Motion will seek to expand airstrikes beyond Iraq and into Syria

Harper will introduce the new motion himself in the House of Commons this morning

OTTAWA – The federal government will introduce a long-anticipated motion today to expand and extend Canada’s war against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, federal sources say.

The motion, a copy of which was obtained by The Canadian Press, will seek Parliament’s permission for airstrikes against targets in Syria and extend the mission “to a date not beyond March 30, 2016.”

The plan, to be voted on by MPs, removes a restriction that Prime Minister Stephen Harper placed on combat forces when they were first deployed last October.

That caveat required the military to seek permission before attacking ISIL positions in Syria. Although it was not contained in the original motion that sent the forces to war, Harper underlined the restriction in his speech to Parliament.

Harper will introduce the new motion himself in the House of Commons at 10 a.m. ET.

“Continuing to degrade ISIL will require striking its operations and infrastructure where they are located, including in Syria,” reads the motion.

“Accordingly, this House continues to support the government’s decision to contribute Canadian military assets to the fight against ISIL, and terrorists aligned with ISIL, including airstrike capability with authorization to conduct airstrikes in Iraq and Syria.”

Several sources told The Canadian Press recently that the new extension would likely run up to a year in order to avoid having to be renewed during this fall’s anticipated federal election.

The motion also repeats a pledge not to engage in ground combat with conventional army forces. It does, however, give the military the latitude to strike at Islamic State targets and those of their affiliate organizations wherever they present a threat.

The current parliamentary mandate for the air campaign, as well as the deployment of up to 69 special forces soldiers in northern Iraq, runs out on April 7.

The motion reflects what sources say is Harper’s belief that Canada can attack ISIL while helping its victims at the same time, rather than having to choose one approach over the other.

Parliament does not need to approve overseas military missions, but the prime minister has made it customary to ask for the support.

The NDP has already made it clear it won’t support the motion.

“This is not our war,” Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair said last week during a visit to B.C.

For the Liberals, leader Justin Trudeau is under pressure to undo the political damage he caused by joking last fall that Canada should be doing more in Iraq than just “trying to whip out our CF-18s and show them how big they are.”

The party is expected to discuss the mission during caucus meetings this week, with a focus on whether the motion will present enough of an actual strategy to defeat ISIL.

“The prime minister has not been honest and open with Canadians about the mission so far,” said Liberal defence critic Joyce Murray.

Murray accused Harper of allowing the mission to morph from a narrow special-forces operation into full-blown front-line combat.

“The prime minister never admitted the change, never explained it, and never said who – who made that decision to change the mandate of the special forces. And that concerns us.”