Why Conservatives (and conservatives) should support Ukraine
Two years ago this month, after Russia launched its latest illegal and immoral invasion of Ukraine, Pierre Poilievre had strong words for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“I condemn Vladimir Putin’s aggression against Ukraine. Ukrainians are fighting for Europe and for us, and it’s time we stand with them,” he said in a Facebook post on Feb. 23, 2022.
It was the right message, given Canada’s commitments to its European allies and its support for the rules-based international order. But Mr. Poilievre and the Conservatives have since muddied that message by voting against a free-trade deal with Ukraine because they (falsely) assert it will force that country to implement a carbon tax (the agreement was ratified by Parliament regardless).
Now, two years into the war, a new poll has found that 43 per cent of Conservative voters think that Canada is offering too much support to Ukraine, compared with just 19 per cent in May of 2022.
(The Angus Reid poll surveyed a randomized sample of 1,617 Canadian adults on Jan. 29-31. The margin of error is plus or minus two percentage points, 19 times out of 20.)
That’s a high number when compared with the figure for Liberal voters (10 per cent) and NDP voters (15 per cent), and to the national average of 25 per cent. This rapid growth in isolationism isn’t in keeping with traditional Canadian conservative values; it is more similar to the Trumpian conservative movement in the United States, where the Republicans are dragging their feet on fresh financial and military aid that is existentially critical to Ukraine’s war effort.
Mr. Poilievre made the stakes clear two years ago – “Ukraine is fighting for Europe and for us.” Michael Chong, the Conservative shadow minister for foreign affairs, and James Bezan, the shadow minister for national defence, did so again when they called out the Trudeau government last year for failing to meet its NATO commitment to spend the equivalent of 2 per cent of Canada’s GDP on defence every year.
“A year after the war in Ukraine began, this borders on negligence,” they said in July. They added that Canada needs to improve its defence capacities “in the Arctic where we share a border region with Russia.”
Conservative-minded voters that are skeptical about aid to Ukraine should take those words to heart. Ukraine is not some far-off land; it is the front line in the democratic world’s battle against the growing aggression of China and Russia, totalitarian regimes that would love to undo the post-Second World War consensus that says larger countries can’t invade smaller ones on the whim of a dictator.
Russia, too, is not some distant foreign land. It is Canada’s neighbour in the Arctic. Like Ukraine, we share a border with Russia – one that a new report by a U.S. strategic intelligence firm says is increasingly under pressure from an alliance of convenience between Russia and China.
If Mr. Putin is allowed to get away with invading Ukraine, he will not stop there, and China will be watching. All of Europe knows this, because it has been through these disasters before. It is why the EU this month agreed to a €50-billion ($75.5-billion) aid package for Ukraine, and why on Thursday the prime minister of Poland, Donald Tusk, excoriated U.S. Senate Republicans for blocking aid to Ukraine.
“Ronald Reagan, who helped millions of us to win back our freedom and independence, must be turning in his grave today. Shame on you,” Mr. Tusk said on social media.
Canadian conservatives should remember how former Progressive Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney was a staunch ally in Mr. Reagan’s fight against the Soviet Union in the 1980s, and how he was relentless in his pressure on South Africa to end apartheid.
They should also remember that Stephen Harper told Mr. Putin to his face to leave Ukraine after Russia illegally annexed Crimea in 2014, and how he was instrumental in getting Russia expelled from the Group of Eight nations (G8).
And they should abandon any hyperpartisan reflex that tells them that something Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal government supports is by definition deserving of opposition.
The Conservative Party and its voters have good bones when it comes to calling out brutal regimes. They should not flag now. Ukraine is indeed fighting for us all, and for all that Canada and Europe stand for. Every Canadian, regardless of political stripe, should stand by its side.