CONVERSATION WITH PRIME MINISTER HARPER AT THE XXIV TRIENNIAL CONGRESS OF UKRAINIAN CANADIANS
Prime Minister Stephen Harper was interviewed by Mr. Jurij Klufas at the” Conversation with the Prime Minister”, which took place at the banquet held on November 9, 2013, at the XXIV Triennial Congress of Ukrainian Canadians.
TRANSCRIPT OF THE CONVERSATION BETWEEN PRIME MINISTER STEPHEN HARPER AND MR. JURIJ KLUFAS AT THE BANQUET OF THE XXIV TRIENNIAL CONGRESS OF UKRAINIAN CANADIANS ON NOVEMBER 9, 2013, HELD AT THE TORONTO AIRPORT MARRIOTT HOTEL
JURIJ KLUFAS: You see, Mr. Prime Minister, everybody loves you here tonight.
RT. HON PRIME MINISTER STEPHEN HARPER: Well, I’m delighted to be here. The last time I was here, I received a great honour from the community and Ukrainian Canadians have always… Jim mentioned, Jim gave away of course all of my answers tonight. But the Ukrainian Canadian community’s been very supportive of the things we’ve been doing and we really do appreciate it.
JURIJ KLUFAS: Well, we’ll start from something very, very important to Ukrainians, and we’re all here ready for food. Maybe we’ll talk about your Ukrainian chef in Ottawa.
I understand that you brought him in to take over the travails of not being in Calgary and not having enough Ukrainian varenyky.
PRIME MINISTER STEPHEN HARPER: Yeah.
JURIJ KLUFAS: Well, we understand from Ukrainian carolers in Ottawa that your chef makes the best pampushky. So we laud you. We laud you on that.
PRIME MINISTER STEPHEN HARPER: He makes great food and he gets a little taste of Ukraine in every dish he makes, every time we have a special dinner.
Tim actually, a great chef, and he has two jobs. One is to make sure my food tastes great and I eat it all. But the other is to make sure I don’t gain too much weight. So he’s got a real challenge for him.
Tim unfortunately has been off a few days from work. He fell and hit his head in a hockey game the other day and got quite a serious concussion. So he’s been recovering. So we all, everybody send your best wishes to my chef Tim, back in Ottawa. A great Ukrainian Canadian.
Can I just mention one other thing, Jurij, before we get going?
JURIJ KLUFAS: Sure, sure.
PRIME MINISTER STEPHEN HARPER: I know the media wants me to comment on the typhoon that has hit Philippines and to just say very quickly that I know Canadians from all backgrounds are thinking and praying for Filipinos and particularly Filipino Canadians. I know we have on my wife’s side there’s some Filipino Canadian relatives and I know they’ve been very worried about their family.
Let me just say that we’re all thinking of them and the government of Canada of course will be talking to our Philippine friends and seeing how we can assist them as they recover from this terrible tragedy. But I know we’re all thinking of them.
JURIJ KLUFAS: Well, Mr. Prime Minister we’re here at his solemn Ukrainian occasion, the 24th Ukrainian Canadian Congress. And you hail from Calgary, the heartland of Ukraine being in Canada. So maybe it’s time we switched the conversation over and continued in Ukrainian.
PRIME MINISTER STEPHEN HARPER: Can I answer you in Latin?
JURIJ KLUFAS: We would like to acknowledge, your new book.
JURIJ KLUFAS: “A Great Game“. And it really is an interesting, interesting book and it’s surprising where you could find fans, very unsuspecting fans.
My wife Zhenia, who’s here this evening and I don’t know if I should say this or not, but she probably can’t differentiate between the Maple Leafs or the Toronto Argonauts. But the moment that she heard that this engagement is going forth, the first thing she did was go out to Chapter’s and bought me this book and said you’ve got to read this since you’re talking to the Prime Minister.
