About 70 minutes late, the Prime Minister’s interview with the masses is now online.
For those who wish to read along, here is the transcript distributed by the Prime Minister’s Office.
PATRICK PICHETTE: So good afternoon or good day, everybody. My name is Patrick Pichette, and we have really a unique opportunity today, an exclusive interview with the Prime Minister, and by exclusive, I really mean inclusive, because we’ve brought in all of Canada and their questions back into this room. So bonjour à tous. Mon nom est Patrick Pichette. Nous avons une opportunité unique aujourd’hui d’avoir une entrevue exclusive avec le Premier ministre, puis c’est…quand je dis « exclusive » je veux vraiment dire « inclusive », parce qu’on a toutes les questions qui nous ont été apportées du Canada suite au discours du Trône. Bonjour. Bienvenue Monsieur le Premier ministre.
TR. HON. STEPHEN HARPER : Merci.
PATRICK PICHETTE: So, I’ll just explain how this works.
RT. HON. STEPHEN HARPER: Sure.
PATRICK PICHETTE: In a nutshell, what we have is following the Throne Speech, we’ve opened up on Google a page where every Canadian could come up, write either on a text basis or load up their own video and ask questions, and in addition to this, people could vote. So over 1800 questions were tabled, over just around 175,000 votes came in. So this is very participative. This is kind of democracy at work.
RT. HON. STEPHEN HARPER: That’s big.
PATRICK PICHETTE : Alors 1800 questions ont été posées, soit en vidéo, soit en texte, et tout près de 175 000 votes à ces questions. What we’ve done is we’ve picked from the very top tier a selection of questions, and then some we’ll see on video, and then some also I’ll just read for you, text for you to react to.
RT. HON. STEPHEN HARPER: That’s great.
PATRICK PICHETTE: Are we ready to go?
RT. HON. STEPHEN HARPER: We’re ready.
PATRICK PICHETTE: So the first one is actually a question that has been tabled to us both in French and English. The gentleman, Joseph Collins from Whitehorse, has a question related to the budget and the budget deficit, so why don’t we listen to the question.
QUESTION : Bonjour Monsieur le Premier ministre. Je suis Joseph Collins et j’habite à Whitehorse. Au cours de la dernière élection, vous avez dit que le Canada était dans une situation financière solide et que nous n’allions pas entrer en déficit ou en récession, d’ailleurs. En un an, alors que la crise économique se tenait au Canada, nous avons vu le déficit atteindre 56 milliards $. Kevin Page, directeur parlementaire du Budget, dit que nous sommes maintenant en déficit structurel. Si tu crois qu’il a raison, comment envisagez-vous de nous en sortir, et si vous pensez qu’il a tort, qu’est-ce qu’il manque? Merci.
PATRICK PICHETTE : There you go. So…
TR. HON. STEPHEN HARPER: Alors je peux répondre en français…
PATRICK PICHETTE : En anglais ou en français, comme vous désirez.
TR. HON. STEPHEN HARPER : Il m’a posé la question en français. Je peux répondre en français. D’abord, depuis la grande chute économique mondiale à la fin de 2008, on a vu presque tous les pays du monde sont dans une position du déficit. Mais la réalité est que la position du Canada, la position fiscale du Canada est beaucoup plus forte que la grande majorité des pays. Notre déficit est un des plus petits dans des pays développés. Ce n’est pas un déficit structurel. Ça veut dire un déficit permanent. Ce n’est pas ça. Mais c’est essentiel de faire certaines choses pour éviter une telle situation, et nous sommes très clairs dans le budget : d’abord on doit terminer des programmes de stimulus à la fin de cette récession. Ça veut dire selon nous, nous avons établi la date de 21 mars 2011 pour la termination [sic] de la grande majorité des dépenses de stimulus extraordinaire. Et après ça, nous avons pris des mesures nécessaires pour assurer que des dépenses gouvernementaux vont augmenter d’une façon très lente à l’avenir. Et si on fait ces deux choses, on peut éviter un déficit à long terme, et on peut éviter aussi la hausse des taxes et des impôts, parce que c’est important pour nous comme conservateurs d’éviter des hausses de taxes et des impôts qui nuisent sérieusement le futur de notre économie.
