THE WEST BLOCK
Episode 41, Season 9
Sunday, June 14, 2020
Host: Mercedes Stephenson
Guests: Minister Carla Qualtrough, Chief Perry Bellegarde,
Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam: “Take this guy’s badge number.”
Mercedes Stephenson: This week on The West Block: Systemic racism in policing, and in our communities.
RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki: “And we need to maintain the trust and gain more trust in the Canadian citizens, including our Indigenous populations.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “Systemic racism is an issue right across the country.”
Mercedes Stephenson: And COVID-19 and the economy.
Pierre Poilievre, MP—Carleton: “This government is spending over $500 billion this year. Do you know that works out to about a million dollars a minute?”
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland: “We have put our money where our mouth is.”
Mercedes Stephenson: Systemic racism in Canada, and in policing, they’re topics that Canadians all across the country have been talking about. Last week, I sat down with the RCMPs commissioner, Brenda Lucki, and I asked her if she believes systemic racism exists in her police force. She said it’s something she’s struggling with, but does acknowledge that there is an unconscious bias in the force. After that interview, this video came out. This is new video from an RCMP cruiser’s dash cam. It shows an officer tackling and then punching Chief Allan Adam as he is being arrested for an expired license plate.
Joining me now is Carla Qualtrough, she is the minister of employment workforce development and disability inclusion. Thank you for joining us, minister. We’re going to start off with something that is not actually a part of your file, and that’s the RCMP and policing. We did as the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and Minister Blair’s office, who is the minister responsible for the RCMP to come on the show. They said he’s not available so we’re putting these questions to you. You are a human rights lawyer, so you have some familiarity with policing and issues of excessive force. You watched that video of Chief Adams arrest. What did you think of it?
Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion Minister Carla Qualtrough: I can’t even think of words that are extreme enough to express how sad, how outraged, how deplorable I found that behaviour.
Mercedes Stephenson: So, if you find that behaviour unacceptable, and this is not the only video that has come out this week, do you believe that that officer should continue to serve in the RCMP?
Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion Minister Carla Qualtrough: Well even more deeply, I believe that we need to really dig in, call it what it is. It’s racism. It’s systemic discrimination within our police force. And do something about it.
Mercedes Stephenson: So how do you think you deal with that when you have the commissioner of the RCMP saying she’s not really sure what systemic racism means? She thinks it’s more unconscious bias. The RCMP themselves looked at this video and said we don’t see anything wrong with it. This is on the continuum of force. How do you affect change if that’s the internal perspective?
Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion Minister Carla Qualtrough: I don’t know. I think we need to dig in. I think like the prime minister said, we can’t accept that. We have to call this systemic discrimination. I mean, it tells me how ingrained culturally this actually is that people can look at it from that perspective and not see the concern that underlines even that attitude.
Mercedes Stephenson: Do you think that means that you need new leadership in the RCMP?
Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion Minister Carla Qualtrough: I think it’d be premature to say that, but I think we have to look at, absolutely, the leadership structures, the training people are getting, the system we’ve put in place, it’s all fine and dandy to say things look neutral on the face of it, but they’re clearly not. There’s clearly a pattern of behaviour. There’s a culture in the organization that makes it okay to do this, and then justify it by saying it’s okay to do it. It’s unacceptable.
Mercedes Stephenson: Is it time for civilian oversight of the RCMP?
Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion Minister Carla Qualtrough: It sure might be. I don’t know if that’s the exact way forward, but it’s certainly something we need to consider quite strongly in my opinion. And also, if the RCMP is doing good work and doing well, it shouldn’t at all be threatened by having another layer of oversight.
Mercedes Stephenson: There are people inside of the Indigenous community who say that your government has made a lot of promises on reconciliation and ending racism. There are people in the black community who say that you’ve made promises to fund programs that the money is not flowing on. They’re accusing your government of being big on talk about addressing discrimination and systemic racism but light on action. What do you say to those people?
Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion Minister Carla Qualtrough: Well, I say they’re right. We haven’t done enough. The prime minister has said we haven’t done enough. We’ve not done ‘nothing’, but we certainly need to do more. And I hope that what comes out of this past couple of weeks, is a renewed commitment to act, and a renewed investment in these organizations that support and create opportunities for everyone and then we can really dig in and all of our institutions, you know isn’t just the RCMP we should be talking about. There’s a lot of institutions. I spent my legal career before this job looking at systemic discrimination, and it’s a tough nut to crack, because it’s not obvious all the time.
Mercedes Stephenson: Let’s turn to your file, which of course is the CERB and employment. Some employers are saying that they are having trouble getting people to come back to work off the CERB. Are you concerned about that? And are you looking at starting to really walk that program back at this point?
Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion Minister Carla Qualtrough: Well, I’ll answer your second question first. So we’re not looking to walk the program back. We’re looking to figure out a way to move forward so that we achieve different goals with the program. So of course CERB was created when we were asking people to stay home and not work. Now we want people to go back to work. We want them to do it safely, but we need to make sure whatever comes next to support Canadians, and workers in particular, doesn’t disincentivize work. I’ve heard from employers that some people are choosing not to work because of CERB. I don’t think the problems as rampant as some of the more vocal politicians in our midst would suggest. I’ve actually heard from employers who initially thought it would disincentivize work and that were delighted to find that people want to work. Canadians generally want to work. We saw, you know, there’s less people on CERB than there was a month ago. We created 290,000 jobs last month, and the vast majority of them were in low-income jobs, so people who probably could have chosen CERB instead of these new opportunities. I don’t think it’s as systemic, for lack of a better word, as people are saying, but it’s a concern. But the reality is regardless, we have 4.5 million people who don’t have jobs, so we need to support workers.
Mercedes Stephenson: Minister Qualtrough, you introduced a bill, your government that would have introduced potential prison sentences for people who were caught using the CERB who shouldn’t have had it who are using it fraudulently, fines as well. Money for people who have disabilities that bill didn’t make it through because your government wouldn’t agree to give Parliament more than one day to talk about it. Why would you only assign one day to talk about something as major as everything from prison sentences to disability payments?
Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion Minister Carla Qualtrough: First of all, I think we need to unpack that a little bit. So we had agreed with the other parties how we were going to—how things were going to roll out on Wednesday in terms of debating the bill, what that would look like, how many people each party got to put up and make speeches and ask questions. And so the Conservatives, you know, throwing a curve ball in, in the middle of the day was not expected. Personally, I think when we saw that we couldn’t get agreement on the CERB, on the wage subsidy, on the justice bill, and we specifically tried to sever the disability piece, which was a very straightforward law that had two sections in it that’s when politics took hold and I don’t even understand why we all couldn’t have agreed to go back to the drawing board on the other three pieces and just pass this one. That was truly unfortunate.
Mercedes Stephenson: Well, Minister Qualtrough, unfortunately that’s all the time we have as well, but thank you so much for joining us today.
Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion Minister Carla Qualtrough: My pleasure. Take are.
Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, we’ll talk to the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations about what needs to be done when it comes to systemic racism in Canada.
RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki: “But I’ve been struggling with the definition of systemic racism, and when I think of unconscious bias, there is unconscious bias in the RCMP most definitely. And there is—you know, we live in a society where the inequities persist, and police are part of that society. And so yes, we have a responsibility to promote that inclusion and make sure we don’t have that racism.”
Mercedes Stephenson: Welcome back. That was RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki in an interview last week, when I asked her about systemic racism within her police force.
Late on Friday, she released a statement saying that she now does believe there is systemic racism within the RCMP.
For reaction in the change in tune from the RCMP, and the issue of systemic racism in Canada, I’m joined by Perry Bellegarde. He is the national chief for the Assembly of First Nations.
Welcome, chief. You know, what did you make of the change from what the commission said on Wednesday to that statement on Friday? Do you think that that’s a genuine epiphany?
National Chief for the Assembly of First Nations Perry Bellegarde: I had her on my podcast Friday morning at 10am, and we had a really intense discussion and dialogue about systemic racism, and overt racism, and excessive use of police force in the RCMP. And so she went that afternoon, and changed her mind and her opinion. So I’m glad we had that really intense dialogue, because in order to deal with systemic racism, the first thing you need to do is admit that it exists, and then you start working from there in terms of what can be done to address it.
Mercedes Stephenson: What about that dialogue that you had, do you think, was the turning point that changed her mind?
National Chief for the Assembly of First Nations Perry Bellegarde: I think again, to deal with racism, or excessive use of police force, you have to be very up front and have an honest dialogue about it. And we shared some—some very intense questions, and what can be done to address it. And again, if you want to deal with systemic racism, you need to systemic change. And so, we talked about—you can’t look at it and say there is no racism or discrimination in the RCMP, when you look at the amount of statistics and the studies that have been done. So I made the point that we should be past that dialogue, or even question whether or not there is racism. And we should start putting our energies on how do we fix it and how do we address it, to make sure that these people that are sworn to protect and serve, they’re not sworn to assault and kill so like, we need to get back to how do they do best community policing for First Nations people, and so wanted to spend some time and energy on that piece.
Mercedes Stephenson: Chief, what did you think when you saw, and there’s been more than one video, but the most recent video of Chief Adams arrest?
National Chief for the Assembly of First Nations Perry Bellegarde: Again, the excessive use of force in the takedown. Again, the policy—we’re going to keep pushing for that transparent, open investigation, and I believe that excessive use of force there should be a zero tolerance policy within the RCMP. And that’s when—when you look at it, it’s terrible. It’s horrible, the takedown that happened. There was no de-escalation, there was no trying to talk things through. There was a straight out assault and attack, and that’s what’s really disheartening and alarming. That happens too much, too fast, too often, and that’s what we need to start looking at. And that’s where we need to start putting our energies. This needs to stop.
