Conservatives present proposal to end Afghan mission by Dec. 2011
Liberals cast themselves as the architects of a compromise position on the extension of the Afghan mission after the government said Canada would leave Kandahar in 2011 and shift next year from counterinsurgency to development and training local security forces.
After a month of political wrangling, the Conservatives put forward what they cast as a “compromise” proposal to extend Canada’s mission for two years beyond February 2009. The motion vows to complete the withdrawal of troops from the southern province of Kandahar by 2011, meeting the principal demand of Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion.
It also promises more transparency to Parliament and Canadians for the challenges that confront the mission and less secrecy around the sensitive topic of how Canada’s battlefield detainees are handled while in Afghan custody.
“This motion affirms that our commitment is not open ended,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in a speech to a military conference in Ottawa.
He added that the two major parties in the House of Commons had “moved significantly toward the kind of bipartisan consensus that could be presented to Parliament for ratification.”
There remain several differences between the Liberal proposal and the Tory motion, notably the government’s insistence on drumming up 1,000 troops from Canada’s NATO allies
to fight in Kandahar as a pre-condition of the extended mission. The Liberals had called for “sufficient” troops to secure Kandahar and let the 2,500 Canadians focus on development, training and security.
The Tory motion stood out for being almost identical in wording to the proposal put forward by the Grits earlier this month.
Dion, speaking from Prince Albert, Sask., where he was helping to campaign for a March 17 byelection, said he was pleased the Tories “finally accepted the principle that the mission must have a clear and firm end date.”
The government motion pushes back the date to complete the Kandahar withdrawal to December 2011, five months after the July 2011 date the Liberals had proposed.
Tories in the lead
- The ruling Conservatives lead the opposition Liberals but do not yet have enough support for a majority government if an election were held now, according to a new poll. A Strategic Counsel survey for the Globe and Mail and CTV put the Conservatives at 39 per cent, up three percentage points from a poll done by the same firm a month ago. The Liberals were down three points to 27 per cent.