Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister is expected to announce this afternoon that the province’s election is officially underway.
The election was initially scheduled for October 2020, but Mr. Pallister said earlier this summer he would call an early election for Sept. 10.
Mr. Pallister’s Progressive Conservatives swept to victory just three years ago, and ending 17 years of NDP government.
The Manitoba NDP, now led by former broadcaster Wab Kinew, are running on a platform centred on reversing many of the changes the PCs brought in, particularly in health care.
The election call means a busy few months for politicians and volunteers in the province – many of whom will spend the next four weeks knocking on doors for the provincial election, and then they will keep on knocking for the federal campaign that begins right after.
Dragged into U.S. politics, Ukraine’s real challenge is ending a conflict sparked by Russia-backed separatists
KYIV, UKRAINE—Anna Zakharova sits on the edge of her bed in Calgary. She opens her computer and flips through Facebook, she sees posts from her new Canadian friends going on vacation, seeing concerts. But then, inevitably, she sees more bad news from home. Another friend is dead.
The news is gutting. She feels helpless.
“You feel like a betrayer because you left, when a lot of people stayed,” she says. Zakharova fled the Ukrainian territory of Crimea during the annexation by Russia more than five years ago.
The annexation tipped off the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine against Russian-backed separatists that has affected millions of people. It’s a war that has dragged on in a steady state for so long, it is easy to forget it’s happening.
“You try to do something to support them or to raise awareness here — but I understand, it’s far away, people are busy with their stuff here,” Zakharova says. “But, I don’t know, I feel like nobody cares.”
Ukraine is making international headlines daily, having been hauled into American politics, notably by the now-infamous phone conversation between the two countries’ presidents this summer.
The conversation has sparked an impeachment inquiry in the U.S. The call is far from big news in Ukraine, where people wish the focus could be on the war. But despite the attitude of indifference toward the scandal, it could have significant impacts.
“This scandal will definitely influence Ukraine because we will either be seen to support Democrats or Republicans,” says Evgeniya Goryunova, a political science professor at V.I. Vernadsky Taurida National University. “Ukraine now risks losing a political ally and the military support of the United States. So it’s a very problematic issue.”
And support for the Ukrainian military is needed, in more ways than one.
From the battlefield to Kyiv
Vyacheslav Bevz pulls on his polar fleece camo jacket and laces up his work boots. It’s a far cry from the suit he wears for his day job as minister of one of Kyiv’s churches.
He tromps through the fall leaves to the city’s military facilities, and down the chilled brick halls of the rehabilitation facility. His days volunteering as a military chaplain are filled with visits here.
Four soldiers share this room. Three with amputations, one with a leg pinned in place.
Suicide and addiction have become increasingly dire problems among veterans of the war, Bevz explains. He worries about every soldier coming home with a serious disability.
But Yegor greets Bevz with a smile as Mulder and Scully solve their latest paranormal case; “The X-Files” plays on the TV screen in the corner. Yegor didn’t feel comfortable sharing his last name, but agreed to have his photo taken.
His left leg bears the scars of battle, while his right leg has been amputated above the knee. These aren’t old wounds, but stories of the daily injuries and deaths don’t make international headlines anymore, they just add to the wartime statistics.
Yegor is from one of the towns currently occupied by pro-Russian forces in the eastern provinces. He stayed there with his family until his mother died of cancer, unable to receive medical treatment because of the conflict. His grandmother died not long after. Then he decided enough was enough.
“It was forbidden to say anything negative about Putin or Stalin,” he says. “Because of my patriotic views, I decided to leave and join the military.”
Yegor worked as a military medic until he was injured by a missile.
Yegor jokes around with the other soldiers as he puts on his prosthetic leg, spinning it upside down to hit himself in the head. He is far from self-pitying; instead he worries about the future of Ukraine. He didn’t vote for the country’s new president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who was previously a comedic actor.
On the campaign trail Zelenskiy promised his priority was to end the war. This demonstrates a misunderstanding of the conflict’s dynamics, Yegor says. His fellow soldiers nod in agreement.
“Russia will not give up,” he says with the help of a translator. “Any withdrawal on our part will only serve as our weakness and their gain. Russia will continue to expand into eastern Europe if we let them.”
Ukrainians are not shy when it comes to accusing Russia of trying, and in some cases succeeding, to destroy their country, piece by piece.
