William H.A. Willbond MSM, CD

OUR TORY GOVERNMENT – AN HONEST FIRST TERM

We finally got a government that is honest and clean
And now a new election it looms on the scene
There is a big push to bring our Canadian troops back
That movement is led by our own Taliban Jack!

Old soldiers are meeting! There is lots of dissention
Because of our old age clawed back Army pensions
Let’s hope that our party will right this clear wrong
We’ll all end up all singing the Tory’s victory song!

Other NATO troops are chicken, so the Cartoonists show!
As they beg Canada’s fighters to “please do not go!”
The Dionites are split with leadership’s internal fights?
Our Tories will win, because they are in the right!

Will our Canadian Soldiers quit and leave Afghanistan?
In two thousand and nine, as is now in the plan?
Or will we honour, our Responsibilities to Protect
With those brave van doo soldiers who hail from Quebec?

Write to your own MP and to our Nation’s PM
Ask them to look at our clawed back pensions again!
Back Stephen Harper in the upcoming election
You’ll be happy you did! It’s the proper selection!

Cartoon by Times Colonist Cartoonist, Raeside
Cartoon by Times Colonist Cartoonist, Raeside

WHERE ARE WE GOING ON AFGHANISTAN?

by J.L. Granatstein

Paul Martin’s Liberals put us into a combat and development role in Afghanistan, the decision shaped by Defence minister, Bill Graham, and the Chief of the Defence Staff, General Rick Hillier. Everyone in government knew there would be killing and Canadian casualties and, to his credit, Graham made speeches in 2005 telling Canadians precisely that. So too did General Hillier.

The Harper Conservative government then made the war its own when it came to power in January 2006 and soon extended Canada’s commitment in Kandahar two years more to February 2009. Moreover, it did so with the support of a vote in Parliament, a move almost unprecedented in a country that since 1945 has almost always sent its troops overseas without the benefit of approval from the House of Commons.

But now as the feared casualties continue to mount, the media is divided and public opinion shaky on what Canada should do. Get out? Continue to fight the Taliban? Concentrate more on development?

Polls done by the big survey companies continue to show Quebec opinion least supportive of the mission and even more so after recent casualties in the Royal 22e Regiment battle group now carrying the load in Kandahar. Opinion across the rest of the country seems to be holding relatively steady, the polls say. But a self-selected and very large internet poll in the Globe and Mail on Labour Day was striking: 85 percent (or 22,673 individuals who registered their view) said that Canada should not extend its Afghan mission past February 2009. Only 6 percent believed that the Canadian troops should remain until the Taliban were defeated, while 9 percent believed that a decision should be put off until nearer the February 2009 date. That last option is all but impossible given Canada’s responsibility to notify NATO of its plans so that some other nation’s troops (if they can be found) can take over in Kandahar.

Now, it may be that the vast majority of those calling for Canada to get out of Kandahar in 2009 have been affected by signs that the Harper government itself is looking for a way out of the commitment or, at the most, a change to a different role in a safer part of the country. There needs to be a consensus among the political parties on the Canadian role, the Prime Minister said, sounding only slightly different than Mackenzie King’s dictum of the 1930s, “Parliament will decide.”

But consensus looks difficult to achieve. NDP leader Jack Layton wants to pull out now, never mind in 2009 and never mind concerns over abandoning the Afghanis. (His successful candidate in the September 17 Outremont by-election even slanderously called the United Nations-authorized mission “Harper’s war of aggression,” arguably the vilest comment of the political season.) The Bloc Québécois, hitherto a supporter of the Canadian role, wants it to end in 2009. The Liberals, who, it needs to be repeated again and again, first put us into Kandahar, say they too want the mission to end in 2009 but, leader Stéphane Dion suggests, he might not vote non-confidence in the government on this issue. Nothing much is clear from the parties’ professed positions except a distaste for Canadian casualties suffered in an “American” war. Certainly there’s nothing to give solace to those who believe that Afghanistan is a crucial test for Canada and NATO, although the Harper government’s by-election win in Roberval may indicate that Québécois are willing to vote bleu notwithstanding the war.

Still, there is not much comfort in the opinion soundings. To me, the Globe and Mail’s Labour Day poll is the key one, far more so than the balanced hedging in most national opinion polls with their small samples. A conservative national newspaper asks its readers, usually believed to be opinion-makers, a simple and direct question on-line, and more than twenty-two thousand reply, “Get out of Afghanistan in February 2009.”Enough, they’re saying, no more killed soldiers.

In my view, this is a short-sighted position that completely neglects the impact a pull-out will have on Canada’s standing with our NATO friends and the potentially devastating impact it could have on the ground in Kandahar. It is the wrong position, but it certainly seems to be where opinion is driving the government.

Why? Because Canadians still haven’t grasped why Canada is involved. What must be said is that the Harper government has singularly failed to “sell” the Afghan War it made its own. Ministers have not tried to explain why we are there or the differences Canada has made—and can make--to the lives of Afghanis. The Prime Minister and his key francophone colleagues have not gone into Quebec to try to bolster support for the mission in a traditionally anti-military society. It’s no wonder the polls there are so defeatist. Only in September did the first regular bureaucrats’ briefings of the media begin in Ottawa; only this month did the new Foreign Affairs minister speak in Montreal on the war.

If the Prime Minister wants to preserve his and his government’s credibility and a shred or two of Canada’s honour, if he wants to keep alive the idea that Canada isn’t getting ready to cut and run, he needs to mount a major political and media campaign on the reasons for Canada’s presence and role in Afghanistan. Now. Today. Right away.

J.L. Granatstein writes on behalf of the
Council for Canadian Security in the 21st Century
Free use of this column is permitted.