I’ll just maybe repeat a little bit, that, you know, it’s basically through ending our stimulus programs March 2011, and through, as the budget outlined, a series of measures to ensure that government spending grows very slowly after this recession, that revenue will recover, and we will be able to balance our budget over basically a five-year term without raising taxes, and that’s very important, because obviously tax hikes could damage the economy. Now, I should just say that a lot of experts have commented on our fiscal plan, and frankly, as far as I’ve seen, they are virtually all in agreement that these measures are sufficient to come out of deficit to avoid a permanent or structural deficit. In fact, some of the experts in the big financial institutions actually went so far as to say that the government is being overly cautious, that we could actually come out of deficit sooner. We don’t agree with that, but we certainly will err on the side of caution. But if we do these things, as I say, we’ve been in a position because we’ve got a strong fiscal position in Canada, we’ve been in a position to deliver some of the largest stimulus programs in the world during this recession, but we are also in a position to come out of this deficit quickly, unlike most countries. This will be a great advantage to Canada as we go forward.
PATRICK PICHETTE: Great, thank you for that question…and answer. We’ll go to something related. The second one is…let me go to the next one. The next one is about related to the budget, but regarding foreign aid policies and Canada’s contribution. This YouTube user, his or her name, SP34 is the way that she…or he…so let’s look at the question on the video again.
QUESTION: Hi Prime Minister Harper. My question is will the government continue its current financial commitment to aid in Africa of $2.1 billion per year beyond 2010, and pursue trade legislation similar to the African Growth and Opportunities Act that exists in the United States? Thanks.
RT. HON. STEPHEN HARPER: On the first part of the question, I think we should be very clear. Canada was…we made a commitment some years ago to double our foreign aid budget and to double our aid to Africa, and Canada was the first G7 country to achieve those targets, so we’re very proud of the work we’ve done there. Over the next year foreign aid will increase again and Canada will go up another eight percent, very rapid growth. After that it will be flat lined. It will be held constant at these record levels of spending as our deficit recovers. We’re in a position in Canada that we can maintain these strong levels of international support without having to cut them, without having…in order to reduce our deficit, and that’s what we want to continue to do. So we’ll get up to these high levels that we’re maintaining. We’ll maintain those kind of levels of aid, and obviously we’ll work within that budget as we go forward. We’re also, as maybe I should mention, we’re chairing of course, Canada’s chairing the G8 and the G20 leaders’ summits this year in June, and our priority for development really for the G8 meeting is to focus on maternal and child health, on a series of investments we want all G8 countries to do in coordination to really save the lives of women and children. We think that with reasonably modest investments, and less face it, with the fiscal situation that a lot of countries are in, investments in the future are going to have to be fairly modest, but with modest investments, we think we can make a big difference in these areas, so yes, we will be maintaining our aid levels, and obviously focusing on priorities like maternal and child health going forward.
PATRICK PICHETTE: That’s terrific, thank you. We’re going to switch, if you don’t mind, switching gears from the budget, and we know that Senate reform is something that you’ve spoken about for many years, so we have one representative, Harvey Armstrong from Woodstock, Ontario. He’s submitted a question about Senate reform, so why don’t we listen to Harvey. Let’s watch it on YouTube again.
QUESTION: Hi Prime Minister Harper. I’d like to know how you justify having unelected representatives of Canadian citizens in the Senate. Why can’t we elect our senators? Thank you.
