Sprawlcast: An interview with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
Plus: Shane Keating on the Green Line — and leaving politics.
Support journalism that digs deep.Sign up now!
The Sprawl relies on our readers to make in-depth stories possible. With your support, we can keep making our work available to all—no paywalls. If you value slow, independent journalism, become a Sprawl member today!
Sprawlcast is a collaboration between CJSW 90.9 FM and The Sprawl. It's a show for curious Albertans who want more than the daily news grind. A transcript of this episode is below.
TRUDEAU: Hi Jeremy. It's the prime minister.
[SPRAWLCAST THEME AND INTRO]
KLASZUS: It’s the morning of Monday, July 5. And Calgary city council is meeting to decide what to do about the city’s mask bylaw. Jeremy Appel, the Sprawl’s municipal politics reporter, shows up at city hall—but realizes he’s forgotten his swipe card at home. This is the card that lets him inside the building. So he’s stuck outside with a bunch of anti-maskers as he tries to finagle a way inside for the council meeting.
So what does our intrepid reporter do? He calls his editor, who very kindly drives down to get him inside the building. But in the meantime Appel looks around the plaza in front of city hall and hears someone singing a familiar song. The song is “Creep” by Radiohead. But this is no Thom Yorke.
KLASZUS: This is Larry Heather, the perennial fringe candidate for mayor in Calgary. And he’s singing an anti-mask parody of the Radiohead classic.
LARRY HEATHER (SINGING): You’re a sheep, you’ve gone weirdo...
KLASZUS: Stuck outside, our reporter pulls out his iPhone and records this sad and depressingly skillful performance. He posts the video to Twitter. Eventually he gets inside and follows the city council meeting.
And that’s that. Our reporter is inside, and Calgary city council votes to end the mask bylaw.
Two days later—Wednesday, July 7—Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is in town on what sure looks like an electioneering tour. The Prime Minister has a big announcement scheduled at a Calgary Transit facility that afternoon. And our hero shows up to this one too. But while he arrives well before the presser starts, he gets there a few minutes after the rest of the local journalists are let inside. And he tries to explain who he is and who he’s with—but the person at the gate has never heard of The Sprawl.
And so our reporter once again finds himself outside the main event, stuck with anti-maskers yet again.
And this time he’s mad. He’s mad at himself for not having his city hall swipe card on hand—even though that card is not really press credentials per se. And he’s mad about being kept out of the event because the gatekeeper is unfamiliar with the internationally renowned publication that is The Sprawl, which is obviously read by people the world over. And so he fires off a series of tweets, writing that he’s livid about being kept outside when he’s a local journalist.
It’s the second time in a week that he’s found himself in this position.
Will our absent-minded hero recover from this mishap?
Is it his lot in life to be forever stuck outside with anti-maskers?
Will he be forced to look on while his journalistic colleagues land all the big stories and interviews?
Well, he did manage to talk to… someone of some importance. We’ll hear that later in this episode.
But first, let’s talk about the Green Line. Because despite the marquee press conferences, it’s often not the big-name politicians who make projects like this happen. Oftentimes it’s the people who don’t make it into the headlines.
How the Green Line got going
Councillor Shane Keating was first elected to Calgary city council in 2010. At that time, Calgary city hall was planning for two different transit projects. One was a new busway for north-central Calgary. And the other was called the SETWAY, or southeast Calgary transitway. And these were viewed as two separate projects—bus routes that would eventually be converted into LRT in the faraway future.
Fast forward to 2013. That year the city had a property tax windfall of $52 million. When the city collects property taxes each year, it does so for both the municipality and the province. And in 2013, the province took $52 million less than expected. So the city had this extra $52 million in tax room.
A lot of Calgarians wanted city council to refund the money to citizens. But Councillor Shane Keating wasn’t a fan of that. He pushed for the money to be put into transit instead, and council decided to allocate $52 million a year to the project that we now know as the Green Line. And since that time, Councillor Keating has steadfastly championed the project and shepherded it through all sorts of political hurdles.
