If former Liberal leader Bob Rae had any advice for the woman who now represents his old riding, it would probably be this: “Don’t hold your breath.”
Toronto Centre MP Chrysta Freeland kept the seat for the Liberals last November, after Rae retired from politics.
On Wednesday, Freeland stood in the House of Commons and addressed the situation in Ukraine — a topic she knows something about, considering her journalism career has taken her there in the past.
Freeland ended with this plea:
“Let us fight here about the political issues where we generally disagree. Let us fight about income splitting. Let us disagree about Keystone, but let us not make Ukraine a political football. Her people have died for this revolution; let us not diminish their sacrifice. I do not think anyone in the House wants to do that. If we can say to the people of Ukraine that we are united in supporting them, what a strong message that would send to them.”
It’s unfortunate, of course, that Freeland’s current leader hadn’t absorbed that sentiment a week earlier. Justin Trudeau joked on a Quebec talk show on the weekend that Ukrainians might be worse off now because Russian President Vladamir Putin was grumpy over a poor showing in Olympic hockey.
It was a colossally stupid comment. It was so stupid, in fact, that Trudeau’s opponents would have been well advised to let him twist in the wind all by himself.
But that’s not how politics works in Canada, where overkill is the preferred modus operandi.
One after another, MPs stood in the House on Wednesday to skewer Trudeau while pledging their own sombre devotion to the Ukrainian people.
Meanwhile, asked to explain why a delegation to the Ukraine did not include members from other parties, a spokesman for the prime minister plunged the knife deeper.
“This is not a laughing matter,” Jason MacDonald wrote in an emailed statement. “Mr. Trudeau’s comments about Russia and Ukraine were neither helpful nor did they contribute positively to Canada’s efforts to assist the Ukrainian people, and as a result there’s no role for the Liberals in this government mission.”
So much for statesmanship.
Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair has so far tried to avoid taking potshots at the expense of the crisis.
Nonetheless, the Conservatives still managed to portray the NDP’s exclusion from the delegation as a punishment for past sins.
“The NDP wouldn’t pick a side, unlike our government, which has been steadfast in its support for the Ukrainian people,” MacDonald wrote. “Until they decide on what they stand for they, like the Liberals, shouldn’t be a part of the government delegation.”
Ukraine’s Crimean parliament was seized by pro-Russian gunmen Wednesday, and Putin appears to be readying troops for possible action. The world is on tenterhooks as Ukraine’s acting government tries to establish its authority.
But in Canada, it’s partisan politics as usual.
The Conservatives had a golden opportunity this week to take the high road in this affair, ignoring party politics and letting others skewer themselves.