RT. HON. STEPHEN HARPER: Well, it’s a good question by Harvey, and I don’t really justify it. My position for a long time is that the Senate should be reformed, and part of that reform should be the ability of people to choose to elect their own senators. I’ve had an open invitation to Parliament, to the provinces and territories to allow for elections. We’ve had election legislation before Parliament that Parliament has chosen not to pass. I’ve invited the provincial government across the country to elect senators. We’d certainly be interested in naming some elected senators, and so far only one has done so: that was the province of Alberta. They had an election several years ago, a fellow named Bert Brown, who is the leader of the triple-E Senate reform movement in Canada. Bert was elected in that election, actually took place before I was in office, but when we had a vacancy in Alberta, I named Bert Brown because he had won, he had placed highest in the Alberta election for the choosing of senators. So we’ve named Bert, and he continues to push in the Senate. We’ll be continuing to push in this parliamentary session the idea of Senate reform, and particularly of Senate elections, so we’ll continue to push that agenda forward. Now, look, in the meantime, what do you do when you don’t have elected senators? Well, you know, I think the truth of the matter is this: if people don’t give me elected senators to name, then I will name senators myself, and obviously if we don’t have elected senators to name, then the senate should at least by chosen by the government people did elect. Because if I don’t name senators in the absence of election, then the Senate will be controlled not just by unelected senators, by unelected senators that elect a government that people…that represent a government people didn’t elect, and that was the previous government. So we’ll continue to appoint senators, but I certainly continue to invite Parliament and the provinces to give us elected senators, and I’d be more than happy to name them to the Upper House.
PATRICK PICHETTE: Great. Thank you. I’m sure that Harvey’ll be thrilled by this answer. Let me change completely topic for a few minutes.
RT. HON. STEPHEN HARPER: Sure.
PATRICK PICHETTE: I’ll just grab a bit of water. I want to talk about Afghanistan for a moment. We had B. Jonte from Waterloo – this is a written question, so there’s no video. The question was submitted on the topic of Afghan detainees. So her question was: “Why is the government not more open about the Afghan detainee issue? So the question goes on to say, “Every time a legitimate question is asked, the response is that we should – in quotations – ‘support our troops’ and look the other way.” So that was B. Jonte’s question.
RT. HON. STEPHEN HARPER: Yeah, well, first of all it’s important to say I don’t agree with the premise of the question. First of all, this, you know, this issue has been bandied around now for nearly four years. And yet we have no evidence that Canadian soldiers have done anything wrong. There’s no evidence that they have been abusing detainees or that they’ve been complicit in the abuse of detainees. There’s just no evidence of this at all. So you know, I think that our men and women in uniform and other public servants, you know, before they’re accused of something, they have a right to know there’s some evidence of it, and there is no evidence. Now, you know, through the process, various people have asked for all kinds of background information on this. It’s called access to information. There’s been court cases. There’s been access to information requests. This government, there are public servants in charge of releasing documents, independent public servants. They release documents based on the law. Most things can be released. Some things can’t be released, if they have to do with national security or privacy or there’s a number of other things. These public servants make the decisions independently on what can or cannot be released according to the law. But tens of thousands of pages of documents have been released. Now, there are some who are saying, “Well, what’s…you know, are they hiding something in the unreleased material?” There’s no particular evidence of that, but I’ve asked Frank Iacobucci, a former Supreme Court Justice, to review the work of all these independent public servants and be sure that things are not being hidden, that everything that’s supposed to be released is released, so I think that’s a fair compromise. But as I say, I think that you know, there’s been a lot of loose accusations thrown around, but really no evidence. I think our men and women in uniform and other public servants have been doing a, you know, a good job in Afghanistan under extremely difficult conditions. I think they do deserve our support and I certainly think they do deserve, before they’re accused of anything, there should be some basis of these kinds of accusations. I, you know, I’m confident that the record will continue to show that they’ve acted honourably when problems have arisen, and we have had instances where there was some evidence or some, you know, basic evidence of mistreatment at the hands of the Afghan government, then corrective actions have been taken. That has been, you know, relatively infrequently.
PATRICK PICHETTE: Thank you for talking to that, sir. Switch again topics: the environment. So Shannon in Victoria sends us this question about…and she’s just lived the Olympics with the warmth there. So her question is: “We’re experiencing our warmest winter in BC. Climate change is obviously affecting the weather here in Canada. Is your government willing to take the strong measures necessary to adequately deal with climate change?”
