Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Canada votes against troop withdrawal ... or does it?

Canada's parliament has voted against a motion for limited troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, despite solid public backing for the troops to be home at least by the deadline proposed by the Liberals (which was February 2009). However, all that is not quite as it appears. First of all, it is important to bear in mind how this happened. The NDP, a Labour Party equivalent with a broadly left-wing base and a right-wing leadership, holds the balance of power in Canada's parliament with 29 seats - a result of their popular antiwar stance among other things. The vote was defeated by only 16 votes, with the NDP voting alongside the Conservatives against the motion. This was, on the face of it, because they demanded immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan, not another year of torture.

Was this a genuinely principled stance? Doug Nesbitt wrote about the NDP's position a couple of weeks ago:

Today, the Liberals are presenting a motion to end Canada's involvement in Afghanistan by February 2009 - the end date of the current two year mission which started last month (and was narrowly authorized 149-145 last May with the support of thirty Liberal MPs). The motion was put forward by Liberal defence critic, Denis Coderre. He is stating that he will not compromise on the matter, such as having the mission moved to a less tumultuous region of Afghanistan or reassigned as "peacekeeping." But the motion actually says nothing about withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, but rather withdrawal from southern Afghanistan - it's in fact the proposal of Gerard Kennedy - "let's withdraw to Kabul!" The motion is in fact a step backwards from the vote last May where the Liberals were actually split on whether to continue the mission past February 2007. Now they are supporting it up until 2009.

The NDP has decided it will caucus before this motion. Why? Will they suddenly oppose the motion with a "troops out now" stance. It would be unlikely for them to do so after months of back-tracking towards a "change the mission" position like Kennedy.

Ideally, the NDP should call for immediate withdrawal. But the point is, they've been beaten to the punch by the Liberals, trying to win points off the recent deaths in Afghanistan, and using the media's complete incompetence to get the pro-war motion spun as an anti-war motion - just check out the headline from this Globe & Mail article. In the past six months, the Liberals have seemingly positioned themselves on the left of the NDP on the two main issues of the day: the environment and the war. Once again, the NDP leadership have been caught with their pants down in the cookie jar (yes, it's that bad). It seems the only party in Canada not doing anything is the NDP. And now they've allowed the Liberals this opening and an attempt to reframe the question of withdrawal.

So, we had a motion for withdrawal that was not a motion for withdrawal. We consequently had a vote that misleadingly placed the Liberals in the 'antiwar' camp. At the same time the NDP has tried to recoup some of the initiative and momentum that it has lost by inflicting a defeat on a pro-occupation motion that is nevertheless interpreted as a mandate for the continued occupation.