OTTAWA - It’s up to the prime minister to make a compelling case for going to war in Iraq, says Justin Trudeau — and so far Stephen Harper has not made that case sufficiently to win the Liberal leader’s support.
“Mr. Harper has made no effort to build a non-partisan case for war,” Trudeau said in a speech on Thursday morning to a progressive-politics conference in Ottawa called Canada2020.
“Instead he dares us to oppose his war, staking out not moral territory but political territory.”
Trudeau bluntly said he hadn’t decided yet whether Liberals will support Harper when he makes the case on Friday in Parliament for stepping up Canada’s role in fighting the Islamic State, also known as ISIL. He says that so far, Harper hasn’t given anyone enough information to say yes or no.
However, Trudeau took heat for an apparently off-colour reference to the pending deployment of Canadian fighter jets to the region.
“Why aren't we talking more about the kind of humanitarian aid that Canada can and must be engaged in, rather than trying to whip out our CF-18s and show them how big they are?” Trudeau said in a question-and-answer session.
Defence Minister Rob Nicholson took to Twitter to condemn the comment, calling it “poor judgment” and “disrespectful words” regarding the work of Canadian soldiers.
Employment Minister Jason Kenney also voiced his displeasure.
“Remarkable that Justin Trudeau uses juvenile humour (‘whip it out’) to describe use of force in combatting genocide,” he said on Twitter.
Earlier, Trudeau told reporters that Harper needs to know that “onus is on him to get the support of Canadians” for an Iraq mission.
“The fact that Mr. Harper seems intent on going it alone should worry all Canadians because it certainly worries us,” Trudeau said.
“I am dismayed to see that he seems somewhat indifferent to whether or not he has opposition support when contemplating a combat mission,” Trudeau said in the scrum after the speech.
“This is exactly the kind of thing that should be beyond partisanship. We should be able to have an informed and robust debate across the aisles about how best Canada can help.”
Trudeau reminded his audience that the U.S. military “debacle” in Iraq was built on “false pretenses and flawed intelligence” and he worries the world is headed down a similar path.
“Let us never forget how that mission was sold to the public: with overheated, moralistic rhetoric that obscured very real flaws in the strategy and the plan to implement it,” Trudeau said.
“I thought about this the other day in Parliament when Mr. Harper called the current military campaign a ‘noble’ effort. Back in 2003, he called U.S. President George W. Bush’s Iraq war a matter of ‘freedom, democracy and civilization itself.’”
Trudeau said no one doubts the need for urgent action to confront Islamic State.
“You know as well as I do that ISIL’s acts are horrific. They are designed to be. ISIL murders ethnic and religious minorities across Iraq.
“They murder innocent civilians, humanitarian workers and journalists. These awful acts have been fully documented — often by the perpetrators themselves.
“This humanitarian crisis and security threat needs to be dealt with.
“But when we ask ourselves what Canada should do about it, a lot of tough questions arise,” Trudeau said.
Because Harper has not provided details of his plan to shift Canada's activities in the region from a noncombat role to a combat role, Canadians are in the dark about what kind of military operations Ottawa has offered to provide as part of the United States' coalition against ISIL, Trudeau said.
As well, there is no information on how long the Canadian mission would last or how helpful Canada's CF-18 fighter aircraft would be in the anti-ISIL mission if they are deployed, he commented.
“Canadians expect the highest standard of openness and honesty from a leader who wants to send our forces to war,” Trudeau said. “Prime Minister Harper has so far failed to meet that standard.”
Trudeau stressed Canada's noncombat capabilities, saying there are roles that this country can play in the fight against ISIL as well or better than any other nation. These would be in strategic airlift support, training or medical support, he said.
“We have the capabilities to meaningfully assist in a noncombat role to a well-defined international mission,” the Liberal leader said.
As well, he said Canada should “answer the call from our allies to provide more help to a well-funded and well-planned humanitarian aid effort” in Iraq. Canada could also help with political reform in an effort to stabilize the Iraqi political and security situation, he said. “Canada has that expertise.”
“Canada should be a true leader,” he said, suggesting that Harper talks like Canada is a global leader “when in reality it merely follows along in global affairs.” Canada should be a leader “that has earned its place at the front of the pack based on the role we play internationally and on our commitment to uphold human rights and security — a Canada that stays true to its founding values and will be an example to the world,” Trudeau remarked.
He outlined the principles Liberals will observe in the debate about Canada's role against ISIL.
“One: That Canada does have a role to play to confront humanitarian crises and security threats in the world.
“Two: That when a government considers deploying our men and women in uniform, there must be a clear mission overall and a clear role for Canada within that mission.
“Three: That the case for deploying our forces must be made openly and transparently, based on clear and reliable, dispassionately presented facts.
“And four: That Canada’s role must reflect the broad scope of Canadian capabilities. And how best we can help.”