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The West Block — Episode 29, Season 13 – National



The West Block – Episode 7, Season 13


Episode 29, Season 13

Sunday, March 31, 2024


Host: Mercedes Stephenson



Steven Guilbeault, Environment Minister

Retired U.S. Gen. David Petraeus, Former CIA Director



Ottawa Studio



Mercedes Stephenson: In the last few years, how many times have you asked yourself watching the news: Is this the brink of World War 3? It’s a question we’re asking today on the show. With all of the conflict around the globe, is there a way out?

I’m Mercedes Stephenson. The West Block starts now.

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Gaza is the war scene most in the headlines right now, but it’s just one of many happening around the globe.

And, as the number of conflicts escalates, General David Petraeus joins us to talk about the role of the United States and Canada, in trying to quell the violence.

But first, the hot button issue. Tomorrow marks the rise in the carbon tax. As protests are planned across the country, we talk with the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Steven Guilbeault.

It’s caused fireworks in the House of Commons.

Pierre Poilievre, Opposition Leader: “Now he wants to hike the tax on April Fools’ Day.”

Mercedes Stephenson: Prompted some premiers to attack the prime minister.

Scott Moe, Saskatchewan Premier: “We are making every effort to reduce our footprints, and we’re doing it without a federally imposed carbon tax.”

Mercedes Stephenson: And sparked one of the opposition leaders’ catch phrases.

Pierre Poilievre, Opposition Leader: “Who’s ready to axe the tax?” [Crowd cheers]

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Mercedes Stephenson: The carbon tax, due to be raised tomorrow, will add about 3 cents a litre at gas pumps. It’s part of a gradual increase meant to wean Canadians off of fossil fuels and encourage them to transition to greener forms of energy.

By the time we hit the year 2030, the price on carbon will add about 40 cents a litre at the pumps. But is this plan working, and can the Liberals withstand the political heat on an unpopular policy?

Joining me now is the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Steven Guilbeault.

Thank you so much for joining us today, minister. Nice to see you.

Steven Guilbeault, Environment Minister: My pleasure. Thank you very much.

Mercedes Stephenson: You have got what has to be one of the most difficult files in government right now. It’s at the centre of this political fight. It’s coming under heavy criticism from a lot of Canadians who are frustrated trying to pay their bills and they see this as another increase. And I know that at the same time, it’s something that’s very dear to your heart. You are an ardent environmentalist, and it’s been widely reported that you weren’t too happy with some of the watering down the government did in terms of giving Atlantic Canada, for example, a rebate.

The first question that I have for you is a bit more of a personal one. Would you stay on as climate minister in the Trudeau government if the prime minister decided to make any more changes to the carbon tax, to pause it or give anyone else a break? Would that be a deal breaker for you?

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Steven Guilbeault, Environment Minister: Well, as you pointed out, there was a decision some months ago to pause carbon pricing on home heating oil, not just for Atlantic Canada but for all of Canadians. In fact, there are more Quebecers who use home heating oil than all of Atlantic Canadians put together. But at the time, the prime minister said that there would be no more pause, no more changes to carbon pricing in Canada. And I know, you know, we understand that some—many Canadians are struggling right now with cost of living issues and affordability issues. But the reality, and even last week on Canadian media, the Parliamentary Budget Officer came out and said that from a fiscal point of view, people get more money back. Eight out of 10 Canadian families get more money back than what they pay in carbon pricing. So, the richest among us, and people who have many houses, and many cars and cabins, and who consume a lot, don’t get more money back. But low income and middle income Canadians, in provinces where the federal system applies, they get more money back.

Mercedes Stephenson: Why do you think it is, then, that even Liberal premiers like Anthony Fury have backed away from this? Bonnie Crombie, who is the now leader of the Liberal Party in Ontario. Folks who are far, far, far politically from the Pierre Poilievre camp are promising people, if they’re elected, they won’t implement the carbon tax. It seems like they don’t think it’s worth it.

Steven Guilbeault, Environment Minister: Well, I mean, it is a tough political battle. And I think it comes to—it comes down to political courage. If you’re serious about fighting climate change, like some of those premiers and political leaders who are saying they are, show me the money. Show me your plan that gets to the type of the science pollution cut that are required. Scientists are telling us we need to reduce our pollution by at least 40 per cent in Canada by 2030 to contribute our fair share globally because Canada wants all climate change, that’s true. But if you think like that, no one can solve climate change on its own. It’s by working together. And our share is about 40 per cent of pollution cut by 2030. If Andrew Fury’s serious about climate change, then show me your plan and show me how you get there at no extra cost to Canadians. And he can’t, and he won’t because he can’t do that. And same thing for Bonnie Crombie or for other—Tim Houston in Nova Scotia, who says he believes in climate change. Well where’s your plan that gets us to the same result? And they don’t have a plan. And it is a tough battle, but it’s a battle that needs to be fought and this is why we’re sticking to our guns.