This sentiment of muted panic at the prospect of the country’s sovereignty slipping away is paired with a distinct feeling that the international community has stopped paying attention.
This summer, Russia was readmitted to the Council of Europe, and U.S. President Donald Trump encouraged world leaders to allow for Russia to return to the G7. Russia was ejected from both groups following the annexation of Crimea.
To Anna Zakharova in Calgary, this demonstrates how poor the international collective memory is. Goryunova, the political science professor, agrees.
“We can see business sometimes is more important than democratic values,” she says.
This forgetfulness is frustrating to soldiers, and maddening for those trying to get the word out.
Alya Shandra is the editor-in-chief of Euromaidan Press, an English-language online news outlet that was started during the 2014 revolution. Her outlet focuses on the conflict in the east as well as domestic obstacles to reform.
This summer Shandra co-authored a report that analyzed emails leaked by a group of hackers known as the Ukrainian Cyber Alliance. The emails are principally from Vladislav Surkov, an influential aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The report was published by the U.K.’s Royal United Services Institute and the emails were judged to be authentic by the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab. The Kremlin denied the emails were Surkov’s, insisting instead that Surkov does not use email.
The report uses the emails by Surkov and other associates to describe how Russian agents create chaos and use information warfare to fabricate a world in which deciphering truth from their alternate reality is impossible. And the use of these techniques is meant to ultimately further Russian interests.
“Ukraine really is the testing ground for Russia’s hybrid war that it exports to other countries,” she says.
Shandra explains that while the soldiers coming back from the front lines of a military conflict are a reality for Ukraine, this is only a fragment of the conflict raging, albeit the most visible one. Other measures discussed in the emails include: influencing political groups, creating activist groups to bolster separatism in different regions, and one associate even suggested “resorting to terrorist attacks on infrastructure, transport and communications,” the report reads.
“All of these things, all of these actions that Russia is pursuing,” Shandra says, “the ultimate goal is to create this virtual reality and to nudge the target country into making political decisions that Russia wants. And so far it’s been very successful, I would say.”
Peace or capitulation?
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Since the beginning of October, protests have been recurring in the streets of Kyiv. People are protesting President Zelenskiy’s commitment to a tentative peace agreement that would see local elections held in the eastern region known as the Donbass, before the region would be granted special status and autonomy.
The president has said this step follows with his promise to end the conflict, and he vowed that the elections would not be held “under the barrel of a gun.” Protesters say it is capitulation to Russia, and equates to the loss of another region of the country.
These protests show the tension between the desire to defend and protect the integrity of Ukraine, and the desire to end the pain felt by the hundreds of thousands of people who continue to live in the conflict zone.
“One of the problems which Zelenskiy faces right now is everyone wants to end the war,” says Iliya Kusa, an expert in international politics at the Ukrainian Institute for the Future.
“But from the other side they don’t want to come into any agreements with Russia because they see Russia as an aggressor. And so that’s why it’s very difficult for the new government to try to even speak about this topic.”
Furthermore, Goryunova says it’s important to look at what will be left behind even if an end to the conflict is possible.
“It’s about the people who’ve lived under occupation for about five years,” she says. “Watching Russian TV really has a way of affecting people’s consciousness and so some people there, they truly believe that in Ukraine we are fascists and Nazis.”
With his promise to end the conflict, Zelenskiy was elected this spring with 73 per cent of the vote and he continues to enjoy an extraordinarily high approval rating.
As winter approaches, so too does one of the most difficult periods for people living in the conflict zone. The International Committee of the Red Cross has tried to help in a myriad of ways over the last five years, from providing insulation and heating supplies for homes, to building roads to communities that were completely cut off from civilization by the conflict.
For some of the people who stayed behind, “if they were to move it would be easier,” says Florence Gillette, head of the ICRC delegation in Ukraine. “The thing is, it’s their home, you know? You’re asking people to uproot themselves.”
In total, roughly 13,000 Ukrainians have died in the conflict. The United Nations estimates that of those, roughly 3,300 were civilians, with another 9,000 civilians injured. More than 1.5 million people have been displaced within Ukraine.
Gillette hopes peace is within reach, but she worries about civilians paying the price if the attempt fails. She has seen it happen in other circumstances where if both sides aren’t in complete agreement before a troop withdrawal, civilians suffer.
Both Goryunova and Kusa express concerns about whether Russian-backed forces would abide by these proposed agreements. After all, there is already a supposed ceasefire agreement in place, but it is breached daily.