PRIME MINISTER STEPHEN HARPER: Let me just maybe mention, Jurij, it’s a book about – and I won’t talk too much about it – it’s a book about the early years of professional hockey, just after 1900, so before the First World War. It’s centred in Toronto, although it’s a bit of a wider story. I just want to point out, for those who have any interest at all, all of my proceeds for this book go to the Military Families Fund.
So please support that great charity.
JURIJ KLUFAS: You mentioned there’s something mentioned here in general about hockey, but I was at an event at the Albany Club recently and the general manager, Dave Nonas, I asked him about fighting in hockey, what’s the future of that? He says well, it stays because all the players want it. Now what do you say about fighting in hockey?
PRIME MINISTER STEPHEN HARPER: Yeah, look, I’ve been asked a lot about that. I’m kind of torn. Look, I think in a tough sport like hockey, high contact, some fighting in inevitable. What I don’t like is when I see fighting used as a active game strategy and it has been at times in the past.
But I’ll just say this for historical purposes, for those who don’t know because you often hear people decrying the violence in the game and the fighting in the game today. Let me just tell you as someone who knows a little bit about hockey a very long time ago. Violence and fighting has always been part of hockey I think from the very beginning. In fact, some of the violence, if you go back 100 years ago, not just player violence but fan violence is really quite shocking. And you know, these guys didn’t always use fists. They often used sticks and they were clobbering each other when they were wearing virtually no equipment. And so, believe me, these controversies are nothing new.
JURIJ KLUFAS: Well, it was mentioned earlier, Mr. Temerty read, and we would like to acknowledge obviously the fact that your government proceeded with redress for internment. And it was actually, it was a campaign platform issue still back in 2004. And also, your government was a world leader in recognizing the Holodomor as an act of genocide.
It would be interesting to know how you came about steering both of these issues through.
PRIME MINISTER STEPHEN HARPER: Well, we’ve tried as a government to really put a lot more emphasis on freedom and democracy, human rights and the rule of law and obviously values in our foreign policy, but also to improve Canadians’ understanding of those things in our own society.
Certainly James Bezan, some of you know, with some Ukrainian Canadian background, he was a big driver for us to recognize the Holodomor for what it was, you know.
I don’t think we should talk around this. You know, if I can make a little comment about this. Obviously, you know that I grew up here in Toronto, and had a number of Ukrainian Canadian friends, and so I was very aware of the history of the Ukrainian people and the kind of events we had seen – the famine, the Holodomor and other great tragedies of Ukrainian history, not to mention the Soviet dictatorship that was still in place when I was growing up in the 60s and 70s.
So this is, as you know, is obviously by Ukrainian Canadians, and has been brought here. It is a part of our history and it shouldn’t be forgotten.
And I think, if I can talk personally here, I think one of the things that really troubles me is that when we look at the two great evils of the 20th century, Fascism and Communism, there has been a full reckoning in terms of western civilization of the terrible nature and terrible events of Fascism.
But unfortunately in some circles, there is still a tendency to try and downplay the terrible awful things, the tens of millions of people who died because of Communist ideology and Communist dictatorship.
And I don’t think anybody in Canadian political life, anybody who values the kind of freedom and democracy that we have come to love and cherish and understand in this country, anybody in leadership positions should ever, ever downplay the terrible things that Communism and Communist dictatorships have done. It’s important they are recognized and that we come to terms with them and that we make a vow that certainly in Canadian foreign policy we will never turn a blind eye to those things again.
JURIJ KLUFAS: So in light of that narrative, maybe you could explain a little bit to us about the victims of Communism monument that you’re spearheading for placement in Ottawa in a very, very prominent position.
PRIME MINISTER STEPHEN HARPER: Yes, this has been, you know, we’re here on November the 9th, which as many of you know is actually something that should have a much greater prominence. I know we held an event several years in Ottawa to make the 20th anniversary. It was 2009, the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and that’s what today is, the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, which really was the beginning of the end of Soviet Communism as we know it. And of course ultimately part and parcel of Ukraine finally gaining its freedom, I’m proud to say, under a previous conservative government, the first democratic country in the world to recognize the independence of Ukraine was the government of Canada.
