Peace-minded Canadians deserve a voice in Parliament

A Ukrainian soldier stands near a checkpoint leading to the city of Irpin near Kyiv. Photo by Volodymyr Kutsenko.

By Yves Engler, Canadian Dimension, July 14, 2022

NDP Foreign Affairs Critic Heather McPherson’s promotion of NATO and opposition to diplomacy is indirectly prolonging the horrors in Ukraine.

On Monday McPherson attacked the Liberals for acceding to Germany’s request to allow Siemens to return turbines used in Russia’s Nord Stream 1 pipeline from the company’s Canadian facilities in Montréal where they had been sent for maintenance and repairs.

“It is shocking and disappointing that the Liberal government has decided to allow the Nord Stream 1 turbines to be sent to Germany and returned to Russia,” declared McPherson. “This decision goes against the sanctions Canada imposed on Russia in response to the illegal invasion and genocide in Ukraine.”

McPherson’s position is more belligerent than Washington’s. In fact, the US State Department released a statement supporting Canada’s decision to return the turbines to Germany.

At the start of last month, McPherson publicly supported expanding the nuclear-armed NATO alliance. During a parliamentary debate she stated, “I want to begin my remarks tonight by stating unequivocally that the New Democratic Party supports Sweden and Finland in their bid for membership in NATO, and that New Democrats call on all NATO members to approve the application as quickly as possible to address the urgent situation that is facing both countries, including the very real threats made against both Sweden and Finland by the Russian Federation.”

McPherson supports enlarging NATO in response to a war that was partly caused by the alliance’s expansion.

Indeed, even before Russia’s illegal invasion, McPherson promoted Ukraine’s adhesion to NATO. In April of last year she told Ukrainian-Canadian newspaper New Pathway:

The NDP will continue to strongly support Ukraine’s bid to join the MAP [Membership Action Plan] program and we have and will continue to push the government to advocate for this with our NATO allies. That Prime Minister Trudeau and [Foreign Affairs] Minister [Marc] Garneau have been unwilling to explicitly state their support for Ukraine’s bid and their failure to adequately support the bid via advocacy efforts and multi-lateral diplomacy is very disturbing.

Partly to make its military interoperable with NATO forces, Canadian personnel trained 33,000 Ukrainian troops through Operation Unifier, which began in 2015. Seventeen months ago McPherson said, “the NDP would expand both the scope of Operation Unifier and the number of CAF personnel within the program.”

Canada’s social democratic party has also supported arming Ukraine’s military with NATO weaponry. As part of their three-year supply and confidence agreement with the Liberals, the New Democrats agreed to support a budget that allocated half-a-billion dollars for weapons to fight Russia.

At the same time as she’s pushed an aggressive alliance towards Russia’s geostrategic heartland, McPherson refuses to recognize the multifaceted nature of the conflict. Ten weeks into Russia’s illegal invasion, at a hearing of Parliament’s committee on human rights, McPherson criticized University of Ottawa professor Paul Robinson, a former Canadian and British soldier, for saying both sides had abused prisoners.

McPherson declared, “To start with, I want to say that I am deeply appalled by some of the testimony we have heard today and the fact that we have heard that there are bad people on both sides. We are looking at an illegal war and an invasion of a sovereign territory. We are looking at the ways that Russia has gone into Ukraine, despite lying over and over again, has fired on citizens and has, very clearly, done unspeakable, horrific things. To claim that there are bad people on both sides minimizes the pain that Ukraine is going through. I am appalled by that testimony.” She then blocked the invited expert from speaking any further.

While McPherson refuses to recognize nuance, a Wall Street Journal-University of Chicago poll conducted between June 9 and 13 suggests Ukrainians understand the complex and multisided nature of the conflict. While 85 percent said Russia bore a great deal (82 percent) or some (three percent) responsibility for the conflict, 70 percent of respondents said the same about the Ukrainian government. Fifty-eight percent said the US bore some or a great deal of responsibility for the war and 55 percent said as much for NATO.

Regardless of Ukrainian opinion, in recent weeks McPherson has explicitly opposed negotiations seeking diplomatic pathways to end the violence in Ukraine. She even challenged French President Emmanuel Macron’s statement that “we must not humiliate Russia so that the day when the fighting stops we can build an exit ramp through diplomatic means.” In response, the NDP foreign affairs critic tweeted, “Vladimir Putin is using the starvation of millions of people around the world as a bargaining chip in his illegal war and genocide against Ukraine. This is not someone we should be negotiating with or worrying about ‘humiliating’.”

Why does McPherson oppose negotiations while supporting weapons deliveries and the expansion of a nuclear-armed alliance?

Traditionally, the NDP has supported Canadian militarism. The party backed NATO’s bombing of Libya and Yugoslavia as well as the Trudeau government’s 2017 plan to increase military spending by 70 percent. Unless peace activists are mobilized, the NDP tends to align with more hawkish elements in Parliament. But there’s also a Ukraine-specific element to understanding McPherson’s foreign policy positions.

McPherson represents a riding, Edmonton Strathcona, in a city with a large organized (Western-oriented) Ukrainian community. Many Ukrainians who allied with the Nazis during the Second World War ended up in Alberta. Set up in 1976, the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies at the University of Alberta was the world’s second Ukrainian studies programs. It was established with funding from individuals closely associated with the anti-Russian Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC), an organization tightly aligned with Cold War politics, anti-communism, and nationalist narratives. McPherson is close to the hardline UCC.

Right-wing Ukrainian nationalists and US neoconservatives who have pressed Kyiv to play tough with Russia, noted prominent US realist scholar John Mearsheimer in 2015, were leading the country “down the primrose path” that would see Ukraine “get wrecked.” Today, Ukraine’s economy is in ruins, millions have fled the country and countless thousands have been killed. Russia controls nearly a quarter of Ukraine’s territory and it is unlikely Kyiv can regain it without a massive influx of NATO weaponry and soldiers, which risks nuclear Armageddon.

There’s no good option available at this point. Except to warmongers and war profiteers, a negotiated solution with unpleasant compromises appears preferable to prolonging the fighting for years or risking the unthinkable.

Millions of Canadians support peaceful solutions to the Ukraine war. A left-wing party should be their voice.

Heather McPherson is making that impossible.


Yves Engler has been dubbed “one of the most important voices on the Canadian Left today” (Briarpatch), “in the mould of I.F. Stone” (Globe and Mail), and “part of that rare but growing group of social critics unafraid to confront Canada’s self-satisfied myths” (Quill & Quire). He has published nine books.


Posted August 9, 2022