Mercedes Stephenson: What did you think of the RCMPs initial response? Because they said look, investigators looked at it, they determined that the actions the police took were within the continuum of the use of force , that there had been—the chief had gotten out of the truck a couple of times previously, that there appeared to be him taking an aggressive stance at one point, and therefore this was all justified.
National Chief for the Assembly of First Nations Perry Bellegarde: Well, again, I think there needs to be a greater focus and a greater energy on proper training, on how to de-escalate a situation. How do you deal with people, you know, that are in that situation with mental health issues, or substance abuse issues? There’s got to be a greater focus on that piece. And then, as well, it’s got to be linked into policies and procedures, you know, the whole point is de-escalation, not escalate it by straight assaulting and hurting people. That’s not the way to deal with these things. It happens too much, too far, too often, and that’s what we’ve got to start addressing.
Mercedes Stephenson: The government has said that they’re committed to change, but there’s not a lot of hard commitments in terms of timelines or exactly what they’re going to do beyond body cameras. What kind of change do you think there needs to be in the RCMP, to have the right training, the right leadership, the right accountability, the right transparency on this issue?
National Chief for the Assembly of First Nations Perry Bellegarde: Well, you know, Mercedes, I’ve always said that complacency is killing our people. There’s been so many studies already: the justice inquiry in Manitoba, to the justice inquiry in Saskatchewan, to the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Implement the recommendations therein, you know, everything from the use of body cams, which will help with transparency and openness, further training on de-escalation, getting more First Nations in positions of power and authority, more First Nations commanding officers, more First Nations people on civilian oversight committees. There’s a range of things that can happen, but it even begins with how do you police people that have been traumatized from genocide and dispossession of land and racism. You have to have specific training on that as well so building trust between police and First Nations people. How do you begin to do that? So there’s a whole range of things. We’ve got to start refocusing our energy and resources to do a better job, community based policing, establishing peace officers. You know, there’s a great model at Kwanlin Dün. Chief Doris Bill has done a great job by establishing peace officers so there’s a range of things. We need to begin those dialogues and discussions sooner than later.
Mercedes Stephenson: Would you like to see the RCMP pulled out of some Indigenous communities and replaced with Indigenous forces, or some of the money that’s going to policing now, going to social programs for Canada’s Indigenous population?
National Chief for the Assembly of First Nations Perry Bellegarde: Well, that’s part of the answer: dealing with the social determinants of health, you know, better education and housing and employment and training. All those things, putting more of the resources and maybe some—not so much in militarizing the police, but putting more resources in dealing with some of the systemic problems of dealing with and addressing poverty and substance abuse that’s part of it. I think the whole dialogue has to happen how you bring—getting First Nation people involved in the design, development, and implementation of policy, even in the sense of having police seen as an essential service. Right now, it’s not seen as an essential service, and so that’s—you’ve got to begin there, and then start designing the program so it meets the needs of the First Nations people: culturally based, competency based, all those things have to be looked at going forward.
Mercedes Stephenson: Chief Perry Bellegarde, thank you so much for joining us today on this important discussion, and we will be in touch with you again I’m sure on this, in the future very soon.
National Chief for the Assembly of First Nations Perry Bellegarde: Thanks for the opportunity, Mercedes.
Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, will the government be able to get a deal on the COVID-19 benefits package before Parliament next week? And why so far, the opposition isn’t signing off.
Mercedes Stephenson: Welcome back. No deal. The opposition would not agree to a bill that the Liberal government wanted to put in front of Parliament that would have introduced fines and jail time for fraudulent claims of people who are claiming the CERB. If the bill doesn’t pass this week coming up, how does that affect those who are receiving the CERB, and those who are depending on extra money for disabilities that is also included in that bill?
Joining me now to talk about this is the parliamentary secretary to the minister of finance, Sean Fraser, and finance critic for the Conservative Party, Pierre Poilievre. Sean, let’s start with you. This is a bit of a kitchen sink bill, everything from fines and jail time, to disability payments, and your government wanted to give MPs one day to debate that. Does that seem reasonable to you?
Sean Fraser, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance: From day one, we’ve been receptive to feedback from different parties and different stakeholders across Canada and recognize that we need to make changes to some of the programs that we rolled out after they were announced. This does require, in an emergency situation, to have short turnarounds so we can fix the very real gaps that people are falling through, to make sure that doesn’t happen. With respect to the—
Mercedes Stephenson: But are those turnarounds so short, Sean, one day?