The most recent hurdle was that the province put the project on hold—until this week, when all three levels of government announced that it was going ahead, and construction would finally start this fall. That’s what the prime minister was in town to announce—well, more of a re-announcement, really. The feds were good for the $1.5 billion that the Harper government had committed to the Green Line in 2015. The real news was that the Kenney government was finally unpausing the project.
Before the big green line announcement this week, Jeremy Appel sat down with Councillor Keating for this interview.
Shane Keating on the Green Line—and more
JEREMY APPEL: For starters, how would you characterize your politics? Like, are you a centrist? Sort of a bit centre-right?
KEATING: I always try and pretend that I don't have any politics. I throw the word "pretend" in there because you have to have some sort of basis. But one of the specific sayings that I've used, and I continually use, is, "I will fight for my ward, but not at the detriment of the city." And that means you're making choices on a topic all the time.
Now, everyone has to have a starting point, and I will use the small-c "conservative." Definitely, growing up in small-town in Saskatchewan, coming from a family of 11 children, you didn't have a lot, and so you made sure what you did have was well worth it and well thought out and well spent. So that definitely was part of where I was.
I will fight for my ward, but not at the detriment of the city.
I often use another saying, that I think this city has to operate like a business. In other words, you're talking about efficiency; you're talking about well-spent money; and you're talking about research and doing it as best you can. But then you have to behave like a service organization. In other words, then you're talking about making decisions not because of the dollar and cents aspect—but because of the betterment of the community.
We've got to be very, very mindful of how we're spending the money. You have to spend it as best you can. And I'll throw a little tidbit in for the Green Line, because the Green Line—and not that I've ever talked about the Green Line before, but –
APPEL: Yeah, how'd you know that was my next question?
Every time we’ve done anything in public transit, it has paid off in spades as time goes on.
KEATING: Yeah. The Green Line came about because of a little bit of tax room left by the province. And I know there was people before me in my position who would have never, ever voted the way I did. But I voted because, number one, it didn't change your overall tax bill. What it did is it paid more to the city and less to the province, but if your bill was $3,000, it stayed at $3,000. It just meant that $1,540 went to the city and $1,460 went to the province.
But there are those who would have never done that. They would have never voted because of ideological [reasons]—you vote no on everything. And without that vote, we wouldn't be anywhere near doing what we're doing now. So that comes back to that behaving like a service organization.
The $52 million, every dollar can be accounted for, and it's gone straight to the Green Line. So in my view, that made it very worthwhile decision. So, [I'm] a centrist with a willingness to look at the needs of this community and the needs of the society, as well as back-of-the-brain thoughts that says don't waste money if you don't have to.
APPEL: But you would say Green Line is such an investment that it justifies the cost.
KEATING: Without question. Every time we've done anything in public transit, it has paid off in spades as time goes on. So no matter which way you look at it, no matter where you are, it's an investment for the future, and that investment is wisely spent.
APPEL: Why aren't you running again?
KEATING: First and foremost is that we should have a time limit, in my view—for me, anyway. There may be others who stay much longer, but I believe, in many cases, three terms is long enough.
The second part is I will be 66 the same month as when I'm done, and I'm thinking that's—for me, I've got grandchildren I want to spend time with. And I'm presently now turning down invites to things like July 1st and a number of these, and you can only do those for so long. You're missing time with other people if you continually do public life, where you're somewhat expected to be everywhere all the time.
And then the third thing is well known, and I've never hidden it, is my wife ended up with a diagnosis of cancer, and we're going through that. It's all over with and doing well now, but it's something you deal with, and I think that means that it is time to hang the hat up and move on as well.
I think that's what we should be doing: propping up better and better people to come after you, and I think now is the time, because someone is going to have to have more energy and everything else to fight to get the rest of the Green Line built.
