in this budget.

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In terms of the broader health care conversation, it’s maybe important to start by pointing out that our federal health transfers to the provinces are indexed to inflation. And so the transfer this year is 4.8 per cent higher than the transfer in the previous year. So there is a lot of spending happening and in this budget, and announced a couple of weeks ago, we transferred an additional $2 billion to the provinces and territories, to help deal with the backlogs that we all are aware of that the COVID pandemic emergency caused. Having said all of that, I think all Canadians believe in our health care system. I think it is—there is a real national consensus that this is a source of pride and a source of strength. I think we all know that there are many ways that it could get better and should get better, but I think we also know it’s not just a question of spending more money. And the fact is, among OECD countries, for example, Canada is one of the highest spenders on health care and we don’t have the best results. So, you know, I really believe that if we’re going to spend more money, we have to have a plan and some clarity that that additional money is going to lead to meaningfully better results.

And that takes a lot of hard work to figure out and a lot of collaborative work between the federal government and the provinces and territories.

Mercedes Stephenson: Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, we’d love to keep going but we know we’re out of time. Thank you so much for joining us today. We appreciate it.

Chrystia Freeland, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister: Great to talk to you, Mercedes.

Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, did the Liberals do enough for the NDP in the federal budget? We’ll put that question to NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh.

[Break]

Mercedes Stephenson: Last month, the NDP agreed to support the minority Liberal government until 2025 in exchange for new spending on NDP priorities, such as affordable housing, dental care and pharmacare. So, does the budget meet with the NDP’s expectations and how will it hold the government accountable when its support is guaranteed?

Joining now is NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh. Nice to see you Mr. Singh. Thank you for coming on the show.

Jagmeet Singh, NDP Leader: Thank you, great to be back.

Mercedes Stephenson: So, you’ve seen the budget and you’ve decided you’re going to support it, but you don’t like everything in it. How did you make the decision to support this budget? I mean I know you said that as long as there was dental care, and there is a little bit of dental care in it, you’d stick to it, but what was your thinking process about all of this?

Jagmeet Singh, NDP Leader: We heard so much on the campaign trail about the fact that people weren’t able to take care of their teeth, and we heard about the housing affordability crisis. So those are two priorities, and we used our power to get an agreement where we can get people the dental care they need and get people help on affordable housing. And that’s what we’re able to deliver in this agreement and in this budget, the first step on dental, as laid out in the agreement. We want it to be prudent and responsible. So children under 12 will begin to get their teeth covered, and then we’ll move to seniors, people with disabilities and children under 18 next year.

Mercedes Stephenson: Two things that stuck out to me that I thought it might be of concern to you, was the lack of spending on health care. The transfers aren’t there for the provinces and also the lack of spending on long-term care. We talked again and again during the pandemic about the most vulnerable Canadians being seniors and people in long-term care, having a strategy for that. There was no serious commitment to that. Does that trouble you?

Jagmeet Singh, NDP Leader: It does. It’s a part of our critique, and we maintain the ability as an opposition party to oppose, to push for more and to raise concerns. And the health care transfers, broadly speaking, are a serious concern. We know that our health care system needs more funding. We’ve seen our health care be pushed to the brink of collapse a number of times in this pandemic, and we also know that long-term care is vital need of support. So those are two areas in addition to the environment. The approach on the climate crisis was one where we disagree with the government and their approach. We think it’s wrong and we’ll continue to raise those concerns.

Mercedes Stephenson: This is the first chance I’ve had to talk to you about your deal with the Liberals because I was overseas when you made that deal, but one of things I wondered when I looked at it, and I think about it, too, when I look at this budget, is—and I know you get asked this all the time—but, are you concerned that you’ve kind of signed away your accountability? Because as long as they give you the minimum, they don’t have to give you things like environment, health care, care for seniors. Are you worried that you’ve given up the opportunity to either have people in cabinet via a coalition government, or that you’re essentially just propping up the Liberals?

