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When rats arrive on islands, it's a veritable buffet. They predate the seabird eggs. They’ll predate young chicks and they even take adult birds.
LAURA LYNCH: We have all seen them—scurrying down alleys, poking through garbage, chewing on walls and wires. Rats are survivors and world travellers. They are the scourge of a Haida Gwaii archipelago off the northwest coast of British Columbia decimating seabird populations. Now after efforts to eradicate the rodents on some of the islands, scientists are using the bounty of recovered rat corpses to investigate how they travel and how they may well survive us all. After that—
Disagreement ends vote splitting. It means that two plus two can equal more than four. It means winning.
LL: Former Progressive Conservative leader Peter MacKay in 2003 announcing the merger of his party with the remnants of the old Reform Party. It did mean winning for Stephen Harper until the liberals crushed the United Party in 2015. As the conservatives continue their long, long contest to find a new leader, some in the party are disturbed by the rhetoric they're hearing during the campaign. So disturbed they're considering splitting off and forming a party of their own. Back to the future? We'll debate that in an hour. But first—
Sometimes it’s one voice—it’s a way of telling the story of so many. My story represents the suffering of the Syrian people who are still suffering and I hope that it will reach the whole world.
LL: Doaa Al Zamel was one of 500 refugees and migrants to make a doomed voyage three years ago across the Mediterranean to Europe and one of only 11 people to survive. She doesn't like talking about that day—about watching her fiancé slip under the waves—but she does it to help the world understand the plight of her people. We begin this morning with a Syrian survivor. I'm Laura Lynch and this is the Friday edition of The Current.
[Music: Theme]Back To Top »
'I had a feeling of death before me': A refugee's survival story of 4 days floating at sea
Guests: Melissa Fleming, Doaa Al Zamel
LL: Earlier this week, a 16-year-old boy was found clinging to debris in the middle of the Mediterranean. He's thought to be the sole survivor after yet another boat sank carrying migrants and refugees from Libya. With warmer weather approaching, more people will attempt the dangerous journey from North Africa to Europe to escape war and poverty and many of them will likely not survive. Last year at least 5,000 migrants died crossing the Mediterranean. Doaa Al Zamel was 19 years old when she first made the treacherous crossing. After her boat sank, two babies were thrust into her arms by their drowning relatives. They spent four hellish days floating in a sea of corpses. It's a remarkable story and one that Melissa Fleming, the chief spokesperson for the UN's High Commissioner for Refugees tells in her new book, A Hope More Powerful Than the Sea. Melissa Fleming spoke to us from Berlin along with Doaa through an interpreter. Hello.
MELISSA FLEMING: Hello. Great to be with you.
DOAA AL ZAMEL: Hello.
LL: Melissa Fleming, let's start with you. You must hear so many different stories in the course of your work. Why did you decide to tell Doaa’s?
MELISSA FLEMING: Doaa’s story really struck me. It actually kept me awake at night. Not only is it a remarkable story about having witnessed the beginnings of the Syria war in her own neighbourhood, but her story also represents the story of so many refugees in the neighbouring countries and the suffering they went through and also what drives so many refugees to risk their lives again, that desperation on the Mediterranean Sea. But mostly, I chose her story because of the way she just incredibly survived this ordeal. It's not just a sad and a tragic story. It's a triumph story, a story that shows also so much resilience and so much hope.
LL: Well, let's get to that story then. Doaa, tell me what your life was like before the war.
DOAA AL ZAMEL: [Through translator] My childhood was—I have wonderful memories of my childhood because I lived with my family. I was in my country. I was able to study and we were a very close family. In my family, there are six girls and one boy. We loved each other. We did so much together. I have two older sisters who were married but they would often come around to our house and eat with us. So we were a very close family.
LL: I was reading in the book Doaa, that as you say, your older sisters got married and there was an expectation that you would marry at a certain age. But you had different ideas. Tell me about that.
DOAA AL ZAMEL: I always wanted from very early days to study. I wanted to be successful. And it was very important for me that I finish my education.
LL: Doaa, you’re describing this really nice life filled with family and study and everything you wanted. And then the civil war started and it started in your city. Take me forward to that day and tell me what it was like to step out of your door and into a war zone.
DOAA AL ZAMEL: Before the war, I had such a nice life which was safe, but so much changed when the war began. Before the war, I was always with my family. We were all together. We weren’t dispersed as we are now. But when the war began, it was like the sky fell to the earth. That's the way that I can describe it.
LL: Alright. We're going to take now what is a pretty big leap forward. Your family decided not long after this to flee to Egypt and this is where you met your fiancé, Bassem. And then the two of you decided to leave Egypt. Why?
DOAA AL ZAMEL: The conditions in Egypt were very difficult. There was very little work and also the political situation changed whilst we were there and that really affected the way people treated us. The first two years we were welcomed as if we were brothers and there was education, there was financial help, there was more work. But in the last two years, the situation really did change. There was so much anxiety. We didn't feel welcomed. And in addition to that, the rents had all gone up so it was much harder for us.
LL: Dooa, what were you and Bassem hoping your life in Europe would look like at that point?
DOAA AL ZAMEL: Honestly I didn't want to go to Europe and I had no real desire to leave, but Bassem was the one who planted the idea in my mind and I went because of him. Bassem was telling me about Sweden. He told me that it was a really nice country where the quality of life would be so much better, where there would be work, where we could study and where there was democracy and also that people would react to us or treat us in a much better way.
LL: And you didn't want to go partly because it leaving your family. But there's another reason too, isn't there? You were afraid of the water.
DOAA AL ZAMEL: Yes, I was afraid because I didn't know how to swim. Yes, I was afraid because of the water and I didn't want to be far from my family. When I was in Egypt at least I was in the Arab world and I was close to my family. But the conditions forced me to take that decision.
LL: And so you and Bassem pay smugglers a lot of money and you make a couple of attempts and then finally you get on a boat. Tell me what the boat was like.
DOAA AL ZAMEL: It was a very difficult moment for me when I saw the boat. I was so scared and I had a feeling of death before me. But the conditions were so much bigger than me. The only thing that helped me deal with my fear was Bassem who was with me all the time. But at the end of the day whether it was death by sea or a slow death in Egypt, these were really the only choices in front of us.
LL: What did the boat look like? I think you were promised you were going to get some kind of a ship to go on. What in reality did the boat look like?
DOAA AL ZAMEL: Honestly I was so shocked when I saw the boat. I was shocked too by the people because they had told us that there might be 100, 200 maximum. But when I saw the boat there were 500 people and amongst them there were children and old women and men and people from all different nationalities.
LL: What kind of boat was it?
DOAA AL ZAMEL: The conditions—the boat was old. It was rickety. It was small. There was only one toilet and the smell on the boat was so strong it made you sick. And then there was no cover. The waves were high. Quite often the waves would come crashing onto the boat and when there was no cover, during the day it was so hot because there was no cover and at nights it was so cold.
LL: Now the smugglers made you actually change boats a number of times during the journey and you'd actually been at sea for four days when another boat approached you. Tell us what happened.
