THE WEST BLOCK
Episode 19, Season 11
Sunday, March 6, 2022
Host: Eric Sorensen
Egils Levits, President of Latvia
Larisa Galadza, Canada’s Ambassador to Ukraine
Tim Powers, Summa Strategies
Location: Ottawa, ON
Eric Sorensen: This week on The West Block: Ukrainian cities bombarded with rockets. Russia’s invasion intensifies, putting the entire retire on edge.
With hundreds of Canadian troops in Latvia leading a NATO mission, Mercedes Stephenson sits down with Latvia’s president.
The unfolding humanitarian crisis…
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: “We’re also ready to welcome more Ukrainians to Canada.”
Eric Sorensen: More than 1 million Ukrainians cross the border into neighbouring countries, many of them into Poland.
Canada’s Ambassador to Ukraine is there and we’ll talk to her about Ottawa’s plan to help many who want to come here.
And the date is set for the Conservative leadership.
Jean Charest, Former Quebec Premier: “And that’s rarely our responsibility to be that national political party.”
Eric Sorensen: As former Quebec Premier Jean Charest considers entering the fray, a Conservative strategist shares his insights.
It’s Sunday, March the 6th, and this is The West Block.
Hello, and thanks for joining us. I’m Eric Sorensen.
Well the prime minister arrives in London today, ahead of talks tomorrow with British and Dutch prime ministers’. Western leaders are united in condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Justin Trudeau will also travel to Germany, Poland and Latvia. That’s where Canadian troops are leading a NATO mission.
Mercedes Stephenson, the host of The West Block, is in Latvia.
Mercedes, what is the mood there?
Mercedes Stephenson: Eric, the feeling here in Latvia is one of some anxiety and concern. There is definitely a sense of deep sympathy and solidarity with the Ukrainian people. Every night, we hear the Ukrainian national anthem being blasted outside of our hotel on large speakers. This is a country that remembers what it was like to be invaded by Russia, by the USSR, and there is concern for Latvia’s future. Not that there is an immediate security threat, but certainly that this is a country that could find itself between the crosshairs in the future if Vladimir Putin is trying to reunify what was once the USSR.
Eric Sorensen: Mercedes, you sat down with the President of Latvia Egils Levits. What did he have to say?
Mercedes Stephenson: Eric, President Levits is so grateful for Canada’s commitment and the 540 Canadian soldiers who are here with about another 150 or 160 who are on their way to shore up that presence. He believes that what we’re seeing in Ukraine, is a fundamental attack on democracies, on the western way of life, and that the whole post-Second World War, global security order, is changing and that the West must recognize that and stand up for what we believe in. Here’s my interview with President Levits, now.
We’re here in Latvia, your beautiful and very brave country. But I know there is deep concern about two of your neighbours: Russia and Belarus.
When you look at the scenario now, I know you’ve said you don’t feel there’s an immediate threat to Latvia, the Russians are not going to roll across the border tomorrow, but what do you feel the medium and long-term threats to your country are from Vladimir Putin?
Egils Levits, President of Latvia: Immediately, we are worrying about Ukraine, and it’s the same situation for the whole Europe and for all NATO states because as aggression against Ukraine is in the same time, aggression against Europe, against NATO, against the western world, against democracy, and all democracies in the world are concerned about that.
Concerning Latvia, we have no immediate threat, but of course, environment, the security environment in Europe has changed dramatically. The post-war peace order is not more valid and we should seek for a new order where we should count with an aggressive Russia.
Mercedes Stephenson: Do you feel that Ukraine should be brought in to NATO, or is simply too late for that?
Egils Levits, President of Latvia: In the middle term, I would say yes, it is ready to join, but it is not on the agenda now.
Mercedes Stephenson: There has been some hesitancy from some European countries to go as hard as possible on the sanctions initially, and it seems like that has changed. You now have Germany, for example, lifting a historic decision not to export arms. Do you feel the West is united in its position against Russia ineffective?
Egils Levits, President of Latvia: Yes, absolutely. The West is united and it was one of the surprises for Putin that the West is so united. Of course, in order to make decisions, it is necessary to have some time, some days at least, and how some member states of NATO, member states of the European Union, has changed their longstanding politics. For example, Germany, it deserves respect because now they are facing with the reality. The reality is an aggressive Russia and we should deal with this reality, with an aggressive Russia.
