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The West Block – Episode 35, Season 11 – National


THE WEST BLOCK

Episode 35, Season 11

Sunday, June 26, 2022

Host: Mercedes Stephenson

Guests:

General Wayne Eyre, Chief of the Defence Staff

Marjory LeBreton, Retired Conservative Senator

Location: Ottawa, ON

 

Mercedes Stephenson: This week on The West Block: One-on-one with Chief of the Defence Staff General Wayne Eyre.

General Wayne Eyre, Chief of the Defence Staff: “We have to take a 360 degree view of the threat.”

Mercedes Stephenson: From modernizing NORAD, to sending military aide to Ukraine. Are the Canadian forces ready to take on aggressive and sophisticated adversaries?

And addressing the danger from within: sexual misconduct.

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Louise Arbour, Former Supreme Court Justice: “The CAF is currently sitting on hundreds of recommendations.”

Mercedes Stephenson: In the wake of the Arbour report, we’ll ask Canada’s top general what he’s doing to change the military.

And, the Conservative Party at a crossroads…

Pierre Poilievre, Conservative Leadership Candidate: “I’m running for Prime Minister to put you back in control of your life by making Canada the freest nation on earth by removing the gatekeepers.”

Mercedes Stephenson: Pierre Poilievre’s populist message is attracting new members to the party, but is it alienating moderate Conservative voters? An exclusive interview with Conservative Party veteran and former Senator Marjory LeBreton, who breaks her silence on concerns about the party’s future.

It’s Sunday, June 26th, and this is The West Block.

Hello. Thanks for joining us today. I’m Mercedes Stephenson.

NATO leaders, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, are meeting in Madrid this week. The summit comes as the Canadian military faces increasing pressure to do more to address an ever-expanding list of global security threats.

From war in Ukraine…

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy: “We are fighting for our future, for our freedom.”

Mercedes Stephenson: … To increasing Chinese aggression. Frequently zooming past, the planes a mere 20-100 feet away.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “China’s actions are irresponsible and provocative.”

Lloyd Austin, U.S. Secretary of Defence: “As the PRC adopts a more coercive and aggressive approach to its territorial claims.”

Mercedes Stephenson: And a sexual misconduct scandal amongst the military’s highest ranks that continues to reverberate and has shaken the troops and the public’s trust.

Louise Arbour, Former Supreme Court Justice: “I just hope that these recommendations don’t end up a little box on the chart of the many that are still being studied.”  

Mercedes Stephenson: The Canadian Armed Forces are facing unprecedented challenges in a dangerous world, one that is demanding more of those who serve not just to fight wars but help in pandemics and deal with climate change induced disasters, all on a limited budget.

To talk about all this, I’m joined by the Chief of the Defence Staff General Wayne Eyre. Thank you for joining us today, General Eyre. Nice to see you.

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General Wayne Eyre, Chief of Defence Staff: Thanks for having me, Mercedes.

Mercedes Stephenson: You have an extremely busy and important job at a time in global history like we’ve not seen in many, many years in terms of the threats that we were just talking about in that opening package. What, in your view, is the state of the world in terms of security and Canada’s national security?

General Wayne Eyre, Chief of Defence Staff: Well Mercedes, I think history is going to look upon this period as perhaps a turning point in the global order, because the rules based international order under which we have thrived for generations is as fragile as it has ever been. And I think for the rest of our lives, we’re going to see an order that is characterized by confrontation. Confrontation between, on one side, the authoritarian states in the world and the others, the liberal democracies and so that threat is real.

Now over the course of the last number of weeks, I have travelled and have had numerous conversations with my counterparts, chiefs of defence in our closest allies in Europe, in Asia-Pacific and they are all very concerned. The threat of global conflict, of great power conflict is as great as it has been in decades. So we need to be worried. 

Mercedes Stephenson: I think that if you’re worried, most Canadians are worried hearing that. And it’s no secret the Canadian Armed Forces needs money. You need people. You’re struggling to recruit. Are you capable of dealing with these kinds of threats that aren’t going away?