DOAA AL ZAMEL: We had changed four times whilst we were at sea during those days and then the final boat came and they told us to change. But we were tired. We'd already changed so many times. Everyone on the boat agreed that we would not change and we told them that we refused. We refused together. People were fed up. People were sick. The situation was tense. They told us that after 16 hours we would reach Italy but we didn't know that 16 minutes later, death would be facing us. When the boat came and approached us, they began shouting at us and swearing at us and they were throwing wood at us. People were terrified. Mothers cuddled their children. Others went to put on their life jackets. But they continued to insult us and throw wood at us and then they hit us and the boat turned over. The boat sank.
LL: They actually rammed you and the boat began to sink. You can't swim as you've already said. So how did you stay afloat?
DOAA AL ZAMEL: When the boat was hit, I was pulled under and I found myself trapped under the plastic which had been put up to protect us. I don't know how to swim but I managed to break open the plastic and float back up. And when I floated to the top I saw Bassem floating in the water. After I saw him in the sea, I felt somehow relieved to know that he was alive . And I was holding onto a tiny part of the boat and even though I didn't know how to swim, I threw myself into the water. When I fell into the water, I lost consciousness and I don't remember much about that time but Bassem went and he came and he brought me a small child's inflatable ring and I put myself on the ring.
LL: As you said Doaa, there were 500 people on that boat. How many people survived initially?
DOAA AL ZAMEL: Initially there were about 50 people who did not drown immediately when the boat went down and who were floating on the sea. But they began to die one after the other.
LL: And I'm sorry to make you relive this. I know some of this must be difficult. But at one point strangers handed you their babies. Tell me about that.
DOAA AL ZAMEL: Malak was from a family of 27 people who were all from Gaza. Most of them died. It was her grandfather who approached and gave me Malak. Unfortunately he died a few hours afterwards.
LL: And then a second child. Tell me about that.
DOAA AL ZAMEL: One of the families approached me. Their second child Sandra was very sick. She was dying in front of their eyes. Her breath was leaving her body. And they came to me and they said would you look after our other daughter? Keep her safe with you whilst we try and save our daughter because no one wants to see their daughter dying in front of them. Little did they know that soon they would all die together.
LL: So who did they give to you?
DOAA AL ZAMEL: I took the younger sister who was called Masa and I held her close to my body so that I could keep her alive and I could look after her.
LL: So you have two children in your arms and I'm wondering Doaa, can you imagine what it was like for parents, grandparents to give away their babies to a stranger in the middle of the ocean?
DOAA AL ZAMEL: Of course it was hard for them to give their children to me. I still don't know why they chose me but they did choose me and I was happy because I wanted to help. I wanted to help everyone that was there. But of course it wasn't possible for me to do that.
LL: You couldn’t, no. And in fact, you were surrounded by so much death. What motivated you to keep going?
DOAA AL ZAMEL: Even though I had lost Bassem who was my life, my spirit, my hope and even though I wanted to give up, it was God who gave me strength. He is the one that always gives me strength and I rely on Him. I relied on Him before we got on the boat and I relied on Him whilst we were at sea. He was the one that kept me going.
LL: And I want to ask you about Bassem. What happened to your fiancé, Bassem? He was near you and then what happened?
DOAA AL ZAMEL: It's hard to describe. It was so difficult—to see the love of your life die from between your hands and I couldn't do anything to help him. I prayed for him. I told him to keep strong. But his body was too weak in the end and he passed away.
LL: What did you say to each other during that time?
DOAA AL ZAMEL: I was always trying to give him strength and to pray for him and he was doing the same for me. He said I'm sorry. I feel like I have done you a wrong by bringing you here. It was my fault. And I said to him don't say that to me. This is our fate. It is better that we die together here because even in death at least we are together. And he said to me I love you. I've never loved anyone like you.
LL: I'm so sorry for your loss, Doaa. How many days had you been on the water at this point, sitting in that plastic ring?
DOAA AL ZAMEL: I was in the sea for four days and two days I was with Bassem and then he died in the last two days I was alone.
LL: And then you were rescued. What do you remember about that?
DOAA AL ZAMEL: I remember people trying to help me. It was a very difficult time but at the same time of course I was happy when I saw the boat and I knew that I would be saved. But what made me happiest was that I would save these children who were my responsibility.
LL: So you were actually brought on board a ship, a shipping ship and the two babies were brought on with you. They were amazed to find you in the ocean. What happened to the two babies too—Masa and Malak?
DOAA AL ZAMEL: They were both in a critical condition when they were rescued. I remember their bodies were yellow and they were so sick. Malak unfortunately only lived five hours. She died and she left me. Masa survived in spite of being in a terrible condition. And now she's alive and she's living in Sweden.
LL: Melissa, I want to turn to you now after hearing all of that amazing terrible story. Doaa ended up going to Greece after her rescue. Tell me how you met her.
MELISSA FLEMING: Well, I read about her story in the press and I was so moved that I decided to fly to Crete and to meet her. And when we met she just really opened up to me and we spent the whole day talking. She told me everything. And I became of course extremely fond of her but also I really felt a certain responsibility for her because you know she had a wonderful family who was taking care of her on Crete but I was kind of her link to the international community I think. And I really wanted to help her and her goal was still get to Sweden. And her worry was for her family that was back in Egypt who were being threatened by this smuggler gang who were disturbed that Doaa had spoken to the press. And so you know through UNHCR’s resettlement program, we were able to get her and the whole family out of Greece and out of Egypt and into Sweden, thanks also to the Swedish government.
LL: Melissa, thousands have drowned in the Mediterranean. What can be done to stop this, to stop these deaths?
MELISSA FLEMING: I do think by learning at least about one story, people will be more exposed to what is really happening. The only thing they hear are statistics and they don't see the human beings behind the statistics. And you know I remember the Costa Concordia shipwreck and all of the names of the victims were published.
LL: The cruise ship that sank off the coast of Italy.
MELISSA FLEMING: Off the coast of Italy. Almost daily there's a shipwreck on the Mediterranean and you know no one knows their names. And I just think that's wrong.
LL: Doaa, I'm wondering what you hope comes from sharing your story.
DOAA AL ZAMEL: Sometimes it's one voice—it’s a way of telling the story of so many. My story represents the suffering of the Syrian people who are still suffering and I hope that it will reach the whole world because it's not just me. There are so many like me who continue to suffer.
LL: What is the best thing that could happen?
DOAA AL ZAMEL: What I hope for most is peace and an improvement in our situation. What I want to say is that we're not arriving in your countries wishing harm. We are not terrorists. It's the conditions that have pushed us to make these journeys.
LL: What is your life like now?
DOAA AL ZAMEL: Now I'm living with my family in Sweden. We're all studying together and we live in a nice place. People are good to us. We have peace, security and freedom. Life is a little bit easier for us now. But it still hurts me to know that I'm a refugee and I don't want people to think of us as refugees. It's the conditions that made us leave our country and we just want to live in peace and in security.
LL: You mentioned earlier that Masa came to Sweden. What happened to Masa?
DOAA AL ZAMEL: I don't know much about her but I know that she's in Sweden and that she's living with her uncle. And I wish her happiness with all my heart. I hope that she's successful in life. But I can never forget that she is an orphan at the end of the day, that she lost her parents.
LL: You lost a great deal too and I wonder how often you think about those days on the water and what it cost you to get to Sweden.
