Full text of Rosemary Barton's interview with Stephen Harper

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper sat down for an interview with CBC News Power & Politics host Rosemary Barton.
Stephen Harper sits down for a one-on-one interview with Power & Politics to discuss the niqab, identity politics, TPP and his leadership. 13:16

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper sat down for an interview with CBC News Power & Politics host Rosemary Barton. 

Here is the full transcript: 

Rosemary Barton: Let's talk about the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal that you managed to conclude yesterday. Was there a point  throughout those negotiations that were going on for five years where you began to believe that maybe this isn't going to happen? Was there a moment where you were doubting that it would happen?

Stephen Harper: Oh look, many times. Many times. I would say it was really, if I'm frank about it, it was only in the last six, seven, eight months that I thought 'yeah this is actually really starting to come together' because there had been a bunch of parties, even before we were a part of it, that had been sitting around the table for quite a while. So look, it's come together. I think it's a great thing. It's, as I say, the creation of the greatest economic partnership in the history of the world. It's going to set the standard for, not just Asia-Pacific trade, but eventually trade around the world and it's very important that I think we got a good deal but it's also very important that we get in through the front door. So we're not, the under way around, trying to negotiate your way in later would inevitably be very bad terms.   

RB: Is it impossible to negotiate a deal later, you've got 11 countries signed on.

SH: I think the answer is yes and no. Its certainly possible to find a way to get in later, but you will not be negotiating. You will be accepting whatever terms they're offering you unless your China or someone that huge who actually has some leverage at a table that size. But by and large, you're either negotiating your way in later or you're begging your way in later and you definitely don't want to be in that position. But independent of that I think we got a very good deal. If you look at the reaction across the Canadian economy, it's about a unified -- i think we got a better unified reaction on this than we did on the European Union and that was pretty unanimous.

RB: Let's talk about what it means for consumers because I know you're talking about the broader opportunities. It's hard to see what it offers cor Canadians on a daily basis. And I would argue if you wanted to offer them something concrete you would have blown up the supply management and said here, here's all the cheap dairy products you want. So why didn't you do that?

SH: We have a pretty firm position. We've run many election of making firm commitments to our supply managed farmers and you have to remember that our rural regions, those family farms are the basis of the entire, or really the backbone of the entire economy in the region. So we  firmly committed to protecting that and we've done so. This deal will eliminate upon entry and over the years many tariffs across a range of consumer goods. Look I think the biggest gains are on the side of our workers and our exporting businesses. The are going to get tariff free access to an enormous market and we will be the only G7 country, at least for the foreseeable future, that has that kind of access in Asia, in the Americas and in Europe. So when you look at companies that are looking at, big companies especially with what they call global mandates, Canada will be about the place in the world to do that business.

RB: There has been a trade deficit though over the past about two years, so what kind of lag time is reasonable to expect before doing these things. I mean CETA hasn't even been ratified, we aren't seeing the consequences of it.

 You're not seeing the consequences exactly, but companies on both sides of the ocean are positioning themselves for the benefits that will create when companies, bigger companies that plan long term, they start to plan on these things. Look the trade balance is a complicated thing, I'm not going to into it, but the fact is, our exports, obviously non energy exports are down in dollars because the falling prices, but our non energy exports are growing qutie significantly across the country, they're up about 10 per cent this year, and if you go to companies like this they will tell you they are seeing that.

RB: I'm going to shift gears if I can. Yesterday the federal court of appeals said your government cannot have a stay on this issue of Zunera Ishaq, the woman who is willing to reveal her face before the ceremony for citizenship but not willing. She said yesterday that she believes the government is interfering or telling her how to dress or live. Why is it OK for the government to tell Ms. Ishaq how to dress and how to live?

SH: Well look, our position is very simple. We're an open society and a society of equality and an open society. Canadians are strongly united around the view that there are times when you reveal your identity. And of course there's the broader value question of the men and women we are trying to promote in this country. Obviously as we've said before this campaign we are going to go ahead with legislation and the next parliament will debate that. But I think the legislation is broadly reflective of the large, large majority of Canadians.

RB: But, but, what is the limits then? What a government then tell someone to do? If you're willing to tell this woman that she can't live her life like this, that she can't wear this at this ceremony, then where do you put the limits?

SH: Well, this is a Canadian public ceremony. And certainly, Canadians have a right to establish the basic values around that ceremony that are reflective of our basic values as a society.

RB: But a public service worker, for instance, in the civil service, someone who has a public position. Should they be allowed to?

SH: That's a matter we're going to examine. Quebec, as you know, has legislation on this. And we're looking at that legislation. But as I say, we're a society of openness and of equality and this is what we want to promote. And look, the vast, vast majority of Canadians understand our position on this and are behind it. The other parties have made a decision to make this an issue because they are frankly offside on public opinion, but that's their choice.

RB: You haven't made this an issue?

SH: We're on side with public opinion on this, and I think Canadians understand this very clearly. It's not by any means the biggest issue of this campaign. The biggest issue is the economy, but I think our position is widely understood and supported.

