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An election's coming and the PM's treading water -- where's a Russian to blame now that we need one?

Kirill Kalinin inside the Russian embassy in Ottawa a few weeks before he was expelled from Canada. Photo: David J. Climenhaga

It was a year ago Friday that the government of Canada declared Kirill Kalinin and three other Russian diplomats persona non grata and sent them packing for using, in the words of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, "their diplomatic status to undermine Canada's security or interfere in our democracy."

Nobody bothered to commemorate the expulsion on the anniversary except the former First Secretary of the Russian Embassy in Canada himself.

With Jody Wilson-Reybould, Jane Philpott, and Trudeau's troubles to write about, the Ottawa Press Gallery had bigger fish to fry than bothering to rehash the mass expulsion of Russian diplomats from Western countries in response to the poisonings of Russian expatriate Sergei Skripal and his visiting daughter Yulia in the U.K., which remain unsolved and controversial.

However, Kalinin reposted a couple of year-old Canadian news stories about his expulsion on his Facebook page from Moscow, where he now mans the Russian Foreign Ministry's Canada Desk.

If you're a Canadian diplomat in Russia, I guess Kalinin is now the guy you have to call if you want to get anything approved. That must be awkward!

Kalinin got into trouble in Canada because he turned out to be a deft hand at social media and tweeted, among many things, an embarrassing factoid about Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland's family history, the fact her Ukrainian grandfather Michael Chomiak collaborated with the Nazis in Eastern Europe during World War II.

This may have been what Trudeau had in mind when he said last year that the interference in our democracy took the form of "efforts by Russian propagandists to discredit our Minister of Foreign Affairs in various ways through social media and by sharing scurrilous stories about her."

The trouble was, as David Pugliese of the National Post observed, the scurrilous story was true. "It soon became clear that Chomiak had indeed worked with the Nazis, editing an anti-Semitic newspaper in Poland," Pugliese wrote. "Photos showed him partying with senior Nazi leaders and files from the newspaper revealed pro-Nazi propaganda and cartoons aimed at denigrating Jews."

Since Postmedia is something like present-day Canada's equivalent of Soviet-era official newspapers Izvestia and Pravda combined, this officially makes Pugliese's report both the news and the truth, does it not?

Regardless, perhaps the reappearance of last year's stories reminded the beleaguered Trudeaucrats in Ottawa -- facing a more difficult fall election than they'd anticipated at this time last year thanks to their own ineptitude -- that sometimes it's handy to have someone like Kalinin nearby to kick around.

"Our judgment is interference is very likely and we think there has probably already been efforts by malign foreign actors to disrupt our democracy," Freeland told a meeting in France of foreign ministers from the nations with the world's seven largest "advanced" economies, also on Friday.

Of course, if the Liberals manage to lose this fall's election to a hapless goof like Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer with or without Trudeau at the helm, it will be pretty hard to blame Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Internet Research Agency in St. Petersburg, Kalinin, or any of the other usual Russian suspects for the debacle.

No, it'll be obvious that this time the Liberals managed to mess things up all by their own sweet selves.

Well, Freeland -- who might very well be a leading candidate to replace Trudeau, if it comes to that -- accomplished one thing by kicking Kalinin out of the country. The Russian Embassy's social media efforts have pretty well gone to hell in a handbasket since he departed.

This puts paid to the theory last year's brouhaha was ginned up by an robotic army of Russian trolls using Huawei G5 routers, or whatever, if you ask me.

Just the same, Freeland also suggested such efforts aren't just about getting a particular party or candidate to win. "The effort is to make our societies more polarized and to make us, as citizens of democracies, more cynical about the very idea that democracy exists and that it can work."

Okay, but it seems to me that the Conservative Party of Canada and its provincial chapters, not Moscow, are the ones doing the heavy lifting on that front.

Regardless of that, Freeland assured her G7 counterparts the government is setting up a "critical election protocol," including five powerful Ottawa mandarins, to decide if any foreign interference in October’s federal election is serious enough to alert the public in mid-campaign. (This would not include, presumably, influence by paid electoral consultants and contractors from the foreign republic immediately south of the 49th Parallel.)

With the fate of the Natural Governing Party in the balance, it's good to know some of our top people will now be poring over Facebook and Twitter in the defence of the Realm.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Image: David J. Climenhaga

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