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The Salon is ONW's weekly gathering place where three of Canada's brightest and most respected political strategists - Blair McCreadie, Marit Stiles and Richard Mahoney - come together to analyze national issues affecting Ontario.

The latest audio recording from ISIS encouraging Muslims worldwide, including those in Canada, to kill unbelievers, shocked many. Does this now justify Prime Minister Harper's decision to send military "advisors" to Iraq and even get more deeply involved - something former Liberal PM Jean Chretien says we already are?


Richard Mahoney:

The latest video from ISIS encouraging its followers to kill disbelievers of many nations, including Canadians (and a particularly nasty reference to the French, but I digress) shows that this is a dangerous group of hate-filled lunatics. I don't and won't often quote approvingly from the works of Prime Minister Cameron of England, but I do agree that their actions show they are monsters, not Muslims.

That is an important point, because Canada has now committed itself to an apparently limited engagement to assist Iraqi and Kurdish forces in their efforts to combat ISIS/ISIL. While I think opposing the forces of hate and murder is the right thing for Canada to do, former Prime Minister Jean Chretien is right to say it is pretty hard to be only half in on these matters.

We will need a national discussion and parliamentary debate so Canadians can figure out exactly what our country is getting into in this overseas action, and the risks and costs to Canada to be involved in this.

This is not a decision that the Prime Minister can or should make on his own. It is a decision with profound implications for our country, and our Parliament should debate and decide what Canada's role should be.  

Marit Stiles:

I think you'll find little disagreement between Richard and I on the points he raises.

There's no question we are dealing with hate-filled lunatics. We all have a responsibility to ensure that the raging-rants of a few don't result in a racist backlash here at home and, well, the world over. I also agree that the fundamental issue here is whether it's possible to be "only a little bit in'" when it comes to war and overseas action and putting Canadian lives at risk.

As Mr. Mulcair & the NDP have consistently pointed out, before we enter into a conflict like this, Canadians deserve to hear the issue debated in the House of Commons. We need an opportunity to seriously consider the ramifications and - dare I say it - there should be a VOTE in the House on the issue. Unfortunately, Mr. Trudeau and the Liberals are supporting the mission, despite concerns of smart folks like Richard and most Canadians.

Notwithstanding all this, is it anyone's fault that we are being targeted? I don't think we can blame the government and their decision for the rants and extremist threats of ISIS. But I do think it is an unfortunate reminder of how very high the stakes are and how important it is that we as a country know all the facts and have the discussion.

Blair McCreadie:

There is no dispute among us that the actions of ISIS are abhorrent, and must be condemned in the strongest possible terms by the global community.

But the threat posed by ISIS to Canada is not new - back in April, there was an earlier posted video in which ISIS extremist threatened to "destroy" Canada. We need a strong and coordinated response to protect the domestic security of Canadians, and I think that the government is responding to that need.

Is Canada right to send Special Forces advisors to support local Iraqi forces? Absolutely.

But we should highlight the fact that these advisors are only one part of a response effort that includes a significant commitment to humanitarian aid, the provision of non-lethal security equipment and the recently announced review of domestic anti-terrorism laws.

Additionally, the non-combat role of these advisors is similar to the important training role that Canada played in Afghanistan. This is a situation where Canada has a moral responsibility to join with the international community to combat ISIS.

But, I disagree with Mr. Chretien's recent comment that Canada is now "all in." If we reach the point where Canada is considering a combat role, then I expect that there will be an opportunity for a fulsome debate in Parliament about the scope of that role.


Richard Mahoney:

Marit tries admirably to create a little daylight between the positions of Justin Trudeau and my statements above - but I don't think there is any.

Mr. Trudeau and the Liberal caucus called for a full Parliamentary and national debate on this issue. The government refused.

Responsibly, Mr. Trudeau has indicated support for Canada's time limited international effort to assist in efforts to combat ISIS/ISIL, but has indicated clearly that any expansion of Canada's limited mandate must come before Parliament and Canadians for discussion and debate.

The risk that this will escalate into combat is real. Mr. Harper's extension and expansion of our role in Afghanistan indicates just how real that risk is. There is no reason why Mr. Harper should fear such a discussion or debate, other than his own revulsion for democratic debate/discussion and parliamentary oversight. You would think that our Prime Minister would want and would seek the democratic legitimacy that such a debate would give.

This week's sad avoidance of the UN Climate Change Summit is just another example of how Canada has become an "outlier" in the international community, as Prime Minister Mulroney recently put it, and we should and can do better.

Marit Stiles:

Well, on the subject of daylight: as you yourself say, Richard, Trudeau slithered into the shadows after a rather weak attempt to oppose the Conservatives' refusal to hold a debate on the issue... and then flip-flopped back out to support Harper.

Then he didn't even show up in the House when an opportunity to debate the issue presented itself on Sept 16.

Where Trudeau falls apart, Mulcair steps up.

Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander's little 'slip of the tongue' when he talked about 'weapons of mass destruction' gave away the Conservatives' weakness here and on their foreign policy, generally: readiness to play politics with issues that deserve deep, careful consideration, and have serious implications for Canadians -  here and overseas.

Government has a responsibility to ensure Canadians have all the facts, have an opportunity to debate and discuss our role. We bear the cost in financial terms, certainly (and our government has certainly wasted millions already in botched procurements for the military), but also the potential costs of retribution.

This is EXACTLY why we, as Canadians, should all be joining Mr. Mulcair in a call for more transparency and real discussion and debate - even a vote! - on the extent of our involvement.

Many Canadians are concerned, and rightly so. These are real battles, fought in real countries, with real monsters. We deserve to have a say.

Blair McCreadie:

Marit, your suggestion that the government's response is "playing politics" is a bit beyond the pale.

ISIS is devoted to seeking its own fundamentalist state that would show no regard for the values of tolerance, religious freedom and protection of minority groups, among others. Canada has a dual obligation in response to this situation both to aid those civilians and religious minorities, and to take strong action to protect our domestic security interests.

To date, the government has shown leadership in meeting both of those obligations, while supporting the broader international community in a time-limited and non-combat role.

To the extent that Canada's role evolves over time, then the Prime Minister has indicated that a Parliamentary vote would be required for combat situations. As noted above, I anticipate that there will be a fulsome debate on Canada's role if and when that time comes.

And, if an expanded role for Canada becomes necessary, Canadians can hopefully expect that the opposition parties will show the unity, courage and determination that will be required to combat the serious terrorist threat posed by ISIS.  


About The Salon

Richard Mahoney is a former Liberal advisor to Rt. Hon. Paul Martin; Marit Stiles is a federal and Ontario NDP strategist; and Blair McCreadie is past president of the Ontario PC Party (2002-2008) and a partner with Dentons Canada LLP.
Posted date : September 24, 2014

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