By Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
The Harper government “blinked” when faced with the imminent cancellation of an upcoming meeting of parliamentarians from the Arctic region in the Yukon as a result of sanctions and counter-sanctions imposed by Ottawa and Moscow, says an NDP MP.
The 11th Conference of Parliamentarians of the Arctic region is set to run from Sept. 9 to 11 in Whitehorse. The meeting, however, almost didn’t happen as a result of sanctions battle between Ottawa and Moscow over the Russian invasion of Crimea.
“I think the Harper government blinked on it,” said Western Arctic NDP MP Dennis Bevington.
Ottawa banned several Russian legislators from entering Canada and Moscow reacted in kind, banning the speakers of the House, several MPs and one Senator. The travel ban also prevented the named legislators from communicating with each other.
“It appears that our two Speakers will not be in a position to invite a Russian delegation. There are sanctions placed by the Canadian government on Russians visiting Canada because of Russia’s actions in Crimea and Ukraine,” wrote Maxime Ricard, secretary of the Canada-Europe Parliamentary Association, in a June 26 email. The email relayed a message from Conservative MP David Tilson, who is the association’s president, to MPs involved with the group.
“We are not sure yet of the consequences of this on hosting the conference in Canada,” wrote Ricard, according to the email obtained by APTN National News.
Then, on July 4, Ricard sent out another email to MPs saying a work-around had been found. Ricard, again relaying a message from Tilson, said the Russian’s invitations would be sent by the Clerks of the House of Commons and the Senate.
“This respects both the sanctions regime in place as well as the conference rules of procedure to invite all parliamentarians and will allow the conference to proceed,” wrote Ricard.
Bevington said the NDP and “international parties” pressured the Harper government to solve the issue.
Bevington said the simplicity of the solution revealed the real problem was the initial intransigence of the Harper government.
“The solution they came up with was pretty straight forward,” said Bevington. “It took a fair bit of pressure to put a solution in place.”
Without the Russians, the conference couldn’t happen, he said.
“The Arctic Parliamentarians is based on consensus,” said Bevington. “You can’t have a consensus if you don’t invite one of the group.”
An official in Tilson’s office said the issue was simply a wrinkle caused by unexpected events in the Ukraine. The official said the meeting “wasn’t even close” to cancellation.
“It came at us sideways, it wasn’t really on our radar in our last year of planning,” said the official. “In the murky world of diplomatic communication, it made it difficult.”
The offices of the speakers of the House of Commons and the Senate did not return APTN National News’ requests for comment.