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The Soft-Power Politics That Exploded Into War – The New Yorker



The Soft-Power Politics That Exploded Into War

“Moscow knows that NATO is not a threat,” Mykola Riabchuk says. “It’s just rhetoric. It’s just an attempt to justify some imperialist, expansionist policy.”Source photograph by Joe Raedle / Getty

Mykola Riabchuk is a Ukrainian author and political analyst who has written extensively about questions of Ukrainian national identity. Riabchuk, who is based in Paris, spoke with me earlier this week about the Russian invasion of his country, and his frustrations with some of the ways the war has been covered in the Western media. Riabchuk was chairman of the Ukrainian PEN Centre for four years, and has published numerous books on Ukrainian history and politics, as well as collections of literary criticism and poetry. During our conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity, we also discussed how Ukrainian identity has changed over the past several years, the shape of a possible negotiated solution to end the war, and why the West should be more skeptical of what Vladimir Putin calls Russia’s legitimate security concerns.

Where are you now?

Currently I’m in Warsaw because I came for a couple of lectures, but also I came to pick up my wife, who escaped from Kyiv.


You once made the point that looking at the Ukrainian-Russian relationship through the prism of Russia as an empire and Ukraine as a sort of colony was too simplistic. I’m curious what you meant by that then, and how you think about it now?

I believe that any theorizing is simplistic. You have to emphasize something and to marginalize some other things in order to conceptualize. So it’s inevitable. Of course, Ukraine was a colony, but in the same way it was very untypical. If we consider traditional colonies, it includes a racial component, which is fundamental, and of course it’s the most important, crucial thing. But that was not present in Ukraine. However, if we consider colonies as the lack of agency and the dominance of one people over another and an attempt to marginalize the other to make them voiceless and invisible, of course there was a very powerful dominance. It was an attempt to absorb them and force them to assimilate. These are all forms of dominance, since the very emergence of Ukrainian national identity was very heavily oppressed. So I do believe that we can speak about colonial pressure and colonial oppression.

I’ve read a lot of things that you’ve written recently and it feels like you are trying to argue against this idea that the West and Ukraine pushed Russia into a box around NATO expansion. What is it about that narrative that you don’t like?

Well, first of all, I believe that the very question, the very statement about Russian security concerns, frames the entire issue in a very false way. The assumption here is that Russia has some special security concerns, which other countries do not have. So Russian security concerns are presumed to be much more important than the security concerns of Ukraine, of Georgia, of Moldova, and on and on. Russia is seen as having special rights, exclusive rights. Why? I believe that Ukraine and Georgia and other smaller states—smaller neighbors of Russia—have many more reasons to be concerned about security. They were invaded; they were threatened; they were intimidated by Russia, and blackmailed, and so on. So their security concerns are really important and really serious.

Russian security concerns are a bluff. Russia has no security concerns, because nobody threatens Russia. Neither Ukraine nor Georgia, nor even NATO threatens Russia, and I believe Moscow knows that NATO is not a threat. It’s just rhetoric. It’s just an attempt to justify some imperialist, expansionist policy. Of course, I understand the essence of this rhetoric: NATO is a threat to Russian imperial ambitions. It contains these ambitions. It doesn’t allow Russia to expand further west and doesn’t allow Russia to invade Estonia or Latvia or Poland. And, in this regard, of course it’s a threat, but it’s not a threat to Russia—it’s a threat to Russian imperialism. But that’s another matter. So let’s call a spade a spade, because one of our problems is that we fail to call things by their proper names. We fail to call the Ukrainian conflict a war. It was not a conflict, it was war, and it was a Russian invasion. But all the time we use these false terms like “conflict,” like “crisis.”

I think the counter-argument is to say not necessarily that Russia had legitimate security concerns and that the states in Eastern Europe did not—obviously that would be silly—but to say, rather, that Russia may view its security concerns this way. So it’s in the long-term interest of the countries in Eastern Europe to not do things that would anger Russia simply because it is what you say, a larger imperial power. And, therefore, the idea is essentially that, even if Russia’s claims do not have more moral or ethical worth than the claims of Estonians or Georgians or Ukrainians, we still need to be more careful with Russia—simply because if we aren’t careful then we end up with things like the invasion of Ukraine.

