02.16.2016 01:00 AM

In this week’s Hill Times: the first casualty of war

Not that it’s anyone’s business, but I voted Liberal in the last election.

The Liberal candidate in our riding, Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, made it easy. Serious, impressive young guy, great C.V. Had a big red sign on our front lawn touting him, the minute the writ was dropped. Easy choice.

Standing in the voting booth at a local school on Election Day, a stub of pencil hovering over a slip of paper, however, I hesitated a bit. I thought back over the preceding months.

Justin Trudeau’s verbal flubs, which his own staff had admitted to me were a problem. The preoccupation with marijuana to the seeming exclusion of anything else. Letting imported terrorists keep acquired Canadian citizenship, even after they were convicted of killing someone. The selfies. Eve Adams. Not-so-open nominations. And so on. There had been not a few things to make one think twice, perhaps, about voting Liberal.

But the big one, for me, was the promise to pull out of the coalition fighting ISIS. That one, for me – along with several million other Canadians, for quite a while – had me wondering how to vote. When veteran Liberal MP Irwin Cotler abstained on his party’s ISIS position in the House of Commons, I knew: Trudeau had made a big, big mistake. The polls reflected it.

The Vatican had called ISIS the authors of genocide. The United Nations had provided proof they were engaged in genocide. ISIS had revealed itself to be a well-funded, well-organized genocidal cult – a malignant force unlike any that we had seen in our lifetimes. They were not going away, either. Beheadings, crucifixions, mass rapes, enslavements, torture, and – don’t forget – the actual murder of actual Canadian citizens. ISIS was doing all of those things, sometimes on YouTube, so everyone could see it. There was proof. It was real.

Equally real, equally true, was this: the Liberal Party of Canada sent Canadian forces into battle to fight fascism in World War II. To stop genocide, in Bosnia. To contain terror, in Afghanistan. It was Liberal governments who made those difficult decisions.

Liberals rightly opposed the war in Iraq in 2003 because that American-led effort lacked evidence of weapons of mass destruction. It lacked United Nations support. In 2015, however, the United Nations had clearly documented horrors carried out by ISIS – including the murder and enslavement of children. How – I and many others wondered – how could Justin Trudeau be unmoved by all that?

Well, he wasn’t.

For quite some time, I had agreed with Trudeau on one important criticism: Stephen Harper’s contribution to the war against ISIS was a bit of a farce. Six fighter jets? That is all? Harper’s soaring anti-ISIS rhetoric did not even remotely match what he was doing on the ground in Iraq and Syria. He was not doing nearly enough.

Trudeau initially gave us all the impression that he felt Harper was doing too much, true. But it turns out it was a head fake. When it came time for the newly-minted Liberal Prime Minister to make a decision of his own, at or about the 100-day mark of his administration, here is what he decided: he didn’t pull Canada out. He actually committed us to an even greater role in the just and proper fight against ISIS. More, not less.

He is tripling – tripling – the number of Canadian special forces, on the ground, training Kurdish forces. He is sending Canadian troops into nations other than Iraq. He is spending millions more on counter-terrorism measures. It was a change that was “riskier overall,” said Canada’s Chief of Defence staff. And, from our Minister of Defence: “There’s no mistake about it, we are in a conflict zone.”

The reaction of our allies? Barack Obama, David Cameron and the Pentagon all rushed to applaud it. The White House even issued a statement: “The President welcomed Canada’s current and new contributions to Coalition efforts and highlighted Canada’s leadership in the Coalition.”

Sound like Trudeau is cutting and running to you? Me, neither. If anything, he’s more fully committed to the fight against the enemy than Harper was.

Moral of the story? There may have indeed been reasons not to vote Liberal in 2015.

But Justin Trudeau’s apparent reluctance to take the fight to ISIS was not one of them.