CHANCES OF A FALL FEDERAL ELECTION ARE NOW 50-50

Tories don’t want one, but opposition could force it

L. IAN MACDONALD, Freelance
Published: Friday, September 21

You’d think given the results of Monday’s by-elections, the odds on a fall election would have diminished and almost disappeared. After all, the Liberals got pummelled in all three by-elections and the Bloc Quebecois took a serious hit in terms of the popular vote. The NDP made a spectacular breakthrough in Outremont, but remains a fringe party off the island of Montreal.

Only the Conservatives gained significant ground, winning a big majority of francophone votes in the two by-elections in Quebec profond, and emerging as the competitive federalist alternative to the Bloc. Those 50 Quebec ridings off the island hold the key to Conservative hopes for graduating to a majority in the next Parliament.

But the Conservatives are in no hurry for an election, and want to keep this House going, if possible, until new fixed elections kick in two years from now in October 2009.

Thus, a fall election should be a moot question, right off the table. The Oct. 16 Throne speech ought to be a done deal in terms of the Conservatives securing the support of at least one other party. After all, the Bloc is in decline and the Liberals are in disarray. Only the NDP, among the opposition parties, should be throwing its weight around in terms of a shopping list for the throne Speech.

But surprisingly, the odds in favour of an election have actually increased since Monday. Some senior Tory insiders now put the chances of the government surviving the confidence vote on the Throne Speech at no better than 50-50.

Go figure.

While Ottawa isn’t in the grip of election fever, there is suddenly a sense of resignation in the air. If the government does fall, strange as it might seem, all sides will be okay with that.

The Bloc’s body language on supporting the government is schizophrenic. First, Gilles Duceppe puts out conditions for supporting the Throne Speech, then his people let it be known they are tired of propping up the Tories because they find it increasingly difficult to justify to their own voters. And on Monday they lost Roberval-Lac-St.-Jean, a nationalist bastion, to the Conservatives by a 2-1 margin, and barely held off a late Conservative charge in Saint-Hyacinthe-Bagot, winning by less than five points in a riding they had won by 32 points in 2006.

Long story short: With its brand in slow but long-term decline, Duceppe might want to have an election sooner rather than later.

The NDP, feeling frisky, is certain to have a long list of outrageous conditions for supporting the Throne Speech, few of which the government will be able to meet. Although Jack Layton now holds a balance of power, he doesn’t really want it. He has great difficulty justifying to his caucus, let alone explaining to his voters, why a party on the left should prop up a government on the right. And there is a certain implacable logic to this position. Even Stephen Harper understands and respects Layton’s anomalous situation.

As for the Liberals, they are divided between those who now despair of their prospects in an election under Stéphane Dion, and those who think they might as well get it over with. In their thinking, the sooner an election is behind them, the sooner they can change leaders.

PULLING TROOPS FROM WAR ZONE WOULD END AID EFFORT: OFFICIAL

Afghanistan would be too dangerous, spokesman tells audience in Victoria

BY CINDY E. HARNETT
Times Colonist staff

Canada’s foreign-aid workers can’t remain in Afghanistan if it’s too dangerous after our soldiers pull out, a foreign affairs official said in Victoria yesterday.

The number of civilians with the Canadian International Development Agency and the Foreign Affairs Department in Afghanistan alone has doubled in the last year, said David Mulroney, associate deputy minister at the Department of Foreign Affairs.

But “we couldn’t maintain it without somebody providing that degree of security we have now,” Mulroney said. The military is set to pull out of Kandahar Province in 2009 unless there is a “consensus” in Parliament.

As the 71st Canadian Soldier to die in Afghanistan was flown home yesterday, Mulroney spoke at the Union Club about Canada’s contribution to the international mission in Afghanistan.

He later spoke at the University of Victoria, where the student society banned Canadian Forces from active recruiting at an upcoming career fair in the Student Union Building. (As a result of the backlash, the student body will vote on the issue Oct. 18).

If the Canadian soldier in Afghanistan now holds a rifle in one hand and a shovel in the other, that same soldier will be using his shovel and wrench more than his weapon in years to come, Mulroney said.

Afghanistan is the largest recipient of Canada’s foreign aid, with $200 million spent last year. And the number of CIDA and Foreign Affairs workers almost doubled to 13 from seven, and 20 from nine,
respectively, in just the last year, he added.

At least one audience member at the Union Club took exception to the Canadian government’s catch –phrase Protecting Canadians; Rebuilding Afghanistan, saying she fears Canada is adopting U.S. hyperbole linking foreign conflicts to security threats at home.

Mulroney, however, argued that the international community allowed Afghanistan to become “such a backwater, forgotten, impoverished place that it has provided a home to one of the most lethal and ultimately deadly terrorist groups and attacks we’ve seen.”

The Afghanistan of the late 1990s and early 2000 saw groups like al-Qaeda operate with impunity, leading to the 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S., he said.

Mulroney said by building stability in Afghanistan and fighting some of those same people for control of Afghanistan, Canada is contributing to international security.

The Foreign Affairs Department was given a key role — and Mulroney a new job — in co-ordinating the Afghanistan file after Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s turnover of senior public servants in January.

With public support for the country’s involvement in Afghanistan waning and the NDP calling for a withdrawal, the government is flogging a two –pronged message.

It maintains Canada is having success with many reconstruction projects but is carrying a disproportionately large military burden compared with some other NATO countries and therefore must withdraw in 2009.

Parliament will vote on whether to continue in a fighting role in the NATO-led mission beyond 2009. Until then, Defence Minister Peter MacKay is demanding other countries step up and play a bigger role with Canada, the United States, Britain, and the Netherlands.