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Alberta Diary

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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 Toronto Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. His 1995 book, A Poke in the Public Eye, explores the relationships among Canadian journalists, public relations people and politicians. He left journalism after the strike at the Calgary Herald in 1999 and 2000 to work for the trade union movement. Alberta Diary focuses on Alberta politics and social issues.

Citizenship Minister Chris Alexander delivers a troubling speech on Ukraine

| March 16, 2015
Chris Alexander

One of the principal talking points of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his supporters in the federal election campaign that is now for all intents and purposes under way is that the Conservatives are statesmanlike and mature, while Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau is a crazy kid who could do or say anything and NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair is an angry old man.

But when the media's not around, nobody can match our Conservatives for recklessly immature and angry rhetoric.

Indeed, listening to a recent speech to the Ukrainian Canadian Congress by Chris Alexander, Canada's minister of citizenship and immigration, one gets the feeling that the grownups are no longer in charge in Ottawa, and that the people who are running things are in the middle of a tantrum with potentially catastrophic consequences.

Alexander spoke to the group on Feb. 22 in Toronto, apparently with no reporters in the room. Leastways, there seems to have been no mainstream media coverage. From a video of his remarks posted by the Congress on YouTube, which at this writing has been viewed only about 100 times, he spoke without notes, and without the restraint one might expect from a former diplomat.

Even given the degree of hyperbole associated with politicians speaking privately to groups of potential wedge voters, Alexander's remarks are surprisingly unbalanced for a rising young star in the Harper Cabinet. Moreover, there is at least one apparent gap in the video, and one wonders what might have been said during that gap -- which we can't know, of course.

Alexander begins with an over-the-top broadside at Russian President Vladimir Putin: "We know as you know that Vladimir Putin is only going to face his comeuppance, that his whole mad nightmare is only going to come apart at the seams, when the whole world is standing against him, with every option on the table, denouncing his illegal action and standing with Ukraine, with military assistance, and every other form of assistance."

Now, you may have thought global warming was the preeminent issue facing the world today, or the danger of terrorist attacks on Canadians, or missing and murdered Aboriginal women, or any of a plethora of other important things. But this is apparently not the view of the Harper Government, at least when one of its ministers is addressing a venue like this:

"This is the biggest issue facing the world today. In my view. I think in the view of our prime minister, and our team. Yes, there is terrorism. Vladimir Putin is behaving like a terrorist. … But the buck stops in Ukraine. There is absolutely no scenario going into the future that leads to secure peace and security for this world, that leads to prosperity in Europe, globally, that does not include a full international effort to give Ukraine the tools it needs to drive Russian forces from their borders and to secure its borders for good."

Needless to say, this is not the view of the German and French governments, which rightly fear a major war, whatever its causes, in their neighbourhood. Not so the new cold warriors in the Harper Government, though. And you can't have much doubt that what Alexander, at least, was talking about is war.

"What is happening in Eastern Ukraine has roots that go back as far back … to the Second World War. But it really has to do with the incomplete process of ending the existence of the Soviet Union for good. Ending the oppression and the Faustian bargain that had been made in the Second World War with Stalin's Soviet Union for good."

Certainly, at least to this listener, it sounds as if Alexander, 47 and apparently nostalgic for the Cold War, is conflating Russia under Putin with the Soviet Union, which is a surprising reading of history for someone who served briefly in Russia as a diplomat. At any rate, he argues to this sympathetic crowd that Putin's goal is to recreate the Soviet Union.

Of course, if it turns out this week that Putin has already faced his comeuppance -- and, say, has been under arrest rather than merely under the weather these past few days -- I expect that Alexander's overheated rhetoric will turn on a dime to accuse some new Russian leader of trying to resuscitate the old Soviet Union.

As for those, like former Canadian diplomats Jeremy Kinsman and Paul Heinbecker, who have criticized Canada's Ukraine policy, not to mention citizens who might think Russia has interests on its borders without necessarily being fans of the Russian government, whoever leads it, Alexander equated them to the people in Russia he claims want to restore the Soviet era.

"They are a menace to Russia. They are a menace to Ukraine. They are a menace to the whole world, ladies and gentlemen, and we must speak out against this dangerous ideology. Which is present in our own city of Toronto! Which is present across Canada. Which comes to us through state-sponsored Russian channels that are preaching absolute poison."

I don't know that the Russia Today YouTube channel really has that many viewers in Canada, but you can't be too careful about alternative views, I guess, at least before Bill C-51 has been duly passed into law to allow the Canadian organs of state security to watch and disrupt RT's domestic fellow-travellers.

Alexander then moved into a long discourse hotly denying the argument modern Ukraine has a problem with neo-Nazis. While the influence of far-right groups and militias has been credibly covered by such generally conservative news organizations as the BBC, the Daily Telegraph and even the normally politically reliable New York Times, Alexander blamed "Russian language television" for what he called "one of the greatest perversions of history that I have seen in my lifetime," the suggestion far-right groups are influencing the Ukrainian government.

Alexander was followed as speaker by Andriy Parubiy, deputy chairperson of the Ukrainian parliament and founder in 1991 of that country's evocatively named Social-National Party, which the Wikipedia describes as having "combined radical nationalism and neo-Nazi features" before changing its name to Svoboda ("Freedom") in 2004.

Parubiy recently returned home from a Canadian tour, during which he met privately with Foreign Affairs Minister Rob Nicholson and James Bezan, Parliamentary Secretary to Canada's minister of defence.

Alexander wound up his remarks with a stirring call for Canada to take the lead "in fighting and supporting those who are fighting." He concludes with a cry of Slava Ukraine! (Glory to Ukraine!) A transcript of his remarks on the video may be read here.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.



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