Canada can't say 'yes' to all allied requests in ISIS fight: Dion
Minister of Foreign Affairs Stephane Dion speaks during a conference on foreign affairs in Ottawa on Thursday, Jan. 28, 2016. (Sean Kilpatrick / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, January 28, 2016 10:19AM EST
Last Updated Thursday, January 28, 2016 5:23PM EST
OTTAWA -- Canada will have to say no to some of the requests that its allies are making in the fight against Islamic extremists, Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion said Thursday.
But the minister wouldn't say if some coalition members have asked Canada to keep its fighter jets in Iraq and Syria.
"We cannot say yes to everything," Dion said.
"When our plan will be out, it will not be all what our allies are asking us to do, but it will be pretty close of what they hope from us."
Dion was discussing Canada's future contribution to the mission against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant at a major gathering of the Canada2020 think tank in Ottawa. He also delivered a major outline of the new Liberal government's foreign policy views, which differ sharply in some ways from those of the Conservatives.
On ISIL, he insisted the new Liberal contribution will be meaningful, even though the government plans to withdraw Canada's six CF-18 fighter jets from the U.S.-led bombing coalition, which has sparked criticism from the Opposition Conservatives.
Dion will not say when the government will announce its new plan, but he says there would be no gap in Canada's contribution to the air war in the meantime.
"The plan is not out because the current plan is still there. There is no gap. We are still involved."
He said Canada flies two to three per cent of the coalition airstrikes and he said it is "doable" for the coalition to cover that.
David Perry, a senior analyst with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, said Canadian warplanes may have flown a relatively low percentage of bombing missions, but the contribution has been more meaningful than statistics would indicate.
"Canada's been flying a lot of the more difficult missions for quite some time and that will end."
Dion used the speech to tie together many of the emerging threads of the new government's foreign policy, which focuses on multilateralism and diplomatic engagement with countries with which Canada doesn't necessarily see eye-to-eye.
The Liberals have been under attack this week from the Conservatives for their plan to step up diplomatic contact with Iran and Russia -- two countries the previous Harper government conspicuously shunned.
Dion used his speech to reiterate earlier statements that it is in Canada's interest to engage with Russia on the Arctic and at least open a dialogue with Iran. None of that diminishes Canada's support of Ukraine, which faces Russian aggression, or the condemnation of Iran's human rights record, he said.
Dion also extended an olive branch to the Conservatives, saying "the former government was not always wrong" and that there was no need for the Liberals to "start from scratch" on foreign policy.
He cited the Conservatives' focus on ending the forced marriage of young girls in the developing world, an initiative championed by former foreign affairs minister John Baird, as a worthy Canadian endeavour.