Lib­er­als dodged Iraq ques­tions

THE SPEC­TA­TOR’S VIEW

The Hamilton Spectator - - OPINION - John Roe

It was ab­so­lutely the right de­ci­sion de­liv­ered in ab­so­lutely the wrong way.

Last Thurs­day, days af­ter Par­lia­ment took its sum­mer break and with most Cana­di­ans dis­tracted by the coun­try’s up­com­ing 150th birth­day cel­e­bra­tions, the Trudeau Lib­er­als an­nounced they are ex­tend­ing Canada’s mil­i­tary mission in Iraq by two years. It was as if they hoped no one was lis­ten­ing. This was a ma­jor for­eign pol­icy com­mit­ment that should have been made in Par­lia­ment and for rea­sons that go far be­yond the $371.4 mil­lion in tax­pay­ers’ money be­ing spent.

First and fore­most, it means the lives of Cana­dian sol­diers and air­crew will be at risk for a much longer pe­riod of time, as they con­tinue to chal­lenge the bru­tal and vi­cious Is­lamic State.

Sec­ond, it reded­i­cates Canada to the in­ter­na­tional al­liance work­ing to de­feat the Is­lamic State, the ex­trem­ist group that has butchered thou­sands of peo­ple, en­slaved thou­sands of women, per­se­cuted re­li­gious mi­nori­ties and im­posed its rigid, in­tol­er­ant reign of ter­ror over a large swath of the Mid­dle East.

If there is ever a time to stand up to this to­tal­i­tar­ian bully, it is now, es­pe­cially with the Is­lamic State steadily los­ing the ter­ri­to­ries it had cap­tured.

The Lib­er­als should have been more di­rect and forth­right in ex­plain­ing all this to Cana­di­ans.

And they should have been will­ing to an­swer op­po­si­tion party ques­tions about the mat­ter openly, in Par­lia­ment.

What made this tricky was the Lib­er­als’ prom­ise in the 2015 elec­tion cam­paign to “end Canada’s com­bat mission in Iraq,” along with re­cent ev­i­dence that the cur­rent mission does, in fact, in­clude com­bat ac­tiv­ity.

Last week, Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau was on the de­fen­sive af­ter the news that a Cana­dian Armed Forces sniper re­cently killed an Is­lamic State fighter from a dis­tance of more than 3.5 kilo­me­tres.

The gov­ern­ment in­sists Canada is re­strict­ing it­self to its “ad­vise and as­sist” mission along­side Iraqi se­cu­rity forces.

But in the opin­ion of New Demo­cratic Party Leader Tom Mul­cair, the sniper’s ac­tion proves “we are play­ing a com­bat role.”

As he ob­served: “You can’t have peo­ple shoot­ing peo­ple to death on the front lines and still claim this is not a com­bat mission.”

Rea­son­ably enough, Mul­cair wanted the gov­ern­ment to bring the mission to a vote in the House of Com­mons. While the Lib­er­als, with their ma­jor­ity of seats, could have eas­ily won such a vote, the ac­com­pa­ny­ing de­bate could have led to em­bar­rass­ing op­po­si­tion crit­i­cism.

In the end, the Lib­er­als took the easy way out and waited un­til Par­lia­ment had stopped sit­ting be­fore pub­licly an­nounc­ing the ex­tended Iraq mission.

And even as he did this, De­fence Min­is­ter Har­jit Sa­j­jan re­fused to dis­close how many times Cana­dian forces have en­gaged in fire­fights with Is­lamic State mil­i­tants in the past year, which could have set­tled once and for all what kind of mission this truly is.

Cana­di­ans de­served bet­ter from the Lib­er­als, not only be­cause of the mag­ni­tude of the is­sue, but be­cause these are the same folks who re­peat­edly promised to give us an “open” gov­ern­ment.

So much for prom­ises.

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