OTTAWA – Harjit Sajjan will find himself back in the spotlight and on the hot seat today as the Conservatives use their so-called opposition day to renew their attacks against the defence minister’s credibility.
Conservative defence critic James Bezan says he will table a non-binding motion in the House of Commons expressing a loss of confidence in Sajjan, and which MPs will have a chance to vote on.
That vote will be entirely symbolic, and has little chance of passing given the Liberals hold a majority of seats in the House, but it could still make for another long day for the embattled defence minister.
Sajjan, a former soldier and Afghan war veteran, has faced sustained fire for having exaggerated his role in Operation Medusa, a key battle involving the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan in 2006.
The defence minister has since apologized, but the Conservatives continue to call for his resignation, accusing Sajjan of a pattern of misleading comments that they say have hurt his standing with the military.
That includes his assertions about the urgent need for Super Hornet fighter jets and that allies didn’t object when Canada withdrew its CF-18s from Iraq.
They have also asked Speaker Geoff Regan to rule on whether Sajjan misled members of Parliament when he blamed the previous government for cutting the tax benefits available for Canadian soldiers in Kuwait.
“Some would say this is just politics,” Bezan said. “This is more than that. It is quite troubling that we have a minister of national defence who has a track record of being untruthful.”
Sajjan’s spokeswoman, Jordan Owens, said the minister will make a brief appearance and address in the House of Commons on Monday, but that he is more focused on the Liberal government’s forthcoming new defence policy.
“While the opposition chooses to focus on a mistake for which Minister Sajjan has already apologized, our government continues to deliver results for Canadians, especially our women and men in uniform,” Owens said in an email.
“We look forward to the upcoming release of Canada’s new defence policy, which will present a plan to care for our military personnel and their families.”
On Sunday, Transport Minister Marc Garneau was dispatched in Sajjan’s stead to talk about the coming defence policy on television political shows, presumably part of a Liberal strategy to keep the focus on policy and off Sajjan’s credibility.
Garneau told CTV’s Question Period the new defence policy will be aimed redressing years of chronic under-funding of the military by successive governments. He said it will involve “significant expenditures” but refused to elaborate.
In addition to the Conservative non-confidence motion Monday, the NDP is expected to pile onto Sajjan as well by raising questions about how much he knew about the mistreatment of Afghan detainees more than a decade ago.
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair has asked the ethics commissioner to take another look into whether Sajjan was in a conflict of interest when he rejected calls for an inquiry into the Afghan detainee issue last year.
Mulcair says Sajjan’s comments on Operation Medusa call into question his previous assertion to ethics commissioner Mary Dawson that he was not involved in, nor had any knowledge, about Afghan detainees.
Dawson has said she is reviewing Mulcair’s request.
MORE ABOUT HARJIT SAJJAN:
- Tories are out on top: Ottawa Power Rankings
- Why military funding in Canada is in such a lousy state
- Sajjan offers grim assessment of underfunded military
- Sajjan expected to lay bare state of Canada’s defence purchasing
- What happens when politicians have to grapple with ‘survivability’
- Conservatives allege Sajjan misled Parliament
- Harjit Sajjan apologizes for overstating role in Operation Medusa