The House

The House: Canadians aren't buying Ottawa's message on asylum seekers

This week on The House, we ask Border Security Minister Bill Blair about addressing the narrative around asylum seekers. We also catch up with Environment Minister Catherine McKenna about her government's softening of their carbon tax plan. Plus, we talk to Unifor president Jerry Dias and Ontario's trade minister Jim Wilson about the impact of looming auto tariffs.
An RCMP officer speaks to an asylum seeker who crossed the border at Roxham Road in the summer of 2017. (CBC)

Federal border minister Bill Blair says his government has work to do when it comes to talking to Canadians about illegal border crossings.

Though Justin Trudeau's Liberals ran on a message of inclusive immigration, they've come under fire recently for the way they've handled asylum seekers.

Nearly 12,000 people have crossed from the U.S. into Canada outside of regular ports of entry so far this year and a new poll suggests the Liberals are losing the political debate over the issue.

A majority of Canadians polled by the Angus Reid Institute say that the number of asylum seekers crossing into the country is too high, while a plurality point to Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer as the best major party leader to handle the issue.

Canadians responding to the poll also called the situation a "crisis."

"I think it clearly demonstrates we need to do a better job," Blair told The House.

"Clearly I've got to do a lot of work in making sure we provide accurate and honest information about what is actually transpiring."

The minister attributed much of the response to misinformation caused by "fear mongering," but acknowledged it's the government's responsibility to combat that effectively.

On Friday, Blair announced an $11-million commitment from the federal government to help Toronto cope with the influx of asylum seekers. Mayor John Tory called it an "important step forward," but cautioned that more money will soon be needed.

Ensuring Canadians feel safe with the way the situation is being tackled by the government is key, Blair said.

"I think we have a responsibility to do our job and to make sure that these processes are appropriately managed, that the interest of Canada and Canadians is maintained, while at the same time we fulfil our obligation."

Supporting immigration was a key plank of the Liberals' election platform in 2015. Now, it seems to be eroding support for the governing party. We ask Bill Blair, minister of border security and organized crime reduction. 9:17

Paris targets still within reach, despite carbon tax shift: minister

The Liberal government is preparing to impose a carbon tax on provinces without their own in 2019. (Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)

Changes to Ottawa's plan for a carbon tax are raising questions about the impact on Canada's ability to meet their climate commitments, but is the environment minister concerned? Not at all.

"It won't have an impact," Environment Minister Catherine McKenna told The House.

The Liberal government adjusted its plan to price carbon pollution after hearing concerns from Canadian industry officials about how the tax would affect their ability to compete.

Ottawa's plan will come into effect in January and will be imposed on provinces who haven't implemented their own measures.

Back in January, McKenna set the benchmark at 70 per cent of an industry's average emissions performance, meaning companies would have to pay a tax on emissions they produced in excess of that benchmark.

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Canadian industries hope the change will help keep them competitive abroad, but environmentalists see this as Trudeau pulling back from his commitment. 2:02

McKenna's office later confirmed they've adjusted the proposal to set the benchmark at 80 per cent of the industry average of emissions — and 90 per cent for producers of cement, iron and steel, lime and nitrogen fertilizer. Emissions produced beyond that point would still be subject to the tax.

The tax is set for $20 a tonne in 2019 and will rise to $50 in 2022.

However, McKenna is not worried it will affect Canada's ability to keep the promises made in Paris in 2015 — to reduce 2005 emissions levels by at least 30 per cent less by 2030.

When asked about the shifts in the carbon plan, McKenna said the targets were set based on science and consultations.

Not all provinces agree with her government that the carbon tax was designed properly. Saskatchewan and Ontario are engaging in court challenges to determine whether the federal government has the jurisdiction to impose a plan on provinces.

Meanwhile, across the border, the White House has proposed a weakening of fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks.  California and 18 other states are planning to fight President Donald Trump's plan.

McKenna said her government will keep an eye on that situation, but Canadian climate policy is the focus.

"We will make decisions based on science evidence and facts and after listening to folks."

Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna on why her government's updated emission targets for large industrial polluters are less strict than what was originally pitched. 9:17

Ontario bracing for autos tariffs and NAFTA breakdown

Hundreds of thousands of auto sector jobs in Canada will be at risk if Donald Trump imposes vehicle tariffs. (Dave Chidley/The Canadian Press via AP)

The new Progressive Conservative government in Ontario is bracing for the fallout on workers if U.S. President Donald Trump decides to slap Canada with duties on vehicles.

"It would be devastating to workers on our side of the border," the province's trade minister Jim Wilson told The House.

Trump has floated the idea of 25 per cent tariffs for weeks, sending international trading partners into a frenzy and keeping auto workers in Canada on the edge of their seats.

Japan, Mexico, Canada and EU countries met in Switzerland on Tuesday to discuss an action plan if the president makes good on his threat.

In meetings with members of Congress, Wilson said he's made clear the devastation that decision would have on both sides of the border.

"Why would anyone get elected to hurt their own people," he said.

Studies estimate the Canadian loss would be a minimum of 200,000 jobs — most of them in Ontario.

The focus on the auto sector is also a large chunk of what the U.S. has touted as derailing NAFTA negotiations.

Jerry Dias, the president of Unifor, said he's concerned the U.S. isn't looking for a deal, but is playing politics with economics.

Trade negotiators for the U.S. and Mexico continued to meet in Washington this week to resolve major differences about the auto sector. Canada isn't at those meeting. Unifor President Jerry Dias gives us his read into it. 7:53

Mexican labour standards are a pain point for the talks, Dias said. However, the U.S. seems to be targeting the auto sector both north and south of their borders.

"It will destroy the auto industry ... in both Canada and the United States," Dias explained.

"Nobody is going to win this one."

With citations of progress on the impasses one week and warnings of duty disasters the next, Wilson said Ontario workers need protection now.

"We're not out of the woods at all."

If U.S. Donald Trump imposes stiff tariffs on the auto industry, Ontario will be hit hard. Their Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade Minister Jim Wilson on what the Ford government intends on doing about it. 7:59

Can social media platforms police themselves?

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg makes the keynote speech at F8, Facebook's developer conference in San Jose, Calif., May 1, 2018. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press)

Facebook's crackdown on fake accounts is a good step towards better regulating social media, but one expert says the government can't leave policing new technology up to the media giants.

This week, Facebook said it uncovered "sophisticated" efforts, possibly linked to Russia, to influence U.S. politics on its platforms. It removed 32 accounts — followed by hundreds of thousands of users — it said appeared to be fake and involved in "co-ordinated" political behaviour.

"They are being a lot more proactive in dealing with what they call bad actors," Elizabeth Dubois, a social media researcher with the University of Ottawa, said.

Having the social media giant step in to regulate its own platform is a good sign, but she told The House "there are still problems with the idea of Facebook policing itself."

Dubois explained that in leaving the methods and regulations up to Facebook, people are assuming the company will act in the best interest of the public rather than investors or other stakeholders.

The government has been asked for years to beef up those laws to make more robust protection for Canadians, but the new bill they tabled this spring failed to address all the gaps identified by experts.​

"Where it's falling short is looking at the ways that political parties are able to collect and use data," Dubois said.

"There's absolutely no oversight at this point."

While these changes are being considered, she cautioned that users need to be aware of how the information they receive on social media gets filtered before it reaches them — and push politicians to act if they feel their information is vulnerable.

Facebook said it has uncovered "sophisticated" efforts, possibly linked to Russia, to influence U.S. politics on its platforms. Elizabeth Dubois is a professor at the University of Ottawa tells us what that means for Canada. 9:41