January 25, 2024
The Globe and Mail
One of the most prominent Ukrainian Canadian organizations is blasting Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre for voting against measures to help Ukraine as it resists Russia’s military assault, while his party continues to frame its actions as opposition to Liberal climate and economic policies.
The League of Ukrainian Canadians, founded in 1949, wrote Mr. Poilievre a letter last month to accuse the Official Opposition of backing Russian President Vladimir Putin.
This past fall, the Conservatives voted against a modernized Canada-Ukrainian free-trade agreement (CUFTA) and against a series of government spending estimates including more funding for Operation Unifier, a Canadian Armed Forces effort to train Ukrainian forces. The Conservative votes did not derail these measures because other opposition parties supported the Liberals. But the LUC told Mr. Poilievre it found his party’s actions concerning. “The 1.36 million members of the Ukrainian Canadian community see it for what it is: A vote against Ukraine’s victory and a vote for Putin’s victory,” Borys Mykhaylets, president of the LUC, and Orest Steciw, executive director, said in the letter. “If the Conservative Party of Canada is going to continue to make decisions that abandon Ukraine in its most desperate hour of need, they should tell their constituents as much.” Mr. Steciw said in an interview Thursday that the matters raised in the letter continue to concern his organization.
Former prime minister Stephen Harper was a big supporter of Ukraine, unveiling the Operation Unifier training mission for the European country in the aftermath of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and initiating talks on a free-trade deal. “Today’s Conservative Party is certainly not the Conservative Party of Stephen Harper it seems, which is concerning,” Mr. Steciw said.
The governing Liberals, trailing the Conservatives in the polls, have pounced on the issue. Last fall, they ran ads in 18 Conservative-held ridings alleging Mr. Poilievre’s party is “abandoning Ukraine.”
The Conservatives reject the accusation they are soft on Russia and allege the Liberals of trying to politicize the Ukraine war by labelling their votes as pro-Moscow. “Conservatives have long stood as strong supporters of Ukraine – we created Operation Unifier in 2015 and continue to support the Ukrainian people as they defend their country from Vladimir Putin’s illegal invasion,” Sebastian Skamski, director of media relations for the Opposition Leader’s office, said in a statement Thursday.
Mr. Poilievre’s party has objected to the text of CUFTA, over its reference to promoting “carbon pricing” – a measure to fight climate change that includes a levy on fossil fuels. In explaining his party’s voting en masse against the CUFTA legislation in November, Mr. Poilievre said his MPs could not support a deal that imposes a carbon tax on Ukraine. Ukraine’s embassy in Canada, however, denied this, saying that the upgraded free-trade agreement does not contain “taxation instruments” to reduce carbon emissions.
Mr. Skamski said that, in the December spending votes, the Conservatives were not voting against Operation Unifier or other support for Ukraine, but rather against the economic policies of the Trudeau government. “Last fall, Conservatives voted against confidence in this Liberal government that has failed Canadians. We voted against the entirety of the Liberal spending bill, just as the Liberals voted against Conservative spending bills which funded support for Ukraine in 2015,” he said. “We continue to support Operation Unifier.”
Mr. Skamski also criticized that the Trudeau government itself has failed to sufficiently support Ukraine. He noted that Russia managed to circumvent Canadian sanctions to obtain more than 190,000 electric detonators in 2022, according to research released last year by Brussels-headquartered Open Dialogue Foundation. He also pointed out that an air defence system that Mr. Trudeau pledged to Ukraine in January, 2023, has yet to be delivered. “If this was about anything but politics, Trudeau would be actually delivering the air defence system that he promised Ukraine last year instead of breaking his promise while Ukrainians remain under threat of Russian bombs and missiles.”
Steven Chase is a senior parliamentary reporter for The Globe and Mail. He has covered federal politics in Ottawa for The Globe since mid-2001, arriving there a few months before 9/11. He previously worked in the paper’s Vancouver and Calgary bureaus and originally joined The Globe and Mail in 1998. Prior to that, he reported on Alberta politics for the Calgary Herald and the Calgary Sun. He’s had ink-stained hands for far longer though, having worked as a paperboy for the (now defunct) Montreal Star, the Winnipeg Free Press, the Vancouver Sun and the North Shore News. In three instances, Mr. Chase been a member of Globe team that won a National Newspaper award. In 2023, he and colleague Robert Fife both won the Parliamentary Press Gallery’s Charles Lynch Award for outstanding national affairs coverage.