Not any more

Will Britain beat Canada out of Afghanistan? – The Globe and Mail

In Canada on September 6, 2010 at 14:35

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg speak to British troops on August 31, 2010 in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

Monday, September 6, 2010 12:28 PM

Will Britain beat Canada out of Afghanistan?

Norman Spector

In the UK, where MPs appear to be on vacation—oops, “at work in their constituencies”—a tad less than in our country, the Mother of Parliaments is back in session today. After having risen for its annual summer recess on July 27th (of 2010, to be clear).

That’s just one difference in our two systems–notwithstanding the 1867 provision declaring our constitution to be similar in principle to theirs. A minor one, to be sure–compared to Pierre Trudeau’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which significantly expanded the role of the judiciary at the expense of Parliament. And certainly a minor difference relative to the Harper government’s decision to give MPs a vote on the deployment of troops to Afghanistan, at the expense of Crown prerogative.

When they reconvene this week, British MPs will debate whether to hold a referendum to ditch our shared “first-past-the-post” voting system and reduce the number of MPs from 650 to 600 (a number that is not constrained by their constitution). Remarkably, they will also get their first opportunity to vote on the Afghanistan war–after nine years during which 332 British troops have died and 1,500 have been wounded in action.

The debate comes on the heels of a new book by the former head of the Army serialized in the Sunday Telegraph yesterday. In “Leading from the Front,” General Sir Richard Dannatt calls Gordon Brown a “malign” influence for not having funded the Labour government’s military commitments. And he writes that Tony Blair lacked the “moral courage” to confront his former Chancellor on the issue. Ouch.

The motion that British MPs will debate toward the end of the week reads: “That this House supports the continued deployment of UK armed forces in Afghanistan.” In contrast, the motion approved by Canadian MPs read: “it is the opinion of this House that Canada should continue a military presence in Kandahar beyond February 2009, to July 2011…”

A couple of weeks ago, the Globe and Mail—which, in its editorials if not on its news pages, has consistently supported Canadian participation in the Afghanistan war–opined:

“The 2008 parliamentary motion…states, ‘Canada will end its presence in Kandahar as of July, 2011.’ But it does not mandate an end to Canada’s military commitment.” True enough. However, in the absence of another House of Commons vote, there will be no parliamentary authorization for Canadian troops being in Afghanistan beyond next year.

Allied pressures on the Conservative government to stay the course—notwithstanding public opinion–will increase in the lead-up to November’s Nato meeting; those pressures will be amplified by the official opposition–and by Harper-haters of various stripes, including in the media–who’ve never shown any strong commitment to Afghanistan but are always alive to political opportunity. With the war in that country going poorly and the Dutch also headed to the exits–and with a manifestly-ambivalent President Obama having committed to some sort of draw-down of US troops in 2011–don’t be surprised if MPs at Westminster quickly turn their attention this week to the withdrawal schedule for British troops, now slated to take place “by 2015 at the latest.”

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