Alberta Politics
Heather McPherson, New Democrat MP for Edmonton Strathcona, the only non-Conservative Member of Parliament in Alberta (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

There are better ways for Alberta’s only New Democrat to spend her time than calling for more Canadian troops on Russia’s doorstep

Posted on April 20, 2021, 12:55 am
7 mins

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.”

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Photo: Justin Trudeau/Flickr).

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. 

Russian President Vladimir V. Putin (Photo: Kremlin.ru).

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. 

24 Comments to: There are better ways for Alberta’s only New Democrat to spend her time than calling for more Canadian troops on Russia’s doorstep

  1. Sub-Boreal

    April 20th, 2021

    I liked Ms. McPherson better when the worst she could do was root for pipelines.

    Reply
  2. Martin

    April 20th, 2021

    Dear David,

    I often agree with you. Not often, all the time – as far as I can remember. This time, however, you got it wrong. Very wrong. Not sure whether you are trying to be the “removed geo-political observer” or falling into the “progressive” good vs. bad imperialists trap. I came to Canada from that tortured part of the world (not Ukraine, to be clear) and for me NATO didn’t loose its raison d’etre, but got an elevated one. Believe me, its presence in the region serves the population of countries that are under constant Russian threat, rather than just annoy Putin. Just check out the recent Czech news, or Sputnik V stories to get a hint what I am talking about. And no – it’s not government in Kyiv – it’s the Government of Ukraine that defends its territory. As I hope GoC (even a NDP one) would defend Alberta against the loud Trumpist minoryty, if it came to it.
    Best,
    M.

    Reply
    • John Sokolowski

      April 20th, 2021

      Martin , I would like your reaction to an impression that I have formed over time . It seems to me that Dave’s interpretation of the events in Ukraine slavishly follows Russian propaganda . What do you, as some one from Eastern Europe , think , Martin ?

      So, Dave, put our minds at rest and cite your sources .Where do you get your information from concerning the Russian Ukrainian War . After all , Dave, you are not writing Alberta curricula here and can be expected to cite your sources .

      Reply
      • David Climenhaga

        April 20th, 2021

        John: Thanks for your query. I read quite widely about Russia and Eastern Europe, including some sources that I think we would both agree are legitimately described as Russian propaganda. Like all propaganda, they need to be read carefully with this in mind. My principal daily sources for news on the region are the New York Times and the Washington Post, which cannot be described as pro-Russian publications and which sometimes offer tendentious (in my view) interpretations of events, but are nevertheless relatively reliable and commendably quick, and have the advantage from my perspective of having sold me subscriptions. For a reasonably balanced perspective, I often recommend the Irrussianality blog published by Professor Paul Robinson of the University of Ottawa for providing a view that is, in my view, reasonably balanced and appropriately skeptical of the claims of both sides. Judging from the tone of your comment, I imagine you will not find him a credible source – and his having taken up writing opinion pieces for RT won’t help. However, I stand by my assessment of his work. Since I am not writing curriculum at taxpayer expense, I don’t think a full bibliography is required. DJC

        Reply
        • John Sokolowski

          April 21st, 2021

          Hello Dave , I can not identify a single statement in your article that reflects the Ukrainian point of view . Please identify the statements that in your opinion reflect the Ukrainian understanding of the conflict ?

          Reply
          • David Climenhaga

            April 21st, 2021

            This seems like an illogical request to me. This blog reflects my opinions, which as noted are based on a wide variety of sources. I am sure you are better informed than me on the thinking of the current Ukrainian government. So why not just state what you think the real situation is, something you are able to do here because opinions contrary to the author’s are always welcome in this space, as long as they are neither abusive nor an obvious attempt to misrepresent facts. Who would you have me quote? Právyi Séktor? Ambassador Melnyk? Who indeed? If I understand it, your point of view is that anyone who rejects the current Ukraine government’s position is Mr. Putin’s stooge. This is fine with me, although I don’t think it’s a basis on which the Canadian government should make policy. As I am unlikely to be able to change your mind, I shan’t waste any more time trying to persuade you otherwise. DJC

    • Kang

      April 21st, 2021

      Martin: You hope Ottawa would defend us against a loud Trumpist minority? Get real, they are the Alberta government and Ottawa cannot pander enough to them including the clueless Fed NDP.

