The Bloc Quebecois have just tabled the motion they will present to the House of Commons Thursday (it is their allotted opposition day) for debate and a vote. The Bloc seeks debate and a vote on the following:
That this House condemns the government's decision to unilaterally extend the Canadian mission in Afghanistan until 2014, thus denying two promises made to the people, one made in the House May 10, 2006 (1) and reiterated in the Speech from the Throne from 2007 (2)) to present a vote of Parliament and that any military deployment made January 6, 2010 to the mission in Afghanistan a strictly civil mission after 2011, no military presence other than the care necessary to protect the embassy ((3)).
I have annotated that motion and here are my footnotes:
(1) The Bloc, in this motion, seeks to condemn “the government” decision and the prime minister for, in the Bloc's view, saying one thing and then doing another. By way of background, the government announced last week that Canada will indeed be shutting down its combat mission in Kandahar next year but will then take up a new mission involving training only in Kabul. That mission will involve 950 trainers, will run until 2014 and will cost the Canadian treasury about $700 million a year (including the development budget). Harper has said that while he is open to a Parliamentary debate on the subject, he will not be submitting this plan to Parliament for its approval. Here is Exhibit 1 in the BQ's prosecution of this line of attack, from Hansard, on May 10, 2006:
Mr. Gilles Duceppe (Laurier—Sainte-Marie, BQ): Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, who is currently on a trip to Afghanistan, suggested yesterday that Canada might continue its mission there beyond February 2007, the date on which Canada’s present commitment in Afghanistan is to end. Can the Prime Minister make a commitment that any extension of the Canadian mission in Afghanistan will be conditional on a debate and a vote being held here, in this House?
Right Hon. Stephen Harper (Prime Minister, CPC): Mr. Speaker, the leader of the Bloc knows, as everyone knows, that during the federal election campaign we committed ourselves to holding votes on new commitments. We are already in Afghanistan. Obviously, I prefer to have the support of all parties in this House for this important mission. I hope that the Bloc Québécois will support us and support our troops in the future as it has in the past.
(2) This was the second Speech from the Throne for the still-young (9 months old) Conservative government. And it contains what seems to be an unequivocal promise from the government on the Afghanistan file and, thus, it forms the Exhibit 2 for the Bloc:
The Canadian Forces mission in Afghanistan has been approved by Parliament until February 2009, and our Government has made clear to Canadians and our allies that any future military deployments must also be supported by a majority of parliamentarians. In the coming session, members will be asked to vote on the future of the Canadian mission in Afghanistan. This decision should honour the dedication and sacrifice of Canada's development workers, diplomats and men and women in uniform. It should ensure that progress in Afghanistan is not lost and that our international commitments and reputation are upheld.
(3) Finally, the Bloc refer not to something Harper said in Parliament but rather something he said to me and the National Post's John Ivison during a New Year's interview earlier this year. I've quoted from this before, but here it is again:
IVISON: Afghanistan — can you elaborate on a military pullout in 2011 actually means? Are we still going to have a Provincial Reconstruction Team? How is CIDA (Canadian International Development Agency) going to operate? Do we have any of those answers yet?
HARPER: We have been working on those answers but the bottom line is that the military mission will end in 2011. There will be a phased withdrawal, beginning in the middle of the year. We hope to have that concluded by the end of that year. As you know the Obama administration, not coincidentally, is talking about beginning its withdrawal in 2011, at the same time we are. We will continue to maintain humanitarian and development missions, as well as important diplomatic activity in Afghanistan. But we will not be undertaking any activities that require any kind of military presence, other than the odd guard guarding an embassy. We will not be undertaking any kind activity that requires a significant military force protection, so it will become a strictly civilian mission. It will be a significantly smaller mission than it is today.
Not to pile on or anything, but the Bloc could have tossed in a couple of more exhibits to support its case. Here, for example, Policy Declaration 120, adopted by the Conservative Party of Canada at its 2008 policy convention in Winnipeg:
120. Parliamentary Role in Foreign Affairs The Conservative Party believes that Parliament must be responsible for exercising effective oversight over the conduct of Canadian foreign policy and the commitment of Canadian Forces to foreign operations.
A few months before his party reaffirmed that principle (which it has had since its creation), Harper was in front of the electorate in the 2008 election. He and his party promised:
A re-elected Conservative Government led by Stephen Harper will continue to support Canada's military and development mission in Afghanistan and will respect the terms of the Parliamentary resolution passed in March, 2008. Under this resolution, Canada's military mission in Kandahar will continue until July, 2011 now that that NATO and allied forces have agreed to provide additional troops and resources in Kandahar. Canada's military mission in Afghanistan will cease by the end of 2011.
And, finally, let me quote from the 2006 Conservative election platform (p. 45):
A Conservative government will:
• Make Parliament responsible for exercising oversight over the conduct of Canadian foreign policy and the commitment of Canadian Forces to foreign operations.