The West Block – Episode 47, Season 10


Episode 47, Season 10

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Host: Mercedes Stephenson


RoseAnne Archibald, AFN National Chief

Jonathan Wilkinson, Environment and Climate Change Minister

Dr. Susan Shaw, Chief Medical Officer Saskatchewan Health Authority

Location: Ottawa, ON

Mercedes Stephenson: This week on The West Block: Walking the path of reconciliation. Canada reflects on its colonial legacy amid demands to do better.

RoseAnne Archibald, AFN National Chief: “Empty promises and hollow apologies will no longer be accepted.”

Unidentified voice: “Why not in-person, sir?”

Mercedes Stephenson: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau under fire for the timing of his Tofino vacation.

Unidentified voice: “They invited you.”

Mercedes Stephenson: Assembly of First Nations National Chief RoseAnne Archibald joins us. Plus, less talk, more action.

Greta Thunberg, Climate Activist: “They’ve now had 30 years of ‘blah, blah, blah’ and where has that led us?”

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 Mercedes Stephenson: Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson joins us from the International Climate conference in Milan.

And cancelled treatments, surgeries and organ donations…

Dr. Saqib Shahab, Chief Medical Health Officer: “It’ll be a fall and winter of misery at the current rate.”

 Mercedes Stephenson: The Saskatchewan Health Authority’s chief medical officer on the state of the province’s COVID crisis.

It’s Sunday, October 3rd, and this is The West Block.

Hello, I’m Mercedes Stephenson. Thank you for joining us on the show.

2021 has been a year of reckoning for Canadians when it comes to the treatment of Indigenous people in this country and the devastating impact of residential schools.

More than 1,300 children were found in unmarked graves earlier this year. Survivors say there are thousands more graves to be found.

Thursday was the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, encouraging Canadians to pause and reflect on the impact that colonialism has had on Indigenous Peoples. Ceremonies were held across the country including in Kamloops, where 215 unmarked graves were confirmed at a former residential school earlier this year.

Joining us now to talk about this is Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief RoseAnne Archibald. National Chief Archibald, thank you so much for joining us today. It’s the first time we’ve had the opportunity to speak with you since you were elected as the national chief. A very important day for Indigenous Canadians this week with the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, what did it mean to you and to your family?

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RoseAnne Archibald, AFN National Chief: It was a really difficult day, and it’s a difficult day for survivors. And we have many survivors still who are alive and living in communities, and it’s a difficult day for them because they become re-traumatized and, you know, they have to deal with some complex emotional fallout from being in those institutions of assimilation and genocide. And so I spent the day up here in the interior of B.C. at Tk’emlups te Secwepemc—was invited by Chief Rosanne Casimir in the summer—promised her that I would come back for this honouring of survivors and intergenerational trauma survivors and so I was really happy to be able to come up here for the day.

In terms of my family, though, just to continue, I do have—I did share a personal story on my social media and I also shared it at the event and, you know, this is not ancient history. Eight members of my immediate family, including my parents and my siblings, went to institutions of assimilation and genocide. I don’t call them schools anymore because no school that I ever went to had a graveyard. I was the first of my family to not be forced to attend and so I want people to know that even though this was over 100 years of government policy that created these institutions, the last one closed in 1996, which wasn’t that long ago.

Mercedes Stephenson: It is astounding, and it is something that so many Canadians think happened 100 years ago. No. This was still something happening into the 1990’s. There are still so many survivors who are young and are still with us. You mentioned the ceremony in Kamloops. Chief Casimir had also invited the prime minister to attend. He was speaking with residential school survivors but he also went on vacation to Tofino with his family on the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation. What was your reaction to his decision?

RoseAnne Archibald, AFN National Chief: This has always been, I would say the difficult part of creating this kind of statutory holiday, is that people will see it as a holiday and they’ll focus on the idea of a holiday when really what we need people to do on the day was to stand with us, you know, to have solemn ceremonies and prayers, and stand shoulder to shoulder with survivors and take that time to reflect on the fact that genocide has happened here in Canada. And so when you go on a holiday, on that particular day it’s very hurtful for survivors and intergenerational trauma survivors.

Mercedes Stephenson: Have you had the opportunity to talk to the prime minister about that decision?

RoseAnne Archibald, AFN National Chief: No. I—you know, I’ve repeatedly tried to connect with—when I was the Ontario Regional Chief, I had the cell number of the premier. I think a lot of people did, but he answered my calls regularly and I don’t have that access to this prime minister. I keep asking for it so I’m hoping that over time he will share his cell number with me so that I can communicate with him in these urgent matters. You know like it’s really difficult to have to go through all of his staff to get messages back and forth. And so, you know, what I would say is there are two standing invitations from Tk’emlups te Secwepemc to come to their community, which is the first site that we recovered 215 of our little children, and I urge him to go and visit [00:06:06] Rosanne Casimir, her council and her community. And that would have been the ideal for him on—yesterday as we marked the very first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

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Mercedes Stephenson: Are you concerned about what that lack of direct access means in terms of commitment to sincerity on reconciliation or are you confident on the government’s position on that?

