THE WEST BLOCK
Episode 27, Season 5
Sunday, March 27, 2016
Host: Tom Clark
Guests: Bill Morneau, Bruce Anderson, Romeo Dallaire
Plane Talk: Erin O’Toole
Tom Clark: On this Sunday, the first Liberal budget is tabled and reaction has been pouring in. We have the results of the first poll. And we’ll speak with Finance Minister Bill Morneau.
Then, as more Canadian troops head to Iraq, are they ready to encounter the thousands of children that ISIS has turned into soldiers? Retired General Romeo Dallaire is here on how to defuse that threat.
And, we take flight with Conservative MP Erin O’Toole for some ‘Plane Talk’ about his political ambitions and musical choices.
It is Sunday, March the 27th and from the nation’s capital, I’m Tom Clark. And you are in The West Block.
Tom Clark: Well Canadians now have the first Liberal financial blueprint for the next year and beyond. The government has cut taxes for the middle class and forecasts a $29.4 billion dollar deficit. The goal: to stimulate the economy.
Well joining me now is Finance Minister Bill Morneau. Minister thanks very much for being here.
Bill Morneau: Tom, great to be here.
Tom Clark: On the question of the deficit, $29.4 billion dollars, the reason you put that forward is that it is going to stimulate spending, which is going to grow the economy. How do you know that?
Bill Morneau: Well, let me get to our reason. Our reason really is really about following through on the commitments we made to Canadians. We told them two things. We said we’re going to improve the life of you and your family. We’re going to help the middle class. And we’re going to invest to grow the economy. I think your question is really about the future generations creating economy.
Tom Clark: Well it’s saying though, that the premise that you put forward to Canadians is that stimulus spending is going to grow the economy. And my question is, how do you know that?
Bill Morneau: Well, what we’re really saying is that the time is right to make investments. We’ve got the lowest interest rates in history. We’ve got the best debt versus our Gross National Product (GNP) in the G7 countries. And we’re facing a low-growth environment. I mean we’ve been growing at a slow pace for the last decade and we’ve got demographic change. So making the investments to improve our future rate of growth, to help us to get to a more innovative economy, to improve our infrastructure, those things are going to make our economy more productive. Our plan is really about changing our growth trajectory over the future generations so people have more jobs.
Tom Clark: But I think that’s the point I’m getting to, how do you know that for a fact that that type of spending is actually going to grow the economy? What did you look at to say, ‘Ah there, it worked over there; I’m going to do it here.’
Bill Morneau: Well, let me break down what we’re doing. So $11.5 billion dollars in new measures this year, so those $11.5 billion dollars worth of new measures actually create jobs. So we’ve calculated about 43,000 new jobs. In next year, 2017-18, it’s about $14.5 billion dollars of new measures. We calculate about a cumulative impact of about 100,000 new jobs. So we do know those things, you can’t say with precision it’s 43,000 exactly, 42,999 or 43,001. But the point is they definitely improve a job situation right now. And what they do is they prepare us for the future. And some of the measures that we’re talking about are things like making investments in universities, so better research facilities, labs, incubators, things that will help us to grow the economy over the long term. So we are making investments for the next generation of Canadians, and that’s just doing what we know is the right thing to do at this time.
Tom Clark: Let me ask the question another way then. What metrics should Canadians be looking for? What number should they be looking for to prove that this is working?
Bill Morneau: Well, I think what Canadians are going to want to see is that we have an ability to impact their lives today, so they’ll want to see a marked improvement in their life.
Tom Clark: And what does that mean exactly?
Bill Morneau: Well, in case of middle class Canadians what’ll it mean? Nine million middle class Canadians got a tax reduction on January 1st, so they’ll see that as a benefit. They’re going to put that money back into the economy. They’re going to see—
Tom Clark: But how does that show up as a metric? I’m sorry to interrupt, but how does that show up as something, a number that people can look at to say, ‘Aha, Morneau was right, this is improving the economy?’
Bill Morneau: Well, to that point, they’re going to want to know that they’re seeing more growth next year and the year after and the year after. So we actually in our projection—
Tom Clark: So GDP growth is what you’re talking about.
