The House

China and Canada face-to-face at the G20

This week on The House, we talk about the G20 summit in Japan with a former interpreter and get a fresh update from our reporter there. Our strategist panel is back to talk about the kick off of the pre-writ period. Finally, we look at climate change and the path forward for Canada with two environment experts.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Chinese President Xi Jinping listen to opening remarks at a plenary session at the G20 Summit in Osaka, Japan, Friday June 28, 2019. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
Listen to the full episode49:59

Unofficial meetings at summits like the G20 are often where leaders get work done, says one translator. 

Barry Slaughter Olsen, a professor at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's sideline meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Osaka this week was likely not a chance encounter. 

"There is work going on behind the scenes from the team to make those encounters happen." 

The Chinese have refused to speak to Trudeau or Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland in the wake of the detention of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou. 

Two Canadians have been detained in China since December.

While Canadian officials have had no luck in swaying the Chinese, it hasn't stopped the prime minister from asking other nations to help negotiate the release of the men. 

U.S. President Donald Trump promised to raise the issue with Xi in their bilateral meeting on Saturday. 

While Trudeau wasn't able to secure a one-on-one himself, he did speak briefly with Xi on the sidelines of the meeting. 

China has been ignoring Canada's calls for the release of two citizens detained since December. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Chinese President Xi Jinping sat beside each other at the G20 in Osaka... so how did Trudeau use his brief interactions with Xi? We will hear from Barry Slaughter Olsen, a professional interpreter who has had a front row seat to interpersonal diplomacy at the highest levels. 7:59

Olsen said it might be better that way.

"One of the many different values that come from meetings like the G20 is that you have this opportunity for unscripted encounters. And that is an opportunity for rapprochement to actually take place without having to have everything scripted."

The Strategists: Preparing for changing election rules

Federal parties are going to have to adjust their strategies to adhere to new pre-writ advertising rules. (Canadian Press/Associated Press photos)

This October will be a road test for new rules set out by the federal government that change the way money is spent before an election. 

Partisan ads are increasingly part of the pre-election landscape in Canada and up until this year political actors and third parties were free to spend lavishly well in advance of voting day.

The parties have been raking in record fundraising numbers, facilitating a stream of political ads on almost every screen over the past few weeks — but you could see that slow to a trickle over the summer because of Bill C-76. 

Among other things, the legislation curtails parties' spending in the weeks leading up to the official campaign. 

The rules kick in on Sunday. Here's what you need to know. 

What are the changes? 

Bill C-76 introduced expansive adjustments to what can and can't be done in the months leading up to a federal election. 

It also defines the length of federal election campaigns, restricts the amount of spending allowed in the period immediately before a campaign, works to prevent foreign interference and introduces new rules to regulate third-party political activity.

Now, political parties can only spend $2 million on advertising in the pre-writ period. With a fixed election date of Oct. 21 that timeline starts June 30. 

Those limits are raised significantly the day the campaign begins, opening the floodgates for increased spending across the board.

Why does it matter?

The Liberals justified the legislation by saying it would level the playing field for all parties — those with money to spend and those with none. However, the timeline is convenient for the defending government as the Conservatives have posted high fundraising numbers for several quarters in a row.

The opposition party doubled the Liberals' own gains in the first months of 2019  — $8 million for the Conservatives compared to almost $4 million for the Liberals.

That's why Conservatives were rolling out ad after ad, from the radio to Toronto Raptors basketball games. They have money to spend, and they temporarily lose that advantage starting on Sunday.

On Sunday, new rules kick in to limit the amount of money parties can spend on advertising before the campaign starts. What's the best way to maximize the bang for your buck? And how will those restrictions change the way parties approach spending? Our special panel of strategists is back to discuss. This week Chris Hall is joined by Michael Balagus, Olivier Duchesneau and Jo-Ann Roberts. 12:18

"It's one of the reasons why we started a significant ad buy at the beginning of May," Conservative campaign chair Hamish Marshall told The House last month.

But it's not just a money matter for the NDP. 

New Democrat strategist Michael Balagus told The House C-76 won't level any playing field, like the Liberals claim. 

"In my view, anything that limits political parties' ability to communicate directly with voters I actually don't believe strengthens a democracy." 

How will this change political parties' strategies?

No matter how much money a party has in their coffers, the pre-writ rules mean a lot of party energy will be spent the old fashion way: door knocking.

"We're on the doorstep. It's what we can afford to do," Green Party Deputy Leader Jo-Ann Roberts said. 