RT. HON. STEPHEN HARPER: Well, the answer’s yes, and basically, Patrick, I would say to the questioner that there are – I missed the name, but there are…
PATRICK PICHETTE: Shannon.
RT. HON. STEPHEN HARPER: Shannon. There are three broad things we’ve been doing to deal with the climate change issue. The first is to try and come up with an effective international treaty on climate change, and in our view, our position since we’ve been elected is that to have an effective international treaty, you have to have one that covers all emissions. Now, we didn’t have that before. We had, previously had an agreement that covered only a very, frankly, about a third of global emissions. So we said we needed a treaty that covers all emissions, and that’s the agreement we got at Copenhagen. Now, it’s not perfect, but at least for the first time, we have virtually every country in the world saying they will be part of an effort that will include their emissions. So we’re obviously making commitments under that agreement, and further negotiation will go forward internationally in the next year or so to try and hammer out some more details and that. So we’re doing that internationally. At the continental level, as you know very well from your own background, Patrick, as a displaced Canadian, we live in an integrated North American economy. We believe we need also a continental approach, particularly when you’re dealing with a lot of aspects of regulation or control of actual emissions in Canada. Because the problem we have with the high integration of our economy, if we impose emissions regulations on plants and firms that don’t exist just south of the border, those things will move overnight, because we have a fully integrated economy, so we need a joint approach. Since President Obama was elected, I mean, you know, President Obama’s obviously, you know, had a very different position on this than his predecessor. He certainly indicated a willingness to tackle climate change and to work with us on this. When he came up to visit me in Ottawa shortly after his election, we established what we call a clean energy dialogue, where we’re working together on a series of joint projects, and ultimately I hope a continental cap and trade system on greenhouse gas emissions. So that’s the second thing, what we’re doing continentally. And then the third thing are some national actions. We continue to fund, I mean literally billions of dollars into research to deal with the development of clean energy technology. You know, Canada, as you know, is in a remarkable position, is that we are maybe the only country in the world that literally has a surplus of virtually every form of energy. Energy security is not an issue in this country. So whatever the energy mix of the future is, Canada is going to be a major player in the energy business. That’s why I say we’re an emerging energy superpower, but we want to make sure we’re a clean energy superpower, so whatever the future energy mix is, we want to make sure we’re doing the most advanced, we have the most advanced technology in those areas, and that we have the cleanest form of energy in all of those areas. That’s why we’re investing in things like carbon capture and storage. That’s why we have, you know, we have the green infrastructure fund in our economic stimulus program. We have a series of what we call eco-energy initiatives to encourage the development of new technology and energy efficiency. We have, you know, as I say, we just have really…we have the gamut. And we’re going to make sure whatever the energy mix of the future is, we’re a major provider, and we’re doing it as cleanly as possible. So those are the three things we’re doing, you know, internationally, continentally and nationally. Still a lot of work to be done. This is, you know, this is not an easy area. I think what all your viewers should realize is what causes emissions is economic activity. You know, all emissions virtually are caused by either people heating themselves or moving around or engaged in economic activity of some kind. So to change our energy use carbon footprint over time requires the development and adaptation of a new generation of technology, and that’s what we’re trying to do.
PATRICK PICHETTE: Great, thank you for that question…that answer. We…change subject completely again.
RT. HON. STEPHEN HARPER: Sure.
PATRICK PICHETTE: We’re going to go to seals. So the question comes from Phoqueshot in Windsor, Ontario. The question is as follows: “Why is the fate of harp seal population in the hands of hunters instead of that of qualified scientists? So please cancel,” is the request, “the 2010 commercial seal hunt.”