If we employ this logic, we don’t understand that these concerns are absolutely groundless, they are false, they are invented. And yet we accept them and we discuss them seriously. Everybody knows that the Nazis said they were concerned about the Jewish threat, but this was false. Should we recognize the concerns as legitimate? Of course not. But the Nazis said they believed it, and Hitler believed that the Jews represented a threat for the entire world and specifically for Germany. So he had security concerns, the argument goes. Should we accept this? Should we accept Putin’s paranoia?

Right, or you could say that closer to home and further away from Hitler analogies, when American security concerns are hyped up or irrational or illogical or wrong, they should simply be called as such.

I’m not here to discuss or to defend America. My point is that Ukraine is not responsible for any wrongdoings, or missteps of America or Western colonial powers. It’s not our fault. Why should we be responsible for this? Russia raises all these questions and examples, saying, We have to invade Crimea because they did this in Kosovo. Ukraine had nothing to do with Kosovo, so why should we be responsible for Kosovo? Why should we play this game because somebody took over Kosovo or somebody invaded Iraq? If Moscow has some problem with America, let them settle this problem with America, not Ukraine. We are all the time trapped by this false rhetoric. Moscow deliberately introduces all this false rhetoric and Westerners buy it. That’s the tragedy, the real tragedy. We are seriously discussing all these artificial false frames established by Moscow.

One of the frames that Moscow—and not just Moscow or people sympathetic to Moscow—has offered is the idea that the West was pushing to bring in new member states, with obviously both the E.U. and NATO having expanded in the thirty years since the end of the Cold War, and getting closer and closer to Russia. But I want to ask you from a Ukrainian perspective how you viewed those expansions, and how Ukrainians look at the E.U. and NATO.

Well, first of all, I don’t accept this formula about approaching closer and closer to Russia. They didn’t care about Russia. They didn’t approach Russia. The countries of Eastern Europe had their own problems, and their own interests. Russia lost them because it didn’t have enough soft power. It was not hard power but a competition of soft power. And the West had much, much stronger soft power. And the Eastern European states were attracted by soft power. Moreover, they had very bad experiences with Russia and they wanted to move far away from Russia. So it was not NATO moving to Russia; it was Eastern Europe moving away from Russia. So again, let’s call things by the proper names.

Ukraine was interested from the very beginning in European integration, and this was declared by all Ukraine Presidents, including Viktor Yanukovych. It was Yanukovych who prepared this European association agreement, but stopped it because of Russian pressure. So, all Ukrainian élites and society were basically favorable about the West. Of course, they were more lukewarm about NATO, not because they were against NATO but because they understood that this was a sensitive issue for Moscow, and they did not want to spoil relations too much. So Ukrainians were rather reluctant about NATO at the time, but they were pro-E.U. from the very beginning. There was no big controversy about the E.U. Basically, Ukrainians from the very beginning, from the very emergence of modern Ukrainian identity, understood that their identity was incompatible with Russian because Russia is incompatible with Ukraine. And they’ve always had to seek some alternative, and had to seek some allies in the West, and they had to position themselves as a European nation.

So Ukraine was Western-oriented and the drift was quite natural under all governments. The only problem was that part of the population was more ambivalent. I try to emphasize that it was not pro-Russian, but it was ambivalent. It was pan-Slavic. Maybe they had this idea of belonging to pan-Slavic and Christian communities, which were imaginary communities. So it was not about real Russia. Russia was not very attractive, but, rather, this mythical community was.

That was what I was getting at in my first question about imperialism—this idea that the reason the colonial frame was in some sense too simplistic was that people in both countries had the sense of a larger pan-Slavic identity.

Well, yes and no. Yes, of course this sense of larger personal identity was present. It was largely induced by religion, by the church. But it was also a rather late construction because Ukrainians had little contact with Moscow until the eighteenth century. They belonged to different political entities and different political cultures. And so the contacts were very limited, but then an empire emerged and began with all this mythmaking. This imperial ideology was induced, primarily by the Orthodox Church, which was monopolized by Moscow. It was the only official church. And many Ukrainians internalize this idea, which originally was religious. But it also overlapped eventually with some cultural and political emotions.