Mercedes Stephenson: What is the best way to deal with an aggressive Russia? Is it fighting Russia? Is it creating the NATO no-fly zone that would involve NATO airplanes trying to protect that? How should the West deal with this?
Egils Levits, President of Latvia: Immediately, NATO states are already dealing with that and giving all necessary support for Ukraine, in order that Ukraine can defend themselves. There is military equipment, which comes from the United States, from the United Kingdom, from Germany now, also from Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Poland, from many NATO states. It is immediately necessary for Ukraine. Then of course, economic and financial support in middle and long-term. This is one thing, one direction: support to Ukraine. The other is to impose the heaviest possible sanctions to Russia.
Mercedes Stephenson: You have Canadian troops here, 540 of them. There’s more coming: artillery, battery and a few electronic warfare troops. Do you think that that is enough from Canada, or is there more that you plan to ask Prime Minister Trudeau when you meet with him?
Egils Levits, President of Latvia: Yes, it is. The Canadian presence is very important for Latvian security, for the security of the whole northern European region, because the Canadian presence shows that NATO is present and it is a part of NATO’s politics of deterrence. It is an anti-war instrument to be present here in order to warn Moscow.
Mercedes Stephenson: If you could ask the prime minister of Canada for one other thing, what would it be?
Egils Levits, President of Latvia: I would say the presence of Canadian troops is very, very important. There are other needs to improve with the capacity of our Latvian military troops. I would also say that the political unity of NATO is very, very important and I see that Canada is contributing to the political unity and to political profile of NATO, very much.
Mercedes Stephenson: You’ve stated that you believe Ukraine should be brought into the European Union. Why would you like to see that?
Egils Levits, President of Latvia: I have proposed to give to Ukraine, a candidate status in a political decision—urgent political decision—now, very soon. It would be a political act of the European Union, to show the Ukrainians that they belong to Europe and that Europe needs Ukraine.
Concerning bureaucratic procedures, I know Ukraine is not now formerly ready to be a full member state of the European Union. But all the bureaucratic procedures should be in this situation, put away and we need a political decision.
Mercedes Stephenson: You also share a border with Belarus. Would you like to see the international community doing more about that country and that regime in that country?
Egils Levits, President of Latvia: Politically, Belarussia has ceased to exist as an independent country. We should say Belarussia politically as a part of Russia. Belarussia or [00:09:52] regime. Lukashenka is participating in the aggression against Ukraine. And also all the sanctions are now adapted not only against Russia, but also against Belarus.
Mercedes Stephenson: Mr. President, is there anything else you would like to say to Canadians today?
Egils Levits, President of Latvia: Canadians are together with Europe, and Trans-Atlantic links between Europe and Canada are very, very important for us Europeans and I think also, for Canadians. Together, we are the basis for the western value system and we should defend our values.
Mercedes Stephenson: Thank you so much for your time, Mr. President.
Egils Levits, President of Latvia: Yeah. Thank you very much.
Mercedes Stephenson: The desire to express comfort to the Baltic countries and resolve against Vladimir Putin will manifest in the form of a number of visits from high level North American leaders to this part of the world in coming days. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will be visiting Latvia among other countries, and Secretary of State Blinken from the United States will also be visiting this country and meeting with President Levits.
Eric Sorensen: Thank you, Mercedes.
Up next, we’ll speak to Canada’s ambassador to Ukraine about the humanitarian crisis at the border in Poland and what Canada is doing to help.
Eric Sorensen: The UN estimates up to 4 million Ukrainians will flee the country as the Russian invasion drags on. Thousands are streaming across the borders with neighbouring countries every day. Canada’s Ambassador to Ukraine Larisa Galadza is near the Polish border where we reached her on Friday to talk about the crisis.
Ms. Galadza, first of all, we’re seeing this sea of humanity. Describe what it is like?
Larisa Galadza, Canada’s Ambassador to Ukraine: It’s like a sea of humanity. It’s people standing in line-ups, many of them on foot, but a lot of them still in cars, coming over the border. I’m glad to say that in the last few days, the line-ups, the waits at the border have really come down, thanks to the hard work of the Ukrainian border guards and Polish border guards and the entire system on this side of the border to move them along. But it’s people and their possessions. It’s mostly women, and children, and elderly, and they’re looking for safety.
