The Prime Minister gave an interview today to Dave Rutherford (a frequent interviewer, as is clear from the friendly tone.) Here's a word cloud (courtesy of abcya.com) and transcript, (courtesy of PMO) for the curious.
DAVE RUTHERFORD (CHQR): Good morning, I’m Dave Rutherford, Corus Radio Network. Thanks for joining us this Friday the eighth of October. Lots on our agenda today, but I want to get to my first guest very quickly.
Time is limited, down to the second when you deal with this gentleman, because his schedule (inaudible). I want to welcome to the program Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Prime Minister, thank you for being with us.
RT. HON. STEPHEN HARPER (Prime Minister of Canada): Nice to be here, Dave.
DAVE RUTHERFORD: You’ll be reading to some school kids this afternoon, Prime Minister.
RT. HON. STEPHEN HARPER: That’s what I understand.
DAVE RUTHERFORD: (LAUGHS) Is it going to be the federal budget?
RT. HON. STEPHEN HARPER: Oh, I think it’ll be, I suspect, something a little more interesting than that for them.
DAVE RUTHERFORD: All right. Prime Minister, listen, several issues sort of on the agenda I want to talk to you about, and not the least of which is the current debate about these jets that we’re going to buy for our country, the F-35, Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets.
Yesterday, Prime Minister, you were in Winnipeg. I saw you talking about the complaints by the opposition about this acquisition, and I haven’t seen you that angry for quite some time. We are going to spend $16 billion, possibly, on the acquisition and on the servicing, and the demand is that there be some sort of competition now for these jets.
Haven’t we already done that?
RT. HON. STEPHEN HARPER: We absolutely have. First of all, Dave, just on the price tag you mentioned, one has to understand, these are for purchases beginning 2016 that will serve the country through to the year 2050. So this is over a very long period of time. In terms of the competition, that’s absolutely correct. Beginning in 1997, the previous government worked with our allies on the selection of a company to develop and build this next jet. We completed that process in 2002; in fact, the previous government spent $150 million on it, and we have, as I said, not only run a competition; we have since been involved in the actual development of the airplane. In fact, our country has won contracts, as I understand it, twice the size of the amount of money we’ve actually put into this. So to pull out now, besides running the risk of grounding our aircraft when the CF-18 reach the end of their useful life, would basically kick us out of the development process, kick us out of future contracts, and we’d end up having to buy a new plane anyway. So you know, this is just, Dave, this is really just a political game. The Liberals know full well that they endorse this approach, and now to satisfy their allies in the NDP and the Bloc Quebecois, they are doing something that simply is not in the interest of Canadian taxpayers, not in the interests of Canadian industry, and certainly not in the interest of the men and women in the Canadian Air Force.
DAVE RUTHERFORD: Prime Minister, the leader of the Liberals, the opposition leader has gone so far as to say that this deal is undemocratic. What could that possibly mean?
RT. HON. STEPHEN HARPER: I don’t know what it means, but I do know, Dave, what the strategy is behind it, which is simply what we see from the opposition these days. Everything they do is to appeal, in this case, to the anti-military types that are in the NDP and the Bloc Quebecois. It’s all part of the coalition that they want to put together, hopefully...in their mind, hopefully after the next election, and it is just a blatant attempt to appeal to that element of the Canadian spectrum, and do it in a way that is simply not in the interests of Canada.
DAVE RUTHERFORD: You talked about the coalition. You’ve been talking about the coalition specifically. I saw you speaking in the summertime.
You’ve been saying it repeatedly ever since, and now we’ve got the revelations from Gilles Duceppe in a new book that in fact he and the NDP and the Libs were planning this long before the financial update controversy back in ’08. Prime Minister, you sound pretty convinced that there is a bona fide coalition at work here.