Sean Fraser, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance: So, to be clear, there’s the opportunity to debate and discuss this in the public forum. It’s not limited to what happens on Wednesday in our new hybrid Parliament, but can also be subjected to questions during other virtual parliamentary sittings and certainly during the eight hours a week, which Pierre and I sit on the finance committee for. In addition, the prime minister is providing daily updates so Canadians appreciate the goings on of government in this abnormal set of circumstances. And for a person living with a disability whose waiting on additional support, to help offset the economic consequences of this pandemic, this is an emergency and we will do whatever it takes to support vulnerable Canadians during their time of need.
Mercedes Stephenson: Pierre, your party has some accountability to answer here, too, for Canadians who are watching. You have been saying for months that you were worried about people taking advantage of the CERB, that there needed to be more consequences. You finally get this opportunity, and we were talking to Minister Qualtrough earlier on the show, she said all the parties were aligned. The Conservatives had agreed to the terms the Liberals had here and then you suddenly changed your minds. Why did you do that?
Pierre Poilievre, MP—Carleton: That’s not accurate. We’ve been consistent from the very beginning, we want Parliament. The—it’s important that the government gets the ‘what’ right, but it’s also important that we get the ‘how’ right. Canada has a parliamentary system with 800 years of durable history. It works. The process of decision-making in Canada’s House of Commons and indeed in houses of Parliament all around the Commonwealth, has led to the highest quality of life anywhere in the world. And we understood that we needed to take a departure from that normal process in order to get us through the extraordinary first few weeks and months of COVID-19, but that’s no longer the case. The prime minister has demonstrated through his own actions, through now repeated public photo ops, in addition to his decision to travel across inter-provincial borders unnecessarily that it is possible for people to meet and gather safely in order to do their work. In fact, we are asking people who work in grocery stores, janitors, construction workers on Parliament Hill to do their work, often in much closer proximity than would be required for Parliament, and yet the prime minister thinks that they should be allowed to—they should be required to do their jobs while he is not required to do his. Well their lives are just as precious as his and mine. We have a duty to do. Let’s open Parliament and do it right.
Mercedes Stephenson: Sean, your government was very critical—or pardon me, your party, they weren’t in government then—was very critical of the Harper government for proroguing Parliament, for putting together Omnibus bills. You’ve been doing precisely the same thing, and when we look at the number of days that Parliament has sat over almost the last year, it’s 38 of them. Some Canadians are saying where’s the accountability in this?
Pierre Poilievre, MP—Carleton: With great respect, there is an enormous difference between the twice prorogued Parliament under Stephen Harper that was designed to avoid difficult questions, and a government that did not prorogue once during the 42nd Parliament and is now dealing with an emergency situation of the likes of which we have not seen in a century. The reality is we’re not afraid of accountability. The fact is as somebody who’s been part in Parliament virtually from the kitchen table, yeah, it’s a bit clumsy, like a lot of other things in society right now, but it’s actually working. The quality of the questions and answers are seemingly no different to me as someone who’s taken part in it from home, as they were when I could be in the chamber.
Mercedes Stephenson: Pierre, one of the big concerns with this bill having not been able to be introduced and passed in the way that Liberals wanted is that Canadians who have disabilities may now not get their payment that $600 one-time payment. Is your party willing to hive that off and deal with it separately if the Liberals bring just that forward?
Pierre Poilievre, MP—Carleton: We could deal with all of it very quickly through a parliamentary process. Remember, countries have been capable of fighting world wars while their House of Commons have been process. There are ways to expedite passage of benefits and other urgent actions right within the parliamentary structure, and we’ve told the government we’re happy to do that. So open Parliament, bring your bill forward. We’ll have some debate on the floor. We’ll have a quick committee conversation to review and make sure that the bill does what the government claims it does, and then the House of Commons and soon after that, the Senate, can pass it. All of that can happen very quickly. We’re simply asking the prime minister to get back to work, be accountable, respect the Parliament Canadians elected and do his job.
Mercedes Stephenson: Sean, are you worried that this may be the end of opposition support? I mean, I know the Conservatives have not backed you on many things, but the NDP has and the BQ has. Now that alliance and coalition seems to be fracturing.
Sean Fraser, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance: Look, this is not the kind of thing that I’m going to worry about. It’s the kind of thing that I’m going to reach out to my colleagues from different parties over and discuss to see if we can help negotiate a resolution. The previous question that you put to Mr. Poilievre just now, asked simply if he would be willing to hive off support for Canadians with disabilities to deal with that in an emergency situation, the only acceptable answer to that question in my mind is yes, but the Conservatives seem to take a different approach. I do not think the solution is to bring 338 members of Parliament back together in a crowded room—by the way—.
Pierre Poilievre, MP—Carleton: No one does.
Sean Fraser, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance: When my colleague, Sarah, sits within arm’s reach of me, who herself was actually diagnosed with COVID-19, the kind of thing that’s being proposed right now is to carry on with a mixed hybrid Parliament that allows us to put forward ideas that can be adopted into Canadian law so vulnerable Canadians can be supported during an emergency, and I don’t understand how any member of Parliament from any party could not support that kind of an approach.