Bill Morneau: GDP growth, yeah.
Tom Clark: Yeah.
Bill Morneau: So what we put in our projections, we use the private sector economists’ growth projections and we took a factor of prudence because the private sector economists over the last few years have been more optimistic than it’s turned out, so we were prudent. I think to the extent we’re successful, we will see growth paces that are at the level that we projected or better, and that’ll be an important metric for me, for Canadians. Of course, not everything is within our control because of the global economy. What is in our control is what we can do for Canadians right away, so those tax reductions I talked about. What we’ve done with the child care benefits for Canadians, that they’ll see that right away, so we’ve re-looked at our child care benefits so that rather than giving child care benefits to millionaires, we are now focusing our efforts so that 9 out of 10 families with children will get about $2,300 dollars more per year. They’ll see that in their cheques starting in July.
Tom Clark: Time is running away with me and I’ve only got 20 seconds left. But let me ask you this question: Nowhere in the budget did it point to when you are going to come back into balance, which is I presume something that you want to do. So let me ask you, what date are you going to be back in balance?
Bill Morneau: Well, what we’ve done in our budget is we’ve said we’re going to make these investments. They’re going to help us to grow the economy. We’ve framed out for people what different growth rates look like. So in our estimation, with the measures that we’ve taken and with a more robust economy, we’ll get to a balanced budget in about five years. Our priority though, is to make the investments today, to improve people’s lives and improve the next generation of Canadians.
Tom Clark: Minister Morneau, thanks very much for coming into today. I appreciate your time.
Bill Morneau: Thanks Tom, great to be here.
Tom Clark: So, just how is this budget being perceived outside of the precincts of Parliament Hill? Joining me now Bruce Anderson of Abacus Data. Bruce thanks very much. I want to go to one slide because you polled public opinion right after the budget and I want to start with a word cloud. You asked everybody what word do you associate with. And I mean, there it is, you can see the biggest word out there, ‘deficit.’ So let’s go right to the heart of it. What did you find about what Canadians felt about the $29 billion dollar deficit this year?
Bruce Anderson: Well that word cloud is a really good indication of just what the debate has been in the weeks leading up to this budget, Tom. Everybody was talking about will Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Morneau be able to contain themselves to that $10 billion dollar deficit that they promised and if they don’t, how will Canadians react? So it wasn’t a surprise for me that the deficit was a number that popped out when people were first talking about what they heard about it. What was really interesting though is that of the people who said the deficit was the one word that came to mind, a majority of them actually said that it was an acceptable budget. And that’s really the essential story about this budget, is that people are a little bit taken aback at the size of the fiscal imbalance. But they generally think that this is a decision that’s going in the right direction.
Tom Clark: And I mean it seems a bit contradictory because in that question, most Canadians said they’d prefer that the deficit wasn’t that big, but then went on to say it’s okay.
Bruce Anderson: Yeah, I think we have those numbers. Why don’t we just put them up on the screen if we can? Where we get 67 per cent who say, “I wish the government had spent less of my money.” That’s a pretty broad cross-section of Canadians and obviously includes a lot of Liberal voters in there. But at the same time, 71 per cent could agree with a different statement, which is “I’d rather not have such a large deficit, but it’s probably the right choice for now.” And I think that really is an indication that the Liberals, through the campaign and in the period thereafter, have been able to persuade people that the combination of the priorities that they want to spend money on and the condition of the economy warrants this kind of imbalance.
Tom Clark: You’re talking about political goodwill propelling this budget along. When you asked people about their overall impression of everything that was in the budget, what did you find?
Bruce Anderson: Well we found that there’s a reasonable number of people said that it was a good budget. Not many people who said it that it was a bad budget. The bulk of opinion is it’s an acceptable budget under the circumstances. And by many standards, historically, that’s a pretty good passing grade for a government. But I think it reflects the fact that there’s a qualified endorsement of the direction that the government’s going in. People think that this is a different kind of budget from that which they gotten from previous governments. On the whole, there’s a tendency to think it’s better. That it puts a focus on priorities that voters agree with. And most of the policy initiatives of the government these days, of either government that we’ve seen in the last few years, reaction tends to fall along partisan lines. And so we look really closely at well how do Conservatives feel about this budget? Are they dead set against it? And all of our analysis so far shows about 40 per cent of Conservative voters are more or less willing to go along with this budget.