DOAA AL ZAMEL: The pain is always with me. It never goes away and in fact sometimes it feels like it is getting bigger. I can never forget what happened to me. It's always with me. What I went through was such a painful experience, all the pain that I suffered before the time at the sea in my time in Syria and the war. But what I've suffered is just a little of what the Syrians continue, the Syrian people still continue to suffer.
LL: I thank you Doaa for having the courage to tell your story and to be so determined in living your life. You're an astonishing person. And Melissa, thank you for writing this book and giving us such an intense portrait of what it means to be so desperate that you would take these measures. Thank you to both of you. Shukran, Doaa.
DOAA AL ZAMEL: Shukran.
MELISSA FLEMING: Thank you for having us on your show.
LL: Melissa Fleming is the chief spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the author of the book, A Hope More Powerful Than the Sea. Doaa Al Zamel is a refugee from Syria now living in Sweden. They were both in Berlin. And thanks to Zahra Mackaoui for interpreting. Well, the CBC News is next, then way back in the 1700s, rats started climbing off European boats and on to Haida Gwaii.
One of the crew members commented that he observed a lot of rats jumping off and he even speculated at that time that there would be perhaps quite an impact to the native animals.
LL: How right he was. Next up, studying the rats of Northwest BC for clues to how they survived. I'm Laura Lynch. You’re listening to The Current.Back To Top »
Parks Canada calls for rat tails and ears to trace rodent's move to Haida Gwaii
Guests: Tyler Peet, Michael Russello, Jason Munshi-South
LL: Hello, I'm Laura Lynch and you're listening to the Friday edition of The Current.
LL: Still to come—
Somebody’s got to fix it. I'm going to do it. I'm going to go to Ottawa on 2019. It's not going to be an election. It's going to be an exorcism.
LL: That of course is Kevin O'Leary, one of the leading contenders to lead the Conservative Party of Canada into the future. But not all Canadian conservatives are liking the looks of the party's crop of would-be leaders, Mr. O'Leary included. In half an hour from now, I'll be joined by columnist and Conservative party member Scott Gilmore who says the party today is stray too far from the centre and he is proposing a brand new Conservative party for his fellow travelers. That's coming up. But first, I smell a rat.
[Sound: Squeaking noises]
LL: That is the sound of Rattus Norvegicus, also known as the Norway or brown rat. Of course it is not a welcome sound in many places but on Haida Gwaii, the archipelago off the northern coast of BC, it's an especially dreaded one. The islands are home to an abundance of native species and rats are not one of them. The rodents are believed to have come ashore when boats from Europe first visited the islands centuries ago and the rats have been wreaking havoc ever since. Parks Canada has been working to eradicate the invasive rats for years. But this week they've taken their efforts to the next level, asking residents of Prince Rupert, BC to bring them the ears and tails of rats.
[Sound: Rat squeaking]
LL: Yeah, yeah. You heard it right. They want your ears and tails. Tyler Peet is a resource conservation manager for Parks Canada at Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve. He's with us from Skidegate, BC to explain. Hello.
TYLER PEET: Hello. How are you?
LL: Fine, thank you. Why are you collecting parts of rats?
TYLER PEET: Well, to answer that I think we'd first have to back up to a couple of years ago. We successfully eradicated rats from a number of islands that were historically seabird nesting habitat, specifically the ancient murrelet. It’s a species at risk on the Canadian registry so it's a particular conservation concern. So with the work that's being done in Gwaii Haanas, the Haida Nation and Parks Canada are recognized leaders in this type of conservation. This particular project sought to eradicate rats so that were predating on seabird nests, seabird eggs, the chicks and even at times, nesting adults. So by having successfully gotten rid of those, we're now casting a bit of a further net to try and learn more about the genetic landscape in and around Gwaii Haanas.
LL: So were you able to—I imagine you collected a lot of specimens there on the islands.
TYLER PEET: We did, yeah. For the last two years we've been trapping rats and taking samples. We had about 300 or so samples total and about 50 of those were from outside Gwaii Haanas, so from local communities. And all the rest came from and around the area of the eradication.
LL: I have this image of you being surrounded by rat tails and rat ears. What does it look like?
TYLER PEET: You know that image is probably mostly correct. Picture a couple very dedicated and tolerant technicians working tirelessly here, clipping two centimetre pieces of tails and ears. It’s not a pretty sight.
LL: No, you're right. Very, very tolerant and I guess dedicated people working for you there.
TYLER PEET: You bet. We got nothing but the best.
LL: You talked about the impact the rats had on Haida Gwaii and on the murrelets and others. So how did you go about trying to eradicate the rats?
TYLER PEET: Well, the eradication itself was done ultimately by an aerial broadcast of a sample of rodenticide.
LL: When you say aerial broadcast, you mean dropping from the air.
TYLER PEET: You bet.
TYLER PEET: So picture a helicopter with a gigantic basket that sort of swings back and forth and distributes the pellets across the landscape in a uniform way.
LL: And how well did it work when you started doing that?
TYLER PEET: Oh, we had to play with that technique for a little bit but eventually it was quite effective. So about a year ago we announced the success that was based on approximately two years of monitoring for the presence of rats on those islands and we didn't find any. So we were able to declare success on the eradication and now we're monitoring the recovery of the species of interest.
LL: Is the wildlife coming back?
TYLER PEET: It's a little early to tell. However, in the meantime, in the last year or so, the monitoring that we have been done as indicated about a six per cent increase in the presence of ancient murrelets which we are very excited about. It's not the only species to recover. The black oystercatcher—they’re shorebirds which are considered to be a sentinel species so they're sort of the canary in the coal mine in terms of determining ecosystem health. They're also increasing in number.
LL: That's very encouraging for you. What more do you know though about the history of rats on Haida Gwaii?
TYLER PEET: Roughly the first recorded sighting of rats on Haida Gwaii is about the turn of the century the early 1900s. About 1908 in Masset, some rats were seen escaping a ship and then that was at the very, very top end of the archipelago. And then in 1981, some confirmed sightings were recorded down at the southern end of the archipelago. So there's a reason to believe that there are distributed across the entirety. There’s a few exceptions. We have some rat-free islands which are largely free due to a combination of them being too far away to be easily swimmable in distance and also just blind luck of the draw that no vessel that was transporting hitchhikers on board has made a landing there so that rats could disembark and start a colony on those islands.
LL: Well, we are going to be watching along with you to see how the recovery goes and to keep an eye out for any more rats that pop up anywhere. Thank you very much.
TYLER PEET: No problem. In the meantime, we’ll just put out the shout to the residents of Prince Rupert to collect their rat bits and deliver them down to the DFO building at 417-2nd Avenue West.
LL: There, you got the message out. It'll be pouring in. Thank you very much.
TYLER PEET: [laughs] Alright, thanks so much. Have a good day.
TYLER PEET: Bye-bye.
LL: Tyler Peet is resource conservation manager for Parks Canada at Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and he is in Skidegate, BC. Well, all of those pieces of ears and tails end up in the laboratory of Michael Russello. He's a professor of biology at the University of British Columbia Okanagan campus. He is in Kelowna. Hello.
MICHAEL RUSSELLO: Hello, Laura.