APPEL: And would you characterize the Green Line as your biggest accomplishment on council, because I think that is probably a common perception.
There are individuals on council today — you know, mini-Trumps — who run around tearing down your sandcastle so that theirs is the highest.
KEATING: Yeah, and I don't mind saying it out loud a few times: I consider myself the father of the Green Line, for sure. It has been talked about for decades; there's no question there. But coming back to that one decision, had I followed the heavy conservative thought that you don't do a thing about taxes and you make them as low as possible all the time—we wouldn't be here talking about [the Green Line].
APPEL: Do you have any regrets from your time on council?
KEATING: I would have to say no. I mean, there are some decisions that you say, gosh, I wish I had maybe done—and I can't even remember what they are. But I know—and I've mentioned them in council. I said, I think it was a bit of a mistake that we did this this way, but it wasn't a detrimental mistake—probably just could've had a better look and a better view.
As far as my overall contribution and my voting and everything, no, I don't think there's any regrets there, because I voted yes and no according to each topic that came up, and I did the research for each topic that came up, and I think that's exactly where it should be.
APPEL: You've been on council for 11 years, as you said before. How has political discourse shifted from 2010 when you were elected?
KEATING: It's gone down the toilet, and that's where a lot of the behaviour belongs. We've seen an outright negativity view of many things. There are individuals on council today—you know, mini-Trumps—who run around tearing down your sandcastle so that theirs is the highest, rather than trying to build theirs up. And that's the detriment.
People, in some cases, aren't even hiding it. You know, the half-truths and the weaponized misinformation. And there is a bit of a philosophy of a political aspect, or a strategy, you might say. And one is you do nothing but attack the incumbent.
And then the other one is that you run around and you prop up those who are against something, because people who are mad often remember more than those who are happy. And if that's all you're doing, is chasing the "no" aspect, or the "no" camp, then you're really not doing much other than looking after the politics. And I've said many times in my career that I consider myself an elected official, and there's a fine line between an elected official and a politician—but there's a vast difference in mentality and behavior.
And we've gone to Trump-style politics, negative-style politics, and "I'll do anything to get elected" rather than actually make good choices and stand on your record.
APPEL: And what happened? Because you're suggesting that that wasn't the case in 2010 when you were first elected. What happened there?
KEATING: Well, I think the first term, you're absolutely right. We had a group of six individuals that came on board. You had a group that were there, and I don't think any of them really aspired to be that style. And the two following elections elected individuals, in many cases, that had ideologies that stuck.
In some cases they were so tied to the provincial government that they couldn't do anything without asking for permission. In other cases they had alternative motives like running for mayor, and that took precedent over absolutely anything. And those individuals, like I said, if you're an individual who is willing to knock down your neighbour's sandcastle so yours is bigger, that's a mentality that's not meant for politics.
Once you don’t enjoy doing something, you better get away from it pretty fast.
APPEL: And I know I told you two questions ago it was my last question, but actual last question: Did that play a role—this sort of growing negativity in Calgary municipal politics—did that play a significant role in your decision to not seek reelection? I mean, I know your wife was unwell and you've been on council for a while, but was this coarseness of discourse also a factor?
KEATING: Yeah, I wouldn't say significant, but definitely a factor. I truly enjoyed my first term—mind you, I was learning. And I was so heavily involved in way too many things because I was trying to learn. And then the second term was a little bit moving that way, but not drastic, and that's where I got things done. The Green Line was put in, and a number of the rec centres and all of that.
I really did not enjoy this last term. It bothered me. And I'm the type of individual that, if I have conflict with someone, I would like to resolve it rather than avoid it and continue. There are certain things that unfortunately with this one, you can't resolve, just because of mentality and willingness to continue doing the same behaviour.
So it definitely took the enjoyment out of the position. And once you don't enjoy doing something, you better get away from it pretty fast, because it has the other detriments, whether it's on your well-being or your health or just your outlook in life in general. It certainly played a role in my acceptance and not being too sorry I'm leaving, but I wish things were better, and maybe with this next election we can do that.
