Stephen Harper has announced that he will allow (oh thank you, master) a debate in the House of Commons on the Canadian mission in Afghanistan. This is good news for many of us that have suggested its necessity, but is it all good? Like, what’s with this?
“It will not be a votable debate, in other words they will not vote on Canadian participation,” CTV’s Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife told CTV Newsnet. “This will be an opportunity for members of Parliament from all sides of the house to debate and discuss Canada’s mission in Afghanistan and, of course, the concerns of some MPs about the growing list of casualties.”
So instead of a debate that means something, we get an opportunity for every MP to stand up wearing a Canadian flag lapel pin and somberly intone how much he or she honours the troops and hopes no one else gets hurt? Why not allow a vote? Does Harper actually think that he would lose a vote on the mission, or is he scared of setting some sort of awkward democratic precedent? What is the purpose of a debate that doesn’t result in a decision? That’s just a conversation. Why would parliamentarians bother showing up other than for their sound bite for the next election campaign ad? If he wants to simply tell the Canadian people about the mission, why not just go on TV for an hour some night during prime time and lay it out.
In my own squeaky little voice, I have called for a debate in Parliament on this issue several times in previous posts and in comments and conversations with other bloggers, but I have always maintained that we need to have a vote on the mission in order for the discussion to mean anything. If Stephen Harper is too afraid to “bring it” (as all the kids are saying these days , then why does he expect our armed forces to do so? If he wants Canadians to back the mission, then let us say go or no.
In rejecting a debate only recently, he said that “To do so would not only be not in the best interests of Canada’s international reputation… it would be a betrayal of the brave men and women we have in the field who are in danger”. This is tripe – to send them without consulting Parliament is anti-democratic and to hide behind their sense of duty is cowardice. If Stephen Harper actually believes the mission is important, as I do, he will have a full vote in the House of Commons, one that I’m sure would win near if not absolute unanimous approval.
I am aware that Stephen Harper inherited the Afghanistan mission from a Liberal government that did not consult Parliament and I’m also aware that the NDP were not nearly loud enough in requesting a debate either when the mission began in 2001 or when it was expanded later. The opposition has handed Harper a golden opportunity to right a wrong.
Or he could just use it as a cynical attempt to ameliorate the NDP request for a real debate and then move on to the Big Five.