      But as you imply, there are no good imperialists. However, there are nations with real Geo-political interests and Canada meddling in that benighted part of the world does nothing to serve our own interests. Given eastern Europe’s enthusiastic antisemitism during the second world war and long before, Stalin was the appropriate jailer after 1945.

      If Russia wants to reclaim its historic border along the Don River, it will make zero difference to Canada’s Geo-pollical interests. But if it gets to be a real shooting war, as Canada has been warned many times, we will become a nuclear ashtray between the nuclear powers. That is not worth it, much less wasting Canadian blood and treasure on yet another conventional skirmish in eastern Europe.

      Reply
      • Kang

        April 23rd, 2021

        whoops! should be “geo political” NOT geo pollical as it is in my final paragraph. “poLLical” apparently has to do with the muscles at the base of the thumb. I was not aspiring to the glorious vocabulary of our friend from Denman Island, but this shows even typing accidents and spell checking can yield new knowledge. Apologies.

        Reply
    • Bret Larson

      April 21st, 2021

      Its a point well taken that its much better to be a neighbour of the US, than Russia.

      Whether Albertans or Canadians should have anything to do with peace keeping in the area is hard to tell. But having boots on the ground, rather than using drone strikes, is the only way it remains peace keeping rather than something else.

      Reply
  3. Bill Malcolm

    April 20th, 2021

    Those darn Russkies, constantly placing troops within their own borders so close to NATO troops stationed in other countries bordering theirs! It’s provocative, that’s what! NATO forces have the right to be there protecting human rights, watching out for aggressive Russian forays that might upset the glorious European way of life.

    There’s only so much BS a rational human can absorb, most of it generated at the US State Department for the last thirty years, repeated verbatim by our media so we get only one side of the argument. Of course, with Putin being a “killer”, who’d want to hear what the hell Russia has to say? ‘Cuz it’d only be BS anyway. That’s the US line, brought to us all by neoconservatives, essentially the Democratic Party and progressives. They want to run the world based on rules the US and UK dreamed up after WW2, not on the International Rule of Law as typified by the UN. But the US has demonized the UN so well, Western society thinks it’s run by amateur nose-pickers. Rule of Law? That only applies within Western country borders, as in Meng is subject to Canadian rule of law here, but China and Russia have to obey US rules-based international order worldwide. Hmm.

    To gain at least some minor perspective, I read the Canadian website blog Russia Observer run by Patrick Armstrong, a retired diplomatic staffer who spent years at our Moscow embassy in the past. It’s a wry but calm commentary on how we manufacture our own BS in the West and disregard anyone else’s opinions, or even try to understand them. Wouldn’t help big business in the US’s attempts to take over the Russkies, and erect wall-to-wall fast food joints there, I guess, while feasting on natural resources if we heard any objections. No wonder Canada agrees with the US official line, or the Yankees would be in here taking us over completely, giving us prime private US medicine and kicking even our socialist Cons, let alone commie Libs and Dippers, to the curb.

    https://patrickarmstrong.ca

    McPherson sounds like a normal uninformed unrounded pol with opinions. The NDP is as full of them as any other party, I’m sure.

    Reply
  4. TENET

    April 20th, 2021

    Point taken! But she is my sole soul mate and it must be lonely, hard (especially without a great leader like Mulcair). She is our David in Canada’s epic struggle with Goliath -we hope, wish her strength…

