Commons starts debate on Iraq mission as NDP seeking to end fight altogether

NDP puts forward amendments calling for the Canadian Forces to stop taking part in airstrikes and training as soon as possible

OTTAWA – The NDP is proposing amendments to the federal government’s motion to expand its mission in the Middle East that would end most of Canada’s military role as soon as possible.

MPs began Thursday to debate the Conservative proposal to extend the current mission in Iraq for as long as another year and expand it to include airstrikes in Syria.

Canada has a responsibility to confront the threat posed by the militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, Foreign Affairs Minister Rob Nicholson said as he led off debate.

“ISIL’s campaign threatens Canadian citizens, it threatens the very foundation upon which our society is based,” Nicholson said.

“It does so through fear, oppression and tyranny. It does so through a culture of violence, ruling by brutal and barbaric intimidation. Although the threat of terrorism continues to evolve, our reaction to this threat persists as the greatest test for this generation.”

But the Opposition New Democrats say Canada can be involved in that fight in ways that don’t involve dropping bombs or training foreign fighters.

Their amendments call for the Canadian Forces to stop taking part in airstrikes and training as soon as possible.

“We would take our soldiers out of the theatre,” said NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar.

Instead, the NDP would humanitarian aid in areas where there would be immediate impact, increase support for refugees, offer help for political stabilization and maintain efforts to stop foreign fighters from joining ISIL’s ranks.

“We can save lives, we can build peace to help the people in Iraq,” Dewar said.

The amendments don’t rule out a role for the military altogether, proposing military support for the transportation of weapons to help the fight against ISIL.

They also call for the government to regularly report back on the cost of the military and humanitarian contributions.

To date, the military mission has been reported to have cost $122 million. The Conservatives have spent more than $100 million on assistance to Iraq, and since 2011, more than $700 million has been spent in Syria, though much of it relates to the five years of civil war that have decimated the country.

The government has thus far not announced any further humanitarian support to directly in connection with the expansion of the mission, but more aid packages aren’t being ruled out, Nicholson said.

“Our government intends to provide large-scale humanitarian and stabilization assistance to help alleviate the suffering this terror group is inflicting,” he said.

“But in order for this assistance to be effective we must degrade ISIL.”

The debate was set to continue throughout the day Thursday and resume on Monday, with a vote expected Monday night.

The government does not need the consent of Parliament to expand the mission, but the Conservatives have made it a custom to seek support in the case of deployments.

Neither the Liberals nor the NDP intend to support the motion, although it’s expected to pass nonetheless, given that the Conservatives hold the majority of the seats in the Commons.

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