Ukrainian Relations with New Alberta Government Should Remain as Good as Ever

Jason Kenney gives his victory speech on April 17. Image: YouTube.com

Marco Levytsky, Western Bureau Chief.

In many respects, the April 16 election in Alberta represented a watershed for the province. This was the first time in history that a government failed to get re-elected after just one term in office, thus ending a long tradition of dynastic succession, whereupon a party (usually of a conservative nature) rules virtually unopposed, only to be relegated to political oblivion after defeat. That can even be said of the Progressive Conservative Party which ruled the province for an unprecedented 44 years. Having merged with its former right-wing rival, the Wildrose Party, it is now part of the United Conservative Party, which took 63 seats to the New Democratic Party’s 24.

The UCP victory was not unexpected. The NDP won the 2015 election primarily because of the split in the right-wing vote between the PCs and Wildrose. Together their total vote in that election exceeded the NDP’s and the UCP led the NDP in opinion polls right from its inception. Considering that fact plus the economic crisis that hit the province with the drop in oil prices and the inability to get its main product to markets outside the United States, the big surprise is not that the UCP won, but that the NDP only lost eight per cent of the popular vote in this election and maintained its stranglehold on Edmonton, where the UCP won only one of the city’s 20 ridings and that one by a very slim margin. What we are seeing in Alberta is a political realignment that mirrors that of every other province in western Canada – namely the NDP on one side and a centre-right coalition operating as the Liberals in British Columbia, the UCP in Alberta, the Saskatchewan Party in that province, and the PC’s in Manitoba, on the other. While the centrist alternative, the Alberta Party quadrupled its popular vote (from 2.29 per cent in 2015 to 9.1 per cent in 2019), it failed to win a single seat. Without a presence in the legislature, their ability to make an imprint in Alberta politics will be severely hampered.

As far as the Ukrainian community’s relationship with government is concerned, we can expect no change, which is good news. Both the earlier PCs (especially the administrations led by Premiers Peter Lougheed and Ed Stelmach) and the outgoing NDP, maintained very good relations with our community. Among the outgoing NDP government’s achievements were the Ukrainian Canadian Heritage Day Act, and a trade mission to Ukraine which has produced concrete results.

UCP leader Jason Kenney too has very strong ties to the Ukrainian community dating back to his tenure in the federal Conservative government of Stephen Harper where he finalized the internment redress agreement, played an instrumental role in the passage of the Holodomor bill and served, among other postings, as minister of immigration, and multiculturalism. In addressing members of the Ukrainian community in Alberta, which he has done quite often since moving from federal to provincial politics, Kenney always starts with a tribute to Senator Paul Yuzyk as the father of multiculturalism in whose name he created a multiculturalism award, to the late John Yaremko, the first Ontario cabinet minister of Ukrainian origin and the first recipient of the Paul Yuzyk Award for Multiculturalism, and to the Ukrainian community as a whole for its tenacious efforts to maintain its culture and language in Canada. He has pledged to head another trade mission to Ukraine and responded very positively to a number of concerns that were raised by members of our community at a pre-election Town Hall meeting, sponsored by the Alberta Ukrainian Canadian Congress – Alberta Provincial Council. For this election, Kenny hired a Sumivka from Toronto as an outreach coordinator and Kalyna Kardash, who is the granddaughter of Baturyn Concert Marching Band founder Wasyl Kardash, can be expected to play a major role in the new administration.

As far as MLAs of Ukrainian origin are concerned, we can again expect a strong contingent in the new legislature. Of the nine MLAs in the outgoing legislature who identified themselves as being of ethnic Ukrainian origin, five were re-elected. These are outgoing Deputy Premier and Health Minister Sarah Hoffman (NDP), outgoing Economic Development and International Trade Minister Deron Bilous (NDP), Edmonton McLung MLA Lorne Dach (NDP), Lac la Biche – St. Paul – Two Hills (Bonnyville – Cold Lake – St. Paul in the new legislature) MLA David Hanson and Calgary West MLA Mike Ellis. Going down to defeat were NDP-ers Deborah Jabour, Jessica Littlewood, Brian Malkinson and former Alberta Party Leader Greg Clark. (A 10th MLA, Dr. Richard Starke, who identified himself as being of ethnic German, but geographic Ukrainian origin, did not run for re-election.)

As of this issue went to press, we were able to confirm three newly-elected MLA’s as being of Ukrainian ethnic origin – Jackie Armstrong-Homeniuk, who defeated Littlewood in Fort Saskatchewan Vegreville, Tyler Shandro in Calgary – Acadia and Nate Glubish in Strathcona – Sherwood Park. And there are some quite significant historic connections here. Tyler Shandro is the grand nephew of the very first Ukrainian elected to the Alberta Legislature, Andrew Shandro, who served as the Liberal MLA for the Ukrainian bloc settlement constituency of Whitford from 1915 to 1922. And Jackie Armstrong-Homeniuk is descended from none other than Ivan Pylypiw, who along with Wasyl Eleniak, who was one of the first two Ukrainians to arrive in Canada on September 7, 1891. But so far we have only been able to check with those new MLAs whose surnames are Ukrainian. Yet, out of the nine in the outgoing legislature, seven have non-Ukrainian surnames, so the actual number of Ukrainian-origin MLAs could be much higher.

Whatever one may think about the changes that will come in terms of socio-economic policies and the relationship with the rest of Canada, the Ukrainian community can rest assured that we will continue to have the same strong voice in the UCP government as we had with the NDP.

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