General Wayne Eyre, Chief of Defence Staff: So the Canadian Armed Forces is our nation’s insurance policy. Our ultimate insurance policy, if you want to put it that way. And so we’ve got to pay the premiums on that insurance policy. We’ve got to make sure that we have the readiness to be able to react to these crises at home and internationally. And we’ve got to make sure we’ve got the people to be able to do that. So people, capabilities, training and sustainment are necessary for that readiness.

Mercedes Stephenson: But do you have that?

General Wayne Eyre, Chief of Defence Staff: Do we have that? Well it depends on a scale. Yeah, we can respond but with how much and for how long and with what capabilities. You know there’s no military commander in history who’s had all the capabilities that they’ve wanted, but there are some that we need to be able to respond adequately in this world. We’ve got to make sure our training is up to strength. We need to make sure our—or up to requirements—we’ve got to make sure our personnel strength is where it needs to be. The capabilities that we need to be able to prosecute—or be able to engage in a 21st century conflict, one where technology is rapidly advancing—we’ve got to make sure that we have those capabilities as well.

Mercedes Stephenson: But it sounds to me like you have concerns about whether you have enough people, enough training, and enough capabilities.

General Wayne Eyre, Chief of Defence Staff: Oh, I have big concerns in many different areas, you know, ranging from people, to capabilities, to readiness. And so it’s a delicate balance every day as we take a look at today’s operational output, as we take a look at where we need to invest people to modernize, to change policies, to deliver on capabilities. So it’s a balancing act.

Right now, we are going through what we call reconstitution. A reconstitution is a military term for rebuilding after an operation. The operation that we’re talking about is the pandemic, which has not been kind to the Canadian forces as our operational tempo is increased and our numbers have decreased. So we’ve got to rebuild. Rebuild our numbers, but at the same time, build for that future with the capabilities, the fore structure and the competencies that are necessary.

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Mercedes Stephenson: You’ve been sending a lot of material to Ukraine, including material that you’ve had to essentially borrow from the Americans because we didn’t have it. What affect is the government support for Ukraine having on Canadian war stocks and our ability to prosecute a war if we had to?

General Wayne Eyre, Chief of Defence Staff: So we have taken a look at what’s in our inventory, we’ve donated some of that. We’ve purchased some from allies. We’ve purchased some from industry. I’m worried about our stocks of such commodities as ammunition. And so it’s a delicate balancing act of what we donate today, what we save for future contingencies and what we can get from industry.

When we look at what we donate, we’ve got to be careful about just donating a piece of equipment. We’ve got to look at it as a capability set. Artillery is one example. So if we just donate a gun without the accompanying ammunition, training, spare parts, it’s just a hunk of medal. And so investing in spare parts, investing in ammunition, and we’ve just announced 20 thousand plus rounds of 155 ammunition. But training, training is the one thing where Canada has really created a strategic effect. As we speak, we are training Ukrainian soldiers on—Canadian, American, Australian M777 systems in a third location. We’ve trained hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers on this artillery system. That is value-added.

Mercedes Stephenson: You mentioned money, and obviously, defence chiefs always want more, but it’s been a long time since you had an injection. We were both at an announcement last week on Monday, about $4.9 billion going to NORAD. You talked about the threats like cruise missiles and hypersonic missiles, which we’ve seen used in Ukraine, able to defeat our defensive systems. Very different than the nuclear world that NORAD was built for.

I’ve heard from a number of defence sources that that $4.9 billion is actually being re-profiled from within the department and is not new money. Do you know if that’s true?

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General Wayne Eyre, Chief of Defence Staff: So, I haven’t completely figured out myself, the source of funds for this so I can’t say definitively where it’s coming from. You know I will say, though, the announcement was welcome. But in terms of continental defence, defending this continent, what we looked at with NORAD modernization that is justly air domain. So, as part of our defence policy update, we’ve got to look at the other domains. We’ve got to look at space. We’ve got to look at cyber. Maritime, both surface and especially sub-surface with the submarine threat, and we’ve got to look at land so that we can create a persistent presence in the extremities of our country. So more infrastructure in far north.

