The Conservative government is poised to push through a continuation of Canada's military operations in Iraq and extend them into Syria, saying the air attacks are necessary to deny the Islamic State a safe haven from which to conduct terrorist activities.
With opposition parties united against the move, Prime Minister Stephen Harper will use his parliamentary majority Monday to authorize the combat mission for 12 months, sending Canadian warplanes on bombing missions over Syria even as the region descends deeper into broad sectarian conflict.
The Harper government insists it can expand the fight to Syria against the Islamic State and avoid being dragged into the civil war in which the extremist Sunni faction and other opposition groups are attempting to overthrow the brutal Bashar al-Assad regime, or indeed into the widening war between Sunnis and Shiites.
After six months of bombing by the U.S., Canada and other allies, Islamic State has withdrawn its heavy equipment from Iraq to eastern Syria, where the Assad regime has virtually no presence, Defence Minister Jason Kenney said in an interview aired Sunday on CTV's Question Period.
"We're not going to allow our objections to the Assad regime to give [Islamic State] a safe haven in a part of the country that it controls uncontested by the Syrian government," he said.
"If we want to continue to degrade this organization so that they can no longer have this bizarre caliphate, so they can no longer radicalize and recruit Canadians and people from around the world, we have to hit them where they have their strongest assets."
Mr. Kenney played down concerns that Canada could get dragged into a broader sectarian conflict between the Sunnis and Shiites, including the escalating fight for Yemen where Saudi Arabia is backing the government against Iranian backed rebels. "We have absolutely no intention of taking military action of any kind in or around Yemen," the minister said.
Opposition MPs have criticized the government's strategy, saying it plunges the country deeper into a war that has no clear end-game in a region where armed intervention has seldom produced the hoped-for results. And they warn of increased risk to Canadian pilots of being shot down and captured by Islamic State fighters.
Mr. Kenney acknowledged that any military action involves risks but said IS has no surface-to-air missiles capable of shooting down bombers at the altitudes they'll be flying, noting U.S. and Arab allies have flown hundreds of sorties in the region with no threat. And he said the Assad regime has no radar coverage or anti-aircraft missiles in the area.
New Democratic Party defence critic Jack Harris said Canada should focus on humanitarian aide to Syrian refugees and combatting radicalization here at home, while the Liberals support efforts to train Iraqi forces but not the country's participation in the bombing campaign.
In an interview Sunday, Mr. Harris said Western military intervention in the Middle East rarely, if ever, achieves its goals, but instead triggers a series of unintended consequences that make the situation worse.
"We in the West have shown in the past not very much success in taking strict military action in the Middle East, and the results that have come out the other end have not been predictable and often been disastrous," he said.
The NDP MP said the government is greatly exaggerating the threat to this country posed by the Islamic State group.
"I think they're trying to convince the Canadian people that they are under threat and attack," he said, noting Foreign Minister Rob Nicholson warned last week that Canadians are "under siege" by IS. "These are over-the-top statements."
"Bombing Syria is not going to stop jihadists being trained here and going abroad," he said on Question Period. "You have to deal with that at home, and there's no plan in this motion to do that."