The House

The House: Dangerous diplomatic waters and climate concerns

This week on The House, Chris talks to German ambassador Sabine Sparwasser about the G20 summit in the context of Putin and Khashoggi, and the future of Europe after Angela Merkel steps down. Then, Chris asks Ontario's Environment Min. Rod Phillips how the province's new climate plan will meet international targets, and Chief of the Defence Staff Jonathan Vance addresses the auditor general's report on the military's efforts to stamp out sexual assault.
A member of Russia's FSB security service escorts a detained Ukrainian navy sailor (R) before a court hearing in Simferopol, Crimea November 27, 2018. REUTERS/Pavel Rebrov - RC16A4DEDB80 (Pavel Rebrov/Reuters)
Listen to the full episode49:59

World leaders are gathering this weekend in Argentina for the G20 summit, but forget about the usual focus on working together to address economic challenges.

This year, all the attention is on two of the leaders present — Russia's Vladimir Putin and Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman — amidst mounting criticism over their roles in deadly confrontations.

"Everyone watching closely how they are interacting and everyone is being very careful to either avoid or stay away from them," the CBC's Katie Simpson told Chris Hall from Buenos Aires on Friday.

Germany's ambassador to Canada said Russia's move to deploy new missiles to Crimea after sparking a confrontation with Ukrainian naval vessels last week has upped the ante at the G20 summit.

"It does raise tensions at a delicate time," Sabine Sparwasser told Chris Hall in an interview airing Saturday on The House.

And once again, her country's chancellor Angela Merkel is coming to the rescue.

"She's seen by many people as always the adult in the room," Sparwasser said of Merkel, who has been in power since 2005. 

"The chancellor has been crucial in managing tensions around Ukraine and the relationship with Russia over the last four, five years. I do believe this is something she'll work on now at the G20 summit."

Sparwasser added that Germany, which was the first country to ban arms sales to Saudi Arabia after the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, will also continue to call for a "thorough, credible, transparent investigation" into the journalist's death.

Merkel prepares to say auf wiedersehen 

But Merkel's long run as chancellor — and Europe's de facto adult in the room at summits and gatherings around the world — is coming to a close.

The German leader announced earlier this fall that she would not seek re-election when her term ends in 2021, and that she will leave the leader of her party, the Christian Democratic Union, at the end of this year.

Party members will choose her successor Dec. 8, adding pressure on Merkel to potentially step down as chancellor soon after.

Sparwasser said Merkel's leadership style and pragmatic voice will be hard to replace not just in European politics, but globally.

"She stands for a sober, non-authoritarian, cooperative, reasoned style of leadership, and I think that is something everybody looks to," she said.

Merkel's strong condemnation of nationalism in a speech last month in Germany's parliament captured international attention at a time when populist leaders are gaining support worldwide.

"Populism and nationalism seems to be a phenomenon of the times," said Sparwasser. "No country seems to be immune. You see it all across the world."

Sparwasser attributed it to "a reaction to the insecurities of globalization."

"You fall back on the things you know best and you fall back on simple answers, and nationalism is a simple answer. But it is the absolute strict opposite of what Angela Merkel and Germany stands for."

Host Chris Hall talks to German ambassador Sabine Sparwasser about the G20 summit in the context of difficulties with Russia's Putin and Saudi Arabia, and the future of Europe after Angela Merkel steps down as Germany's chancellor in 2021. 8:15

Jim Carr: Time to step out from U.S. shadow

Ontario Environment Minister Rod Phillips discusses the government's climate plan during an event at the Cold Creek Conservation Area in Nobleton, Ont. on Thursday, November 29, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Tijana Martin (Tijana Martin/Canadian Press)

It's time for Canada to move beyond its close ties with the United States and look for new markets to trade in, says Canada's international trade diversification minister.

Amid tariffs and trade tensions with the world's largest economy, Jim Carr told The House it's time to ramp up efforts with more understated partners, like European Union and Pacific Rim nations.

He admitted Canada has been lax in those efforts in the past.

"We haven't seen the opportunities, we haven't been as attentive as we should have been," he said in an interview from his Parliament Hill office on Friday.

Carr made particular mention of simmering economies in the developing world who weren't major players in the past, but are now expanding.

North American leaders signed the new USMCA agreement to replace the NAFTA trade deal on Friday, but steel and aluminum tariffs on Canadian goods remain. Though Canada secured an effective exemption from any auto duties President Donald Trump may impose, the metal tariffs still hit hard.

General Motors' decision to close its Ontario plant also sent shock waves through the economy. The company is closing several plants in the U.S. as well, but none in Mexico.

Carr called it a "very disappointing decision."

When asked what the next steps were to shore up Canada's auto industry, Carr admitted there are talks in progress to diversify the countries in which Canadian cars are sold.

Despite the uncertainty, the Canadian attitude toward the international ties is scoring points globally, Carr added.

"We are seen as reaching out to the world when other countries are not."

Minister Carr gives host Chris Hall an update on Canada's new export diversification strategy laid out in the fall fiscal update. 8:52

Ontario unveils climate plan

Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance speaks to the media at Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston, Ont., on Wednesday March 29, 2017. (Lars Hagberg/Canadian Press)

Ontario Premier Doug Ford has made no secret of his dislike of the federal government's plan to price carbon. This week, his Progressive Conservative government set out its own roadmap in reducing emissions. 

