Thursday, February 22, 2007

dion to support Afghan; today will it change tomorrow?

i'm getting curious to see what exactly dion says in Montreal. if only a quarter supported the extension last may, dion was against it ... what exactly is the position for the liberals? under dion what direction is the foreign policy going to give way too? i give credit to jack, he stood his ground and didn't waver in the next mouth full.

Dion to back extending mission
New position on Afghanistan is a nod to his caucus and a gift to the Tories

John Ivison in Ottawa National Post February 22, 2007

When Stephen Harper gets tired from flogging whoever suggested he try to link the father-in-law of Sikh Liberal MP Navdeep Bains to the Grit position on anti-terror legislation, he might pause to reflect on the brighter side of life.

While he handed the Liberals a giltedged opportunity to divert attention from their troubles, there is every prospect a speech today by Stephane Dion on Afghanistan will repay the favour.

Mr. Dion is likely to tell a Montreal audience the Liberal party will support an extension of the mission in Afghanistan until 2009, when the current mandate runs out -- effectively taking the issue off the table should there be a general election.

With the prospect of a federal campaign coinciding with a spring offensive in Afghanistan, the Conservatives have been worried about the effect multiple casualties would have on support for the mission and their polling numbers.

If the Liberals had followed the NDP lead in calling for a unilateral withdrawal, the government's position could have been a hostage to the fortunes of the mission.

However, while Mr. Dion voted in opposition to extending the mission last year, he has been under extreme pressure from members of his caucus to strike a compromise between what he has called the NDP's "shameful" support for withdrawal and Mr. Harper's "blind" support for the mission. A quarter of the Liberal caucus, including deputy leader Michael Ignatieff, voted with the Conservatives to extend the mission last May.

Mr. Dion will attempt to heal divisions created by a coincidental debate within the party on the extension of provisions to the Anti-Terrorism Act. The Liberal leader has taken a hard line on the issue, claiming the provisions on preventative arrest and investigative hearings are too draconian, and has said he will whip any vote to make sure his MPs oppose the measures. The move has allowed the Conservatives to paint the Liberals as "soft on terror".

On Afghanistan, he seems set to take a more conciliatory line, arguing that the mission should be more energetic in its development efforts. But, crucially, he will agree to the extension to 2009, which will clearly limit his capacity for criticism should the spring prove costly in terms of casualties.

Tory sources were skeptical the Liberals would stick to the pro-mission position if Canadian Forces in Afghanistan are forced on the defensive, particularly given the key critic portfolios are held by noted doves, Denis Coderre (Defence) and Ujjal Dosanjh (Foreign Affairs).

Still, for Mr. Dion it is a welcome display of responsible leadership from a man who is currently third choice to be prime minister, according to an Ipsos Reid poll, and one who was in danger of sliding into Elizabeth May territory.

Yet while Mr. Harper has reverted to the "never retreat, never explain, never apologize" line in the House that served him so ill in the 2004 election campaign, the Liberal leader has perhaps grasped that being in opposition doesn't mean you oppose everything the government does.

On legislation from anti-terror to replacement workers, Mr. Dion has simply taken the polar opposite stance from Mr. Harper, even if it has meant reversing long-standing positions, with potentially devastating consequences for the country.

For now, Mr. Dion should be congratulated for having rediscovered the national interest -- even if he had to be led to it by members of his caucus.

see: Canadians split over staying until 2009 poll