Liberals dodged Iraq questions
THE SPECTATOR’S VIEW
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.