LL: Now you get the bits and parts of the rats and then what happens?
MICHAEL RUSSELLO: We look forward to receiving them. So the first thing that we do is extract the DNA from them and then we'll be sequencing the bits of the genome to better understand the history of the population and how the rats are moving through Haida Gwaii.
LL: So what questions are you trying to answer by looking at the genome?
MICHAEL RUSSELLO: A couple of questions. First, where did the rats originally come from? And this is where linking up with the Fordham group led by Jason Munshi-South will be quite important. But primarily for the management purposes, we're interested in how the rats are moving through the system. How far can they go in terms of traversing the sea and moving from one landmass to another? How frequently do they do this?? And all this plays into the design of management plans for hopefully eradicating the rats.
LL: So how do you go about doing that?
MICHAEL RUSSELLO: We'll be using the genetic data to understand first off how closely related the populations are on the various islands. And from that we can get a sense of how frequently they will move between islands. So for example, Parks Canada goes out and identifies a priority area. We would want to know if rats can easily recolonize that island from a neighbouring source or if it's fairly isolated.
LL: How difficult is all that going to be to determine just from genetic material?
MICHAEL RUSSELLO: You know the genetic material is really the ideal way of doing it in an efficient way. The history of the population is recorded in the DNA and the history of the individuals as well. We can tell recent migrants for example, individuals moving from one place to another. And again we can use it to reconstruct how frequently that might occur.
LL: That's interesting. How can you tell when something is a recent migrant? Is the DNA just that slightly different?
MICHAEL RUSSELLO: Well, that's where sampling a large number of markers in the genome really is an advantage. And so we can begin to assign individuals to one population or the other. And if you know we are fortunate enough with our sampling we can actually potentially detect individuals that originate from one population moving to a new area.
LL: So obviously I would think that you don’t just need the clippings of ears and tails. Don't you also need to know where they were found?
MICHAEL RUSSELLO: Yes. So in addition to the genetic material, we hope to use all available information. And one of the most important pieces of information is where exactly was that individual sampled?
LL: Right. So the fact that we're dealing with an island though, that would seem to me to make it easier because it should be isolated from everything else. Is that true?
MICHAEL RUSSELLO: It is true and all of the samples are collected by Parks Canada and specifically for the project. And so they'll go out. They'll set up traps. So it's fairly straightforward for them to record you know where, when and to take a sample of the tail or the ear.
LL: And I know we may be getting into this in other ways but if there were rats on an island—I guess that may be one of the things you're trying to find out—would rats be able to come from other islands in Haida Gwaii? They’re typically easy routes between the two.
MICHAEL RUSSELLO: And absolutely. And so for example if in eradication attempt is made on a particular island, the follow-up monitoring we’ll want to know is if a rat is detected on an island or an eradication had happened in the recent past, is it because the eradication wasn't complete and individuals were missed on that island? Or did it come from a neighbouring island? And so if we can provide that information at the beginning, then it will tie in directly to how Parks Canada targets an area and surrounding areas for management.
LL: Okay. I want to bring another person into the conversation. Jason Munshi-South is an associate professor in the department of biological sciences at Fordham University and he is researching the global travel patterns of rats. Michael Russello’s work is part of that research. Jason Munshi-South is in New York City. Hello.
JASON MUNSHI-SOUTH: Hi. HHow are you?
LL: Fine, thanks. How surprised are you that the Gwaii Haanas Park has experienced this kind of an infestation?
JASON MUNSHI-SOUTH: I'm not really surprised because if you look around the world, this particular species of rat occurs on nearly every land mass around the world, the only exceptions being Antarctica and parts of the Arctic if you get far enough north. So this is really one of the most successful mammals in terms of spreading itself around the world.
LL: Okay. Well, let's get the terminology out of the way first. This rat, it's commonly known as the Norway rat.
JASON MUNSHI-SOUTH: That's right. And the scientific name is Rattus Norvegicus. It doesn't actually originate in Norway but it may have spread from Norway into some other European countries or Great Britain which is why they have this particular name.
LL: It has other kinds of I guess nicknames: brown rat, sewer rat. Correct?
JASON MUNSHI-SOUTH: That's right. Brown rat, sewer rat, city rat. It's the rat you commonly see in northern cities, in subway systems, coming out of sewers, eating garbage on the street, burrowing in parks, that sort of thing.
LL: I'm sure other people have other names for it. Your work started in New York City but how did you come to research the global travel of rats?
JASON MUNSHI-SOUTH: Well, we were originally interested in a very similar question as to what's happening in Haida Gwaii. Our question was where did where did rats in New York City originate from? And to answer that question I began contacting colleagues around the world and asking them to send us samples from rats from cities where their universities were located or other adjacent areas. And it turned out we found so many people studying rats around the world that we were able to look at sort of the global picture of how the species migrated, beginning where it originated and then spread throughout all these different landmasses.
LL: So where is ground zero for rats?
JASON MUNSHI-SOUTH: It seems that the brown rat originated in northern China or Mongolia and its earliest migrations were through East Asia and down into Southeast Asia. That was the initial movement.
LL: Okay. So they started in China. How did they begin to migrate out of there? Do you know what the reasons were? What they were biologically trying to accomplish?
JASON MUNSHI-SOUTH: We don't know for sure but it seems that that's around the time they evolve to be commensal with humans which means they were living with us and living off of our resources. And so it's likely that they evolved to take advantage of human agriculture and grain storage initially and then they spread throughout villages and towns and later cities in Asia in their behaviour of living with humans. And then their next big migration was very slow. It carried them across all of Eurasia through the Central Asian states and eventually into Eastern Europe sometime in the 1500s and then we have good records of them spreading to the rest of northern and western Europe by the 1700s. And once they arrived in Europe is when they kind of exploded. They arrived at just the right time to be moved around by ships that were sailing from Europe engaging in colonial activity, international trade, war and so forth and so that's when the rat really spread around the rest of the world.
LL: And at every single step it was more or less in step with human movement.
JASON MUNSHI-SOUTH: That's right. It's unlikely that this route was naturalized in forests or other native habitats at this time to a large degree. They were largely tracking the movements of humans and living in our towns, cities and agricultural areas.
LL: How quickly did and do they reproduce? I mean you talk about the populations exploding. How quickly does that happen?
JASON MUNSHI-SOUTH: Well, they're exquisitely evolved for rapid reproduction. So you know they can become sexually mature in a matter of weeks. The same female can have several litters in a year. And so you're talking about exponential growth once they get into an area with favourable conditions. And they survive quite well on transport ships and so forth so they can survive relatively long voyages and then if they get out at their destination, then they can quickly establish themselves in new areas.
LL: Which is why you always hear that phrase that there are more rats in New York City than people.
JASON MUNSHI-SOUTH: Yeah, that's right. I think probably somewhat of a myth that there are certainly at least hundreds of thousands of rats, if not a few million in New York City.
LL: But what is the impact of the rats on local habitats when they do arrive? They become so dominant.