Jagmeet Singh, NDP Leader: Well we looked at what was the context. And the context was just six months ago, Canadians elected this minority government and they said us very clearly, we need you to get us help. So in that context, we said what can we do? And as a team, I said—as the leader of the team—I said what can we do to get people help right now? We could go vote by vote, and we’ve done that in the past but we can’t really get big things that require multi-budgets passed. So we said what can we do right now that would be meaningful? Help people with the costs of living, help them with health care. And we found two really key things that people have raised again and again, over at the doorsteps, over the course of the campaign was dental care was key. So many Canadians didn’t have that coverage, and housing was key. And so those are the two areas where we really focused on getting people that help. And people will raise concerns, there are always risks when you make decisions, but at the end of the day, I think I can go to Canadians and say with 25 MPs, we were able to achieve some significant gains. The biggest expansion in public health care in a generation and we’ll say what would do with more MPs? How much more can we do if we had 100 or formed government?

Mercedes Stephenson: But why support you then if you can just support the Liberals? A lot of what you wanted done was in their campaign anyhow.

Jagmeet Singh, NDP Leader: Well the examples of pharmacare and dental care, just a year ago, they—the Liberals and Conservatives—voted against specifically our plan: dental care and pharmacare. And now a year later, we actually are having those move forward. And so that’s a big difference between the Liberals voting against it just a year ago, and then us using our power to achieve it.

Mercedes Stephenson: Well your particular plan, but they’ve indicated that they might consider dental care and pharmacare eventually. They weren’t opposed to the idea of it, necessarily.

Jagmeet Singh, NDP Leader: Well what we’re seeing now is exactly our plan, which they voted against. So literally a year ago, they voted against pharmacare, the Pharmacare Act, which is now in this agreement, and they voted against dental care, which is now in this agreement and in this budget. So we can show very clearly that we were able to get something meaningful for Canadians. The Conservatives can’t say that.

Mercedes Stephenson: We just have a few moments left, but I do want to ask you about Ukraine. A lot of folks are saying that they believe the Russian ambassador should be kicked out of Canada and the Russian embassy staff in the wake of the most recent attacks on civilians in Ukraine, which were blatant and deliberate Do you support kicking the Russian embassy out of Canada?

Jagmeet Singh, NDP Leader: I understand the pain that leads to a decision like that. We all saw the horrific images out of Bucha and now of people that were fleeing, being targeted at a train station. These are just clearly war crimes and violations of the human rights. I know that we need to ramp up sanctions. I know that we need to provide more support for Ukrainians on the ground to defend themselves. In terms of expelling a diplomat, I don’t know if that achieves our goal and if that’s helpful in helping Ukrainians right now. I think we should focus on that. The question of diplomats, I think there is a reason to expel, but I also understand the arguments around having at least some form of diplomacy available, despite the fact that it doesn’t look like it’ll work.

Mercedes Stephenson: Mr. Singh, thank you so much for joining today. We appreciate it.

Jagmeet Singh, NDP Leader: My pleasure.

Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, the finance minister says it’s her duty to practice fiscal restraint, but the Conservatives say they don’t see that in this budget. We’ll hear from the Official Opposition after the break.

[Break]

Mercedes Stephenson: The finance minister says the end of COVID-era spending has come, but the Conservatives say this is still a tax and spend budget that doesn’t show fiscal restraint.

Candice Bergen, Interim Conservative Party Leader: “What did we see and what are we seeing in this NDP-Liberal budget? Well, we are seeing out-of-control spending, no plan for long-term growth or productivity. We are seeing taxes go up, which in the end, Canadians—everyday Canadians, will be paying for.”

Mercedes Stephenson: Here now with Conservative reaction to Thursday’s budget, we have Conservative MP and Finance Committee Vice-Chair Dan Albas. Dan, nice to see you. Thank you for joining us today.

Dan Albas, Conservative MP and Finance Committee Vice-Chair: It’s great to be here, Mercedes.

Mercedes Stephenson: So, you had a look at this budget. It was less than a lot of people thought the Liberals were going to spend, but the Conservatives still say it’s too much, it’s not in the right places. Where do you see the big problems as being in the budget?

Dan Albas, Conservative MP and Finance Committee Vice-Chair: Anyone who’s concerned about the direction of the economy, you’re worried about inflation. Whether you’re vulnerable, whether you’re a young family, whether you’re a senior, inflation hurts the economy. And right now, the Bank of Canada is trying to fight inflation, but this government is actually pushing more money into the economy and making that problem worse. There’s no break for Canadians to help them inflation. The housing component is a bit of a sham, and quite honestly, they are—this is a NDP-Liberal budget.

