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Kandahar Or Bust '09

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Wednesday evening, under the shadow of the death of Captain Nichola Goddard, the first female Canadian soldier to die in combat, The House Of Commons barely squeezed through a motion to extended the Canadian forces mission in war torn Afghanistan by two years.

The motion passed with 149 votes ‘for’ as compared to 145 votes ‘against’; a divided Liberal caucus was essential to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s narrow victory to extend the mission to 2009. Originally the Afghan mission was scheduled to end in February 2007.

"I'm obviously pleased, the vote was obviously much closer than we thought even 24 hours ago," Harper said after the vote. "Support for the mission is a lot stronger than the vote. There were a lot of people in there who just wanted to vote against the government."

After the Speaker announced the motion passed the PM walked across the aisle and shook hands with Opposition Leader Bill Graham. As Defense Minister under the last government, Graham oversaw the initial deployment.

The NDP and the Bloc Quebecois led the main thrust of the opposition to the mission’s extension. NDP Leader Jack Layton felt that the continuation of the mission in Afghanistan would see Canada move further away from the country’s peacekeeping tradition. Bloc Leader Giles Duceppe said the government needed to be more forthcoming about details of the future of the mission.

But while the NDP and the Bloc stood united, many Liberals, including some high profile leadership candidates voted against the government’s motion. After the votes were counted, only 30 Liberal MPs, including Graham, had voted ‘yes’ on extending the Afghan mission. Of the leadership contenders in Parliament only Michael Ignatieff voted in favour; rivals Stephane Dion, Ken Dryden and Joe Volpe voted against.

Also voting against the government was Guelph MP Brenda Chamberlain. Chamberlain staffer Annette Furo told The Cannon on Thursday that a lack of information, a limited six-hour debate and input from her constituents influenced the Member’s no vote.

A number of other Liberal MPs voiced similar concerns. "What's the rush?" said Quebec MP Denis Coderre. "We're proud of this mission. But don't ask us to give you a blank cheque today on short notice and after six hours debate."

Liberal defense critic Ujjal Dosanjh felt that the Conservative government was just anxious to get a hot-button issue of the table before an inevitable Federal election. For his part, Graham did criticize the brief time for debate saying that MPs were having to vote “with a gun put to our heads”.

Last night’s vote came as a surprise to many in Parliament, it was only announced on Monday as national sentiment on the ongoing conflict of Afghanistan is becoming increasingly negative.

“Members of this House have had five years to decide what their position is on this mission,” Harper told the Commons on Tuesday. “We want to be sure that our troops have the support of this Parliament going forward.”

Written with sources from The Globe and Mail and CBC News

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