By Marco Levytsky
As Albertans head to the polls on May 29, there are several takeaways from the upcoming election that are important for members of our community to note.
First, this is strictly a two-party race. The Alberta Party and the Alberta Liberals were shut out of the Legislature in the last election and, seeing how both parties’ support remains in the single digits, the same is expected in this one. That means either the United Conservative Party or the New Democratic Party will win a majority – even if it is a majority of only one.
Second, a majority of only one is a very distinct possibility as, according to the polls, these parties are currently in a statistical dead heat. Some polls have put the UCP ahead, others the NDP. At the time of this writing Canada 338 website, which uses a mathematical formula to amalgamate the various polls, shows the UCP with a slight lead in both the popular vote and in terms of seats. But that is within the statistical margin of error, so this election is up for grabs.
Third, the province is very deeply divided according to geography. The UCP has a significant lead in rural Alberta, while the NDP has a stranglehold on Edmonton. The battleground is Calgary where the parties are in a dead heat.
Fourth, and most important, our community needs strong representation in both parties.
Historically, Alberta’s governments have been supportive of our community and the issues that affect us. This was the case both with Rachel Notley’s NDP government which brought in the Ukrainian Canadian Heritage Day, and the UCP government of Jason Kenney, which led all Canadian provinces in terms of financial support for Ukraine’s war effort and humanitarian needs.
As far as the NDP is concerned, we are losing a very strong supporter in former Minister of Economic Development and Trade and Deputy Government House Leader, Deron Bilous, who has decided not to seek re-election.
But many strong supporters remain including Edmonton-McClung MLA Lorne Dach and former Deputy Premier Sarah Hoffman, both of whom are of Ukrainian heritage. Former Premier and current Opposition Leader Notley too has been a very strong supporter. She grew up with the Ukrainian community in her hometown of Fairview where she danced with the local Veselka ensemble. All of them are expected to coast to victory in their solid orange Edmonton ridings.
With the UCP the issue is more problematic. Newly-elected Premier Danielle Smith got off on the wrong foot with the Ukrainian community when comments she had made as a talk show host were brought to light by freelance journalist Justin Ling. Smith said it would have been better had Ukraine formally declared its neutrality, openly questioned whether parts of Ukraine might not be happier as part of Russia and allowed for the possibility that Ukraine had provoked the conflict. To her credit, she issued an apology on Twitter in which she stated: “I categorically condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the indescribable suffering Russia has and still is inflicting on the Ukrainian people. Prior to re-entering politics earlier this year, I made some ill-informed comments on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. My knowledge and opinion of this matter have drastically evolved since that time, and I apologize for those previous comments.” However, in an October 16 tweet she stated: “Achieving peace is my greatest concern for Ukraine. That will be done with measured diplomacy, not virtue signalling.”
In the months that followed, Smith has become more responsive to the needs and concerns of Alberta’s Ukrainian Canadian community which numbers in the many hundreds of thousands. Among her more positive steps were appointing Fort Saskatchewan MLA Jackie Armstrong-Homeniuk as Parliamentary Secretary for Ukrainian Refugee Settlement, then creating a new task force, chaired by Armstrong-Homeniuk, to identify ways to support newly arriving Ukrainian evacuees with their financial, physical and spiritual needs. Other task force members include: Ed Stelmach, former premier; Sally Mansour, non-profit executive and emergency management specialist in the non-profit sector; Kevin Royle, firefighter and Firefighter Aid Ukraine project director; Carol Slukynski, founder of Helping Ukrainians in Fort Saskatchewan; Vitaliy Milentyev, chairman of the supervisory board at the National Depository Ukraine; and Jenn Schmidt-Rempel, councillor, City of Lethbridge.
Armstrong-Homeniuk is given a slight edge over her NDP opponent Tannen Rudyk, who, it should be noted, is the former President of the Ukrainian Bilingual Parents Association and a strong advocate for newcomers from Ukraine and their special needs.
In conjunction with the Ukrainian Canadian Congress – Alberta Provincial Council, this newspaper prepared a questionnaire on key issues affecting our community which was sent to the leadership of both parties. It was Justice Minister Tyler Shandro who replied on behalf of the UCP, explaining that the Premier’s Office and the government are busy responding to the wildfires raging across the province.
Due to Smith’s previous comments on “measured diplomacy”, one of the questions directly asked: “Do you support the full sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, meaning no peace agreement that would involve territorial concessions to Russia by Ukraine?” We are pleased to report that Shandro’s response was unequivocal: “Our province and our country must support Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity unconditionally and no one from the West should ask Ukraine to concede any territory in a peace agreement. That includes Crimea. If there are any concessions, and I hope there are none, it should be Ukraine’s decision alone without pressure from any allies in Europe or the West.” Shandro also pledged to make room for a Ukrainian representative on the Premier’s Council on multiculturalism. For more about our questionnaire and the responses please see p. 3,10.
The fact that it was Shandro who responded to our questionnaire underscores the critical role he plays within the government as a spokesperson and advocate for our community.
Shandro is a proud 4th generation Ukrainian Canadian whose great uncle, Andrew Shandro, was the first naturalized Canadian citizen of Ukrainian birth to be elected to the Alberta Legislative Assembly over a century ago. Following in the footsteps of his great uncle, Shandro was elected as an MLA in 2019 and, since then, has faithfully served the residents of Alberta in a number of senior Cabinet portfolios, including Health and Justice. He has been a member of the Ukrainian Canadian Professional and Business Association of Calgary for many years and is a stalwart supporter of the Ukrainian Canadian community in the province both individually and in his capacity as a senior member of the Alberta government. He regularly speaks on behalf of the government at rallies in support of Ukraine, and at various commemorative events during the year including Calgary’s annual Holodomor remembrance ceremony and Ukrainian Independence Day celebrations. Working closely with the Premier’s Office, Shandro was also instrumental in securing millions of dollars in provincial funding for humanitarian aid to Ukraine following Putin’s invasion, as well as subsequent funding in support of incoming displaced persons from Ukraine.
Shandro, however, faces a very tight race in his Calgary-Acadia riding. According to Canada 338 the constituency is a toss-up with a very slight edge for the NDP. That is why we have chosen to focus on his re-election and point out Shandro needs all the support he can get from our community. His voice is desperately needed in any UCP government.
This has become even more pressing with the revelation that certain UCP candidates have made pro-Putin statements. Our community was warned about this element in the UCP by none other than former Premier Jason Kenney in the runup to the leadership review. UCC-APC has issued a call for Premier Smith to disavow all statements supportive of Russia’s war against Ukraine attributable to UCP election candidates and to expel from the party all candidates making and/or refusing to condemn such statements (see p. 3).
Regardless of which party wins the election and which candidates are elected, we must be prepared to engage the hew government in a positive but determined manner in this, Ukraine’s greatest hour of need.