A prime minister sends Canadians overseas to fight terrorists

Former Prime Minister Jean Chretien, seen here during an interview in 2011, began Canada’s decade-long war in Afghanistan with nary a word to Parliament. (Blair Gable/REUTERS)

A Canadian prime minister determines that the activities of terrorists operating in a Muslim nation far from Canada’s shores is such a threat to Canada’s security, that he dispatches Canadian Forces on a combat mission. There is no debate or discussion in Parliament let alone a vote. There seems not to have even been a full cabinet discussion before the prime minister makes his decision. Simply a request from an American president.

That was all it took for Jean Chrétien to to begin what would become Canada’s decade-long war against terrorism in Afghanistan. Here’s some of what he said on Oct. 8, 2001 about that mission:

We are part of an unprecedented coalition of nations that has come together to fight the threat of terrorism, a coalition that will act on a broad front that includes military, humanitarian, diplomatic, financial, legislative and domestic security initiatives. I have made it clear from the very beginning that Canada would be part of this coalition every step of the way.

On Friday evening, the United States asked Canada to make certain contributions as part of an international military coalition against international terrorism. I immediately instructed our Minister of National Defence to agree. Yesterday, I met with the Chief of the National Defence Staff to confirm the type of role that Canada was being asked to play.

And shortly before noon today, I confirmed to President Bush in a telephone conversation that we would provide the military support requested.

Just after noon, I instructed the Chief of Defence Staff to issue a warning order to a number of units of our Armed Forces to ensure their readiness.

All Canadians understand what is being asked of the men and women of our Armed Forces and their families. As always, they are ready to serve. As always, they will do Canada proud.

I have spoken as well to the leaders of the opposition parties. They pledged their co-operation and I thank them for it.

While I obviously will not be able to provide the Canadian people with operational information that could endanger lives, I intend to offer regular updates on our objectives and efforts. I will meet with my Cabinet this week and a take-note debate will be held in Parliament on Monday of next week.

This month, another Canadian prime minister may ask members of the Canadian Forces to take up arms against terrorists operating in a Muslim country far from Canada’s shores that have been deemed a threat to Canada’s security.

But while Chretien simply told opposition leaders what he was doing — his own MPs and opposition MPs would have to learn by simply reading his speech — Harper told the House of Commons several times Tuesday, Parliament will have a different role if there is to be an y combat mission for Canadians in Syria and Iraq. “There will be a debate and a vote here in the House of Commons,” Harper said in response to Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair’s second query in Question Period Tuesday. “If there is a combat mission of any kind, including an air combat mission, there will be a debate and a vote in this House,” Harper said to Mulcair’s third query Tuesday. “If we are planning any kind of a combat mission, including an aerial combat mission, there will of course be a debate and a vote in this House,” Harper said in response to Mulcair’s fourth query.

In response to a question from Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, Harper went a little further noting that his decision to let Parliament vote on a combat deployment was par for his course: “Whenever we enter a mission that involves combat, including aerial combat, we present it to the House of Commons for a debate and for a vote.”

And, not only will Parliamentarians get to debate and vote on this deployment — should it come to that — but, as Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said in the House of Commons Monday, ” if there were to be a combat mission, we would seek to bring it before Parliament as a matter of confidence.”

Somewhere, former Liberal cabinet minister Lloyd Axworthy surely must be applauding how Harper is going about this. Here’s what he wrote in an op-ed published in The Globe and Mail the day after Chretien announced that our troops were off to Afghanistan.

The House of Commons should be convened immediately, not only as the forum through which Canadians can express their solidarity, but as a place where tough questions can be asked about the conduct and objectives of this military  operation. We all knew this battle was coming, but little clue was given as to the nature of Canadian involvement. Now that it is upon us, and promises to be a long-term engagement of a particularly tricky and complex kind, it is vital that there be a much better understanding of how this use of force will reduce the terrorist threat, what the consequences will be for the broader goal of instituting an international legal order, and whether Canada will do more than offer troops.

IN 2001, the Commons was not convened immediately but was convened a week after Chretien’s declaration. And the first query in the first Question Period after Chretien announced his decision,  Opposition Leader Stockwell Day —  then leading the Canadian Alliance — noted his support for the mission but did ask this: “Could the Prime Minister clarify why he felt it necessary to commit troops even before the House of Commons reconvened?”

To which Chretien as much told him that it was his call and his call alone. “The president called me on Sunday morning and asked me if we would participate in the form that had been asked and I said yes. In fact it is the responsibility of the government to make this decision because the government is the executive of Canada and we have the confidence of the House. However I have kept opposition leaders as informed as possible and I thank the Leader of the Opposition for his support.”




6 thoughts on “A prime minister sends Canadians overseas to fight terrorists”

  1. Bit biased aren’t we? As I recall, everyone knew exactly what Chretien was doing and why and he had broad public support for it. But even as of today, I DO NOT know what Harper is doing, although I can conjecture why, and I know of no one else who is any more informed than I am. Having the Opposition Leaders asking questions about these same points leads me to believe that they are not being kept in the loop either. But then I know absolutely nothing about the recently signed trade deal with China that i’ve heard rumblings about how it could undermine our Laws and Parliament for the next 31 years, so I guess Harper is just a lousy communicator.

  2. Typical double standard from the press on conservative vs liberal.
    Libs get a free pass to do whatever they want.
    Cons get squeezed even if they do what the liberals want, which is what they ignore when they do it…..

  3. I disagreed with Chretien participating in Afghanistan but that was a shrewd manouever to avoid joining in the cowardly ‘Coalition of the Willing ‘that Dubya waged against the Iraqi population.

    Steve’s me too play in Iraq is pathetic. ISIS is a creation of the past interventions in Iraq and Syria. It is not a country.

    Countering ISIS with bombing raids will only accelerate the growth of Isis.

    1. Arrant nonsense, Richard Hughes.

      Shrewd manoeuvre or not, the purpose of the article was to compare Chretien’s arrogant dismissal of Parliament with Harper’s considered inclusion of it. Chretien’s so-called “shrewd manoeuvre” cost Canada 159 fatalities and over 1,800 injured soldiers in 10 years of warfare “over there.”

      In addition to sending Canada’s forces into harm’s way, Chretien did so after he and his Finance minister had savaged DND’s budgets from 1994 until well into the deployment of troops. Lack of appropriate equipment for our troops for that mission lies squarely on Chretien’s head.

      Your false charge that ISIS is a creation of interventions in there region smacks of blaming the victim. In fact ISIS, like Al Qaeda, is a creation of Islam itself. ISIS may not be a recognized nation, but that hardly matters to its squadrons who believe the Islamic State is just that.

      The government deserves full support for its motion to make a modest contribution the US coalition to “degrade and destroy ISIL.” The ongoing parade of beheaded hostages deserves no less.

  4. Interesting post.

    What in particular led you to draw a parallel between a “Muslim nation” in 2001 and a “Muslim country” in 2014 ?

    Is the religion of the majority of the people in the soon-to-be-bombed country in question relevant to your point about how Canadian Prime Ministers seek or have sought legitimacy for their military decisions in the House of Commons in Ottawa?

    Do Canadian Prime Ministers adopt different standards of parliamentary reporting and engagement based on the majority religion of the country they agree to help bomb?

    If not, why mention that religion?

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