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Federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau says he apologized for his flippant joke about Ukraine. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)
Federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau says he apologized for his flippant joke about Ukraine. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

TABATHA SOUTHEY

A hockey joke can destabilize Eastern Europe? Add to ...

One has to wonder what revolution the Conservatives have been watching if they came away this week convinced that Ukrainians are such a fragile people that the mere presence of a member of Parliament from a Canadian party whose leader made a poor joke would be too much for Ukraine to bear.

Do the Conservatives think that the protesters who challenged their corrupt government were being pelted with puns in those streets? Do they believe that the people who died did so at the hands of knock-knock jokes?

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Ukrainians seem tougher than that to me – not a people to be hurt by an off-hand quip about hockey and the potential brutality of Russia, like the one Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau made last Sunday.

The Canadian delegation to Ukraine this week is an all-Conservative affair. When questioned about it, Jason MacDonald, the Prime Minister’s communications director, explained: “This is not a laughing matter. Mr. Trudeau’s comments about Russia and Ukraine were neither helpful nor did they contribute positively to Canada’s efforts to assist the Ukrainian people, and as a result there’s no role for the Liberals in this government mission.”

The NDP also weren’t wanted on board because, Mr. MacDonald explained, they “wouldn’t pick a side, unlike our government. Until they decide on what they stand for, they, like the Liberals, shouldn’t be part of this government delegation.”

That’s right: “On what they stand for,” wrote a man whose job it is to communicate – adding inarticulateness to insensitivity. Mr. MacDonald was, of course, communicating on behalf of a government, ours, that has taken it upon itself to school an ex-Soviet Bloc country on who its friends ought to be. These countries can be a touch sensitive about this sort of guidance – having had rather too much of that in the 20th century.

If Mr. MacDonald’s statement weren’t so schoolmarmish, the question I’d have expected to have seen entered in Hansard this week would’ve been, “What are you? Six? Is Ukraine your new tree fort?”

But other questions have been raised. Will the Conservatives issue clarification concerning exactly how early in a revolution unequivocal support for one side must be declared in order for any subsequent support to be judged sincere? We’re in for some exciting foreign affairs times if that’s the case.

This will be doubly tricky in a world where a lame hockey joke can destabilize Eastern Europe. Unless, of course, the Conservatives are just playing cheap domestic politics with the Ukrainian revolution.

I recall the joke that Employment Minister Jason Kenney tweeted in November: “Just wrapped up a meeting with several staff members, at midnight. Good thing they’re not unionized! #BestStaffEver.”

Some people were furious with him. I wasn’t. I saw his joke as an expression of sincere gratitude toward his staff – not as tantamount to the killing of Joe Hill, which is how some characterized it.

All sides should calm down, bad-joke-wise. Reactions to a hockey joke shouldn’t be a deciding factor in who is and isn’t a friend to Ukraine.

This week in the House of Commons, David Anderson, Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs, goaded Liberal Chrystia Freeland, my MP, by saying she must be wounded by Mr. Trudeau’s joke because she “claims Ukrainian-Canadian heritage.” “Claims,” he said, protective of his government’s Ukrainian talking points.

As someone who hasn’t a drop of Ukrainian blood in her but who, as a child, often attended, alongside her best friend, St. Mary’s Ukrainian Church in Guelph, Ont., I know a few things about Ukrainian cultural appropriation, Conservatives.

I didn’t go to St. Mary’s just for the service – I went for the weekly folk-dancing lessons as well. I blissfully painted Easter Eggs in the Swidinskys’ kitchen while keeping an eye on the head cheese boiling on the stove. Frankly, I was excited by Mr. Anderson’s accusation. I thought Chrystia and I could be friends! Just a couple of Ukrainian wannabes braiding each other’s hair.

I was disappointed to learn that Ms. Freeland, whose mother is Ukrainian (she helped draft the Ukrainian constitution), speaks Ukrainian and has lived there. My search for a fake Ukrainian folk-dancing partner must go on, I suppose, but I can see how an actual Ukrainian Canadian who is also an MP might have been a welcome addition to a truly Canadian delegation.

Follow on Twitter: @TabathaSouthey

 

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