Mr. Speaker, I am indeed from Edmonton Strathcona and the proud representative of many Ukrainian Canadians. I like to brag that I come from the city with the most Canadian Ukrainians, and I duke it out all the time with Winnipeg and Toronto, but I am sure I am correct.
As others have shared, Canada and Ukraine have had a long friendly relationship, except for, as my colleague mentioned, a period of repression during the internment, which we still need to deal with.
I personally have had the great experience of Christmas eve dinners with the 12 courses of Christmas—and I am wondering how many in this place can reiterate what those 12 courses are—enjoying blueberry petahe brought back from Winnipeg by a Ukrainian Canadian friend for me to enjoy, and my father's many clients in Smoky Lake who were of Ukrainian descent. One cannot be an Albertan without having the experience of being Ukrainian by osmosis, even if I am a proud Scottish Irish Canadian.
Our two countries continue to enjoy a positive bilateral relationship with close historic ties of friendship that have been forged through many generations of Ukrainian immigration to Canada. Many of the Ukrainians who immigrated to Canada arrived in Alberta at the station in my constituency before heading off to establish successful farm operations. A beautiful display of this 125-year immigration story, crafted by the Kule Folklore Centre in my riding, has been travelling across Canada this past year. I would encourage anybody who has the opportunity to take a look at that. It is a beautiful memorial of the immigration of Ukrainians to Canada.
Along with my colleagues, I have been inspired by the determination of our Ukrainian interns, as well. It is very sad that this program has not continued. I would encourage the government, as it moves forward with a trade agreement, to try to come forward with the funding to bring back more of those interns, because I know they have gone back to Ukraine and are doing the hard work of restoring democracy to that country.
In December 1991, Canada became the first western country to recognize Ukraine's independence. That was followed by the establishment of diplomatic relations, development assistance toward sustainable development for Ukraine, a foreign investment promotion and protection agreement, a bilateral convention for the avoidance of double taxation, and a bilateral air transport agreement. There have been many initiatives over time by governments in support of better relations with Ukraine.
The proposed trade agreement would eliminate almost 100% of the trade duties on Ukrainian imports and 86% of Canadian imports into Ukraine, over approximately seven years. As my colleague mentioned, this is a good route to go because we are trying to even off the trade and give greater benefit to Ukraine as it tries to develop its struggling democracy and its economy.
It is important to keep in mind that, from what I understand, there is currently only $70 million in trade benefits to Ukraine from trading with Canada. Therefore, we are not talking about a sizeable economic benefit. Rather, this is more a gesture of friendship, to serve as a powerful message that Canada supports the economic development of Ukraine and is willing to trade with and work with this new government as it tries to develop economically. It is also a means to open up more opportunities for investment in trade between our countries. Many in my province export grains, pork, beef, and so forth. It is also intended to provide an incentive for Ukraine to institute further economic reforms for the benefit of the people of Ukraine and investors. There has been a long history in Ukraine, prior to the revolution of dignity, when the people of Ukraine were not the beneficiaries of economic development. It is important for us to keep that in perspective, as many members in this place have raised the issues and concerns of human rights.
As the government has said, in addition to generating commercial benefits for Canadian businesses, the deal would also help spur economic reform and development efforts of Ukraine and strengthen the Canada-Ukraine partnership for peace and prosperity. Many have mentioned the problems in eastern Ukraine, the perils that Ukrainians face with the intrusion of Russian troops, and the end of peace and any potential for economic prosperity. The deal would also pave the way for long-term security, stability, and broad-based economic development in Ukraine.
Hope has increased for democratic governance for Ukraine post the revolution of dignity led in the Maidan and the election of a new government. I was privileged to participate in international monitoring missions for several of the recent elections.
Prior to this change in the regime, Canada identified numerous concerns with the erosion of democracy and rule of law and the infringement of human rights. These concerns were documented in a report prepared by the parliamentary committee on foreign affairs. Among the concerns we identified in 2012 were concerns expressed by chambers of commerce in Ukraine about the lack of legal protections for foreign investors.
The current Ukrainian government is committed to addressing improved investment law and corruption in the courts, but it will be very important, as we proceed with this trade agreement, which will be encouraging more Canadian investors to invest, that they must be careful. We were forewarned that, unless they had deep pockets, their investments might be at risk.
Nonetheless, since that date, we do have a new government. There is greater faith in its commitment to democracy and rule of law reform, but we still receive serious reports of corruption in the courts.
In this deal, there are some environmental measures but no evidence of equivalent actions on the part of Ukraine.
It would have been helpful, as I have mentioned on the CETA deal, and it would have been better to actually establish an independent secretariat, as was done under the NAFTA agreement, so that the Ukrainians could benefit by having an independent assessment of whether or not the government is moving forward and making sure that environmental considerations are factored in—as, for example, there may be Canadian investment in fracking in that country.
There is an additional area where Canada could offer extensive expertise and products in trade, including in conservation, ecological tourism, or pollution control.
Another area where Canada could offer its expertise is in energy efficiency. Ukraine was required to initiate a reform program toward ending substantial subsidies on gas as a condition to its IMF loan. As a contracting party to the European energy community, it must make reforms to comply with EU directives on energy efficiency. The country has consequently initiated measures to transform its outdated system of providing energy, including establishing a state agency of energy efficiency and energy saving. There, perhaps we could learn something from Ukraine. Canada could offer expertise in delivering the necessary programs at the national and local levels to increase the level of knowledge and public awareness and support for investments in improved energy efficiency.
Canadian municipalities could also share their experiences with Ukrainian cities that are interested in switching to use of biofuels.
We could also assist Ukrainian entrepreneurs in marketing their energy technologies in North America. I am delighted that one of my former Ukrainian interns is involved in marketing an award-winning energy-efficiency meter designed by a start-up Ukrainian technology company.
Canadian firms will be exploring the potential for developing energy reserves in Ukraine. It will be, as I mentioned, important that we also promote our technical expertise in alternative energy sources.
As I mentioned, there have been many concerns about the erosion of democracy and corruption in the courts. In fact, the Ukrainian Canadian Congress actually recommended to audit before it would sign on to a trade deal. It actually attached conditions on human rights, rule of law, and adherence to fundamental democratic principles
The UCC, as well as many of us here, now recognizes that there is a new government with more commitment to these reforms, but it is important that, in this trade deal, we watchdog for the purposes of Ukrainian benefit and also for Canadian investors, to make sure that these reforms are in place and so these investments are safeguarded.