So it affected many people, but still I’d like to emphasize that Ukrainian patriotism was present all the time, and today we see this. Otherwise, we cannot explain this phenomenon of today’s Ukrainian resistance, when all the people, regardless of language or ethnicity, fight the Russian occupation. They call invaders invaders. How can we explain this? Just because all of them, whatever their political views and affiliations, feel they are Ukrainians politically. And I believe this was present in Ukraine the whole time. Ukrainians could be very different in many ways, but they were attached to this land, to this country, and it was a very deep attachment.

Do you think Ukrainian identity started to change in some way in 2014?

Well, first of all, I definitely oppose the popular formulas which emerged recently that Putin created a Ukrainian nation or Ukraine identity—something like this. Of course not. Of course he should not be credited for this. It’s like crediting Hitler for the creation of the state of Israel. Nor should Stalin be credited for the creation of a Ukrainian nation. But the Russian invasion probably eliminated remnants of some of the illusions of some Ukrainians. Many Ukrainians had some illusions about this imaginary community, and they disappeared, or they were seriously undermined in 2014, and now they are completely eliminated.

Ukrainians had two different types of identities. One of them was clearly progressive and distant from Russia. They definitely differentiated themselves and were pro-European. And there was another type which was not strictly Russian, nor was it European. It was ambivalent, and gradually this ambivalence disappeared. It disappeared throughout all the decades of Ukraine independence, and sociological surveys clearly showed this gradual decline in ambivalence.

Can you just describe a little bit more what that ambivalence is. You have used the word several times.


I know what the word means. I just—

I mean it in regard to identity. Ambivalence means some sort of infantile belief that you can combine incompatible things. In this case, the belief that you can, at the same time, pursue European integration and integration with Belarus and Russia and Kazakhstan and whatever else. This sort of naïveté is very childish. People cannot recognize this, and it is based on different values. Maybe it was not so clear in the nineteen-nineties, but increasingly it’s obvious because Belarus became more and more authoritarian. Russia became more totalitarian. We have nothing to do with this, absolutely. Ukraine is a democracy. Maybe not a mature democracy, but a democracy with full-fledged institutions, with freedom of speech and so on. We don’t want to belong to this world with Russia.

What did you think Volodymyr Zelensky represented when he was elected in 2019? And why do you think he was elected?

People were tired of the war. They were disappointed because they had very high expectations after the Maidan Revolution. People believed in and expected some miracles, and miracles didn’t happen. The media helped Zelensky greatly, too. The campaign was very technologically skillful. But he didn’t declare anything very clearly. He played the role of a clean, empty screen on which everybody could project his or her own expectations, so he was able to gather very different groups of people and everybody could imagine that he is their President, their ideal. But I believe that, when he occupied the position, he gradually began to grow as a politician. You have a big country—you have forty million people—so of course you have to think differently, not like an actor or like a pop star. And he transformed himself into a quite mature and responsible politician, I believe. So it’s a very interesting phenomenon, and unusual.

A few weeks before the war, Zelensky said that he thought that people needed to relax and not panic and so on. And then he transitioned fairly quickly into this sort of heroic wartime leader. The speed of it was fascinating.

I don’t know whether he really said the former seriously or just played this game, because today he explains that we knew and we took seriously the Russian threat, we understood what was going on, and we were preparing, but silently. We did not want to disclose our preparation. At least he has said we just played possum. So I can understand this decision, and I can also understand his intention to catch Russians unexpectedly. And to some degree they caught them unexpectedly. They didn’t expect such resistance.

I’m sure you’re hoping for Russia to be defeated and for Ukraine to have its sovereignty. But beyond that, is there some sort of agreement that you could see that you would think might be O.K. for the Ukrainian people? How are you processing what’s going on, and, when you hear about negotiations, how do you think about that emotionally and practically?

