THE WEST BLOCK
Episode 28, Season 10
Sunday, April 4, 2021
Host: Mercedes Stephenson
Mary Ng, Minster of Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade
Jagmeet Singh, NDP Leader
Dawn Desjardins, Vice President, Deputy Chief Economist at RBC Royal Bank
Dan Kelly, Canadian Federation of Independent Business
Natalie Appleyard, Citizens for Public Justice
Location: Ottawa, Ontario
Mercedes Stephenson: This week on The West Block:
Unknown Speaker: “We are not going to let hate overrun us.”
Reporter: “Solidarity marches to stomp out Asian hate are ramping up in Canada.”
Mercedes Stephenson: The disturbing surge in anti-Asian racism and violent attacks. We speak with Trade Minister Mary Ng about her own experience and how to stop the hate.
And despite the $380 billion deficit hole the Trudeau government has dug, some Canadians are falling through the cracks.
Unknown Speaker: “I had to lay off 18 people.”
Mercedes Stephenson: Our expert panel is here to talk about who is being left behind and how to help them.
Jagmeet Singh, NDP Leader: “We will not be, as New Democrats, triggering an election.”
Mercedes Stephenson: And how will the NDP hold the government to account if their support for the upcoming budget is already in the bag. We speak with NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh.
Mercedes Stephenson: It’s Sunday, April 4th. I’m Mercedes Stephenson, and this is The West Block.
Feelings of fear, vulnerability and anger have gripped the Asian-Canadian community as incidents of anti-Asian racism are dramatically on the rise during this pandemic. Hateful words and violence, images that have been shocking to watch: elderly grandparents fighting off their attackers, six Asian-American women shot and killed in Georgia.
Here in Canada, the Vancouver Police Department alone reported a 717 per cent increase. 717 percent in anti-Asian hate crime incidents between 2019 and 2020, and it is unfortunately only continuing to get worse.
Trade Minister Mary Ng has offered to sit down with us today and talk to us about this disturbing trend. She joins us now.
Minister Ng, thank you for agreeing to speak to us. How are you?
Mary Ng, Minister of Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade: Well thank you, Mercedes. It’s really good to see you. This is a very difficult time for Canadians not only because we’re in a pandemic. For Asian Canadians in particular, in addition to the pandemic and what you’re dealing with, whether it is raising your family or trying to get through your small business. I think about my own family when I was growing up what it would be like for them during a time like this, front-facing with a door that welcomes people into your restaurant, that’s the business that we had in our family, and then on top of that, having to deal with anti-racism. It’s very difficult and the stories that I hear are absolutely heartbreaking across the country. You know I think one of the most heartbreaking things was just about a week ago when a very good friend of mine in Vancouver sent me a text that his 70-year-old grandma—his 70-year-old mother sent to him. She was worried about going out for a walk and wanted to know where she might be able to buy pepper spray. This is Canada, how is that happening today? So I’m really pleased that—I’m really pleased to be able to have an opportunity to talk to you and for you to have this conversation because my message really is that we’re going to need all Canadians standing together, to fight racism of all of its forms and certainly anti-racism which is on an unacceptable rise in this country.
Mercedes Stephenson: I think it’s just—it’s so deeply sad and horrifying and wrong to think about being afraid to even go out for a walk, to see these incredible elders who have built our country now being attacked. There’s a long history of anti-Asian racism in Canada, back to the railroad, back to the interment in Asian Canadians during the Second World War, some of whom were veterans of the First World War and had fought for this country. What are the inflammatory factors that we need to address that are making this so much worse right now?
Mary Ng, Minister of Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade: Well I think that people are behaving out of fear and for a very long time, as you said, racism has existed. The community writ large, I think just hasn’t been particularly vocal about it. And I think today, the effort of trying to protect your neighbour, protect your friends, protect your family, stand up for your elderly parent or auntie or uncle, is what everyone is feeling compelled to do.
I have been working on this for a year now, since COVID-19 came to our shores and we began to see the rise of anti-Asian racism almost immediately. Whether it is people not wanting to go to businesses or stores that are owned by Asian-Canadians and/or hurling insults and even worse, perpetrating any type of violence. So in these conversations I’ve been having and bringing communities together over this past year, communities are saying help us, be allies with us and let’s fight this together. And that’s exactly what I’ve been doing as recent as last week in the Prairies and in the West Coast, I convened community leaders, business leaders, allies, but also members—leadership of law enforcement. Communities want to feel that those institutions that exist to protect all of us are there listening and finding solutions together. I think people shouldn’t stay silent. I think that we should have these conversations and I think in these conversations, we begin to create that ally ship, to build the kind of country that we all are just so darn proud to be Canadians.
Mercedes Stephenson: Are you worried about what could happen here if this doesn’t stop after what we’ve seen in the United States?
