Canada 150

Michael at Canada 150, Ottawa150 years ago the British North America Act made Canada a self-governing Dominion. There was a big celebration in Ottawa in 1867, and there was a big celebration in Ottawa in 2017. By the Good Fates I was born in Canada. I didn’t earn the privilege, but I do what I can to live up to it. I have lived in England and in Ukraine, worked all over the United States, and visited 38 other countries. Canada … my Canada … is the greatest country in the world.

Lessons from the 1990s and Challenges for Canada-Ukraine Free Trade

Michael MacKay and Michael Kostiuk, UCPBA OttawaThe Ukrainian-Canadian Professional and Business Association, Ottawa branch, held a Canada-Ukraine Free Trade Agreement Forum in Ottawa on June 10. Speakers at the forum were Michael MacKay (me) and Michael Kostiuk, pictured, as well as Ron Sorobey.

Here are notes from my presentation:

Canadians and Ukrainians can learn from the successes and failures of the first initiatives to advance civil society in Ukraine, after the resumption of Ukraine’s independence in 1991. Partners in Progress and the Canada-Ukraine Partners Project were Government of Canada initiatives which got started in 1992 and wound down in 1996. They placed Canadian volunteers with Ukrainian partners for projects in support of civil society. I was one of these volunteers, and my project partner was the University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy (UKMA). The goal of my project was to help UKMA achieve its foundational purpose: to become a self-governing academic institution and a peer to Western universities. Hundreds of Canadian volunteers fanned out across Ukraine, supported with small grants, in what was a period of excited enthusiasm for Ukraine free of the Soviet yoke.

The successes of Partners in Progress and the Canada-Ukraine Partners Project came from direct person-to-person interactions. Canadians extended their connections to Ukraine beyond what they had been, which were strictly family ties. Cultural ties were strengthened in the civil society space that lies between the family and the state. Ukrainians saw real civil society activism, and home-grown initiatives took off. Volunteerism broke free of its Soviet slave labour past. From the Canadians came an impetus for successes in Ukraine like professional associations, environmental groups, election monitoring organizations, and others.

The failure of these initiatives on the Canadian side was that they did not change Canada’s institutional, bureaucratic approach to foreign aid and emphasis on “development.” Canada did not come to treat Ukraine as a peer, and still does not. What the Canadian volunteers and their Ukrainian partners were doing did not stop what was really happening in Ukraine, which was a shift from statist authoritarianism to a hyper-inflationary kleptocracy. The power that civil society exerts on government and business remained something that existed in Canada, but not in Ukraine. Privatization was dishonest, the wealth of the nation was destroyed, and Russian imperialism kept its dead hand on the lives of Ukrainians.

Civil society is the foundation of the rule of law and the enforcement of contracts. It is essential to doing business in a fair market. The rise of the oligarchs in the 1990s in Ukraine and the re-theft of property that ensued, meant that honest business was impossible. Free trade was a dead issue in the 1990s and 2000s. It took the “Maidans” of 2004 and of 2013-14 for civil society in Ukraine to exert some power, and to make a free trade agreement between Canada and Ukraine possible.

The decommunization law which should have been passed in 1992 was passed in 2015, and is a great leap forward. This law is as essential to post-Soviet Ukraine as denazification laws were to post-Nazi Germany.

The challenge that lies ahead is that the Canada-Ukraine Free Trade Agreement is only a traditional deal eliminating tariffs on most goods and services. It needs to be “deep and comprehensive” like the combination of the EU-Ukraine DCFTA plus the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement to really make a difference to Canadians and Ukrainians.

Canada does not have visa-free reciprocity with Ukraine but the EU does; until Canadians meet Ukrainians in Canada as true peers there will be no trade boom coming from the Canada-Ukraine FTA. Ukrainians can travel without visas to all the countries in the EU Schengen Zone and to EFTA countries, but not to Canada. The Government of Canada disgraces itself and embarrasses Canadians by keeping up senseless and cruel barriers to Ukrainians.

Lustration in Ukraine has not reached the judiciary. Until corrupt judges are rooted out, there can be no confidence in the enforcement of contracts. Starting with Partners in Progress and the Canada-Ukraine Partners Project, Canada has had mentorship programs with Ukrainian judges. These need to become less polite, advisory, and “Canadian” and much more intimately tied to lustration and to the drive to eliminate corruption. Canada has been helping Ukraine transition from Soviet-style militia to Western-style police for law enforcement, but without honest judges in place all this effort will be for nought.