JASON MUNSHI-SOUTH: Right. Well, in urban areas they are largely a problem because they degrade infrastructure. They'll shoot holes in walls. They'll chew on wires. They can spread diseases like leptospirosis in their urine and droppings. They get into garbage. In more natural areas when they arrive, they can—especially on the islands which tend to be sensitive and the animals may or may not have very many predators—they can become quite an issue because they will actually become something like predators. They'll eat chicks of birds. They’ll eat eggs. They may even attack adult individuals and so they can be very destructive towards the local fauna.
LL: Well, that seems a good time to bring Michael Russello back into this. When it comes to Haida Gwaii as we heard from Parks Canada, the negative impact of the rats was pretty clear. So what is the final goal of your research?
MICHAEL RUSSELLO: Well, the impetus for all of this initially was for the protection of the nesting seabird species in Haida Gwaii that have just been devastated, in some cases even extirpated from islands. And we're talking about ancient murrelets and cassin's auklet and fork-tailed storm petrels and a host of other shorebird species. But it also will help with the restoration of the native ecosystems as well. So that really is the end goal of all this work.
LL: How likely do you think it is that you're actually going to be able to make Haida Gwaii rat-free?
MICHAEL RUSSELLO: Well, that would be the ultimate goal. And like so many other big picture goals, it will require will and resources, so both for eradicating the rats that are there but then also preventing future introductions.
LL: Actually as you know working with Jason when it comes to your Haida Gwaii study, how is the work in BC going to contribute to the global study?
MICHAEL RUSSELLO: Well, it will hopefully add some more geographic range to this already quite impressive dataset and initiative. It was really important for us to be able to collect our data in a way that could feed into Jason's work and to take advantage of it and its geographic scope.
JASON MUNSHI-SOUTH: I can add a little bit to that if you'd like.
LL: Sure, Jason. Go ahead.
JASON MUNSHI-SOUTH: So getting back to these rats moving around the world, it seems that they got to eastern North America sometime in the 1750s and then the west coast—the west coast of North America and British Columbia—potentially around the same time. But there was a migration of rats from the east coast across the entire North American continent over to the west coast while simultaneously rats were being introduced to the west coast. And our genetic results indicate the east coast rats came from Western Europe. But what was a really big surprise in our study was that the west coast of North America—California, British Columbia, Alaska—these rats were a mixture of lineages that came from Western Europe and this likely came across North America from the east and then rats from Asia. And so British Columbia is a very interesting area for the history of the species because there were two major migrations combining in this area and so by studying Haida Gwaii, we’ll understand this process better and hopefully that information will help deal with the problem on Haida Gwaii. If there are rats still being introduced, we can potentially identify what lineages they’re coming from.
LL: Does that also mean that we here in BC are lucky enough to own a unique kind of rat population?
JASON MUNSHI-SOUTH: It is true in some sense is that you have this you know sort of composite population of immigrant rats that have combined to be something unique, genetically compared to the populations elsewhere in the world.
LL: Okay, Jason. I want to get into this, the whole idea of rats that do get a bad rap. You talked about disease before but we all think of them as being spreaders of pestilence and disease and the Black Plague in the 14th century. Does that hold up?
JASON MUNSHI-SOUTH: Well, the Black Plague was actually spread potentially by a different rat that got to Europe earlier and that's the black rat. And the black rat was spread around the world earlier because it did better on ships and was picked up first. But the Norway rat seems to outcompete that rat and so it displaced it from much of the world. Coastal cities in British Columbia still have both species but the Norway rat has become more common in most areas and is a dominant species.
LL: Are you suggesting that rats are our friend then because they're keeping the bad rats out? [laughs]
JASON MUNSHI-SOUTH: Well, I would say that they’re both bad. The Norway rat, while it’s not implicated in the plague which is now easily treatable with antibiotics, they do spread other diseases. They can contaminate food with things like salmonella, E. coli. They can spread leptospirosis.
LL: What is leptospirosis?
JASON MUNSHI-SOUTH: Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection that is spread in rat urine and in humans it particularly infects the kidney. And it can be treated with antibiotics but if it's not, then it can cause serious damage in some individuals. It's also becoming more common as an infection in dogs. So when people are walking their pet dogs in areas where rats are active and the dog walks through a puddle or even drinks out of a puddle, they get exposed to this disease. So it's not a trivial thing. I wouldn't say rats are low or zero risk for spreading disease. There's still a public health issue in a lot of ways.
LL: Michael Russello, here's your chance. And I'm going to ask Jason after this. What do you think? Is there anything to love about rats or like?
MICHAEL RUSSELLO: [chuckles] Well, you know from the vantage point where we are now and seeing the impacts to biodiversity and to all the other elements that Jason talked about, I have trouble finding too many redeeming qualities other than their intrinsic value as part of the world's biodiversity.
LL: Okay. Jason, you've devoted your career to studying rats. Do you love anything about them? Is there anything that we can say that's truly positive?
JASON MUNSHI-SOUTH: Well, I'm interested in rodents in general and rats are really interesting just because they are kind of like, if you look at humans compared to other primates, they're the one species that’s just really made it. And it’s figured something out. It’s evolved a strategy that is ultimately successful and they will likely be around for thousands, if not millions of years moving into the future. So their adaptability, their intelligence, you know it's all very impressive. Obviously it's an intolerable situation when you have rats living in and around your home. But you know you have to admire them in some way as a survivor.
LL: Well, there you go. They will outlast us all. Thank you to both of you.
JASON MUNSHI-SOUTH: You're welcome.
MICHAEL RUSSELLO: My pleasure.
LL: Michael Russello is a professor of biology at the University of British Columbia Okanagan campus. He is in Kelowna. Jason Munshi-South is an associate professor in the department of biological sciences at Fordham University in New York. Well, coming up next—disunite the right? After the break, columnist and conservative Scott Gilmore joins me to make his pitch for a new Canadian Conservative Party. I'm Laura Lynch and you're listening to The Current.
[Music: Sting]Back To Top »
It's time for red and blue Tories to part ways, says Conservative Party member
Guests: Scott Gilmore, Alise Mills, Colby Badhwar
LL: I'm Laura Lynch and you're listening to the Friday edition of The Current. Let's take a minute now for some of your feedback on a story from earlier this week. On Monday we got into the fine print on one of the items in the federal budget: parental leave. A new provision allows 18 months of leave up from the old 12. We spoke to three guests who had differing views on the subject. Here's one of our guests, Kathleen Lahey, a law professor at Queen’s University who questioned who the beneficiaries of an extended parental leave would be.
The only people who will genuinely benefit from this type of choice are the ones who have incomes high enough to be able to afford to sit back and decide just which option would enhance their lifestyle.
LL: Now you had lots to say on the subject on Facebook, Twitter and e-mail. Jennifer Walcott from Toronto wrote: “The issue is affordable child care, not the length of the maternity leave. I am watching my daughter and her husband struggle to afford daycare, and my daughter having to return to work early in order to be able to stay on the pay increase ladder. It's a Catch-22 that I am sure millions of families are caught in. If one province can provide adequate subsidized day care, then why can't they all?” Lyn Henley of Pigeon Lake, Alberta wrote: “Realistically, if you can't afford the costs of having children then maybe you should not have children until you can afford it. Before you buy the house, you consider as a couple, can I afford to buy a house? Why isn't having children also a legitimate question before action is taken?” Leah M. Layden tweeted to us: “How about changing our system of economics instead? Introduce a model of basic income that would allow for healthier families.” And finally Seth Martin from Gravenhurst, Ontario wrote: “After I was laid off, my wife and I decided that she would take her business full time and I would stay home. Our youngest was two years old so I had the opportunity to be home with her for two years. This is the best thing that has happened to me. It is so beneficial for our kids to have me around all the time and to see that a man can do the cleaning and cooking and a woman can have a successful business and support her family financially.”
