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Liberals accuse NDP of 'hypocrisy' on Afghanistan

Canadian troops turn away from dust kicked up by a U.S. helicopter taking off in the Panjwaii district of Kandahar province, Afghanistan, on Sept. 24, 2009.


1. Divide and conquer. Without the Conservatives to attack, Michael Ignatieff's Liberals are gunning for Jack Layton and the NDP, accusing them of adopting a position on Afghanistan that is "simply not credible."

The Liberals support the Harper government's decision to keep Canadian troops in Afghanistan after the scheduled July pull-out; the New Democrats do not - playing right into the Tory strategy of splitting the opposition.

The criticism of the NDP is contained in a series of talking points issued by the Grits to their supporters Tuesday.

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"Jack Layton has called for a 'massive civilian deployment' to provide stability in Afghanistan, but you can't achieve this in the midst of conflict without providing Afghans with the tools to protect their security and their democracy," the memo says. "Liberals firmly support ending the combat mission in Afghanistan as scheduled in July 2011 and we support the new post-combat training presence as outlined by the government today."

The Liberals say the Conservatives are basically adopting the position outlined Mr. Ignatieff in June when he called for troops to remain in Afghanistan in a training capacity. "For months, the government was silent. Then, just hours after we pressed for answers in the House of Commons, and just days before the Lisbon [NATO]summit, the government has finally confirmed details of the post-2011 role they are proposing."

New Democrats have gone on the offensive. Just minutes after the government's announcement Tuesday, NDP critics were in front the cameras criticizing the mission for being too heavy on military training and too weak on aid and development.

A senior Ignatieff official said Wednesday that if the New Democrats "are going to try to score political points on Afghanistan, it's important to point out the hypocrisy of their position."

"The NDP wants to have it both ways - they don't want to be accused of abandoning Afghanistan so they're proposing a major civilian mission extending even into Kandahar when basic security, policing and governance still need to be secured," the official told The Globe.

2. Tough on taxpayers. Stephen Harper's tough-on-crime policies will backfire on him by increasing criminal activity and costs to the public, an advocacy group says.

Released Wednesday, the 56-page report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives is an indictment of the Harper government's seeming obsession with crime and punishment.

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The report's author, Paula Mallea, a lawyer who has an expertise in penitentiary issues, writes that there is no "crime epidemic" in Canada despite repeated Tory assertions to the contrary, and that the government's penchant for locking up criminals, building new prisons and meting out longer sentences will actually result in "more rather than less crime."

Ms. Mallea dismisses the Conservative view that violent crime is increasing in Canada. She says statistics point to a downward trend.

She accuses the Harper government of "stoking public fear" about rising crime rates, pointing out that 17 of 64 bills (or 25 per cent) that were before the House at prorogation in 2009 related to crime.

"The clear inference is that crime in Canada is out of control, and that the government must dedicate a huge proportion of time and taxpayers money to crime and punishment," she writes.

All this as police statistics show the crime rate has been decreasing since 1991.

Ms. Mallea worries, too, that longer sentences and locking up more Canadians "will return the system to a time when prisons were extremely violent, and when the end result was more rather than less crime."

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In addition to this, new prisons and keeping people in prison longer result in increased costs at a time when the government is trying to deal with a $55.6-billion deficit.

In the report's conclusion, Ms. Mallea writes that the Prime Minister and his government "appear to be acting upon personal inclination and belief rather than evidence."

"This approach to public policy disregards human rights and distorts democracy," she notes. "It must be clear to any reasonable person that the 'tough on crime' approach is wrong-headed, expensive and counterproductive."

She is in favour of a criminal justice system that moves toward "a more humane treatment of those who pose a threat to public safety, thereby helping to ensure the safer streets that Canadians deserve."

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

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