VANCOUVER—Security appeared to have been stepped up because of the earlier events of the day.
But it was a quiet evening on Monday as members of the ethnic media—some meeting Prime Minister Stephen Harper for the first time—eagerly awaited the prime minister for a roundtable at a downtown Vancouver hotel.
Earlier in the day, two climate-change activists carried placards on the same stage as Harper during a question-and-answer event for members of the Vancouver Board of Trade. They were ushered into a room for questioning then released. No charges have been filed.
A visibly relaxed prime minister walked into the room with Industry Minister James Moore, Members of Parliament Alice Wong and Nina Grewal, and Senator Yonah Martin.
Harper began the roundtable by enumerating the priorities of his government: a strong economy, jobs, growth, long term prosperity, strong families and for Canada to be one of the strongest countries in the world.
He then answered several questions fielded by members of the media on issues ranging from the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline project to national debt, immigration, the issue of temporary foreign workers and interprovincial trade.
The prime minister said it is in Canada’s best interest to diversify its energy market, but his hands are tied and he could not say anything that will prejudice the federal government’s position on the pipeline project.
Last month, there was a recommendation from a joint review panel that the Northern Gateway project be approved, but it included 209 conditions. The report is currently pending cabinet’s review.
Harper emphasized, however, that Canada welcomes growth but has the responsibility to ensure that the project is environmentally safe.
The temporary foreign worker program may soon be a thing of the past.
According to Harper, his government reviewed the program and the initial review showed that while there was a need for it, some businesses and unscrupulous persons have been abusing and misusing it.
“What we need is not more temporary workers, I believe we need less. I believe what we need are permanent workers; that people have a path to citizenship and become a long term part of the Canadian economy and the Canadian society.”
Harper was also asked about the efforts of the government to improve interprovincial trade since protectionist practices are limiting Canada’s ability to grow economically.
Harper answered that the government has moved forward on the internal agreement on trade.
“But the real problem is that we are not just in the federal system but the courts have repeatedly restricted our ability to do things that will change this. Without the provinces acting willingly and acting in concert with us, it is extremely difficult.
“Fortunately, in Western Canada, British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan have undertaken their own kind of pact to remove a lot of these obstacles. But that’s not the case in other parts of the country.
“In the past couple of years one of the things we were trying to break down was barriers in the securities industry. Once again the court ruled against the ability of the federal government to try and regulate interprovincial trade.
“As frustrating as this is, it is just the constitutional reality of the country. Ability to change it is restricted and for the most part we have to work with provinces who are willing partners. In the west it’s not bad; but in parts of Eastern Canada, the willingness to move forward with this is not great so it will remain a challenge.”
Asked about what he wants the legacy of his government to be, Harper said he wants a Canada that can provide hardworking, law-abiding families from any background anywhere in the world the opportunity for unlimited success and security.
“We have an amazing country. We have a modern educated society with vast natural resources. There are very few countries that have that combination. We have great diversity and yet harmony and social strength.
“We’ve come out of the recession with a better standing but in the longer term I want to see us as really secure as we face tremendous competition in Asia.
“But there’s no reason why Canada cannot keep up with the emerging economies of Asia because we have all the advantages of both Asia and the West here. And that’s where we want to take what we have done so far.”