OTTAWA — Conservatives used their first full opposition day in the House of Commons to turn up the heat on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s to withdraw CF-18 jet fighters from the bombing campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.
The sometimes acrimonious debate on Thursday hit a sore spot for the Liberals, who’ve faced growing criticism that the planned refocusing of the military mission amounts to cutting and running in the fight against extremists.
In lieu of bombing, the Liberals have promised a more robust training mission, but have yet to articulate what that would look like.
That has left the door wide open for the Conservatives to frame the impending changes as a retreat and to bring forward a motion calling on the government to keep the war planes in place.
It is a crafty bit of political theatre since a Liberal majority prevents the motion from going anywhere.
At one point in the debate, Conservative MP Kellie Leitch said the Liberal policy is making the Canadian military look like “cowards” on the international stage.
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan told the Commons the government’s new approach — being crafted in consultation with allies — will be a “meaningful contribution” that takes in not only the military but other elements including de-radicalization of those who would join ISIL.
James Bezan, the Conservative defence critic, said the country’s allies have been asking for more military involvement, not less, and he went on to accuse the Liberals of demeaning the contribution the CF-18s have made so far.
Going into last week’s NATO meeting, Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion said Canada was responsible for just 2.4 per cent of the air strikes and the country could make a more “meaningful contribution.”