APPEL: Awesome. That's a great place to end on. Thank you so much for your time today, Councillor Keating, and hope you get to relax a bit come October.
KEATING: Yeah, I'm looking forward as well. And thanks for all that you do as well.
APPEL: Thank you.
The Trudeau interview
KLASZUS: Okay. Now it’s time for the other interview.
Like I said earlier, Jeremy Appel couldn’t get into the prime minister’s Calgary press conference on Wednesday. After we tweeted about it, the PMO called both him and me to apologize for the mixup. And when I spoke with Trudeau’s communications director, I asked if we could do a short interview with the Prime Minister since we couldn’t get into the presser. I figured hey—it doesn’t hurt to ask.
Trudeau's comms director, Cameron Ahmad, just called me to apologize re: @JeremyAppel1025 not getting into Green Line presser. I asked if we could do a 1:1 Sprawlcast interview with the Prime Minister. Apparently he is busy (what??) but they'll check into it. 😉— Jeremy Klaszus (@klaszus) July 7, 2021
Well, that brings us to the morning of Friday, July 9.
APPEL: Welcome to Sprawlcast, Mr. Trudeau. Thanks for doing this.
TRUDEAU: It's a pleasure to be here.
APPEL: We don't have much time, so I'm just going to go right into my questions.
TRUDEAU: Sounds great.
APPEL: You were in Calgary this week to confirm Green Line funding that Jason Kenney first announced when he was the federal minister in 2015. Kenney's government is also funding this project, of course. Why wasn't the premier beside you and Mayor Nenshi at your announcement this week?
TRUDEAU: Jeremy, I think that's a question you're probably better asking the Premier. One of the things I can say is, from the very beginning, we've been there to be a partner with the province, and especially the city, on the Green Line. It's been talked about for a long, long time, as you well know. But we were there not just with an announcement, as you mentioned. The prior-to-2015 press release that the Conservatives had put out, we actually booked the money; we actually are there for the investments; and we've been a steady partner the whole way along to get to the point where putting shovels in the ground this fall is the reality.
The province, I think you know, had some delays and had some back-and-forths, but we're glad that we're finally all there and we're moving forward.
APPEL: How would you characterize your relationship with Jason Kenney?
TRUDEAU: Well, I think one of the things that was really remarkable about this pandemic was the fact that we had over 30 first minister meetings virtually, and we were able to work on keeping Canadians safe. Now, obviously there's lots of differences in perspective on on ways to do that, on other issues, but I know that Albertans, and all Canadians, really were reassured to see orders of government working together.
And even though we disagree on all sorts of things—and I'm going to keep pushing on things like childcare, things like fighting climate change and understanding the economic opportunities, especially for Alberta—if we're really serious about tackling climate change and transforming our economies, I'm going to keep fighting for that, and I will look to get along with the premier on things that are good for Albertans wherever I can.
I'm never looking for a fight. I just know that there are things that we disagree that I'm going to stay firm on.
APPEL: As I'm sure you're aware, there are rumours that there's an election coming this year. I see you've just recruited Councillor George Chahal to run for you. Lots of Calgarians will, no doubt, have a more favourable view of you and your government for pushing a popular project forward. How is this announcement not a political maneuver to win some seats in Calgary in the inevitable election?
The money is there and the agreements are signed, so regardless of an election, this Green Line is going to go forward.
TRUDEAU: Well, I think, first of all, the business of this government continues, and needs to continue. And this is not something that we've decided to make a random announcement: "If there's an election, and if you vote for us, maybe we'll get the Green Line built." No. This is an announcement that comes after years of really hard work, particularly in partnership with the municipality, with the City of Calgary, to move ahead on one of their, and Calgarians', big priorities. So it's great that we've got it announced. It's great that we're putting the money forward. It's great that no other government—you know, we know Conservatives are always a little less enthused about public transit projects, but the money is there and the agreements are signed, so regardless of an election, this Green Line is going to go forward.
