10:43 Jul. 14, 2016
Canada is gradually strengthening relations with Ukraine
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's visit to Auschwitz was the most powerful and compelling part of his recent trip to Eastern Europe. But focus on his necessary remembrance of the past allowed people to miss some other business that the Prime Minister took care of on the trip – strengthening relations with Ukraine.
Mr. Trudeau and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko witnessed the signing of a free trade agreement by the trade ministers of two countries. As it happens, Chrystia Freeland, the federal Minister of International Trade, is of Ukrainian origin, and she has taken great interest in Ukraine over the years.
In the short term, this trade agreement will not be an earth-shaking event for Canada's economy, or even Ukraine's. But the Ukrainian heritage of many Canadians is likely to generate more interest in bilateral commerce than there would otherwise be between other countries of similar size and separated by considerable distance. Trade between Canada and Ukraine has already risen by 13.9 per cent from 2014 to 2015, before the agreement was signed.The previous Conservative government also took considerable interest in Ukraine – one of many examples that show how Liberal and Conservative foreign policy objectives are less different than either of the parties like to point out.
Canada should be able to exert a benign influence on Ukraine, as an ally, a model and a helpful critic. For example, many Ukrainian business people and politicians continue to be indulgent toward corruption in their commercial life. Even Mr. Poroshenko does not sufficiently acknowledge the problem, and it remains hard to put together a cabinet without members reeking of the scent of graft.
Mr. Trudeau is reasonably cautious about whether Canada's current military training in Ukraine will last after 2017. Canada is now embarking on a substantial NATO mission to Latvia to discourage aggression from Russia. The Canadian Forces should not spread themselves thin in Eastern Europe.
The Liberal government is extending a helping hand to Ukraine on trade, foreign affairs and defence – while exercising prudence, and waiting and seeing what will unfold in Ukraine's eastern regions, where a country that aspires to join the West faces an adversary that fears the same thing.