Peace-minded Canadians deserve a voice in Parliament

NDP foreign affairs critic Heather McPherson’s promotion of NATO and opposition to diplomacy is prolonging the horrors in Ukraine.

On Monday McPherson attacked the Liberals for acceding to Germany’s request to allow Siemens’ to return turbines that were repaired at its facilities in Montréal. “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.”

(Russia’s war is illegal and brutal but it’s not a genocide. On June 29 the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released its report on Ukraine for the period from February 24 to May 15 which “recorded a total of 8,368 civilian casualties, with 3,924 persons killed and 4,444 persons injured.”)

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

At the start of last month McPherson supported expanding the nuclear-armed NATO alliance. During a parliamentary debate McPherson 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 partly caused by the alliance’s expansion.

Before Russia’s illegal invasion McPherson promoted Ukraine’s adhesion to NATO. In April of last year she told Ukrainian Canadian paper 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 forces trained 33,000 Ukrainian troops through Operation Unifier. Seventeen months ago McPherson said, “the NDP would expand both the scope of Operation Unifier and 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 pact with the Liberals the NDP agreed to 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. At a hearing of Parliament’s committee on human rights 10 weeks into Russia’s illegal invasion, 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 multi-layer nature of the conflict. While 85% said Russia bore a great deal (82%) or some (3%) responsibility for the conflict, 70% of respondents said the same about the Ukrainian government. 58% said the US bore some or a great deal of responsibility for the war and 55% 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. In May she told the Hill Times that much and last month 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 a nuclear armed alliance?

Traditionally, the NDP supports 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%. Unless peace activists are mobilized, the NDP tends to adopt the militarist ethos. But there’s also a Ukraine specific element to understanding McPherson’s aggressive positions.

McPherson represents a ridding in a city with a large organized (Western-oriented) Ukrainian community. Many Ukrainians who allied with the Nazis during World War II ended up in Alberta. Set up in 1976, the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies at the University of Alberta in Edmonton was the world’s second Ukrainian studies programs. It was established with funding from individuals closely associated with the anti-Soviet/Russian Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC). McPherson is close to the hard line 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 will 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’s 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.

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