Full transcript of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's year-end interview with Power & Politics
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sat down with CBC News Network's Power & Politics host Vassy Kapelos for a year-end interview in which the Liberal leader discussed Canada's relationship with China, trade, frustrations being expressed by Alberta and Saskatchewan, his relationship with U.S. President Donald Trump and much more.
Here is the full transcript of that interview, edited for length and clarity:
Vassy Kapelos (VK): Hi Prime Minister Trudeau.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (PMJT): Hello Vassy.
VK: Great to see you. Thank you for doing this.
PMJT: No. Glad to. Glad to welcome you to a great restaurant in the riding.
VK: Yes, a great restaurant. Normally we start off the Power Lunch by asking why we are eating where we are, but as I was saying to you a little bit earlier, I feel like the 30,000 members of my extended Greek family are going to be deeply offended that we're at an Italian restaurant, as lovely as it is.
PMJT: We did a Greek restaurant last time.
VK: We did, we did. So this time is somewhere different. Speaking of last time, I remember asking you what, at the time, what kept you up at night and your answer was NAFTA. What keeps you up at night right now?
PMJT: Still Canada's role in the world, Canada's trade opportunities, Canadians' prosperity. We know that there is a lot of anxiety that people are feeling out there, we know there are potential challenges in the global economy, and focusing on Canadians continuing to be ambitious engaged, optimistic about their future. That's my focus.
Does Canada have a national unity crisis?
VK: Let me ask you about some of the Canadians who feel particularly challenged in that area. I'm speaking of those who live in economies that are challenged right now in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Do you think, or what is your assessment, of the current state of unity in this country right now?
PMJT: I think people, obviously as you say in Alberta and Saskatchewan, have faced some very difficult years and are worried, like so many people are, about their future, about their kids' future, about where their jobs are going to come from. It's just particularly poignant in Alberta where the dominant industry is one that is directly challenged by the reality of climate change and how we need to transform our economy to be greener. But the point and the perspective that I have is: Absolutely we need to make sure we're supporting Albertans in Saskatchewanians, but we can't just support them. We need them to be successful to help us develop these new energy solutions. The innovation, the leadership, thoughtfulness that Albertans, in particular, have always brought to bear on creating prosperity and solutions, is something we need them to do again, and we need to get them to a place where they can do that, and that means investing.
VK: I want to ask you specifically how you're going to do that in a second, but do you, as the leader of this country, think that national unity is at risk right now?
PMJT: I think Canada is a country of differences, of diversity. There's always different regional dynamics going on. I think we need to take very seriously the very real anxiety and frustration that people in Alberta and Saskatchewan are facing. But I also know that they remain Canadians who want to be contributing to the country, want to be building a better future for their kids, and we need to do a better job of showing them that the future doesn't just include them, but it needs them.
VK: With respect though, that didn't really answer whether or not you think national unity is at risk. I ask only because many others, and other leaders in this country, are saying that it is. In fact, after the election, they said it's never been this bad. Do you share that assessment?
PMJT: I do not share the assessment to the extent that others have. I think there is, there is a level of rhetoric that is maybe not as reassuring as it could be. I think there are very real frustrations. I think there is very real anger that needs to be dealt with in Alberta and Saskatchewan. But I see that as problems to be solved when we all work together, and I don't think Albertans suddenly don't care about Canada, for example. I think they just want and know that they have a strong future and that's what we need for them too.
VK: The anxieties that you referred to -- do you think you caused some of them?
PMJT: I think, quite frankly there's a lot of different reasons for it. There's a transforming global economy, there's the difficulty we've always had in getting our resources out to new markets other than the United States. I mean, Stephen Harper tried to do that for 10 years, was unable to do that. We're finally moving forward on getting a pipeline to market --
VK: -- It's very late though --
PMJT: Well, we did in three or four years what Stephen Harper was unable to do in 10 years. So --
VK: But you haven't done it yet, to be fair, the pipeline is not built. The construction is underway, but it still faces a court challenge.