C-76 won't change the Green approach much and they're still studying the new rules closely. 

"We're in a new age and just figuring out the rules for a lot of us. We have people within the Green Party right now who are going through those rules making sure we don't run afoul of them," she said.

"I think having these rules in place is a good thing. I just think we're going to test them and see whether we have the right rules in place to stop what people have said they don't want."

The Liberals, NDP and Greens all agreed that Canadians shouldn't have to worry about being bombarded with negative ads during the summer.

The parties all knew the rules were coming, and while the Conservatives hurried out their ads, the NDP took a different approach.

"There's a reason we put out our platform as early as we did and that was to get it in the hands of our candidates, our canvassers and our volunteers. And we're going to rely very heavily on that piece of communication in the pre-election," Balagus said.

As things quiet down on the screens and airwaves, you may get a knock at your door instead. 

"It doesn't change our ground game because we've been present on the ground," Liberal strategist Olivier Duchesneau told The House. 

"Obviously that's going to intensifying this summer."

Climate experts urge action, not 'vague' plans

Hundreds of students gather on Parliament Hill as they protest climate change, Friday, March 15, 2019 in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Canada's political parties may have diverging views on how to best address the challenges posed by climate change, but at least they all concede it's a real issue that the federal government must act on with urgency, a leading climate scientist says.

"The fact climate is changing, humans are responsible, the impacts are serious and we need action now -- that is not political. We get the same answer from the data whether we vote Conservative, Liberal, NDP, Green or anything else," Katharine Hayhoe told CBC Radio's The House.

"They may disagree over what policy they propose or support, but they have to be serious, meaningful policies with targets and goals to actually cut our carbon emissions as soon as possible," said Hayhoe, an atmospheric scientist and director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University.

That dynamic is playing out as politicians polish their environmental messages for voters ahead of the summer BBQ circuit and the fall's federal election.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer's plan for the environment, released last week, hinges on setting strict emissions standards for major greenhouse gas emitters that, if exceeded, would force those companies to pay into a fund that would in turn be invested in government-certified clean tech companies.

The plan includes a host of other environmental measures, but it does not include any hard data on how much this proposed policy suite would reduce the country's emissions.

The same week Scheer unveiled the Conservatives' plan, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet reapproved the Trans Mountain expansion project, a crucial next step for the much-delayed pipeline project designed to carry nearly a million barrels of oil from Alberta's oilpatch to the B.C. coast each day.

The pipeline announcement came on the heels of the House of Commons passing a non-binding motion to declare a national climate emergency in Canada.

Vague plans

When it comes to assessing a party's climate plan, Hayhoe said the level of detail matters.

"When you review the different parties' plans, you can see that the plans range from exceedingly vague to very detailed, and when we look at very vague plans that have no goals, that have no specific information about how they plan to reduce carbon emissions, you have to say, 'Are plans like the Conservatives just put out the other week, are they actually serious or are they just giving lip service to the fact that we need this action?"

Still, she acknowledged the difficulty of devising a climate plan that would satisfy people across a country as geographically diverse as Canada.

The federal parties agree climate change is an issue, but disagree on what to do about it. How can Canada meet its Paris targets? What will the fallout be from the decision to push through Trans Mountain? Climate experts Katharine Hayhoe and Mark Jaccard join us. 11:56

Marc Jaccard, an economist in sustainable energy at B.C.'s Simon Fraser University, told The House Canada needs a federal government that will act aggressively in the two sectors that could make a real difference around the globe: electricity and transportation, which account for more than 50 per cent of the energy-related carbon emissions forecasted until 2050.

In addition to phasing out coal plants at home and leading efforts to do the same abroad, Jaccard said Canada must also move quickly on electric vehicles, biofuels, clean fuel standards and zero-emission vehicle standards.

This week, the federal government signed an agreement with California to further reduce vehicle emissions. The two governments will work together on regulations to cut greenhouse gases from vehicles and promote the use of cleaner-running vehicles.

Act now

Despite parliament's recent declaration that Canada is facing a climate emergency, Hayhoe said the issue of climate change has been serious for "very long time."

Carbon emissions continue to grow globally, even as the impacts of climate change are accelerating. Here in Canada, that looks like heavier rainfall events, stronger summer heat waves, sea levels rising along the coastlines and thawing permafrost in the Arctic, she said.

"There is a world of difference between a future where we take this seriously and we act now versus a future where we continue our laissez-faire attitude and our carbon emissions continue to grow," Hayhoe said.


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