Tom Clark: So it’s not predictable in terms of approval or rejection on the basis of party lines then. You’re saying it crosses both.
Bruce Anderson: It’s not black and white. Conservative partisans in the House of Commons are going to have to be cognizant of the fact that while they might want to rail about this reckless spending budget, that four out of 10 of their supporters, four out of 10 of the people that voted for them last fall, aren’t sure that it’s that reckless a budget.
Tom Clark: Ah, in 20 seconds, is there a ‘but’ coming from Canadians on all this?
Bruce Anderson: I think there’s always a ‘but’. I think that people have expressed a degree of confidence rather than skepticism in this government. But they’re going to want to see results on the issues that matter over time. How quickly, what kind of results remains to be seen. But they’re also going to want to be reassured that there’s a measure of financial discipline. That it isn’t a government that doesn’t care about the size of the deficit, but rather one that has thought this through carefully and is keeping an eye on the spending side.
Tom Clark: Bruce Anderson, Abacus Data, always great having you here, Bruce. I appreciate your time.
Bruce Anderson: Pleasure to be here.
Tom Clark: Thank you. Well, still to come, how high are Conservative Erin O’Toole’s political ambitions? But first, Romeo Dallaire on how to diffuse the threat of ISIS child soldiers, that’s next.
Tom Clark: Welcome back. Well it was another deadly attack by ISIS. Suicide bombers killed dozens of civilians in Brussels last week. The list of the atrocities committed by the terrorist group is growing all the time. Added to the horror, ISIS is recruiting an army of child soldiers. They call them the ‘Cubs of the Caliphate.’ This ISIS propaganda video, which has not been independently verified, but is believed to be recorded at an ISIS training camp, and it shows the indoctrination first hand.
Earlier this week, I spoke to our country’s leading expert on this issue. Here’s that interview:
Joining me now, a man who has been seized with the issue of child soldiers, General Romeo Dallaire: former Canadian senator, former general. Thank you very much for being here, general. There was a study done for the Counter Insurgency Institute at West Point by the Georgia State University about a month ago that showed that in the past year, ISIS has eulogized 89 child soldiers. In other words, soldiers, children, who have died fighting for ISIS. Do we have any idea of the size and the scope of the child soldier problem in Syria and Iraq right now as it pertains to ISIS?
Romeo Dallaire: I think that the scale will scare people because they are recruiting them so young, at eight, six, seven and they’re building up their forces as they keep them in the schools and indoctrinating them and then throwing them into the field in years to come. So they’re into a generational exercise. And so when the figure 100,000 is spoken of, it is not too much because it does reflect the whole buildup of this capability and the sustainment. Now, the eulogizing of the child soldiers is an extraordinary propaganda tool that they have. When they show that even the youth have committed themselves to this cause, and they will specifically give them a task that they will make public and really publicize as a mission for a young child, although many of the children are not necessarily in the front lines all the time in the fighting.
Tom Clark: You talk about the front lines, and as you know, Canada is sending more troops to be on the ground in a training capacity, which means that there could be occasions when Canadian soldiers are going to run up with the problem of child soldiers. I just want to get inside the military mind for a minute. Let’s say you’re on point duty, on guard duty, and you see coming down the road, a 10-year-old, clearly with an explosive vest on of some sort. You order the kid to stop. They kid keeps on coming. What do you do?
Romeo Dallaire: The question is, is you can’t let the child get close because you know that they will blow him up. There’s no doubt in our mind that they’re doing that with the aim of creating casualties and of course creating the stigma to those who are going to have to face them. Meaning, we have this ethical and moral dilemma of shooting children. And so how do you neutralize children used in that such a fashion, apart from using lethal force? And that then causes our soldiers to have psychological problems because we’ve got guys coming back who’ve come back from Afghanistan who can’t look at their own children because of what they had to do with child soldiers over there.
