A tribute to retiring MP Linda Duncan

Alberta NDP MP Linda Duncan. Photo: Global News

Marco Levytsky, Editorial Writer.

Since its inception in 2005, the Canada-Ukraine Parliamentary Friendship Group (CUPFG) has proved to be an invaluable tool in promoting and enhancing relations between our two countries. As an all-party group, it serves as a forum for the exchange of ideas between Canadian Parliamentarians and their counterparts in Ukraine and to promote and enhance the political, economic and cultural relations between Canada and Ukraine.

Many parliamentarians of all stripes have participated in it over the past 14 years, but this year will mark a watershed as three of the group’s most venerable members will no longer sit in parliament. The first to go was Senator Raynell Andreychuk, who reached the mandatory retirement age of 75 on August 14 (See NP-UN August 15, 2019). She had been the leading Senate representative on the CUPFG since the beginning. Two more long-standing members will be out after the October 21 elections to the House of Commons, because they are retiring from the House. They include the founder, Liberal Borys Wrzesnewskyj (about whom we will write next week) and the longest-serving member of the New Democratic Party, Linda Duncan.

Although, unlike the other two, she is not of Ukrainian origin, Duncan says she considers Ukrainians to be her other family since the community welcomed her so warmly both in Edmonton and in Ottawa. She has steadfastly stood up for issues that affected the Ukrainian community and has established a very deep relationship with our community. In fact, on October 6, she was presented with the Ukrainian Canadian Congress – Alberta Provincial Council’s Executive Hetman Award which had only been presented three time earlier and only once to a politician. That was to former Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach in 2011.

First elected for the constituency of Edmonton-Strathcona in 2008, she has been an active member of CUPGF since then. She has participated in a number of emergency and other debates on Ukraine during the course of her tenure, participated in two election monitoring missions in Ukraine, met numerous times in Ottawa with government delegations from Ukraine, met several times with Mustafa Dzhemilev (Chairman of the Mejilis of the Crimean Tatars and Commissioner to the President of Ukraine for the Affairs of Crimean Tatars), and participated in events expressing support for their rights.

Her first visit to Ukraine was as a member of a study mission of the Parliamentary Committee of Foreign Affairs examining the erosion of democracy and rule of law under the government of then President Viktor Yanukovych. The committee met with representatives of the national, regional and local governments, human rights organizations, media and family and legal counsel for arrested or expelled elected officials. It tabled a report in Parliament calling for reforms including a supplementary report by the NDP calling for additional action by Canada.

Another major cause she championed was that of film director Oleh Sentsov who was arrested by the Russians for opposing their illegal annexation of Crimea. Numerous Western governments and human rights agencies demanded his release. In May, 2018, Sentsov started a hunger strike in demanding the release of 64 Ukrainian political prisoners being held by Russia. When a group of concerned citizens in Edmonton started an online parliamentary petition urging the Canadian government to take more forceful action for his and other prisoners’ release, Duncan was more than happy to sponsor it in the House of Commons.

“I am honoured to be asked to sponsor an online petition in the House of Commons from Canadians calling for Canada to demand that Russia release political prisoner Ukrainian film maker Oleg Sentsov. It is abhorrent to charge him with fabricated charges of terrorism for just speaking out against the illegal Russian invasion and annexation of his homeland of Crimea. Canada must seek the voices of other nations to demand his release and those of other detained Ukrainians,” she stated.

But the one Ukraine program Duncan really took to heart is the Canada-Ukraine Parliamentary Program. Started in 1991, this program provides an opportunity for Ukrainian students to learn about the principles of democratic government and parliamentary procedures in Canada. During the Program, Ukrainian students work and study in the Parliament of Canada, as well as gain experience from which generations of Canadian, American and West European students have benefited. “I cannot understate the value of that exercise. I had up to six interns that came to work with me in my office. They have all gone back and are contributing, working hand in glove with the government,” she stated in 2017. More recently Duncan noted that “It’s wonderful because it’s showing the vivaciousness of the youth of what Ukraine has to offer to the rest of the world.”

Duncan has pushed both Conservative and Liberal governments to impose stronger sanctions against Russia, in particular against those like the Russian oil monopoly boss Igor Sechin who had considerable interests in Canada. She has also urged more support for independent media, for non-governmental organizations, for civil society, for human rights, for democratic, economic and judicial reform and much more.

Although representing a different party, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland herself personally acknowledged “the long-standing commitment of the member for Edmonton Strathcona to Ukraine and the work she has done over many years in supporting Ukraine, very much in collaboration with and on behalf of her constituents.”

So, just as the UCC-APC paid tribute to all the support she has given our community, so this newspaper would like to add our voice in acknowledging the tremendous work she has done and wish her all the best in the future.

На Мнoгiï лiта, Линда!
(May You Live Many Years, Linda)