LL: Well, we always like hearing from you. Let us know what you think you can find us on Facebook or on Twitter @thecurrentCBC or me @lauralynchCBC and our email address is email@example.com.
VOICE 1: In case you haven’t noticed, Brad’s not entirely comfortable with the whole gay thing. And if you haven’t noticed, you have not been paying attention.
VOICE 2: The discussion of Canadian values in screening with face-to-face interviews for immigrants is not racist or xenophobic or anti-immigrant. And just because the media and the elites don't want to have this discussion doesn't mean we should be afraid of it.
VOICE 3: She's a toxic cocktail of mediocrity incompetence. Poisonous. I'm doing everything in my power to get rid of her because I do not want to work with her when I become prime minister.
LL: Those are some of the leading voices in the race to be the future face of Canadian conservatism. You heard Brad Trost’s spokesperson Mike Patton, Kellie Leitch and of course, Kevin O'Leary. And we should note: there are 11 more Conservative Party of Canada leadership candidates to choose from but the contest is leaving Scott Gilmore cold. The MacLean’s columnist and Conservative Party member set off a national conversation this week with an article headlined, “Confessions of a self-loathing Tory”. He argues the grand experiment of uniting the Canadian right may have run its course. It's been 14 years now since the merger of the Canadian Alliance and Progressive Conservative parties. And according to Gilmore, the time has come to uncouple and launch a new conservative party closer to the old PC roots. Scott Gilmore is with us now from Ottawa. We are also joined for this discussion by Alise Mills here in Vancouver. She's a conservative political analyst and president of Alise Mills Communications and Colby Bahdwar is with us from Toronto. He is a conservative party member and a youth political activist. Hello to you all.
MANY VOICES: Morning.
LL: Scott Gilmore, I'm going to begin with you. At what point in the leadership race did you decide that you hated your party?
SCOTT GILMORE: About paragraph two of that column, actually. I was doing a summary of the leading candidates and their positions and I had to step away from my laptop and ask myself: at what point did it all become okay for me to support a party that was dominated by such xenophobic buffoons?
LL: Okay. And what is the answer to your own question?
SCOTT GILMORE: Well, I think I've just slowly been acclimatized to the idea that being conservative in Canada means that you also are opposed to refugees. You're opposed to marijuana. You want to put more people in jail. And these are all ideas that have sort of naturally seeped into the conservative discourse but they don't reflect the values—I would argue—of the majority of naturally conservative voters in this country.
LL: Okay. So what are those values? What kind of conservatives aren’t being served by the party?
SCOTT GILMORE: Well, you know if you go from Vancouver to St. John's and you ask people, whether it's over a beer or over dinner, what are your politics? It's amazing how many people say I'm fiscally conservative but I'm socially moderate. And yet we don't have a party in this country that actually represents those values. And so a moderate conservative, a Red Tory if you will, is somebody who doesn't believe that the government is the first answer for everything, that the government is not a good investor, that it shouldn't be spending our money willy-nilly, but the same time has a role to level the playing field and look after those of us who are the least advantaged. And you look at leadership candidates that we have right now that are dominating the race. None of those represent those values.
LL: Alise Mills, what do you think of this idea?
ALISE MILLS: Well, just to step back a little bit, I've read Scott's column three times to make sure that I didn't misunderstand the points. I understand Scott's frustration but I don't understand the hate. I don't understand matching hate with hate. Right? I don't understand maligning 38 per cent of Canadians and a movement and not being able to understand the difference between a movement and a party. I share some of Scott's concerns and frustrations as an analyst on this race has driven me to the point of frustration. But I'm also a conservative movement person. I believe the movement leads the party and that has been one of the greatest challenges we've had I would say in recent times in the last eight years. I think the movement is beginning to uprise. I think the movement is also in this process of like a snake shedding its skin. It doesn't matter how close we could be to turning over power. The party needs to go through this massive change and disassociate itself with its former leadership. And I'm not just talking about Stephen Harper. And I think this is where Scott misses the finer points of political movements. There's a big difference between me and Scott. I'm an on-the-ground conservative and he's in Toronto writing. I mean no harm when I say that, but I'm actually going to small towns and I think Scott's missing the subcontext here or the subtext. When conservatives—and I agree with him, from coast to coast I'm fiscally conservative but I'm also socially moderate. But if you ask them why they jump on the refugee train or you ask them what they think about for example you know some of the issues around security, they will provide a much more complex answer. They'll say yeah, I nodded in agreement. But what I really meant was I just want to make sure the country is socially and economically secure, that our freedoms and liberties and the freedoms and liberties of those coming into the country are protected. It's not as simple as I think Scott is putting out there.
LL: And Scott, I'll let you come back at that. But first I want to go to Colby Badhwar. Do you feel represented by the Conservative Party of Canada right now?
COLBY BADHWAR: I do. I certainly understand where Scott is coming from and I share a lot of the frustrations that he touched on in his piece. But I question whether creating a new conservative party would better represent me and conservatives across the country. You know I was just a kid in the nineties but I am a student of history so I know back then between ‘93 and 2003, conservatives were in the wilderness because we had the Reform Party and we had the federal PC party as well. And that meant that the Liberals were in power for consecutive majority governments and I don't want to make that same mistake. I think that dividing the right again would be very counterproductive because I don't think that there's any chance that we could get back into government under those circumstances. Maybe, maybe if we had proportional representation in Canada just as you know a theoretical would make more sense possibly. But under the current system, I don't think that dividing our party would be productive. I think that a more productive way of creating the Conservative party that Scott wants, that I want and that Alise wants—I think we all want a similar conservative party. But I think the more productive way to go about that is to engage in grassroots activism on the ground and change the face of the party that way rather than just you know trying to start fresh. I mean just to give a specific example of that. In Vancouver my riding association co-sponsored a resolution with two others—Edmonton West and Fort McMurray-Cold Lake—and we sponsored a resolution to strike from the party's policy declaration its stance against same-sex marriage and we won that fight. And that was just three young conservatives from across the country uniting together, fighting the grassroots battle and we won. And the delegates voted overwhelmingly in Vancouver to support that policy and it made the Conservative party more inclusive. And I think that's the kind of thing that we should be doing.
LL: Okay. Scott, over to you. It's being suggested here that you're out of touch with the grassroots, that you are throwing out the possibility of attaining power because you want to stick to some principles. What do you say?
SCOTT GILMORE: Well, I may be out of touch with the grassroots. I don't live in or work in Toronto. Born in Flin Flon, grew up in Alberta. I spent an awful lot of time on the ground in different places and what we're proposing to do right now is exactly that, to go out to the grassroots, to have a series of dinners across the country. We have people signing up already at newconservatives.ca where we ask a very simple question which is: does the party represent your values? And if it doesn't, what do we do next? And I agree with Colby. Maybe we don't need a new party. I think that’s jumping forward a few different steps. But we definitely need to have a conversation right now that's not happening on the debate stage at the CPC leadership race.