RT. HON. STEPHEN HARPER: Well, as you know, that’s a minority view among Canadians. Let me just say a couple of things about this. First of all, the premise of the question really is wrong. All hunts in Canada, all aspects of the fishing industry are regulated by scientifically based regulations. We would only allow a hunt if it were ecologically sustainable. In the case of seals, as I think many of your viewers will know, a seal is not an endangered species in Canada. We could hunt many, many more seals than we actually hunt if that were the sole criteria. So there’s no danger of the seal population disappearing on us. There are literally millions, in fact all the evidence says it’s a growing population. It’s a small…you have to realise, the seal hunt is a small hunt, I mean relative to many other aspects of animal husbandry in this country. I mean, the number of seals that traditional fishers or that the Inuit people harvest every year is very small compared to the number of cattle or the number of pigs or the number of chickens or any other animal that we use as part of our economic activity, whether for food or clothing or whatever else. So you know, I guess our view as the government of Canada, and I think most Canadians’ view is, you know, these…the hunt has to be treated fairly internationally. Just because, you know, it’s only our Inuit people or a few other traditional communities doing sealing doesn’t mean you should be able to single them out and treat them differently than you would treat the cattle industry or any other industry. And quite frankly, the changes, the regulations put in place over the past generations have made this a very humane hunt. I think as even The Economist, the British publication said not too many months ago, if you compare the standards of the seal hunt compared to the standards of slaughterhouses in many industries, this is one of the most humane…this is one of the most humane cases of animal husbandry in the world. And so as I say, we will continue to vigorously defend our sealers, but people need to understand we would…this is completely dictated by science. There is no scientific evidence that says the seal population is in jeopardy.
PATRICK PICHETTE: In decline (inaudible).
RT. HON. STEPHEN HARPER: Yeah.
PATRICK PICHETTE: We’ll switch over, if you don’t mind, in French. So we have… On a une question qui a été posée par un Monsieur Laflamme de Châteauguay au Québec. Monsieur Laflamme nous écrit, il nous dit : « Qu’est-ce que vous allez faire pour mieux protéger les fonds de pension des travailleurs canadiens qui sont aux prises avec des employeurs en faillite? »
TR. HON. STEPHEN HARPER : Oui, c’est une…évidemment c’est une question un peu plus pertinente pendant une récession que normalement. On devrait suppose que la question est du Québec, et on devrait mentionner d’abord que la réglementation de la grande majorité des plans de pension privés au Canada sont des régimes réglés par des provinces et pas par le fédéral. Mais nous avons un rôle aussi, et pendant la crise, notre ministre des Finances et son secrétaire parlementaire, Jim Flaherty et Ted Menzies, ont…ont en train de…ont été en train de consulter avec des intérêts à travers le pays pour examiner ces questions. En automne nous avons introduit, en collaboration avec des provinces, des changements pour mieux protéger des plans de pension privés. Nous avons changé de règles dans plusieurs cas pour nous adresser aux problèmes de faillite qui existent en ce moment. Mais en général, on devrait comprendre que le régime des pensions privé et public au Canada est en général très, très fort, surtout en comparaison des situations dans des autres pays. Et nous avons fait plusieurs améliorations au régime de pension pour mieux aider des aînés et des retraités, comme par exemple nous avons créé le Compte d’épargne libre d’impôt pour toute la population d’avoir un autre véhicule pour accumuler des épargnes pour leur retraite. Nous avons créé, c’est une action très importante. Nous avons créé le partage de revenu, la capacité des retraités de diviser leurs pensions avec leur épouse, leur époux, leur épouse pour baisser leurs taxes et pour avoir une retraite beaucoup plus sécuritaire. Ce sont…et c’est seulement deux actions que nous avons faites. Nous avons fait plusieurs actions et nos consultations continues, pas seulement avec la population et l’industrie en général, mais aussi avec les provinces, parce qu’on discute par exemple la possibilité des améliorations au régime de pension du Canada, et régime de pension du Québec, CPP, QPP, et…mais pour faire des changements majeurs à ces programmes, qui fonctionnent très bien en général, mais on doit avoir le consensus en effet (inaudible), parce que c’est un régime partagé.