I cannot speak on behalf of the Ukrainian people. My feeling is that they are not ready for any compromise because it means capitulation. So we have nothing to lose. For Ukrainians, it is clear that Russia is determined to exterminate Ukraine, either to assimilate it completely or to exterminate or extinguish it. It’s obvious for me, it’s obvious as a political scientist, but it’s also obvious for common people who just feel it, because Putin is obsessed with the Ukraine question. He’s writing constantly about Ukraine. All the time, he says that this is not a nation, it’s not a country, it’s an artificial creation, it’s something fake and Ukrainians are Russians. So, if you disagree, you are anti-Russian.

He introduced this formula that anti-Russian sentiment has emerged in Ukraine. And of course we cannot tolerate anti-Russians. What does it mean? That anti-Russians should be eliminated and exterminated, extinguished, destroyed. And for him an anti-Russian is any Ukrainian who doesn’t accept that he’s Russian. So the logic is very clear. He would like to destroy the country, and destroy Ukrainian identity. So, Ukrainians in this situation have no choice. Either you are going to the crematorium or you resist. And we have to resist.

But I personally believe we could sacrifice NATO membership because it’s not so important. If we are promoted to the E.U., we can exchange it for NATO membership. I believe that E.U. membership is much more important for Ukraine, as long as we get some other security guarantees from the international community. And this is something that maybe could be sold by Putin to his own people as a kind of victory, even though it’s not his goal. I understand that Putin doesn’t care about NATO, he cares about Ukraine, he cares about the subjugation of Ukraine. But, to save face, he may buy this.

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Julia Malott: Nope, parents are not ‘fascists’ for being skeptical of gender politics



The core issue at hand is preserving their agency and autonomy over the ideological content of their children’s education

In the coming days, Canada will see heightened activity in the nation’s ongoing gender identity politics debate. The “1 Million March 4 Children” protest against how gender identity is taught in schools, is set to occur on Wednesday, with synchronized events in more than 50 cities countrywide. Two days later, separate Toronto rally will spotlight two figures prominent in the gender-critical movement: Chris Elston, colloquially known as “Billboard Chris” for his distinctive method of protesting against childhood medical transition, and Josh Alexander, a Renfrew, Ontario student who was expelled earlier this year after objecting in class to his school’s transgender washroom policy.

Organizers of these events bill them as a defense of the safety and wellbeing of children, though the protesters’ opinions span a wide spectrum of positions. While some desire personal discretion in how matters of gender identity are handled for their own children, others urge broader constraint on transgender-related discussion and accommodations for the entire student body. The perspectives reflect the diverse community backing the movement.


As parents’ voices grow louder, there’s a perception in the progressive left that all of these emerging movements are rooted and inspired by “far-right” extremism. Many in leftist circles suggest that parental rights advocacy is a dog-whistle: a veiled attempt to advance anti-transgender policies. A recently leaked video from an Ontario Federation of Labour meeting offers a glimpse into how some of the province’s most influential union members perceive these protests. As one member notably stated during the meeting: “The fascists are organizing in the streets … . This is far more than a far-right transphobic protest. They’re fundamentally racist, they’re fundamentally anti-union, they are fundamentally transphobic, and it’s just a matter of time before they come for us.”

Such language of a growing fascist movement, evoking images of 1933 Berlin, is more than a little unhinged, particularly when all they are discussing is parents uniting together to demand involvement in their children’s education. As a covert spectator in the union meeting, there was an undeniable sentiment among participants that if not for them democracy would surely collapse.

It’s a grave mistake to deride the parental collective pushing back against the status-quo as fascist sympathizers motivated by transgender hate. A glance past such alarmist rhetoric reveals that — while a fringe group of hate has always existed — the concerns many parents are championing are much more moderate than a “far-right” moniker suggests.

For many parents, the core issue at hand is preserving their agency and autonomy over the ideological content of their children’s education. They want transparency about what is being taught, the option to excuse their child from content they believe doesn’t align with their values, and the discretion to determine age-appropriateness for activities, such as certain reading material or events like drag queen performances at schools. Perhaps least surprisingly, parents want to be involved in the key decisions of their own child undergoing a social transition in the classroom.

Many of these matters have been surfacing in school board meetings for several years, largely to be ignored by Trustees and Education Directors. The shared sentiment among these parents is the perception that the education system increasingly sidelines them, diminishing their role in their children’s upbringing. This sense of alienation is leading a growing number of parents to take a stand, even if it means confronting accusations of extremism.