That's almost the opposite of an electoral promise or an electoral announcement, because we're just in the business of getting the right things done for Calgary and for the rest of the country.
APPEL: I tweeted out to our followers, "If you could ask the Prime Minister one question, what would it be?" And I sort of combined the two most popular responses into one question. So here it is: You said in 2015 that it would be the last election under first-past-the-post. It was, of course, not. You promised to end all boil water advisories on First Nations reserves by March 2021, but 58 remain. And you promised to implement all 94 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's recommendations, but 81 are unfulfilled. What do you tell progressive Canadians who don't trust you?
TRUDEAU: Well, I think first of all, we have to understand that we have done an awful lot, and we fully recognize there's a lot more to do. On the issue of electoral change—changing our electoral system—I remain passionate about it, but there is no consensus out there, and it wouldn't have been right for a government to use its majority to change the very way we elect our members of Parliament in a way that didn't have consensus. So I'm frustrated that we weren't able to do that, but as long as there's no consensus, we cannot make that change.
Secondly, on reconciliation, whether it's boil water—there was a hundred boil water advisories when we took office. We've now lifted 108 of them, but yes, there are more that have come on, and we're going to be eliminating them as we move forward. We're—you know, put more money into it, and we're going to lift them all. But you have to understand that reconciliation is not something that the federal government can do on its own. Almost by definition, we shouldn't be doing it on our own, no matter how much the will is there. We need to partner. We need to respect the will of Indigenous communities. We need to make sure that they're in charge of the things that they need changed in their approach, whether it's boil water or, more importantly, how we deal with kids in care, for example. Residential schools are all about having removed kids from their communities, but child and family services continue to remove kids from their communities and take them out of their language, take them out of their culture, and that has to end.
So over the past five years, we've actually worked to co-develop legislation on child and family services in Indigenous communities, and just last week – or, earlier this week – we were able to announce the first agreement in Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan that is taking back control of child and family services from the province. This is a huge step, and it's happening, and there are more to come, but they can only be done in a lasting way—in a way that includes and works at the pace of the Indigenous communities and leadership themselves. So I'm impatient to do even more even faster, and we're going to continue working on that. But we are also going to do it in the right way, in the respectful way that the Truth and Reconciliation calls to action demand.
APPEL: Do you have time for a quick follow-up?
APPEL: Aren't these things that you should have known when you were making these promises—that these types of roadblocks would occur, whether it's electoral reform or implementing all the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommendations?
TRUDEAU: Of course, and absolutely—we knew there were going to be challenges, and some things, some very big things, we got through, even though we knew they'd be difficult. Putting a price on pollution right across the country was extremely difficult, but we got that done despite the resistance of many Conservative premiers and Conservative politicians in general to it. I would have loved to have done even more, but we've got more to do, and I will take no criticism for having pushed the system and pushed Canadians to go even further than, perhaps, we were able to. But that just means there's lots more work to do, and we are serious about continuing to stand up for the things that actually matter.
When you have a government that sees clinging to the ways of the past as the only way to guarantee its own survival, that’s not doing any favours for Alberta oil workers or people anywhere in the province.
We're not going to promise it can be done in the click of a fingers and, hey, we're going to put a hundred million dollars into it and end racism by the weekend. You can't do that. You can't transform a society as quickly as everyone would like. You have to do it through regular, engaged, step-by-step, which means you take big steps where you can, but you understand that transforming the way a country works, transforming the way a country feels about its Indigenous people and engages with them properly, transform the way we work around climate change, these are things that take a lot of work by a lot of people working together, and we're going to continue doing it.
APPEL: Thanks so much for joining me this morning.
TRUDEAU: Real pleasure, Jeremy. You take care.
Hold on—this interview isn't finished
KLASZUS: Hold on. We've got the Prime Minister of Canada on the line. And he didn't say he had to run yet. So this interview ain't over.