PMJT: Well, there's always going to be people in the courts, but that pipeline is getting built. The shovels are in the ground, and we have put our entire government energies behind moving that forward because it's an important project not just for Alberta and Saskatchewan, but for the whole country.
Will the oil sands be phased out?
VK: Can I ask you how you view the realities of the economy, or the realities that the economies in Alberta and Saskatchewan face? In 2017, you said we can't shut the oil sands down but we have to phase them out. Do you believe that the oil sands will be phased out?
PMJT: I think there is a need to move to a different energy mix. I think we're always going to need fossil fuels in different forms probably for the coming centuries, but we're going to be far less reliant on them. But, we've already seen a lot of energy companies, including in Alberta, investing in renewables, developing much cleaner approaches, more innovative things, as Albertans have always done.
There's just a need to continue that work and realize that as people buy more and more electric cars, as we're trying to reach net-zero by 2020 -- by 2050, sorry -- we have a different kind of industry that's going to be developing. There's going to be great jobs in Alberta well into the future because Albertans are going to be creating them as we continue to build great new solutions.
VK: Do you believe, though, that the oil sands will eventually shut down?
PMJT: I think we're always going to need hydrocarbons, we'll just need less of them, and in different ways. And I know that that's not going to happen anytime soon, but we do need to manage better alternatives.
VK: When you talk about that transition -- there are 200,000 people, the best estimate I can find, directly employed by the oil patch. And up to half a million others indirectly employed. There are a lot of people looking to your words, and kind of hanging on them wondering 'at what point does that phase out happen, at what point am I out of a job? I know I'm hearing from politicians saying that there will be training programs for me' but can you really guarantee any of those 200,000 people that they are going to have a job?
PMJT: I think one of the issues is, this isn't a decision by Ottawa that suddenly, you know, climate change is something you have to deal with. We're seeing the floods, we're seeing the forest fires, we're seeing the extreme weather events, you know, hitting us hard around the world. The world is looking at the reality of global warming and saying we need to shift our energy mix. We need to innovate. We need to reduce our carbon emissions.
These are factors that exist around the world that are going to intensify over the coming years.So I am saying, and I have been saying, we can get in front of that. We can use the resilience, the resourcefulness, the innovation that Canadians have always shown -- including people in Alberta and Saskatchewan around energy -- and we can help develop what that path is forward. We cannot simply just hope that it won't happen if there's a change of government in Ottawa, and suddenly everyone will go back to consuming all the oil that we used to.
I know consumption is still going up, but there is a recognition that the world is looking for different solutions and either we are part of shaping that in a way that supports people through this transition -- that will take the coming decades -- or eventually, there is a wall that we hit that is going to be a lot harder to deal with than an orderly transition.
VK: I get that, and I'm not trying to take away from the effects of climate change, but I'm thinking if I'm one of those 200,000 Canadians, and Canada has, you know, 1.6 per cent of global emissions, and I'm being told my job is in jeopardy, and don't worry there, you know, we can still work something out.
There's really no specifics being offered to that, and I get it that it's not you making that choice about climate change, but there's no specifics being offered other than 'we'll try to help you through the transition.' But what does that help look like?
PMJT: I've actually sat down with Premier [Jason] Kenny and Premier [Scott] Moe and said 'Look my focus is on supporting Albertans concretely. Not just because we need to support Canadians who are in difficulty, but we need Albertans to be part of the solution.
Now, there is a political context where over the past while there have been a lot of people saying that 'we can't fight climate change because your job is going to disappear if we do.' I don't think that's been a responsible frame that a number of local leaders have had --
VK: -- Is it true that they'll lose their job though?
PMJT: No...We're going to continue to need to rely on oil for many years to come. We're building a pipeline, they're moving forward on continuing to deliver our oil to markets, and to Canadians while we need it.
But we also have to be clear-eyed about the fact that over the coming decades, there's going to be a different energy mix that is going to create new opportunities for new jobs that we need to start preparing for now. And that's part of the reflection that I want to have with folks in Alberta, with folks in Saskatchewan.
Was the Liberal minority election result Trudeau's fault?
