Slim majority back troop extension
OTTAWA A narrow majority of Canadians support keeping upward of 1,000 troops in Afghanistan until 2014 to train Afghan forces, says a new Ipsos-Reid poll that also shows the decision is most popular with westerners and men.
Fifty-three per cent of respondents said they support the revamped and extended mission, although there is a caveat.
Slightly more than six in 10 said there should be a debate and vote in Parliament even if the new mission involves only training, said the poll, which was released Friday.
“Virtually the name number of people support us staying there in a training capacity as supported the (current) mission, but they want to have a debate,” pollster John Wright said in an interview.
“There is a desire for an accountability to take place, and to have it made in Parliament.”
The poll — conducted exclusively for Postmedia News and Global National — is the firm’s first national testing of public opinion since Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced earlier this week that about 950 troops would participate in a strictly non-combat training mission for three years beyond the original pullout deadline of 2011.
As in previous polls, the new mission is significantly less popular with Quebecers (45 per cent) and residents of Atlantic Canada (38 per cent).
The poll suggests support is strongest in Harper’s Conservative base, starting with Alberta at 64 per cent, followed by British Columbia at 62 per cent and Saskatchewan and Manitoba at 60 per cent each. Support in Ontario was 55 per cent.
Canadians over 55 were more likely to support the new mission than the 18-to-35 age group. The split was 58 per cent to 46 per cent.
Men also were more on-side than women by a margin of 62 per cent to 45 per cent.
Although the issue is destined to provoke debate in the Commons, Harper and Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff have said no formal vote is needed because the mission limits troops to a non-combat role.
NDP Leader Jack Layton disagrees. He says a vote is needed in the face of the government’s decision, supported by the Liberals, to abandon the initial 2011 deadline to pull Canadian troops from Afghanistan.
Wright said Layton is using the issue to try to draw a distinction between the Liberals and his party, which wants the troops brought home now.
“What Mr. Layton is trying to do is not only hold the prime minister to account, but also put the Liberals on the hot seat,” said Wright.
“Let them stand in their places and see if any of them squirm.
“This is a clear differentiation between the Liberals and the New Democrats.”
Quebecers were most gung-ho to have a debate and a vote in Parliament. Seventy-one per cent said it should happen, only slightly more than the 67 per cent of Atlantic Canadians who said they felt the same way.
Younger Canadians and women also were keen at 65 per cent and 58 respectively.
The survey, which was conducted Tuesday through Thursday, involved telephone interviews with 1,002 adults.
In a sampling of this size, the results are considered accurate within plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 10.
The margins of error are larger in the regional breakdowns.