MP Alex Atamanenko took part in many Canada Day activities in Greater Trail (pictured above in 2014) and was often on hand to cut the ceremonial Canada Day cake at Kiwanis Park.

Retiring MP reflects on what Canada has become

After three terms in office, Alex Atamanenko offers views on where Canada was and where it’s headed as he leaves the political spotlight

When Alex Atamanenko first arrived in Ottawa nine years ago, he recalls Canada being a more caring and compassionate country that it is today.

The three-term MP for BC Southern Interior is not running in the upcoming election but that didn’t deter Atamanenko from sharing his views of the fate and future of our country for Canada Day.

After spending June 18 in Ottawa, quite possibly his last day in Parliament depending when the writ is dropped, he admitted his overview of Canadian politics is somewhat pessimistic at this point.

“Others may not agree with me but that’s how I perceive it from someone who came out of nowhere when I ran in 2004 and arrived in Parliament in February 2006,” said Atamanenko who turned 70 this year.

“I’ve always believed in the democratic process, that politics is a noble profession, and I believe in my country having always been a Canadian nationalist.

“But it’s been hard with this majority government because they do what they want and always out-vote you. I always wanted us to charter our own way and seek peaceful solutions.”

Although Canadians were already fighting in Afghanistan when he was first elected in 2006, Atamanenko says the country was a strong supporter of the United Nations and in theory, still acting as peacekeepers.

Instead of remaining a world leader in peaceful resolution, he maintains the majority government nudged its way into becoming a proxy of U.S. policies and chose a reactionary “boots on ground” approach in resolving global conflicts.

“Internationally we’ve become a warring nation,” he said in a phone interview with the Trail Times. “We are not as respected in the international community for trying to seek peaceful solutions to very complicated conflicts,” Atamanenko continued.  “In my opinion there was (and is) no reason for us to go into combat.”

Canada did not have to send its military into Afghanistan (October 2001 to 2011), he emphasized, noting the European presence in Afghanistan that didn’t include troops in combat.

“There was no need to have this tragic loss of over 150 soldiers killed, others committing suicide, and all the other effects we are seeing that our military has been put through with this horrendous experience – we didn’t have to do that.”

The Iraq war is another example where Canada should not be combat ready, he explained, reiterating there are tactful ways of resolving very complex issues besides the use of arms.

Most recently, he said the Canadian government’s stance in the Ukraine conflict could have been a strong opportunity for the country to once again, demonstrate peacekeeping leadership.

“We’ve closed all doors and demonized Putin,” he said.

“This government takes every opportunity to criticize Russia for its invasion into Ukraine,” explained Atamanenko, mentioning Leona Aglukkaq’s, Canada’s Minister of Environment, related comments during the Northern Conference.

“But we never criticized the United States for invading Iraq and the one million people killed as a result of that invasion.”

He said shuttle diplomacy should have been the country’s policy instead of the Conservative government’s weighted opposition against Russia.

“We have a strong Ukrainian community here and with our position in the world, we should be trying to broker some kind of lasting peace,” Atamanenko added. “We missed that opportunity.”

The politician says the last four years in Parliament have also been “tough slugging” with domestic policy beginning with talks, or lack thereof, in the House of Commons.

“There’s been a real erosion of the democratic process in Parliament,” said Atamanenko, noting his experience with a majority in power began in 2011.

“I’ve talked with my colleagues and colleagues from other parties who agree there was more give and take with previous majority governments,” he explained. “Amendments to legislation were accepted and there was more discussion and more openness to accepting comments from the opposition.”

He said the inordinate number of omnibus bills and quick closure of debates stopped over 100 pieces of legislation from passing.

“The whole process has been convoluted,” Atamanenko continued, pointing out an example. “There was a food safety bill (S11), when I was on the agriculture committee, that everybody agreed was a necessity to to tighten up.

Between the NDP and the Liberals, he said up to 20 amendments were suggested to strengthen, not change, this particular bill.

“Each amendment was rejected by the majority on this committee,” he added.

There are a number of initiatives the Castlegar-based politician is proud being part of, and there’s few he’s hoping will come to fruition after his fall retirement.

“We tried very hard to save the Canadian Wheat Board from being dismantled and sold to foreign corporations,” he explained. “And we were able to do that until the majority government. I was lucky to play a role in that.”

With a passion for agriculture, Atamanenko recently seized the opportunity to become part of Canadian history by helping create the first bill on Genetically Modified Organisms, which passed first reading and went to committee.

“When I look at individual accomplishments I think I am pretty proud of that. And I am proud of the chance I had to criss cross the country in what we called a ‘Food for Thought’ tour.”

While visiting communities shore-to-shore, that particular committee gathered Canadian opinions on their rights for food sovereignty.

“Some of those findings are actually reflective in the current food policy our party has put out, so that’s kind of nice.”

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