The IMF has pushed for an end to the moratorium on land sales. Honest enjoyment of property rights rests on clear and unambiguous title to land. You can only sell land if you truly own it. Theft of land in the Soviet period (collectivization) and theft of land in the oligarch period (1992 to EuroMaidan) means that land ownership is mostly illegitimate in Ukraine. Ukraine needs to extend decommunization to land ownership, and implement restoration and restitution to the original owners and to their heirs. The Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania have done this successfully. The laws of the Soviet Union, forced on Ukraine, are illegitimate on their face, and that applies to laws about land ownership, possession and use. After EuroMaidan, Ukraine is understanding itself as a country having recovered independence, from the 1918-1921 Republic, and not as having gained newly-found independence in 1991. The Soviet/Russian period was an interregnum. Land ownership and the enjoyment of property rights will only be on a firm foundation when it is tied to decommunization.

Canada has been fortunate to inherit political structures from Great Britain with a minimum of political violence. Ukraine has suffered appalling political violence from Russia. Ukrainians have to reach back further for examples of successful civil society, independence, and honest trade: to Kyivan Rus’, to the viche direct democratic assemblies, to the Ukrainian People’s Republic, to the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army. Canada has had time to mature into an advanced democracy, not having suffered invasion since the Fenian Raids and the Battle of Ridgeway in 1866. Ukraine has been re-invaded by Russia starting in 2014. Ukrainians have the burden of defeating foreign invaders from Muscovy at the same time they’re establishing free trade with peer democracies like Canada.

There is formal free trade between Canada and Ukraine: the removal of tariffs and regulatory barriers. But peerage as nations and as peoples demands much, much more. We need to start by understanding that in this relationship Canada is the “Old Country” and Ukraine is the “Young Turk.”

For us Canadians, we have to keep supporting civil society and the rule of law in Ukraine, and we have to help liberate the occupied territories in Crimea and Donbas. It is incumbent on every Western nation, led in the vanguard by Ukraine, to defeat Russia. Only then will we have real free trade.Canada-Ukraine Free Trade Agreement

Doors Open Ottawa, 2017

Exhibits at Parks Canada Sheffield Road Collections Storage FacilityDoors Open in Ottawa gets bigger and more popular every year, and it’s a challenge to visit new buildings and not wrestle with big crowds and long queues. Parks Canada opened the doors of its storage facility on Sheffield Road, a warehouse filled with exhibits and reproductions from historic sites. Here’s a table with an interesting sample of items: a rejected version of the Canadian flag, a pair of skates, a jacket from the destroyer HMCS Haida, and memorabilia related to Dr. Norman Bethune.

MiG 21, Canada Aviation and Space Museum, OttawaThe Canada Aviation and Space Museum is at the old RCAF Station Rockcliffe, and for Doors Open Ottawa the museum opened its reserve hangar. Inside are aircraft that are undergoing restoration or that just won’t fit into the limited space of the main exhibit hall. This is a MiG 21 fighter that was built in the Soviet Union and flown by the Czechoslovak Air Force. After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Warsaw Pact, this airframe was acquired by the Canadian Armed Forces and came into the possession of the Aviation Museum.

Stadacona Hall, OttawaStadacona Hall in Sandy Hill was built in 1871 for lumber baron John A. Cameron. Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, lived here, and Lady Agnes Macdonald was famous for keeping peacocks on the grounds. Today, the mansion houses The High Commission of Brunei Darussalam in Canada.

Sir John A. Macdonald Building in Ottawa (former Bank of Montreal)The former Bank of Montreal building on the O’Connor Street block between Sparks Street and Wellington Street has been closed and under renovations for as long as I can remember. At last it’s open, as a House of Commons meeting or reception hall. First opened in 1932, the renovation kept the architectural features of the great banking hall.

Wellington Building in Ottawa (former Metropolitan Life Insurance Company)The former Metropolitan Life Insurance Company building on the same block has also undergone extensive, years-long renovations. Built between 1924 and 1927 in the Beaux-Arts style, original features that were kept were the building’s facade and the entrance hall off of Wellington Street that has an elaborate mosaic in the vaulted ceiling. The praise of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company was over-the-top: speaking of the Great Metropolitan Mother the mosaic proclaims: “Death and Disease Give Way Before Her.” Wow.

Michael in the witness seat, Wellington BuildingThis is me in the chair’s seat in a high-tech committee room. This can be said to be my proper and natural habitat. I’m not wearing a suit and tie, but I am wearing my Canada 150 t-shirt. 2017 is the sesquicentennial of the signing of the British North American Act and of Canada as a self-governing Dominion.

View of the West Block of the Parliament Buildings from the Wellington BuildingFinally, this is a view of the West Block of the Parliament Buildings, taken through a window of the Wellington Building. The Gothic Revival architecture of the Parliament Hill precinct in Canada’s capital is absolutely magnificent.