Mercedes Stephenson: Now when you say it makes inflation worse, dealing with inflation is a tough thing and a lot of this is supply side dynamics, it’s COVID disruptions to supply chains. It’s what’s happening in Ukraine, which is going to drive up the cost of food significantly because that’s a big grain producing country, so is Russia. Now that’s not being exported. That affects us buying things like meat at the grocery store. What would a Conservative government have done differently to deal with inflation?

Dan Albas, Conservative MP and Finance Committee Vice-Chair: So we’ve already been putting forward proposals like, for example, taking a temporary break on GST at the pumps. This would allow for every Canadian that needs to get to work. It would help those seniors that need to drive for medical appointments and families to be able to get their kids to school and soccer. This is something the government could have

done with those windfall profits; put a little bit more money in Canadians’ bank accounts because they’re suffering at the grocery store. Their purchasing power is a lot less. But we’ve also been talking about housing inflation, and that is a made-in-Canada problem. The housing prices, Mercedes, have doubled in this country since the prime minister took office in 2015 and 30 per cent in the last year. Yet, when you see some of the proposals they’re doing, for example, a so-called ban on foreign buyers, something that we actually proposed as Conservatives in the last election...

Mercedes Stephenson: Yeah, I was going to say I thought you might like that one.

Dan Albas, Conservative MP and Finance Committee Vice-Chair: Well, you know, I would have hoped to as well, but it has so many exemptions in it. So, for example, a foreign national can still buy a home. If they separate from their spouse, they can move to another home and buy another one. If their…

Mercedes Stephenson: That seems like a small number, though.

Dan Albas, Conservative MP and Finance Committee Vice-Chair: …teenagers turn 18 and move across the street, they can still buy it. So there’s not actually a ban here. All it is is a ban in name. It’s so full of…

Mercedes Stephenson: But is that really…

Dan Albas, Conservative MP and Finance Committee Vice-Chair: …holes, it might as well be a Swiss cheese policy.

Mercedes Stephenson: Is that really the problem? Or is it supply side housing for something you talked about in your platform and they’re talking about building more houses?

Dan Albas, Conservative MP and Finance Committee Vice-Chair: Yes. And again, nothing in this particular budget, all the new provisions will not build a new market home or help a Canadian get into it. Look, it’s a tacit admission that housing prices have doubled, that they’ve raised the first-time homebuyers’ tax credit and doubled it, because the cost of housing’s doubled. But that may offset some legal costs. It won’t drive—it won’t get someone into a home. And look, even the new first-time homebuyers’ savings account—look, it’s not going to be available for another year. You can maximum put $8 thousand per year over a 5-year period. And people are telling me—young millenials stuck in their parents’ basements—they don’t have $8 thousand now. Or those that have scrimped and saved, or are fortunate to have the bank of mom and dad, they can’t get a mortgage. Why? Because of the Liberal stress test, so they’re trying to draw attention away from their failures on housing.

Mercedes Stephenson: Is there some solid policies that you’re going to give to the government and say we’d like to see this done?

Dan Albas, Conservative MP and Finance Committee Vice-Chair: Yes. So again, I go back to the GST. We want a temporary break on the price of gasoline and diesel. That will help small businesses. That will help seniors. That will help moms and dads to be able to get to work or drive their kids to school and to soccer. These are the things that Canadians want to see, but the government has taken that money and it’s spending into new areas, again, raising inflation. We also want to see a real housing program, a real ban, for example, on foreign buyers. We want to see actual concrete measures. Look, they’re putting $4 billion of taxpayer money to the CMHC over the next six years, and you can’t even say what the deliverables on this new housing accelerator fund are going to be. All they say is municipalities can apply for it and they will be flexible. So, that doesn’t tell us what they’re actually going to do with the money, to do something that municipalities already have not been doing, which has not been approving new developments quickly. So, this is the problem with the government’s policies. We will continue to study, listen to some of the energy industry to see what their feelings are on the carbon capture, utilization storage tax credits and to see if those are helpful investments or if they’re just there for show. Unfortunately, Mercedes, especially for those young millennials stuck in their parents’ basements that make good money, who want to get into a home, unfortunately I think that this budget promises more and is only going to let more down.

Mercedes Stephenson: Dan Albas, thank you so much for joining us today.

Dan Albas, Conservative MP and Finance Committee Vice-Chair: Thanks Mercedes.

Mercedes Stephenson: That’s our show for today. Thanks for watching. We’ll see you right back here next Sunday. For The West Block, I’m Mercedes Stephenson.

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