Afghan war cost report: So, is that really a yes, Prime Minister?

At this point, regardless of whether it is eventually made public or not, this report has the potential to be a serious — even game-changing – election issue, particularly in Quebec, but also in Ontario, British Columbia — really, anywhere outside his party’s comfort zones.

From this morning’s news conference in Welland: 

Reporter: Sir, could you tell us if you are willing to give your consent for the release of this report on the cost of the Afghan mission – we have heard you say that this is a decision to be made by an independent officer, but are you willing to give your consent?

Stephen Harper: We are always willing to give consent for any information that is public. We put out detailed estimates every year of government expenditures so of course we are willing to give consent. The Afghan mission is expensive. There is no getting around that. Obviously we have — Afghanistan is canada’s largest recipient of a foreign aid and of our humanitarian and development programs. Largest in the world by far. It also has, as you know, a very expensive military mission. Some of those military costs, probably about half of them, would be incurred anyway, but we have had to make — anyway, we have had to make additional investments particularly in equipment because of the dangerous circumstances our troops have found themselves in. And there is no getting away the fact that this is expensive and obviously we will cooperate with the Public Budget Officer and I’m not aware of any refusal to provide information.

The Liberals aren’t as well-positioned to take advantage of the political impact of what is almost certain to be a staggering set of numbers, as they did sign on to the two-year extension, albeit via a “compromise” motion that included a couple of provisions – including one that would have required the government to provide considerably more infomation on the success of the mission – that may or may not have been met. The NDP and the Bloc Quebecois, however,  will be under no such constraint — and, as it happens, those are the two parties that the Conservatives are expecting to meet in hand-to-hand-to-hand combat in ridings outside Montreal. 

If he’s serious about supporting the other three party leaders, the PM might want to make his consent to the report’s release explicit – and add that he is willing to do so now, not, say, after the election. “I’m not aware of any refusal to provide information” not only is, but sounds like a semantic dodge. Otherwise, he runs the risk of once again looking like the Gang of One — only this time, it wouldn’t be just Elizabeth May and the Greens but the Canadian public that he wants kept out of the debate.

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