While the conflict in Ukraine might not be top of mind for many, international support is flowing into the country from western allies, including Canada. It comes in the form of military and police training, as well as financial aid and equipment.
If the Trump-Zelenskiy phone conversation has brought anything into the collective consciousness, it is that Ukraine depends on this international aid. The aid and training will never allow the country to outgun Russia, but it at least has allowed it to keep the conflict at bay.
“Even just the boys being here, it is a bit of moral strength,” says military consultant Glen Grant.
“But of course then it actually creates expectations that are not going to be met. Which is that if Russia comes in and attacks, will Canadians actually fight? Or will they just pack up and go home? And this is a serious question. And it’s a question that the Ukrainian side asks every single day.”
Grant, after leaving the British military, has worked to help countries in eastern Europe reform their Soviet-style militaries. He looks at the support of Ukraine and says it’s a cop-out by its foreign allies.
“This is holding back and trying to stay out of things,” Grant said. “I would say NATO at the moment would be much stronger with Ukraine inside than without. Because our primary enemy is Russia. Well, I mean if the people (who) are fighting Russia, if we don’t think that’s important as NATO, then I think we really need, politically, to think again.
“But then they’d have to care about the front line, and maybe it’s about time they did.”
In whose interest?
Grant and Shandra share the same core argument: the international community needs to be involved in Ukraine, out of self-interest if not for the Ukrainians who are dying. But Shandra is more concerned about the manipulative tactics that hearken back to the Cold War.
We already know Russia is capable of spreading a fake story about migrants raping a child in Germany, and meddling in the 2016 American elections, Shandra says, so it’s only a matter of time before the world beyond Ukraine understands how powerful these tactics can be.
“The fact that there are no tanks in Europe, or in Canada for that matter, no missiles being fired towards Canada, that doesn’t mean that the war is not there. Of course it is there.”
No easy decisions at Trans Mountain ground zero
Political promises — Denise Mullen calls them bright “shiny” objects.
The Burnaby resident lives close enough to Westridge Marine Terminal to see the end point of Trans Mountain’s proposed pipeline expansion project as she walks her dog.
And when it comes to promises, Mullen says, there are few more attractive gifts in a politician’s arsenal than a vow to kill or keep the pipeline that has proven one of the defining issues of the last two federal election cycles.
Mullen, who is director of environment and sustainability of the B.C. Business Council, is in favour of the pipeline.
But speaking for herself, not for her organization, she says she’s disappointed with the way the complex politics around the pipeline — encompassing questions about climate change, energy policy, national economic direction and both First Nations and inter-provincial relations — have been reduced to a simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ debate.
“I’m frankly frustrated with all the politicians,” Mullen says.
She said she wishes politicians, rather the making clear-cut promises, would talk about their intentions without descending into polarization.
“It’s a terrible choice among a bad lot. And what frustrates me the most is that there are so many promises that are incomprehensibly large and unfulfillable in any kind of pragmatic way, and yet they are thrown out there and sound bites are created about them.”
Swing voters and a pipeline purchase
Mullen’s Burnaby North-Seymour riding is considered ground-zero for the debate over the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, which would twin an existing 1,150-kilometre pipeline from Edmonton to Burrard Inlet to allow the export of diluted bitumen offshore.
The seat spans both parts of Burnaby and North Vancouver.
As a result, Trans Mountain’s “tank farm” and Simon Fraser University co-exist on the south side of Burrard Inlet, while the homes of more traditionally conservative voters sit on the opposite, north shore alongside the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation, whose members have launched multiple court challenges to the pipeline.
The seat swung to the Liberals in 2015, when then-newcomer Terry Beech won a tight three-way contest with 18,742 votes. The NDP’s Carol Baird-Ellan trailed him by about 3,500 votes, with a Conservative challenger less than 1,000 votes behind her.
The Liberals promised in 2015 to address climate change and to balance energy needs with environmental protection. And in 2017, Beech was one of two Liberal MPs who voted against a motion in support of the project in the House of Commons.
Baird-Ellan told the CBC she believes many of the voters who lifted Beech to victory were under the belief the Liberals would kill the pipeline.
She feels the government’s decision to buy the Trans Mountain pipeline for $4.5 billion in 2018 in order to keep the project alive will play to the benefit of current NDP candidate, Svend Robinson.
