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Liberals 'gobsmacked' by Conservative rejection of Canada-Ukraine trade bill

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Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre is defending his party's unanimous rejection of a bill seeking to update the Canada-Ukraine Free Trade Agreement over carbon tax wording concerns, a move that has left the federal Liberals "gobsmacked."

Speaking to reporters on his way in to a caucus meeting on Wednesday morning, Poilievre said while his party is in favour of free trade with Ukraine, he is "against putting a carbon tax into any trade agreement."

The Liberals though, are framing the move as the Conservatives voting against supporting a country at war in its rebuilding efforts.

On Tuesday, when the legislation—known as Bill C-57, the modernized Canada-Ukraine Free Trade Agreement (CUFTA)—came up for its first vote at second reading, Conservative MPs united in voting against advancing the bill, citing fears it would "impose" a carbon tax on Ukraine.

The legislation still passed into the committee stage by a vote of 205-109 with the backing of the Bloc Quebecois, NDP, and Greens. 

While the text of the trade deal does include a commitment that both countries would both, bilaterally and internationally "promote carbon pricing and measures to mitigate carbon leakage risks," the legislation does not include provisions to force a pollution pricing plan.

Rather, Bill C-57 seeks to implement into law the reworked deal—which includes new chapters on inclusive trade, digital trade and the environment—as it was signed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Volodymyr Zelenskyy during the Ukrainian President's September visit to Ottawa.

The updated version builds on the original CUFTA that was forged by former prime minister Stephen Harper and came into effect in 2017, seeing tariffs eliminated on 86 per cent of Canada’s merchandise exports to Ukraine, according to Global Affairs Canada.

Reacting after the vote to the break in what has typically been all-party support for Ukrainian-related measures in the House of Commons since Russia's February 2022 invasion, Government House Leader Karina Gould told reporters she was "absolutely gobsmacked," by the Conservative caucus' move.

"This is an agreement that demonstrates Canada’s solidarity, our commitment to Ukraine fighting for their freedom, for their sovereignty," Gould said. "This agreement is about supporting the rebuilding of Ukraine, and every single Conservative member of Parliament voted against it. I have to say, I am in complete shock about this."

Gould said Ukrainian Canadians should be concerned about what she viewed as the Conservative party showing "their true colours."

"I assumed, I guess incorrectly, that this agreement would have passed quickly through the House of Commons. We saw that at every opportunity, they obstructed debate. Now, we know why… This is, I think, a blight on the Conservative Party of Canada," Gould said, suggesting Conservative MPs need to ask themselves "why are they doing what they are doing."

Asked by reporters on the Hill Wednesday morning to elaborate on his party's decision, Poilievre said he thinks the Liberals' decision to stitch in carbon pricing phrasing "speaks to how pathologically obsessed Trudeau is with the carbon tax."

"That while the knife is at the throat of Ukrainians, he would use that to impose his carbon tax ideology on those poor people. The last thing they need is a carbon tax when they're trying to rebuild from war and from this illegal invasion by Russia," he said.

Asked on the Hill Wednesday about the vote, chair of the Canada-Ukraine Parliamentary Friendship Group Liberal MP Yvan Baker accused Poilievre of "never" advocating for "military, humanitarian, or financial support for Ukraine," and said his charge of Canada forcing a carbon tax on Ukraine was a "red herring."

"Ukraine is already signed on to have a carbon tax because Ukraine has to do that to be a member of the EU and the EU already has carbon pricing in place," he said.

"The carbon tax language that's in the agreement doesn't require Ukraine to do anything. It's just a commitment to work to fight climate change, which we should all be able to get behind."

Conservative MP Garnett Genuis disputed the Liberal framing of the Conservatives not supporting Ukraine.

"The deal must be evaluated on its merits. Liberals put a carbon tax that nobody wants into a trade deal, while the same Liberals voted against including arms exports in this bill. Ukraine needs weapons and not a carbon tax," Genuis said, in a post on "X."

Reacting to the latest with the bill, president of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress Alexandra Chyczij said her organization is "grateful to all the parties in the House who supported the legislation in second reading."

"Ukraine can and will defeat Russia, but the Ukrainian people need our sustained support," Chyczij said. "We urge all members of Parliament to support the modernization of CUFTA." 

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