The matter of social transition behind parents’ backs in particular is so condemning of their role in upbringing that it has thrust the entire gamut of gender identity matters into the national spotlight, revealing just how out of balance transgender accommodation has become. The manner in which the left has responded — by doubling down in their rhetoric and deriding parents as militant zealots, has played powerfully into the rapid growth of this grassroots movement.

Many parents, even amid those who will stand in protest, have little desire to limit other families’ decisions regarding gender teachings and expression for their children. They realize that their objective of ensuring their own parental autonomy is intertwined with safeguarding those same freedoms for other families as well.

Over time, the persistent branding of even modest parental rights positions as far-right extremism does injury. As the left cries foul each time they encounter a perspective they don’t like, they desensitize the meaning in such a label. By regularly branding modest parental concerns as extremist, progressives may very well be shoehorning the adoption and normalization of more hardline positions that do straddle the line of the parental rights of others. As grassroots gain traction, a vocal minority have now taken to calling for sweeping bans on gender affirming teaching and accommodation for all children and families alike within the public education system.

So where do we go from here? What might a balanced approach to parental rights look like within the nuanced landscape of gender identity politics? Fortunately, we need not start from scratch; history offers us a model for the coexistence of diverse ideologies within our educational institutions. Look no further than religion.

For years, Canada has upheld an educational system truly inclusive of students from all religious backgrounds. The classroom approach to religious topics is robust; it sidesteps direct religious instruction, and when religion intersects with the curriculum, it is presented academically rather than doctrinally. Instead of dictating what’s “true” in religious contexts, educators shed light on what various groups “believe,” cultivating an environment of both choice and critical thinking.

Amid religious diversity, we teach acceptance. Students are taught to make space for varied faith expression among their peers, whether through clothing or other customs, and with a strong desire to maintain neutral, religious symbols are not adorned by the institution. The lesson for students is to embrace and include, even where personal beliefs diverge; Meanwhile, the guiding principle for the institution is to avoid actions that display favouritism toward any specific religious doctrine.

Such a solution could address a significant portion of the concerns fuelling the rising parental unrest. Moderate parents would applaud such an education system, and this would still be inclusive of transgender students. But in order for this to be realized, the two factions moving ever further apart will first need to come to the table and talk. Given the recent rhetoric from progressive quarters, the prospect of this dialogue anytime soon appears distant.


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Ex-diplomat says Poland asked him to keep tabs on Alberta politician



A month after Global Affairs Canada told CBC News it was looking into claims that the Polish government asked one of its diplomats in Canada to gather information on a former Alberta cabinet minister, the dismissed consul general at the centre of the affair says he still hasn’t heard from the department on the matter.

Andrzej Mańkowski told CBC News the only official he has heard from is a B.C. bureaucrat who asked him to return his diplomatic licence plates and identification.

“[Officials with Global Affairs] haven’t tried talking to me,” he said.

Mańkowski showed CBC News a copy of a letter dated Aug. 31 he received from B.C.’s Chief of Protocol for Intergovernmental Relations Lucy Lobmeier asking him to turn in his identity card and to return his diplomatic plates “within 30 days of this letter.” She also thanked him for his service.


Mańkowski alleges he was dismissed from his post in late July after he refused to carry out orders from the Polish government to gather information about Thomas Lukaszuk, a former deputy premier of Alberta who often provides commentary to CBC News about the province’s politics.

“It’s clear that Polish diplomacy during Communist times, the main responsibility was to collect information, to gather information on some Polish representatives abroad,” Mańkowski said, adding he felt as if the request was a throwback to that time.

“The analogy’s extremely evident.”

Last month, Global Affairs Canada said it was taking the allegations seriously.

Spying allegations ‘out of this world’: ambassador

In August, Lukaszuk said he believed he had been targeted by Poland’s department of foreign affairs over his activism against a controversial Polish pastor, Father Tadeusz Rydzyk, who has private radio and television stations in Poland.

Rydzyk, who has ties to the Polish government, has been criticized for delivering sermons featuring homophobic and anti-Semitic views and for preaching against the European Union.