Tom Clark: So what do we do? What advice are you giving to the Canadian government as to how to train Canadian soldiers to deal with the situation?
Romeo Dallaire: Well since 2010, it’s been at Dalhousie University where we created an institute around this whole new conceptual framework, ‘doctrine’ is the term they used, on how to prepare soldiers for children who are not a socio-economic problem in those conflicts, but they are in fact a threat. They’re an actual operational threat and so we’ve got to look at them as a security threat. So security forces, who have looked at child soldiers more or less as either a combatant or push them aside or even avoided confronting them because they say kids will move back and we’ll re-deploy, are now given through the training, the doctrine, the tactics that will prepare the soldiers for such scenarios and give them options to try to reduce the need to use kinetic force.
Tom Clark: You know one thing that just keeps on occurring to me over and over again, you’re talking about 100,000 child soldiers in Syria and Iraq. What happens to them after presumably peace comes? You’ve now twisted an entire generation, I mean these kids from as you say, as young as age six, have been trained to kill. What do we do about that in five, ten, fifteen years from now?
Romeo Dallaire: Well this is the point where we argue that in fact whenever a force is recruiting children to conduct its operations, you can expect that force to move to the extremes of mass atrocities and even genocide because if they’re ready to use kids to do all the killing and so on, they’re ready to go to the ‘full Monty.’ However, the use of children also gives them a sustainment. So you’ve got wars going on in Africa that have been five, six, seven, eight years, and they ultimately become adults. Now these conflicts that use the children, we have been essentially trying to get the kids out, hopefully. And then we put them through demobilization, rehabilitation and reintegration and hope that they don’t get re-recruited. We put all our efforts into that. The NGO world, all the money and so on, the UN and UNICEF, has put all this money into picking up the pieces afterwards. What we’ve argued, and what now has been recognized, is that you go at them before they’re recruited, so prevention recruitment, including in the school systems and so on. And when they’re used, how to make them ineffective, how to make them a liability to the guy who wants to use a child. And that means that if our soldiers are better trained at making these kids ineffective, then it becomes a weapon that’s not as useful as they thought.
Tom Clark: Romeo Dallaire, always a pleasure talking to you sir. Thank you very much for being here.
Romeo Dallaire: Well thank you.
Tom Clark: Well coming up next, the future of the Conservative party and a little Greased Lightning. It’s time for some ‘Plane Talk’ with Erin O’Toole.
Tom Clark: Welcome back. Conservative Erin O’Toole became a Member of Parliament in a 2012 by-election. And last fall, he lost a bid to be the interim leader of the Conservative Party. So, does he still have leadership ambitions? We put that to him, among other things when we took him up for ‘Plane Talk.’ Take a listen:
Erin O’Toole, good to have you on ‘Plane Talk’.
Erin O’Toole: Great to be here.
Tom Clark: You’ve been in the military, you’ve been a corporate lawyer, you’ve been a cabinet minister, now you’re an Opposition MP, what was the best job of all those? What did you like the most?
Erin O’Toole: Yeah, I joke about this a lot, Tom. At 43, I’m a lot of formers. I’m a former air force officer, former lawyer, former—I hope to be some of those things again, certainly for a veteran to be able to serve as minister of Veterans Affairs, what a tremendous honour that was for me. I’m still in touch with a lot of the people I’ve met and stakeholders and I’m still passionate about it. But for about a year, I had the ability to implement some change, some modernization of the department. So, for my career to this point, that’s been a profound honour and something I look at with a lot of satisfaction for some of the things we did. There’s regret too because I wish I had more.
Tom Clark: Let me ask you about your own personal ambitions because a lot of people are talking about you when it comes to the Conservative leadership race, would you ever want to lead your party?
Erin O’Toole: I want to be involved in rebuilding the party and making sure that we’re a strong viable option to win in 2019.
Tom Clark: But if a group of people came to you and said look, Erin, we need your help here. We think you’d be a good leader, you wouldn’t say no to them.