“I think a lot of those voters, you could probably describe them as swing voters, they went Liberal because they wanted to defeat the Conservatives and they also wanted to defeat the pipeline,” Baird-Ellan says.
“I think a lot of those voters … feel quite betrayed and I would be surprised if they didn’t swing in another direction, and I would expect them to vote NDP.”
Interesting — even without a pipeline
Robinson’s return to politics is yet another factor in a fight that would likely have been one of the most interesting races in the country — even without the pipeline.
The contest was thrown into turmoil early on when the Conservatives dismissed candidate Heather Leung because of previous comments about “perverted homosexual preferences” and past support for conversion therapy.
That history became a flashpoint in a contest that includes both Robinson — who was Canada’s first openly gay MP — and Green candidate Amita Kuttner, who came out as pansexual and gender non-binary in August.
Leung is running as an independent although she still appears on the ballot as a Conservative. She told the CBC she supports the pipeline.
So does Rocky Dong, the People’s Party of Canada candidate who is also vying for the seat and who told a CBC radio forum that while he believes climate change is real, “we don’t believe human beings are the main factor.”
Kuttner, by contrast, is calling for an end to both pipelines and fracking.
“Canada should be a true climate leader,” Kuttner’s platform says. “This means global stewardship, green innovation, community preparedness, practical preparation and not buying pipelines.”
The will of constituents
Robinson spent 25 years in Parliament representing Burnaby constituents before bowing out of politics in 2004.
The 67-year-old was a major figure on the frontlines of many of the country’s key cultural and legal battles during that time — from physician-assisted suicide to the logging of Clayoquot Sound.
He says the Trans Mountain pipeline is just that type of defining issue.
“Poeple who have voted Liberal, Conservative, many of them have said in this election that they’re voting on the basis of this issue and they’re supporting me because they know that I’ve taken a strong stand defending the community, standing up against this project,” Robinson said in a phone interview.
“It’s not just one issue, because many of the people that you speak to who are deeply concerned about the Trans Mountain pipeline issue are also very concerned about the climate crisis.”
Beech told the CBC he has tried to respect those opinions while in office, voting against the pipeline in the House because on balance during the past five years “the majority of my constituents have been opposed to it.”
But he says the Liberals have endeavoured to meet the main concerns of Burnaby North-Seymour residents, which include worries about oil spill response, meeting climate change targets and safety issues near oil storage facilities.
“Our government has done more over the last four years to fight climate change than any government before,” he says.
“But we have to remember that if we don’t have a strong economy and people feel like they’re falling behind, then we won’t have the social licence to invest to fight climate change — and we need to make sure that we get that right.”
First Nations consultation critical
It’s that type of balancing act Mullen believes the Liberals encountered once they took office and responsibility for a file that — according to an Angus Reid Institute online survey released last month — 53 per cent of Canadians want to see completed.
“When you do look at things more detailed, you clearly see that it is not clear. There is a lot of grey and decisions about these kinds of issues are always really, really hard,” Mullen says.
“It irritates me when politicians come out and make it seem like their platforms are easy and shiny and ‘I’ll get her done for you.'”
Beyond the promises of any politician, the pipeline’s future also likely depends on Canada’s courts. Just last month, the Federal Court of Appeal allowed six challenges to the project to go ahead.
The appeals concentrate on environmental impacts and the Crown’s duty to consult with affected First Nations groups, including the Tsleil-Waututh.
While a significant number of First Nations along the pipeline route support the project, the courts have consistently upheld the need for governments to make a genuine attempt to accommodate Aboriginal rights and concerns.
That doesn’t amount to a veto, but it’s not a hurdle any party can bypass.
‘It’s all about trade-offs’
The same Angus Reid poll that measured majority support for the pipeline also found that 60 per cent of respondents want federal funding invested into renewable energy instead of non-renewable resources.
Mary Hatch wholeheartedly agrees with that half of the survey.
Her Burnaby home also looks out on Burrard Inlet and the Westridge Terminal. She has one of Svend Robinson’s signs in her garden.
The expansion of a pipeline is no abstract debate for the 73-year-old.
Hatch was a victim of a 2007 accident that saw a backhoe rupture a Trans Mountain pipeline carrying crude oil down to the terminal. Her car and her garden were coated.
The incident turned the former teacher into an activist. She likes Beech personally, but can’t get over the purchase of the pipeline.
