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Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Prime Minister-designate Justin Trudeau take part in a ceremony to commemorate the October 2014 attack on Parliament Hill, at the National War Memorial in Ottawa, Canada October 22, 2015. (CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS)
Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Prime Minister-designate Justin Trudeau take part in a ceremony to commemorate the October 2014 attack on Parliament Hill, at the National War Memorial in Ottawa, Canada October 22, 2015. (CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS)

Politics Briefing

Trudeau entrenches Harper’s precedent on military missions Add to ...

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By John Ibbitson (@JohnIbbitson)

By promising that Parliament will be consulted next week before his government reshapes its mission against the Islamic State, Justin Trudeau has entrenched a precedent established by Stephen Harper. Though parliamentary purists may object, this is welcome news.

Those purists will point out that, under our constitution, the government of the day is responsible for the nation’s foreign and military policy, and that Parliament’s role is to withdraw its confidence if it opposes that policy.

In practice, governments have sometimes sought the will of the House in matters of war and peace, and sometimes not.

William Lyon Mackenzie King convened Parliament in September, 1939, and requested permission to declare war on Germany. (Canada has not formally declared war on anyone since the Second World War.) The St. Laurent government chose to join the police action against North Korea, though Parliament later affirmed its support for that action. The Mulroney government sought and obtained approval to send forces to help expel Saddam Hussein from Kuwait. The Chrétien government consulted the House when joining the mission in Somalia, but decided on his own to join the mission in Kosovo. And from 2001 to 2006, under both Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin, Parliament was never asked to endorse Canada’s expanding commitment in Afghanistan.

As a newly minted prime minister, Stephen Harper sought and obtained parliamentary support before committing his government to the Afghanistan mission in 2006. Parliament periodically re-affirmed its support for that mission, and Mr. Harper also sought and obtained support for the mission in Libya and for the current mission in Iraq and Syria. A precedent appeared to emerge: When committing air, sea or land forces to a conflict zone, the government first seeks Parliament’s consent. Where mere logistical support is involved (such as offering France heavy-lift aircraft for their mission in Mali) no such consent is required.

Mr. Trudeau could have returned to the former practice of consulting Parliament on an ad-hoc basis. Instead, he appears to be following Mr. Harper’s lead. Given the nature of the commitment involved, and for the sake of national unity, that seems the right thing to do.


By Chris Hannay (@channay)

> Even without fighter jets, the expanded military mission in Iraq and Syria will bring Canadian soldiers closer to the front lines, which the country’s top general warns will increase the risk of them getting wounded or killed.

> From security to diplomacy, how the military mission has changed. The “train, advise and assist” operation will triple in size, humanitarian aid will increase and Canada’s fighter jets will be gone as of Feb. 22.

> Two First Nations – on behalf of roughly 70 – are suing the federal government for $3-billion because they say Ottawa failed to protect their oil-and-gas rights. At issue are drills located next to reserves, which may be draining from deposits underneath First Nations land.

> Mr. Trudeau will be campaigning tonight for a provincial by-election in Whitby, Ont. (At least, that’s what the Ontario Liberals are telling us. The Prime Minister’s official itinerary says he’ll be in “private meetings” all day.) The by-election on Thursday will be a test of Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown, a former Barrie MP.

> And meet Louis Bergeron, the man TransCanada has tapped as its point person in Quebec and New Brunswick to win support for the Energy East pipeline. “The perception of the people is not necessarily that the pipeline is bad. But maybe they didn’t like the way it was presented, didn’t like the approach, didn’t like the tone. And this is exactly what we’re changing now.”


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“Tripling the trainers working with Kurdish fighters may help, but it’s shoring up Iraq’s strong point. Kurds fight in their own region, and elsewhere there are Shia militias and a weak Iraqi army – but the real challenge in Iraq remains recruiting and training Sunni fighters to take on the Islamic State in Sunni-dominated regions. There was a promise to increase diplomatic presence, but at the moment, Canada is a diplomatic non-player in this intractable crisis.” – Campbell Clark (for subscribers).

Jim Prentice (writing in the Globe and Mail): “Sadly, [Canada is] not a global presence when it comes to our energy resources. Canadian governments play checkers, while others play chess.”

Gerald Caplan (Globe and Mail): “Only in America would Bernie Sanders be regarded as an extremist – more precisely, as the extreme left-wing equivalent of Trump and Cruz. ”

Gillian Steward (Toronto Star): “It’s more than a little obvious, politically speaking, that Justin Trudeau and Alberta Premier Rachel Notley are quite smitten with each other.”

Christina Blizzard (Toronto Sun): “The job of PM is a full-time one. There are costs associated with getting Trudeau to Whitby. Who’ll pick up the tab? Taxpayers – or the Liberal party? Who’ll pay for his RCMP security detail?”

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