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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 Bernie Farber - come together to analyze national issues affecting Ontario.

We learned this week that Canadian military personnel engaged in fire with ISIS in Iraq. Prime Minister Stephen Harper had promised in the fall that our Special Forces would only be serving as advisors in Iraq and only for six months. But now the Conservatives say the mission may be extended. All this had NDP leader Thomas Mulcair accusing the PM of "lying" to the Canadian people.


Marit Stiles:


Troops on the ground in Iraq, get shot at and shoot back. This is what happens. This is not a surprise to anyone. When Harper decided to send troops in, the NDP warned of mission creep, and of the potential for lives lost.

Here we go.

This is the same slippery slope that the Americans got into in Vietnam. Start out in an advisory role, and end up in a never-ending bloodbath.

Now, I am not saying this is where this is going, but when there starts to be talk of extending the mission, and Canadians are getting shot at and shooting back, well, it's easy to start down that road.

I'm not surprised, but I'm saddened and outraged that Canada is in this predicament and that the Conservative government failed to listen to the concerns expressed by the Official Opposition and so many Canadians.


Bernie Farber:

These issues are the most difficult for me. I have to balance my heart with my head.

On the one hand, I am not unsympathetic to what Marit has said; on the other, members of ISIS are evil, brutal thugs. They murder innocents in the most inhuman and heartless ways imaginable. They are gaining a foothold in a key area of the world that constantly threatens to explode.

So the idea of engaging with other democratic nations to stop these thugs, to assist the helpless and vulnerable, seems to me the right thing to do.

However, we need a Prime minister who is honest with the people. Tell us that Canada may very well put boots on the ground; that we may very well engage in battle. At least we as a nation can then be better informed and decide for ourselves if this is the best direction to take.


Blair McCreadie:

When in opposition, you have the freedom to question decisions made by front-line military advisors. I get that. But let’s be clear on the circumstances that led to this incident as described by the Commander of our Special Forces at his press conference.

Our Special Forces personnel were engaged in a planning session with senior Iraqi security personnel. During that planning session, they came under attack. Our Special Forces then responded, in collaboration with those Iraqi security forces.

That is not combat. It is self-defence.

Now, each of us understands politics. And so I appreciate that, in this election year, Messrs. Trudeau and Mulcair want to ramp up the rhetoric to try to demonstrate their opposition “street cred."

But, respectfully, I don’t think that gives them license to tell Canadian Special Forces that self-defence isn’t in their job description.


Marit Stiles:

Self-defence, in the moment, on the ground...With respect, Blair, I don't think we are questioning that they had to defend themselves. Of course they do.

But I think the questions that need to be asked is whether they needed to be on the front lines in the first place, and what is their role?

What we know this week is that our special forces are more directly engaged in the fight against forces in Iraq than what we were previously told — and I remind you that Mr. Mulcair asked some very specific and direct questions of Mr. Harper in the House — repeatedly.

Now we are told that there are troops on the ground and they are guiding air strikes against targets. They are using sniper fire to protect from enemy attacks.

Let's not forget that we were assured — as Canadians — that this was a "limited assignment" offering military advice.

The Prime Minister has to answer these questions: when did this become a full-on combat military operation in Iraq, when did he know it had become this and why weren't Canadians informed and consulted?


Bernie Farber:

Blair I know the excuses, good heavens we have heard them historically all too often. Marit is quite right in pointing to historical skirmishes that ballooned into all-out war.

However with respect Marit, ISIS is not Vietnam, nor is it Afghanistan. I believe that if Harper would level with us he may have found some support for our intervention, or not. But levelling with us was the furthest thing from his mind

Look, as Justin Trudeau has suggested, there are a myriad of interventions that fall short of outright guns and bullets, but our militaristic Prime Minister seems bent in only one direction.

As is Harper’s wont, instead of being upfront, he misrepresents the facts; he tells us what he thinks we want to hear.

This has to change. In a vibrant democracy the people must have a voice and they have to be trusted. A government that shows a lack of trust is itself a government that cannot be trusted.


Blair McCreadie:

Look, I’m not surprised that the Liberal and NDP leaders are expressing concerns about Canada being part of an international coalition to fight ISIS – both of those parties voted against this mission when it was debated in Parliament.

But, Marit, it is more than a stretch to claim that this is now a “full-on” combat mission.

Let’s put this single incident in the context of the overall mission. The government of Canada has provided over $100 million in aid, the bulk of which has been spent for humanitarian needs, and to respond to the human rights abuses and sexual violence that has been perpetrated by ISIS.

Our Canadian forces have flown over 350 missions since the start of this operation. In substantially all of those missions, we’ve been delivering vital food, fuel and other supplies, or assisting in reconnaissance, in support of our Iraqi and coalition allies.

In 13 situations, our Special Forces have provided support to collation allies in air strikes to help them target ISIS and avoid civilian casualties.

Simply put, the actions of our Canadian forces are consistent with the resolution that was discussed and adopted by a majority of Parliament. And they are also entirely consistent with the Prime Minister’s comments to Canadians back in October.

About The Salon

Blair McCreadie is past president of the Ontario PC Party (2002-2008) and a partner with Dentons Canada LLP.; Marit Stiles is a federal and Ontario NDP strategist; Bernie Farber is a former Ontario Liberal candidate and one of Canada's leading human rights experts.
Posted date : January 14, 2015

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