Canada's military mission battling Islamic State militants in Iraq enjoys more public support than this country's costly engagement in the Afghanistan war ever did, veteran Ipsos Reid pollster Darrell Bricker says.
The Harper government has broadly signalled that it wants to extend the six-month mission – which is supported by a parliamentary endorsement that runs out at the end of March – while insisting a decision has not been made.
Mr. Bricker says judging from public opinion today, Canadians would support a longer fight against Islamic State jihadis.
Ipsos Reid released a poll Feb. 14 that found 76 per cent of Canadians surveyed strongly backed or somewhat backed Canada's jet fighters participating in airstrikes against Islamic State forces. That's up 12 percentage points from September.
One key difference between the Iraq mission and Canada's combat operations in Afghanistan is no Canadians have been killed or seriously wounded in Iraq. This country's aviators and soldiers aren't engaged in direct combat with Islamic State, except on a handful of occasions when special forces troops have fought back after being fired upon while training Kurdish fighters.
The riskier Canada's mission in Iraq becomes, the more support would drop, Mr. Bricker notes. "But even if it drops by five or six or seven points, that's still way higher than" public support for the Canadian Armed Forces' deployment to Afghanistan. Canada's soldiers spent more than a decade in Afghanistan, including five years on a combat mission, and more than 160 Canadian lives were lost.
Mr. Bricker says polling shows Canadians place a higher priority on military missions that deliver a benefit back home, whether it's responding to natural disasters in this country or fighting an enemy, such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), that threaten attacks on Canadian soil.
"There's something different about this mission," he said. "People have decided that ISIL represents an existential, real threat at home and abroad."
This has been driven home by deadly attacks on Canadian soldiers in October, apparently inspired by jihadi groups, as well as the mass shooting at the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris, the Sydney hostage crisis and murders in Copenhagen.
Mr. Bricker has been tracking public opinion on expected threats, and last fall 49 per cent of Canadians surveyed said they feel there's a very real, or somewhat real, risk of a terrorist attack in this country over the next 12 months. That's up from 30 per cent in 2010.
Canada's contribution to the fight against Islamic State forces includes six fighter planes, surveillance aircraft, an aerial refuelling tanker and 69 special forces soldiers in northern Iraq.