Eric Sorensen: The immigration minister has said there will be no limit on the number of Ukrainians who can come to Canada, at least on a temporary basis. How will that work? How many? How soon? Just give us a sense of how this is going to work.
Larisa Galadza, Canada’s Ambassador to Ukraine: I think—I know that the details of how that’s going to work are being quickly sorted out and developed by Ottawa. But what’s important, is that Ukrainians will have options and they’ll have speed and they’ll be able to come to Canada if they want. Ukrainians also have a lot of options in Europe. So I think that Canada is doing what Ukrainians know Canada is good at: opening its doors, saying come. Come for a little bit if you need. Come for a longer period if you need, and we’re here to help you in your time of need.
Eric Sorensen: There is a real need for aid and weapons, for that matter, inside Ukraine. Are you seeing some of that aid come through Poland? And is it getting into Ukraine where it’s needed?
Larisa Galadza, Canada’s Ambassador to Ukraine: Yeah, it is. Let me talk about the military equipment first. I was actually at the [00:02:23] yesterday, watching that come through and it is a remarkable operation. Nothing sits long there and it’s moving through. The humanitarians are now on the ground in great numbers and they’re doing that job that they need to do: building a big pipeline into Ukraine. And from there, the logistics that need to happen to get the humanitarian assistance where it needs to be. Unfortunately, for the moment, a lot of the places that need that humanitarian assistance most, still aren’t accessible to the humanitarian actors and there’s a lot of work underway right now to create the safety and security that they need to go in.
Eric Sorensen: Russia’s foreign minister has made a cold calculation that the West will get over this if Russia indeed does take over and destroy Ukraine. We’ve seen it before in Georgia and in Crimea. Eventually life goes on in the rest of the world. Will this be any different?
Larisa Galadza, Canada’s Ambassador to Ukraine: It’s not the first miscalculation I think that Russia has made, and the response that we’re seeing from our likeminded governments, the response that we’re seeing from the Ukrainians themselves is unprecedented. And so I think that might just be another miscalculation.
Eric Sorensen: These are terrible choices to have to confront as you watch what is happening over there. Should Ukrainians be expected—I mean if NATO and the rest of the world is not going to intervene in a way that will turn around what Russia is doing, should Ukrainians be expected to just carry on as long as possible, dying in great numbers before this is over?
Larisa Galadza, Canada’s Ambassador to Ukraine: Ukrainians are doing what they need to do for the moment, knowing that all the systems in the world are working to support them. Whether it’s the delivery of more ammunition, whether it’s the delivery the non-lethal military equipment, delivery of humanitarian assistance, the help getting people out, the diplomatic work in Geneva, in New York, in Brussels, it is all working a high gear. Everyone is doing what they need to do. And for the moment, that means that Ukrainians inside Ukraine need to put up the fight of their lives.
Eric Sorensen: The Ukrainians that are coming across the border and they’re meeting with Canadians and seeing what the possibilities are, are they in good spirits? Are they just deeply troubled? Describe how they seem to be adapting to what’s going on.
Larisa Galadza, Canada’s Ambassador to Ukraine: It’s the strangest thing to see. Everyone’s doing what they need to do. They are moving their children along. They’re driving the transport trucks back into Ukraine. And there’s a stoicism and this hardness, this determination in getting that done and then they have their moments of deep grief and sadness and pain. But for the most part, when you see them in these large numbers, everyone’s doing what they need to do. I think they’re being strong for their children. They’re being strong for their colleagues in Ukraine and taking the next step they know they need to take.
Eric Sorensen: Your four grandparents are Ukrainian, and when you took over this job two years’ ago, you could not have foreseen the way the job would be happening right now. What’s it like for you?
Larisa Galadza, Canada’s Ambassador to Ukraine: I guess I’m feeling the weight of the unprecedentedness of it all and that’s not just because of my background, but because none of us expected this. And I share that with my colleague ambassadors, many of whom are here right now. A month ago, two months’ ago, we were deep in the details of supporting Ukraine on. It’s really fundamental reforms that it was making, really historic things that Ukraine was doing and now here we are. And we, like those brave Ukrainians, we’re doing what we need to do.
Eric Sorensen: Ms. Galadza, thank you. Keep safe and good luck.
Larisa Galadza, Canada’s Ambassador to Ukraine: Thank you very much. And thanks to all the Canadians for their help.
