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By John Ibbitson (@JohnIbbitson)
With Parliament's return today, the Liberal honeymoon risks coming to a premature end, thanks to the incoherence of the government's stand in the war against Islamic State.
If proof were needed that most reasonable people are confused by Justin Trudeau's decision to pull our CF-18 fighter jets out of the coalition combating Islamic State, Fareed Zakaria offered it at the World Economic Forum in Davos last week.
When the American political commentator asked the Prime Minister in an interview why Canada was withdrawing from the air war, Mr. Trudeau replied that the government had decided to wind down that mission "in exchange for another way of military involvement, probably around training and such things that can help local troops bring the battle directly towards terrorists."
To which Mr. Zakaria asked: "Why? What's the logic behind this?"
To which Mr. Trudeau replied by, for all intents and purposes, repeating his talking points. It was the question, not the answer, that stood out.
What does the international community think of Mr. Trudeau's talking points? Last week, U.S. Defence Secretary Ashton Carter met with his Australian, Dutch, French, German, Italian and British counterparts to plot future strategy for the mission. Canada once played host to such meetings. This time we were conspicuously not invited.
The simple fact is that for the federal government to increase troop training while pulling out its fighter jets is to transition Canada's contribution to the mission from combat to support. That is downsizing. And that is exactly what Mr. Zakaria was pointing out.
Expect Conservative interim leader Rona Ambrose to make that same point in House of Commons today and to repeat it over and over and over again.
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW TODAY
By Chris Hannay (@channay)
> The battle over the Energy East pipeline will be one of the most pressing challenges for the Liberals this week as the House of Commons resumes sitting after its winter break.
> The Bloc Québécois is holding up parliamentary functions in a bid to get more resources and presence on committees, even though the party is two seats short of official party status. (for subscribers)
> Nearly one in 10 of the Canadian military personnel who took part in the Afghan mission are now being compensated for post-traumatic stress disorder.
> Why those running for the Conservative leadership could have trouble raising enough funds.
> And Mike Shaikh, Alberta's last senator-in-waiting, is still waiting for his call to the Senate. The Liberals say the new appointment process will not be bound by Alberta's elections.
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WHAT EVERYONE'S TALKING ABOUT
"[False political appetite] is the winners' pitfall. Leaders and parties that win elections believe they have received a warm embrace from the electorate who support every page of their platform and that they have a carte blanche to implement everything. The reality is that voters see leaders and platforms as imperfect, and they don't have to like or agree with everything but agree enough to be politically palatable. This is the pitfall of conflating a Liberal win with support for democratic renewal."
– Nik Nanos (for subscribers) on Liberal electoral reform.
Campbell Clark (Globe and Mail): "The economy remains the central preoccupation for Canadians. The Conservatives will portray the Liberals as flailing; they suggest Finance Minister Bill Morneau doesn't know what the deficit will be, or even when he'll deliver a budget."
Konrad Yakabuski (Globe and Mail): "It's so much easier for politicians outside Alberta, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick to bow to NIMBY intimidation rather than engage in the hard pedagogy of explaining the straight line between Alberta's oil and the standard of living of every Canadian."
Kady O'Malley (Ottawa Citizen): "Forget – or, at least, tamp down your expectations for– the first Question Period of the new sitting: it's virtually always a major anti-climax, as it takes everyone – opposition MPs and ministers alike – a few days to reacclimatize themselves to the setting."
Carol Goar (Toronto Star): "The first instinct of every defeated party is to find a charismatic new leader. Many Conservatives think that is all they need to get back in power. [Preston] Manning understands this reflex which meshes well with the pace of social media and reality TV. But he's never seen one of these quick fixes work."
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