The West Block – Episode 23, Season 9


Episode 23, Season 9

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Host: Mercedes Stephenson

Guests: Minister François-Philippe Champagne, John Baird, Perrin Beatty

Location: Ottawa


François-Philippe Champagne, Foreign Affairs Minister: “Our evacuation is underway.”

Patty Hajdu, Health Minister: “It is a critical time in the global efforts to contain and limit the outbreak.”

Robin Gill, Global National Anchor: “Dominic Barton was directly asked about the Canadians being detained in Beijing.

Dominic Barton, Canadian Ambassador to China: “The chill is real. We’re very angry because of our people that have been taken. China is very angry as well—furious.

Robin Gill, Global National Anchor: “The World Health Organization says the numbers have surged globally.

Eric Sorensen, Global National Affairs Correspondent: “The epidemic has a growing impact on the economy says this Chinese official.

François-Philippe Champagne, Foreign Affairs Minister: “We’re advising against all non-essential travel to China.

It’s Sunday, February 9th. I’m Mercedes Stephenson, and this is The West Block.

Mercedes Stephenson: Some Canadians are now home on Canadian soil, having been repatriated from China’s locked down Hubei province. They’re being quarantined at CFB Trenton in Ontario for two weeks. A second plane is expected to bring more home soon. This has been an exercise of diplomacy at the highest levels.

I sat down with Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne about how it all unfolded.

Minister, thank you so much for joining us.

Minister of Foreign Affairs François-Philippe Champagne: Thanks for having me.

Mercedes Stephenson: Can you give us an update on the latest in terms of how many Canadians have made it home from China to Canada and how many are still waiting to get, in particular, out of places like Wuhan that are under quarantine?

Minister of Foreign Affairs François-Philippe Champagne: So we have about two thirds of Canadians who have made it back home. We had 174 on the first flight, which left Wuhan, and as you know, refuelled in Vancouver and then went on to Trenton. And what we call the second one, which was the U.S. flight. We have 39 Canadian citizens on that flight, which are also in Trenton. So by the count, we have 213 Canadians which have now been repatriated.

Now the number of Canadians who want to come back, obviously, is fluctuating. You may remember, I said it was about 350, because some people decide to stay, some people have decided to come with us, some changed their minds. So the good thing is that with the second Canadian flight, we will be able to bring back home everyone who wants to come back.

Mercedes Stephenson: I have to ask you. What took so long, because other countries had their citizens out before?  You know that there are almost two dozen flights going back and forth between Vancouver and China alone, a day. A lot of Canadians who travel there for business who have family there and yet we were one of the last countries to get our citizens evacuated and they’re still not all out.

Minister of Foreign Affairs François-Philippe Champagne: I would say it depends. Let me just give you a sense of perspective. So the first flight out was a U.S. flight, but this was a U.S. flight under the Vienna Convention. As you know, the Americans were repatriating consular officials with their families. They had a convoy throughout Wuhan, which was a diplomatic convoy. And if I look, it took about seven to eight days to the United States to get all the permission. When you have an emergency like that, you have three steps. First, you need to assess the needs, and when we started, we had two Canadians who wanted to be repatriated and that number spiked in the same day, I think on the 27th, 250. At that point, we said obviously, we need to charter a plane, which was step two, and then we needed to work to get the authorizations and the ground logistics because for people who are watching, getting the plane in China is one thing, getting people from their residence to the airport in Wuhan is something else because we need to coordinate, obviously, provide the manifest to the Chinese authorities and make sure that we provide the plate number, the vehicle number, because, you know, from their residence to the airport, you can have like 20 checkpoints where people were asking. And we learned from this practice. I can tell you our boarding was the easiest of every nation they had in the Wuhan airport because it was well coordinated.

Mercedes Stephenson: I understand its complicated getting people to the airport and getting them out, but do you wish that perhaps you’d started the process earlier? Or do you think that you underestimated the severity of what was going to happen both in terms of the outbreak and the Chinese government’s reaction?

Minister of Foreign Affairs François-Philippe Champagne: So, what I wish, really, is when Canadians travel abroad that they would register voluntarily to the website of Global Affairs because that’s how we know how many people we have and that’s how we can get in touch with people. Like I said, the first day when we were looking at the situation, we had two people out of the number we have Hubei, who wanted—and you know, we have about 15,000—

Mercedes Stephenson: But you’d know there’s more than that in the country for sure.

