Marco Levytsky, Editorial Writer.
Three weeks ago, after the Conservatives voted against updating the Canada-Ukraine Free Trade Agreement (CUFTA) in Second Reading, we urged members of our community to engage their Members of Parliament and the Conservative leadership to better understand our concerns.
Since then, the matter has taken on more urgency. Before parliament recessed for its Christmas break, the Conservatives voted against 135 Government budgetary estimates in a protest against the carbon tax. Among them was funding for Operation Unifier, the Canadian Armed Forces training mission for Ukrainian soldiers. And on December 20, the Ukrainian Canadian Congress posted a call to action on their website urging members of the community to contact their MPs (https://www.ucc.ca/2023/12/20/join-uccs-winter-call-to-action-today/).
This comes at an especially crucial period for Ukraine. Thanks to all the Western delays in providing the necessary weapons, the Russians had the time to entrench themselves behind the frontline and saturate fields with landmines, thus limiting Ukraine’s counteroffensive to minimal gains. This has caused “Ukraine fatigue” to spread among Ukraine’s allies, with an increasing number of politicians calling for the cessation of aid to Ukraine and pressuring the embattled country to submit to peace negotiations which will inevitably lead to territorial losses.
We have also seen aid to Ukraine become a political football with many Western politicians, especially those on the right, holding aid to Ukraine hostage to their own political agenda. In the United States Republicans are holding up a spending bill that would provide another $60 billion in aid to Ukraine in order to force Democrats to agree to their demands regarding security along the southern border of the United States. What’s that got to do with Ukraine? Is Ukraine responsible for the huge number of migrants from Latin America trying to get into the United States? If not, why is it being punished?
Holding Ukraine hostage to domestic U.S. issues is unconscionable. Every day the aid is delayed more soldiers are killed on the battlefield, more civilians are killed through indiscriminate Russia bombing, more civilian houses are destroyed, more civilian infrastructure is damaged, more power supplies are degraded, more prisoners are tortured, and more children are abducted so they can be brainwashed in Russia. What’s more if Ukraine does not get military aid from the United States soon, there is a huge chance that it may run out of ammunition.
Meanwhile in the 27-member European Union, Hungary has vetoed a 50 billion-euro aid package to Ukraine, which was supported by the 26 other members.
While the Conservative votes are mostly symbolic since they do not prevent passage of the legislation, they are nevertheless another example of politicians using aid to Ukraine as a political football. As mentioned in our earlier editorial, the text of the new trade deal does not commit either Canada or Ukraine to a carbon tax. A clause in Chapter 13 says only that both sides are expected “to promote carbon pricing and measures to mitigate carbon leakage risks.” And that is not a binding clause.
Furthermore, what does Canada’s carbon tax have to do with Operation Unifier? The Conservatives state that under the Westminster system of government, votes against money bills are votes of non-confidence in the government. That may have been clear if they simply voted against the budget as a whole. But when the votes are broken down to individual items then most people will not be aware of the nuances of parliamentary procedure and will inevitably view this as a vote against that particular item.
What’s more so will Ukraine’s enemies. Let’s face it. Canada is not a military superpower. We spend far less than the two per cent of GDP that NATO members should allocate to defence, thus have much less to give. We should, of course increase our spending with the aim of reaching that objective, but in the meantime, we have to rely upon our specific strengths.
In terms of support for Ukraine, our largest strength is the moral leadership we provide to the rest of the world, especially the all-party unity on Ukraine relations that was a fixture in the past. When that unity is broken it sends a terrible signal to the rest of the world. It will only serve to encourage Ukraine’s enemies and strengthen “Ukraine fatigue”.
Our community has had very good relations with the Conservative Party in the past. As mentioned earlier, it was John G. Diefenbaker who appointed the first Ukrainian Canadian to cabinet and called upon the USSR to free its captive nations in a 1960 speech to the UN General Assembly. It was Brian Mulroney who was the first Western leader to recognize Ukraine’s independence in 1991 and it was Stephen Harper who stood up for human rights during the Yanukovych years, initiated Operation Unifier in 2015 and began negotiations on the free trade deal.
We also understand that, even though the Conservatives unanimously voted against both the CUFTA update and the Unifier funding, the caucus itself is sharply divided on this issue. Therefore, we once again urge our readers to contact their MPs to express our concerns and the need to present all-party unity to the rest of the world. And we need our supporters in the Conservative Caucus to make the case internally that aid to Ukraine should not be used as a political football. Instead – now more than ever – Canada must show a united front to the rest of the world.
Postscript: To find contact information for your MP, go to: <https://www.ourcommons.ca/Members/en/search>. All the MPs will come up in alphabetical order. Click on your MPs name and when that come up you will see a button which states contact. Click on that and you will get the information.