RoseAnne Archibald, AFN National Chief: Well there’s a lot of, you know, double-talk with this government. They talk about being committed to our children and the path forward, yet they fought us in court for years. They fought our children in court. So you can’t do two things at the same time. I mean, you have your words and actions have to be aligned. So when the prime minister talks about reconciliation, please, you know, don’t go on a holiday on the very first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. Participate in an event on the day, not the day before. That would be more in alignment with his real commitment to reconciliation.

The other thing that I noticed that the prime minister doesn’t say a lot is he doesn’t talk about truth and reconciliation. And there has to be truth before reconciliation. You know, the truths are really hard and they’re harsh. The fact that these were institutions of assimilation and genocide, and the fact that genocide did happen in Canada and our little children were the victims of that, those are truths that this government and all of us have to face together, but not to just stand there and sort of, you know, not move forward. We have to find what we are calling the healing path forward and that’s my hope with this prime minister and cabinet, is that there will be a consistency in their approach. So if they say they’re committed to reconciliation then walk the path of healing with us. For example, I just saw that in the U.S. they are starting a new commission called the Commission for Truth and Healing and I think that’s a little more of an apt charm for what we need to do in this country. It’s—it’s about healing. Reconciliation has to be a focus on healing not only for First Nations, but for all Canadians, non-Indigenous Canadians as well.

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Mercedes Stephenson: National Chief, we also just saw the results of the coroner’s inquest into Joyce Echaquan’s death in Quebec, talking about systemic racism as a factor. How would you like to see that addressed and what did you think of the coroner’s report?

RoseAnne Archibald, AFN National Chief: I haven’t had an opportunity, Mercedes, to read it in detail. But I do want to just say that many of our people are afraid to go to hospitals and to see medical professionals because they do encounter overt, covert and systemic racism in the health care system and that has to change. The health care system is about care. Care is a key word there. And another word that we really need to start utilizing more is love and care. So for example, when a person is seeking medical attention, they need the love and care of those health practitioners and that’s what we have to infuse into the system and ensure that when we go to seek health care that we feel safe and that we have culturally appropriate mechanisms, trauma informed care. There’s a lot to uncover and unpack in that coroner’s report, undoubtedly, and I’m looking forward to being able to talk to it a little bit more later.

Mercedes Stephenson: Love and undeniably important for us, as well as truth and a very difficult one for Canadians that we have to face. Thank you so much for joining us today, National Chief. We look forward to speaking with you again soon.

RoseAnne Archibald, AFN National Chief: Thank you, Mercedes. Take care.

Mercedes Stephenson: And a reminder if you or someone you know needs support, you can call the number on your screen: 1-866-925-4419. That is the Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line and it operates 24 hours a day.

Up next, climate activists give world leaders a failing grade ahead of a major UN climate conference. We’ll talk to the federal environment minister about Canada’s plan to meet its emissions targets.

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Mercedes Stephenson: All talk and no action is how Greta Thunberg describes efforts by world leaders to fight climate change.

Greta Thunberg, Climate activist: “Right now, we are still very much speeding in the wrong direction. 2021 is currently projected to experience the second highest emissions rise ever.”

Mercedes Stephenson: Thunberg was speaking in Milan where government ministers from around the world are meeting ahead of the UN’s major climate conference in Glasgow taking place in November. They’re trying to resolve issues around a $100 billion fund promised to help developing countries to further fight climate change.

Federal Environment Minister and Climate Change Minister Jonathan Wilkinson, is involved in those talks and he joins me now from Milan. I am very curious to know how those talks around the $100 billion were going. This is a pot of money that’s designed to help developing countries who don’t have the same resources as countries like Canada to try to transition their economies. One of your big tasks going into this was to get everyone to cough up the money. Were you able to get the $100 billion?

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Jonathan Wilkinson, Environment and Climate Change Minister: Well you’re right. This is a critical piece in the Paris architecture. It is important for the developing world to see that the developed world is delivering on the commitment to $100 billion. Growth in that funding has slowed and so Germany and Canada was asked to corral the money in advance of COP. We have been spending a lot of time over the last couple of months doing that, and certainly the last couple of days we’ve been meeting with a lot of countries to twist their arms about being more ambitious to respect to climate finance. I would say that I am cautiously optimistic that we are going to be able to deliver on that when we get to COP, but of course there’s still a bit more work for us to do over the coming days.