Mary Ng, Minister of Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade: I’m worried because the numbers cause me to worry and the stories and the—of real people cause me worry. I believe we can fight this. I believe one incident is too many incidents, so I believe we absolutely need to fight this together. We are—we—I believe we are starting to make some headway simply because, you know, Mercedes, you and I are having this conversation right now. I hope that this conversation encourages many other conversations across the country. I hope that conversations will lead to action and more action. I hope that if you’re in a schoolyard and you see something happening to your friend, you will stand up. I hope that if you’re walking down a street and you see—you see anti-Asian racism taking place that you stand up. I think that Canadians—I think that Canadians want to do the right thing. We’ve always proven time after time that we do. And I would say on behalf of—well, for me, personally and for everyone who is East Asian, I mean, the community that I’ve been bringing together, we’ve all been bringing together, is a very, very strong collection of people from many communities in the East Asian community. You could be Chinese, you could be Japanese, you could be Korean, you could be Filipino, you could be Vietnamese, just the range of these wonderful communities across the country, but we’re going to need—we’re going to need our allies. We need to stand up against racism. Period. Full stop.
Mercedes Stephenson: I just want to ask you quickly as well, about the budget coming up. A lot of small businesses are very, very worried. You’re the minister in charge of small business. We’re going into lockdowns here in Ontario and in other parts of the country. Many, many small businesses will not survive this. Is your government willing to give small businesses a deferral on their taxes or more programs to help keep them alive? I know you’ve done a lot of money, you’ve spent a lot of money, but still there are a significant number of businesses that just won’t survive.
Mary Ng, Minister of Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade: We’ve been at this from day one. And for me as the minister responsible for small businesses, I would say nothing is off the table. Our job has always been to support Canadians to get through this pandemic, and certainly small businesses because they are so many businesses, 99 per cent of all businesses across the country. So the emergency supports that are there continue to keep people on payroll, to pay for fixed costs, to make sure they have that working capital to get them through this period. We continue to work on this and we continue to look at how we can keep doing this. Our view really is that helping our businesses get through this pandemic will mean that we’re creating the right foundation so in that recovery they have a—they’re stronger in this recovery because they’ve been able to get through this pandemic. So that work doesn’t stop. In fact, this week I’m just wrapping up a trade mission, a virtual trade mission in France, 300 companies that are there, the most diverse companies, women entrepreneurs, young entrepreneurs, Indigenous entrepreneurs. I have not let COVID-19 stop us from helping our Canadian businesses pursue opportunities abroad because I have the international trade file, too. So really do—really working it on both ends: supporting businesses so they can get through this, but also continuing that work to pursue opportunities in those markets. So I’m literally doing that as we speak as well.
Mercedes Stephenson: One last question for you, minister. Were you aware as a cabinet minister of the allegations against General Vance in 2018 or at any time since then, before it broke in the media?
Mary Ng, Minister of Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade: I learned about it when it broke in the media. And as Minister Sajjan has said on this, this is an issue that we take very, very seriously. There is no room at all for people to feel unsafe, and we want to encourage and make sure that the system enables anyone who wishes to raise a complaint of any sort, is able to do that. So to answer your question, no I didn’t know. I learned it—I learned it when—when it was reported publicly.
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Mercedes Stephenson: Minster Ng, thank you very much for your time today.
Mary Ng, Minister of Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade: Thank you so much, Mercedes. And thank you for covering this very important topic as well. Media has a role and you’re doing that, so thank you.
Mercedes Stephenson: Up next, COVID-19 fallout, economic equality and the gaps exposed by the pandemic. Who is being left behind?
Mercedes Stephenson: Welcome back. Canadians are bracing for and enduring more lockdowns and restrictions across the country as hospitalization rates for COVID-19 are at some of the worst of the pandemic, with variants hitting younger people harder than previous waves. That has many Canadians fearing not only for their health but for their jobs and their businesses, which may not survive another lockdown.
The federal government has already spent $330 billion in COVID relief measures. But what more should they be doing to help vulnerable Canadians and businesses that are holding on by the skin of their teeth?
Here to talk about this, we are joined by a distinguished panel: from Toronto, Dawn Desjardins, RBCs deputy chief economist; Dan Kelly with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business; and here in Ottawa, Natalie Appleyard with Citizens for Public Justice. Thank you all so much for joining us.
There’s so much to jump into here, a lot of anxiety, a lot of concern about health, wellbeing, the economy. Let’s start with you, Dawn. You look at the Canadian economy for a living. Where do you see the risk factors here as we head into another lockdown for who is vulnerable and may not make it back out the other side of this financially?