Minister of Foreign Affairs François-Philippe Champagne: No, but many have decided not to come back and therefore, that number—as you know, we’ve been very transparent giving the numbers—and from the time we secured the plane to the time we landed in Wuhan, we had the weather situation and I’ll accept that in a sense when our plan tried to leave, we had crosswinds which was above tolerance that we could not take off. We missed the slot, as you know. I just want to provide context so Canadians understand. The repatriation flight can only land during the night. During the day, the airspace is used by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to bring food supplies, medical equipment and troops in Wuhan.

Mercedes Stephenson: Ambassador Dominic Barton, appointed by your government recently to China, he’s the former head of McKinsey International, a big consulting firm. He made his first appearance in front of a parliamentary committee last week. During that appearance, he said that Huseyin Celil, a Canadian citizen who is detained in China and jailed a Uyghur activist is not in fact, a Canadian citizen. That’s the line of the government in Beijing. He also has extensive ties in the past with business, which could make him very influential but also has worked with Chinese state corporations. A lot of people are questioning whether he’s too close to China. Do you regret his appointment as an ambassador, or do you still think he’s able to get the job done?

Minister of Foreign Affairs François-Philippe Champagne: No, I salute his appointment. We’re lucky that we have Canadians who have broad experience in China and who want to serve. Everyone would agree that Dominic Barton had an exceptional career, was president of McKinsey International, retired, decided to come serve Canadians, bring his wealth of experience with respect to China. I would say on the other hand, we’d like to have more people like that who want to join the Civil Service and help us to improve our relationship, in this case, with China. With respect to Mr. Celil, I’ve been very clear in the House of Commons. He is a Canadian. We will provide him all the consular assistance—

Mercedes Stephenson: How come the ambassador didn’t seem to know that?

Minister of Foreign Affairs François-Philippe Champagne: I—with everything that’s going on, I must confess. I did not have a chance to look at the questioning and the answers. But one thing is clear, is that Mr. Celil is a Canadian. We will offer him all the consular assistance, like we would do. And let’s be clear to those who are watching us, the release of the two Michaels: Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, and seeking clemency for Mr. Schellenberg, and all the other consular cases we have in China. This is our top priority, Mercedes. I mean, everyone sees that from the ambassador. I talk to him about three times a week. We’re always advocating. In my call when I was getting the permit for us to land, I did raise the case of the Michaels to make sure that our Chinese counterpart understands that despite the fact that we now have to deal with emergency issues on the health side, the first and foremost priority of the Canadian Government is to get the release of the two Michaels, and we’re seeking clemency for Mr. Schellenberg, and we’ll advocate for Mr. Celil as well.

Mercedes Stephenson: I know on Iran, we’re still waiting for those black boxes. The Iranian authorities have turned them over. You’re hoping they’ll do so, that they’ve give them to France. Do you trust that the black boxes are going to be in their original condition by the time they’re finally turned over?

Minister of Foreign Affairs François-Philippe Champagne: Well, I judge Iran not by their words but by their actions, and I judge them day by day. We—Minister Garneau and I went to meet with the leadership of the ICAO, the International Civil Agency Organization, which is a U.N. body, regulating international civil aviation. The Annex 13, as it’s called of the convention, calls for the black box to be analyzed and downloaded without delay. Certainly after 30 days, I’ve been speaking to my counterpart, the Iranian foreign minister and I said listen. It is clear now that the spirit and the words of the convention are not being respected, that Iran does not have either the technical capability or the expertise to assess what’s in the black box. So what we’ve offered and as Canada is to say let’s send those black boxes to Paris because we do know that the French have the capability to do that and that Canada could be participating as well as Ukraine. So, I said to him—I said the best antidote to conspiracy is transparency. And I said, from the beginning, we had assurance from the leadership in Iran that this would be done in a transparent fashion. So what I urged my counterpart was for them to take a final decision and accept that there’s no capabilities or sufficient capabilities in Iran to do that. And therefore, in the spirit of transparency, I bring accountability, justice and closure to the families. Those black boxes need to be sent to Paris without delay.

Mercedes Stephenson: Minister, thank you so much for your time today.