Mercedes Stephenson: And of course, there’s work here at home, too. Your government has been re-elected. You made some pretty substantial promises in your platform on environment, as you have in previous elections as well. One of them being that you would get emissions down even further than you’d promised. Initially, it was 30 per cent reduction by 2030. You’re now saying a 40-45 per cent reduction, but your government’s record on this isn’t great. If you look back from 2015 until now, emissions have gone up consecutively every single year. They have not gone down. So how are you going to not only prevent them from going up further but actually reduce them?

Jonathan Wilkinson, Environment and Climate Change Minister: So I would dispute your characterization, Mercedes. Our track record is actually very strong. When we took over in 2015 after a decade of Stephen Harper doing zero on climate, the emissions for Canada in 2030 were projected to be somewhere around 15 per cent higher than they were in 2005 and the commitment was to be 30 per cent below. So the first thing we did was put in place a series of measures, some of which take time to implement, which broke the trajectory and we are now 1 per cent below where we were in 2005. We actually provided a detailed climate plan that showed how we would meet the 30 per cent number, and then we brought forward a more ambitious target and including the commitments we made in the platform. The experts in this country, including people like Professor [00:03:17 last name], who modeled it, say we will hit that target. We of course, have work to do to implement all those measures. But I would say our record on climate is very strong and to be honest with you, that’s one of the reasons why the international community tasked Canada to lead with Germany on this issue around the $100 billion.

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Mercedes Stephenson: And I think to be fair, yes, you’ve taken a large number of environmental initiatives, but I just want to be clear. Are you disputing that emissions have gone up since 2015 that they’ve not gone down because that is what all the environmentalists are saying. We’re the only country in the G7 that hasn’t managed to reduce our emissions.

Jonathan Wilkinson, Environment and Climate Change Minister: No, what I’m saying to you is when we took power the trajectory was straight up in terms of where the emissions were going. We actually have bent the curve such that right now, emissions are 1 per cent lower than they were in 2005 and we have a long way to go, obviously, to get to 40-45 per cent below, but we’ve changed the trajectory of the curve. That’s what you have to do to start. And we actually have developed, perhaps the most detailed climate plan in the world that experts say, will achieve the target.

Mercedes Stephenson: Minister Wilkinson, you’ve talked about capping oil and gas, which obviously is a very large emissions producer in Canada. It’s also still a very large employer in a large part of our economy. How do you cap emissions on that and support the economy at the same time. What does your plan look like?

Jonathan Wilkinson, Environment and Climate Change Minister: So that’s a really good question. You have to think about the transition from both an environmental perspective and an economic perspective. Canada, as other countries in Europe and elsewhere, see the economic opportunities associated with being an early mover to address the climate issue, but that means we have to think about economic diversification. It means we need to think about the transition in terms of the kinds of things that you can utilize in provinces that have been large hydrocarbon producers. So we put in place, for example, the $2 billion fund to incent the development of a [00:05:06] industry. We’re very interested in the development of hydrogen in the context of different provinces across the country and so it’s really about being thoughtful about diversification of economies and about, of course, providing appropriate kinds of skills training to allow workers to transition. But at the end of the day, we are facing an existential threat. It’s not a question of whether we reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It’s about how we do it. And we have said, we have to be thoughtful on the economic side and we have to take steps. We have to ensure it’s a transition, unlike the New Democrats who think somehow you can turn the lights off, you know, tomorrow. That’s not the way this works. As somebody who worked running clean tech companies for almost 20 years, I have a really strong appreciation for that. But you have to make progress and I will tell you at COP, people see Canada as a climate leader. I will tell you just off the side, there was enormous relief at COP that it was impressed to me by a number of folks that the Conservative Party did not win the election because no party, no party to the Paris agreement has rolled back a climate target. They would go in the exactly the opposite direction of where we need to go as a world and people are very happy to see our government return to office.

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Mercedes Stephenson: Happy and I’m sure looking forward to further progress that you can make on some of those promises. We’ll certainly be chatting about them on the show. Thank you for joining us today, minister.

Jonathan Wilkinson, Environment and Climate Change Minister: Thank you very much.

Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, Saskatchewan struggles to get its COVID cases under control. Will new rules lead to more vaccinations? We’ll get an update from that province.


Mercedes Stephenson: Welcome back to The West Block. In Saskatchewan, the per capita rate of new COVID-19 cases is more than triple the national average and this week saw a death rate of four times the national average. Surgeries are being postponed and the province’s organ donor program is suspended.