Lukaszuk also shared what he said were encrypted messages Polish government officials sent to Mańkowski asking him over the course of a year to prepare notes on the former Alberta politician.

CBC News has not independently verified these messages were official government communications. Mańkowski did not dispute their veracity in his interview.

“Asking for my opinion about Lukaszuk was just a kind of trap, was just a political test of my loyalty,” he said.

Polish Ambassador to Canada Witold Dzielski has dismissed the claim that his government tried to get a diplomat to keep tabs on a former Alberta politician. (Darryl G. Smart/CBC News)

Poland’s Ambassador to Canada Witold Dzielski called the allegation “totally absurd.”

“The idea of Polish diplomacy spying on a former provincial politician … it’s really out of this world,” Dzielski said.

He said he has never met Lukaszuk and did not know of his previous career in politics before Lukaszuk emailed him about an unrelated consular matter long before the reports about Mańkowski came out.

Dzielski said that if the notes cited by Lukaszuk are real, they were leaked illegally because they would constitute private diplomatic communications.

The affair has captured attention in Polish media, where the story first broke.

In July, Polish opposition politicians cited the messages released by Lukaszuk when they asked Piotr Wawrzyk, a secretary of state in the government’s foreign affairs department, whether Mańkowski was dismissed because he refused to spy on Lukaszuk.

In reply, Wawrzyk said the government could recall a diplomat who refused to carry out an assignment.

Wawrzyk, who was also a deputy foreign minister, has since been fired himself over an unrelated matter both local media outlets and Reuters have linked to a clandestine scheme awarding migrants visas in exchange for cash.

On Saturday, The Associated Press noted he had been hospitalized following an apparent sucide attempt. 

“The minister, Wawrzyk, was laid off because of a totally different subject,” Dzielski said.

He pointed out that those documents were cited by opposition politicians in the context of a heated election campaign.

Dzielski� also said it’s normal for diplomats to be asked to gather information on notable members of diaspora communities.

‘A very marginal conversation’

“We are working very closely with them,” he said. “It is obvious and natural, and it is an element of diplomatic workshops, that we provide and we build ourselves opinions about the quality of cooperation with particular actors.”

He said Global Affairs has spoken to him about the allegations. “We had a very marginal conversation on this which reflects the level of seriousness of this topic,” he said.

A NATO member, Poland has worked closely with Canada to help out its neighbour Ukraine ever since Russia launched its full-scale invasion last year.

Asked for comment, Global Affairs said in a media statement it “continues to work closely with security and intelligence community partners to assess the situation and identify next steps as appropriate.”

The department said last month it had contacted Lukaszuk and that it took the responsibility of protecting Canadians from “transnational repression” very seriously.



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Put politics aside to solve housing crisis, or your kids might never own a home: Raitt




The Current20:05Putting politics aside to tackle the housing crisis


Political leaders of all stripes must find a way to work together to solve the housing and climate crises impacting Canadians, says former Conservative MP Lisa Raitt.


“Toronto is the best example. NDP mayor, provincial premier who’s Conservative, federal Liberal who’s the prime minister,” said Raitt, co-lead of the new non-governmental Task Force for Housing and Climate, which launched Tuesday.

“And if they don’t figure this out, one voter is going to punish them all.”

The new task force is concerned with accelerating the construction of new homes, while ensuring that’s done in a sustainable way. In a press release, the group of former city mayors, planners, developers, economists and affordable housing advocates said it intends to convene until April 2024 to develop policy recommendations. The work is supported by the Clean Economy Fund, a charitable foundation.

Raitt held several senior cabinet posts under former prime minister Stephen Harper. But as co-lead of the task force, Raitt said she won’t engage in the political partisanship that she thinks “poisons the well” around these issues.

“Part of the reason why we’re coming together as the task force is to have a real pragmatic and practical conversation about these issues instead of weaponizing it into a political arena, and finger pointing back and forth,” she told The Current’s Matt Galloway.

Trudeau pledges more housing as pressure mounts over affordability


Justin Trudeau announced funding to build more housing in London, Ont., as he and Liberal MPs kicked off their caucus retreat. The agreement comes as the government faces growing pressure to help make housing more affordable.