VK: Let me broaden it out a bit and ask you about the election. I want to look ahead, but just for a second look back toward the election. When you think of the results and your government's reduced mandate, how much of that is on you?
PMJT: I think politics is very leader-centric, so I certainly take part of that responsibility, there's no question about it. But Canadians also sent a message that they want better collaboration, more partnership with other parties, with the provinces, on the big priorities they put forward. Canadians said to two-thirds of us 'we want more action on climate change' and we're going to do that. But two-thirds of us also said 'we want that Trans Mountain pipeline expansion,' and we're going forward with that. So there are lots of things that we're doing that are representative of the desires that Canadians want and I take responsibility for paying very close attention to these election results and working differently because of it.
VK: I want to ask you about something specific, then, on what happened during the election and how you dealt with it since, and that is the emergence of those photos of you in blackface. I remember, I think it was in Winnipeg, when you acknowledged that growing up you had a blind spot partly because of your upbringing. When I look at the composition of cabinet right now there's one black minister, there's to my knowledge only one black chief of staff, three of the top positions other than Minister Freeland -- Finance, Foreign Affairs, and Justice -- all occupied by white men. Have you really learned from the experience, and have you really addressed it in your actions?
PMJT: Well, I think there is always a lot more to do, and one of the things we've talked about is the need to step up on unconscious bias and systemic discrimination. And that means changing our hiring practices, changing how we reach out to bring in more diverse candidates so there can be more cabinet ministers down the line. This is a process --
VK: There are four black MPs, with respect, there could have been more black ministers.
PMJT: Listen, we're always going to make decisions based on what the right fit is. There's a lot of things that go into it, and we're going to keep looking for opportunities to present judges, cabinet appointments across the government that look more like Canada.
VK: The UN Decade for People of African Descent Push Coalition says that your cabinet choices leave it questioning your commitment to improve the lives of black Canadians. Do they have a point?
PMJT: I've worked with the committee, I've worked with the Federation of African Canadians on the UN Decade, we've put forward significant amounts of money for community programs, for educational programs not just, you know, society in general, but within our government as well, making sure that where we're understanding the kinds of unconscious biases that exist. There's lots more to do, I certainly agree that, and we're going to work with the community to do that.
VK: I guess my question is though, could you, given what happened during the campaign, done more, even just through the selection of your cabinet?
PMJT: I think there's always ways to do more, but I don't think we can limit to just one choice or, you know, one area. It needs to be much broader than that. I'm pleased to have an extraordinarily diverse Cabinet, and we're going to continue to do that. We're going to continue to make sure that our appointments across the government, and that our staffing choices all reflect the diversity of Canada including fighting anti-black racism.
Should the feds take a stronger stance against vaping?
VK: Taking a bit of a turn on an announcement that your government made today around vaping. The announcement was to restrict advertising because of the negative effects of vaping that we're seeing so predominantly among Canadian youth. Why didn't your government go further and announce restrictions on the nicotine level and just ban flavoured vaping altogether?
PMJT: This is definitely a first step, and that's certainly what the health minister talked about. There's a lot more information to gather, there's a lot more understanding to know. We know that restricting access and restricting advertising, particularly in its impact on young people, is a significant step, but we're very worried about the reports of extremely negative impacts of vaping.
VK: Are you worried about the industry suing the government? Like what would hold you back right now from moving further and faster?
PMJT: I think we need to leave room for proper science. We're a government that works on evidence-based decisions --
VK: -- With respect, Health Canada has known since 2014 that it was having a really negative impact on the health of youth. This isn't necessarily a new revelation for Health Canada.
PMJT: Yeah, and there's more to do and we're going to keep doing it.
VK: And when -- Is there a timeline for those decisions?
PMJT: As you saw, I sent out very strong instructions to our health minister to move forward on keeping Canadians protected.
Does Canada need a re-think about its relationship with China?
VK: Okay, you said at the beginning that you think a lot about Canada's place in the world. When you think of Canada's foreign policy towards China, how would you describe it at this point?
