Monday, November 15, 2010

Interesting week in Ottawa coming

A tweet from Bob Rae last night might set the tone for the week: "Unless I'm very wrong, this will be an interesting week in Ottawa...". Hmmm, so long malaise I guess! The Afghanistan extension, or new mission, or change to the combat mission, or whatever you want to call it, looks to be taking center stage this week. Although it might be a bit of a letdown.

Both CBC and the Star are reporting that few details are to come this week on the mission: "...any plans will be finalized first at a NATO meeting in Lisbon this week before being announced back home." There is a plan and it is being rolled out at the NATO summit that starts on Friday. So, Harper returns from the unsuccessful G20 and APEC for a short stint in Parliament and then he's off to NATO at the end of the week, probably Thursday. A short week of Monday to Wednesday in the House of Commons for the PM?

Has this NATO deal been worked out already? Has Harper pre-committed to NATO as Fred Hiatt suggests?
"...the major players have bought in: Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who has pushed for the benchmark; the NATO alliance, which is likely to commit to it at a meeting later this week..."
If that is the case, the new Canadian role should have been shared with the Canadian people in a time frame that would have been sufficient for consent (or opposition) to be gained. This is ground that should have been prepared over the last few months. So talk of a last minute vote in the House of Commons this week seems to be a bit of a charade. There would be no integrity to such a vote. We don't know the details of what's in play here as we sit on Monday morning. The implications of a new mission, what's to be done, the numbers involved, the risks, the dollars. None of it, as marginal and downplayed as it is, by the government. You'd have to take their word on it too, little time for committee meetings, any examinations to get organized. It's a joke. So, frankly, any talk of a vote on the eve of the NATO meeting on Friday is opportunistic. Think about it. Would you vote to commit the nation to a new mission when as of today, you know nothing? Then with limited details dumped on you? Very solid basis to abstain on such a vote, on principle. That's not how functional organizations run.

Then, after the NATO meeting occurs, are we under any illusion that it won't be a done deal at that point? Hard to imagine Harper's going off to NATO, saying he doesn't need a vote, then coming home to have one.

Why has this Afghanistan discussion waited until this week? Seems to be just more of what Harper does lately. Remember the reporting that Harper decided in December of 2009 that the long-form census would be scrapped yet waited until G20 weekend in Toronto to let word of the change dribble out, with time really too short to allow anything to be done about it. Could be the same thing here. It's understandable, on another level, why Harper might not have wanted to bring this issue forward, in any respect, for a vote or otherwise. So he can play up that uncertainty of a vote in the House of Commons with NATO as a negotiating tactic. It doesn't excuse the lack of debate here, just saying it could be a reason. Again, his choice to bear.

It would be nice, however, to see attention placed where it is deserved this week. The focus really needs to be on the government and on getting what answers and information can be obtained this week, short as it will be. For example, what is the assurance that training roles will not be assumed already by NATO allies by the time we finish our combat mission in July of 2011? (More.) What is the basis of the assurance that this training role will be "behind the wire" in Kabul? How can the government possibly - and credibly - make that promise when we're hearing otherwise, that the training needs will be throughout the country?

We'll probably hear a lot about the Afghanistan situation this week, the pursuit of answers, much brouhaha. Although it all may be too late. If it is, that should be Mr. Harper's lot.