MPs approve motion to extend Afghan mission
Parliamentarians overwhelmingly passed a motion Thursday to extend the military mission in Afghanistan, which means Canadian troops will stay in the war-torn country until at least 2011.
The vote, which passed 198-77, came as anti-war protesters chanted in another area of Parliament. Some even had to be dragged away by guards. But in the end, they didn't affect the outcome.
Passage of the confidence motion was basically assured after the Liberals and Conservatives ironed out a compromise last month. The Conservatives agreed to set a mission end date and focus on reconstruction efforts and training instead of seeking combat.
The vote came ahead of a meeting of NATO allies slated for Bucharest, Romania, in a few weeks. The extension is dependent on NATO coming through with 1,000 combat troops. Canada is also asking for eight helicopters to ferry troops and unarmed drones to spot the enemy. There have been indications that some European countries or the U.S. will provide more troops.
The NDP voted against extending the mission, along with most Bloc MPs.
NDP Leader Jack Layton told CTV Newsnet before Thursday's vote that he was "sorry that (Liberal Leader Stephane) Dion has decided to essentially prop up (Prime Minister Stephen) Harper and support the continued war effort."
"We don't have a sense of the final cost and even (where) the additional troops . . . are going to come from," Layton said. "We are embroiled in something that is not taking us towards peace."
Some Canadian soldiers serving in Afghanistan say the mission is worth their sacrifices.
"Every war has a price," said Cpl. Vartan Koumayan. But he noted, "I am really in no position to know whether we're or not we are getting anywhere."
Master-Cpl. Tatyana Danylyshyn said, "It's not a hopeless cause."
There are about 2,500 Canadian soldiers serving in the Afghan mission. Eighty have died.
Some critics say Canada needs to end its combat role. The Council of Canadians has warned that they will keep tabs on those MPs who voted in favour of extending the mission -- and they have threatened to campaign against them in the next federal election.
A Liberal senator says MPs did not pay enough attention to the mission funding, but instead focused on the political debate over why Canada is in Afghanistan.
"This war is going to take a lot more money than this government is prepared to admit," said Colin Kenny. "This government is also clearly not prepared to invest in it."
New Democrat Dawn Black says it is difficult to find out exactly what it costs Canada to fund the war. The mission's funding is part of the overall operating budget at the Department of Defence.
"Clearly, if they (the government) can downplay the costs in both human terms and in dollar terms, they think that will work to their advantage," Black said.
RESP confidence motion
The Afghan vote was not the only confidence motion on Parliament's agenda today.
A budgetary ways-and-means motion also passed the Commons. It sets the stage for cancelling a Liberal private member's bill which would give tax breaks to parents saving for their kids' education.
That bill is currently before the Senate. The Tories have argued the private member's bill could cost $900 million a year by giving parents big tax breaks on RESPs.
Dion had signalled that his party was not ready for an election, therefore, most Liberal MPs didn't defeat Thursday's Tory motion. Most abstained and the motion passed 124-87.
Dion has said that he will wait until a few weeks after next Monday's byelections to decide whether or not to topple the government.
With files from The Canadian Press