On Wednesday, Health Minister Paul Merriman, was asked if there is a crisis. Here’s what he had to say.

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Paul Merriman, Saskatchewan Health Minister: “The word crisis can mean different things to different people, but it’s certainly an extremely challenging time. I’m hearing this directly from the doctors, sometimes indirectly from the doctors.”

 Mercedes Stephenson: Joining us now is Dr. Susan Shaw, Chief Medical Officer with the Saskatchewan Health Authority. That’s the body responsible for health care delivery in the province. She is also a doctor in the ICU.

Dr. Shaw, you will actually be travelling after we speak to you on the show to look after patients who are in the absolute most critical state. Can you describe for our viewers what the situation you’re seeing is with your patients right now in Saskatchewan and in the province more broadly?

Dr. Susan Shaw, Chief Medical Officer Saskatchewan Health Authority: Well Mercedes, we continue to see increased numbers of people presenting with severe life-threatening COVID each and every day, not just in Saskatoon where I am but all across our province. Our ICUs are surging. We’re beyond our usual capacity. We’re doing everything we can to make sure that people get the best care they can regardless of what type of illness they have. But it is a real struggle.

Mercedes Stephenson: I know that governments have been hesitant to use words like crisis or emergency. How would you describe the situation?

Dr. Susan Shaw, Chief Medical Officer Saskatchewan Health Authority: Well I do think we’re in a crisis. We’ve been facing increased numbers for weeks now and I don’t see an end coming in the near future. We are watching closely. We’re watching to see what’s happening in Alberta with their rates of infections and what’s happening in their hospitals and we’re not yet seeing a plateau there or a plateau in Saskatchewan which gives me much hope. Like you said, our organ donation program is suspended because we’ve had to redeploy the staff. We have adults admitted to our pediatric intensive care units. We have hundreds of patients, if not thousands who’ve had their surgeries and planned procedures cancelled so that we can focus on taking care of people who are already infected with COVID and trying our best to even further prevent infections by interrupting the spread.

Mercedes Stephenson: And how do you do that at this point? Do you think that there needs to be a stay-at-home order? What are the public health steps that you would like to see the province take?

Dr. Susan Shaw, Chief Medical Officer Saskatchewan Health Authority: Well medical health officers made, about a month ago, a set of recommendations to our chief medical health officer and elected officials and I think the situation has changed significantly since then because we’re even seeing even more daily numbers, which are people with infections presenting for care. And I think what we do need to strongly consider at this point, and I leave this in the hands of government, is reducing the sizes of inside gatherings. I think we need to go even further in making sure that vaccines are accepted and necessary to go into as many places as possible. And I do think that there’s an opportunity here to slow things down so that the system can at least plateau and then hopefully get into recovery mode.

Mercedes Stephenson: The government is now bringing in some documentation on vaccines. Do you think that it’s too little too late?

Dr. Susan Shaw, Chief Medical Officer Saskatchewan Health Authority: I think it’s an important step. Today is our first day that the proof of vaccination policy is in place across the province and I’m grateful for that. I have travelled recently for a personal reason into a neighbouring province where it was in place a month ago and it was such a relief and wonderful to see a restaurant at capacity where everybody was safe and protected. And so I look to it being successfully implemented in our province, and I think it needs to be expanded as well.

Mercedes Stephenson: Why do you think there’s so much hesitancy in Alberta and Saskatchewan? And I’m originally from Alberta, you know, before we saw Ontario and Quebec with surge and Alberta and Saskatchewan would surge in other provinces. This really seems to be localized between these two provinces in the fourth wave being so high. What do you attribute that to?

Dr. Susan Shaw, Chief Medical Officer Saskatchewan Health Authority: I’m not sure if I have all the answers to that. Certainly, there’s been a lot of analysis. I think what we’ve seen, though, at least in my province, is a strong desire by the public and by government to have a summer that felt as normal as possible. And despite some signals that were—that we were seeing early on that the Delta variant caused havoc in other parts of the world, I think there was a sense that that wasn’t going to happen here. Unfortunately, it has happened here. We’ve seen that the information that came out of the U.K. that was used in Alberta didn’t set that province on the right path and I think Saskatchewan has been looking at similar jurisdictions to learn from and adapt their policies. Saskatchewan is a strong province, though. We have about 1.2 million people that do tend to come together in moments of crisis and I really remain hopeful that we will continue to do that.

Mercedes Stephenson: Dr. Shaw, we send our best to you and to the people of Saskatchewan. Thank you for making time for us today.

Dr. Susan Shaw, Chief Medical Officer Saskatchewan Health Authority: Thank you, Mercedes. Stay safe.

Mercedes Stephenson: We requested an interview with Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney but both declined.

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

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