As Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s grip on power is rapidly weakening, Canada’s opposition is urging the Harper government support a transition to true democracy – and critical it did not step up on this front earlier.
The Prime Minister’s Office issued a short statement Sunday evening, noting that Stephen Harper is closely monitoring the situation and is hopeful “the end is near for the Gadhafi regime and that authority will soon transition to the National Transitional Council of Libya, the recognized governing body of Libya.”
But there was nothing beyond that, provoking the NDP and the Liberals to call on the government to ensure that Canada is fully involved in a transition.
NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar told The Globe Monday that “we will be happy to see Gadhafi and his sons brought to justice through the [International Criminal Court]”
He added, however, that “Canada must now transition from protection of civilians to stabilization so that Libya may find peace within its borders.”
And he is hoping the Tory government does a “better job committing to support peaceful transition in Libya than was the case for Egypt and Tunisia when the Conservatives turned down requests to help support the ‘Arab Spring’ at the recent G8 meeting.”
Mr. Dewar was also critical of the government for not fulfilling its promise to create an “Institute for Democratic Development, which could have helped support for democratic development in Libya.”
Adding his party’s voice to the Libya situation, Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae said Monday it’s crucial that Canada be engaged in the post-Gadhafi Libya – and he was critical of the Conservative government’s approach so far.
“The Harperites have not stepped up to the plate on governance and really helping on building democratic institutions,” he told The Globe.
Mr. Rae argued, too, that two government departments involved in this issue – the Canadian International Development Agency and Foreign Affairs do not have the budgets or mandates to help with the rebuilding effort. He added that the NGOs that can help are “being starved for funds.”
“We should also be working with the Libyan diaspora in Canada to build our knowledge and awareness of what can be done,” he said. “We stayed the course with the Security Council, and connected to groups in Benghazi, but the key now is to be a constructive player in the days ahead.”
Canada has been involved in the UN-mandated, NATO-led mission since March; it was aimed at protecting civilians. A three-and-a-half month extension – to the end of September – was granted by Parliament in June.
In June, Defence Minister Peter MacKay estimated the mission had so far cost Canadian taxpayers $26-million and he said it would cost another $36-million for the extension.
But the Rideau Institute, a left-leaning think tank, argued the costs would be much higher – estimating a bill of between $80-million and $85-million.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird’s office did not reply to a request to comment. Mr. Baird travelled to Benghazi earlier this summer to check out the situation for himself.
During his surprise visit, Mr. Baird, who only took over as Foreign Affairs Minister after the May 2 election, met with members of the National Transition Council. He said at the time that the rebel group “represents the best hope for the future of Libya.”
“They’ve laid out a road map for where they’d like to take the country” that involves “a democratic Libya that respects human rights, that respects the rule of law,” Mr. Baird maintained. In any case, he observed, “the one thing we can say categorically is that they couldn’t be any worse than Col. Gadhafi.”