A tribute to Borys Wrzesnewskyj

MP Borys Wrzesnewskyj

Marco Levytsky, Editorial Writer.

As we have mentioned in previous editorials, this year the the Canada-Ukraine Parliamentary Friendship Group (CUPFG) is losing three of its longstanding, active and illustrious members. First to go was Senator Raynell Andreychuk who has served as the main Senate leader on the executive since its inception. Senator Andreychuk, a Conservative, faced mandatory retirement when she reached the age of 75 (on August 14 (See NP-UN August 15, 2019). Two more long-time members will be gone after October 21, since they are not running for re-election to the House of Commons. These include New Democratic MP Linda Duncan (about whom we wrote last week) and the founder himself, Borys Wrzesnewskyj.

When he founded the CUPFG in 2005, even Borys did not expect the response he got as the group quickly became the largest in the House of Commons as far as members are concerned. He was first elected on June 28, 2004 and within six months was thrust into a major crisis when the first two rounds of the Ukrainian Presidential Elections were deemed to be fraudulent by international observers and a third-round runoff was called to choose between Viktor Yushchenko and Viktor Yanukovych.

Wrzesnewskyj leapt into action and convinced the then-Prime Minister Paul Martin Jr. to send an unprecedented 500 election observers (in addition to the 500 that came from the community itself). This served as a shining example for other countries to follow and helped to assure a fair and honest third round of presidential elections and Ukraine’s emergence as a democratic state.

Another file he worked on very diligently during his first term was to obtain a redress agreement to make up for the 1914-1920 internment of Ukrainian Canadians. Although this agreement was not approved during the tenure of the minority Liberal Government which was ousted in 2006, Wrzesnewskyj’s work contributed greatly to the signing of the final agreement with the new Conservative Government.

Though he belonged to the Liberal Party, Wrzesnewskyj had no qualms about cooperating with Conservatives wherever Ukrainian issues were involved. One such example was his behind-the-scenes work in support of Dauphin-Swan River-Marquette MP Inky Mark’s Private Member’s Bill C-331, “The Internment of Persons of Ukrainian Origin Recognition Act”, which was passed by the House of Commons on Nov. 23, 2005 — the last day before the Liberal government fell — and by the Senate two days later. Several Liberals had been reluctant to give unanimous consent to a Conservative MP’s bill. But Borys convinced them otherwise ensuring its passage.

Then again in June 2008, Borys prevailed upon the government to fast-track through parliament Selkirk-Interlake Conservative MP James Bezan’s Bill C-459, “An Act to establish a Ukrainian Famine and Genocide (‘Holodomor’) Memorial Day and to recognize the Ukrainian Famine in 1932-33 as an act of genocide”. Wrzesnewskyj generously withdrew his own Private Member’s Bill which he had tabled earlier, in order to support Bezan’s as that had a better chance of getting by the Conservative government. But that too required unanimous consent and, at that point in time, the government was prepared to let the bill go into the committee stage, which meant it would not have come up for third and final reading until that fall. Since an election call came before parliament resumed sitting, that bill would have been lost — period. Both Wrzesnewskyj and Bezan lobbied intensely for this act to be fast-tracked. It is only through their joint efforts that it was and that Canada now has officially recognized the Holodomor as genocide.

Wrzesnewskyj was defeated by 25 votes in the 2011 election, but returned with a solid majority in 2015. One of the files on which he expended a great deal of energy was legislation to officially recognize as genocide Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin’s deportation of Crimean Tatars, or Sürgünlik as it is known in the Crimean Tatar language.

When Edmonton Griesbach Conservative MP Kerry Diotte proposed such a Private Member’s Bill, Wrzesnewskyj broke with party ranks in order to support it. Later, after then-Foreign minister Stéphane Dion was replaced by Chrystia Freeland and the Liberal government’s policy changed, Wrzesnewskyj was successful in securing unanimous approval for such a motion in the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Commons and managed to table the report in the House, just before it recessed for the Summer.

During his tenure in the House of Commons, Wrzesnewskyj also concentrated on such issues as staffing cuts at the Canadian Embassy and the Canadian Museum of Human Rights (CMHR). It is Wrzesnewskyj who spearheaded the Liberal statement calling for the inclusion of a permanent Holodomor exhibit at the CMHR getting 40 fellow MPs – more than half the caucus, to sign this statement. This clearly shows his effectiveness in obtaining caucus support for our issues.

Throughout his parliamentary career, Wrzesnewskyj has been a maverick – that rare kind of politician who is willing to put principle ahead of partisan interests if it is for the better good. This has cost him in terms of promotion, but has gained him a reputation as a truly honorable member, who can be counted on to do what is right.

As far as being pro-active on Ukrainian issues, Wrzesnewskyj stands above all other current MPs and ranks equally with such pioneer stalwarts as Michael Luchkovich, Anthony Hlinka and John Decore.

As he steps down from politics, Wrzesnewskyj can look back at an honourable and truly distinguished career, marked by numerous outstanding achievements in service of Canada, the Ukrainian-Canadian community within it, and the long-standing relationship between Canada and Ukraine, including Canada’s unwavering commitment to aiding Ukraine’s quest for freedom, democracy and historical truth. Borys Wrzesnewskyj has every right to be proud of his accomplishments as a parliamentarian; and our community has every reason to both commend him and express our heartfelt gratitude for all that he has achieved on our behalf. We wish him all the best in the future,

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