By Steve Scherer and David Ljunggren
OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canada’s Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday said his main political rival on the right was abandoning Ukraine under the influence of Donald Trump, the Republican frontrunner in next year’s U.S. election.
In a preliminary vote on Tuesday, all 109 Conservative lawmakers in the House of Commons opposed updated legislation for the free trade agreement between Canada and Ukraine, which received the unanimous support of all the other parties.
Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre, who is leading in all polls, said his party did not support it because it would force Ukraine to adopt a carbon tax. The trade bill includes language that the two countries will “promote” carbon pricing and mitigation, but does not have provisions that force such a plan.
“To see the Conservative Party of Canada decide not to support Ukraine with something they need with the absurd excuse that it’s because Ukraine is going to put a price on pollution, is ridiculous,” Trudeau told reporters in French at a news conference in Newfoundland.
“The real story is the rise of a right-wing, American MAGA influence thinking that has made Canadian Conservatives, who used to be among the strongest defenders of Ukraine… turn their backs on something Ukraine needs in its hour of need,” Trudeau said in English a little later, speaking after a meeting with top officials from the European Union.
Trump, who is seeking reelection in 2024 and is the leading candidate for his party’s presidential nomination, has been sharply critical of U.S. support for Kyiv and has said he could end the war in 24 hours if re-elected.
A relatively small but vocal group of Republicans has criticized Ukraine assistance for months, accusing Kyiv of failing to sufficiently fight corruption, which Ukrainian and U.S. officials deny.
Canada has the second-largest Ukrainian expatriate community after Russia.
The Ukrainian Canadian Congress, a lobby group, said in a statement it was disappointed Conservatives had voted against the trade agreement.
On Thursday Poilievre insisted that he supported Ukraine and a free-trade deal, but “voted against Justin Trudeau forcing a carbon tax into that pre-existing agreement”.
On Friday Sebastian Skamski, a spokesman for Poilievre, did not respond when asked whether the leader was taking his cues from Trump, but said it was disappointing Liberals slipped “the promotion of punishing carbon taxes into a binding trade deal for the first time in Canadian history.”
Poilievre would clobber Trudeau and likely win a majority if an election were held today, opinion polls show. One of Poilievre’s main promises is to “axe” Canada’s carbon tax if elected.
Poilievre says the pricing has added to cost-of-living concerns amid high inflation.
(Reporting by Steve Scherer, editing by Deepa Babington)