Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to speak to Bill C-31 in support of the free trade agreement between Canada and Ukraine on behalf of the thousands of Ukrainian Canadians who call Lakeland home.
As we have heard so often today, the Canada-Ukraine free trade agreement, which was successfully negotiated and concluded in July 2015, will immediately eliminate duties on 99.9% of imports from Ukraine into Canada and 86% of Ukrainian tariffs on Canadian products, including industrial goods, forestry and wood products, fish and seafood products. This agreement will benefit both Canadian and Ukrainian exporters, businesses, and customers, and will continue to strengthen the Canadian Ukrainian partnership of peace and prosperity.
Ukraine and Canada have shared a strong and vibrant relationship for over a century. Important milestones for the Ukrainian community in Canada and in my home province of Alberta were marked in 2016. It has been deemed Alberta's Year of the Ukrainian Canadian, as we all celebrate 125 years of Ukrainian immigration into Canada. It also marks the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies. The year 2016 is the 25th year of Ukrainian independence.
Lakeland in particular has benefited from diverse and rich Ukrainian cultural traditions and practices. From Bruderheim to Vermilion, Radway to St. Paul, Vegreville to Lamont, around St. Michael and Andrew, Ukrainian immigrants came to Canada in the early 1890s, before Alberta even became a province, to seek a better life for their families. Vast farmland was sold in quarters to new Ukrainian Canadians for $10. That is significant, considering many had to sell everything they owned in order to pay $150 for a ticket to a new life.
By 1914, more than 250,000 Ukrainians called Alberta home. Alberta is where most new Ukrainian Canadians settled and where many of the earliest religious and cultural institutions were founded. Many of these new Canadians arrived with empty pockets, ready to take whatever job they could find, often making just enough to cover basic necessities. Anything extra was invested in cattle, horses, other livestock, and farm tools. Families were able to grow their farm operations and a tightly knit sense of community among all new Ukrainian Canadians, which endures today. The sacrifices that Ukrainian Canadian pioneers made and the hardships they overcame are ones that current generations cannot imagine and future generations will never know.
Agriculture in Alberta in the early 1900s was defined by the success and growth of this productive and generous community. It was Ukrainian immigrants who brought with them specific wheat grains developed to grow red fife wheat, which continues to be grown throughout Alberta today.
The Canada-Ukraine free trade agreement will help support agriculture in Alberta. Albertans will benefit from enhanced market access opportunities and reduced transportation costs. Agriculture and agrifood products are the top exports from western Canada to Ukraine, averaging $78 million annually between 2011 and 2013.
In 2015, the previous government also established market access for beef, another top export to Ukraine. This sector remains an important and vital part of Canada's economy, especially in Lakeland.
In 2014, over half a million Canadians worked in agriculture, so successful trade agreements like this one will help sustain farmers and agricultural producers long into the future.
I was very lucky to grow up on a farm near Chipman, Alberta, surrounded by Ukrainian families, culture, and history. My husband's family, the Saskiws, came from Lviv, Ukraine just over a hundred years ago and settled in and between lnnisfree and Two Hills. My father-in-law's second language is English, his first is Ukrainian. That is not unusual in rural Alberta communities.
As a community, Ukrainian Canadians exemplify the preservation of language and traditions and the passing on of cultural practices to future generations while being proud Canadians. They have helped to build Alberta and I have witnessed first-hand how they continue to contribute every day to Alberta and Canada.
Vegreville, Alberta is home to the world's largest Ukrainian Easter egg, the pysanka, which symbolizes the harmony, vitality, and culture of the community. It is also dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the RCMP, who brought peace and security to the largest multicultural settlement in all of Canada. The Pysanka Festival, held every summer in Vegreville, is the largest Ukrainian festival in Canada. It is an annual gathering for Albertans in Lakeland who come together to enjoy Ukrainian treats prepared mostly by local moms and babas, and to celebrate more than a century of family and community.
Just like the pysanka in Vegreville, the Canada-Ukraine free trade agreement embodies the link between our two countries. Ukraine has struggled. The peace and calm we take for granted here in Canada is not the everyday reality for Ukraine. As an enduring partner, Canada has been there to help along the way.
Under the leadership of former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Canada was able to negotiate the Canada-Ukraine free trade agreement, and no government did more to support Ukraine during its crisis than the previous Conservative government. Former Prime Minister Harper was the first G7 leader to visit Ukraine at the beginning of the illegal occupation of Crimea, and travelled to Ukraine four times between 2013 and 2015.
Under former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Canada was a committed, reliable ally in defence of Ukraine's security and sovereignty. We are confident that partnership will continue. Canada can and should continue to be an unwavering partner of Ukraine, politically, socially, and economically. One out of every five Canadian jobs is tied to trade, so it is clear how important it is to continue to pursue free trade for Canada, for domestic job creation for Canadians, and because the world needs more of Canada.
To mark the 25th anniversary of Ukraine's independence, President Poroshenko granted the Order of Liberty, one of Ukraine's highest honours, to former Prime Minister Stephen Harper this past summer. This is testament to the long-standing relationship between Canada and Ukraine, and to Prime Minister Harper's dedication to Ukraine on behalf of all Canadians, particularly when they needed it the most.
Today, the Ukrainian people continue to face enormous security and economic challenges. The teaching of Ukraine's culture and heritage bolsters the Ukrainian-Canadian community at home. Since 1976, the University of Alberta has housed the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies. Since then, they have added the Kule Folklore Centre and the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies.
One in five Albertans is of Ukrainian ancestry. The community remains committed to passing on its rich cultural heritage and practices to future generations.
Here in Ottawa, parliamentarians can offer learning opportunities for university students from Ukraine to study here through the Canada-Ukraine parliamentary program. I want to thank the member for Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman for encouraging me to participate.
Last session, I was honoured to host a Ukrainian student named, Nazar, also from Lviv. He was an active and engaged member, and contributed in many ways to our team every day. He told me, when he completed his term with us, that having learned here in Canada, one of the freest democracies in the entire world, he was determined to continue to contribute to a brighter, stronger future in Ukraine. This program is essential to supporting and enhancing democracy and liberty in Ukraine, just like the Canada-Ukraine free trade agreement is essential to furthering Ukraine's economic stability and independence.
Today, the Ukrainian culture and Ukrainians remain important pillars of many rural and urban Alberta communities. Edmonton houses the largest Ukrainian community, and Alberta has the largest number of Ukrainian communities outside of Ukraine itself.
I am proud to represent thousands of Ukranian-Canadians who will benefit from this historic agreement. This bill will strengthen our ties, grow both economies, and ensure that Canada and Ukraine remain steadfast partners long into the future.