Dawn Desjardins, Vice President, Deputy Chief Economist at RBC Royal Bank: Well Mercedes, I mean what we’ve seen during COVID-19, is that it’s been very uneven in terms of the hit to certain industries as one would expect. Those that require those contact, continue to be under significant pressure. Those are the industries where we continue to see significant job losses. Whether that’s food and accommodation services, to some degree the retailers, as well as anyone involved in things like recreation. So definitely, those are the industries and if you dig a little deeper, you see that in fact, women have been disproportionately hit by these lockdown measures. Of the 600,000 jobs that have been lost to date from COVID-19, so we’ve made some great recovery, but we’ve also got 600,000 who aren’t employed but were a year ago. Fifty-eight per cent of those are women, so that’s by virtue of where they’re working of course, what kind of jobs they’re doing, but when we slice and dice the data, it also shows a lot of mothers with young children, a lot of immigrants, a lot of lower wage people, being the ones that are being left behind. As we go through this next wave, it’s going to be a challenge.
Mercedes Stephenson: Well we’ve certainly heard a lot of concern about people who tend to be the frontline workers and work in places like the hospitality industry and the “she-session” as people have said, as this affects women disproportionately. Dan I know small business also a big, big concern. A number of small businesses haven’t even been able to reopen. A lot have had to take on significant debt. The government has been pumping billions into the economy, but do you believe that—that this next set of lockdowns is going to make this simply unsurviviable for certain small businesses? And what needs to happen for them to have a chance?
Dan Kelly, Canadian Federation of Independent Business: Look, every—every day, every hour that the lockdowns continue or to be reapplied, will mean that more and more businesses are taken out along with it. We are expecting—at CFIB, our forecast is for 180,000 additional businesses to close their doors forever as a result of COVID-related damage. That’s one in six small businesses across Canada failing due to the COVID restrictions. So every—every minute that they continue, more are being taken out. The sectors that are—that are hardest hit, of course, have already been mentioned, but—but this is for—these lockdowns in some parts of the country are forever. Toronto restaurants this week hit 300 days that they have been closed; gyms for 290; hair salons for 220 days so far. How anyone expects a business to make it across the COVID finish line with that many days taken out of production is—is anyone’s guess. Look, there are huge social costs. Businesses are losing their homes as banks call their loans. We are also seeing currently businesses depleting their retirement savings. The economic carnage is massive. And the big question that small business owners are asking is: are we closing down the right things? I mean, the cases seem to be spreading in large congregate work settings, not in tiny little retail shops or even in a hair salon. But—but gosh, we’ve been locking done parts of the economy and meanwhile with the—with the hope that that locking them down will send a message to the public to stay home. I don’t think that’s what the public is here anymore. They’re going about their social interactions in the same way that they used to because this has been going on for so long. The lockdowns are becoming increasingly less effective. If they were effective, gosh you would think with 300 days of locking down certain sectors in Toronto, Toronto would be COVID-free by now. It’s anything but.
Mercedes Stephenson: Natalie, there’s a lot of concern about the people who do have to go to work, who—who—often frontline workers, whether it’s in transport or it’s in grocery stores, tend to be in a lower socio-economic bracket. They are not being prioritized in many provinces for vaccinations. And when you look at the financial picture here, we see that middle class homes are actually in many cases coming out ahead financially of where they were going into the pandemic, but that’s not the case with people in lower income brackets. So who is falling between the cracks despite the massive amount of government spending?
Natalie Appleyard, Citizens for Public Justice: Well I would say it’s the same people who have always been falling through the cracks and that’s part of the problem, is that what we’re seeing in this pandemic is not really anything new, it’s an exacerbation of existing inequities and existing gaps in our systems. So when we talk about the frontline workers who are now being hailed as heroes, we also know that they’re the least likely to have a decent wage. So they are working multiple jobs, multiple locations. They’re the least likely to be able to access paid sick leave so that if they are sick, they stay home and self-isolate. They’re the least likely to live in a setting where there’s a lack of crowding and inadequate shelter in place. So the very people that were more vulnerable before have been pushed further into poverty and yet they’re at the frontlines with the greatest risk of exposure to COVID-19.
Mercedes Stephenson: Natalie, what—what do they need? What are the measures that aren’t there now that needs to happen to protect those people?
Natalie Appleyard, Citizens for Public Justice: So we think—I mean, something like a minimum paid sick leave is, you know, just one of the few features of decent work, so things like a minimum wage and—and sick leave are critical to that. Having access to child care supports. So we know that there’s a lot of talk about the creation of some minimum standards for a national child care program, for example. Having access to health supports, and I think one of the biggest barriers that people are facing who are on the frontlines right now, is that so many of these benefits and these rights really are being tied to immigration status, when we know that so many people on our frontlines are new to Canada and may have precarious immigration status, and that goes for students as well. So having low barrier access to income supports would make a huge difference for people who are already vulnerable.
Mercedes Stephenson: Dawn, I want to wrap-up with you. Federal budget’s coming up. What are you going to be looking for in there as an economist to help the Canadian economy rebound from this?
