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Volodymyr Zelensky's Parliament speech makes waves

Politics Insider for Mar. 16: Pundits react to Zelensky's Parliament appearance; Putin bans a slew of prominent Canadians from entering Russia; Candice Bergen pushes Erin O'Toole to move out

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Writing for Maclean’s, Shannon Proudfoot captures the tragic reality at the heart of Volodymyr Zelensky’s powerful speech to Parliament on Tuesday. He made a compelling personal argument for help that Canada feels it cannot give — a no-fly zone over his country, which might stop the Russian government from bombing his cities, murdering Ukrainian children.

Zelensky keeps driving home the point that his people are just like anyone else’s people, and they desperately need more help to save their nation and their own lives. And other countries keep responding—sincerely—that their hearts are breaking for Ukraine’s dead children and obliterated cities, but they simply can’t close the skies without risking global annihilation. The exchange rate on that calculation at this moment is the decimation of a single country that is begging the world in real time not to look away.

Enforcing a closure of Ukrainian airspace could very possibly lead to nuclear war, and for NATO, it is a non-starter. Closing that airspace may be the only way to save the lives of tens of thousands of Ukrainian civilians and preserve the sovereignty of their country. Those facts do not refute each other; they only click together like agonizing puzzle pieces.

An unanswerable ask: Don Martin, writing for CTV, has a similar perspective on the speech.

Hundreds of his soldiers and civilians are dying daily from incoming Russian missiles and bombs streaking across an open sky which could be closed with the help of fighter jets from Ukraine’s allies like Canada. “What I’m trying to say is you all need to do more to stop Russia, to protect Ukraine and protect all over Europe. We’re not asking for much, we’re asking for justice, we’re asking for real support,” he said. In other words, it’s great you stand with us, but it’s time to fly with us. But, tragically, that’s an unanswerable ask, even if only to protect fleeing civilians from Russia’s aerial bombardment.

 ICYMI: CBC’s Murray Brewster has a good overview of the speech.

In his speech, which was laced with references to Canadian cities and landmarks, Zelensky asked rhetorically how Canadians would feel if Russia laid siege to Vancouver or targeted the CN Tower in Toronto. He listed off some of the historic sites in Ukraine that have come under bombardment. “Imagine that Canadian facilities have been bombed similarly as our buildings and memorial places are being bombed,” Zelensky said. “A number of families have died. Every night is a horrible night.”

Honour role: After Zelensky’s speech, Russia banned 313 Canadians from entering that country, including Justin Trudeau and most MPs, Global reports.

The list includes almost every single sitting member of Parliament — save for a handful, such as Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, who has already been banned from Russia — including the leaders of every major party. A few other Canadians have found themselves barred from Russia too, including prominent Ukrainian-Canadians and Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Wayne Eyre.

Alexandra Chyczij, National President of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, had a succinct response to being banned by Putin.

No to NATO: Zelensky said Tuesday his country needs to accept that it will never join NATO, which could open the door to negotiations with Russia after three weeks of war, reports Mark MacKinnon, for the Globe, from Odesa.

Mr. Zelensky made the remarks Tuesday in a virtual address to a gathering of European leaders, but the real audience was likely in the Kremlin, which has said it will end the war if Ukraine agrees to drop its bid for NATO membership, demilitarizes and becomes a neutral state. “Ukraine is not a NATO member. We understand that. We are reasonable people.”

Staying out of it: Doug Ford said Tuesday neither he nor his MPPs will be endorsing anyone for the leadership of the federal Conservative party, CP reports.

Bad for the brand: Speaking of the CPC leadership race, Campbell Clark observes in the Globe that if the CPC leadership candidates keep telling Canadians that their rivals are not to be trusted, Canadians may come to believe them, damaging the party’s brand.

There are some people who say that Conservative politicians are liars who will say anything to get elected, govern unethically, or flirt with racial discrimination to win votes. But those are just the people running for the leadership of the Conservative Party.

Also in the Globe, Gary Mason notes that a large minority of CPC voters support Donald J. Trump, and Pierre Poilievre appears to be seeking their support.

A large percentage of these folks can be found in Alberta and Saskatchewan, two provinces Mr. Poilievre hopes to own come the convention. He likely will. His angry, divisive style of politics sells well on the Prairies, where hatred for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau runs high. Mr. Poilievre is happy to stoke and foment that dissent even if it entails propagating ridiculous conspiracy theories – another page he’s ripped out of the Trump playbook.

5G Charest: Global reports that Poilievre’s challenger, Jean Charest, mostly worked on Huawei’s 5G network business, not the extradition case involving Meng Wanzhou, the company said Tuesday. Poilievre’s team have attacked Charest for working for Huawei while the two Michaels were in Chinese custody.

Get out: Interim CPC leader Candice Bergen pushed Erin O’Toole to vacate Stornoway within weeks of being turfed by Conservative MPs, sources tell the Globe.

Mr. O’Toole was taken aback at having to move out so quickly, the sources said. The O’Toole family moved out on March 3, just over a month after he was voted out by his caucus, and Ms. Bergen settled into Stornoway last Saturday.

Grudge match: It looks like Brian Jean will soon be able to torment Jason Kenney after the by-election last night in Fort Mac.

— Stephen Maher

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