Minister of Foreign Affairs François-Philippe Champagne: Thank you for having me, it’s always a pleasure.

Mercedes Stephenson: Coming up next, John Baird joins me. The former foreign affairs minister is watching the government’s response to coronavirus closely. We’ll get his take on that and whether he might put his name into the ring to be the next Conservative leader.

Mercedes Stephenson: Welcome back. Over 50 million people are locked down in China and the new coronavirus is still spreading. In Wuhan, Chinese authorities are going door to door checking people’s temperatures and herding the sick into internment camps.

The Canadian Government has been praised by China for its reaction and not inciting panic, but it’s also come under fire here at home for acting too slowly. We wanted to sit down with someone who knows what it’s like to handle these delicate situations.

Former Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird joins me now from Toronto. Welcome to the program, Mr. Baird.

John Baird, Former Minister of Foreign Affairs: Great to be with you.

Mercedes Stephenson: I’d like to start by asking you your thoughts on how the Canadian Government has performed on the coronavirus file and the relationship with China?

John Baird, Former Minister of Foreign Affairs: I think by enlarge it’s been competent. Minister Champagne is an experienced hand and obviously, we all want to work together in a non-partisan way to see us effectively address this from a public health point of view. Obviously, it’s incredibly challenging for people and their families to be quarantined for up to two weeks, but it’s important that we take significant action to stop the spread of this. And obviously, if we had had a good bilateral relationship with China, that would have been demonstrably more helpful. But obviously, the Canada-China relationship is not in a very good place today.

Mercedes Stephenson: Do you think that that slowed down the evacuation of Canadian citizens?

John Baird, Former Minister of Foreign Affairs: I don’t think there’s any evidence that that’s the case.

Mercedes Stephenson: On the broader relationship, how do you feel the government has been performing and handling China, particularly with the two men who have been in prison, the two Michaels, for over a year now?

John Baird, Former Minister of Foreign Affairs: Yeah, listen, I mean, I think—every—all of us had high hopes for the Trudeau government with respect to our relationship with China and then there’s been a series of mistakes, whether it’s throwing the progressive trade agenda on the table at the last moment before we launched free trade discussions, then they were boarded. The refusal to sell Aecon to approve that transaction, and then obviously, going from one mistake to another with respect the Huawei and Meng Wanzhou case. This has not been a good day for Canada-China relationship and for the government. One positive thing is I think the appointment of Dominic Barton was a good choice. He’s smart, experienced, knows China well and we obviously want to see him succeed in getting the two Michaels released from custody.

Mercedes Stephenson: Do you think that the government should approve Huawei to enter Canada’s 5G market?

John Baird, Former Minister of Foreign Affairs: You know, listen, I haven’t had the national security briefing with respect to that, neither did I when I was in government. Obviously, the relationship with China is tremendously important. We shouldn’t take any decision lightly, but at the end of the day, national security is national security and it should be based on, you know, solid intelligence and solid information, information that I don’t have privy to.

Mercedes Stephenson: Mr. Baird, you conducted the review of what went wrong for the Conservatives in the past election. On Friday, Jason Kenney, the premier of Alberta came out and said that he called you and that he’s encouraging you to run for the leadership of the Conservative Party, and there have been rumours starting to mill around Ottawa about this over the last couple of days, so I have to ask you the question on everyone’s mind. Are you considering a run for Conservative leader?

John Baird, Former Minister of Foreign Affairs: No, I think like, obviously, I appreciate the comments made by Premier Kenney. He’s doing a phenomenal job in the province of Alberta and was a good friend and colleague when we served together in Ottawa. I think like all Conservative Party activists, we’re—I’m obviously, taking calls, weighing my options and I haven’t made any—I haven’t made any decisions.

Mercedes Stephenson: So you are potentially considering a run then. You haven’t ruled it out.

John Baird, Former Minister of Foreign Affairs: I think I—I haven’t ruled anything out, but obviously, it’s getting late into the context so we’ll take it one day at a time.

Mercedes Stephenson: What do you think the Conservative Party needs going forward? I mean, you did the review. You took a look at what went wrong. What has to happen for the Conservatives to be able to win the next election?

