Tories signal willingness to work with opposition on release of Afghan documents

Stephen Harper sent mixed signals Wednesday about his willingness to compromise on the release of uncensored Afghan detainee documents.

OTTAWA — Stephen Harper sent mixed signals Wednesday about his willingness to compromise on the release of uncensored Afghan detainee documents.

In one breath, the prime minister said the government “looks forward to complying” with a historic ruling by the Speaker of the House of Commons that parliamentarians have an absolute right to see all the documents.

And Harper said he’ll consider any “reasonable suggestion” to give MPs access to the documents while protecting national security.

But in the next breath, Harper suggested the government’s ability to compromise is limited by its legal obligations to protect national security, the lives of Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan and Canada’s international relations. And he hinted he’s prepared to force an election over the matter if opposition parties push for full disclosure.

Yet shortly after that, a Harper spokesman announced preliminary negotiations with the opposition parties will begin Thursday, led by Justice Minister Rob Nicholson and Tory House Leader Jay Hill.

Dimitri Soudas said the move demonstrates the government’s “spirit of openness” toward finding a compromise.

The conflicting signals left opposition leaders wondering whether they’ll be able to find a resolution to the matter within the deadline set by Speaker Peter Milliken in his ruling.

“If the prime minister’s going to throw threats around, I don’t think that’s a good way to get started,” said NDP Leader Jack Layton.

If the parties can’t resolve the matter among themselves in two weeks, that would set the stage for opposition parties to move a contempt-of-Parliament motion against the government, which could trigger a court challenge or an election.

Opposition leaders met among themselves Wednesday to discuss their options but they said they have not, so far, agreed to form a common front in dealing with the government.