And, you know, given that history and given that there are so many people in Canada who have family and personal backgrounds from Communist countries that understand the true terror that that was and has been for so many people I think it’s important as we recognize the Holocaust and recognize other events that we build this into the Canadian narrative.
So the government has been very supportive of Tribute to Liberty and the building of the monument and I am personally very committed to it as well.
JURIJ KLUFAS: During this Congress, the 24th Ukrainian Canadian Congress, for a first time here in Toronto. Up until now it’s been in Winnipeg and in Edmonton, we have discussed many, many issues. And one of the main plenary session issues was the issue of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.
PRIME MINISTER STEPHEN HARPER: Right.
JURIJ KLUFAS: In Winnipeg. And listening to that session and listening to the presentations made, and especially the introduction as well as a summary by our president, Paul Grod, there seems to be a very strong imbalance in terms of the presentation at the Museum in terms of the level of presentation of those topics and even specifically the issue of crimes of Communism isn’t even mentioned at all.
So we feel there’s a strong imbalance there and hoping that somehow you in your position can help straighten that out.
PRIME MINISTER STEPHEN HARPER: Okay, well, Jurij, let me address that. First of all, I think it’s important to say, just in the interest of full disclosure, as you know, this government really worked with the government of Manitoba and others to make the Museum of Human Rights a national museum, the first national museum to be based outside of Ottawa, strongly supported by our caucus members in Manitoba and elsewhere.
And I thought the idea and still think the idea is a great idea because you know, we don’t understand, in spite of being one of the youngest countries in the world, in terms of our constitutional system, our democratic constitutional system, we are actually one of the longest standing, most enduring democratic governments on the planet. And so we have a great history to tell and one that doesn’t just have its roots in, British and French traditions of democracy and the development of freedoms and liberties but also has this interesting contribution that so many people from other countries have made who have fled tyranny to bring their own perspective to that. So I think the museum, and continue thinking the museum is a great idea.
Issues of balance have been raised with me and I think look, we have to be clear here in that this is set up obviously as a separate crown agency where politicians cannot dictate the contents or subject matter of the museum, that obviously has to be something done by an independent board and by professionals.
But, that said, I do believe it is important. A couple of things are important. First of all, you know, things like the Holocaust, the Holodomor, other events, it is important that they be recognized, and they be recognized really I think from a Canadian perspective.
I don’t think we want to duplicate, you know, what they would do in Israel, what they would do in the Ukraine, but we do want to bring the Canadian perspective of people who have fled these kinds of events and how they’ve contributed to the growth of the human rights and democracy narrative in this country. But I do think it is critical, and I say this because I’m saying it at arm’s length of the museum, it is important that all of these things be represented, they be represented broadly and in a balanced way. And the fact of the matter is, as I say, I’m very supportive of the monument to victims of Communism.
We have a very large number of Canadians who are here today because they have fled the tyranny of Communism of other countries and through the generations they have worked hard so that their relatives and their fellow countrymen can be free from that.
And I think that perspective and those histories of all of those communities including Ukrainian Canadians, should be accurately represented in a museum like that.
JURIJ KLUFAS: In your recent throne speech, you mentioned preparations for the 150thanniversary of Canada. Here at our Congress, at the introduction of the Congress our President Paul Grod introduced the concept of preparing for the 125th anniversary of our being here in Canada. Is there any way that the narrative of Ukrainians being a founding people here in Canada can be woven into government plans as well as other initiatives that you have in your throne speech?
PRIME MINISTER STEPHEN HARPER: Look, what we are trying to do, we actually set out to do it a couple of years ago, as we approach the 150th anniversary of Confederation we’re trying to mark not just that great anniversary in 2017 but a whole bunch of other anniversaries along the way that tell people about our country.
For instance, next year, you know, will be a great year really to recognize the contribution of the Canadian military. It’s the 100th year anniversary of the beginning of the First World War, the 75th anniversary of the beginning of the Second World War. It will be the 70thanniversary of the D-Day invasion. It will be the 200th anniversary of the end of the fighting of the War of 1812, the original Canadian war of nationhood and independence that will be marked in 2014.