“Terry has had a lot of pressure put on him and he did vote against (Trans Mountain) — I know,” she says.
“Even though I think he has done a good job, I can’t put my vote there.”
Mullen wouldn’t reveal where she’ll place her vote but suggested that the controversy with Leung had closed the door on one leading contender.
She says she’ll hold her nose and consider the remaining options. And the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion won’t be her only consideration:
“I’m looking at the whole platform and I’m going to make a bunch of trade-offs but the pipeline itself is not a deciding factor,” she says.
“It’s all about trade-offs. It’s all about balancing and finding a way to satisfy the most number of people who are in the middle. Who often don’t ever speak up. The silent middle — who throw up their arms.”
Democrats Come Out Swinging on Impeachment
The October Democratic presidential primary debate immediately kicked off Tuesday night with the biggest issue dominating headlines, as the 12 highest-polling Democratic candidates were asked about the ongoing impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. And while the Democratic candidates have clear differences when it comes to their policy agendas, all were largely united in their support of the House’s impeachment inquiry—and, in many cases, the possibility of Trump’s removal. “Sometimes there are issues that are bigger than politics. I think that’s the case with this impeachment inquiry,” Senator Elizabeth Warren, who was the first major candidate to support impeachment, said Tuesday. “Impeachment is the way that we establish that this man will not be permitted to break the law over and over without consequences.”
Many of the candidates onstage Tuesday were enthusiastic about impeachment, quick to highlight Trump’s failings, and, as Vice President Joe Biden put it, his status as “the most corrupt in modern history and I think all of our history.” “If we do not hold [Trump] to account . . . we have failed everyone who has sacrificed and laid their lives down on the line,” former Rep. Beto O’Rourke said, while Sen. Amy Klobuchar said she would like to hear Trump respond to how his policies, including his recent withdrawal of troops in Northern Syria, “makes America great again.” “He should be removed,” Julián Castro said simply of Trump. Billionaire Tom Steyer, who has long waged a “Need to Impeach” campaign, emphasized the popular support for impeachment, saying how he took his campaign to the people after realizing two years ago “that there was something desperately wrong at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.” “Impeaching and removing this president is something the people are demanding, that’s what they want,” Steyer said.
As sitting members of Congress, several candidates will play a direct role in deciding Trump’s fate on impeachment. “Mitch McConnell has got to do the right thing and allow a free and fair trial in the Senate,” Sen. Bernie Sanders emphasized during his response supporting impeachment. Sen. Kamala Harris stood strong on her opposition to Trump ahead of a likely Senate vote, responding when asked if already deciding that she wants to remove Trump was being fair to the president: “Well, it’s just being observant.” “He has committed crimes in plain sight,” Harris said, adding that “as a former prosecutor, i know a confession when I see it.” Sen. Cory Booker was similarly asked whether he could be fair at an impeachment trial, given that he once said that Trump’s “moral vandalism disqualifies him from being president.” The New Jersey senator emphasized the importance of taking his impeachment vote seriously, saying that “this has got to be about patriotism and not partisanship” and this is a “moral moment and not a political one.” “We have to conduct this process in a way that’s honorable, in a way that brings our country together and doesn’t rip us apart,” Booker said. As the sole member of the House onstage—and a lawmaker who only recently supported an impeachment inquiry—Rep. Tulsi Gabbard held the most cautious view of impeachment onstage, emphasizing that her support for the inquiry was based specifically on Ukraine and urging the importance of “gather[ing] all the information” and seeing how the inquiry “play[s] out.” “If impeachment is driven by these hyper-partisan interests, it will divide an already divided country,” Gabbard said.
For Biden, the impeachment inquiry is a more personal affair, given that it stems in part from a baseless right-wing conspiracy theory concerning his son Hunter Biden‘s board of directors role with a Ukrainian energy company. When asked specifically about Trump and Rudy Giuliani‘s allegations about him and his son—which there is no evidence to support—Biden emphasized, “My son did nothing wrong. I did nothing wrong.” Biden said that Hunter’s statement on the matter “speaks for itself” and that he “never discussed a thing” about Ukraine with his son, stressing that the issue instead is Trump’s corruption and “why it’s so important to remove this man from office.” “Rudy Giuliani, the president, and his thugs have already proven that they are flat lying,” Biden said. “[Trump] is going after me because he knows if I get the nomination I will beat him like a drum.”
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