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Is Defence Minister out of loop on Afghan plans? Add to ...

1. More cracks in cabinet. For the second time in as many months, it appears Defence Minister Peter MacKay is being marginalized by Prime Minister Stephen Harper - this time over the debate about Canada's role in Afghanistan after 2011.

The main spokesman on the file is not the Defence Minister, who you would think is the most likely person to be stick-handling questions and decisions over what happens to Canadian troops after the combat mission ends next July.

Rather, the main players are the Prime Minister's unelected director of communications, Dimitri Soudas, who made the rounds of media on Sunday and Monday, and Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon.

Indeed, it was Mr. Cannon who reached out to the Liberals. On Friday, he telephoned Bob Rae, the Liberal foreign affairs critic, to talk about " some idea about trainers," according to Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff.

"We don't know what they're talking about. We don't know how many trainers. This isn't the kind of thing you want to do some secret deal with the Liberals about," Mr. Ignatieff told reporters Monday.

A well-placed senior government official, meanwhile, told The Globe and Mail that "these trial balloons ain't coming from DND."

The official was referring to the recent flurry of reports that the Prime Minister is considering keeping Canadian troops - as many as 1,000 - in Afghanistan in a training capacity.

Nothing, however, has been finalized. "Not yet," the official said.

Last month, the Prime Minister cut the Defence Minister out of negotiations over the Canadian military's use of the strategic airbase, Camp Mirage, in the United Arab Emirates.

Mr. MacKay had fought in cabinet to allow additional landing rights in Canada for two UAE airlines. This was compensation for Canada's use of the Camp Mirage base for nine years at no cost.

The Prime Minister had seemed to be on side but then changed his mind after hearing some forceful arguments against granting the concessions from Government House Leader John Baird. Mr. Harper then sidelined Mr. MacKay on the issue.

And that has ended badly for the government. Last week, The Globe and Mail reported it is costing Canadian taxpayers an estimated $300-million to vacate the base and move elsewhere. And Monday, the UAE announced that visiting Canadians will be required to get visas to enter the country.

2. Much ado about Durban. Immigration Minister Jason Kenney is expected to tell delegates at a conference on combating anti-Semitism Tuesday morning that the Harper government was "proud to be the first country in the world to withdraw from the anti-Semitic Durban II conference."

In 2009, Stephen Harper's government boycotted the Durban II conference against racism, criticizing it as a forum aimed at condemning only Israel. A Conservative official familiar with Mr. Kenney's speech says the minister is unlikely to go as far as to announce that Canada will withdraw from Durban III.

The conference is held under the auspices of the United Nations and is to take place on Sept. 11, 2011 in New York, the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. A Sun Media report suggested Mr. Kenney was poised to announce Canada's boycott.

The Immigration Minister will focus his speech on the need to combat the rise of anti-Semitism both in Canada and around the world. His remarks follows those of Mr. Harper, who told the Inter-Parliamentary Coalition for Combatting Anti-Semitism - a gathering of politicians from more than 40 countries - that he will continue to support Israel even if it hampers Canada's ability to win a seat on the UN Security Council.

 

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