Canada's Conservative government would hold a vote in Parliament before taking on any future combat role in Iraq, including air strikes, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird says.
Mr. Baird's comments come one day after Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced he had received a request from the United States to increase Canada's contribution to the offensive against Islamic State militants. Mr. Harper did not reveal the contents of the U.S. request, saying only that the U.S. had asked for "some additional contribution" and Canada was weighing its response. He said he would bring the matter to cabinet for further consideration.
Canada has so far contributed several dozen troops to a U.S.-led effort to battle Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq. Those troops are advising Kurdish security forces in northern Iraq for a 30-day period and do not currently have a combat role, the government has said.
However, there were questions about who had initiated the discussion around additional military assistance from Canada. A spokeswoman for the U.S. Secretary of Defence said Canada had asked the U.S. for more details on how it could help, and the U.S. responded with a letter laying out areas where Canadian contributions would be helpful.
"What I can tell you is that the Canadians requested additional details on what they could do to contribute to coalition efforts to aid the Government of Iraq in countering [the Islamic State] and [the Department of Defence] sent a letter describing areas where their contributions would be helpful," Commander Elissa Smith wrote in an e-mail.
Jason MacDonald, a spokesman for the Prime Minister, said the two governments have held ongoing conversations about what more Canada can do. He said the government asked for more information from the U.S. so it could have a more informed conversation at cabinet about what the government might be prepared to do.
The Opposition NDP has been calling on the government to bring the mission before Parliament for a vote. Speaking in Question Period, Mr. Harper has previously suggested that because the current mission does not involve combat, the government does not believe it merits a vote.
Mr. Baird said on Thursday that the government has been "very clear" that it would go before Parliament and hold a vote on any future combat mission. Asked if the government would consider air strikes to constitute a combat mission, Mr. Baird said it "absolutely" would.
"There's no constitutional requirement, there's no law," on holding a vote, Mr. Baird told reporters. "This is something that the Prime Minister has sought, whether it's two or three occasions with respect to Canada's mission in Afghanistan and then with respect to the mission in Libya and the renewal of that mission."
Mr. Harper revealed this week that Canadian forces have been in Iraq for several weeks and are currently the second-largest force, after the U.S., working in support of Iraqi troops. He said the goal of the military operation is to ensure that terrorist organizations are not able to operate in the open.
"We haven't ruled out anything," Mr. Harper said. "We need to have some additional debate within our government before we reach a final decision."
Amid growing concern about Islamic State militants, Mr. Harper took the stage at the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday evening, where he set aside the threat of terrorism and urged the world to put maternal and child health at the core of its international development priorities.
In his first speech to the UN in four years, Mr. Harper played the role of world statesman, touting Canada's assistance for those in poverty and calling it an "honour and a pleasure" to address the assembly once again.
The speech made only brief mention of major international crises, citing the strife in Ukraine, the Middle East, Iraq and Syria and fears about the threat of pandemics and climate change. Mr. Harper has been a staunch opponent of Russian aggression in Ukraine and has spoken frequently about his concerns about Islamic State militants; he was widely expected to use the UN speech to address those issues in particular.
Instead, the Prime Minister said he had chosen to use the opportunity to deal with an issue he said is "closest to my heart" – the global effort to reduce the number of children and mothers who die every year of preventable causes. He touted Canada's trade deals with developing countries but acknowledged that free trade alone wouldn't solve the world's problems. "Sometimes people need a helping hand," he said.