Digging out

ShovellingThe Ottawa Valley was hit with a couple of big snowstorms last week, and an above freezing Sunday provided the opportunity to begin digging out. The whole family was at Mont Cascades to celebrate my brother Robin’s birthday — belatedly, because a blizzard put off our plans last week. I was on call to prepare the traditional feast of pirohi, as usual, but first there was some snow shovelling to do. Handyman Chris and his sister Megan came by, and the three of us tackled the mountain of snow at the front of the house so people could at least get in and out of the door. As you can see, the weight of snow and ice sliding off the roof took off the eavestroughing in places. When it snows again I’ll cry, but until then I’ll take pride in the good work we did. Such is life in Canada.

Carillon at Rideau Hall

Mobile carillon at Rideau HallThe Governor-General of Canada gives a summer concert series at his official residence in Ottawa, Rideau Hall. An unusual offering this year was a performance by the Dominion Carillonneur, using a mobile carillon. Dr. Andrea McCrady is the Dominion Carillonneur, and normally she plays the bells that are in the Peace Tower of the Centre Block on Parliament Hill. She and her apprentice played a varied program for an intrigued audience on the grounds of Rideau Hall. We got a chance to see and hear a carillon up close. The how-to of this unusual form of music making was fascinating.

See and hear the mobile carillon.

Skiing along the Ottawa River

Skiing by the Ottawa RiverThe winter skiing and skating season is a bit late, but finally here. The Rideau Canal only opened for skaters this weekend, and as you can see the Ottawa River is not completely frozen over. The heaved ice from the wind and the current makes the Ottawa look like the wild river it really is.

I tailed along after my parents, skiing on the same path we bicycle on in the summertime. I’m wearing my “müts” — that’s the one word of Estonian I know, and it means “toque” (now the Canadians know what I’m talking about). I bought it in Tallinn last year.

Canada is United for Ukraine

Patches: Canada for UkraineMy second cousin is a soldier in the 24th “Iron” Division, a mechanized brigade of the Ukrainian armed forces. Last winter in Donbas, in eastern Ukraine, he defended against the Russian invaders. Now, he has gone into the reserves, and his younger brother is on active duty defending Ukraine. I got these patches from a Canadian group which is supporting the welfare of soldiers who serve in the 24th “Iron” Division. The Ukrainian armed forces need all kinds of support, and that has to come from the Ukrainian government, allied governments, and individual supporters of democratic and independent Ukraine throughout the world.

My dear Ukrainian cousins: Canada is with you … Канада з вами … we are United for Ukraine!

Wakefield for Refugees

Wakefield for RefugeesThe village of Wakefield, Québec, just up the Gatineau River from Ottawa, is sponsoring a family from Syria who are refugees from the conflict there. A group called Wakefield for Refugees has raised $30,000 so far, and hopes to raise more and sponsor a second family. Last week they organized a language class in beginner-level Arabic for villagers, to help the newcomers feel more at home when they arrive. 40 people showed up in a local café, including some children. The enthusiasm and good will is tremendous. It’s the Canadian way.

My brother and I went to the Christmas craft fair in Wakefield this weekend, mainly to get a Christmas tree. Lots of people were out in the unusually mild weather, including volunteers at this Wakefield for Refugees table.

مرحبا بكم في كندا.
Welcome to Canada.
Bienvenue au Canada.

All Saints’ Day

Mushroom in bole of treeNovember 1 is All Saints’ Day. Western Ukrainians observe the custom of visiting the graves of relatives, and remembering them on this day. My Taras cousins in Lviv oblast visited the graves of my great-grandparents. In Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, 6,900 km away, I visited the grave of my grandparents. They were separated in life, but for us there was a connection in remembrance.

The photograph is of a mushroom in the bole of a tree, seen along the way to the gravesite in the cemetery. The leaves have fallen from the trees, but even in autumn life is tenacious.

Advance poll, 42nd Canadian general election

Advance poll, 42nd Canadian general electionI voted today. The general election for Canada is on October 19, but the advance poll was just along the street from me, it’s a beautiful sunny day in Ottawa, I had some time … so why not? I am an out-and-out militant when it comes to voting, and that comes from my experience as an election observer. Having seen how seriously most Ukrainians take the conduct of free and fair elections, and how they have had to fight for the franchise, I can’t imagine shirking my duty as a citizen and failing to vote.

While I was in the queue with other voters waiting to cast my ballot, an election worker distributed lollipops. I chose cherry. Now that’s something I never saw in Ukraine!