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Why Canada continues to fund Ukraine in 'long slog' war: 'The stakes are very high'

The announcement brings Canada's total financial pledge to Ukraine to more than $9.5 billion since the beginning of 2022

Why Canada continues to fund Ukraine in 'long slog' war: 'The stakes are very high'

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s latest pledge to Ukraine — which includes $650 million over three years for 50 armoured vehicles — has been met with some public pushback from Canadians and raised questions about what's expected from Canada when it comes to international obligations.

The announcement brings Canada's total financial pledge to Ukraine to more than $9.5 billion since the beginning of 2022, according to the Canadian Press.

In 2022, Canadians donated $201.9 million to the Red Cross's efforts in support of people impacted by the crisis in Ukraine, including $30 million from the government of Canada.

An Angus Reid poll conducted in February 2023 found declining support, compared to one year prior or since the early days of the conflict, among Canadians for the government's ongoing funding of Ukraine's battle against Russian forces.

In March 2022, 61 per cent of respondents supported Canada providing Ukraine with defensive weapons and gear. By February 2023, that number had dipped to 52 per cent.

Add in housing and cost of living crises, and last week's multi-million dollar pledge has Canadians feeling Ottawa should be doing more to address issues at home.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky (L) speaks during a news conference on Parliament Hill on September 22, 2023 in Ottawa as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looks on. (Photo by Dave Chan / AFP) (Photo by DAVE CHAN/AFP via Getty Images)
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky (L) speaks during a news conference on Parliament Hill on September 22, 2023 in Ottawa as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looks on. (Photo by Dave Chan / AFP) (Photo by DAVE CHAN/AFP via Getty Images)

But Lucan Way, a professor of political science at the University of Toronto, notes that the estimated $9.5 billion Ottawa has given to Ukraine since 2022 is around 1 per cent of the government's overall expenditures. To many Canadians, that is worth it, especially given the threat posed by Russia through its invasion of Ukraine and threat to other NATO members, an alliance of 30 countries in North America and Europe that includes Canada.  

“This is clearly a very aggressive anti-democratic, anti-liberal regime in Russia that will basically do anything to destroy rule-based order, so this is an important investment for Canada right now, ” Way tells Yahoo News Canada.

He adds that Canada is a rich country that can afford to help other countries in crisis, as well as support its own.

“I don’t think there’s any evidence that somehow expenditures to Ukraine are taking a single coin away from Canadian expenditures,” he says.

Aside from the broader implications of allowing Vladimir Putin to violate international norms, Canada has a vested interest in Ukraine given the number of Ukrainians living in the country who still have relatives back home, Way adds.

“This has direct effects on people’s lives,” Way says. “The stakes are very high.”

Jack Cunningham is the program coordinator for the Bill Graham Centre for Contemporary International History. He says Canada's financial contribution to Ukraine is an open-ended commitment and will remain that way until leadership in the region changes.

"The Ukrainians are not clearly winning but they're not clearly losing either," he says. "It's going to be a long slog and we shouldn't delude ourselves on that front. The whole situation probably is not going to be rectified until we have regime change in the Kremlin."

According to the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, of 42 international donors, Canada ranks seventh in worldwide military, humanitarian and financial commitment to Ukraine.

Between Jan. 24, 2022 and July 31, 2023, the top three countries that financially support Ukraine are EU institutions with €84 billion ($119 billion CAD), the Unite States with €69 billion ($98 billion CAD), and Germany, which has pledged €20 billion ($28 billion CAD).

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (R) and Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky arrive for a news conference on Parliament Hill on September 22, 2023 in Ottawa. (Photo by Dave Chan / AFP) (Photo by DAVE CHAN/AFP via Getty Images)
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (R) and Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky arrive for a news conference on Parliament Hill on September 22, 2023 in Ottawa. (Photo by Dave Chan / AFP) (Photo by DAVE CHAN/AFP via Getty Images)