LL: Alise, I just want to turn it back to you. For years we have—when I used to work in Ottawa I used to see the progressive conservative caucus struggle with being united over social issues. Brian Mulroney was in fact very good at keeping the caucus together. So this predates this current iteration of the party. How do you make it work? How do you keep the party united? And is there a candidate that can make it happen?
ALISE MILLS: I think that the Conservative Party is going through what the Liberal Party has gone through for I would say a decade and a half prior to the election and nomination of Justin Trudeau. And sometimes you can't control the organic process of a party. I like to say it's sort of like vomiting over itself right now. It's trying to figure out what fits, what doesn't. But I will say that the candidates, that the top candidates there—I agree with Scott—don't necessarily reflect it. I think there's smatterings of each of them that are reflective of what conservatives want to hear. But you know when was the last time Scott was actually at one of our AGMs in Portage la Prairie or Fort St. John or places like that? And I'm glad Scott’s stepping back from the whole idea of a new party because for those of us that are there trying to work within what we have right now and talking to members and trying to give those big speeches about how you must as the movement lead the party, I’m frustrated by some of the ideas that Scott has. I also wonder about Scott's conservatism. You know in the article, he talks about large national programs. That's very Trudeau-esque. That's not where the conservatives are as well. And maybe the issue isn't conservatism for Scott. Maybe it's a different choice. Maybe he’s a blue Liberal. We see that in the States all the time. Maybe Scott is not feeling comfortable in the party that he’s in. But to split the party up and to antagonize a group of conservatives that have worked so hard to get through this, I think defeats the whole purpose.
LL: Scott, she’s questioning your conservative cred.
SCOTT GILMORE: Well, she describes quite a party there, a party that's vomiting all over itself as she put it, a party that is a snake shedding its skin which by the way is still a snake at the end of the day.
ALISE MILLS: I think that’s awful to say that anyway.
SCOTT GILMORE: Those are your words, Alise.
ALISE MILLS: No. We’re talking about evolution, Scott, and I recognize the good points to the party and my movement. And I would never go out there and suggest I hate my party or confuse liberalism with conservatism. There's no confusion there. So you know I'm not disagreeing with your frustration, Scott. I'm just agreeing with your methodology.
SCOTT GILMORE: Well, I believe in a party where I'm allowed to say whether I like it or not, where I'm allowed to put facts and my own personal values over the brand and the partisanship. And so what I think we need to do right now is have a simple conversation that frankly should not scare Alise or anybody else. If they think what I'm proposing is blue liberal, if they think what I'm proposing doesn't reflect the values of most of the conservative voters in Canada, then it's not going to hurt them at all. If I go out and have a conversation with Canadians and say you know what does the Conservative Party look like to you and Alise doesn't think any conservatives are going to show up at that, then we're good.
ALISE MILLS: You're jumping way ahead, Scott. I know you're making a lot of assumptions about what I think. I'm not afraid to have this conversation. I'm glad we're having it. I just wonder where you were six months ago.
LL: Okay. I want to bring Colby back into this. Colby Badhwar, do you look out on that race and see anyone who you think can actually unite a party that does—I think admittedly on everyone's part—have some very different views about what conservatism should be?
COLBY BADHWAR: I think that there are a number of so-called consensus candidates in the race who could you know unite the party. I mean Stephen Harper was able to keep us all together under a big blue tent for 10 years and did a reasonable job. I know Scott mentioned in his column that it's difficult to reconcile the sort of Western economic populism and social conservatism with the more urban and suburban liberty-oriented free market point of view. And there are certainly challenges there. But Stephen Harper did it for 10 years and prior to—
LL: Not without getting dragged into dealing with social issues that he didn't really want to deal with.
COLBY BADHWAR: He did but I think he kept a lid on things pretty well. I mean there was a lot of rumblings from the backbench certainly but he made it fairly clear that you know you can throw out a private member's bill once in a while, but our government is not going to be about those issues. So I think there's concrete examples of how this can be done. I think that you know Mulroney's government, I mean lots of social conservatives there but they didn't pursue a very aggressive social conservative agenda. They did a lot of really great economic reform. So I think there's a number of—I think it's wrong to suggest that it's impossible to not reconcile those two factions in the Conservative Party. And there are some candidates who are very safe. There are others who are a little bit more controversial like the Max Berniers, like the Michael Chongs, who maybe wouldn't be able to unite as many people but they're certainly presenting I think a relatively positive vision for the direction that we can take the party in terms of going in that liberty direction that Scott's talking about.
LL: Scott, in starting this conversation you were prompted to do this by the people that you saw up on the stage in the conservative race. Is there someone there who you see as the kind of leader that you would want for the party?
SCOTT GILMORE: Yeah. Well, Colby might be a good start. But I agree with what he's suggesting about Michael Chong. I think Michael Chong represents the best of the conservative tradition. He is somebody that’s open to creating a large party and I think he's somebody frankly he's one of the few candidates on that stage who would stand a chance beating Trudeau in a general election. There are also elements of different candidates’ platforms. For example, Maxime Bernier, very fiscally conservative—he wants to get out of supply management and other economic policies that simply don't make sense at being a conservative. But at the same time he also wants to send troops to the border to stop refugees. He wants to reduce immigration. He wants to reduce gun laws. And so he loses me on those things. So there is some hope there.
LL: Alise, I have the benefit of actually having you here in the studio with me and I can't read your face right now. What’s going through your mind?
ALISE MILLS: Well, you know Colby makes some great points and conservatives have done some very socially conservative things. I think back to Stephen Harper and the MMPR program which is the framework to the legalization of pot. Justin Trudeau couldn't do that without that. Right? But getting back to the candidates, I have a strong distaste for the Kellie Leitch inauthentic opportunistic vote grab and stirring the pot. But there are elements she's bringing in conversation that I hate to say is Western countries are having. Right? This isn't coming out of the blue. I do agree with Scott's points about you know you can't emulate Donald Trump. A lot of things had to converge for that to happen. And I wouldn't want to see a Donald Trump elected here. That's not Republican in my mind. But I think the party is caught between oscillating between sort of what American Republicans do which is Reaganize. So there are some that are Reaganizing Harper and that old time or that past time and others that are just pitchfork brigade. And then there's the people like the three of us on this show that are in the middle, that are trying to come forward with a more modern point of view. When I talked about the party going through this organic process of shedding skin, of sort of vomiting all over itself, every party does that. The NDP is doing it. It’s okay. Let it organically happen. We can have that conversation Scott wants to have on all the points that he's made about freedoms, liberties, free enterprise. I am a idealogue. I'm not invested in the social side. I don't believe in restricting freedoms. But I think there’s a way to do this. I disagree with the idea of going out attacking. I think we have been stronger as a party when we reach out and try and be more inclusive with each other. But the social conservatism is shrinking by the minute in the Conservative Party and I say this from travelling to Saskatchewan.
LL: Among who, when you say within the Conservative Party?