Canada needs to build an extra 3.5 million new units by the end of the decade, over and above what’s already in the works, according to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. A report this week showed rental costs have increased 9.6 per cent from Aug. 2022 to 2023, to an average now of $2,117 a month.

This week, the federal government announced it would cut the federal goods and services tax (GST) from the construction of new rental apartments, in an effort to spur new development. The Liberal government also pledged $74 million to build thousands of homes in London, Ont., — the first in what it hopes will be a series of agreements to accelerate housing construction.

Speaking in London on Wednesday, Housing Minister Sean Fraser called on municipalities to “legalize housing,” urging them to remove “sluggish permit-approval processes” and zoning obstacles if they expect federal investment in housing construction.

Poilievre slams PM on housing, says Trudeau ‘funds gatekeepers’


Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre took aim at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s housing plans Thursday, saying the Liberal government’s ‘inflationary deficits’ and ‘taxes and bureaucracy’ are holding back construction of new homes.

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre criticized the government’s plans as not going far enough, while pointing out it echoes some of his party’s proposals. He’s proposed measures that tie federal funding to the number of housing starts. Funding would be withheld from cities that fail to increase the number of homes built by 15 per cent, while cities that pass that threshold would receive bonuses.

Poilievre’s proposals also include a “NIMBY” fine on municipalities that block construction because of opposition from local residents, and the sale of 15 per cent of federally owned buildings so the land can be used to build affordable homes.

Don Iveson, former mayor of Edmonton and co-lead of the task force, said he understands why partisan politics can creep into the debate — but Canadians expect more.

He said the task force intends “to help all orders of government” understand what’s needed to tackle these problems from an economic, technical and planning perspective.

“We’re not going to be able to solve the housing crisis [by] building housing the way we built it for the last several generations,” said said Iveson, who was mayor of Edmonton from 2013 to 2021.

A woman stands in the House of Commons in Ottawa, with people sitting in the background.
Lisa Raitt held several senior cabinet posts under former prime minister Stephen Harper. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Your kids need a place to live: Raitt

Iveson said the challenge of scaling up housing construction will require some new ways of thinking.

That might mean a greater emphasis on automation and building houses from components prefabricated off-site, which he described as “essentially a more factory approach” that could also reduce construction costs.

Raitt said the task force will examine where houses are built, and in what kind of density, to ensure scaling up can “get the most bang for the buck.”

That might mean Canadians might need to have difficult conversations, including whether to build multi-storey buildings instead of single-family homes.

Raitt said older Canadians who already own their own homes might not like the idea of taller buildings going up around them, but they should speak to their kids about it.


Strangers buy homes together to combat unaffordable housing.


CBC’s Sohrab Sandhu reports on an unorthodox strategy where some people are deciding to buy homes with strangers.

“They don’t care if it’s going to be four, six storeys in a residential neighbourhood. They just want a place that they know that they can purchase,” she said.

“Talk about whether or not our kids are going to have a place to live, let alone rent, let alone own, let alone a house in the communities where they were brought up, because right now it’s not looking so good.”

Counting the cost of climate change

When it comes to climate change and sustainability, the task force’s goals come down to a “very simple equation,” Raitt said.

“Whatever we’re building now is going to be here in 2050. So if it’s going to be part of the calculation of our net-zero aspirations, whatever they’re going to be,” she said.

She said the task force will work to formulate ways to build housing that take emissions into account, but don’t include prohibitive costs that slow down the rate of construction.

“It’s going to be a little bit more costly to build with climate indications built in … but you’ve got to make sure that there’s policies surrounding that to make sure it still makes it affordable,” she said.


Visuals of homes destroyed by wildfire in Upper Tantallon, N.S.


Officials say the fire, which is burning out of control as of Monday morning, is expected to grow.

Iveson said wildfires, floods, heat domes and extreme weather events are already disrupting the economy, as well as posing huge financial burdens for the Canadians caught up in them.

“Climate change is already costing us a fortune,” he told Galloway.

Building without those climate considerations “maybe seems affordable in the short term, but it’s false economy when it comes to the real costs ahead of us,” he said.



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