Marco Levytsky, Editorial Writer.
It is often said that all parties in Canada are in support of Ukraine. That is quite true as far as rhetoric goes, but when it comes to practical matters, they begin to diverge. This is especially true when it comes to the question of supplying lethal defensive weapons to Ukraine in order to deter Russia from a further invasion as became apparent during the House of Commons Ukraine debate on January 31.
Both the Government of Ukraine and the Ukrainian community have made their position very clear. Ukraine needs lethal weapons, and it needs them now – not when the Russian Federation has launched another invasion. That is what deterrence is all about and deterrence has to be the number one priority if we want to help Ukraine maintain its freedom and sovereignty.
The only party to support that position in the House debate was the Conservative Party of Canada. It should be noted that when the Conservatives were in power, they too did not send any lethal weapons to Ukraine. But that was then, and this is now. Conservative Foreign Affairs Critic Michael Chong put the party’s position very succinctly:
‘Diplomacy that is not backed up by credible threats to use military force, and in limited and rare circumstances the use of that force, is naive talk and empty rhetoric. That empty talk and rhetoric will result in damage to Canada’s security and the security of Europe and Ukraine. That is what a previous generation of Canadians understood in 1945 when they created the North Atlantic Treaty Organization out of the bloodshed that had happened in the previous 50 years. That is not something the Prime Minister understands. He has said this will only be solved through diplomacy, not through the threat of force to defend democracy. I urge the government to get off of its naive position, defend the rules-based international order and ensure that lethal defensive weaponry is provided to a democracy, to Ukraine, in order to uphold that order.”
On the other side of this issue stand the New Democrats. As stated by NDP leader Jagmeet Singh:
“New Democrats have always believed that peace is achievable only through diplomacy. New Democrats urge the Canadian government to continue to do its part to support the people of Ukraine through robust diplomacy.”
His comments remind us very much of Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister who is best known for his policy of appeasing Adolph Hitler. After surrendering Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland to Hitler without even consulting the leaders of that country at the September 1938 Munich Conference, he returned to London declaring; “I believe it is peace for our time.” Six months later, Hitler occupied the rest of Czechoslovakia and, on September 1, 1939, invaded Poland starting World War II.
There are many comparisons that can be made between Hitler and Russian dictator Vladimir Putin. He too has been dismantling neighbouring countries piecemeal, successfully taking Transnistria away from Moldova, Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Georgia, Crimea and parts of Donbas from Ukraine. Like Hitler, he has no qualms about unilaterally trashing previous diplomatic agreements – witness how brazenly he violated the Budapest Memorandum by which the Russian Federation pledged to respect Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty. Like Hitler, he tests the limits of Western democracies’ resolve to get as much as he can and, like Hitler, the only diplomatic language he understands is brute force. The better Ukraine is able to defend itself, the less the chance of Putin launching another invasion. To say that the opposite is true, that “peace can only be achieved through diplomacy” is indeed naïve and shows only that the NDP does not understand Putin and has learned nothing from history.
Which brings us to the Liberals. Pressed by Conservative Defence Critic and Vice Chair of the Canada-Ukraine Parliamentary Friendship Group CUPFG), James Bezan on the question of lethal arms both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly reiterated what they have done for Ukraine most recently, namely, granting the $120 million economic stabilization loan and extending and expanding Operation Unifier but would not address the issue of lethal arms. In fact, no Liberal speakers addressed that issue, though some hinted at it indirectly. Etobicoke-Centre MP Yvan Baker, Chair of the CUPFG, stated: “Ukraine’s security is Europe’s security, it is the world’s security, and it is Canada’s security, so let us take stock of what is needed. Let us take every step we can and every step that is possible. If we do this, we will succeed in deterring an invasion.”
Another was Vancouver-Centre MP Hedy Fry:
“Obviously, we need to try to find a peaceful resolution to conflict, but we also need to have an iron fist… This (the Kremlin) is a government that we need to stop where it hurts, in the pocketbook and in the personal pocketbook. If that does not work, we need to think about the fact that we, as members of the OSCE and NATO, have to be prepared to take whatever steps we need.”
Perhaps a comment by Davenport MP Julie Dzerowicz best summarized the position of most Liberals: “For me, the right choice is to push hard and to explore any and every opportunity for a diplomatic resolution. Providing arms should be our last option, not our first one.” This also appears to be the position of the Bloc Quebecois.
If that’s the case, it is a major step backwards for a country that boasts of its “special relationship” with Ukraine and has maintained an historic leadership role in supporting Ukraine. It was the first Western Country to recognize Ukraine’s independence – more than three weeks before the United States did. Now, when Ukraine needs lethal weapons to deter Russia from another invasion, Canada sits on the fence while countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, Turkey, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and the Czech Republic have already provided such arms or pledged to do so.
What is evident, however, is that there are conflicting views on this issue in the Liberal caucus, though that is being kept behind closed doors. The one key member of government whose take on the matter we don’t know is none other than Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland who, for undisclosed reasons, did not participate in the debate.
The day after this debate the Ukrainian Canadian Congress called on all Canadians to contact their Member of Parliament and tell them they support Canada providing Ukraine defensive weapons. We echo that call. Send your Member of Parliament (especially if he or she is a Liberal) an email calling for Canada to provide Ukraine with defensive weapons. MPs emails are [email protected]
You can find your MP by postal code here.