    Reply
  5. Neil Lore

    April 20th, 2021

    Why is NATO still a thing? Yes Putin’s a bad man, he’s no worse than any American president in my lifetime, and better than some. If the goal was regime change in Russia, wouldn’t the smart move have been to go in and rebuild it after the cold war? Kinda like Japan after WWII? Instead we left a bankrupt failed state to face the Russian winter without a functioning country to take care of them, and, surprise, the power vacuum was filled by the KGB and the Mob. Why? Our leaders know that we need an enemy to be scared of, or we’ll start to ask why our leadership serves a plutocracy, instead of serving their constituency. We can’t afford to hire more teachers, or more doctors, or actually take this pandemic seriously, because Putin is a bad man!
    While I’m at it, how is Russia considered a credible enemy?
    America’s GDP 22.2T
    China’s GDP 15.47T
    Germany’s GDP 4.16T
    India’s GDP 3.26T
    Canda’s GDP – 1.83T
    Russia’s GDP – 1.67T (#12 overall)
    https://worldpopulationreview.com/countries/countries-by-gdp
    OooooOOOOooooOOOoooh scary Russians are coming! We’d better spend billions of taxpayers dollars containing the big scary threat that is totally NOT contained by the tens of thousands of existing nukes, or the geopolitical reality that Russia can easily be invaded from several different directions, and there is a greater power than Russia in each of those directions. Even though we hate taxes! Just in case they forget they are supposed to be our enemy, we’d better spend even MORE tax dollars to deploy a bunch of NATO troops close to their borders to keep them nervous. Not that they should be nervous. Why would Russia even be worried about being invaded? I’ve played Risk before and I can tell you that taking Asia is ALWAYS the best way to avoid being attacked.

    As for the NDP, they haven’t been the NDP since Jack Layton convinced them that if they smiled pretty and betrayed their principles, Canadians would let them sit in the big-boy chair.

    Reply
  6. Dave in Sask

    April 20th, 2021

    New Democrats in Ottawa can’t seem to learn that their vote is from progressives.and Tom Mulcair said proved that for them buy saying in 2015 that if the NDP formed government they would balance the budget. That foolishness only cost them 60% of their seats. People who want a centre right government will vote for the real thing every time which is to say the Liberals.
    Ms. Mcpherson will likely lose her seat and cost the NDP A few other seat was well.

    All this will do is hurt the party.

    Reply
    • Neil Lore

      April 20th, 2021

      I think a lot of the damage it did to them was below the waterline, and they haven’t recovered. The NDP used to know what it stood for and used to be willing to consistently speak for its values. Then they decided they wanted to get elected and now they filter everything they say or do through the “can I be PM if I say or do this” lens.
      The really frustrating thing is that the sequence of events you refer to allowed the Liberals to run on the platform the NDP should have run on, then welch on most of it.

      Reply
  7. Bret Larson

    April 20th, 2021

    Have you read her promotional material, that she keeps on sending me (even though she wont reply to my e-mails when Im answering questions she asked me directly).

    She seems to believe she is the governing MP for Alberta, some sort of Viceroy for the wokish minded.

    Not an MP who is supposed to be representing her Edmonton riding, which I happen to live in.

    Pretty sure she has her eye on Rachels crown.

    Reply
  8. Scotty on Denman

    April 20th, 2021

    The world’s largest Slavic diaspora is located in Canada, the vast majority being Ukrainian, a prominent ethnicity in the Prairie provinces.

    Ukraine is the cultural origin of Russia; it became a separate state when the Soviet Union collapsed three decades ago. Russians are the largest ethnicity in Ukraine, prominently in the eastern half of the country where Russia has lately interfered militarily. The Russian spiritual mythos is centred in Ukraine like Kosovo is for Serbs, their fellow Slavs, who invoked their legendary defeat in the “Field of Blackbirds” to justify deadly ethnic cleansing of indigenous Kosovars in 1998–99, late in the decade-long destruction of Yugoslavia. Slavic memory, it appears, is long and deep: the Field of Blackbirds dates back to 1389; Kiev Russ to 882. More recently, the Soviet genocide of the mid 1930s known as the Holodomor is bitterly blamed on Russians by Ukrainians everywhere.

    The other element of this story is the New Democratic Party, Canada’s only federated political party (federal and provincial affiliates are coordinated) and most democratic party with respect members getting proposals onto the policy-making agenda, making it distinct from other elected Canadian parties. Dipper policy tends to look, from the outside, like a dog’s breakfast of easy idealism and difficult pragmatism, sometimes so nutty it invites ridicule. This, however, is what real democracy is like, say New Democrats with as much pride as defensiveness —and, sometimes, embarrassment.