RT. HON. STEPHEN HARPER: Well, we see these guys working together, Dave, on almost everything, and of course, as I say, we see a series of issues, whether it’s, you know, whether it’s these anti-military policies they’re coming out with, whether it’s the soft on crime policies that they’re going back to, whether it’s calls for a 45-day work year to be paid for by Employment Insurance premiums, whether it’s calls to raise taxation on business, on employers, these are all, all of these things are blatant attempts to pull together, to keep together an alliance with the NDP and Bloc Quebecois, and you know, Dave, I think we can all, we all know very simply what all of these policies mean. It means...all these things would mean higher taxes for Canadians, fewer jobs, and quite frankly, a government with a very significant role for the Bloc Quebecois that is not in the interests of this country.
DAVE RUTHERFORD: Talk about undemocratic, Prime Minister, it seems galling that a leader of a separatist party is engineering a coalition to upset a sitting government. I mean, there are probably descriptions for that.
RT. HON. STEPHEN HARPER: Well, you know, it’s...what’s amazing about it is that of course, you know, it came out this week, Mr. Duceppe claimed that the whole idea was his. More significantly, Dave, as I think some of your listeners will know, you know, he actually said he ran the whole agreement past Mr. Parizeau to ensure that the agreement would actually advance the cause of Quebec separation. Mr. Parizeau agreed it did. But what’s amazing about this is Mr. Duceppe, the Bloc Quebecois claims credit, and what does the NDP do? They jump and says, “No, it wasn’t them who started, it was us!” They try and take credit. (LAUGHTER) You know, it’s really just extraordinary, but I think Canadians just need to know that this is a real significant risk for the country. I think they can know with our government that even though we’re a minority situation and even though we face incredible political pressure to do some things that are very bad, not in the interests of the country, that we will not do those things, and they can know that with Mr. Ignatieff and the Liberal Party, they will make whatever concession is necessary to the NDP or to the Bloc Quebecois to get in power.
DAVE RUTHERFORD: Prime Minister, I want to talk about some of the big responsibilities of a federal government; clearly, security of the people in Canada, but also our position around the world. In Afghanistan, we’re coming home in 2011, and you’ve said that repeatedly.
It’s an act of Parliament, and you’re going to stick to it. You’ve seen some success in Panjwaii, the area we’re now responsible for, and we’ve got NATO saying no one will back...no one will fill that hole when we leave. Prime Minister, is there any argument that could persuade you to change that withdrawal?
RT. HON. STEPHEN HARPER: You know, I think Parliament and I think Canadians have been pretty clear. We’ve given ten years to this mission, and we’re certainly going to contribute...continue to contribute to development and to peace in Afghanistan. But as you know, we extended our mission on two occasions, and I think we’ve been very clear on that.
There’s been, you know, some suggestion of non-combat roles, but I think it’s very clear that, you know, Canada’s...the role we’ve played to this point, Canada is going to be moving out of that in 2011, and I think that’s broadly supported among the Canadian population.
DAVE RUTHERFORD: I see that the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, is in negotiations with Taliban officials for some sort of concessions, some sort of peace agreement. Is that a way we should be going, Prime Minister?
RT. HON. STEPHEN HARPER: Well, you know, there’s...it’s always been the policy of the Afghan government, supported by the allies, that you know, we ultimately would like to see a peaceful resolution of this conflict.
That would involve all parties agreeing to abide by the democratic and constitutional process and renounce violence, and that’s the basis on which the Afghan government has from time to time had discussions with elements of the Taliban. You know, I think...to be frank, I think that’s still a very long shot, but we always encourage them to keep an olive branch available on those terms.
DAVE RUTHERFORD: So even if we left and there was no satisfaction of a peaceful, stable, democratic, accountable government in Afghanistan, even if we left, would our job have been done, worthwhile?
