We were promised by Prime Minister Stephen Harper that our troops would be leaving Afghanistan originally in February 2011. The deadline was then pushed to July 2011. Now Harper tells us that we are keeping 950 troops in Afghanistan until 2014 — the deadline NATO has set for a complete withdrawal and the turnover of security to the Afghan military. Harper says that this falls within the scope of the vote that occurred in the House of Commons and that it is his government’s executive authority to make such decisions without another vote in Parliament. This attitude goes against both what Harper promised in his last election platform and what he said to Parliament four years ago.
A recent Canadian Press Harris-Decima poll has found that Canadians are weary about the fate of the Afghan mission. While sentiment is split on the new role of training the Afghan military, an overwhelming 60 per cent of respondents said they oppose outright any military presence in the region, and only 37 per cent support it. Canadians do not wish to see any more fatalities, and feel that the 152 soldiers we have lost in the nine years since this mission began is enough.
So with this sentiment, it needs to be asked — where is the opposition? Why are we letting a minority government make such a monumental decision that could cost the lives of more Canadians?
The answer is simple — it comes down to party politics.
Michael Ignatieff has not denounced the government’s decision, nor has he called for any public debate in the House of Commons or demanded a new vote, while the NDP and Bloc Québecois have cried foul. Having been quite un-engaged on the matter, Ignatieff has said very little about this important issue.
The Liberal leader has two main reasons for not forcing a proper debate and vote in Parliament on this issue.
It would be advantageous to allow Harper’s Conservatives to make this decision, which is incredibly unpopular, as a form of political suicide. The next time there is an election which could come any time in this minority parliament, Ignatieff is likely to use the decision as fodder to help the Liberal campaign. They will position themselves as the party that truly listens to the people, and ride on the coattails of the unpopularity that is sure to dog Harper’s Conservatives. We must not ignore the fact that the Liberals and Conservatives are currently in a virtual tie in the polls, according to EKOS Politics, and if an election were to be held today the Conservatives would garnish 29.4 per cent of the popular vote, compared to the 28.6 per cent for the Liberals. This means that an election result is completely up in the air, so any advantage one party has over the other is worth exploiting.
Also, the Liberal caucus is incredibly divided on the issue of extending this training mission until 2014. Ignatieff simply cannot let these divisions show or else his party may lose some of the confidence the Canadian public has in them to form the next government. Simply put — Ignatieff does not have the support of his party to oppose this decision that Stephen Harper has forced upon Canadians. So, he will keep the criticisms in check, and smile and nod for the decisions that are being made.
What is more disturbing is the idea that Canadians will not be in military combat — something that Canadians are vehemently against. The government is spending $85-million to transfer the Canadian Forces Base at Kandahar to Kabul, where they will train the Afghan military. Stephen Harper wants us to believe that our 950 troops will be safe there, and will be free from combat. But how can he guarantee this? The Taliban, which has been battling NATO forces in the region for nine years now, is not going away. They are continually finding ways to attack NATO troops. Sure, the Canadians will not be going out looking for a fight, but there is no guarantee that the fighting will not come to them.
All in all, it comes down to the fact that we were lied to. The Conservatives are going back on their election platform, and the Liberals are letting them. The only parliamentarians looking out for us are those in the NDP and Bloc. Too bad neither of those parties are going to form the next government.