• Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion met yesterday with Prime Minister Stephen Harper to discuss the future of Canada’s combat mission in Afghanistan.
• The Prime Minister will introduce a draft motion in the House of Commons on Thursday to extend Canada’s mission in Afghanistan until the end of 2011.
• The Conservatives’ draft resolution does not include many of the Manley Panel’s recommendations, such as improved diplomatic efforts, a better balance with respect to reconstruction and development efforts, or the need for greater accountability by the government on the progress of the mission.
• The motion also does not address important issues Liberals have been concerned about for over a year, such as the safe transfer of Afghan detainees, the cultivation of opium in Afghanistan or fixing the way the government manages this mission in Ottawa.
• But the most important problem with the motion is that it does not respect our position that the combat mission should end in February 2009.
• Therefore the Liberal Opposition will not be able to support the government’s motion. We will not abandon our principled and responsible position.
• As this motion is debated in the coming weeks, Liberals will be putting forward amended wording that clearly respects our position. If the Prime Minister is serious about reaching a consensus that would be supported by a majority of Canadians, he will be receptive to our revised wording.
• Liberals will not abandon the people of Afghanistan, but Canada’s mission has to change.
• The Liberal position is clear: the combat mission in Kandahar should end as scheduled in February 2009, and the government should have acted responsibly and notified NATO, so that it could make the necessary arrangements to ensure that a proper rotation of NATO troops would take place at that time.
• We are united in our stance on this issue and we will stand together, just as we did last April when we put this position forward as an opposition day motion. We will not allow Prime Minister Harper to continue to needlessly politicize Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan and question the loyalty of those who challenge his government.
• In the coming weeks we challenge the Prime Minister to act like a leader. Together, we will show him what true leadership really is.
• The Conservatives’ draft resolution calls for extending the current mission until the end of 2011, with a “review” of the mission in February 2011. It makes no commitment that the mission will actually end in 2011.
• The motion says that the emphasis will shift to training and that the combat element of mission will decrease over time but it clearly allows for the continuation of the combat mission after 2009.
• The motion also makes clear that the extension is conditional upon the provision of an additional battle group from NATO of 1000 troops which must be operational in Kandahar as of February 2009. It is also conditional upon the government securing medium helicopter lift capacity and unmanned aerial vehicles.