Mercedes Stephenson: Is your department right now, though, having to look at the possibility of cutting certain programs to redirect that $4.9 billion to NORAD, because my understanding is there are meetings at National Defence as we speak about that, and real concern this money is not new.

General Wayne Eyre, Chief of Defence Staff: So we haven’t looked at cutting but as always, we have to look at rebalancing. And the force that we have today is not the force that we need for tomorrow. So, we need to look at force structure. Do we have it in the right place? Do we need to look at re-rolling of units so that they undertake roles that are more relevant for the future security environment? That is all-important.

Mercedes Stephenson: I think, obviously, lots more to come on that NORAD money and a lot of concerns of we don’t know where it’s coming from, because it’s a huge price tag if it’s not a new injection of funds and the military clearly needs more money to keep doing all the things that you’re being asked to do.

Sexual misconduct also clearly a huge issue for you. You talked about recruiting. My understanding is the most recent numbers show that only 4 per cent of new recruits are women. The sexual misconduct scandal continues to reverberate. There continue to be senior officers charged. One retired—well actually both retired now, charged with sexual assault, dating back to RMC. Lots of questions about what you’re going to do to change the culture.

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When we last spoke about this, I asked you what your position was on RMC. Since then, a number of grads posted their picture saying they were proud RMC grads and indicating they didn’t believe change was necessary. What are your thoughts on that?

General Wayne Eyre, Chief of Defence Staff: So we’ve got to embrace the recommendation that Madame Arbour had in her report and we have to have a dispassionate look at is the institution fit-for-purpose for the 21st century and producing what is needed. You know many are proud of the post-secondary institution that they came from, but we have to have an open mind as we go forward and have that look without emotion as to what is best for Canada, what is best for the Canadian Armed Forces to produce the leaders that we need for the future.

Mercedes Stephenson: Trevor Cadieu was a star military performer expected to be the next commander of the army. He has now been charged with sexual assault, dating back to his time at RMC, one of those officers we were talking about. There’s been a lot of senior officers, still in uniform, defending him publicly, in some cases saying that people shouldn’t be called a victim by the media until it’s been through the courts and I’ve had a number of sexual misconduct victims and survivors reach out to me and say how are we supposed to come forward if this is still the environment? Nothing is changing.

General Wayne Eyre, Chief of Defence Staff: So as we go forward, we’ve got to continue to learn from every new case and realize that our actions, actions of individuals, can have impact way beyond what was intended, and especially on social media, as we learn to operate in this new environment.

You know I will tell you that the Restorative Engagement program that we have undertaken, I think, is going to be a game changer in terms of understanding, at the emotional level, the impact of this. And the feedback that I’ve had from the defence cohort, the initial tranche of individuals, of members who’ve gone through this, have told me that it’s some of the most profound experience in terms of understanding what others have gone through that they’ve had.

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So, we’re going to continue to learn. Are there going to be missteps along the way? Absolutely. This is a human organization and we need to learn and continue to learn and continue to develop and continue to make this institution better.

Mercedes Stephenson: When General Cadieu was scheduled to become the army commander, it was in the fall. I’ve seen an email suggesting that you knew about allegations against him as early as July. Is that true?

General Wayne Eyre, Chief of Defence Staff: No. So, when I was informed of allegations on the 5th of September, took immediate action and did not put him in charge of the army at that point.

Mercedes Stephenson: So you weren’t aware of any kind of concern about a previous relationship prior to that?

General Wayne Eyre, Chief of Defence Staff: No allegations were raised to me. Now, given that this case in front of the courts, we should probably not discuss it in any more detail.

Mercedes Stephenson: One last question to you. China, obviously a big concern, buzzing Canadian jets. You’ve been talking to your counterparts. How significant is that threat and what do you think the Chinese are trying to achieve by doing this?

General Wayne Eyre, Chief of Defence Staff: So we’ve seen an increased number of unsafe, unprofessional interactions over the course of the last number of deployments we’ve had and our allies have seen the same thing. And so the sense is that they want to deter us, to dissuade us from operating in that part of the world. You know as we uphold the rules based international order, we’ve got to call out threats against it where we see it. Because freedom of navigation, especially in—well freedom of navigation, freedom of operation in international airspace, international waters, has got to be respected.

