When Sheila Copps arrived at the Victoria Chapel on Tuesday evening to read from her controversial new book, Worth Fighting For, she seemed a little drained. Her fatigue is likely from spending the last week fending off critics who accuse her of trashing Prime Minister Paul Martin in print. Monday’s Globe and Mail editorial questioned Copps’ credibility, and former colleagues have distanced themselves from the book and its accusations.
Copps quickly addressed the skepticism. Reading from Double Vision a book co-authored, ironically, by Globe and Mail editor Edward Greenspon in 1996, Copps cited a passage that she says backs up one of her arguments about re-drafting the Canada Health Act in the 1995 budget.
The former deputy prime minister began writing the book last December after being shut out of Paul Martin’s cabinet.
“[It was] my chance to write about my experience inside the walls of power,” she said.
However, the focus of the book changed when she found herself without a seat after losing the Hamilton East/Stoney Creek riding to Tony Valeri last March.
Copps has repeatedly claimed that Paul Martin and his Liberal inner circle engineered her defeat.
“The hierarchy of the Liberal party was bound to get me out,” she said. Her claims are currently under investigation by the RCMP.
After the talk The Varsity had a chance to sit down and have a one-on-one interview with Copps.
GG-The environment commissioner Johanne Gelinas released a report on Tuesday that outlined how Canada has fallen from its status as an environmental leader. The OECD list of environmentally progressive countries ranked us as 13th in 2002 and we now stand at 16th worldwide. How do you rate the Martin government in its performance on the environmental issue?
SC-It’s no surprise to me; I actually devote a whole chapter called “it’s not easy being green.” It describes the battle we waged on Kyoto with the department of finance under [Martin's] leadership. A lot of it is that Canada is a resource-producing country and we don’t tend to take these things as seriously as we should. Most of the regulatory systems are lacking. Alberta dictates the system and they don’t really want to make any changes.
GG-One of the things the report did state is that Canada is meeting its targets on reducing ozone-depleting substances.
SC-Yeah, I signed the agreement, the Montreal Protocol. I explain in the book how we are meeting that. We started charging for CFCs, we put a value on them. They used to sell for $2, we put them up to $300. You have to make pollution have a cost-if there is no cost to it, people just keep polluting. You used to be able to buy CFCs in a can at Canadian Tire for $2; we started charging more, and all of the sudden people started looking after them more. Then we moved into Hydrochlorofluorocarbons.
GG-Speaking of economizing environmental problems, the report also mentioned the depletion of Pacific Salmon stocks. Do you think Prime Minister Martin, being a business-minded liberal, will take action on this issue?
SC-Certain problems are easier to find solutions to. The acid rain problem is sort of a regional problem that you can deal with by getting an air share strategy. The problem with global warming is that it’s huge: everybody has to change. Chlorofluorocarbons is one problem that it’s easy to get a solution for because it’s easily identifiable, and once you’ve dealt with them you’ve fixed the ozone problem. Just last week the government of Canada started to move on a permanent moratorium on the cod stocks in Newfoundland, but the political pressure to open them up is just so great that people will fish them until they’re fished out. There are other co-operative strategies that you can use to fix that. Do I think that the Martin government is green? No I don’t. I think that Martin made a lot of his money through the oil patch and he only talks a good game on the environment.
GG-Do you think that Martin is still a threat to the Canada Health Act?
SC-Yes, and I think that he reinforced that when he signed that deal, the two-tiered deal for healthcare. What he effectively said in that federal/provincial deal was that Alberta and Quebec would have their own healthcare system separate from everybody else in his new model of “asymmetrical federalism.” What that means is that we won’t even be able to sustain a Canada Health Act because [we're] going to have two different systems. And if they [the provinces] bring in charges, if they bring in whatever they want, he’s washing his hands of it.
GG-Of course the big headline after the Health Summit was the $18 billion that Martin agreed to infuse into the system. Was he using this as a cloak for his real intention to give more autonomy to the provinces?
SC-No, I think he just went in looking for a deal, and therefore to cut a deal he’ll do whatever he has to do. I don’t think he inherently wanted to give it away; I just think he didn’t care. I don’t think he has a clear view of what you need to have a national dream. Ultimately, that asymmetrical model of federalism will give the whole country away. It will never be enough.
GG-I want to get into Missile Defence; If you ask Paul Martin he’s likely to tell you that the Chretien Years Damaged Canada-US relations.
SC-Let’s put it this way: when Bill Clinton was in the White House and Jean Chretien was in Ottawa, they got along very well. If there is a reason the Canadian government doesn’t get along as well with George Bush it’s because we are ideologically different. And the reason Paul Martin thinks he can get along better is because he’s more like George Bush. It’s an ideology thing; it’s not a personal thing. But like I said, when Clinton was in office we got along very well. We still had problems, we still had soft-wood lumber [issues], we still had trade issues.
GG-Do You think that PM wants to join the Missile Defence to repair the damage done by Chretien staying out of Iraq?
SC-Yeah, probably. And obviously there’s a very strong business argument to be made for building up your defences because that’s what feeds the economy, so I think he’s probably looking at it from a business model. The vice-president of the US is making a lot of money off what they did in Iraq, a lot of money. And there are a lot of other people making a lot of money off of it. I think he could be looking at the economic benefits that could encourage Canada.
GG-[Defence Minister] Bill Graham and most of the cabinet have come out soundly in favour of joining the Missile Defence plan. Stephen Harper is more or less on board; the Bloc and the NDP are against it. There is supposed to be a vote. Now, long-time supporters of Martin like [MP] Carolyn Parrish have spoken out and said this is not the way to go. I’m sure there are many former Chretien loyalists who are opposed; do you think they form a cohesive enough bloc to stop Martin on this issue?
SC-From what I know of the Liberal caucus, I would say there is sufficient strength in the Party right now to beat it in a vote. There are probably 30 caucus members who are vehemently opposed.
GG-Do you think that’s what it’s going to take, a vote, or do you think they’ll decide it behind party lines?
SC-Well Carolyn Parrish said she didn’t want a vote, but I think if they do it behind party lines it’s for sure that he’s going to sign it. The cabinet has already made it known that they are going in that direction.
GG-You’ve been a loyal liberal. Do you think the revelations in this book could hurt Paul Martin and the Liberal party in an election?
SC-That’s one of the reasons I didn’t bring it out in the middle of the last election. In the middle of an election it could have been damaging. But now people will have a chance to read the book, digest the information, and make their own judgments before another election.
GG-You don’t think we’ll be seeing an election anytime soon?
SC-Well, at least not for the next 18 months.