Opposition MPs demanded Friday that senior Liberal ministers show up at a special foreign affairs committee meeting next week to explain Canada’s controversial decision to send repaired parts of a Russian natural gas pipeline back to Germany.
The Liberals, who are facing heavy criticism from Ukraine for exempting the turbines from sanctions against Russia, quickly agreed that Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly and Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson would be happy to take questions about the matter.
Ontario Liberal MP Robert Oliphant said there is “complete willingness” and “no hesitation” from the ministers in appearing to explain the decision.
The foreign affairs committee voted unanimously to request the presence of Joly and Wilkinson by July 22, subject to their availability and “noting the urgency of the situation.”
The committee will also invite testimony from the Ukrainian Canadian Congress and the ambassadors of Ukraine, Germany and the European Union to Canada.
Conservatives on the committee also called for Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland to appear and alleged that Liberals were trying to prevent her testimony because she might disagree with the export decision.
Their attempt to add her to the witness list was voted down, but committee members will have more opportunities to add names to the list and the issue could be discussed again.
Freeland is in Indonesia attending a G20 finance ministers’ meeting, and was not immediately available to respond.
The whole thing stems from a government decision in the last week to exempt six Siemens Energy turbines, which were serviced in Montreal, from the economic sanctions it levied against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.
The Ukrainian World Congress is petitioning the Federal Court to uphold the sanctions regime and stop the shipment, saying in a statement that “we cannot supply a terrorist state with the tools it needs to finance the killing of tens of thousands of innocent people.”
Russian state-owned energy company Gazprom reduced gas deliveries from its Nord Stream 1 pipeline, which runs to northeastern Germany, by 60 per cent last month, citing turbine-related technical problems.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said this week the decision to deliver the turbines was made so Canada could support European allies that are facing energy crises as Russia constricts access to its oil and gas supply.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz welcomed the move, saying that the energy supply keeps Germany in a position to support Ukraine with humanitarian, financial and military aid.
And the U.S. state department issued a statement supporting the decision, saying that it would help Europe increase its energy security and resiliency and counter “Russia’s efforts to weaponize energy.”
But Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy condemned the decision as “absolutely unacceptable” earlier this week in video and written statements.
“The decision on the exception to sanctions will be perceived in Moscow exclusively as a manifestation of weakness. This is their logic,” he said. “And now there can be no doubt that Russia will try not just to limit as much as possible, but to completely shut down the supply of gas to Europe at the most acute moment.”
In her motion to initiate the committee study, NDP foreign affairs critic Heather McPherson said she was “appalled” by the government’s decision and said it implied that the Canadian sanctions regime is “basically meaningless” if exemptions can be made whenever officials get “uncomfortable.”
Conservative MP Garnett Genuis called it “a slap in the face to the Ukrainian people” and said it smacked of “the logic of appeasement or compromise with a violent aggressor.”
A spokesman for the German embassy in Ottawa told The Canadian Press that German and European Union sanctions do not specifically cover turbines.
The German understanding is that if Canadian sanctions had been worded in the same way as Germany’s, no particular exemption would have been required for the turbines.
Each political entity words their sanctions differently and Canada’s regime was more specific than many others in forbidding particular types of parts from being exported, said Rachel Ziemba, an adjunct senior fellow on energy, economics and security at the Center for a New American Security.
Neither Gazprom nor the Nord Stream 1 pipeline project are subject to full blocking sanctions by Canada, she said, which tracks with Germany’s belief that the Canadian sanctions would not have applied to the transaction if the export list had been less specific.
Delivering parts towards a new Russian energy project would have been much more difficult, she said.
Still, even in a scenario where the deal went ahead without a sanctions exemption, Ziemba said any transaction involving Russia or Russian companies would have come under a high level of political scrutiny.
“We’re operating in an environment where Canada and U.S. allies are really trying to elevate the cost of doing any business with Russia, to send a message that even things that are not explicitly illegal, one might want to steer clear of,” she said.
With Russia’s assault on Ukraine creating complex issues around energy distribution in Europe, Ziemba noted that the turbines make for an easier target of criticism than broader oil and gas policies.