The Liberals' trilogy of foreign-policy speeches by Bob Rae, Dominic LeBlanc and Siobhan Coady show a proper firmness on Afghanistan but they are lacking in commitment to provide the equipment and the money required for a vigorous presence in international affairs.
All three shadow cabinet ministers rightly emphasized that Lester Pearson, the founder of UN peacekeeping, would also have supported the Canadian mission in Afghanistan. They not only advocated a return to traditional peacekeeping but also a move toward the responsibility-to-protect doctrine, which means a heightened humanitarian interventionism, where there is no peace to be kept, or conventional governments or armies to mediate between - or specifically Canadian interests. The apparent implication is a series of future missions quite like the present one in Afghanistan.
This greater activism is to be accomplished without any increase in the Canadian defence budget in real terms. Moreover, Mr. LeBlanc, the Liberal defence critic, and his colleagues reasserted their rejection of the Conservatives' proposed purchase of F-35 stealth fighter jets. The Liberals, to their credit, affirm the importance of the Arctic (including a permanent secretariat for the Arctic Council and an ambassador for circumpolar affairs), but are reluctant to buy jets that would enable Canada to be truly and effectively sovereign over its vast northern territories - and which would do much to help the Canadian Forces take part in the overseas interventions that the Liberals favour.
The sustained engagement in foreign affairs of both Michael Ignatieff and Mr. Rae is evident in the considerable substance in current Liberal foreign-policy positions, more than is customary from an official opposition in Canada. But the Liberals' unwillingness to support their principles and proposals with adequate equipment and other resources leaves questions they will have to answer before and during the next federal election campaign.