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Conservative MP Ted Opitz, who won his Toronto riding by just 26 votes, speaks in the House of Commons on May 28, 2012. (CHRIS WATTIE/Chris Wattie/Reuters)
Conservative MP Ted Opitz, who won his Toronto riding by just 26 votes, speaks in the House of Commons on May 28, 2012. (CHRIS WATTIE/Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Tories under fire for staffing of election monitor mission to Ukraine Add to ...

“So, it sounds like sour grapes to me,” Mr. Zalusky said.

Mr. Zalusky, who has been involved in two earlier Canadem missions to Ukraine, said 1,500 people applied for the 490 available short– and long-term observer spots. Another 10 are reserved for parliamentarians, chosen by their respective parties.

“The delegation is made up of lots of people with all kinds of expertise,” Mr. Zalusky said. “There are people who are electoral experts, there are people with language skills, there are people with all kinds of backgrounds.”

However, the mission has raised eyebrows, even among some observers, with the disproportionate number of Ukrainian Canadians who’ve been selected – many of whom, including Mr. Zalusky himself, are connected to the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC), an organization that has been highly critical of Ukraine’s governing party.

One observer, who asked not to be identified, estimated that 50 per cent of Canada’s observers are of Ukrainian heritage.

“It’s hard to imagine they’re objective,” the observer said.

Mr. Anderson said it’s understandable that the Ukrainian community in Canada tends to be “more hostile to the Russian party,” but that makes it problematic for members to serve on a supposedly neutral election monitoring mission.

“They tend to be more on one side. That means that Ukrainian Canadians like any other ethnic group in the diaspora of any country are not necessarily accepted by the home country as unbiased.”

Indeed, the diaspora-heavy contingent would seem to be contrary to Canadem’s own guidelines for election monitoring missions.

“Regardless of how impartial and professional an observer is, the perception of bias or conflict of interest is a huge challenge, particularly for observers who are returning to their country of origin,” Canadem says on its website.

“Therefore, in many situations, election observer missions cannot be staffed by observers who originated from the country in which the election is taking place.

“Regardless of how good they are, local voters will assume that they are not impartial. At a minimum, the standard practice is that the number of country-of-origin observers on an international mission must be relatively small.”

Mr. Zalusky, who is taking a leave of absence from his job as executive director of the UCC to take part in the mission, dismissed any concerns. “Every single one” of the observers is a Canadian citizen, he said; there are no “new arrivals” from Ukraine.

They have all passed both Canadem and United Nations training courses and must adhere to “a very strict code of conduct on not being biased,” he added.

Moreover, Mr. Zalusky argued, it’s an asset that 40 per cent of Canada’s long-term observers, who’ve been in Ukraine for the past two months, speak Ukrainian or Russian.

“Frankly, when you have people on the ground for two months, in order to catch nuance, in order to be able to understand what’s going on in a complex political system like Ukraine – where, as good as they are, interpreters won’t catch everything and sometimes they’re afraid to translate everything – it’s good to have people who actually understand what’s being said.”

Many have been involved in previous election observation missions to Ukraine, added Mr. Zalusky, who previously served as an adviser to Liberal ministers, including former international co-operation minister Aileen Carroll.

“I have every confidence that the Canadian observers know that when they go out in the field that they’re representing Canada and that they all behave appropriately,” he said.

“The usual suspects are going to complain about this but I can honestly say that Canadem runs a top-rate operation ... They do a first-rate, bang-up job.”

Mr. Wrzesnewskyj declined to comment on Mr. Opitz’s involvement in the mission, but he defended the heavy involvement of Ukrainian Canadians.

He took credit for persuading former Liberal prime minister Paul Martin to make use of the diaspora in Canada’s first election monitoring mission to Ukraine in 2004, over the objections of Foreign Affairs bureaucrats who worried about objectivity.

Canadem is not involved in choosing the parliamentary contingent. Mr. Opitz’s office said he’ll be accompanied by three other Tories: Manitoba MP James Bezan and Toronto-area MPs Wladyslaw Lizon and Corneliu Chisu.

The New Democrats are sending Toronto MP Peggy Nash, Hamilton MP David Christopherson, Edmonton MP Linda Duncan and Montreal MP Eve Peclet. The Liberals are sending Toronto MP Judy Sgro and Prince Edward Island MP Lawrence MacAulay.

The final list of observers has not yet been released, nor has the head of mission been named. Prime Minister Stephen Harper is to speak Friday at a public send-off for short-term observers.

Editor's Note: Taras Zalusky was an adviser to former international co-operation minister Aileen Carroll. Incorrect information appeared in an earlier version of this article.

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