PMJT: At this point, we are very much challenged because our position is that these two Canadians who have been unfairly detained need to be returned home. And we have done nothing but stand up for the rule of law and abide by our international obligations. And we certainly hope that China understands that and we can come to solving this situation.
VK: If you were to articulate though, what our foreign policy is beyond just being strained with China, like, what is the foreign policy that you want to pursue as prime minister with China?
PMJT: Well, we recognize that China is one of the most important economies in the world, that it is a potential market for Canadian goods, it is a potential partner in investments. But the challenge of human rights, the challenge of these detained Canadians, is always something that we have to be very, very aware of. China has a different approach towards the rules-based order than Canada does, and we have to have our eyes open to that even as we look to engage in ways that benefit Canadians.
VK: Is it just the Canadians who are detained, though? I mean they've got one million Uyghurs set up in what look like concentration camps right now --
PMJT: -- Concerns with Hong Kong and the 300,000 Canadians, their concerns with the situation. The Weavers which I brought up with Premier Li last time I met with him. These are a range of concerns we have when we talk about human rights, and the approach that China has on that as being something that is of concern to us.
VK: Your defence minister said that China is not an adversary. Do you agree?
PMJT: I think in some ways there is an adversarial context in that we want them to release those Canadians who've been unfairly detained. In other areas, we're able to work on trade and work through issues like the beef and pork issue we were able to resolve this summer. There's obviously a multifaceted, complex relationship with China, as there has always been, but right now it is dominated by the fact that they have unfairly detained two Canadians.
VK: Does it have to be so multifaceted though? I think for a lot of Canadians it's hard to rectify. Okay we want to do more business with you, but at the same time, you've got these two Canadians detained, you've got a million Uyghurs, what's happening in Hong Kong -- should we be pursuing a bigger relationship with China, given that country's record?
PMJT: Well, talk to our canola farmers about that, talk to the lobster fishermen on the East Coast who are seeing exports to China being incredibly good for their communities. Talk to the cherry farmers and the cherry growers in the Okanagan. You know, China is a really important market for many of our natural resources. We just have to be careful, as we always have, that as we engage, we say strong on standing up for human rights. As we look to create mutual benefits through greater trade.
VK: How do you stay strong on human rights, though, if you're sending the message that you want to do more with them?
PMJT: Listen, if Canada only ever spoke with countries who share our values we'd only talk to like six countries around the world.
VK: I'm not just saying just talk, I'm saying trade--
PMJT: We are the one country in the world, the one G7 country in the world, that has free trade deals with all other G7 countries. Canada is a trading nation. We've always had more resources than we have a domestic market to fully benefit from them. We're always going to be reliant on trade. And trade is a way of having an influence and having an importance to countries that we want to see make changes. And that's been a longstanding position around China, but it's one that we continually re-evaluate and continually focus on.
VK: Given how they've treated this country over the last year, would you ever pursue a formal free trade agreement again with China?
PMJT: I think we're a long way from that. I think there is a role that Canada can play in helping China understand and play, perhaps in a more positive way, according to the international rules-based order. But China will make its own decisions. And until there is room to find that common ground, I don't think that greater free trade with China is really something we can explore.
VK: But you haven't, you won't rule it out if the situation were to be resolved with those two Canadians?
PMJT: Oh if the situation were to be resolved with these two Canadians and we were to see significant, positive motion in other ways, this might be interesting. But it's not for anytime soon.
Look at the NAFTA principle, right, of signing labour deals with Mexico to bring up the quality of life and the quality of labour conditions for workers in Mexico. That is one of the goals, one of the side benefits, of having trade agreements with countries who have very different approaches, or resources, or even standards than us.
VK: If my memory serves me right though, when you tried to bring that up with China when you were there for those initial free trade talks, they balked.
PMJT: Yeah, they were resistant to it. And that was one of the reasons we realized 'okay maybe there's not a path we're at for a greater trade agreement right now.'
VK: Do you believe that there is a path out for those two Canadians that does not involve the end of the case involving Meng Wanzhou?
