Ukrainian Weekly | 06Nov2015 | Oksana Bashuk Hepburn

Canada’s Ukraine agenda under the Liberals

Canada’s  19 October 2015 elections returned the Liberal Party to power and relegated Prime Minister Steven Harper’s Conservatives to the opposition. What does this mean for Canada’s relations with Ukraine?

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made promises during the election campaign suggesting that it will be business as usual -- even better.

For example, speaking at a pre-elections roundtable to a primarily Ukrainian Canadian audience, he promised to provide “staunch support for Ukraine” and take a “firm stance against Russian military aggression.”

He also dealt with the release of political prisoners, including pilot Nadiya Savchenko; the addition of two key Russians -- Igor Sechin and Vladimir Yakunin -- to Canada’s sanction list; and removing Russia from the critically important SWIFT banking system, which would virtually stop its international money transactions.

Canada’s influence will be used, said Mr. Trudeau, to seek support from international institutions -- the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development -- to strengthen Ukraine’s economy, to move forward in reforms and stem corruption. His government will work with others to help “place the country on a solid footing.”

Some political watchers, however, have reservations.

Gerald William Kokodyniak, webmaster of the longstanding Internet medium, fears that the Conservatives’ pro-Ukraine support may be undone.

Former Prime Minister Steven Harper was committed to forging a “special relationship” with Ukraine based on strong historic ties with Canada and its 1.3 million-strong Canadian community. He often spoke of Ukraine as “family.”

One of the most far-reaching Conservative contributions is the Canada-Ukraine Free Trade Agreement announced by Mr. Harper and Ukraine’s Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk in July 2015. It aims to enhance the bilateral relationship in commercial ventures, economic reform and in partnering for “peace and prosperity” to “pave the way for long-term security, stability and broad-based economic development in Ukraine.”

The Conservatives’ financial aid to Ukraine saw some $700 million in assistance to support military and humanitarian efforts connected to Russia’s war in the Donbas. It was one of the first governments -- globally -- to pass legislation recognizing the Holodomor, the Kremlin’s genocide of some 10 million Ukrainians.

“Much of his pro-Ukraine agenda also aimed to keep Canada safe,” says Mr. Kokodyniak. Bill C-51 is a good example. It deals with arrests of terrorists and seizure of their propaganda, and provides Canada’s security service with expanded powers. For example, a former KGB agent hiding out in a Vancouver church for some five years was sent back to Russia. The legislation may be reviewed by the Liberals.

“It will be a long time before we have another prime minister as good to our community as Stephen Harper,” wrote Mr. Kokodyniak.

In its letter of tribute, the Canadian Group for Democracy in Ukraine thanked Mr. Harper for his leadership of the free world regarding Ukraine. It cited his staunch and ongoing condemnation of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, the invasion of the Donbas, and his now legendary words “get out of Ukraine.” Those words, hurled at President Vladimir Putin, became the measure of Canada’s commitment to fundamental democratic values, state sovereignty and territorial integrity.

There is no question that Prime Minister Harper elevated Ukraine to a leading Canadian foreign policy issue. What about the new leader?

Prime Minister Trudeau promised to find a greater role for Canada in foreign affairs. To this end, the containment of Russia’s expansionism is critical, and Ukraine’s freedom and prosperity as a retaining wall against despotism is essential. All political parties -- government and opposition -- agree. This unity of purpose allows him to be bold in advancing against Russia with more severe sanctions, with NATO and with an information offensive.

Paul Goble, a leading Russia expert, in his thoughtful piece “Why there must never be another Yalta and how we can make sure there won’t be,” urges the West to be tougher with Russia. He advises: close Russia’s Consulates, send home its ambassadors, remove it from the U.N. Security Council, restore Western international broadcasting there, and recognize that the West is “engaged in a conflict in which cash, corruption and subversion must be …blocked where possible and condemned in every case.”

These are bold ideas for Mr. Trudeau’s consideration. The 11 members of Parliament of Ukrainian descent -- seven Liberals, five Conservatives -- know Mr. Putin’s devious game of “we’re the good guys, the Americans are the bad guys” better than most. They should be given the opportunity of leading Canada’s foreign, security and defense policies.

Their knowledge of Russia, Ukraine, the oligarchs and their treachery is vital in dealing with pro-Russia and anti-American voices. The latest comes from Mr. Trudeau’s Liberal predecessor. Following a private visit with Mr. Putin -- no one knows what was discussed -- former Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chrétien offered views that seem rather dangerous in today’s world: he advised that Mr. Trudeau listen to what Mr. Putin has to say and stay independent of the U.S.

Canadians will be watching how the new prime minister deals with such advice as the world spins with chaos. Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko should be calling Mr. Trudeau to ensure firm pro-Ukraine support.