John Baird, Former Minister of Foreign Affairs: Well I think, you know, first and foremost, we’ve got to be a modern Conservative Party. We’ve got to be true to our Conservative values and principles. I don’t think we win when we’re Liberal light.  I think we need to be true blue. At the same time, we failed remarkably in Ontario and in the greater Toronto area. We need to have a vision and that can appeal to people in the suburbs of every city in this country. We need to put together a new coalition and that’s something that’s incredibly important and obviously where we fell short. The fact that we won 10 seats in Quebec was a remarkable accomplishment. We made a foothold into Atlantic Canada which was good and obviously did extraordinarily well in western Canada. So I think going forward, I certainly as a Conservative activist, you know, want to contribute to establishing a true blue agenda that can appeal to voters in every part of the country.

Mercedes Stephenson: What went wrong, do you think, in Ontario, in particular? Because it’s such a key area that you have to win, as you say, and yet the Conservatives really weren’t able to achieve what they needed to.

John Baird, Former Minister of Foreign Affairs: Well, I mean, I think some of the social issues were definitely losers at the doorsteps and caused us to fall short. I mean, there were many, many reasons. And in Ontario, the economy’s doing relatively well. Thank you to the Ontario Government and it’s obviously very hard to pick up seats when the economy’s doing well.

Mercedes Stephenson: Just to turn back to foreign affairs for a moment, the prime minister right now is in Africa. He’s campaigning for a U.N. seat there on the U.N. Security Council. Obviously, not something your government was a big fan of. Do you think that there is a point to Canada trying to make sure it has that kind of international influence and getting more involved with Africa?

John Baird, Former Minister of Foreign Affairs: You know, listen, I’ve spoken to numerous diplomats, retired diplomats from Foreign Affairs, people from around the world, as my read on the situation is, we’ve lost this. It just isn’t going our way. And the prime minister’s going to be going to Africa and I guess what’s going to be on everyone’s mind is blackface and that’ll make it incredibly difficult to obtain support in that continent.

Mercedes Stephenson: When it comes to Iran, your government was the one that pulled out Canadian diplomatic representation there, obviously, with the Iranian military shooting down the Ukrainian jet with the Canadians onboard. There’s now all kinds of complications trying to communicate with Iran, trying to get those black boxes. Do you think that maybe you should have kept the embassy open there?

John Baird, Former Minister of Foreign Affairs: Absolutely not. The most important responsibility that I had as foreign minister was to ensure the safety and protection of our diplomats on the ground. We saw repeatedly, whether it’s the U.S. embassy, whether it’s the Canadian ambassador’s residence in 1980, they were both stormed and taken over. Whether it’s the British embassy, which was stormed and looted, the Saudi embassy was burned to the ground. Iran does not respect the Vienna Convention and we can’t count on them. We couldn’t count on them to come to the aid of our diplomats and that’s the bottom line. Iran, this is an evil regime. They’re supporting—materially supporting terrorism in every single country in the region. They are having an abysmal and deteriorating human rights record, and their nuclear program is something that is the greatest threat to international peace and security. These are bad actors. You know, Prime Minister Chretien withdrew an ambassador after a consular case went south. That was the right move and I think Prime Minister Harper and I made decision by breaking off relations with the regime. We don’t have any issue with the Iranian people. Our concern is with the Mullahs in Tehran and the takedown of this civilian jetliner was an atrocity and, you know, I think the government’s been able to—through other channels—been able to deal with the Iranian regime. But these people are not honest, they’re not forthcoming. The fact that they’re bearing dual nations against the wishes of the family is just atrocious. But I think by enlarge, Minister Champagne’s actions since the downing of the jet were—have been, you know, fairly competent and good on him.

Mercedes Stephenson: John Baird, thank you for joining me.

John Baird, Former Minister of Foreign Affairs: Good to be with you.

Mercedes Stephenson: Still ahead, the financial and economic impact of coronavirus. China is a major force in the world supply chains and the global economy, so what happens when ports are closed and people can’t go to work? That’s next.

Mercedes Stephenson: Welcome back. As the number of coronavirus cases in China grows every day, forecasters are raising the alarm about the long-term economic impact of China in the global supply chain.

During the 2003 SARS outbreak, the Chinese economy was paralyzed for a few months, but the country’s contribution to the global economy has increased exponentially since then. It’s now the world’s second largest economy and it produces a lot more than just t-shirts and plastic toys, today.

Joining me now is Perrin Beatty, President and CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. Mr. Beatty, thank you for joining us today.