Mercedes Stephenson: Last week, we spoke to Rick Smith. He’s the president of the Canadian Climate Institute. He’s a big fan of carbon pricing. He thinks it’s really important. But he said that there’s essentially far more bang for your buck from going after the big polluters than the amount that you get from going after individuals. So when people are struggling and you’re facing this political opposition, why not put a heavier burden on the big emitters instead of on the individuals and pause that fuel levy that people are paying at the pumps and focus on the big emitters, where you’re going to get a far larger reduction in actual greenhouse gases?

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Steven Guilbeault, Environment Minister: It’s true that going after large polluters, large industrial polluters, gives us about 30 per cent of our 2030 pollution cuts. What people pay at the pump and on their energy bill is about 10 per cent. But 10 per cent is not nothing. Like I’ve been environment minister now for 280—two years and 90 days or something like that, and every day we’re looking at this. We’re looking at every single measure. We’ve left no stone unturned. And if I was to remove a part of the plan that represents 10 per cent of our pollution cut, how do I make up for it?

Mercedes Stephenson: Well couldn’t you just get big polluters to pay that? Or does that come with other consequences?

Steven Guilbeault, Environment Minister: Well, I mean, in theory, yes we can. They are paying a lot. I mean, and they’re contributing three times more to the pollution cuts that we as individuals and Canadians are. If—I mean, it’s a balancing act. If we put too much pressure on industrial polluters, some may say well listen, this is, you know, this is too tough compared to some of our peers around the world and you’re having us compete at a disadvantage with other nations and companies in other nations around the world. So we have a plan that is balanced, that is asking big polluters to do more. Way more than Canadians, but Canadians also have a contribution. We all have a role to play. Like this idea that we can solve climate change and it’s just about government and big business—yes, governments and big business have a big role to play, but we as Canadians also have a role to play and we have a responsibility. And again, if we remove carbon pricing from the equation for individuals, people—8 out of 10 Canadian families will be worse off economically. They will have less money in their bank account if we do that.

Mercedes Stephenson: Syntaxes typically work by modifying behaviour, which essentially this is, right? You’re paying into it if you’re using gas, because it’s when you’re filling up at the pump. It’s same as when you buy alcohol. There’s a tax on it or cigarettes. There’s a tax on it. It’s only going up by 3 cents this year, so it’s a lot of outrage—sorry, 3 cents a litre—I should be very clear about that. There’s a lot of outrage over what a lot of environmentalists argue is a relatively small amount of money for most people. Because when it actually accelerates into the levels where it’s going to change behaviour is far down the road. Why is it that your government won’t consider pausing this even for a year, given the fact that the immediate increase is not likely to change peoples’ behaviour, and there’s also the parallel challenge or the fact that the electrification in Canada isn’t there for people to simply be able to make the transition that you’d eventually like them to make.

Steven Guilbeault, Environment Minister: Well, I mean, yes there’s a 3 per cent increase on April 1st, but there’s also an increase in the rebates. So as the price on pollution goes up, the rebate to Canadians also goes up and they can—and 8 out of 10 families continue to be better off than without carbon pricing.

You say that it’s not having an impact. I profoundly disagree with you. In many provinces, gas consumption is going down—in my home province of Quebec, in B.C.—because people are making the switch to public transit, to electric vehicles. In my home province of Quebec, 1 out of 5 vehicles sold today, is an electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles. Sales of EVs in Canada have tripled over the last few years. Canadians are playing their part. They are having a role and they are helping us reduce pollution. It is—it is happening. Now we understand that for certain Canadians, it’s going to be more difficult, which is why we’ve doubled the top-up for rural Canadians because they have less options in many instances, in terms of transportation. There’s often not a lot of transit options available if you live in rural Canada, but we’re making massive investment in both electrifications to make it easier for Canadians who want to do the switch from a gas car to an electric vehicle. And Canadians are doing it by the hundreds of thousands. It is happening. But we’re also investing massively in things like electrification in things like transit. I mean, we’ve added 400 kilometres of subway lines thanks to federal investment in the last four years. This is what—this is helping Canadians make different choices and help to—both, it helps them with their pocketbook issue, but it also helps Canada fight climate change.

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Mercedes Stephenson: Minister Guilbeault, thank you so much for joining us today.

Steven Guilbeault, Environment Minister: Thank you very much. Have a good day.

Mercedes Stephenson: Coming up, one of the best known generals in the world on Canada’s stature in NATO.


Mercedes Stephenson: From wars in the Middle East and Ukraine, to conflicts in the Congo and Sudan, vicious gangs in Haiti, and deadly cartels in Mexico, why is the world in so much turmoil right now? And what can be done, if anything, to stabilize it?