KLASZUS: Can I hop in. If you just have one more second, Prime Minister. My name is Jeremy Klaszus, and I'm the editor-in-chief of The Sprawl. I'm acting as the tech guy here today. But I wanted to squeeze in one question about the future of Alberta, because there's a lot of Albertans right now who see what's going on in their province, see the struggles of the oil and gas industry, and have their livelihoods connected to that industry.
The provincial government has doubled down on that industry. And so a lot of folks are stuck in this position of being quite fearful about their future, and they're not quite sure about the province's approach. So my question is, what do you see as the economic future of Alberta, and what would you say to those folks who are in that position of being scared about the future?
TRUDEAU: Well, you point out that the province's commitment is to oil and gas industry. The federal commitment is to people in Alberta: the workers, the families, who've made great livings off of the oil and gas industry for many, many years. But we know that with the fight against climate change, with the transformation of our energy mix, with the fact that Canada is going to 100 percent zero-emission vehicles by 2035, for example, those jobs are going to change. And that's why we've been focused on investing in hydrogen, investing in CCUS, but also pushing hard on transformation of our energy mix in all sorts of different ways that is going to require the expertise, the innovation, the hard work, the abilities, of workers in the energy sector in Alberta. So the exact types of jobs are going to vary, but the fact that there will be good jobs in the energy sector in Alberta because Alberta has such expertise on that, even as we transform those energy mixes, is something that I'm very much focused on.
Earlier this week, I made an announcement that we were ending the coal-fired processes at the steel plant in Sault Ste. Marie. It's a big investment in electrification. That guarantees the future for that steel plant for decades to come – not just because of climate change, but because it's improving the processes and the ability to compete on a global market. That's what I want to see for Alberta, and that's what Albertans can be optimistic about. The challenge is, when you have a government that sees clinging to the ways of the past as the only way to guarantee its own survival, that's not doing any favours for Alberta oil workers or people anywhere in the province.
We need to understand the world is changing. It's not a plot by Trudeau Liberals. We are looking at global investments, being very, very careful about carbon footprints, about ethical investments, all these sorts of things, and there's an opportunity to take the expertise and the leadership that Albertans have always shown in their hard work and their innovation, and deliver that brighter future. And people are being held back by a government that's still fighting an ideological fight against climate change and not understanding that the world is moving on, and if they don't pivot quickly enough, it's the workers that are going to get hurt by their ideological resistance to it, when what we're doing from a federal government is building those jobs and that opportunity to be part of that future for many generations to come.
...aaaaand one more question on climate change
KLASZUS: I also asked the Prime Minister about his record on climate change. His government on one hand is supporting projects like the Green Line, and then with the other hand they go and buy a pipeline. So are they really doing enough on that file?
TRUDEAU: There's always more to do. We have to do more. But what we've been able to do over these past few years is actually, you know, turn the great ship of Canada towards emissions reductions, towards a transformed economy that is decarbonizing. These are the kinds of things that getting that momentum shift from the inertia that we'd had under governments that did not tackle climate change with the right focus and energy, to now we've got the momentum shifting in the other way, whether it's the price on pollution, whether it's the home retrofits, whether it's the protection of our lands and oceans.
These are things that are going to make it progressively easier to continue to be more and more ambitious every single day as a government and as a country. And yes, there's lots more to do, but we are doing it, and we're going to continue doing it alongside all Canadians.
KLASZUS: Well, thanks very much for joining us, Prime Minister. Appreciate your time.
TRUDEAU: Pleasure to talk with you guys. Take good care.
Jeremy Klaszus is editor-in-chief of The Sprawl. Jeremy Appel is the municipal politics reporter for The Sprawl.
Support journalism that digs deep.Sign up now!
The Sprawl relies on our readers to make in-depth stories possible. With your support, we can keep making our work available to all—no paywalls. If you value slow, independent journalism, become a Sprawl member today!