This Listen Up! guest post is by Sally Barnes. Hugh Mackenzie will return to Listen Up! in April.
From every corner of this vast and greatly blessed land there is shared hope that our elected leaders will
“do something” to help end the carnage in Ukraine.
Sanctions and humanitarian aid won’t stop the slaughter. We must help ensure Ukraine gets the weapons it needs to defend their democracy and inform the world’s despots that war crimes will be fought and punished.
Those hopeful that our federal government will increase its defence budget have little to celebrate in this week’s announcement of a deal between the Liberals and NDP to avoid an election until 2025. More money for NATO and defence of our own country will be a hard pill for the NDP to swallow with its strongly pacifist base. It could be the first test of the new “red-orange” alliance.
As Winston Churchill had to beg the west for support to fend off Hitler, Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky is forced to grovel for what is needed to stop the massacre of his people and the destruction of their country. One big difference is that today’s public is better informed and more involved thanks to the media and Zelensky’s communications skills.
For almost a month now we have watched the daily horror of babies born in bombed out basements, housing, hospitals, and daycares blasted apart, and millions of people running for their lives. It is almost impossible to think how worse this nightmare can become but most agree there is no end in sight.
Let me emphasize that I pity our political leaders who must make the gut-wrenching decisions over what to do about Ukraine and the fear it raises, including the threat of nuclear war. Nothing could have prepared them for this when they sought public office.
But dammit, it’s their job and it’s long past time to show the courage and wisdom required at times of crisis. We are witnessing the largest humanitarian crisis since WW2 with ramifications that will remain for decades.
Canada’s own vulnerability has been exposed. A succession of governments has cut defence budgets and demoralized our armed forces. If we lack resources to defend ourselves, how can we send help to Ukraine? In partnership with our NATO allies, we can buy and furnish the military equipment Ukraine requires.
Our Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly got herself in trouble last week when she described Canada as a “middle-sized power” best at “convening” other countries and “diplomacy”. That was widely seen as a slap in the face for the members of the Canadian armed forces. Gone, apparently, are the days when Canada was regarded on a somewhat grander scale on the world stage. Lester Pearson she ain’t!
Cabinet minister after cabinet minister agrees that Canada can and must do more—but all blather on about the need for more “conversation” before desperate refugee families can find safety in Canada and NATO partners decide on further action and what the consequences could be of both action and inaction.
If I had the power to do so, I would ban the word “conversation” from the political lexicon. Maybe if we had more real, honest talk and fewer conversations we could accomplish more.
Pity today’s politicians sitting with military experts on one side of the table urging aggressive action as the only means to stop the current depraved Russian insurgence and officials from the diplomatic corps sitting across from them calling for more discussions and negotiations. Each side has vested interests—only the politicians have to answer to the public for the action they take or fail to take.
Pity President Zelensky, who asked our parliamentarians last week what they would do if our cities were being torn apart, bodies of dead children heaved into mass graves, millions trying to escape and families begging for food, water and drugs for their sick kids and old people.
The response he got was a standing ovation, respect from ordinary Canadians who were watching, a ton of platitudes and sympathy from politicians and our government’s rejection of the so-called no-fly zone he says is absolutely critical to Ukraine’s survival.
Who amongst us ordinary folks can judge who is right? Military experts say only armed intervention by NATO will stop the nightmare but the NATO spokespeople insist a no-fly zone would require enforcement and a Russian plane being shot down will guarantee a third world war and possible nuclear attacks.
Given all of the sophisticated weaponry and other resources that western democracies have at our disposal, it’s difficult for the public to believe there is no way out of this dilemma.
This is not the 1930s when much of the world remained indifferent or uninformed about the buildup of power and genocidal intentions of the Nazis. Today, most major news outlets in the west have staff on the front lines in Ukraine and the public has a front row seat to the carnage and suffering.
NATO is withholding action by saying its job is to protect and defend members of the alliance and to prevent escalation of the current conflict.
Surely, we are already at war with a ruthless and lying dictator whose bombs are falling within 20 miles of the borders of some NATO countries.
Surely, the best way to defend NATO countries is to stop the Russian dictator who has done little over the years to hide his predatory current and future plans.
Since the beginning of this war, we’ve been urged to be patient until the Russian people revolt and deal with Putin themselves. Tell that to the thousands of Russians who have already been imprisoned for protesting the war.
When President Zelensky asked our parliamentarians last week what they would do if Canada was confronted with the situation now occurring in Ukraine, he was asking the wrong people.
Ordinary Canadians would have given him straight answers. We would have told him that our friends and neighbours are anxious to help. We’d be lined up with offers of accommodation, food and necessities for the throngs of Ukrainian families who want nothing more than to live in peace and safety like the rest of us. Many want to one day return to their homeland—or what’s left of it.
We would have done that for the people of Afghanistan whom we promised safe passage and life in Canada because of their help during our work in their country. But thanks to our government bungling, thousands of them remain in hiding hoping we’ll make good on our promise to them before they are hunted down and killed by the Taliban.
Now, our immigration officials scramble to cope with both Afghans and Ukrainian refugees—as well as the backlog of applications that existed even before the most recent crises began.
Meanwhile, talks go on. Bombs continue to drop. The innocent continue to die.
Immigration Minister Sean Fraser was interviewed on weekend public affairs programs and said “conversations” are being held on several fronts to determine how many refugees we will take in, how we get them here, and how and what services we will provide.
Fraser acknowledged that ordinary Canadians are anxious to help and mentioned that his own mother has offered to take in Ukrainians in need. She is not alone.
Canada is home to the third-largest community of Ukrainians in the world. Refugees will be welcomed by a diaspora who share their culture and speak their language. And there’s the rest of our diverse population of good people like Sean Fraser’s mother, who just want to “do something”.
Sally Barnes has enjoyed a distinguished career as a writer, journalist and author. Her work has been recognized in a number of ways, including receiving a Southam Fellowship in Journalism at Massey College at the University of Toronto. A self-confessed political junkie, she has worked in the back-rooms for several Ontario premiers. In addition to a number of other community contributions, Sally Barnes served a term as president of the Ontario Council on the Status of Women. She is a former business colleague of Doppler’s publisher, Hugh Mackenzie, and lives in Kingston, Ontario. You can find her online at sallybarnesauthor.com.
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