Erin O’Toole: I wouldn’t if I thought I could help the cause. We’ve got an amazing team and the team is sometimes overlooked. One third of our team is brand new to the House and they’re terrific. So if I can help, I’ll help. At one point in the future, maybe. But I think right now we’ve got some good people potentially looking at it. I’m not saying yes. I’m saying no. But I would not place a bet on it, Tom.
Tom Clark: You know it’s interesting when you said not yes, not no. That was the first time we hit some turbulence up here. [Laughs]
Erin O’Toole: [Laughs] That was probably my wife’s vibes because it’s a demanding job and even my brief time in cabinet, it’s consuming. And I was responding to veterans personally late in the evenings and my wife saw the toll it took on me. And a young family, I can only imagine what the prime minister’s stress, both prime minister Harper and prime minister Trudeau. It’s all consuming. There is no break from it, so it’s tough on families.
Tom Clark: It brings up an interesting question, politics is never forever. At some point it always ends. What do you want to do after this?
Erin O’Toole: I’m still a lawyer and I’m going to maintain my legal skills. And I would like to practice law again, but I think I’d also like to teach it and write. I love speaking. Every week I’m not in Parliament, I speak at at least one school in my riding. I love that format. I respect teachers and professors. And so I’d like to do a combination of that, practice law, and then also teach and write.
Tom Clark: So again, this is a question I ask a lot of people. I think that anybody involved in a stressful job, such as you, has a special place in their hearts for music. Who’s your favourite musician?
Erin O’Toole: Well I’m of a certain age that I’m sort of a new wave sort of music aficionado for sort of 80’s music. In high school, my favourite band was a band called The Smiths which is sort of alternative. My favourite Canadian band was Sloan. But I did sing in musicals in high school. So I sang in Grease and in Godspell.
Tom Clark: Who were you in Grease?
Erin O’Toole: Grease, I was Kenickie. I sang Greased Lightning.
Tom Clark: Well okay, I mean, you know, okay, we’ve got to have a little bit of—ladies and gentlemen, Erin O’Toole with Greased Lightning.
Erin O’Toole: (Sings) Go Greased Lightning – you’re burning up the quarter mile. Greased Lightning–
Tom Clark: Go Greased Lightning. Sorry—
Erin O’Toole: Yeah, Greased Lightning – you’re coasting through the heat lap trial.
Tom Clark: Greased Lightning, go Greased Lightning.
Erin O’Toole: You are supreme, the chicks’ll dream for Greased Lightning. Go, go, go, go, go, go, go, go, go, go, go, go. That’s it. [Laughs]
Tom Clark: Who do you most admire, either in history, any time at all, who is your lifetime hero?
Erin O’Toole: I quote Churchill a lot. I think as a Conservative politician, everyone admires. Churchill was a Liberal for a while—
Tom Clark: He was everything.
Erin O’Toole: [Chuckles] Both sides can look to Churchill, but it’s really leadership under pressure. And what I admire about Churchill was he also tried to articulate his vision and to inspire.
Tom Clark: If there’s one thing that you want to accomplish during the life of this Parliament, so you’ve got another three and a half years to do it, what would that be?
Erin O’Toole: I want to see the Conservative Party a viable force in 2019. And to do that, we have to be an effective Opposition and that is our role. And so we have to not just criticize and be critical, we have to offer some alternative vision.
Erin O’Toole: Well done!
Tom Clark: High praise from an officer of the Royal Canadian Air Force, I can tell you.
Erin O’Toole: Well they say any landing you can walk away from is a good landing.
Tom Clark: Well they also say if the machine is usable after you land, then that’s a really good landing.
Erin O’Toole: You’ve got both.
Tom Clark: Erin O’Toole, what a pleasure to have you up. Thank you so much.
Erin O’Toole: It’s been great flying with you, Tom.
Tom Clark: Thank you, sir.
Tom Clark: And that is our show for today. Thanks very much for joining us. Now as we leave you today, we want to extend our condolences to the family of Conservative MP Jim Hillyer, who passed away in Ottawa last week. I’m Tom Clark, see you next Sunday.