Mercedes Stephenson: Pierre, we just have a few moments left, but the Conservative debate is coming up for the leadership competition this week. You were looking at getting involved in that. You pulled out at the last minute. Any regrets that you’re not going to be on the stage?
Pierre Poilievre, MP—Carleton: I think we’ve got a good cast, actually. It’s been a good debate. They’ve got another couple months to thrash out their policy ideas and I’m looking forward to seeing what they come up with. So far, there has been a strong performance from numerous of the candidates. I haven’t decided to endorse anyone, but I’ll be like many Conservatives, watching with increasing scrutiny as we get closer to the voting time.
Mercedes Stephenson: Okay. Sean and Pierre, thank you both very much for joining us.
Pierre Poilievre, MP—Carleton: A pleasure, as always.
Sean Fraser, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance: Great to be with you.
Mercedes Stephenson: That’s all the time we have for today. Thank you for joining us as well. Have a great day, and we’ll see you back here next Sunday.
Additional West Block programming aired in some markets on Sunday:
Mercedes Stephenson: On The West Block this week, businesses reopening.
Minister of Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade Mary Ng: “We want to ensure that business owners have the tools that they need to ensure the safety of their employees and customers.”
Ontario Premier Doug Ford: “We must move forward, but we must do it so carefully.”
[Crowd shouting repeatedly: Black Lives Matter]
Mercedes Stephenson: Systemic racism in Canada.
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland: “Systemic racism exists in Canada. It exists in all of our institutions.”
Mercedes Stephenson: And, COVID contact tracing.
Dr. Theresa Tam, Chief Public Health Officer: “We’re doubling down on other public health measures to keep the epidemic under control.”
Mercedes Stephenson: Less than half of small businesses across the country have fully reopened, and less than a quarter of those small businesses are meeting their pre-COVID sales. Do businesses have the tools they need to get back up to full speed? And if not, how many may have to close their doors?
And joining me now to talk about this is Goldy Hyder, president and CEO of the Business Council of Canada, and Dan Kelly, president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.
Dan, let’s start with you. There are a lot of small businesses in this country that have been struggling. What’s your sense of how many will survive this pandemic?
Dan Kelly, President, Canadian Federation of Independent Business: You know we’re hearing that from our members directly that about 10-12 per cent of them have serious questions about whether they will ever reopen at this stage that they are looking at this point, to either winding down their businesses or potentially going bankrupt. If you extrapolate that for the full economy, that means that we could have 100,000 businesses, or more, permanently closing their doors leaving huge gaps on every main street across the country.
Mercedes Stephenson: Goldy, as you look at the numbers across the country, what’s your sense of how Canadian industry and business come out of this?
Goldy Hyder, President, CEO Business Council of Canada: There is going to be some, you know, disruption in that supply chains and collateral damage, which is part of the reason, I think, we need to get the economy restarted. Phase 1 was largely about protecting our health system. Canadians responded to that call and made the sacrifice. Businesses made that sacrifice. Our own group led the charge for that lockdown, but the time has come to restart, and creating confidence is going to be the key to that, because confidence will bring about demand. And we’ve launched a new program called Post, or People Outside Safely Together, and as post-lockdown, we know we need to coexist with COVID for a period of time and in partnership with people like Dan Kelly at the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), restaurant owners, Chambers of Commerce, retailers, you know, as well as building owners and managers, we’ve launched this initiative called POST and we’re going to ask Canadians and Canadian businesses to watch out for a local—like at their local store. Whether it’s their hair salon or a coffee shop, it’s a word mark campaign much like Good Housekeeping or like Dine Safe, where people can feel a sense of confidence that businesses are doing what they can to make the experience safe. And check it out at postpromise.com.
Mercedes Stephenson: Some employees are afraid to come back in, they’ve been told stay home. Now they may have to ride public transit, come into the workplace with other people. What is the challenge there in terms of making sure you have a safe workplace? And what kind of expenses is that placing on businesses when it comes to smaller shifts, physical distancing, making sure people have masks and shields?
Dan Kelly, President, Canadian Federation of Independent Business: The average business has had to spend over $200,000 during the pandemic just to keep their business alive, and there are now mounting bills of debt for every business. Some of the support programs have, of course, been very slow to kick in, but all sorts of concerns. Of course, bringing back your workers is not a straight line. You know, many businesses have laid off thousands of workers across the country, and at this point are starting to rehire some of them. It is becoming challenge to do just that. Then you have to find and source and actually afford personal protective equipment. You may have to hire extra staff than you’re used to in order to have somebody control crowds at doors, or do extra cleaning between customers. There are a whole host of issues that businesses are facing, a whole bunch of new costs as well. Even firms that have remained open during the pandemic are telling me that their costs have just multiplied.
