OTTAWA - As this country moves deeper into a protracted war that could last years, Canadians deserve clarity.
What they are getting from their prime minister is a game of peek-a-boo.
Stephen Harper has become the international man of mystery, his latest contribution to the global effort against the Islamic State stuffed in an envelope tucked in his suit jacket, a plan known so far only to Harper and U.S. President Barack Obama.
Meanwhile, his defence minister tells opposition MPs that if they want to debate this unknown plan, they have opposition days to talk themselves out, but this mission doesn’t merit a parliamentary vote because it is not a “combat” mission.
And, Rob Nicholson told the Commons Thursday, if they wanted more details, perhaps MPs could huddle around their televisions to watch Harper’s United Nations speech.
The Pentagon has also contradicted Harper’s publicly stated version of events, telling the Toronto Star’s Bruce Campion-Smith that Washington was responding to an offer of greater help from the prime minister.
In most mature democracies, there is a demand for accountability and transparency, but this government is sprinting in the opposite direction.
Friday, the prime minister returns to the capital with a new plan for war that remains secret, as he again re-announces and celebrates a trade deal with the European Union with a text that remains secret.
If Harper has a plan for our involvement in Iraq, it should be a simple task to stand in the House of Commons and explain it to Canadians.
If, as would be understandable, this is a fluid plan dependent on events that can’t be foreseen, he should still stand and sketch out the goals and the parameters of this country’s involvement.
Instead, here’s a recap of how this government’s dance of the seven veils has unfolded this month:
On Sept. 5, at a NATO summit in Wales, Harper told us we were sending “several dozen” military advisers to Iraq. Their role was unclear, but they were not to be involved in combat.
The government offered MPs a committee hearing to explain our role. They did attend the meeting Sept. 9, but they did not provide any details other than Nicholson saying the Canadians would be deployed in the coming days.
Days later, in a rare moment of candour in the Commons, Harper told the country the actual number of Canadians in Iraq was 69.
We were told that because they were not combat troops, there was no need for a parliamentary debate and vote.
We were asked to believe the fiction that they were to be there for 30 days and then the mission would be “reassessed.”
When Opposition leader Tom Mulcair asked the government for some clarity on that timeline, he received a torrent of gibberish about his party’s policy on Israel from Harper’s parliamentary secretary Paul Calandra.
Then we learned from Harper in New York, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, that Obama had requested a greater Canadian contribution, but Harper wouldn’t tell us what that might be because the letter he told the world about was private and he would have to discuss it with cabinet, maybe Parliament. Maybe not.
But we’re not going into a combat role. At least not now.
However, Harper added, we have the second-largest force on the ground in Iraq after the United States. But most of the work against the Islamic State can be done by air, he said, although he hasn’t ruled out anything when it comes to a Canadian contribution.
Without details, Mulcair’s New Democrats have rightly opposed the mission.
“We’re willing to listen to what he’s got to say, but he’s got to start being more honest with Canadians,’’ Mulcair said.
He argues that without more information on the Canadian role, even the definition of “combat” can be open to debate.
By comparison, in London, British MPs were gearing for seven hours of debate and were given some clarity.
The David Cameron government said air strikes in Iraq could last two to three years and specifically excludes air strikes in Syria without another Commons vote, according to The Guardian.
In Ottawa, there are no answers in Parliament, only obfuscation and irrelevance.
The shreds of information shared by the prime minister have been largely shared outside the country, not just outside Parliament.
But this is, sadly, not news.
We’ve been down this contempt of Parliament road before and Canadians reacted with a shrug.
When the Liberals chose to campaign on that issue in 2011, the Conservatives were returned with a majority.