Kootenay-Columbia MP Wayne Stetski is back in Canada with an added perspective on politics after a 12-day diplomatic mission to four countries with the House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development.
Replacing NDP member Helene Laverdiere on the trip, Stetski joined the 10-member committee that travelled to Ukraine, Latvia, Poland and Kazakhstan to learn about the key political, security and developmental needs in these countries through a variety of meetings with different stakeholders.
“The reason for the trip is that it’s been 25 years since the Soviet Union disbanded and came apart so the purpose of the trip was to see how those four countries are doing in terms of democracy and in terms of military concern for Russia and Mr. Putin’s aggression,” Stetski said to The Echo.
In each country, Stetski said the committee met with government representatives, ambassadors and civil society groups where they discussed Canada’s presence in their countries and some of the actions that Canada has taken in their country.
In Ukraine, Stetski said, they spoke with officials about the progress that’s been made with the local police who have been training with RCMP officers to establish a new police force for the country. The overhaul of the Ukranian police force saw thousands fired for association with corruption, but had the opportunity to re-apply as “clean” police officers and be trained by the RCMP.
Working with different agents in the region, Stetski said his main takeaway was their innate fear of neighbouring Russia who could invade at any point.
“Basically they really feel that Putin is just preparing for his next offensive, looking for NATO weaknesses,” he said, mentioning that Latvia’s defence minister pointed out to the committee that Russia “believes they can do whatever they want, whenever they want in the region.”
In recent history, neighbouring countries have known little else besides Russia expanding their boundaries. In 1999, Russia invaded Chechnya before entering Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014.
“They’re now in Syria in 2016 and 2017 and the question that gets asked by many countries in that part of the world that border Russia is: who’s next?” Stetski said.
He said it’s for this reason that all the countries they visited expressed their gratitude towards the committee on behalf of Canada for supporting them with NATO troops in order to contain Russian president Vladimir Putin going forward.
“On an international scale, Canada needs to be active, they need to have a role in other countries and all four of the countries and everyone that we met with were all just so appreciative of Canada and appreciative of the fact that we had come to visit with them,” he said.
Now back in Canada, the committee will compile a report based on their experiences and will present that to Parliament sometime in the future. Although Stetski wasn’t a full-time member of the committee, he said he landed on Canadian soil with a newfound perspective on politics and love for the country he represents.
“It’s interesting because my interest in being a Member of Parliament was to serve the constituents in the riding and I really hadn’t thought about the role of Members of Parliament in terms of what’s happening internationally,” he said. “In the end when I thought about it afterwards, because there is lots of travel that happens around the world by Canadian Members of Parliament, and it kind of came down to if Members of Parliament aren’t doing this for Canada, who is there to do it for Canada?”