Mercedes Stephenson: And Goldy, when we look at some of the government programs that Dan was mentioning, there was a lot of criticism in the business community that some of the ones like the wage subsidy and the rent program were too slow to kick in, and that there was an incentive for people to go on CERB, rather than employers initially to keep people online. What’s your take on the government programs and how they’ve performed throughout this pandemic?
Goldy Hyder, President, CEO Business Council of Canada: Well look, I think it’s fair to say that the governments in Canada moved fairly quickly to get these programs in place. I know the strategy was to create a floor, particularly for individuals to get through that phase 1 of that lockdown, but I think the fact that the government is supporting our post-program, suggests that a transition is underway here, and the realization is that we cannot—the government needs to signal that these programs are going to be coming to an end at some point, because they’re financially unsustainable.
Dan and I represent large and small businesses, but the common theme here is people want to go back to work. People want to work. People want their jobs. We need to create that demand, and that transition is what we are—what we’re going through here. And our message to Canadians is we can do this. We have gone through phase 1, where we’ve developed habits from washing our hands, to wearing a mask, to practicing social distancing.
Mercedes Stephenson: I’m really curious to know from you, Dan, what your members are saying about the CERB, because the opposition had criticized. They’re saying some people will not go back to work because they make more on the CERB than they do in their jobs. The government said that’s ridiculous, Canadians want to go back in their jobs. What are your members experiencing?
Dan Kelly, President, Canadian Federation of Independent Business: Well, unfortunately, we are starting to see that the CERB benefits are—it’s becoming a bit of a disincentive for some to return to the workplace. It’s going to be hard to figure this out, though. It’s going to be a messy, messy recovery, because we’ve just also spent, as Goldy was just pointing out, three months telling every Canadian not to leave their homes, save one trip a week to go and get groceries. It’s a pretty abrupt change now for many to say okay, well now go back to your retail job, or go work in your restaurant, and all is good. So, I think employers are going to have to be patient. But we do need to put some guiderails around the CERB. One of the things that I—we’re hearing an increasing number is that when the employer is calling the worker back, the worker is saying you know what? Check in with me in the fall. I’ve got my bills paid right now with the CERB benefit and I’m going to take a pass on that job. The employer, of course, has to make it safe for that employee to return and feel competent to return, and Goldy’s initiative that we’re working on will help do that, the POST Promise.
Mercedes Stephenson: And some people are saying look maybe that means we need to pay people more if they’re making more on the CERB than they would in some of these essential minimum wage jobs. But Goldy, just before we go, the NDP is saying they want 10 days of paid sick leave. The government says they’re behind them. A lot of businesses are saying they can’t afford that. What are your thoughts?
Goldy Hyder, President, CEO Business Council of Canada: Look, there is going to need to be flexibility on the part of employers and how they manage their employees, and I think there’s a willingness on the part of employers to do that. One of the promise elements of the POST Promise is, if you’re unwell, you know, stay home. And if that means employers have to cover that cost to ensure that they’re not going to be, you know, spreading the virus, I think you’re going to see a lot of flexibility on the part of employers. I don’t think it requires a 10-day program at time in which businesses, as Dan has pointed out, already hurting and hurting dramatically. We’re entering a unique period here. We may see periods of high unemployment corresponding with severe labour shortage. So let the market go to work, let the market take of itself in terms of employees and the job demand.
Mercedes Stephenson: Okay. That’s all the time we have, so we have to wrap it up there. Thank you both for joining us today.
Up next: racism in Canada. We’ll hear from members of the Indigenous and black communities on racism and policing in this country, after the break.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “Systemic racism is an issue right across the country in all our institutions, including in all our police forces, including in the RCMP. That’s what systemic racism is. So as much as we admire and support the RCMP, we know we need to do better.”
Mercedes Stephenson: Welcome back. For over two weeks, Canadians across the country have taken to the streets, protesting racial injustice and systemic racism. This has all been happening while more disturbing images and videos have shown aggressive policing measures against Indigenous people and other racialized Canadians.
Joining me now to discuss systemic racism and what needs to be done to move this country forward, we have Rawlson King, who is an Ottawa City Councillor. He’s responsible for the new Racism and Ethno-Cultural Relations portfolio here in the City, and Cindy Blackstock, who is executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Centre and a very well-known advocate for Indigenous children in this country. Thank you both for joining us. We really appreciate it.
You know, there are some very tough conversations that Canadians need to have about our society and how things function. I want to start with a question that we hear a lot from viewers, and to get your perspectives on this. What does systemic racism mean to you? Cindy?
Cindy Blackstock, First Nations Child and Family Caring Society: Well what systemic racism means to me, is when treating people differently because of a particular trait, becomes normalized in society, and in some ways even made benevolent. When you think about residential schools, the removal of First Nations Métis and Inuit children from their families, because the assumption was it was better for the kids because these parents could take care of them. And even now, we have the federal government who at the same time while they’re admonishing systemic racism and police forces and other institutions, are actually perpetrating racial discrimination against 165,000 children that’s not a matter of opinion, it’s a matter of court order. And as recently as September of 2019, they were found that that discrimination was resulting in unnecessary family separations and the deaths of some children. So, they can stand there and say that they’re against it, while they perpetrate at the same time. That’s the challenge, is we need to get them to embrace the fact that they themselves are doing the racial discrimination and ways that harm people, and they themselves have to embrace this opportunity for change.
