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Rona Ambrose is the chair of the Women’s Economic Council of Canada and a former leader of the Conservative Party of Canada. Frank McKenna is a former New Brunswick premier and Canadian ambassador to the United States. Colin Robertson is a fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and a former diplomat.

The invasion of Ukraine has brought in its wake not just the biggest refugee crisis since the Second World War, but also a global food security crisis and profound disruption of energy markets. Canada is uniquely positioned to help, but it will require the kind of effort we mustered all those decades ago.

The immediate challenge posed by the Russian invasion of Ukraine is meeting the energy crisis imposed by the necessary sanctions on Russian oil and gas: Russia is the world’s largest exporter of oil to global markets, and its gas exports account for close to 40 per cent of the European Union’s consumption. The invasion has also created the biggest commodity crisis since 1973, and, in the case of wheat, a level of disruption that has not been seen since the First World War. To adjust, Europeans have had to make dramatic changes to the status quo that would have been unimaginable just three weeks ago.

This courageous effort, and the heroic sacrifices of the Ukrainian people, must be matched by a herculean effort by allies around the world to supply the war effort. And so Canada – endowed as we are with an abundance of food and energy – cannot respond as if things are business as usual. We have already opened our doors to the displaced, but we also have the oil and gas Europe needs and, like Ukraine, we are a breadbasket to the world. Canada must be part of the solution to help our friends and allies. Throwing up our hands wasn’t an option in 1939 – and is not an option now.

Harnessing our natural resources to do so, including oil and gas, hydroelectricity, uranium and critical minerals, requires a strategic approach. It starts with an inventory of infrastructure requirements – electrical grids, pipelines, rail, road and port capacities – then identifying their vulnerabilities and how to fix them. Canada also needs to take such an approach to our agri-food resources. We need to inventory what our farmers, ranchers, fishers and food processors need to ramp up production, and resolve any choke points in getting our food to markets.

We will also need dynamic leadership. For inspiration, look at how Canada helped win the Second World War. Like never before, Canadian industry and government worked together under the direction of the redoubtable C. D. Howe, who the Canadian Encyclopedia aptly describes as the “most successful businessman-politician of his day.”

In those years, Canada became a vital link in keeping Britain alive with our supply of food, oil and armaments. We built ships and trained pilots. If the U.S. was, as Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared, “the great arsenal of democracy,” Canada was the aerodrome. In securing vital sea lanes in the long Battle of the North Atlantic, our navy had the fourth-largest fleet in the world by the war’s end.

Once more, Canada needs to step up and put our economic assets on a war footing. In short, we need a C.D. Howe moment.

A good start would be the appointment of a minister with the authorities of a Howe – someone who can work closely with industry and labour across the areas of energy, agri-food and defence with the goal of cutting through red tape and executing a plan to rebuild our military while fuelling and feeding our allies.

We need dynamic leadership that will work across party lines and provincial boundaries. We need a bulldozer to plow through the thicket of bureaucracy and regulations that make it so hard to get things done in Canada.

This may seem impossible, but the same was said before the Second World War. That conflict should teach us that nothing is impossible when life and liberty are in the balance. We must defang Russia and any other malevolent country that wants to use its commodity hegemony to hold the world at ransom.

The rules-based world as we knew it is gone. The institutions that we helped build and sustain are no longer fit for purpose. Canada now needs to roll up its sleeves and join in reconstructing a rules-based order for the democracies.

In the struggle between autocracy and democracy, Canadians know where they stand. We expect our governments to rise to the challenge and help our allies. It starts with feeding and fuelling our friends and allies.

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