Perrin Beatty, President and CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce: Glad to be here. Thank you.

Mercedes Stephenson: Let’s start with taking a look at what so far, coronavirus has meant for the global economy and the potential threat that it poses. China, a major economic driver world-wide, there are entire cities being shut down and cordoned off at this time. How serious a threat do you think this is to global markets?

Perrin Beatty, President and CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce: Well, it’s serious, but I think it’s important as well for us to be measured. The fact is that when we look at China, that we’re going to see slower growth this year than I’ve seen in the past several years so that’s a concern to begin with. This will take a certain amount of growth off that as well, so it’ll slow things down that much further. The difference between this and the time of SARS is that today, China’s role in the global economy is that it generates twice as high a percentage of global—of a global GDP as it did back at the time of SARS. So it means, then, that in terms of demand in China and in terms of China’s ability to supply the global economy, the impact is more significant, potentially.

Mercedes Stephenson: What are some of the key industries that this could affect because we all know, you look at your clothes or your phone or your shoes or your Tupperware, and it often says “Made in China” stamped on the back. There’s parts of the supply chain for things that are made here in Canada that will be affect, so what are some of the prime industries that are already being disrupted or industries where this could become very difficult?

Perrin Beatty, President and CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce: There are all sorts of manufacturers who rely on inputs from China and they operate on a just-in-time basis. That is, suppliers are going to supply them with the goods that they need just-in-time for them to put them into production. If you get your supply chain cut, that means they have to shut down your production facility. So there is a concern. We’ve seen around the world some instances where this is having an impact on manufacturing facilities. Another example would be tourism. Clearly, there are concerns now as to what happens, particularly with tourism from China. But we’ve also seen it with cruise ships and others with people pulling back, so there will be an impact there. There’s an impact in terms of the ability of Canadians who are doing business in China to be able to fly our people there and to meet with suppliers or potential customers in China. So in a whole range of different areas, there’s an impact. I’d stress that it’s relatively low at this point. Now, some of the good news is we’re seeing some slowing down in terms of the infection rate in the epicentre of the virus. The real question is where does it go from here? And obviously, we can be affected in Canada for Canadian businesses in two ways. The first is, now because we’re dealing with China, what does this mean for supply chains and for supplying customers? But the other is if we find this breaking out of there and becoming a global pandemic, and if it were to spread to Canada the way in which SARS did to Toronto, for example, what does this mean for the ability of businesses to be able to operate? And so we are certainly urging, particularly smaller businesses and medium-size businesses to develop contingency plans. So what do we do if a supplier can’t supply? Do we have alternative sources of supply or do we have enough inventory to allow us to continue? If there’s a problem with a public transportation system that employees can’t get to work, is it possible for them to telecommute? Do you have an information tree in the office that informs your employees if for some reason they can’t come in? Now if there’s a problem in the schooling system that it shuts down and people have to stay home with their children, how do you keep your business running? These are all issues that larger businesses learned to deal with after SARS, but often smaller businesses don’t have those plans in place and they need to have them.

Mercedes Stephenson: Well, I think it’s really interesting that you’re talking about not only planning what happens if Chinese markets don’t re-open but what happens if businesses here start seeing some of the constraints that Chinese businesses see in terms of being able to get around or do trade or ship things or get on public transit. How, overall, would you describe the threat, in particular to the Canadian economy, if this epidemic continues to worsen and spread?

Perrin Beatty, President and CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce: Well, as we’re looking at it today, it’s certainly manageable. Yes, it does impact economic growth in Canada in a negative way, but it’s something that we can overcome, that we can manage and we will still see positive growth through the year. At this point, we simply don’t know what’s going to happen in terms of the spread of the contagion and whether or not it’s possible to contain it, our Public Health authorities learned an enormous amount from SARS and they’re responding exceptionally well, but we’re going to have to feel our way along. But, Mercedes, one of the key points here is this may or may not turn out to be a pandemic, but there is no doubt that there will be pandemics in the future.

Mercedes Stephenson: Mr. Beatty, thank you so much for your time today.

Perrin Beatty, President and CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce: Thank you for having me.

Mercedes Stephenson: That’s all the time we have for today. Thanks for joining us. For The West Block, I’m Mercedes Stephenson.

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