Remarks by the Honourable Jason Kenney, P.C., M.P. Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism at a dinner for Ukrainian Election Observers

Ottawa, Ontario, January 31, 2010

As Delivered

Thank you everyone.

It is a real pleasure to be with you here as you prepare to get on the plane tonight and cross the Atlantic to begin an amazing mission, a mission that is very important to all Canadians, that is important to our democratic principles and that is important to the people of Ukraine.

You are going to be giving practical expression to Canada’s belief in our fundamental values of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law, and your mission also underscores Canada’s longstanding and particular support for the freedom and the democracy of the Ukrainian people. You know that this is not something that Ukrainians always enjoyed and Canada can be proud of the fact that ours was the first western country to acknowledge the independence of Ukraine in 1991, following a long period of totalitarian oppression.

In his remarks given last year, Prime Minister Harper said that, and I quote, “We Canadians stood against oppression in Ukraine and elsewhere. We stood for freedom and fundamental human rights. We stood with the brave people of Ukraine, of the Baltic republics and the other captive nations of Central and Eastern Europe. Today, they are free people, living in free nations and they are grateful to the strong western leaders who stood firm against the Communists and their apologists during that period.”

This is something that Canadians feel as a special obligation that we discharged and so your mission underscores our continued support for democratic principles in emerging democracies such as Ukraine.

I just returned from Poland where I was last week representing Canada at the 65th anniversary commemorations of the liberation of the concentration camps of Auschwitz. When there, one cannot help but have a palpable feeling of what can happen in totalitarian systems that are predicated on the power of the state overwhelming the dignity of the human person.

This is something I felt particularly acutely as well when I visited Kyiv in November of 2008 to participate in the 75th anniversary, solemn commemorations of Holodomor – another great crime against humanity in which millions of Ukrainians lost their lives in a deliberate campaign planned by political power. Canada can be proud of the fact that it was the first major western country to have recognized the particularly evil nature of Holodomor, that famine genocide in 1932-33.

And so, that forms some of the historic backdrop that you will be visiting when you are in Ukraine, a country that has experienced much of what Jean-Paul II referred to as the century of tears in the 20th century. But it is now emerging as a nation that aspires to be prosperous, democratic, stable and sovereign and we as Canadians are there to support Ukrainians in those aspirations, just as we have been in defending Ukraine’s right to determine its own strategic alliances.

As Prime Minister Harper said in that respect two years ago, “the decision of Ukraine to seek alliance with others is a decision for, and only for, the sovereign nation of Ukraine.”

That is why Canada is involved in and has for many years provided military training to the Ukrainian armed forces through the military training assistance program. And it is also why Canada welcomed President Yushchenko to address our joint session of our parliament in 2008—the first time, I believe, that a Ukrainian head of state has been invited to address the joint session of parliament of a G8 nation.

It also reflects a special bilateral relationship, a special sense of solidarity that is reflected in the Canadian International Development Agency’s ongoing development assistance project for Ukraine —the only country in Europe for which we have an ongoing CIDA relationship to assist in continuing its path towards prosperity and stable democracy.

That, right now, is particularly important, as shown through our $2.2 million contribution by CIDA to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, in order to strengthen the Ukrainian electoral system. I believe that much of what you will experience there —a new electoral list, new rules—will have been developed, in part, through the technical assistance of international agencies like the OSCE, where Canada has been a leading partner. In fact, we are the fourth largest provider of technical assistance to Ukraine.

I know that my colleague, Minister Oda, will underscore more of that. When I was in Ukraine with Senator Andreychuk in November of 2008, we announced, for example, a $4‑million CIDA project to support reform of the civil service. So we are there in so many ways, not to tell Ukraine what to do, but to provide Ukraine with assistance in achieving its own objectives of transparency and more accountable government.

One of the other ways in which Canada is expressing our special relationship is through our willingness to assist Ukraine in addressing its energy needs, now and in the future. That is why in 2008, Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. signed a memorandum of understanding with Ukraine’s Ministry of Fuels and Energy and why there is a bilateral working group on the feasibility of a CANDU civilian nuclear energy program for Ukraine. These are very important issues in the long term of Ukraine and Canada is there to provide its expertise and its assistance.

This special relationship is also most reflected in the fact that Canada, in the person of former International Trade Minister Stockwell Day, who signed an agreement with Ukraine last September to begin negotiations towards a free trade agreement, because while we have had over a century of very close human and cultural connections between Canada and Ukraine — most obviously exemplified by the robust community of 1.3 million Canadians of Ukrainian ancestry — we haven’t come nearly close enough in developing strong economic links.

I know this a priority for many of the organizations in the Canadian Ukrainian community. It is certainly a priority for the Government of Canada and that is why we are delighted to have begun this process to negotiate greater economic trade and commercial links through a prospective free trade agreement.

All of this was summarized recently through the signing last September at the margins of the UNGA, a bilateral relations road map that points the way forward to even more progress and putting even more substance into this special relationship. This was an agreement signed by Lawrence Cannon and his counterpart, the then acting minister of Foreign Affairs. I would also like to commend and acknowledge the remarkable leadership role of Ambassador Ihor Ostash, who has been a true visionary. He is a determined man and he has helped to make so many of these achievements possible.

One of the things that we hope to see as a next step, coming out of the road map of bilateral relations, is a youth mobility agreement that will facilitate the travel back and forth for study and work of young Ukrainians in Canada and young Canadians in Ukraine. Of course, that is nothing new. It already happens, and in fact, I believe that for over 20 years, there has been a remarkable program where bright young Ukrainian university students come and work for six-month internships in offices of Parliament Hill, learning first-hand how the Canadian system works, meeting new friends and developing new networks.

I know that hundreds of young Ukrainians have benefitted enormously from that and I know many of them are now working in the Ukrainian parliament. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them are candidates in the elections that you will be observing.

So all of these things together with a high long stream of high level visits, such as the visit of Her Excellency, the Governor General, to Ukraine last spring and, of course, the visit of President Yushchenko to Canada in 2008, reflect the fact that Canada, more than any other western nation, has a deep and abiding commitment to Ukraine and her people. That is really why our government decided and Minister Oda decided to partner with you in order to make this Canada election observer team visit possible.

Of course, this is an independent visit of an independent observer team and I know that you all will have learned a great deal over the past two days of the particular—the particular situation and context which you will be facing.

I know that many of you are experienced election observers who have been to many different countries, have participated and have provided the kind of credibility and objectivity that Canada presents on the world stage. But I want you to know that this is a particularly important one. It is one of the larger Canada observer missions, precisely because it reflects the priority of the Canada-Ukraine relationships.

So to all of you who are leaving tonight, I want to say, on behalf of the government, and on behalf of all Canadians, thank you again for offering your services as observers for these historic elections in Ukraine. It’s an important contribution that showcases our democratic values and that will help the Ukrainian people to have confidence in the results of their elections.

You will be putting forward the best face of Canada in Ukraine through your service there, but you will also be giving the Ukrainian people confidence that the results of the election will be a fair and objective reflection of the democratic will of the Ukrainian people.

Thank you to Canadem for putting this together on fairly short notice. They have a lot of experience with this and thank you to each and every one of you for being Canada representatives at a critical time in the history of our close friends in Ukraine. Good luck and Godspeed. Thank you very much.

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