PIERRE PICHETTE : Merci pour la réponse. Notre prochaine question est aussi écrite. But it’s in English, so I’ll switch. We’ll talk about the criminal justice system is featured prominently in the Throne Speech. This question is from Chris in Waterloo, and he writes, “Since research has shown that mandatory minimum sentencing does not deter future crime, what makes you as the Prime Minister believe this is still an effective way of persecuting criminals?”
RT. HON. STEPHEN HARPER: Well, I think the view of the population of Canada on this issue is actually pretty clear, that when serious crimes are committed, people expect the penalties to match these crimes. And obviously, you know, for 40 years our criminal justice system was going in a very different direction. We were…you know, there are these arguments that told people somehow if you don’t punish criminals, that crime will go away. I never quite understood the philosophy, but I think people understand that that approach has not been effective. So we have been, since we’ve come into office, trying to make sure, trying to toughen up our laws and make sure that the crimes are appropriate. You know, for example we think that if people commit serious crimes, violent crimes, we don’t think it’s appropriate that they would serve their sentence at home, what’s called conditional sentences, effectively house arrest. We don’t think it’s…and we don’t think it’s appropriate that very serious or repeat crimes would not be subject to at least some kind of minimum penalty, minimum prison time. I mean, surely if a crime is serious enough, a murder charge, for example, there should be some prison time for a murder charge. So these are the kinds of changes we’ve been making over time. They’ve been very well supported by the Canadian public. I don’t want to say crime is out of control in this country, but we do know that there have been some very worrying growth areas, particularly if you look at the areas of guns, gangs and drugs, and this is a growth area, not just in Canada, but around the world. It’s an international phenomenon. But we do think it’s very important that the criminal justice system send a strong message that such behaviour is not acceptable, and that it be appropriately punished, and that those who engage in such behaviour understand what the likelihood of punishment actually is. Because what we do know about deterrence is it doesn’t work unless people are actually certain they’re going to get punished. But if you create a system where there’s always a loophole, and you can always get out of the punishment, or the punishment can always be downgraded or forgotten, then it’s clear, that kind of a system does not deter people.
PATRICK PICHETTE: Is not credible.
RT. HON. STEPHEN HARPER: Is not credible. It’s not credible. I think…I’m not an expert in this area, but I think the evidence suggests it isn’t the length of the punishment that matters; it’s the certainty of the punishment. And if there’s no certainty you’ll be punished, then no possible penalty will matter. So that’s why we think it’s important to actually have a minimum penalty for serious crimes.
PATRICK PICHETTE: Thank you for that answer. Switch again. Canadians have a lot on their mind, so another topic is childcare. It’s been on the national agenda for some time, and the next question we’re going to watch on video this time, if you allow, Patrick M. from Toronto has a question, so let’s take a look, on childcare.
QUESTION: Hello Mr. Harper. My name is Patrick (Inaudible) . I’m a fourth-year student in Early Childhood Education at Ryerson University in Toronto. I have one question to ask you: why aren’t you investing in a national childcare plan? This social service is an essential part of family life in Canada. Offering families $1200 a year for childcare doesn’t even make a dent in the actual cost of childcare, and that plan, to be quite frank, is an insult to any family that actually relies on it. By having equal access to subsidized childcare, parents can actively join the workforce. Currently there are 5 million children in Canada, and one third of those children have mothers who are working. How can they join the rest of the workforce if they’re expected to raise their children at home? How does that benefit our economy? It doesn’t at all. Every dollar you invest in childcare, there’s a $17 return. I urge you read up on some of the articles presented by Michael Krashinsky and Gordon Cleveland. They’re both professors at the University of Toronto in Scarborough, and they specialize in how to finance a national childcare plan. Think of how this investment will sustain Canada in the future, so when we’re faced with a recession, we can actually take control and lead our way out of it. Thank you.
PATRICK PICHETTE: So that was Patrick.