I just met with the Japanese ambassador several hours ago and we discussed this. And I met with the Japanese defence minister and the Japanese chief of defence last—two weeks ago. And they are very, very welcome—welcoming of our presence in that area. And so we’ve got to continue to work responsibly, engage responsibly with our allies in that part of the world. And so much of the future of the world in terms of economic growth is based in that part of the world. Canada is a pacific country and so we should be there.

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Mercedes Stephenson: General Eyre, thank you so much for joining us today. We appreciate your time.

General Wayne Eyre, Chief of Defence Staff: Thank you.

Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, a high profile Conservative speaks out with her concerns about the direction of the party. From convoy support to populism, former Senator Marjory LeBreton joins us with her views after the break.

[Break]

Mercedes Stephenson: The Conservative Party of Canada seems to be searching for its identity, torn between Tory traditionalism and populist forces. Support for the convoy that paralyzed downtown Ottawa in February has been a breakpoint for many, with leadership frontrunner Pierre Poilievre endorsing the demonstrators while other Conservatives have expressed concern about supporting a breach of a traditional Conservative value: law and order. Concerns about where the party is going after some Conservative MPs hosted key members of the convoy on Parliament Hill last week are a topic of hot debate inside the party right now.

Joining us to talk about all this is a former confident to prime minis—confidante, pardon me—to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and of course, former government leader in the Senate Marjory LeBreton. Thank you so much for joining us.

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Marjory LeBreton, Retired Conservative Senator: Well it’s my pleasure to be here, Mercedes. Nice to see you.

Mercedes Stephenson: Nice to see you, too, in-person, after many years it seems, in the pandemic.

Marjory LeBreton, Retired Conservative Senator: Yeah. A few years since I’ve done this.

Mercedes Stephenson: And, you know, when I’d last talked to you, it felt like what the Conservative Party was, was a pretty solid thing. You could wrap your arms around it. You know what it meant. Now there are a lot of questions. And I had to wonder what you were thinking when you saw Conservative MPs hosting key members of the convoy on Parliament Hill this week. What are your thoughts on that?

Marjory LeBreton, Retired Conservative Senator: Well, I’m a traditional Conservative and one of the cornerstones, the main cornerstones of conservatism is law and order. And law and order is law and order. And illegal blockades are illegal blockades, whether they’re at a border crossing, a pipeline, a railway—a railway line. They’re illegal and the full force of the law should be brought in to deal with them. And you can’t have, you know, block the City of Ottawa and say that’s okay. But it’s not okay for some other group to block a railroad. So I was just—the whole idea of wrecking a cornerstone of conservatism in law and order was sort of really, really upsets me and I’m very, very worried, Mercedes, about what’s happening to the party and what’s happening during this leadership debate.

Mercedes Stephenson: What do you think the risk is for the party here if it continues in this direction?

Marjory LeBreton, Retired Conservative Senator: You know I said yesterday to a friend, I really fear that the great accommodation that was reached between Stephen Harper and Peter MacKay in the fall of 2003 is fracturing beyond repair. And we have this leadership debate going on, the party green lit six candidates and they all—they’re bringing their own ideas to the table, but the idea of you know, accusing people of lying and crooks—I mean, this is not the debate we should be having. We should be having a debate about who we are, what we stand for and what we would do if we were to form a government, because Canadians are not averse to voting for Conservatives.  You know eight of the ten provinces have Conservative governments or Conservative leading governments. So rather than have this vicious grievance driven, fuel on the fire debate we’re having right now, is just to me, I hate to say it, but I’m afraid that the Conservative Party that I’ve been a member of all my life is completely foreign to me.

Mercedes Stephenson: Do you feel like you no longer have a home in the party or could it come to that?

