Last week, Heather McPherson, New Democrat Member of Parliament for Edmonton Strathcona, was sounding as belligerent as any Alberta Conservative on the topic of what she termed “Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.”
In a lead-up to a question in the House of Commons, a clip of which Ms. McPherson distributed on social media, the NDP’s deputy foreign affairs critic stated that “in recent weeks the Russian Federation has increased attacks on Ukraine’s eastern borders.”
Wherever one stands on the tensions among Ukraine, its breakaway Russian-speaking regions and Russia since Ukraine tried to crush the separatist movement in the Donets Basin region in 2014, there is no evidence of Russian attacks in recent weeks. Saying otherwise is mere jingoism.
Russia made no secret, however, of the fact it had moved significant numbers of troops to its own territory adjacent to its western border. By doing so, it sent a clear message that any effort by Ukraine to retake Donbas, which would inevitably result in massive civilian casualties and tens of thousands of refugees flowing into Russia, would not be tolerated.
Call that what you will, but whether or not one approves of Russian President Vladimir V. Putin or his government, no nation in a similar situation with millions of its kinsfolk and more than a half million of its passport holders threatened by a bellicose neighbouring government would do differently.
Blood, as they say, is thicker than water, and even France, hardly Canada’s neighbour, was rumoured to have prepared to send paratroopers to Quebec in 1980 had the Quebec sovereignty referendum gone the other way.
In a publication of the Ukrainian National Federation of Canada, an organization sympathetic to the government in Kyiv, Ms. McPherson was quoted calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to press for Ukraine to be put on a path to membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and for Canada to send more troops to Ukraine.
Given the tone of Ms. McPherson’s question in the House, we assume New Pathway Ukrainian News’s reporter quoted her accurately.
Of course, Russia is also highly unlikely to tolerate Ukraine’s membership in NATO – the military alliance that’s been trying to create a new mission for itself ever since its raison d’etre disappeared along with the Soviet Union in 1991.
Since we are paid-up members in relatively good standing of NATO, many Canadians may not like this, but presumably we are grown up enough to recognize why Russia would view American nuclear missiles in Ukraine in much the same existential light as Americans considered Russian nuclear missiles in Cuba in 1962.
One needs only to look at a map to see Russia’s problem, never mind NATO’s consistently aggressive behaviour on Russia’s borders and in the Baltic and Black seas throughout the past decade. And if you don’t think this is about the presence of nuclear weapons in Ukraine, consider the recent bluster by Ukraine’s ambassador to Germany, who complained that if NATO won’t roll in, Ukraine will have to get its own nukes.
Thankfully, Russia’s message seems to have been heard in Washington and Kyiv, and there is evidence that the tension along the line of contact between Ukraine and Donbas, which Ms. McPherson seems to want to increase, may have simmered down a little.
Which brings us to the question of just what the point was that Ms. McPherson intended to make, obviously with the complete support of her party’s leadership. She is, after all, also the NDP’s Deputy House Leader.
Her support for Operation Unifier, the Canadian Forces’ mission to train Ukraine’s soldiers in NATO’s ways, suggests this is an unannounced change in the NDP’s policy that Canada’s military should only participate in UN-mandated operations.
So has the NDP succumbed to the surprisingly common phenomenon among North American progressives of needing to prove they can be just as belligerent as anyone on the right if only a vaguely progressive argument for military intervention somewhere can be made?
Backing the current Ukrainian government in an effort to subjugate or ethnically cleanse a large part of its rebellious eastern border region doesn’t seem like a suitable place for Canadian progressives to scratch this itch.
Or is the NDP leadership trying to reassure Postmedia’s right-wing columnists that the resolution to disband the military at the party’s recent policy convention was nothing to worry about? No! No! We’re serious people too!
If that’s what it is, I have news for the NDP: Postmedia’s columnists are never going to like you. And if you start giving them what you think they want, a lot of your own supporters are going to begin to have their doubts about you too.
Obviously we’re not going to disband the military, any more than we’re going to completely defund the police. This is realpolitik. After all, we have to do something to keep what’s left of our country’s moribund shipbuilding industry afloat!
But surely the only non-conservative MP in Alberta can come up with better causes to cheer than helping NATO find a mission even more dangerous and potentially catastrophic than its recent failures in Afghanistan and Libya!
Perhaps Ms. McPherson should be calling on the prime minister to use our troops in Alberta’s and Ontario’s hospitals to help with a deadly crisis that, right now, is actually killing Canadians.