Eric Sorensen: Up next, one MP is officially in the race. Others are thinking about jumping in to become the next leader of the Conservative Party, including a political heavyweight from Quebec. We’ll look at the potential field with tory strategist Tim Powers, after this.
Eric Sorensen: The Conservatives have announced they’ll choose their new leader in six months. The field of candidates is just beginning to take shape. So far, high profile MP, Pierre Poilievre is campaigning for the job, but he will soon have company.
Joining us now to talk more about the candidates and the race is tory strategist and chair of Summa Strategies, Tim Powers.
Tim, in September, the Conservatives will choose their fourth leader in less than seven years. Even as others get into the race, is Pierre Poilievre the man to beat?
Tim Powers, Summa Strategies: I think he’s set himself up to be the man to beat, certainly with his announcement, Eric. He wanted to get out of the gates quickly, show that he had lots of people supporting him and get lots of people onside the so-called Big Foot Strategy, but will he be the Sasquatch that gets seen at the end, is to be determined. But right now, yeah, I would say he’s in the catbird seat, but six months in a Conservative leadership race with a bigger field, could change that positioning when we get to the end.
Eric Sorensen: Well for a political old-timer, Jean Charest is an intriguing figure. He’s already being criticized by the Poilievre camp. He was once the brightest rising star in the Mulroney cabinet, 35 years’ ago. Well it’s 2022, what does he offer now?
Tim Powers, Summa Strategies: And disclosure, 29 years’ ago when he ran for the PC Party leadership, I helped support him when I was working for John Crosby, but I’m agnostic right now. What does he offer now? I think he offers something that Mr. Poilievre and potentially other candidates to come into this race like Patrick Brown, like Leslyn Lewis, like Scott Aitchison don’t, and that’s a lot of experience. I think the Charest proposition is going to be look, yes, I haven’t been part of this party, but I’ve dealt with tough and difficult issues. I’m a grown-up and I am a Conservative. He’s going to have to defend against criticism that he’s not from the Poilievre camp around all of that, and that I can bring people together. Those, I suspect, will be his messages juxtaposed with Mr. Poilievre who’s already come out and said you’re not a Conservative. You’ve supported the carbon tax. You’ve supported the long-gun registry. Eric, if we know anything so far about this leadership race, a pillow fight is not going to be. A barroom brawl is will most certainly be.
Eric Sorensen: And they seem to be the two shaping up to be on other ends of the bar in that barroom brawl, but there are other candidates, potentially: Patrick Brown, Leslyn Lewis, Michael Chong, and Tasha Kheiriddin. Who and what are you going to be looking for?
Tim Powers, Summa Strategies: Well, let’s talk quickly about Patrick Brown, the mayor of Brampton, former federal Conservative MP. Interestingly, one of the last or the last PC Party president, youth president when Mr. Charest ran for the PC Party and Tasha Kheiriddin by the way, was a PC Party president in 1993. Of that group you’ve just mentioned, Patrick Brown has the most skill and ability in terms of signing up members. He could be a real threat to both Mr. Poilievre and Mr. Charest if he does enter. He won the PC Party leadership. Of course, he stepped down after some allegations. Some significant allegations were made against him that he denied. Leslyn Lewis has proven that she’s a pretty good campaigner, finishing third in the last race. Tasha Kheiriddin will have supporters across the country. From the Conservatives, Scott Aitchison, MP who’s looking to make a name for himself, Chong as well, who ran previously. For the Conservatives having all of those candidates is good for the party brand. That doesn’t mean, as I say, there won’t be a lot of blood left on the floor. For Mr. Charest and Mr. Brown, that creates opportunity as it created opportunity for Andrew Scheer and Erin O’Toole and other Conservative leadership races because in a rank ballot, Eric, if you can’t be the number one choice on the first ballot, you have to be everybody’s second or third choice. And I think Pierre Poilievre’s strategy will be try to be the number one choice, where the others will play to be number two and a bigger field allows you to create more dynamics and more opportunity if you are an underdog.
Eric Sorensen: Some of the others want to be Joe Clark. All right. Tim Powers, thank you.
Tim Powers, Summa Strategies: [Chuckles] Now you’re really dating yourself. But yes, that’s right.
Eric Sorensen: All right. Thank you, Tim.
And that is our show for today. We’ll be back again next Sunday. For The West Block, I’m Eric Sorensen. Thanks for watching.
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