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Pierre Poilievre’s Conservatives voted en masse against legislation to enact the updated Canada-Ukraine free-trade agreement at second reading Tuesday, with their leader alleging it would “impose a carbon tax on the people of Ukraine.”

The text of the new trade deal in fact does not commit either Canada or Ukraine to a carbon tax, also known as a levy on fossil fuels. It merely says both sides are expected “to promote carbon pricing and measures to mitigate carbon leakage risks.”

Bill C-57, the legislation underpinning the new treaty, which was signed by the leaders of both countries in September, nevertheless survived the Tuesday vote because of the support of the governing Liberals, the NDP, the Bloc Québécois and the Greens.

The vote passed 205-109 and the bill now heads to a committee for study.

It’s rare to see a partisan split in Parliament on matters related to Ukraine, a subject on which the Liberals and Conservatives have traditionally agreed. Ukraine has been battling an all-out military assault by Russia since February, 2022, and Canada has to date provided Kyiv with more than $9-billion in support.

Canada must do everything possible to combat Russia’s abduction of Ukrainian children

The revised Canada-Ukraine trade treaty will replace the original deal that was negotiated under former prime minister Stephen Harper’s government, signed in 2016 and took effect in 2017. The updated agreement includes new chapters on investment, trade in services and talk of more inclusive commerce that benefits all sectors of society.

Liberal Government House Leader Karina Gould criticized the Conservatives. “This is an agreement that we have signed with the government of Ukraine – let me remind you – a country that is currently under an illegal assault and an illegal war by Russia,” she said. “This is an agreement that demonstrates Canada’s solidarity, our commitment to Ukraine fighting for their freedom, for their sovereignty.”

She said Canadians of Ukrainian origin should be concerned by what has happened. “They should be asking what is going on with the Conservative party of Canada: why would they vote against something that the government of Ukraine has asked the government of Canada to do in a moment when they are under siege.”

Mr. Poilievre told the Commons Tuesday his partly firmly backs Ukraine but cannot abide the reference in the new deal to promoting “carbon pricing” – a measure to fight climate change that can include a levy on fossil fuels. The Conservative Party has made fighting charges on fossil fuels arising from carbon pricing – what it calls a “carbon tax” – a central focus of its work as Official Opposition.

Conservatives object to text of new Canada-Ukraine free-trade deal over references to carbon pricing

Mr. Poilievre noted the former Harper Conservative government “led the charge to kick Russia out of the G7″ over its invasion and annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula. He accused the Liberals of inserting a “carbon tax” in the deal when Ukraine, battling the Russians, “has a knife at its throat.”

Alexandra Chyczij, national president of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC), which represents more than 1.4 million Canadians of Ukrainian origin, urged MPs to pass the new deal and come up with more military assistance for Ukraine. “The UCC is grateful to all the parties in the House who supported the legislation in second reading,” she said. “Ukraine can and will defeat Russia – but the Ukrainian people need our sustained support – both in strengthening Ukraine’s economic resilience and in increasing military support.”

Earlier this month, Dean Foster, a director of trade negotiations at Global Affairs, told MPs the reference to carbon pricing in the deal does not require the imposition of a carbon tax in Ukraine. It is aspirational and is meant to lay out “principles for co-operation” in this area between the two countries, he said.

Mr. Poilievre said the Liberal government should be expediting energy exports to Ukraine instead.

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