RB: But if you look at the niqab, which, OK, it's a court decision it's not something that you've timed, the barbaric cultural practices tip line, there are people who believe that this is in some way encouraging anti Muslim sentiment. We've seen instances in the past week two women who have been attacked, not even for wearing niqbs, hijabs.

SH: As you know our party has a whole series of very strong policies. We're the party that really has brought in strong policies to crack down on crime in this country. It is important that violent crime and violence against people be appropriately counted and punished, we've brought in a whole series of measures to do that. Priorities going forward in this parliament are additional measures in the areas of drunk driving, life means life, and people who commit certain heinous acts actually serve a life sentence for their crimes.

RB: But what do you say to these women or to these people who are doing this to these women who may be interpreting, falsely perhaps, that it's happening during the election campaign as some sort of anti-Muslim feeling that is out there?

SH: Look, I don't think you can use that kind of thing to discredit legitimate political debate. Violence against women is unacceptable, which is why our government has brought forward laws to crack down on violence.

RB: Let's just turn to broader questions about where you're at and where you're going. We're in the last two weeks here. You've been doing this for ten years, it will be ten years next February, is that correct?

SH: Yep, I think so.

RB: What do you have left to do? Why do you still want this job at this stage?

SH: Well look, I've got, I tell people it's the best job in the best country in the world. But we are in a time of considerable global economic turmoil and I guess that's been the story of the world for the last seven years. But the fact is we have renewed turbulence with more faces of the debt crisis in Europe, we've seen some turmoil, and we've seen some markets crashing in Asia. We've had the drops in global energy and commodities prices. We've come out of this global economic turmoil in pretty good circumstances. I think that we have in this country a tremendous opportunity to now solidify the gains that we've made. We have the best economic fundamentals of really any significant developed country. And we have a great era ahead of us if we do what we want to do which is keep lowering taxes for people, keep making investments in people's lives and families, in a way that is sustainable. I think we've got an opportunity to really launch this country into many decades of prosperity and I want to see that story through.

RB: Is that the fire in your belly? That's what makes you want to do four more years?

SH: The economy is the biggest thing I want to do. There is a pretty fundamental choice here. The other parties, as you know, they are proposing a different track. They're proposing that now is the time, I don't think they propose to do differently than us, they just purpose to spend tens of billions of dollars more on the same things. We know you can't do that unless you run permanent deficits and you start raising taxes.

RB: The Liberals are going to run deficits for three years, and you ran deficits for six.

SH: Let me come to that in a second, cause I think the numbers actually don't know show that. The numbers show you're going to launch into a permanent deficit if you do that. You can't afford the kind of increased spending they're talking about out of thin air. And we think this would take us off course just at about a time when we've positioned this country well for future growth. But look on the question of deficits, this economy is growing. We already have a balanced budget. We had a balanced budget last year. The auditor general has said that. If we're going to be the kind of country that goes into deficit even when the economy is growing. we return to deficit, that is a recipe for permanent deficit. Look, once you loose the anchor of a balanced budget, you're always under pressure to just spend more and not cover it.

RB: But why are three deficits permanent and six deficits are not?

SH: They're not three. Nothing is going to magically balance the budget after three years. When you increase spending to that level, what you're going to do, if you eventually try to fix it, you're going to a combination of tax hikes, ongoing borrowing or of cuts. In the Liberal platform there is a line item, even in the Liberal platform that doesn't add up, there is a line item of $6.5 billion of undefined cuts.

RB: Well they might decide to cut some of your boutique tax credits to make other choices.

SH: Well that's a kind of policy they are running on — let's raise taxes in families. Those are tax benefits, we've been able to do a bunch of things: income splitting for families and seniors, universal child care benefits, TFSAs, fitness credits, the RESP enhancements. These are all good things for Canadians, for the middle class. I know they want to take them away. But I think that's the wrong choice for Canadians. They are going to take them away, and replace them with a bunch of things that aren't actually paid for. We know where the previous Liberal government led us with that, and that was eventually to big tax hike and bunch of benefit cuts.

RB: Do you have any regrets from the four years, and if there is anything there would inform you going forward. And in 2011 it was something about intelligence in Iraq, what is it now?

SH: You know, I always say I have the entire press gallery to tell me all the things I'm doing wrong. But look, I think the biggest lesson of the past few years is that we really don't know what's coming in terms of the global economy. We have seen more unexpected surprises, mostly negative in the past few years, than any analysts would have seen coming and we keep getting surprises. And I think that speaks to why we need a plan that's based on solid fundamentals, that's based on balancing our budget, keeping taxes down, keeping down and containing our expenditures and programs, based on opening our markets and training people, investing in infrastructure. But doing that in a way that is sustainable. We will inevitably be hit by big surprises and if we have to make big adjustments we don't want to be in a bad situation already. We ran an enormous big stimulus program in 08-09, we ran one of the biggest in the world, we got it out of the door fastest, and we said we would make it temporary because we  were able to do all that because we were already in surplus and our debt levels were low. Other countries found themselves already in debt so they found themselves in higher deficits and now they can get out of it because they are paying interest. We don't want to be back in that situation we wants strong economic fundamentals for whatever unexpected things face us. 


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