Opposition warns PM over Iraq 'flip-flop'
Martin 'is going to pay a severe political price,' Harper says
OTTAWA BUREAU - Toronto Star (Feb 6, 2005)
OTTAWA—Parliament's opposition parties served warning to Prime Minister Paul Martin that any decision to send Canadian troops to Iraq could have profound — and dire — consequences for his minority government.
The Toronto Star reported yesterday that Ottawa is expecting U.S. officials to request a troop commitment in aid of post-war reconstruction when Martin attends a NATO summit in Belgium on Feb. 22. The troops would train Iraqi soldiers.
No decision has yet been made, but Martin is said to be giving the idea serious consideration.
Conservative Leader Stephen Harper, who has previously stated Canada should stand with its closest allies in the Iraq conflict, lashed out at the Liberal government and said the decision would come at a heavy price. "I sat through an election campaign where the Prime Minister accused me of having secret plans to send troops to Iraq. If it turns out he has secret plans, this has to be one of the biggest election deceptions in history," Harper told reporters.
He added "if the Prime Minister is planning this kind of a flip-flop, he is going to pay a severe political price for it in Parliament."
NDP Leader Jack Layton said Canadians will never support sending troops to Iraq and that it should be up to the United States "to do what's required following their military action."
"This was an invasion Canadians opposed, and to go in at this point, aside from being very dangerous for our troops, would be a reversal of the position Canada has had. We would lose some of the stature as an independent voice for peace globally," he said.
A spokesperson for Martin said the government hasn't received any requests for troops, but acknowledged "we expect the reconstruction, democratic development and future of Iraq to be among the issues discussed at NATO," Scott Reid said.
"Canada was asked by the Bush government to send troops into Iraq nearly two years ago and we declined. That remains the government of Canada's position," said Reid, Martin's director of communications.
The Bloc Québécois provided no public reaction, but officials were privately skeptical of the idea, which they said would scupper the Liberals' chances to gain ground in Quebec.
And because a commitment to sending soldiers to the NATO training contingent in Iraq would coincide with the federal budget, the pressure could continue to build on the minority government.
Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe has said publicly his party would vote to topple the government if the Feb. 23 budget does not address his party's priorities.
Layton noted that Martin pledged during the negotiations over last fall's throne speech to seek approval from the House of Commons before committing troops abroad. "Let's hope that we're not seeing another violation of another promise by the Prime Minister on the democratic deficit," he said, adding Martin campaigned on a promise not to send troops to Iraq.
If Canada heeds the request, an estimated 40 soldiers could be sent to join the contingent of 300 NATO troops presently helping to train the Iraqi military. Canada sent 20 police officers to Jordan last year as part of a two-year commitment to train more than 30,000 Iraqi police.
The U.S. currently has 150,000 troops in the region, and hopes to scale that back to 135,000 in the coming weeks.
At least 1,447 American soldiers have died in Iraq since the war began in March 2003. Thousands of Iraqis have also been killed with soldiers and police being prime targets of insurgents.