RT. HON. STEPHEN HARPER: Yeah, well, obviously we have a very different approach, and I think our approach has been well received by Canadians. First of all, Canadians want to make their own childcare decisions. I think probably my own family was not a typical…we used a combination. You know, sometimes we looked after the kids at home, sometimes we used, or part of the time we used a daycare. We also used family members or we paid babysitters, so…and I think you’ll actually see that a lot of Canadians have a lot of different childcare needs. There are a range of things we do in Canada to support the childcare choices of Canadians. There’s a generous tax credit for actual…or tax deductions for actual childcare expenses. There’s also the per-child tax credit that we created for all dependent children after we came to office, $2000 tax credit of 15 percent a year. We also created of course the childcare payment that Patrick referred to, which gives parents more options. Now, I should say that, you know, and there are some provinces that run actual childcare systems, which would obviously be the choice of those provinces, since this once again would be a provincial responsibility. But you know, we had a previous government that promised to create a national childcare system for many years. They spent billions of dollars. Canadian parents never saw any of that. So we took that money, put it into direct support for Canadian parents so they can make their own childcare choices, and if they want to make the choices that Patrick would make, there are certainly those kinds of options available, but not everybody is seeking exactly those kinds of options.
PATRICK PICHETTE: Thank you. Our next question comes from Crazyforyou79 in Saskatoon. So Crazyforyou wrote: “University students are expected to pay back so much money, plus high interest, after furthering their education, when most do not start getting a liveable salary right after school. Why is there not more assistance when it comes to student loan?” So that’s Crazyforyou79.
RT. HON. STEPHEN HARPER: Well, as you know, while the post-secondary education system is really primarily run by the provinces, we do have the Canada Student Loan program. The federal government is very involved in giving student loans to our young people, and we’ve tried over the years to adjust the terms of those so that they take account of students’ financial circumstances as they come out of school. And one of the things that is obviously a big concern to us over the past year is we know that younger people and new graduates have been particularly hard-hit in the recession. That’s why we’ve introduced a number of specific programs in the last couple of years through the budgets to try and address those issues in particular, including, you know, things like expanding the Pathways program, increasing federal hiring of summer students to specifically work at federal government occupations, but you know, this remains, we continue dialogue with student organizations. The student loan program, I think, you know, relative to what you see elsewhere remains fairly generous in Canada. I know a lot of student depend on it, and we want to make sure that this remains a viable and sustainable program, and we’ll continue to work with student organizations on how we can change it to make sure it responds to students’ actual economic and financial circumstances.
PATRICK PICHETTE: Thank you for that answer. So we have a couple more questions, and then we’re done. The second-last one, in French. Un autre sujet d’intérêt pour les Canadiens, Monsieur Olivier Pinard de Repentigny. Monsieur Pinard vous demande, « Que pouvez-vous faire…ou pouvez-vous faire un nouveau référendum sur la souveraineté du Québec? » Alors pouvez-vous faire, le fédéral, un nouveau référendum sur la souveraineté du Québec?
TR. HON. STEPHEN HARPER : Ah, je peux dire que c’est possible, mais ça ne…ça ne sera jamais un choix de notre gouvernement. Je dirige un gouvernement tout à fait fédéraliste. Les Québécois, les francophones, dès la fondation de la ville de Québec il y a plus de 400 ans maintenant par Samuel de Champlain, les Québécois, les francophones ont…ont un rôle primordial dans le développement du Canada. Et notre gouvernement est très dévoué à l’unité de notre pays, comme je pense pas seulement la grande majorité des Québécois, mais la grande majorité de tous les Canadiens, et nous sommes ici pour assurer que le fédéralisme répond aux besoins de tous les Canadiens. Nous sommes…c’est important de dire quelque chose. Nous sommes dans une situation économique, une situation internationale de temps en temps avec beaucoup de danger. Et nous habitons dans le pays le plus prospère, le plus pluraliste, le plus paisible que la planète ait déjà connu. Et mon avis, c’est essentiel, c’est le devoir numéro un d’un gouvernement national de préserver notre unité et les grands bénéfices que nous avons tous et toutes par notre participation dans ce pays merveilleux. Alors évidemment je suis un souverainiste canadien. Et je n’ai pas l’intention de tenir un référendum sur une autre souveraineté.