Marjory LeBreton, Retired Conservative Senator: Well I actually feel that way. If we don’t get it right this time, we’ve had three leadership debates now in the last six and a half years. If we don’t get it right this time and the members of our party, and it would be nice if the party would give the membership list to the candidates, if they could have a proper debate, respectful and respect each other and put ideas on the table about what we would do if we would form the government. Forget about blaming this person or that person, throwing fuel on the fire and talk about the issues. And of course, I’m involved with an organization now called Centre Ice Conservatives, because we’re trying to get people to talk about issues about where people live and issues people care about. And, you know, we’ve got this debate on the extreme left and then on the extreme right and all of the people like myself in the moderate mainstream middle, centre right Conservatives, like the oxygen’s been sucked out of the air. And so we’re trying, in Centre Ice Conservatives, is to actually foster a debate amongst the candidates. Now some of the candidates are trying, but as long as you have the scorched earth policy jumping on the grievance brigade, we’re never—you know, it’s a great disservice to the party, but worse, it’s a terrible disservice to the country, because the country needs a viable political choice. Right now we have an incompetent government, who are a scatterbrain approach to everything, ethically challenged and its people want an alternative. We have to be electable. We have to win an election in order for any of the issues that we care about to be addressed. So, when you mark your ballot, you have to factor in who you think is the best person that’s electable in the whole country.

Mercedes Stephenson: I have to ask you about Pierre Poilievre.

Marjory LeBreton, Retired Conservative Senator: Yeah.

Mercedes Stephenson: I know you’ve known Pierre since he was a young man.

Marjory LeBreton, Retired Conservative Senator: Yeah. Yeah.

Mercedes Stephenson: You’ve worked very closely with him. You live in his riding, I believe.

Marjory LeBreton, Retired Conservative Senator: Yeah. I worked in the last campaign, volunteering, answering the phone in the campaign office.

Mercedes Stephenson: I hear you’ve resigned off of his board of directors.

Marjory LeBreton, Retired Conservative Senator: Yeah. Yes, I did.

Mercedes Stephenson: Why is that?

Marjory LeBreton, Retired Conservative Senator: Well it was, again, over the convoy. Because I felt that, you know, the law is the law. Illegal blockades are illegal blockades and I felt that he and others in the party actually—you could easily tell this is not going to end well. And actually, the blame for all of this should be at the feet of the prime minister. But when we have people who send signals that somehow or other they’ll support one kind of a protest or I call it an illegal blockade because that’s what it was and is. Yes, that’s true, I’m no longer a member of the board but I’ve moved on from there.

Mercedes Stephenson: Was that hard for you to do, to work for someone you’ve known so well?

Marjory LeBreton, Retired Conservative Senator: Extremely hard. Extremely hard. I mean, you know, and I’ve got good friends in the—and so as a result, I actually have not gotten involved in anyone’s campaign. I did—I did early on, try to—I was part of an advisory group to get Tasha Keridan into the race. She would have been an outstanding candidate. But then when she decided not to get into the race, I decided to spend my time with Centre Ice Conservatives and try and influence the debate from that point of view.

Mercedes Stephenson: Well we appreciate you coming on. I know it’s not an easy thing to talk about a party…

Marjory LeBreton, Retired Conservative Senator: No, it isn’t.

Mercedes Stephenson: …that you’ve dedicated your life to like this.

Marjory LeBreton, Retired Conservative Senator: I’m very, very worried about the—well I’m very worried for our party, but I’m very worried for the country as well because we are in big trouble in this country.

Mercedes Stephenson: Marjory LeBreton, thank you so much for joining us.

Marjory LeBreton, Retired Conservative Senator: Thank you for having me.

Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, as the House breaks for the summer, final thoughts on some of the major stories that dominated the political landscape. 

[Break]

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Mercedes Stephenson: The House of Commons wrapped up its spring session last week. MPs won’t return until September, where it will be another hybrid sitting of Parliament—one more reminder of pandemic politics persisting.

It’s been quite a year so far, from the convoy demonstrations, to war in Ukraine, inflation, gun control and travel woes and now, budding questions about possible interference in the RCMP Mass Casualty Commission.

The politics never stop, but our show will be taking a brief break for the summer. Thank you to our crew for all of their hard work this year, and to you for joining us each Sunday. We’ll see you back here in September. For The West Block, I’m Mercedes Stephenson. Have a great summer.

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