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Black smoke rises from a military airport in Chuguyev near Kharkiv in Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022.ARIS MESSINIS/AFP/Getty Images

Only hours after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau lifted the state of emergency he had declared in order to clear protesters from Ottawa’s streets, Russia invaded Ukraine, fomenting a far worse emergency.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s vicious and unprovoked assault on another European country in a time of peace is the worst collective security crisis of our time. And Canada is completely unprepared.

“What has happened in the last 24 hours is a huge wake-up call” for Canadians, said Stéfanie von Hlatky, director of the Centre for International and Defence Policy at Queen’s University.

Canadians typically are reluctant to spend seriously on defence. But this country, as part of the Western military alliance NATO, is now under threat, not only in the Arctic and in Europe, but from cyberattacks and disinformation campaigns.

“Canada needs to look at its defence capabilities and make necessary investments that the government, frankly, has been dithering on for quite some time,” Prof. von Hlatky said Thursday morning.

Politicians have been debating the shape of a new national child care program or the state of our health care and education systems. These are important programs, but in the meantime, our fighter aircraft have become even more obsolete and our Arctic border even more unguarded.

Now we confront the reality of a Russia bent on reasserting control over what it sees as its sphere of influence. That sphere includes both Eastern Europe, where Canada has NATO commitments, and the Arctic, where Canada and Russia are unfriendly neighbours.

Answering this challenge will require major investments. We are looking at tens of billions of dollars in procurement costs. Are Canadians prepared to bear that cost?

This country has not been entirely supine. Stephen Harper, as prime minister, led the push to expel Russia from what was then the G8, after Mr. Putin’s decision to occupy Crimea in 2014.

Mr. Trudeau authorized Canada’s participation in a NATO mission to protect Latvia, and in recent days announced plans to reinforce that mission.

But each and every Canadian is about to be called upon to do much, much more, by accepting tax increases to improve national defence, while approving the toughest possible sanctions against Russia and bearing the cost of the Russian backlash.

In the short term, for Canadians, “the most pressing issue is going to be the economic implications of this invasion,” said Ruben Zaiotti, a political scientist specializing in European issues at Dalhousie University. “Certainly, the price of oil and gas, which is already high, is about to go higher.”

Longer term, he wonders whether Canadians will be willing to pay the costs of hardening this country’s defences in the face of the Russian threat.

“This conflict poses a very significant risk of escalation, either through miscalculation … or because of spillover effects on neighbours,” wrote Thomas Homer-Dixon, executive director of the Cascade Institute at Royal Roads University and a specialist in conflict issues, in an e-mail Thursday morning. There is a real risk that, in the coming weeks and months, Canada could be drawn into a European war for which we are completely unprepared.

On one front, Canada is uniquely qualified to step up. Almost half a century ago, we opened our doors to refugees fleeing chaos in Vietnam. Since then we have welcomed Somalis, Syrians, Afghans, Hong Kongers – all those seeking a new home in the wake of war or oppression.

Now, many thousands of Ukrainians may have to flee a homeland overrun by Russian troops. More than a million Canadians are of Ukrainian descent.

We need to step up again, with an open-door policy welcoming any and all Ukrainians in search of a new land to call home.

When Mr. Trudeau became Prime Minister in 2015, he could not possibly have imagined that he would preside over the greatest crisis since the Second World War: a pandemic that forced us into our homes and took tens of thousands of Canadian lives.

In the main, his government handled that well. Now he faces a new crisis, one that challenges the unity of the Western alliance and our commitments under the North Atlantic Treaty, as we face a rogue Russia with nuclear weapons and bent on restoring its sphere of influence.

Hard times are ahead.

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