    Turn-the-other-cheek shows the gospel socialist half of Dipper parentage, the old trade union half traditionally more likely to answer ridicule with job-action or pick ax handles. This mule has lasted six decades and never won federal government; it gainfully sells itself as the “party of conscience” standing morally askance the two big parties of the centre and right, or ethically astride them when holding the balance of power by which it gets its reason d’être and takes credit for progressive policies (public healthcare, which it achieved by holding a Liberal minority ransom, is practically its motto). Upon this history it stakes its future which seems fairly well assured —many would give the NDP better odds than the CPC surviving as it is today.

    The NDP’s provincial affiliates differ by winning governments of varying duration: long in Manitoba and Saskatchewan; short in Nova Scotia, Ontario and Alberta; in between in British Columbia and Yukon Territory.

    Two pertinent facts should be considered before Edmonton NDP MP Heather McPherson’s surprising bellicosity towards Russia: the federal NDP’s brief but glorious shot at winning power, and the Alberta NDP’s stunning upset win which ended eight decades of right-wing government in the Wild Rose province. In baseball terms, together they swept Canadian conservatism in the 2015 double-header (although Mulcair’s pitching had team HarperCon beat, Trudeau was the finisher for the pennant). In boxing terms, both one-two-punch KOs were as anomalous as Ms McPherson’s lone Dipper seat in the home ring of regional conservative blue.

    The CPC has limped and ranted like a crazy old soldier of odium ever since, looking, in military terms, quite shell-shocked. The political generals of the Western Prairie have been relieved of their commanding dominance of the party, and a retired Air Command captain from the East, currently where half the CPC seats are, is now leader. Even the Alberta conservative party, which rallied in 2019 to retake the salient, is now looking thin on the ground, strategically and tactically confused, enfeebled, swinging at and missing invisible phantoms while railing ad nauseam, muttering of advanced, magical weapons and Bitumensraum destiny—definitely signs of concussion. They been Dipper-whipped, alright.

    The question always is whether the NDP can achieve more than mere spoiling actions preliminary to giving hard won territory to other parties to exploit.

    The NDP, being federated nationwide, naturally regards provincial successes such as Notley’s 2015 win in Alberta and her Loyal Opposition’s current popularity as potential beechheads for the federal party. McPherson’s objective, therefore, should be to exploit her toe-hold position in the deepest of conservative territory. While aiding provincial sisters and brothers isn’t beyond what might be expected of federal Dippers, Notley’s NDP is already well dug-in with sufficient (and, apparently, growing) fighting capacity to challenge the UCP all by itself; with two years to go until the fixed election date, Notley might be observing Napoleon’s rule: “When your enemy is executing a false movement [making a mistake], never interrupt him.” Still, winning any affection for the NDP from the considerable number of ethnic Ukrainians in Alberta —McPherson’s apparent ploy in siding with Ukraine against Russian aggression, an emotional issue for Ukrainians everywhere—at least couldn’t hurt the provincial NDP, even though, strictly speaking, this international matter is far beyond its jurisdiction.

    Rather, I think, the Edmonton MP’s objective is to garner nationwide affection for the NDP from Ukrainian-Canadians, if not for her own prospects from Ukrainian-Albertans. It seems unlikely the ploy is intended to win the Dippers more federal seats in Alberta. But it might also be an intentional feint to goad intemperate reaction from federal (and possibly Albertan) conservatives, a strong likelihood given their moody, delusional blaming and blubbering dejection these days—and odds it won’t get any better anytime soon. It couldn’t get much easier than it is now to push unflattering buttons on the hot-flashing, out-gassing neo-rightsts and reliably irritable SoCons. What’s bad for an enemy is good for a friend.

    But there’s a risk, probably slight for McPherson since she’s not party leader, that any policy move perceived as rightward by Dipper ideologues—the kind that propose immobilizing the armed forces or ending capitalism—can earn the kind of ideologically overdone, righteous indignation that got Mulcair—whose leadership won the second largest number of Dipper seats in party history (second only to Jack Layton’s historic Loyal Opposition from whom the mantle was passed), who made the party the most popular in the country for the very first time, who showed citizens how to mop the Commons floor with an intransigently dishonest Prime Minister, and who very nearly became PM himself—unceremoniously and thanklessly rejected when the party was returned to the third-party status its apologists are ever-eager to rationalize as honourable and conscientious. Sometimes all you can do is shake your head (I know I did—and I’m a party member!)

