MPs endorse Afghan motion, activists plan weekend protests
Canada’s mission in Afghanistan will be extended by two years, to 2011, after a House of Commons vote that pushed through the will of the Conservative government and most — but not all — of the Liberal opposition.
The passage of the motion by a vote of 198-77 means the Canadian effort must shift focus in February 2009 away from offensive combat operations toward training Afghan security forces, securing reconstruction work and delivering aid.
Defence Minister Peter MacKay said the vote results send a "strong signal" of support to Canadian soldiers, diplomats and aid workers operating in Afghanistan.
"I think it’s a bipartisan consensus that comes out of this vote," he said. "I know that it will be well received by our NATO allies and demonstrates that our democracy works."
Several dozen protesters were escorted out of the Commons’ public gallery after trying to interrupt the vote, shouting, "End it. Don’t extend it." The chant is the rallying cry of activists who are opposed to the war and are planning demonstrations across the country this weekend.
All eyes, however, were on the Liberal benches as 20 MPs were absent from what both the government and the Grits labelled an "historic" decision.
Newfoundland Liberal Bill Matthews was the only one in the caucus to stand against the extension.
"I didn’t support it last time, I don’t support it this time," he said.
The Council of Canadians, which boasts 100,000 members across the country, said it had asked members to contact their MPs, specifically Liberals, and urge them to block the extension. It plans to launch a campaign targeted at those who backed the war in last night’s vote.