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The politics of dancing: a vote on the Afghan mission

Stephen Harper, after feeling out (not up; that's reserved for Jean Charest) the opposition parties and seeing the weak support for the NATO mission in Afghanistan, has apparently decided to call a six-hour debate and parliamentary vote on it tomorrow. I have whimpered long and hard for such a vote in these pages, so this comes as good news to me, and I hope it sets a precedent for future Canadian military engagements.

Harper and the Conservatives have staked out their territory supporting the mission and really have nothing to lose by the vote - if the vote is in favour of the proposed two-year extension then the opposition has had it's voice and has to live by the decision of Parliament, and if the vote is against, the mission ends next February and will have been defeated by the opposition - which might become a political weapon for the Conservatives in the future. It is a win-win situation for Stephen Harper, and as much as I would like to see the Conservatives (okay, conservatives generally) squirm, if a short-term political victory is the cost of setting a precedent for voting in Parliament before deploying troops, that's a price I'll happily pay.

For these reasons and more, the opposition parties are less likely to be so happy about a vote. I strongly suspect that Jack Layton and most or all of the NDP caucus will vote against continuing the mission, though I don't believe that this would be an issue demanding caucus solidarity. The leaderless Liberals are in a much more awkward position because it was their majority government that both deployed the troops and then accepted the expansion of the mission without parliamentary approval. Support for the mission across Canada, but also notably among stated Liberal voters, has plummetted, and when Michael Ignatieff publicly supported the mission on human rights' reasons last week, the room got real chilly. They thus are caught between back-tracking on previous Liberal policies, alienating a public that increasingly does not support the mission, and publicly supporting a Conservative vote, validating the Prime Minister's stand. The Liberals are therefore the party most at risk to make a vote on Afghanistan appear political in the eyes of the public.

Like the Liberals, the BQ might also be caught flat-footed by this move. Of all the provinces, unhappiness with the mission is greatest in Quebec, however, the party does not appear to have an official stand on the mission, and the growing popularity of the Conservatives in Quebec make any federal vote interesting.

Of course, since the vote will not be a confidence motion, all of the parties can simply open the floor to let their members vote as they will, essentially divesting the parties of direct responsibility for the outcome. It will in some measure defang the issue and its results ("after consultation with voters in my electorate I decided to ...") but if any parties enforce caucus solidarity on the vote, the others may be made to look non-committal on a critical issue.

It is a shrewd political move on the part of the Harper government for sure, but politics aside, I'm very happy it's going to happen.

I agree its win/win for the Tories. I think the Libs will support the motion and try to put Afghanistan behind them, though frankly that they should act this way sickens me. I suspect the Bloc will come down against, because of opposition in Quebec, and the NDP will do the same.

Frankly, a vote now is a bad idea. It gets it out of the way before the situation on the ground goes downhill too far, as it inevitably will.

Wrote some words on this back on my own blog.

I found the link to the Liberal meeting interesting - interesting in that the only candidate who publicly supported the meeting was not one of the several competitors of his who were MPs at the time of the deployment...

I'm not sure that the timing is an issue for me, actually. It puts the Opposition on the spot for sure, but we have to expect that, I think. The military is now preparing for the Feb '07 rotation - I know because my little brother is slated to go on it and is going through the arduous security process now. If it takes the Canadian military a year of planning to make this stuff work smoothly, there is no reason to believe that the other NATO partners should require less time to prepare to cover us off if we withdraw.

It is definitely a political move on the part of the CPC, no doubt, but I heartily approve of the precedent it sets and will accept the short-term political pain and indigestion that it induces.

Mark -> I really like Ignatieff, if truth be told. He takes principled stances that are sometimes not what people want to hear and he thinks them through. They are not always things that I agree with - his stand on Iraq and Afghanistan for instance, but I appreciate that he doesn't always play for the crowd like Liberals have been accused of in the past.

I'm worried about how the NDP will vote because of what Alexa has said since her return from Afghanistan. It's a total flip-flop from party policy.

Here is hoping that the NDP does not cave to the "support the troops" mantra (what a crock that one is) and stands up for long held Canadian values of peace-keeping, not war-keeping.

They should counter with a call for deployment to the Sudan, under the UN banner, instead of Afgahnistan under the US banner (oh, sorry NATO....)

I don't personnally support the argument that we shouldn't support the Afghanistan mission simply because it is war and not peacekeeping. Wars sometimes have to be fought; and sometimes by us. My problem with the mission as it's defined is that it is designed to fail. Without dealing with the political circumstances around Afghanistan, there is no way that we can truly defeat the Taliban. That means getting the Americans to stop playing footsie with Pakistan - until that happens, we are just sending people to their needless death there.

Alexa is shameless. She is either ignorant of the real situation in Afghanistan or she is playing a political game to score points with the centre block of the Liberal party. However, she has the right to her opinion and I hope Jack doesn't pull a Harper and tell her to shut up.