    Again, McPherson doesn’t need to worry about the problems of leading such an ideological party, but I suspect she might get criticized by her partisan rivals (in Alberta that means conservatives, federal and provincial) for attempting to play Ukrainian-Albertans or Ukrainian-Canadians for personal or partisan gain. That is, if punch-drunk conservatives don’t knee-jerk accuse her of being a communist traitor or foreign environmentalist or Bigfoot or something more in keeping with their current intemperance.

    I concur: if McPherson expects to blunt typical criticism from right-wing media with her atypical saber-rattling, I expect she’ll be disappointed. But, for a party that infamously overthinks everything, I doubt it’d be so thoughtlessly trite. At least I should hope.

    Reply
  9. John Kolkman

    April 20th, 2021

    The views in the above article would not be out of place in Russian state media.

    Since coming to power over 20 years ago, Putin’s Russia has used any manner of pressure tactics including the use of proxy military forces to expand its territory. And not only in Eastern Ukraine/Crimea, but also by grabbing territory in Georgia and Moldova through the use of proxy forces. Meanwhile, uprisings by ethnic or religious minorities within Russian territory (e.g. Chechnya) are ruthlessly crushed. All the while by presiding over an increasingly brutal and kleptocratic state that poisons and kills any domestic opponent who poses a threat to Putin’s authoritarian rule.

    Reply
    • Mickey Rat

      April 21st, 2021

      John, are you serious? Chechnya?

      Look up “Budyonnovsk hospital hostage crisis”, “Dubrovka Theater” or “Beslan school siege” and some of the other “Chechen” military campaigns on Russian territory then tell us what you think. I don’t know if you’re old enough to remember those events but I can assure you they are burned permanently into memory of the Russians.

      Your post here is rhetoric without substance or backup. What you should be presenting are things that you can validate rather than what you want us to believe. How about I start with the fact that the second Chechen conflict, or war if you like, was prosecuted by racist Wahhabi-inspired, Al-Queda psychopaths who recklessly killed children hostages en masse. If you don’t agree with that statement or think it’s ok then let’s hear it.

      Irrespective of how our blog host feels about Russia his points look pretty valid. Your contribution is weak. But maybe it was not a contribution but just a rant – well that’s ok I guess. But if you want to provide an opinion then how about something more than “…would not be out of place in Russian state media.”

      BTW I don’t believe the 2008 Georgian war involved Russian “proxy forces”, those were flat-out, in-your-face Russian military, the kind the Ukrainians (and some of our guys) are looking at over the border in Russia.

      Reply
      • Neil Lore

        April 22nd, 2021

        Stick-tap. Better than a thousand words.

        Reply
  10. Andy M.

    April 21st, 2021

    I don’t know enough to get into the geopolitics of Russia and Ukraine. But, David, please examine the ethnic make-up of Edmonton Strathcona to understand the position Heather McPherson has taken. Our lonely Alberta NDP member is shoring up support for a soon-to-be-announced federal election. I don’t even think this is a particularly cynical move on her part, but others may disagree.

    Reply
    • Mickey Rat

      April 21st, 2021

      Hi Andy,

      That’s an interesting point.

      A week or so ago DJC in a post here mentioned MLA Jackie Lovely (I think that was her name, great name anyhow) as she had posted something on Facebook opposing Jason Kenny’s Covid restrictions. I went to read her Facebook post and it was pretty lame, I thought basically an attempt to satisfy her (rural) constituents feelings on the issue while walking that tightrope as a member of the governing party. Well…she was lambasted in the comments following. Her followers wanted to know why she hadn’t stood up for them, come out stronger, why she hadn’t signed the dissident MLA’s “letter” opposing the govt restrictions, and challenging her to sign it. The comments included some nasty name-calling, I’ll never vote for you again, etc.

      I guess my point is I think that’s similar to what you’re suggesting. I wonder what the Ukrainian-Canadian demographic is in Ms. McPherson’s riding? And how do they feel? I’m not sure that we can assume all Ukrainian-Canadians are supportive of a Ukrainian civil war, or are they?

      It kind of depends on one’s definition of cynical too.

      Reply

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