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The Liberals and Ukraine

liberals-on-ukraineA day after the Liberal Party of Canada won the majority of seats in the Parliament in the federal election on October 19th, 2015, many news agencies in Ukraine reported that the newly elected Canadian government would be “pro-Ukrainian”. It remains to be seen if the new government can continue to provide as much support to Ukraine as the previous Conservative government.

Former Liberal prime minister Jean Chrétien recently said to prime minister-designate Justin Trudeau he must “talk to everybody and offer a solution” on the world stage, including Russian President Vladimir Putin. The well-respected former PM still carries a lot of weight in the Liberal Party on both foreign and domestic policies.

During the federal election campaign, all three parties appealed to voters, including 1.3 million Canadians of Ukrainian descent. However, foreign policy matters do not usually top the list of decisive election issues, such as the economy, security or infrastructure investments. Even though the election dust has not yet settled, chatter has already begun around the potential change of government policies on assisting Ukraine with its reform efforts and its fight against Russian militarism in light of its occupation of territories in eastern Ukraine. In addition, the Russian bombing campaign in Syria and maneuvers in the Arctic also warrant attention from the new government.

The Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC), which represents Ukrainian organizations in Canada, congratulated PM-Designate Trudeau and welcomed eleven Ukrainian Canadians elected to Parliament in a press-release posted a day after the election. The UCC identified seven Liberal and for Conservative Members of Parliament of Ukrainian descent. Under the previous government, MP James Bezan was the unofficial envoy of the former Prime Minister on Canada’s assistance to Ukraine – from providing non-lethal aid such as helmets and bullet-proof vests to lobbying for more funds for training initiatives and democratic reforms.

Who is going to champion Ukrainian issues in the new government is yet to be seen, but the front-runner has to be Chrystia Freeland (University-Rosedale, Ontario) who has family connections in Manitoba. Chrystia has extensive personal and professional knowledge of Ukraine from working on editorials for the Financial Times and Thomson Reuters to moderating high profile conferences in Yalta before it was occupied and annexed by Russia more than a year ago. Assuredly, she is well positioned to be a Cabinet Minister in the new Liberal government.

According to Ms. Freeland, the Liberals support initiatives in the House of Commons to assist Ukraine and called for additional measures to be taken such as travel bans on individuals with close ties to the Russian President and have business connections in Canada. Moreover, she has also urged that Russian banks be excluded from the SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) system. Neither of these initiatives, however, was included in the Liberal platform, so they cannot be considered as official election promises. In fact, the only official promise outlined in the Liberal’s platform was a commitment to continue Canada’s participation in NATO’s Operation REASSURANCE in central and eastern Europe as well as the multinational training mission in Ukraine (Operation UNIFIER).

For the record, the NDP’s election platform did not have a position on Ukraine, while the Conservatives provided an extensive list of commitments, including more funds to combat Russian digital propaganda and enhanced military and defence co-operation with Ukraine.

After the hype and dust settles, it is essential that the new government articulate a clear and strong position on Ukraine while Ukrainians in Canada continue to hold their Members of Parliament accountable by asking them about their stances on stopping Russian military aggression in Ukraine, Syria and elsewhere.

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