PMJT: I certainly hope so, and that's certainly what we're working for. We've been very, very clear that this is a context where Canada is simply applying the rule of law and a long-standing extradition treaty with our closest partner and for China to have detained two Canadians in retaliation demonstrates that they don't entirely appreciate how our justice system works.
What did Trudeau think of U.S. President Donald Trump's impeachment?
VK: Another big relationship we have of course is with the United States. Yesterday the president of the United States was impeached by the House of Representatives. Many Canadians, I'm not sure but I'm guessing you among them, watched that unfold to a certain degree. What's going through your head as you're watching that unfold?
PMJT: My focus is on what matters for Canadians. And what matters for Canadians is us moving forward with the Republicans and the Democrats on the ratification of the new NAFTA deal.
VK: So you had no thoughts when you saw the President of the United States impeached?
PMJT: I don't engage on the domestic side with that. My role is to stand up for Canada's interests. And Canada's interests is to make sure that Americans are able, and the American Congress is able, to move forward with ratification so we can give the certainty to investors, a certainty to businesses, but also the reassurance to the millions of Canadians whose jobs depend on free trade with the United States.
VK: Do you think the president was wrong to ask a foreign country to investigate a political rival?
PMJT: That's the conversation going on right now in the United States. My focus is on the ratification for Canadians.
VK: Would you ever ask a foreign country to investigate Andrew Scheer?
PMJT: I never have.
VK: Would you ever?
Did the NATO video impact Canada-U.S. relations?
VK: That video of you at NATO talking about President Trump -- were you making fun of him?
PMJT: No, I was talking about what happened in my day. We were talking about whether the president was going to be late for this event. I said 'well, he does press conferences, that I'm happy to be part of, at every time so it's possible he's gonna be running late. And oh, by the way, in mine, in case you're interested, fellow G7 countries, he announced that we're going to Camp David and it surprised his advisers.' It was a conversation about how my day went and how my afternoon went amongst colleagues.
VK: Were you surprised, then, that he called you two-faced because of that?
PMJT: You know, I think we've been through interesting moments in terms of the relationship with the president before. We were able, just a few days later, to talk about the ratification, or the approaching signing of the new NAFTA. We were ready to sign it a few days after that. We're staying focused on the big things despite the other things.
.<a href="https://twitter.com/JustinTrudeau?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@JustinTrudeau</a>, <a href="https://twitter.com/EmmanuelMacron?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@EmmanuelMacron</a>, <a href="https://twitter.com/BorisJohnson?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@BorisJohnson</a> and other VIPs shared a few words at a Buckingham Palace reception Tuesday. No one mentions <a href="https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@realDonaldTrump</a> by name, but they seem to be discussing his lengthy impromptu press conferences from earlier in the day. (Video: Host Pool) <a href="https://t.co/dVgj48rpOP">pic.twitter.com/dVgj48rpOP</a>—@PnPCBC
VK: It looks like NAFTA will be voted on by the House, I think, today. When will it be introduced for ratification here in Canada?
PMJT: We've already started the process in the House last week.
VK: So when do you expect ratification will be up for a vote?
PMJT: We're going to do it as quickly as we can. A lot will depend on the other parties in the House. We're reasonably comfortable that we're going to have the support to pass it because the Conservatives were in agreement and approval of it last year even before we got all the improvements we got to it through working with the Democrats. So I'm confident it's going to pass, but we still need to make sure that it passes quickly.
And that's what we're calling on all parties in the House, and indeed all Canadians, to tell parties in the House that it needs to be moved quickly because their jobs -- so many Canadian jobs -- rely on trade with the United States.
VK: When you talk about your place, and Canada's place more specifically, in the world, that video that I just referenced, the pictures of you in blackface, the trip to India. Do you ever feel like you've embarrassed Canada?
