Afghanistan motion "a setback for Prime Minister Stephen Harper."

Parliament is set to debate a motion by the Liberals today saying that “Canada’s existing military deployment in Afghanistan will continue until February 2009, at which time Canadian combat operations in Southern Afghanistan will conclude; and call upon the government to notify NATO of this decision immediately.”

The Liberal motion from Defence Critic Denis Coderre follows a letter from the Rideau Institute sent to all of the party leaders, urging them to end the “shell game” about a possible election call and focus on the flagging mission in Afghanistan, and to use their first opposition day to bring in a motion on the mission.

In an email I received last night from Liberal House Leader and former Finance Minister Ralph Goodale, he wrote,

the Liberal Official Opposition has two motions relating to Afghanistan ready for debate on April 19th and subsequent Opposition Days.  We agree that this issue (and probably many others) should transcend the government’s incessant election manoevering.”

In the newspapers this morning, the governing Conservatives have indicated that they will not declare this motion one of confidence (which could have defeated the minority government). This was not Liberal Leader Dion’s intention, according to the Ottawa Citizen:

Liberal leader Stephane Dion said his party framed the motion in a way that it could not force an election unless the government wanted one. “No, we didn’t call it a confidence motion, but we think the intention (of Canada) must be clear,” Mr. Dion said, suggesting Liberal MPs will be compelled to support it because “it’s a motion of the party.”

According to Gloria Galloway in the Globe and Mail, the Bloc Québécois has indicated it will side with the Liberals.

What about the NDP?

Yesterday NDP leader Jack Layton signalled to me that the Liberal motion as it is phrased is problematic because it does not go far enough to fix the mission.

From my perspective, the motion makes no comment on the combat mission as it is currently unfolding (failing), and does not urge the government to take any new course of action, such as refocussing efforts on finding a diplomatic solution as soon as possible.

The latest UN report says that there are 15,000 families that have been displaced because of combat operations in the south. How can they wait another 2 years for Canada to stop the combat? For these and other reasons, the NDP will likely vote against the motion.

So how will the vote unfold? Here is the current breakdown of the seats by political party:

308 seats (Cons: 125, Lib: 100, BQ: 49, NDP: 29, Independent: 3. vacancies: 2)

So, the motion could fail if ALL of the Conservatives and NDP vote against it (154 votes), even if the Independents vote with the Liberals and BQ (152 votes).

However, this is still unfolding and it is too soon to make predictions. Could the Liberals amend the motion to win the NDP’s support?

Stay tuned.

Steve


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