Friday, March 26, 2010

"Will someone in the government tell us what in heaven's name is going on?"

Yes, please, tell us. And that goes for you, too, Mr. Ignatieff.

Yesterday in the House of Commons, the question of Canada's commitments to Afghanistan after 2011 came up once again, and once again, Canadians were left knowing less about the answer than they did before the question was raised. At this rate, it would be better to prorogue Parliament permanently so that we might be able to say with absolute certainty exactly what is happening in the House of Commons. We could say 'nothing,' and we would be right. This would be an improvement over the current state of affairs.

Relying on the press won't help you: Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said Thursday no Canadian soldiers will be in Afghanistan after 2011, even if the United States and NATO ask for a continued Canadian presence. "In 2011, we're out," Cannon told the House of Commons.

Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff had asked Cannon about a report that the Americans would like Canada to maintain a force of about 600 soldiers in Afghanistan - a "trial balloon," Ignatieff called it. "This is no way to conduct foreign policy. Will the government commit to putting any deployment in Afghanistan past 2011 to a vote in Parliament?"

Cannon didn't bother answering the question. The government side has consistently maintained that it will be up to Parliament to decide what Canada should be doing in Afghanistan after 2011, but all Parliament has done in response is demand to know what Canada should be doing in Afghanistan after 2011. Round and round it goes.

Yesterday, Ignatieff's version of the question 'What am I thinking?' elicited this weird response from Cannon: "Canada will continue to maintain diplomatic relations and monitor development through its embassy in Kabul, as we do in other countries."

This isn't a decision, you should realize. It's the consequence of the absence of a decision. It's the direct result of the absence of any Parliamentary debate, the non-existence of any consideration or resolution or motion about what Canada should be doing in Afghanistan after 2011 - which is next year, remember.

Canada's engagement in Afghanistan is governed by six priorities: Security, border protection, national reconciliation, building national institutions, humanitarian aid and basic services. We have been in the top five of UN member states in Afghanistan, in the most ambitious project in the history of the UN, and this is what it has come to. It is how Canada has become the laughing stock of the entire world, the idiot boy of NATO, the brain-damaged auntie of the 50-plus-nation Afghanistan Compact. And the vast majority of Canadians have absolutely no idea what has happened, or what is happening, or how it has happened.

The Canadian people never decided this. We were never asked, never consulted. We are simply instructed that Canada's role in Afghanistan will be reduced by accident of Parliamentary paralysis to "diplomatic relations," and our embassy will "monitor development." We will have someone sitting in a wheelchair, perhaps wearing a toque, looking out an embassy window, while soldiers and specialists from the great powers of the 43-nation ISAF alliance - Montenegro, Latvia, Jordan, Slovenia, Luxembourg, Macedonia - do all the work.

But hey, we had the Olympics, right?

Canadians did not decide this, remember. But it is what will happen if there is no decision, no debate. It is what is already happening, before our very eyes, right now. Unless someone in Ottawa - for mercy's sake, please, anyone - grows a spine and shows some leadership, then this will be our legacy. This is how we will dishonour the sacrifice of 141 dead Canadian soldiers. This will be our tribute to their families. This is how we will squander the $18 billion we've invested in the gallant cause of a sovereign Afghan democracy.

If this is what Parliament wants, then this is what Parliament will get. if this is what our political leaders want, then they should bloody well come right out and say so. If it isn't, then they might show us the courtesy of telling us what they propose. Is this what you want, Mr. Ignatieff? Mr. Harper? Mr. Duceppe? Mr. Layton?

Hello? Is anyone there?


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