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Calls for Defence Minister's 
resignation continue

[PoliticsWatch updated 5:00 p.m. April 30, 2007]

Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor.

OTTAWA  — Canada's Defence Minister was not in the House of Commons Monday, but that did not stop opposition MPs from continuing to call for his resignation amidst a controversy surrounding the handling of Afghan detainees.  
 
Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor has not commented publicly on the controversy involving allegations of abuse by 30 former Afghan detainees interviewed by the Globe and Mail since his appearance before the Commons foreign affairs committee last Wednesday.  

The detainees told the Globe that they suffered various forms of torture after Canadian troops handed them over to Afghan officials. No Canadian troops are accused of mistreating the detainees while in their custody. 

On Thursday, O'Connor, a former general, sat in his seat in the House of Commons during the entire question period as other cabinet ministers and parliamentary secretaries took the heat instead. But on Monday, O'Connor was absent from question period. 

"It's obvious that everybody has lost confidence in the minister of defence who is responsible for this mess in the first place," Liberal Leader Stephane Dion said. "Does the prime minister still have confidence in his minister of defence?"

Once again Prime Minister Stephen Harper did not directly answer the question. 
 
Instead, the prime minister attacked the Liberals and said there was "no evidence" of the specific allegations contained the Globe article. 

"The bottom line is unlike the members opposite we don't automatically assume that any allegations made by the Taliban against Canadian forces are the unvarnished truth," Harper said. 

Liberal MP Michael Ignatieff said Harper's response "makes it clear that the prime minister agrees with the Official Opposition that the defence minister is no longer capable of doing his job."

Since O'Connor's appearance before the foreign affairs committee last week, speculation about his ouster from cabinet has replaced election speculation as the new past time on Parliament Hill. 

A Conservative source told the Globe and Mail last week that the government is not pleased with the defence minister's numerous missteps, but that canning him would raise questions about the Afghanistan mission and Canada's resolve in fighting terrorism. 

Opposition MPs believe that Harper has indeed lost confidence in his minister and is simply waiting until Parliament recesses for the summer in early June to shuffle him out. 

Ignatieff suggested in the House that such timing would be irresponsible.  

"NATO is going to be starting a new offensive, insurgents are attacking our soldiers and the prime minister is looking for the right time to get rid of his minister," he said. "Why doesn't the prime minister put our soldiers ahead of his own interests? Why doesn't he fire his incompetent minister immediately?"

After 15 months in power, the Conservative government has yet to have a minister resign because of pressure from the opposition benches.  

One cabinet minister, former intergovernmental affairs minister Michael Chong, stepped down last fall because he could not support the government's motion recognizing the Quebecois as a nation. Other ministers under fire, such as former environment minister Rona Ambrose, were shuffled around but remained in cabinet. 

Harper, who has a reputation in Ottawa for not backing down, withstood months of pressure from opposition MPs calling for Ambrose to resign before making a cabinet shuffle. 

However, the uproar over the torture allegations have become the centre of attention on Parliament Hill for over a week now, even taking away some of the spotlight from the government's long-anticipated announcement of greenhouse gas targets. 

And the opposition parties, especially the Liberals, do not appear like they will let up in calling for O'Connor to be fired.  

"We believe that Mr. O'Connor should be asked to resign his position," NDP Leader Jack Layton said after question period. 

"I think with the last two days with virtually no response on his part, the last two days in the House, indicates that perhaps even the prime minister has lost confidence in him."

Liberal defence critic Denis Coderre said the prime minister is "in denial" and does not want to admit that the opposition parties were right about the seriousness of the issue of handling detainees. 

"He's waiting for the occasion to make his political move when we need that move now," he said of getting rid of the minister. "He's going to play games like that. He likes to play tactics and games and right now the department needs a minister of defence."

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> Canada's Defence minister on the ropes

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