PATRICK PICHETTE: Bien, merci pour cette réponse. The last question that we have today was the question that was passed with the most votes, and it’s about marijuana.
RT. HON. STEPHEN HARPER: Oh really!
PATRICK PICHETTE: It was the question with the most votes, tackled the subject of marijuana. And it is written as follows: “A majority of Canadians, when polled, say they believe marijuana should be legal for adults, just like alcohol. Why don’t you end the war on drugs and focus on violent criminals?”
RT. HON. STEPHEN HARPER: Well, it’s a good question. I’m not sure I’ve seen this particular poll. There are different polls on this subject that show different things, but you know, I have to say young children, I guess they’re now…Ben and Rachel are now getting pretty close to 14 and 11, but maybe they’re not that young, but they are at the age where, you know, they will increasingly come into contact with drug use, and I guess as a parent, you know, this is the last thing I want to see for my kids or anyone else’s children. You know, I understand that people defend the use of drugs, but that said, I don’t think…I think I’ve been very fortunate to live a drug-free life, and I don’t meet many people who’ve led a drug-free life who regret it. Met a lot of people who haven’t, who’ve regretted it. So this is something that we want to encourage obviously for our children, for everybody’s children. Now, I also want people to understand what we’re really talking about here when we’re talking about the drug trade. You know, when people say focus on violent crime instead of drugs, and yeah, you know, there’s lots of crimes a lot worse than, you know, casual use of marijuana. But when people are buying from the drug trade, they are not buying from their neighbour. They are buying from international cartels that are involved in unimaginable violence and intimidation and social disaster and catastrophe all across the world. All across the world. You know, and I just wish people would understand that, and not just on drugs. Even when people buy, you know, an illegal carton of cigarettes and they avoid tax, that they really understand the kind of criminal networks that they are supporting, and the damage they do. Now, you know, I know some people say if you just legalized it, you know, you’d get the money and all would be well. But I think that rests on the assumption that somehow drugs are bad because they’re illegal. The reason drugs…it’s not that. The reason drugs are illegal is because they are bad. And even if these things were legalized, I can predict with a lot of confidence that these would never be respectable businesses run by respectable people. Because the very nature of the dependency they create, the damage they create, the social upheaval and catastrophe they create, particularly in third world countries…I mean, you look now, you look at Latin America, some of the countries to the south of us, and the damage the drug trade is doing, not just to people’s lives as drug users. Look at the violence it’s creating in neighbourhoods, the destruction of social systems, of families, of governmental institutions, the corruption of police forces. I mean, these are terrible, terrible organizations, and while I know people, you know, have different views, I must admit myself sometimes I’m frustrated by how little impact governments have been able to have on the drug trade internationally. But we should not fool ourselves into thinking that if we somehow stopped trying to deal with it, it would suddenly turn into a nice, wholesome industry. It will never be that. And I think we all need to understand that, and we all need to make sure our kids understand, not just that our kids…hopefully not just understand the damage drugs can do to them, but they understand as well the wider social disaster they are contributing to if they, through use of their money, fund organizations that produce and deliver elicit narcotics.
PATRICK PICHETTE: Thank you for this thoughtful answer. It was a great opportunity for Canadians to reach out to you, to people to vote to tell you what’s on their mind. You see a broad spectrum of questions that really reflect what’s on the mind of Canadians. Thank you so much for taking the time to do this. It was a real pleasure for us as well at Google to be able to facilitate this. Thank you again for your time.
RT. HON. STEPHEN HARPER: Well, thanks for having me, Patrick, and I appreciate the opportunity and the variety of the questions.
Merci beaucoup. À la prochaine.
PATRICK PICHETTE: Ça m’a fait vraiment plaisir. À bientôt.