Conservatives accuse Liberals of pulling out of combat mission
Josh Dehaas, CTVNews.ca
Published Tuesday, February 16, 2016 4:10PM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, February 16, 2016 11:14PM EST
The Liberals fended off attacks from both sides in question period Tuesday over their anti-ISIS plan unveiled last week. The Conservatives chided the Liberals for a renewed mission they say represents an end to combat, while the New Democrats argued the opposite is true.
Interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose said the increased training mission, diplomatic and humanitarian efforts promised last week by the Liberals are important “but they are not fighting,” unlike the CF-18 bombing mission expected to end this month.
“The prime minister thinks the only reason the Royal Canadian Air Force was fighting ISIS was because Canada was whipping out our CF-18s to see how big they were,” Ambrose said, referring to comments Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made when he was in opposition.
Ambrose added that Canada’s CF-18s should stay in the region because “ISIS is still enslaving women and children … throwing gays and lesbians off the rooftop (and) murdering anyone who has a different belief system.”
Trudeau responded that his government “has always understood that ISIS represents a threat to innocents in the region and to stability and security around the world.”
Trudeau said allies are supportive of the Liberal plan, which includes tripling the number of Canadian special forces trainers on the ground in Iraq. He quoted Col. Steve Warren, the man in charge of the U.S. mission against ISIS, who said last week that “we are not going to bomb our way out of this problem.”
Warren said the Iraqi army needs to be trained, and that “the Canadians agree(ing) to triple their presence (is) extraordinarily helpful.”
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, on the other hand, quoted Canada’s Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance, who said last week that putting more trainers on the ground “is riskier overall.”
“During the election Canadians were led to believe that, under a Liberal government, the mission in Iraq and Syria would be scaled back and that Canada would no longer participate in a combat mission,” Mulcair said.
“However, General Vance said that with the Liberals’ new mission, the lives of the men and women in the military are actually at greater risk,” he added.
“Over the weekend the defence minister also admitted this is indeed an expansion with greater risk,” Mulcair went on. “Can the prime minister please explain how we can call this a non-combat mission when there is in fact more risk for our troops on the front line?”
Trudeau said “Canadians have always been willing to step up when the need is there, to have a positive impact in the world, and we will continue to do so.”
Conservative defence critic James Bezan later told the house the Liberal plan is “a non-combat mission, so we’re not in the fight” and that pulling the CF-18s will “endanger troops,” citing a December attack where he said the jets “protected our troops and allies from a major ISIS attack.”
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said that he was briefed on the December incident and that “other coalition jets also participated in that strike.”
“We are tripling our training capacity, doubling our intelligence and, as the collation commander said to me,” Sajjan added, “… our plan is forward-looking and this is exactly what they need.”
When asked earlier in the day, Sajjan would not say when the Liberals plan to call a debate on the new mission, only that it will be “soon.”
Conservative MP Michelle Rempel later told CTV’s Power Play that she and Liberal MP Marco Mendicino had recently travelled to the Syrian border.
“Our contribution made a real difference with the CF-18s,” Rempel said. “It stopped the spread and the expansion of this group that is raping and beheading people. This isn’t some academic exercise. This is a group that is systematically committing genocide.”
Mendicino responded that “you can’t say, on the one hand, ‘you’re not doing the heavy lifting’ and then have another party in opposition say, ‘well you’re doing more heavy lifting by adding more personnel there.’”
Rempel interrupted, saying the Liberals “can’t sit in the mushy middle when people are dying. Take a position.”
Mendicino responded that allies have told him they appreciate Canada’s contribution and that the government “is entitled to look at its resources and allocate them appropriately.”
NDP MP Jenny Kwan told Power Play that Canada should focus on making sure people don’t get radicalized in the first place, and stopping the flow of arms and funding to ISIS. “The NDP has always taken the position that we should not be playing a military role.”