Mercedes Stephenson: Rawlson, how do you see systemic racism expressing itself in Canada?
Rawlson King, Ottawa City Councillor: Well, it’s definitely when people are inhibited from having fair access to public services from their government. And so at the City of Ottawa what we’re doing, is looking at the establishment and the anti-racism secretariat to ensure a quality of opportunities and a quality of outcomes for people who over a long period of time have not been treated fairly by their government in areas of housing, in areas of other social services. It’s really important that when people deal with their governments that they get equal treatment and that they have a quality of opportunity and a quality of outcomes. And we don’t see that with racialized people, black people, Indigenous people, and different religious groups in areas such as housing, or economic development, or employment, so that’s what we’re seeking to do at the City. And in order to do that, we need real resources, and we need real resources from senior levels of government.
Mercedes Stephenson: Cindy, when it comes to resources, you have taken the government to court over the lack of resources they have provided to Indigenous children. What do you think is the biggest barrier facing Indigenous people right now in Canada, and what needs to be done about it?
Cindy Blackstock, First Nations Child and Family Caring Society: I think there’s two big barriers. One is the inequality in public services—and let’s face it, we’ve seen the money available since COVID—it really says to me it was always possible for the government to treat First Nations children in equitable ways and they chose not to. So it’s that inequity, and then on top of that, is there’s a lack of respect for the self-determination, the ability of First Nations, Métis, Inuit peoples, to make decisions for themselves that are in their own best interests. We need to get rid of things like the archaic Indian Act in Canada. You want to talk about systemic racism. Well it’s baked right into Canadian law there. Those things need to change.
Mercedes Stephenson: Rawlson, I know one of the big files that you work on is policing reform, and we’ve been talking about this a lot in recent days in Canada. Some say well put body cameras on officers. Others say, that catches a couple of acts, it’s not the long-term solution. What do you think needs to change in Canadian policing?
Rawlson King, Ottawa City Councillor: I think what we need to do, is have a really comprehensive view of where we’re placing dollars. I know that there is this, you know, campaign around defunding the police. In practical terms in Ontario, the way we are structurally, it’s very different than the United States. So money cannot simply be removed from the police service in an easy way, but what most police services would tell you, including, I think, the senior leadership at the Ottawa Police Service, is that we do need investments—greater investments in communities, especially communities that are becoming more vulnerable and are becoming more marginal. And so, we need investments in mental health supports and in youth programming that is going to create productive opportunities for youth within our cities. And so it’s going to be necessary for us to really seek greater injections of dollars there into this type of programming, and we need to do that in conjunction with our police service and in conjunction with the public. So, I’m going to release a letter in the near future that follows up on a gun violence motion that I moved at city council last year, to really examine ways that we can make meaningful community investments, to ensure that across the board, people who are increasingly becoming marginal in our society, have opportunities to really thrive. And the key for us should be improving the quality of life of people, and ensuring that our youth do not get wrapped up unnecessarily with the criminal justice system.
Mercedes Stephenson: Cindy, I think a lot of Canadians have been very disturbed by the things that they’ve heard and seen and learned. Their perspectives are changing, and we see that in the polling of Canadians. People at home are wondering: what can I do to help? What is your advice to them?
Cindy Blackstock, First Nations Child and Family Caring Society: Well, the good news is, we have a lot of solutions: the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action, the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls calls to justice. And what every day Canadians could do, is actually write to the prime minister and say now is not the time to postpone the plan to respond to the Murdered, Missing Indigenous Women and Girls inquiry, it’s a time to enact those recommendations. So look, we know better, the government knows better, so let’s do better for these children, for their families and for the communities who at large. These are solutions that we don’t have to create. They’re opportunities to really not only uplift First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples, but other persons across the country, too. And in doing so, we bring ourselves closer to that human benevolence that sense of human spirit that I think really bonds us together regardless of our distinct differences.
Mercedes Stephenson: Cindy and Rawlson, that’s all the time we have. But thank you both so much for joining us and sharing your knowledge and your perspectives. We’ll be in touch with you again soon.
Rawlson King, Ottawa City Councillor: Thank you.
Cindy Blackstock, First Nations Child and Family Caring Society: Thank you.
Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, as businesses, and some nursing and long term care homes reopen, what will new health data collected on a special platform in Ontario, provide?
Mercedes Stephenson: Welcome back. Later this week, family visits to some long term care homes, retirement homes and group homes will resume in Ontario, but under very strict guidelines.
