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PM accuses Liberals exploiting Afghan casualties

[PoliticsWatch updated 5:05 p.m. April 19, 2007]

OTTAWA  — Prime Minister Stephen Harper alleged in the House Thursday that the opposition Liberals have introduce a motion in the House of Commons on Afghanistan to politically capitalize on the recent deaths of eight Canadian soldiers.        
 
"We didn't hear a lot about (Afghanistan) in the last few months because Canadian troops had not suffered casualties," the PM said during question period. "We see some unfortunate casualties and they're back to attacking the mission."

"The leader of the opposition likes to talk about what is unfair. That is unfair to the men and women in uniform."

On Thursday, the House began an opposition day debate on a Liberal motion that calls on the government to confirm Canada's "combat operations" in Afghanistan will cease in February 2009. 

Early last year, the Conservatives, with the assistance of 28 Liberal MPs, passed a motion in the House of Commons to extend Canada's mission to February of 2009. 

The Liberals say their motion is designed to bring clarity to the issue because of comments Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor has made suggesting Canada is preparing to stay in Afghanistan beyond the February 2009 deadline. 

The new Liberal motion will be defeated when it is voted on next week because the NDP, which wants Canada to immediately cease counter insurgency options in Afghanistan, will vote against it. 

After question period, Liberal Leader Stephane Dion said Harper's allegation the Liberals are exploiting the deaths of Canadian soldiers is "an insult to every Canadian who has discussed this issue."

"He's accusing everyone who is not supporting him to show a lack of support for the troops and this is so divisive. He has an example south of the border and he's following this example," he added in reference to U.S. President George W. Bush

NDP Leader Jack Layton, who was the first Canadian federal leader to oppose the mission in Afghanistan, said he has been careful not to politicize the deaths of Canadian troops since last summer, but it is relevant to the debate. 

"Canadians are very concerned about the loss of life," he noted after question period. "I believe that that's true. I certainly hear it when I'm travelling across the country. I have chosen not to try to illustrate this situation with that loss of life but it's on every Canadian's minds and it is our responsibility as Parliamentarians to make decision about the nature of missions recognizing the potential impact on life." 

On the floor of the Commons, a fascinating debate that at times was emotional and heated continued late into the afternoon on Thursday.  

Conservative MP Ted Menzies called the Liberal motion "the worst form of cheap partisan politics that the House has seen" and said it was "jeopardizing the safety and the lives of our brave men and women."

"It is not just Canadians who hear this date that was put forward," he said. "That shows an incredible weakness, an incredible vulnerability and an incredible opportunity for the Taliban to declare victory. That is unacceptable to me."

Menzies' comments provoked outrage from Liberal MP Bill Graham, who was defence minister when Canada began focusing the Afghanistan mission on counter insurgency in 2005. 

"I suggest to honourable members that as members of this democratic institution we will have lost this war today if we give to the Taliban the control as to what we can debate in this House of Commons," Graham said. "We should never allow ourselves to go there."
 
Liberal MP Colleen Beaumier alleged that Canada's mission in Afghanistan has been a failure and suggested that Afghans were better off under the Taliban.  

"What exactly have we as Canadians brought to the Afghan people? As far as I can see it is instability," said Beaumier. "Under the previous U.S. backed Taliban there may have been oppression, but there was not fear for people's lives every single day because of suicide bombers."

Conservative whip Jay Hill, who spent his Christmas holidays with the troops in Afghanistan, later drew outrage from the Liberals when he called the Taliban "evil" and compared them to German Nazis and  Adolph Hitler

"This is outrageous," shouted Liberal MP Denis Coderre, who introduced the opposition day motion. "How dare he say that."

But Hill continued despite the protests of Coderre. 

"We on this side of the House believe fervently that we are combating the most evil people in the world today," he said.  "We believe that the Taliban and al-Qaeda are evil."

"The reality is we believe that we are engaged in a war on terrorism, a war on evil people, just as we were during the first and second world wars. We believe that these people have to be brought to justice."

Liberal MP Omar Alghabra suggested the Conservative government wanted Canada to conduct a "witch hunt" in Afghanistan. 

"What is it they want to accomplish? Is it to help the Afghani people or is it to go on a witch hunt, killing everybody, killing people around the rural areas of the Taliban? What is it that they want to accomplish?" he said. 

He was interrupted by Conservative MP Myron Thompson who shouted out "Destroy the enemy. That is what war is all about."

: Related Links

> Harper says Liberals care more about Taliban  than troops

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