The new plan doesn't include a price on carbon, and instead focuses on incentives to encourage companies to reduce their emissions. 

"We think the international agreement in Paris, we're confident we'll be able to get to [those targets]," said Phillips. "In part that's because Ontario, since 2005, has already achieved a 22 per cent reduction in emissions. What we have now is a plan to methodically and sensibly get that remaining eight per cent" of the 30 per cent above 2005 levels that is the goal of the Paris climate accord.

How does the Ontario government intend to do that? 

"There are a number of areas. Part of that is going to be uptake of low carbon vehicles, industry performance standards, clean fuel, so this is moving our ethanol standard to 15 per cent from currently where it's at, at eight per cent," Phillips said. 

"There's a number of pieces laid out in the plan. And all of those over a period of the next 12 years will lead to us getting to that 18 mega tonne reduction that's our objective."

A UN report out this week laid out a harsh new reality, calling on countries and jurisdictions to triple efforts on environmental action or face catastrophic climate change in the form of rising sea-levels, fires, droughts and other extreme weather events. 

Phillips said one of the key challenges in dealing with that new reality is making people feel connected to the fight against climate change so that behaviours can be adjusted.

"The conversation's always been about agreements signed in European capitals and complicated mega tonnes of carbon, versus the things that affect them," Phillips said. 

"Helping people deal with the actual impacts of climate change on their communities, on their homes, helps connect people and helps drive that behaviour change."

The province released its new plan to fight climate change this week - how does it stack up? Chris Hall chats with the environment minister about the lack of a carbon tax and how that will impact climate targets. 9:11

Canada's defence chief on sexual assault in the military: 'We continue to learn'

Canada's top general says the auditor general was right to flag gaps in the military's handling of sexual assault cases.

"We put in place some measures that have had unintended consequences," Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance said in an interview airing Saturday on CBC Radio's The House.

Operation Honour is Vance's signature initiative. It was launched three years ago to stamp out harassment and assault and address a longstanding culture of sexual misconduct in the Canadian military.

"Our own analysis was going on at the same time as the AG was doing their analysis, and we came to the same conclusions," Vance said, citing the report released last week by the auditor general criticizing a "fragmented" support system for victims and inadequate training and education, among other problems.

Vance said he was happy that the AG's report and the military's internal analysis ended up with similar conclusions, and insisted he's not losing patience with Operation Honour just yet.

"It's not impatience you're detecting. I'm genuinely seized of, 'Let's get going on this changed path,'" he told host Chris Hall.

That path now includes some tweaking of the original action steps undertaken by the military — specifically on the duty to report instances of possible sexual assault, which Vance acknowledged had "unintended consequences."

"We focused on the prevention aspect first. That's what we could do," he said. "What I've learned is sometimes the actions, after the moment of harm, by the chain of command and by well-meaning people around the individual that remove the individual's control or sense of sovereignty is sometimes more damaging than the actual act itself."

Military policy now requires that bystanders report any instances observed of sexual misconduct. The auditor general's report argued that policy meant that third parties were reporting incidents even when the victims weren't ready to come forward.

The new policy also requires military police to conduct initial investigations of all reports of sexual misconduct, even in cases where a victim prefers to settle the issue informally.

Vance defended bystander reporting as an "action-oriented prevention posture" but said he's learned it can "take control away from a very vulnerable person at exactly the wrong time."

In his fall reports, Auditor General Michael Ferguson said victims of sexual misconduct in the Canadian military face a slow, confusing patchwork system that sometimes forces them to make complaints of inappropriate behaviour when they might not be willing or ready. 2:46

"The answer right now is ... the duty to report must remain in place," he said. "You can't have a crime happen in front of you and ignore it.

"But the duty to report doesn't mean that the person you report to has to do anything specific before we see to the care and concern and sense of sovereignty of the individual who was harmed. We've learned that, and that's been reinforced to us."

So what will change for sexual assault cases going forward?

"What that means is those people who are qualified or ought to receive a report of something that's going on, job one is to be able to turn to a mechanism we're going to build that will place the victim at the centre of the effort of, 'How do you want to handle this?'" Vance said.

Delay in wrapping up investigations

The defence chief also addressed another gap flagged in the auditor general's report. The AG found that the military is not resolving reported cases in a timely fashion, and most are taking an average of seven months to close.

"This discouraged some victims from coming forward," the audit says. "Many victims also did not understand or have confidence in the complaint system."

Vance said some investigations take longer than others — cases that occurred overseas, for example.

"I detect no dragging of feet," he told Hall. "We have supercharged the system to act ... but this can take time."

Vance said he is now focused on the next phase of Operation Honour. "At this particular time, with the AG report behind us and some very good analysis done by our own teams ... we're shifting gears from that drive to prevent — which we're not going to stop doing — but now we're going to put in place a strategic plan of culture change and support to the victim."

There's no deadline or end date in sight for Vance, though.

"It's never going to be done," he said. "We're always going to have to do Operation Honour. I am humbled every day by not only the scope of the problem but also the challenges of dealing with it effectively.

"We learn, and we continue to learn."

Gen. Vance on Russia and Ukraine's fight in the Sea of Azov, and the Auditor General's report on sexual harassment in the military. 10:30


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.