Earlier this month, former federal Health Minister Jane Philpott was appointed to the role of special advisor for Ontario, and her job is to develop a new health data platform to respond to COVID-19. So, what does that mean and what will it do?
Joining us to talk about that now is Dr. Jane Philpott. Welcome back, Jane.
Dr. Jane Philpott, Health Data Platform: Thanks for having me.
Mercedes Stephenson: So, tell us a little bit about what this data platform is you’re putting together and what you hope it will accomplish?
Dr. Jane Philpott, Health Data Platform: Well this is actually something that in Ontario, officials in health have wanted to do for a very long time. As you know, across the country, one of the challenges in health care systems is that our information is in silos. So we have a whole bucket of information about people from their hospital records, and then there are lab records and family doctor records, and now we have public health records and results, and case management and contact tracing, and all of those are all in separate places. So this pandemic has really been an impetus to say it is beyond time that we have a health data platform that integrates all of those pieces of health information, because the more that we can understand and the more quickly we can understand it, the better we can figure out who’s at risk of getting infected and how we can help prevent further spread.
Mercedes Stephenson: So while this specifically for COVID-19, it may set a new precedent moving forward got how we’re collecting health data. One of the conversations that we’ve been hearing in the broader discussions in the country over the past few weeks about race and racism and privilege has been about health care. And there have been a number of experts who have called for data on COVID-19 in particular, to be broken down by racial groups so you could see who is the most affected. Is that one of the things your platform will be looking into?
Dr. Jane Philpott, Health Data Platform: Well certainly, so far, the information will be available based on what’s been collected to date. But I will also certainly be making recommendations going forward that we need to do much better in this area. I think most health experts agree that the more information we have, the better [00:02:19 INAUDIBLE] in this virus that there are certain people who are more vulnerable than others. Sometimes based on simple things like their age, or if they live in a congregate setting those are very high-risk individuals. But one of the other pieces that’s come out is other socio-economic and demographic risk factors, including race. This is a virus that has exposed systemic racism, has exposed the reasons why some people of particular racial or ethnic backgrounds are more at-risk. And if we get that information, it’s something that communities—racialized communities are calling for, I think the community would be very supportive of trying to do better in that area.
Mercedes Stephenson: I know previous to taking on this role, you were working in a long term care home for people with disabilities who are vulnerable to COVID-19. You’re a doctor, you also were a federal politician, what do you think of the country’s response when it comes to long term care homes, because it’s drawn an awful lot of criticism and concern?
Dr. Jane Philpott, Health Data Platform: Well, it’s probably been the most important, and perhaps one could almost say, the most shocking element of what this pandemic has exposed in Canada. Most concerning, of course, in Ontario and Quebec, where the numbers have been the worst, but we’re looking at about 85 per cent of the deaths having taken place amongst seniors living in long term care facilities. The place I was working in was a little bit different. It was a group home for people with severe disabilities, but some of the risk factors are the same. [00:03:58 INAUDIBLE]… as we prepare now for what will be an almost inevitable second wave, to acknowledge those risk factors, to very quickly address how we can better protect the most vulnerable people living in these kinds of congregate settings and there’s a lot of work to do.
Mercedes Stephenson: Do you think that we’re ready for that second wave?
Dr. Jane Philpott, Health Data Platform: Well, one can never be ready enough, but we’ve learned a lot and we’ve seen in certain geographic locations, where officials have been very proactive going into those settings, making sure that they have the personal protective equipment that’s necessary, and making sure that they understand infection prevention and control, having regular check-ins on site to ensure that the systems are in place, to know how to manage an outbreak. All of those things have enabled the success of locations that have not had outbreaks, have you know, there—even within Ontario there are certain regions that have had no long term care outbreaks, because they’ve been highly proactive. We need to make sure that we replicate those lessons across the country.
Mercedes Stephenson: I have to ask you. You were the minister for Indigenous Services, and you were very well liked and respected by many Indigenous communities across this country. As we’re having this discussion, as Canadians about race, about racism in the RCMP, what are your thoughts on what we’ve seen unfolding and coming to light in recent days?
Dr. Jane Philpott, Health Data Platform: Well, I think it’s about time that Canadians acknowledge and recognize what people have been crying out about for a very long time. There’s no question that within multiple systems of our society that racism is real. It happens in terms of the RCMP, for example. It happens in Correctional Services, it happens in health systems, it happens in legal systems. And it’s tragic and horrible what we’ve seen in recent days, but it’s not as if people haven’t been crying out about this for a very long time. And now that it’s a broader understanding in society, we have to do better. This is completely unacceptable.
Mercedes Stephenson: Thank you so much for joining us today, Dr. Philpott.
Dr. Jane Philpott, Health Data Platform: Thanks for having me.
Mercedes Stephenson: That’s all the time we have on the show for today, and thank you for joining us. We’ll see back here, next week. Have a great day.
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