PMJT: I think on the side of actual serious accomplishments, having been able to win an election in talking about putting a price on pollution in a compelling way where there is a majority of Canadians -- two-thirds of Canadians saying yes we want more action on climate change -- is an example to the world that the world has noticed that I have many conversations about in NATO. How we've been able to sign. As many trade deals and enact them, as we have. As I said we now have privileged access to two-thirds of the global GDP. All other G7 countries. These are the kinds of things that the world looks at and says 'wow we're in a moment of real protectionism and you're welcoming in immigrants and you're able to sign big trade deals and you're able to move forward on fighting climate change.' The world is really noticing the things we're able to do.
VK: So do your actions not take away from that at all? Do you ever feel like they have?
PMJT: No, I think there's always challenging moments in every country and every democracy and every leader's experience. But I think my responsibility and certainly what I share with Canadians and with others is that I'm going to stay focused on the things that really matter to Canadians' day to day lives.
Has Trudeau asked Rona Ambrose to be Canada's envoy to the U.S.?
VK: Have you asked Rona Ambrose to be the next ambassador to the United States?
PMJT: I am going to allow the Conservative leadership to unfold as it will and I'm not going to interfere in one way or another.
VK: Well, the story about whether or not she might be the next ambassador proceeded the start of that, proceeded Mr. Scheer's resignation. Are you interested in her serving in that role?
PMJT: Rona did a very good job on our NAFTA panel and has some reflections to make about what she wants in her future and I wish her well.
VK: Does that mean that you have asked her to serve in that role?
PMJT: I'm not going to comment on that, but no I haven't asked her.
VK: You haven't asked her. Are you worried about the possibility of her as leader of that party?
PMJT: You know, I think the Conservative Party has some big reflections to make about whether or not they're going to stand up for women's rights and LGBT rights, whether they're going to call for real action on climate change and understand that there is a path forward to grow the economy and fight climate change at the same time, and those are pretty foundational questions that don't really hinge on which leader they choose.
These are fundamental questions the Conservative Party is going to have to grapple with. I'm going to allow them to go through that process and I'll stay focused on the mandate and the agenda that we're putting forward for Canadians.
VK: I ask because exactly what you just described is what your party was able to zone in on during the campaign, particularly Andrew Scheer's stance on social issues as well as the climate file. Ms. Ambrose, at least at this point, is viewed as someone who would be less vulnerable to those criticisms and I wonder if that is a worry to you given the current context of a minority government?
PMJT: I'm not going to weigh in on who the Conservatives should or shouldn't have as leader. That's a decision for Conservatives to take, and I wish them luck. I know we've had some difficult leadership elections, we've had some successful leadership processes, some that didn't lead to the rebuild that we would have liked. It's a process the Conservative Party has to go through.
VK: Do you think it was the right decision for Andrew Scheer to step down?
PMJT: That was his decision and I respect him for taking it and wish him the best.
When will the next election be called?
VK: Speaking of decisions, the next fixed election date is in October 2023. Do you plan on serving that mandate? Will you leave it to the opposition to put that mandate in jeopardy? Would you ever do anything to cause an election?
PMJT: Listen, our focus is on getting big things done for Canadians, continuing to work on affordability, on fighting climate change, on keeping Canadians safe, on working on health care. There's a lot of things to do. We're going to take as much time as we have to deliver for Canadians and I'm going to let Parliament decide when the next election is.
VK: But what about from your party's perspective? Essentially, are you committed to serving until that date, until 2023, unless you lose a confidence vote to the opposition?
PMJT: We have a fixed election date. I respected it last time. I intend to respect it, if it's at all possible, this time. But we know that minority governments have things happen and we need to be ready for an election as soon as possible, which is something that we're working on.
VK: Okay, I'll leave it there. Prime Minister, thank you.
VK: Who is your political hero?
PMJT: My father.
VK: Who is your personal hero?
PMJT: My mother.
VK: Donald Trump or Joe Biden?
PMJT: I'm Canadian so I don't have a vote.
VK: Rona Ambrose or Peter MacKay?
PMJT: I'm a Liberal so I don't have a vote.
VK: I handed that one to you. And do you have a new year's resolution?
PMJT: You're already seeing it. More collaboration, more thoughtful engagement. Looking for common ground instead of forging through with my own perspective.