Christmas interview: MP Yvan Baker on Canada’s response to COVID-19, Ukraine and new elections

    MP Yvan Baker (Etobicoke Centre) helps out with “Step Up To The Plate”, a partnership to pack and deliver 8 million meals for families in need in Etobicoke Centre and across Canada

    Yuri Bilinsky, New Pathway – Ukrainian News.

    As the year 2020 is nearing its end, the New Pathway – Ukrainian News spoke to MP Yvan Baker about several issues related to his role as the representative of Etobicoke Centre in Canadian Parliament. As the Chair of Canada-Ukraine Parliamentary Friendship Group, Yvan Baker is also well-placed to provide commentary on Canada-Ukraine relations and on the current situation for Ukraine on the global stage.

    What do you think you have achieved as an MP over the past year?

    As the for Etobicoke Centre, there’s a number of things that I’ve worked on, on behalf of my community. First of all, the focus for most of the past year has been responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. I’m proud of the work that my team and I have done to support people in our community who needed help, to help protect themselves from the virus or economically. Another component of my job has been to ensure that the Government of Canada fights the pandemic as effectively as possible, ensuring that we have the measures in place to protect the health of Canadians, that we have vaccines in place, that we have economic programs that support people or businesses. I am most proud of the work that I’ve done to advocate for national standards for long-term care. When the Canadian military documented horrific conditions in a number of long-term care homes in Ontario, myself and four colleagues sent public letters to the Premier of Ontario and the Prime Minister calling for establishing national standards for long-term care. In September, the federal government committed to do just that. Once these national standards are established, this will make a big difference for seniors in long-term care homes for generations to come. Locally, I continue to work on policies to strengthen our economy and secure transit funding to ensure that we build the Eglinton West Crosstown extension. Currently, the federal government has set aside over $5 billion for transit in Toronto. The provincial government has committed that it is willing to fund and build the Eglinton LRT as well as three other projects. To get the $5 billion, the federal government’s waiting for the province to submit a business case. I have a monthly seniors’ advisory group on a range of issues including health care services and other supports. One of the areas that I spend a lot of time on is the fight against climate change. As a member of the Environment Committee, I work with Minister of Environment and Climate Change and others to ensure that Canada has the tools to fight climate change.

    How would you rate the government’s response to the pandemic so far?

    The first question here is, are we doing everything we can to protect people. At the beginning of the pandemic, the government provided people with guidance as to how to protect themselves, made sure that our healthcare system was equipped properly. The government has done very well. The $2 billion dollar program was provided to protect Canadian schools and communities, close our borders and establish quarantine procedures. The second element of the response is vaccines. Canada has contracted for the largest number of vaccine doses per capita, as well as the largest number of different vaccines. That ensures that every Canadian who wants it will get one. That ensures that if some of the vaccines aren’t working as well as others that we have enough diversity of vaccines. And then the last piece is the economic response. The government has provided funding to individuals and businesses like CERB, wage subsidy, supports for non-profit organizations and charities. I think the government has acted as quickly as possible to protect as many people as possible economically. We have a lot of work to do to make sure that we recover economically as quickly as possible.

    What is the government going to do about the new variant of the virus found in the UK?

    What we know so far is that this new variant spreads more quickly. The Government of Canada has banned entry to Canada of all flights from the United Kingdom for the next 72 hours as of December 20. We’ll see if that ban is continued or not. As of now what health officials have said is that there’s no evidence that the vaccine is less effective against this new strain.

    When do you think the majority of Canadians will be vaccinated? Do you think things will get back to normal, say, by mid-2021?

    It’s a little bit too early to tell exactly when that will happen. First vaccines have been already rolled out and 250,000 Canadians will get vaccinated by the end of this year. Certainly everybody who wants the vaccine will be able to get one in Canada in 2021. But it may take a little bit longer than by mid-2021 for things to get back to normal. There are some people who will not be able to be vaccinated for health reasons, some people may choose not to take the vaccine. An important milestone will be reached when between 70 per cent to 80 per cent of the population is vaccinated and we develop herd immunity. Until COVID is completely eliminated public health officials will keep urging us to continue to take certain precautions. Maybe not to the same degree as we see it right now of course.

    Canada is among the nations that have accumulated bigger numbers of budget deficit since the beginning of the pandemic. What do you think about the threat of high budget deficits and public debt going forward?

    We have to make sound economic and spending decisions and we have to weigh the benefits of the programs that we’re spending on against the cost of incurring additional deficits. From my point of view, we had to incur the deficit that we did this year because it was our duty to do everything we could to protect the Canadians from the health perspective and help them economically. But I think to make all these budget expenses was also a correct fiscal decision because the economic cost would be even higher otherwise. We cannot run the deficits of this size into the future. But Canada came into this year with the highest credit rating in the G20 which gave us a higher ability to borrow money than any other country in the world really. I’m proud of how our Finance minister Chrystia Freeland has laid out the thoughtful forward-looking fiscal program which will help recover the economy.

    As the Chair of Canada-Ukraine Parliamentary Friendship Group, what do you think about the current state of global response to the annexation of Crimea by Russia and to the continuing war in the Donbas? What do you think about Ukraine’s prospects to join NATO as the country received a status of Enhanced Opportunities Partner with NATO which is considered a sign that it may not become a member anytime soon?

    I think that countries like Canada have provided a tremendous amount of assistance to Ukraine but that the international community needs to do more to make Russia withdraw its forces from Crimea and Eastern Ukraine. Canada has been training Ukrainian soldiers for a number of years now. The UNIFIER mission is continuing even during the COVID pandemic. We have been providing defensive weapons to Ukraine, we continued imposing sanctions on Russia in the past year, this time in relation to the fraudulent elections in Crimea. On the question of NATO, Canada is helping train Ukrainian military so that it is not only stronger but is more interoperable with NATO forces. Part of the solution is Ukraine having a strong economy, not just to be able to fund the military forces but in general to be able to re-establish its territorial integrity. The Canadian government is now working on enhancing the free trade agreement with Ukraine so that we can foster more trade and investment between our countries. Canada has provided $800 million in aid to Ukraine since 2014 and is committed to providing up to $60 million a year currently. Apart from the military aid we’re also providing financial aid to a number of civil society programs including Ukraine’s judiciary and police, aid to ensure free and fair elections, to help address economic issues that people and women in particular face in rural regions to participate in the economy.

    Do you think Canada will have new elections in 2021?

    I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about that. My point of view is that the elections could happen in 2021 or in 2022, or in 2023. I focus on the work that I need to do as an MP and when the elections come I want to be proud of the work I have done.