RT. HON. STEPHEN HARPER: Well, I think we’ve made...I think we’ve made tremendous progress, Dave. We’ve made not as much progress on security as we would like, but certainly that situation is starting to improve somewhat with the arrival of, you know, vast numbers of reinforcements from some of the other NATO countries. We’re seeing definite progress in terms of health indicators, in terms of economic growth and development, but ultimately, you know, I’ve said repeatedly, Dave, and I think this is something all of the allies are going to have to grapple with, that, you know, eventually to really make this a secure and stable situation, Afghans themselves must be responsible for security. I do not believe it is feasible in the long term for foreigners to be responsible for the basic security situation in Afghanistan. That is in and of itself inherently an unworkable and unstable situation. So you know, our emphasis over the past three, four years has been to train the Afghan forces, to take a bigger and bigger role in their own security, and you know, we will obviously continue in that vein, but that has to be the eventual outcome here.
DAVE RUTHERFORD: A couple more minutes with you, Prime Minister.
Obviously the economy clearly is of a major concern to your government.
We’ve got some jobless numbers out today, a pretty much flat unemployment rate about eight percent. In the United States it’s far worse, almost two points higher in the United States. Going forward here now, you’ve always said it’s fragile. I think that’s probably the word that’s been most said about our economy. As we look forward, though, are there darker days ahead?
RT. HON. STEPHEN HARPER: Well, I just would say what I’ve said before, Dave, which is it’s fragile. There has been a recovery going on globally. You know, our own domestic economy and our domestic indicators have remained fairly reasonable through most of this. None of the problems we’re facing originate in this country. I think everybody knows that. The global situation remains fragile. There are some promising signs. There’ve been certainly...if you look back over the past 18 months, some significant improvement. There are also some worrisome signs, which is why, you know, individually as countries and collectively as members of the G20 and of the global economy, we cannot take our eye off the ball here. You know, I can...I...my own take on this tends to be a little more on the optimistic side. I think things are much better now than we would have thought they would be if we look back some 18 months ago. Things have come along more quickly. I agree, you know, today’s job numbers are not as good as we would have hoped, but they are reasonably stable, and we’re beginning to see some stabilization in the US job market. As you know, while we’ve been picking up about 400,000 jobs over the last year, the US has continued to lose jobs. That situation seems to be stabilizing, finally, and if we can start to turn that around, that will be very good for our economy.
DAVE RUTHERFORD: But we can’t do much, even though we have domestic security, we can’t do much about the US economy. If it drags down, it will drag us, right?
RT. HON. STEPHEN HARPER: Well, you know, I guess directly, Dave, of course there’s very little we can do, but to the extent that we are in a globalized economy, and to the extent that, you know, we’ve found that throughout this recession that we’ve had to work with other countries to coordinate our policies, indirectly we can do things. You know, obviously in early...late ’08, in early ’09, we embarked on major stimulus spending across the world in a coordinated fashion to end the deep crisis we had, the deep crisis of confidence. We’ve since gone forward collectively on some significant reforms to the financial sector that have helped stabilize that situation. It was never a problem in Canada, but once again, helping stabilize it globally has helped the situation. We...at Toronto, at the last summit, as you know, we began to tackle some of this issue of the enormous debt burdens that some major advanced countries have. That’s another problem where, you know, as I say, the problem doesn’t originate here, but we’re trying to be part of a global solution that will benefit all of us.
DAVE RUTHERFORD: And no more stimulus, Prime Minister? We’re done, right?
RT. HON. STEPHEN HARPER: You know, that’s the approach we’re taking.
I’ve always said, Dave, you know, we will watch the situation very carefully. The plan we have, it was a two-year plan that essentially, most elements of it wrap up in March of next year. If you ask me today, there is nothing today that would indicate to me that we should look at another, quote, “stimulus package”. I just don’t think the circumstances now or the circumstances in the year to come are likely to be anything like we had in late ’08 and early ’09. But as I say, we will always...we will always make sure we’re watching this carefully and we’re flexible if situations change.
DAVE RUTHERFORD: Prime Minister, thank you very much for your time.
Enjoy your day, and we’ll talk next time we have an opportunity. Thank you very much for today.
RT. HON. STEPHEN HARPER: Thanks for having me.
DAVE RUTHERFORD: Prime Minister Stephen Harper.