And of course our troops will be, the last of our troops will be coming home from Afghanistan after doing their great work in that country.
So every year we’re trying to put a different focus and some of them are big national things we’re trying to recognize. But we’re certainly trying to weave other stories, more regional or community stories, in 2012. You know, for instance we put a lot of emphasis on the Selkirk Founding 200th anniversary of the founding of the Selkirk settlement which really is the origin of the first stirrings of what is today the province of Manitoba.
So we’ll talk to the Minister of Heritage and I’m sure we can find ways to make sure things like the 125th anniversary of Ukrainian settlement are woven into that narrative.
JURIJ KLUFAS: That’s a deal. Thank you. Moving on to the international stage, I think you deserve congratulations for standing up – I don’t know if I can say this politely – to an international bully, Mr. Putin, especially in Syria.
And it is now of extreme importance, as Ukraine hopefully is about to sign accession to European Union treaty in Vilnius on the 28th. The pressure from Russia towards Ukraine internally, externally, all kinds of aggression is happening and this is threatening Ukraine’s sovereignty. It’s threatening Ukraine’s attempts at building democracy and we’re hoping for Canada to express concern in this regard and support for Ukraine’s development at this critical stage.
PRIME MINISTER STEPHEN HARPER: Yes, let me maybe talk frankly about that, about the challenges Ukraine faces today and maybe the challenges of the government of Ukraine as well, as I think this is important to talk about.
You know on the one hand I think we all share the concern of the kind of pressures Ukraine does or could face from Russia, you know, pressures to go in that direction to go in that kind of model. And there are things that obviously concern us all.
At the same time, I think we should be equally frank and equally concerned about some of the anti-democratic pressures and tendencies in the government of Ukraine itself.
And as you know, I was quite vocal about this when I was in Ukraine. I’ve of course written President Yanukovych on the Tymoshenko situation and what we see as the general deterioration of democracy and rights standards generally.
So look, I think what all of our western friends are trying to do is figure out, how can we best work to try and not just steer the government of Ukraine, you know, towards really what we believe is its transatlantic, its western destiny, but at the same time also to make the government of Ukraine understand that part and parcel of that is our values of freedom, democracy and human rights and the rule of law.
And this is a tough balancing act because I think on the one hand the government of Ukraine itself wants to assert its independence from its neighbors but it also seems to want to assert its independence from some basic democratic values as well.
So we’re working with our European and other friends to find best how we can help lead in that direction.
But I think our conviction, we all have the same conviction which is regardless of the government of the day, when you go to Ukraine, you see the Ukrainian people and particularly when you meet the younger generation of Ukrainians, they view their future as being part of the democratic world and alliance of western nations. And that’s where we’ve got to make sure Ukraine is.
JURIJ KLUFAS: You’ve met Mr. Yanukovych.
PRIME MINISTER STEPHEN HARPER: I have.
JURIJ KLUFAS: And you’ve also met Mr. Putin. What does that mean for the Arctic? How…?
PRIME MINISTER STEPHEN HARPER: I guess it means, you know, it’s one of the reasons why we must make sure Canada is very present in our Arctic.
(laughter and applause)
JURIJ KLUFAS: Okay, so ladies and gentlemen, the Prime Minister of Canada Stephen Harper.
PRIME MINISTER STEPHEN HARPER: Thank you. Thank you very much.
The Right Honourable Stephen Harper and UCC National President Mr. Paul Grod are welcomed by Barvinok Ukrainian Dance Group.
The Rt. Hon. Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada and the UCC National President Paul Grod, are greeted with a traditional Ukrainian ‘korovai’ by the Barvinok Ukrainian Dance Group.
Mr. Eugene Melnyk presented the 2014 Kobzar Literary awards shortlisted books to the Prime Minister as an expression of thanks on behalf of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress.