OTTAWA - Prime Minister Stephen Harper has not yet made the case for Canada to go to war in Iraq, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair says.
With Harper poised to soon announce Canada’s next military move in Iraq to battle Islamic State extremists — likely the deployment of fighter jets to join coalition air strikes — Mulcair said Canadians remain in the dark about the reasons for the escalating involvement.
“The Conservative government has yet to make the case for any sort of mission in Iraq, including a combat mission,” Mulcair said Wednesday after a morning meeting of the NDP caucus.
“They haven’t in any way, shape or form been able to show to the Canadian people why that is Canada’s best contribution in the current crisis,” he said.
He said there’s no question that Canadians who see the horrors of the Islamic State violence playing out on the news want the government to react.
“The question is what is the best way for Canada to react,” Mulcair said.
“We’ve got to be extremely careful before we start listening to the siren song of those who would propel us full force into a war,” he said.
He said the recent visit to Iraq by NDP MP Paul Dewar, who accompanied Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird to the region, highlighted the pressing humanitarian needs on the ground.
“We’re on the eve of a very tough Iraqi winter where hundreds of thousands of people are going to need help,” Mulcair said.
Unlike past military deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya — when the NDP leader was privately briefed on developments — Mulcair said he has yet to hear from the prime minister on plans for next steps in Iraq.
Harper and cabinet members were briefed on the options Tuesday morning and the prime minister said a decision was expected within days.
If the government elects to engage in combat operations in Iraq, Harper has said it would be subject to debate and a vote in Parliament. However, with the Conservatives holding the majority of seats, any vote would be certain to pass.
A small group of Canadian special forces soldiers is in northern Iraq on a non-combat mission providing advice to local fighters.
The Conservative government, under repeated questioning in the House of Commons, revealed last month that up to 69 commandos were slated to deploy.
However, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has apparently confirmed in a recent email to the NDP that only 26 of the highly trained troops are deployed in and around Irbil, in northern Iraq.
- With a file from The Canadian Press