Dawn Desjardins, Vice President, Deputy Chief Economist at RBC Royal Bank: Well certainly one thing that was, I guess, foreshadowed in November, is looking at how child care will be handled. So looking at how that is going to emerge, early child hood learning, of course, being very important. So looking to that and looking really to see how the government intends to move forward, how long the programs will have to remain in place. They are very much leaning in to keeping our economy going, helping households and all of the people who really, as we’ve just heard, been very disadvantaged by COVID-19. Health, yes but also from an economic point of view.
Mercedes Stephenson: That’s all the time we have for our panel. Thank you all very much for joining us. We’ll have you back again soon. And in the meantime, up next, a budget look ahead on the NDPs priorities, an interview with NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh.
Mercedes Stephenson: Welcome back. The much anticipated federal budget is just a couple of weeks away. In this minority Parliament, the government needs opposition party support. So, where does the NDP stand as COVID-19 cases are on the rise and Canada continues to lag behind getting vaccines into arms? On top of all that, the deficit is skyrocketing to unprecedented highs.
Joining me now to discuss this, is NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh. A lot of people are wondering what you’re going to do on the budget. You’ve indicated that you don’t want a spring election. Are you concerned by signalling that to the Liberal government that you’re not going to be able to hold them accountable because you’ve basically given them carte blanche on the budget now?
Jagmeet Singh, NDP Leader: Well we know that the Liberal government wants an election. Justin Trudeau has made it very clear on a number of occasions. So really, if they want an election, they’ll have one. We are going to continue to be available to pass legislation needed to help people. We were able to do that throughout this pandemic. We were able to use our position and our leverage to get more help to more people.
Mercedes Stephenson: I know that you’ve championed a lot of the programs that the Liberal government has brought in. You’ve talked about everything from sick leave to pharmacare to child care, but it seems like the Liberals just kind of absorb these ideas that you provide and they’re getting the support. I mean they’re almost doubling your numbers in the polls. The prime minister himself has said this is an election year. Why is it that you’re not able to translate these ideas into voter support and votes? And does it mean that as the NDP, you’ve just kind of accepted being the third party and never the government?
Jagmeet Singh, NDP Leader: Not at all. In fact, what we’ve seen in this pandemic is that the Liberals started things off sometimes in a performative way. The wage subsidy, they started at 10 per cent. Really covering 10 per cent of people’s salaries was not enough. We fought for it to be at 75 per cent and won. These are things that we can show to Canadians our track record of having fought for them. And we’re seeing more and more people looking to us as their—their champions. New Democrats have fought for people and I’m hoping.
Mercedes Stephenson: But—but Mr. Singh…
Jagmeet Singh, NDP Leader: …whenever there’s an election, people will know…
Mercedes Stephenson: Your—your numbers are—your numbers are actually down in the polls. You’re dropping. It doesn’t seem like more people are turning towards the NDP.
Jagmeet Singh, NDP Leader: We’ve seen since the beginning of the last—since the last election and throughout the pandemic, a steady increase in support and more importantly, that we’re able to show Canadians that we’re there for them. And for me, I don’t take their support for granted. Poll numbers may go up and down, but the facts remain, people are better off in this pandemic, they’re better off in this difficult time because New Democrats were there for them.
Mercedes Stephenson: I want to look at another topic that we’ve been talking a lot about on this show and that’s military sexual misconduct. There are a lot of questions about accountability for the government.
Last week, the prime minister said very clearly that he did not know about the allegations on General Vance in 2018. But a lot of the women we’ve been talking to and the victims say the number one thing that has to happen, is an independent watchdog that doesn’t report to the chain of command that reports to Parliament. Is that something that the NDP will champion?
Jagmeet Singh, NDP Leader: Yes, absolutely. We want to make sure women are safe in the Canadian Forces. And right now, the message being sent is a woman came forward—women came forward in different cases—with complaints. They made it to the desk of the defence minister and nothing was done. This falls directly at the feet of the prime minister. Justin Trudeau’s got a responsibility to make sure women are safe and so far, it looks like there’s a pattern of behaviour of ignoring sexual harassment or misconduct complaints that women come forward and nothing happens. And if it’s in the chain of command, it is very dangerous for a woman to come forward when there is no independence. It is—it does not make someone feel safe. We want people to be safe in their workplaces. Canada has a responsibility to keep women that are serving in the forces safe. And so far, the Liberal government sent a message that they are not safe, they are not being listened to and that is wrong.
Mercedes Stephenson: Mr. Singh, thank you so much for joining us and wish you and your family a happy Easter long weekend.
Jagmeet Singh, NDP Leader: Thank you to you as well. Thank you.
Mercedes Stephenson: That’s all the time that we have today here on The West Block. I’m Mercedes Stephenson and I’ll see you here again, next Sunday.