ALISE MILLS: Well, Scott makes an interesting point in his article where he talks about the country has shifted to a socially liberal stance and our points of view have expanded and he's right about that. And that's transferred into the conservative voter. We're maybe not seeing that so much in two or three leadership candidates, but members aren't talking the way that—and the wide swath—they're not talking the way Kellie Leitch is talking and I think she'll pay the price at the end of this.
LL: Okay. Colby, whoever becomes the next leader, what do you think their priorities should be when it comes to the party?
COLBY BADHWAR: Well, it depends on the candidate because different candidates, should they become leader, are going to have different challenges. Some of the more controversial ones are going to have issues with uniting the caucus behind them which is certainly important. Others might have more trouble with the base of the party. So I think it's really difficult to tell. I mean there are so many variables in this race and just with all the rules, I don't think anybody can say with any certainty who's going to be the leader and I think that we have to know that before we can definitively say what’s their biggest challenge going to be. You know Kevin O'Leary seems to be gaining caucus support but I think that there's still a lot of people in this party that definitely do not want him. I saw a recent poll that has him at 29 per cent of members would never ever vote for him. That's quite high. So I think that it depends on who the leader is.
LL: Well, Scott, it does seem that you've accomplished at least having this conversation. I also read that you got a big response to your column. In fact you had to set up a Facebook page to handle all the people that you offered to have dinner with. What's your sense from the reaction that you've been getting of where the conversation needs to go from here?
SCOTT GILMORE: You're right. We set up a Facebook page and then we ended up having to set up a website, newconservatives.ca, where we said give us your name, give us your email and we'll let you know when we're coming to town and having dinner. And what surprised me is all these people that left their e-mails also left a message and the message was were very, very similar. They were coming from younger Canadians, from new Canadians, from Canadians living in cities who said I'm tired of being embarrassed to be a conservative, to have to explain what that means. I believe in gay marriage. I believe in the right for my neighbour to be able to smoke pot if they want. But at the same time I have these other values and they don't see it reflected on the stage like Alise mentioned. They don't see Kellie Leitch being even remotely close to what their values are. So these people are very, very hungry for a new party or a new conversation or a new ideology, something that reflects what they feel and what they believe. And this conversation, it’s going to keep going.
LL: But even if it risks meaning you don't attain power to carry out the policies that you actually believe in?
SCOTT GILMORE: Well, I would much rather be true to myself than to shameless position myself so that I could just simply get into power. And I would argue right now with the way that the leadership candidates that are in the lead, the direction they're heading, they're going to stay on the opposition benches for a generation.
LL: Alise, he’s saying that there are a lot of people out there who are thinking like him. You see it that way?
ALISE MILLS: Well, I feel like I want to extend an olive branch to Scott here. I mean he's just repeating the conversations that I've been having and members and I have been having for two years now or since at least the last I would say eight months before the 2015 election. Okay? But conservatives don't air their dirty laundry on the front line. We fight inside the House. As my father said, I never want to see my family fighting on the front lawn. We're just not liberals that way. And I think some conservatives are uncomfortable with how, like they want to stay more quiet during this leadership campaign because they are more quiet than liberals. They feel like it's disloyal to have this conversation.
LL: I remember some pretty loud conversations after Kim Campbell lost in ’93.
ALISE MILLS: They don't want to do it again.
SCOTT GILMORE: This is absurd, this idea that it's disloyal to critique your party. It’s disloyal to have conversations about where your party goes?
LL: Okay. Scott, let’s let Alise finish and you can come back.
ALISE MILLS: I totally agree but it's our culture in the party and I'm a Western conservative and I'm a free enterpriser. I'm not a social conservative and there is a respectability about it and I do appreciate not having to defend two members scrapping in a lead story in the Vancouver Sun for example, like liberals have had to do for generations. I do appreciate that respect. But I would say this about Scott's idea. I just wish it had come right after the 2015 campaign because there's many of us. I think of the senators. I think of the former ministers I spoke to. I think of the work that Erin O'Toole did for example. I worked closely with him on trying to get discussions together. Where was Scott then? I mean I wonder why—this is not the time necessarily to be talking about a new party during a leadership race. Why don't you diagnose once you see the outcome?
LL: Okay, Scott. Absurd? What's absurd?
SCOTT GILMORE: Well, it's absurd that we're having a conversation about where the Conservative Party should go and Alise’s main focus is where I have been and where I come from and where I sit. Let's talk just talk about the facts as they stand right now. The facts are that the demographics in this country are shifting, that conservative voters have evolved. That there are a lot of people like me who are unhappy with the party and it's perfectly reasonable for those people to clear their throat, speak up and say you know what? This isn't working for me. We need to talk. Doing that's not disloyal. It's not un-Canadian. It's natural healthy political discourse and people can join us at newconservatives.ca to start that conversation.
LL: Okay. We have just under a minute left and I just want to go around the table one more time and Colby Badhwar, I want to come to you. You are hearing this quite polarized conversation between these two. Where do you land on this?
COLBY BADHWAR: Well again, I empathize with Scott's position. I think that though to reiterate, I don't think that a new party would help the conservative movement in Canada at all. I think that the conversation that Scott is talking about is super important. I had this conversation myself with lots of other young conservatives and I think we're all on the same page in the direction we want to take the party. But I think that we need to use a different strategy.
LL: Ten seconds each. Final thoughts, Alise?
ALISE MILLS: I hope the listeners don't follow the twisty path that Scott is taking in regards to assuming what I think. I actually appreciate the point that Scott is making. I just wonder where he was right after the election.
LL: Scott, very quick. Very quick.
SCOTT GILMORE: Alise, join me for dinner. Colby, run for office.
LL: There you go.
ALISE MILLS: Are you paying, Scott?
LL: Okay. Thank you to all three of you. Scott Gilmore is a national columnist at Maclean’s magazine, a contributor to the Boston Globe and a conservative party member. He's in Ottawa. Elise Mills is a conservative political analyst and president of Alise Mills Communications. She's here in Vancouver. Colby Badhwar is a conservative party member and youth political activist. He's in Toronto. Now we want to hear from you. Would you like to see a new conservative party emerge or do you support the ideas you've been seeing on the conservative leadership campaign trail? Let us know. Tweet us @thecurrentCBC, post on this segment on our Facebook page or e-mail us by clicking on the contact link at www.cbc.ca/thecurrent. That is today's edition of The Current. Stay tuned to Radio One for q. Today the show is in Ottawa for the Junos. Guests include Buffy Sainte-Marie and Jim Cuddy with live performances from The Strumbellas and Tanika Charles. And remember you can always take The Current with you to go on the CBC Radio app. It's free from the App Store or Google Play. Finally we started today's show with the remarkable story of a Syrian refugee, Doaa Al Zamel. Recently a group of young Syrian refugees at a camp in Greece tried to organize their own talent show called Refugees Got Talent. It was a hit. Despite the tensions and suffering, plenty of refugees came out to share their talent. A new documentary from Al Jazeera called Refugees Got Talent chronicles the story. We linked to it from our Twitter @thecurrentCBC. Here is one of the performances. It features the lyrics which wrote about being a proud Syrian and dying to return one day to rebuild the country. I'm Laura Lynch. Thank you for listening to The Current.
[Sound: Piano music and Syrian man rapping]
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