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Our future in Afghanistan: didn’t the House say something on this matter?


 

Defence Minister Peter MacKay says keeping Canada’s Provincial Reconstruction Team in Kandahar after 2011 is a possibility, and in doing so he raises a basic question about the government’s Afghanistan policy.

Canadian Press reports that MacKay was asked pointedly by reporters about whether the PRT would stay in Kandahar beyond the planned withdrawal data, and he replied airly, “We’re considering a number of options.”

Canada set up the PRT in 2005. It’s run separately from the main Canadian military contingent in Kandahar. The troops who protect the PRT make up about half of its 330 members, the rest including diplomats, prison experts, aid specialists and police.

On the face of it, there’s nothing wrong with MacKay, or anyone else in the government, looking at prolonging the PRT’s mission beyond 2011—except that that to do so would appear to violate the only clear guiding statement of Canada’s intentions in Afghanistan that any of us have to go on.

That would be the motion passed by the House of Commons, with Conservative and Liberal support, on March 13, 2008. It said that Canada’s military presence in Kandahar—expressly described as including “the continuation of Canada’s responsibility for the Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team”—should extend until July 2011.

A straightforward reading of the motion would not allow the PRT, or any other Canadian operation, to remain in the volatile southern Afghan province after the withdrawal date, since the text passed by the House expressly directs the government to “notify NATO that Canada will end its presence in Kandahar as of July 2011.”

Now, the Oct. 13, 2008 motion isn’t scripture. If the government wants to revise it, then fine. But that would require making an overture to at least one opposition party to hammer out new set of rules for the Afghanistan engagement, and then tabling an updated motion and passing it.

Just ignoring the existing motion and proceeding as though the government enjoys a flexibility that is precluded by clear direction from Parliament is not acceptable. At some point, somebody has to take that place where our elected representatives sit and deliberate and vote seriously.


 

Our future in Afghanistan: didn’t the House say something on this matter?

  1. Wait…maybe he has an Ipsos poll showing a sudden rise in support for keeping our troops there…

    Otherwise..dude, what are you thinking?

  2. This isn't new. MacKay has done this before and it's always been followed with a strong denial by Harper. I'm not sure though, if it's meant to test the waters for continued military engagement or it's just a lob ball served up for the PM to swat out of the park.

  3. "Just ignoring the existing motion and proceeding as though the government enjoys a flexibility that is precluded by clear direction from Parliament is not acceptable. At some point, somebody has to take that place where our elected representatives sit and deliberate and vote seriously."

    I'm assuming you forgot the very last sentence:

    "Bwahahahahahhahahaahhahahahahhahahahahhahahahahhahahhahahhahahahahha!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

  4. Did Mackay not also say that we're bound by the parliamentary resolution?

    "If the government wants to revise it, then fine. But that would require making an overture to at least one opposition party to hammer out new set of rules for the Afghanistan engagement, and then tabling an updated motion and passing it."

    Of course, Ignatieff (an advocate of the Iraq war who continues to support the "responsibility to protect") has left the door open to doing just that: Asked what he would do if Obama persuaded Harper that Canada should prolong its military mission in Afghanistan, here's what Ignatieff said: “We cross that bridge when we come to it. We are bound by the parliamentary resolution.”

  5. Maybe it's the cold meds, but I'm thinking that if the gov't DID go to revise the motion and DID need the support of at least one opposition party to extend the mission, one of two scenarios would occur, assuming the Liberals hold their ground of late and oppose just about everything Harper does:
    1) The NDP or the Bloc lose all credibility on their Afghanistan policy by supporting an extension of the mission that they so staunchly oppose(d); or
    2) We go to an election.

    Gee, politics appears so much more simple on cold medication…

    • 2) We go to an election.

      A vote to extend the military mission wouldn't be an automatic confidence vote. And even if it was declared one by Harper, like he did once before, the opposition parties could simply call his bluff and make it his decision to pull the plug on the current Parliament. I'd say good luck to him for pulling the plug over an unpopular war.

      • Ha, I knew I was forgetting something.

        Though I would suggest that a troop commitment would also require a funding commitment to ensure equipment and materials and such were up to par. Would the resulting ways and means motion – my understanding being that such capital outlay things require confidence motions, though I could be wrong – be tied to the initial policy change, thus making the one a confidence motion because of the other? Or would they be entirely separate?

        As for pulling the plug over an unpopular war, I'm not sure which would be worse (or for whom): opening an unpopular war up for debate in the commons, or going to an election over it. Though I am interested to see what an election over foreign policy would look like in Canada, being that we're down a couple hundred thousand jobs or so in our own country…

    • 2) We go to an election.

      A vote to extend the military mission wouldn't be an automatic confidence vote. And even if it was declared one by Harper, like he did once before, the opposition parties could simply call his bluff and make it his decision to pull the plug on the current Parliament. I'd say good luck to him pulling the plug over an unpopular war.

    • A decision to extend the mission would be driven by an agreement with the Obama administration and the other NATO members. The Liberals are big on multilateral cooperation and Ignatieff himself continues to endorse international intervention for humanitarian purposes and conflict-prevention. If it meant going against these principles, how could the Liberals vote against the motion without losing their own credibility (and possibly splitting the party)?

  6. The goal of the CPC, the military brass and the war industry is pretty clear. They want to stay beyond 2011, and the way they will do it is by pretending that our post-2011 mission will morph into a humanitarian exercise, with troops on hand just to make sure the unused schools we build aren't bombed.

    This will allow business as usual, the same levels of war spending, and a continued flow of service ribbons for all the brass at DND HQ. Oh yeah, and more casualties, both civilian and military.

  7. The Liberals ran an advertisement featuring the father of a soldier who fell in Afghanistan critical of the Conservatives for abandoining the Afghan effort for which his son died. Yet, it was due to pressure from the Liberal party that the Conservatives agreed to the legislation providing an end date in 2011 to our effort in Afghanistan. So for Harper to repeal this law the second he gets a majority seems appropriate to me.

    • Quite so. I would imagine that, with a majority, he will continue the war despite the lack of support for it from Canadians. The sad thing from a democratic perspective is that the Liberals would likely do the same.

      And you are quite correct: both would use the terrible sacrifice of already-killed soldiers to rhetorically justify a policy that will result in additional dead and wounded soldiers and civilians.

    • Quite so. I would imagine that, with a majority, he will continue the war despite the lack of support for it from Canadians. The sad thing from a democratic perspective is that the Liberals would likely do the same.

      And you are quite correct: both parties would use the terrible sacrifice of already-killed soldiers to rhetorically justify a policy that will result in additional dead and wounded soldiers and civilians.

    • Quite so. I would imagine that, with a majority, he will continue the war despite the lack of support for it from Canadians. The sad thing from a democratic perspective is that the Liberals would likely do the same.

      And you are quite correct: both parties would use the terrible sacrifice of already-killed soldiers to rhetorically justify a policy that will result in additional dead and wounded soldiers (and even greater numbers of dead and wounded civilians, of course.)

  8. John Savard – a motion is not a law. Actually the government can do whatever it wants, as long as it maintains the confidence of the house.

    Younger minds may have better memory, or remember differently, but at the time the government went to the house with this motion it said it would proceed no matter the result of the vote. Others can confirm or tell me that I have hallucinations – I won't be insulted. I just don't have time to check this.

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