I am most concerned about the suddenness and seeming flip-flop on this by the Cons. A month ago, haveing a bote on the future of Afghanistan was out of the question - it would demoralized the troops and amke us look like we don't support them. At least that was the canard Gordon O'Connor was using against Jack Layton in the 'take note' debate.

Now, suddenly it is ok, no even nescesary. Something is up. Out of nowhere we are having this debate9 months ahead of time? Most folks I know, on both sides of the issue and accross the political spectrum, didn't expect this to need to be debated until next fall at the earliest.

This tell me that Harper has something a little more nasty about to come down. Or he wants to deflect attntion away from his abysmal environmental record or the softwood sellout.

No, something is not right. Having One day's notice seems like trying to ram something through without considered debate. I support the mission but the opposition should move to have it extended at least a few days. And to add a provision that we also go to Darfur.

Even though I support Afghanistan mission, if I am forced to choose between it and stopping the genocide in Darfur, its hands down no contest - Darfur (read 'Shake Hands with the Devil' by Gen. Dallaire for the reasons).


Yes, this is exactly the point. The Americans don't have a plan to win in Afghanistan, just baby the whole mess pass various points on its own political calender. If you wanted to win in Afghanistan you would have to deploy Iraw like numbers of troops and, probably, March into the mountains of Pakistan. This won't happen.

Harper sets a Bushian trap for Bloc, NDP and LPC on Afghanistan.

Remember Iraq? The lead up to the declaration of war by Bush? The pressure-cooker atmosphere created by Bush, to stampede the Democrats into voting for the war?

And remember how he succeeded, by putting the heat on and not giving them much time to reflect or debate the issue?

Harper is doing the same thing right now. By rushing the vote on Afghanistan, he is hoping to stampede those 3 parties into voting for the extension of the term, without much sober reflection on the aims, exit strategy, total commitment required etc.

Then, when Canadian deaths increase, he can say the other parties voted for the extension. It will undercut their moral right to question the role of Canada in Afghanistan.

Clever man, Harper. Copies Bush on most things, including how to out-snooker your opponents...

And in Canada. The peacekeepers of the world.

How sad.

The 3 parties should band together to pass legislation to allow more time for a fuller discussion of the objectives of our presence there, and of the adequacy of our role. Should we be funding more of the reconstruction than we are? What can we do to help democracy – for all segments – flourish there? These issues have not been debated enough by our lawmakers, yet now Harper is jumping the gun with his pressure tactics.

Canada is not served by this unseemly rush.

You have it exactly right - it's 11th-hour gamesmanship through and through. In order to get maximum press and still not allow anyone any time to manouver, Harper makes the announcement less than 48 hours from the vote, but in time for a weekday news cycle, not on a weekend. Since there is no actual need for a headlong rush into the debate, he has to just create one on his own and hope the media plays along. Which of course they do, by and large.

I do hope the BQ and NDP at least stick to their guns. It would be nice to see the Libs come onside, but I'm not hopeful - their position is pretty precarious.

This is yet another little manouver, like Emerson and fucking with the press gallery, that is going to blowback on Harper in time.

Mike, obviously you haven't read Romeo Dallaire's book too carefully - either that, or you haven't been looking at the news too well, or you'd know that the same recipe for disaster that prevailed in Rwanda is being set up in Darfur. Under the terms the Sudanese Government set down, foreign troops will not be allowed to interfere with or raid Janjaweed Militia Camps, which basically means the genocide will continue, and we'll just be spectators. Actually, what's worse, we'll be used like a cheap Kleenex, because when the massacre occurs, the Sudanese Government will innocently proclaim, 'We tried to stop it - see, we even brought in the UN!'. I'm sorry, but I have to differ with the group here on Darfur, unless the ground rules are changed, not only no, but Hell No! - the only thing worse than putting troops in danger is setting them up to be impotent. Speaking of which, I would like to reiterate a point which Doug, another frequent poster to this blog, has made. There seems to be some mythological fantasy that some Dippers and Liberals have that 'Peacekeeping' is a loving and gentle thing of flowers and little pink unicorns and Fairies of Happiness. The cold hard fact is that when Lester Pearson formulated the concept of peacekeeping, it was with the intent of using a fully armed and combat-capable Armed Forces to do it with. Historically, the times that peacekeeping has worked has been when the various factions were made fully aware of the fact that not only did we have bigger and better weapons, we were perfectly happy to use them if we had to.

Finally, one last point re:Alexa - why is it that when Stephen Harper keeps his Ministers from giving their opinions, that is Bad, but when a Opposition Foreign Affairs Critic gives an opinion, some people are perfectly happy to slam her? Is there some NDP Dogma from which no one is allowed to deviate, lest they be Apostate and Cast Out into the Darkness? If so, how does this differ from the Christian Fundamentalists in the U.S.?

Port of Halifax,

First major OPIUM bust.

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