We’re joined by the man once called “the most important general in America”—David Petraeus, who served more than 37 years in the U.S. Army before becoming director of the CIA.

Great to see you General Petraeus. Thank you so much for making time for us.

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Retired U.S. Gen. David Petraeus/ Former CIA Director: Good to be with you again. Thanks.

Mercedes Stephenson: As you look around the world, and you look at China, Russia, terrorism, cartels, organized crime, non-state actors, all of these different threats and so much conflict, what stands to you as the most significant one? And what can we do to mitigate what seems to be exploding violence around the globe?

Retired U.S. Gen. David Petraeus/ Former CIA Director: I think that what actually keeps me awake at night is not any one of these, it’s the fact that we face more threats and more complex threats than we have at any time since the end of the Cold War, if not the end of World War II. If you think of the U.S. as the guy in the circus, together with partners—allies and partners—keeping a lot of plates spinning on sticks, there are more plates in that tent and some of them represent more complex challenges than again, at any time, certainly since the end of the Cold War. There’s obviously the China plate. It’s the one that matters most. It’s bigger than all the others put together. But the Russia plate has gotten more menacing and dangerous. There’s the North Korea plate. There are several Iran plates, the nuclear program, support to Shia, and then the drones and missiles that they’re providing and have, but also to Russia. There are individual Islamic extremists’ plates. You have to keep an eye and pressure on them or they reconstitute as the Islamic State did in Iraq and North Eastern Syria. There are cyber threat plates: nation states, extremist groups, criminals, you name it. There’s domestic populism on the rise. It causes issues in various places, and there’s even the manifestations of climate change and all that are associated with that, including massive migration as the desertification of the Sahara is increased and so forth. So you put all of that together and it’s really trying to keep all these plates spinning without allowing any of the significant ones to drop. And that is a major challenge. It’s one that we all have to work together to do and it highlights again, why it’s so important that each individual country pulls its share of the load and then works in tandem with all the others.

Mercedes Stephenson: And we’re talking about all of these global conflicts, and it’s just such a dangerous time in the world, and I’m thinking about Iran being behind so much of this. I’m thinking about Russia being attacked, but also a concern when it comes to Ukraine. And in the midst of this, there’s a lot of discussion here in Canada about our own defence spending. We are not anywhere close to 2 per cent of GDP. The government keeps saying they’re going to spend more, but more and more numbers keep coming out which are suggesting that we’re slipping as others are spending more money. What affect does that have on Canada’s international standing, and do you think this is a time when countries can afford to spend less than 2 per cent of their GDP?

Retired U.S. Gen. David Petraeus/ Former CIA Director: I’m always hesitant to get into domestic politics. I don’t even vote in the United States or register with a party, and I talk to members of all parties. But I should note, first of all, I was privileged to command or to serve with Canadian forces in numerous endeavours of the years. Cold War Europe, remember it was the Canadian army trophy shoot. Bosnia, where there was a Canadian two star commanding one of the divisions. We had some Canadians in the NATO training mission in Iraq when I commanded it there, and then a superb Canadian delegation contingent in Afghanistan when I was privileged to command that effort. So there’s this very, very considerable amount of respect for the professionalism, the expertise, the sheer intelligence of the force, but that can only take it so far. You have to enable the best with the best. And that really generally requires about 2 per cent of GDP, and of course, all the other NATO countries are coming on line. You’re seeing steadily, additional countries that are spending 2 per cent on GDP: Germany, a very significant country, of course now the #3 economy in the world, jumping from under 1.5 to 2 per cent recently as a result of the Zeitenwende that they went through after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. So I think, again, to ensure that Canada is standing in the world, the respect it’s given in the world for a force that has extraordinary people. Great soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and so forth, but they need to be enabled properly and I think that that does indeed require more than is currently being spent.

Mercedes Stephenson: Well, and if it makes you feel any better, when I was interviewing the defence minister himself a couple of weeks ago, he described the Canadian Armed Forces as heading into a death spiral. So in terms of partisan politics, it seems like perhaps a rare opportunity when both sides feel there’s a problem. Whether or not the government does something is, of course, another question.

I know you’re headed to Ukraine soon. Your thoughts on where that conflict is going.

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Retired U.S. Gen. David Petraeus/ Former CIA Director: It depends first and foremost on the U.S. finalizing the very considerable package of support that was approved by the Senate, but has been languishing in our House of Representatives. When I was at Munich Security Conference this year, it was the opposite of what it normally is. It normally is the Americans are shaking down the Europeans to do more. This year, the Europeans are doing more and they were having to shake down the members of the House of Representatives in the United States, to get them to pass this bill. And then it depends, to a considerable degree, of course, whether Russia can continue to generate additional forces, noting that the losses they’re taking are just absolutely horrific and it makes you wonder. Is there a moment where Russia’s mothers and fathers and wives say no, not anymore? Not my son. Not my husband. And there’s a bit of a technology race going on. Ukraine has won that in the Maritime arena. They’ve actually sunk over a third of the Black Sea fleet of Russia. Forced them to withdraw from the very important Port of Sevastopol and they’ve done it with Maritime and air drones working in tandem and that opens up the Black Sea for them to export wheat, iron ore and some other commodities.

