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FIRST READING: Is Zelenskyy wasting his time on Canada?


The case for making the Tory leadership race as ugly as possible

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has been particularly nice to Canada throughout his country’s invasion by Russia. While he’s accused the wider world of “losing humanity” in its limited aid to Ukraine, Zelenskyy has persistently referred to Canada (and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau specifically) as a “friend.” Notably, his Tuesday address to the House of Commons was only his third address to a foreign parliament since the invasion.

This is all despite the fact that Canada is not really topping the leaderboard of countries that are helping Ukraine right now

  • While Canada has ferried in plenty of non-lethal aid and light weapons such as grenades and rockets, it has only managed to send  about 100 anti-tank missiles (and those are outdated at that). Tiny Denmark has already sent 2,700 of them.
  • Right up until the eve of invasion, Canada was explicitly forbidding any of its Ukrainian financial aid to be spent on weapons. The U.K., by contrast, was sending in anti-tank missiles as early as January.
  • Throughout Trudeau’s tour of European capitals last week, he was non-committal on whether Canada would be making any changes to its traditionally slack support of NATO. Compare that to Germany, which recently pledged a 100 million euro boost to their military as a direct counter to Russian aggression.
  • Zelenskyy’s call for a NATO no-fly zone over Ukraine is a much bigger ask than he’s letting on. Nevertheless, Canada has not only opposed a no-fly zone, but has even backed the U.S. refusal to send used Polish fighter planes to Ukraine so that they can set up a no-fly zone of their own. Compare that to Estonia, who this week became the first NATO member to formally ask for a Ukrainian no-fly zone.
  • This week saw the prime ministers of Czechia, Poland and Slovenia personally visit the besieged Ukrainian capital as a show of support for Zelenskyy’s government. Nobody’s asking Canada to send diplomats into a war zone, but Trudeau’s European tour last week only made it as far east as the Polish-Ukraine border.
  • And even as Ukraine fights an existential war started in part due to its desire to align with the West, it’s not like Canada has been a massive champion of the country eventually being allowed to join NATO.

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So the National Post’s John Ivison found it all a little distasteful that the House of Commons was prepared to chant “Slava Ukraini” at the Ukrainian president without really changing any of the above points. “We have become a nation of sanctimonious free riders — helpless to act, save making the world safe for hypocrisy,” he wrote.

After Zelenskyy’s speech to the House of Commons, MPs did engage in a bit of a discussion on how Western air power might be used to protest Ukraine, to which Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly respondedthe objective is to not to declare an international conflict, a third world war … we have a red line that we can’t cross.”

Zelenskyy’s Wednesday speech to the U.S. Congress, meanwhile, yielded immediate results. Within hours of the address, U.S. President Joe Biden pledged an additional $800 million in military aid to Ukraine, including 800 anti-aircraft Stinger missiles and 2,000 Javelin anti-armour missiles.

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Former Green Party Leader Elizabeth May had some thoughts after the Zelenskyy speech. She said Canada should “invent something” to stop the war.
Former Green Party Leader Elizabeth May had some thoughts after the Zelenskyy speech. She said Canada should “invent something” to stop the war. Photo by CPAC

WAR IN UKRAINE

As Ukrainian refugees trickle into Canada, Quebec has warned them that their children better be prepared to learn French. For years, the rule in Quebec has been that foreign arrivals must enroll their children in French-language schools (there are English schools, but only for “historic” Anglophones). The Quebec English School Boards Association pressed for an exemption on Ukrainians, on the reasoning that many of them speak English instead of French. No dice; as one government spokesperson put it, “there’s no question of authorizing English schooling for these refugees.”

Canadians are one of the most well-represented nationalities among foreign fighters in Ukraine. A spokesperson for the International Legion of Territorial Defence of Ukraine recently told CTV that only the United States and Britain had more fighters in their ranks.

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was originally an actor whose political star only began to rise after he played the Ukrainian president in a satirical comedy series called Servant of the People. Canadian Netflix has just added the series to its streaming selection.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was originally an actor whose political star only began to rise after he played the Ukrainian president in a satirical comedy series called Servant of the People. Canadian Netflix has just added the series to its streaming selection. Photo by Handout

CONSERVATIVE LEADERSHIP RACE

There are those Conservatives who lament the increasingly vicious state of their party’s leadership race. The usual line is that when Tories fight amongst themselves, the chief beneficiary is Justin Trudeau. But the National Post’s Chris Selley thinks the Conservatives would probably be well-served by a rancorous drawn-out purgative internecine fight. For one, Canadian conservative parties have a weird habit of electing leaders who piously pledge themselves to fight the culture wars, before immediately throwing all of that under a “fleet of buses” once they’re in charge.

Frontrunner Pierre Poilievre sat down for a really, really long interview with Maclean’s recently. Political watchers have noted that it’s pretty light on the usual pre-scripted talking points that typically infect magazine profiles of this kind. Some highlights …

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  • His last name is pronounced “paul-ee-EV.”
  • He explains his role as an MP as keeping “the commoners the masters and the crown the servant.”
  • One of his political heros is a Liberal; Wilfrid Laurier. Poilievre called him a champion of “individual liberty and decentralized power.”
Wilfrid Laurier: Also Canada’s baldest prime minister.
Wilfrid Laurier: Also Canada’s baldest prime minister. Photo by British Library
  • He keeps saying he wants to make Canada the “freest place in the world.”
  • He’s adopted, and says it has informed his belief that “voluntary generosity among family and community are the greatest social safety net that we can ever have.”
  • He grew up in Alberta during the 1980s, if you’re wondering why he’s so conservative. “I remember how horrible things were,” he said.

It’s always been a little weird that the Conservative Party of Canada is such a loud supporter of supply management, Canada’s system of state-backed agricultural cartels that isn’t very conservative at all. And it looks like Tory support for supply management is going to survive yet another leadership race. Poilievre told the Western Standard that he has no qualms with supply management. And Jean Charest absolutely loves the system.

IN OTHER NEWS

We try to remain politically neutral here at First Reading, but we are forced to make an exception when it comes to Canada’s continued adherence to twice-yearly clock changes, the dumbest, most wasteful, and most unnecessary piece of public policy ever devised. So we must look with envy upon the Americans, whose Senate just passed a bill that would compel the United States to observe permanent Daylight Time; all the evening sunshine you’ve learned to love, but without the government-mandated jet lag from switching your clocks.

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We apologize, but this video has failed to load.

The Canadian travel sector has been telling Ottawa for months that its policy of forcibly testing vaccinated travellers at the border makes no epidemiological sense, is out of step with most of the world, and is utterly destroying them economically. So the federal government is finally lifting the policy … in two weeks.

Get all of these insights and more into your inbox every weekday at 6 p.m. ET by signing up for the First Reading newsletter here

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