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Liberals, NDP, Bloc accuse Conservatives of stalling Canada-Ukraine free trade deal

Liberals are accusing Conservatives of delaying help for Ukrainians, after a Tory motion prevented the House of Commons from voting today on a bill meant to modernize the Canada-Ukraine free trade agreement. Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre rises during Question Period, Thursday, November 30, 2023 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

OTTAWA — Conservatives faced a barrage of partisan fire Friday in the House of Commons as their political rivals accused the official Opposition of trying to stall measures aimed at helping Ukraine.

The heated exchange in the House followed a motion introduced by the Tories that prevented MPs from considering a bill aimed at modernizing Canada's free trade agreement with Ukraine, known as CUFTA. 

On Thursday, the Ukrainian Canadian Congress sent a letter to Pierre Poilievre expressing their disappointment in the Conservative leader and asking him to support the legislation. 

"Ukraine needs assistance in strengthening economic resilience," wrote Alexandra Chyczji, the group's national president. "Ukraine's government has stressed that the modernization of CUFTA would play an important role in this regard." 

The Liberals have also framed the agreement as an opportunity to help boost the economic prospects for Ukraine as it navigates the consequences of its protracted and bloody war with Russia.

The Tories have repeatedly voiced public support for Ukraine, including during President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's visit to Canada in September. But last week, Conservative MPs opposed a bill that would have updated the trade deal signed during Zelenskyy's visit.

Conservatives say they oppose the legislation because they believe it will "promote carbon pricing" in both countries, an accusation the Liberals described Friday as a red herring.Both Canada and Ukraine already have their own carbon pricing plans.

"We support Ukraine, that's why we're going to send them arms and not (a) carbon tax," said Ontario Conservative MP Philip Lawrence. 

The bill passed through the committee stage earlier this week with the support of other parties, and the House was supposed to consider the committee report Friday so the bill could move to the final stage of debate. 

But before that could happen, Conservatives introduced a motion to debate an 18-month-old report on Canada's food security, which the Liberals said was enough to prevent debate on the free trade agreement.

"Their excuse for opposing the bill has proven to be false. They know it, we know it, and the Ukrainians themselves have said Poilievre has his facts wrong," government House leader Karina Gould said in a statement. 

"Why are the Conservatives so determined to stop this legislation? Is it because the right-wing conservativism spreading through America has now found its way into Poilievre’s party?"

Support for Ukraine has long been strong on Capitol Hill. But thanks in part to the uniquely divisive dynamics of Congress, the persistent flow of U.S. military and government aid is falling out of favour with some Republican lawmakers, as well as some Americans.

Conservative spokesman Sebastian Skamski denied Friday that Tory MPs are intentionally obstructing debate on the trade agreement, insisting instead that they continue to stand with Ukraine. 

Instead, Skamski said, it's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his "out-of-touch Liberals" who think "addressing the runaway cost of food after eight years of their government shouldn’t be a priority for Parliament."

Conservative MPs would be happy to sit down with the UCC and dispel what Skamski described as false claims the Liberals are using to try to sow division, he added. 

The NDP and Bloc Québécois joined with the Liberals in accusing the Tories of slow-walking the legislation. 

"The reply from the Conservatives has been now to block fully the legislation before this house, to block any attempt to provide support to Ukraine," said NDP House leader Peter Julian. 

The fact that they would prefer to talk about a report that's nearly two years old makes clear they have a hidden motive, added Bloc Québécois MP Nathalie Sinclair-Desgagné. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 1, 2023. 

— With files from The Associated Press

Mickey Djuric, The Canadian Press

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