On the land, not quite as significant, both are using lots of drones and other systems. But that race also is going to matter a great deal as well. So again, bottom line is, it depends and those are the factors on which it does indeed depend. And I’ll check it next week, myself.

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Mercedes Stephenson: You have spent so much of your career fighting and studying terrorism. And we saw this horrific attack carried out in Moscow that shocked a lot of people. We haven’t seen an attack on that scale in a Western or a European country in a long time, much less in Russia. A lot of folks saying that they hadn’t had an attack that significant since the early 2000s. What did that attack tell you about the state of extremism and terrorist capabilities, especially after the American withdrawal from Afghanistan?

Retired U.S. Gen. David Petraeus/ Former CIA Director: Well that it’s very worrisome, frankly. To be all the way into Western Russia, if you will, a part of Russia that really is part of the European continent, and such a significant attack with such a terrible loss of life and injuries is really quite a shock. What’s particularly shocking is that apparently the U.S. has sources and methods, it’s publicly known that we gave a warning to our citizens in Moscow: do not go where there are a lot of people congregated. And we believe in the duty to warn, which is this concept accepted about a decade or so ago, that if you have intelligence on a potential attack that you even share it with your adversaries, not just your friends. And that was done purportedly two times with the Russian counterparts to our intelligence community. They did actually stop a couple of other attacks, but they obviously missed this one.

Mercedes Stephenson: I want to ask you what this means for Canada and the United States, too, because we’ve had a number of terror arrests here since the summer. There have been internal government warnings that after the attack in Israel on October 7th that there could be attacks inspired here by groups who are either inspired by that attack or unhappy with Israel’s response to it. What do you think the risk is, today, of an ISIS-like group attacking Canada?

Retired U.S. Gen. David Petraeus/ Former CIA Director: It’s elevated. I think it has to be, and I’m sure that that’s the assessment here in the United States as well because it’s what you just said. Every time one of these succeeds, it inspires copycats. It motivates them to try to do this as well. So I think that this is a significant threat worldwide.

Mercedes Stephenson: Speaking of Gaza, I know that’s a situation you’ve been watching very closely. How do you feel Israel’s campaign is going there and about the U.S. response, essentially looking for a ceasefire?

Retired U.S. Gen. David Petraeus/ Former CIA Director: Well, I was just out there a few weeks ago. Met with the minister of defence at his request and then subsequently with his deputy and then subsequently with his policy director. And I believe that they do need to destroy Hamas. This horrific, barbaric attack that they carried out on 10/7, really traumatized Israel, and I believe that Hamas needs to be destroyed and kept destroyed, so prevent it from reconstitution. The Hamas political wing has to be dismantled, never allowed to run Gaza again. Got to get the hostages back, but there needs to be a vision for the Palestinian people. Then what are the plans to actually do that? There’s frankly right now, inadequate humanitarian assistance going in, much less a major effort to get people back in their homes, rebuild them, repair the damage to infrastructure, which is very considerable in certain areas. So that’s what I would be looking for.

Mercedes Stephenson: General David Petraeus, so much more I would love to ask you about. We’ll have to have you back on the show soon. We really appreciate you joining us with your knowledge and your wisdom. Thank you.

Retired U.S. Gen. David Petraeus/ Former CIA Director: Great to be with you again. Thanks Mercedes.

Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, Canada’s spy agency accused of illegally holding on to Canadian personal information.


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Mercedes Stephenson: Now for one last thing…

Canada’s spy agency, CSIS, is breaking the law, according to a new report by the country’s intelligence watchdog.

The National Security and Intelligence Review Agency also known as NSIRA, says there are big problems with CSIS’ big data program, finding the spy agency improperly stored tens of thousands of entries of Canadian personal information from foreign sources. The report looked at how CSIS is using powers that were granted to it in 2019 by the Liberal government, to collect big data in order to help their investigations and operations.

NSIRA found the spy agency broke the CSIS Act, by retaining Canadian information from foreign datasets, had lax controls over who could access it, and questioned the basis for collecting it in the first place.

Canada already has less public transparency than our allies when it comes to national security and intelligence agencies now overlay shortcomings like this one against a backdrop of privacy concerns and declining trust in government institutions, and it’s a recipe for disaster. Our spies have to do better in assuring Canadians they are sticking not only to the letter of the law, but also the spirit of it.

That’s our show for today. Happy Easter. Thanks for watching, and we’ll see you next week.


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