I recently returned from a two week vacation to find a new Canada. After almost a decade in power, Stephen Harper and his Conservatives were given their marching papers in the federal elections held a couple of weeks ago. Confounding all the polls, who even on the eve of the elections were predicting various minority government scenarios, Canadians resoundingly chose the Liberal Party and their captivating leader Justin Trudeau, to put an end to the Harper era. His hard swing to the right, combined with his increasingly authoritarian, divisive and uncompromising style of leadership, was out of synch with the historically centrist and socially altruistic ethos of the majority of Canadians.
Of interest to Ukrainians is the fact that ten of the MP’s elected are of Ukrainian background, or 3% of the 338 seat Parliament. This is in line with the fact that some 3% of the population of Canada are of Ukrainian ethnicity. Of these ten, six are from the Liberal party and four are Conservatives. The most prominent of these are Chrystia Freeland and Borys Wrzesnewskyj, both elected in their Toronto ridings.
The new cabinet will be sworn in on November 4th and there is much speculation as to who will be named to it. Trudeau has already indicated that he intends to shrink the Cabinet which had grown to 38 Ministers under Harper down to a more manageable one in the 25 to 30 range. He has also stated that he will try to achieve gender parity in his cabinet, a goal that would be a historical first. It is highly expected that Chrystia Freeland, one of Justin Trudeau’s high profile personal recruits, will be named to the new cabinet when it is sworn in on November 4. Although Borys Wrzesnewskyj also has the background and expertise to be a Minister, the smaller cabinet size as well as gender and geographic considerations make this possibility somewhat more remote.
Whatever the case, there will obviously be a strong voice in caucus to represent Ukrainian concerns and issues. As far as support for Ukraine is concerned, it is unlikely that there will be any significant change under the new government. During the campaign, Trudeau and the Liberals emphasized their solidarity with the Ukrainian cause, and in the case of sanctions, committed to an even stronger stance than what we have seen to date, indicating they were prepared to lobby for excluding Russia from the international SWIFT banking system if it escalates its aggression in Ukraine any further. Such an eventuality would prove disastrous for the already shaky state of the Russian economy, and would be personally devastating to the billionaire oligarchic elite that currently underpin Putin’s criminal regime.
Although the new government is not likely to change the current policy of not shipping lethal weapons to Ukraine, there is little doubt that they will continue to provide humanitarian, financial and other non-lethal aid. The only obvious difference in policy vis a vis Ukraine, is that Trudeau is not likely to take on the strong, uncompromising, and often belligerent anti-Putin leadership role amongst the G7 and NATO nations that Harper assumed during his tenure. More probable, in keeping with his personal style and ideology, is a more diplomatic and less confrontational approach in concert with Canada’s American and European allies. Whether this approach is appropriate with an amoral and duplicitous psychopath like Putin is debatable, yet, to quote former President of Ukraine Leonid Kravchuk, “We have what we have.”
What is important in the coming months and years, is to ensure that our Ukrainian MP’s, together with the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, as well as the broader Ukrainian community in Canada, continue to loudly voice their concerns and lobby the government as strongly as possible to maintain the pressure on Russia to cease their aggression and withdraw from Ukraine. We cannot allow the current sanctions and the political and economic ostracism of Russia to weaken. With each passing month, the Russian economy continues to plunge and it is only a matter of time before it collapses, forcing an end to Putin’s regime and its adventurism in Ukraine and more recently Syria. International solidarity against Russian imperialistic expansionism is crucial, and Canada can and should play a strong role in this endeavor.
Undoubtedly, it will take some time to build up the level of co-operation, trust and commitment that the Ukrainian community enjoyed under the Harper Conservatives. Nonetheless, that is the nature of politics, and we have a solid start with the Ukrainian caucus in the Liberal party, and potentially a Cabinet Minister or two as well. It is time to get to work with this new government.