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    ian turnbull says:

    Have to say I agree. Not that I haven’t agree with you in the past. Just that to date, I have rarely agreed with what Justin is doing. Increasing our commitment is the right thing to do and he did it. Harper was all talk and little walk with regards to ISIS. Justin seems to be doing the opposite. That can be just as harmful in the long run. One day these politicians will realize that they should stop treating voters as idiots and just be up front and truthful with us. The impact of not doing that is showing pretty clearly right now in the US. The result of 8 years of Hope (without the promised Change) is an electorate so pissed off with the establishment that they are willing to throw Trump and Sanders back at it. To me you can draw a direct line from Obama to Trump/Sanders.

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    the salamander horde says:

    .. Nathaniel is one of the new Millenials.. and suspect he’ll do just fine. A local Beacher.. not a parachute political animal.. great to have seen this kid growing up.. look at him now !

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    Michael Clifton says:

    Was it a “head fake”? If it was, it should be called by its true name: a lie. A whole load of pacifist-minded people chose to vote for him because they believed he would reduce or eliminate Canada’s participation. He knew that. If he was doing a head fake, he was doing it for the sole purpose of tricking those people into voting for him. Call it by its true name.

    And if it wasn’t a lie, it also wasn’t a head fake. If that is the case, then, like so many other things appear to be, it is a Johnny-come-lately realization that the right thing to do is something other than what he had promised during the election, which realization is most likely attributable to two things: better advisers, and more information about popular sentiment. Mr. Trudeau has shown himself to be easily movable by those two things: popularity and a trusted adviser. When the two work in concert for something that is right, he makes far less foolish decisions.

    I don’t disagree that the shift in the kind and degree of our participation is likely a good thing. I do not agree that Mr. Trudeau, personally, deserves the lion’s share of the credit for it.

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      Warren says:

      Campaign from left, govern from right. That’s what he’s clearly doing. It works, or has.

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        nobonus4nonis says:

        food bank homeless shelter

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        Peter says:

        That’s worth a separate post—how there is often a real disconnect in the Canadian political culture between words and deeds. Canadians may have voted for a change in October (actually about 8% did), but I suspect many of them wanted more a change in rhetoric and tone rather than actual actions. The PM is enjoying a lengthy honeymoon but there doesn’t seem to be major shifts in policy yet. Harper’s policies weren’t really all that radical or unpopular outside the HDS crowd, but the rhetoric came to grate like fingernails on a chalkboard and put a lot of people off, including me. We’ll see.

        About twenty-five years ago I did a guest stint at External Affairs for a few years and I remember being told that the key to a successful Canadian foreign policy was to talk like a European and act like an American. This kind of stuff drives Dippers crazy.

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    Jean A Paterson says:

    Agree with WK here. Also I am relieved that our Defence Minister appears to be willing and able to consult widely with the military commanders in Canada and its allies. The PM appears willing to listen.

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    Greyapple says:

    I largely agree with the new policy, but I’ve still yet to hear a coherent reason to take our jets out of the fight, especially since we’re getting more deeply involved on the ground.

    What really irks me though, is how the government and some of its supporters are framing this as a return to the golden age of Canadian peacekeeping, or as being substantially different from what the “evil Harper Cons” were doing. It’s neither. This is a combat mission, plain and simple, an expanded one at that. Nor is it in anyway morally superior to the Harper plan. Refueling or directing planes doing the bombing is not that far removed ethically from pulling the trigger ourselves.

    Jets or no, we are now deeper into the Iraq-Syria quagmire because of Trudeau, and those who cried warmonger at Harper should be livid. If they’re not, than it says to me those cries were mostly partisan hot air.

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      Cory says:

      Agreed. It doesn’t make sense to disagree with the bombing while agreeing to refill the jets and have our ground forces mark the bombing targets…

      Unless its really about the costs and its less expensive to send in ground troops than keep the planes in the air. I’m not aware of the costs though, just speculation.

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        The Doctor says:

        It’s optics, and nothing but optics. Selfie Boy is good at that sort of stuff.

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          Ted H says:

          He is better at optics than Harper was, that is why he won the election and if politics is just a game then he is better at playing the game than the Conservatives.

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    Mitchell Jean says:

    The problem with this point of view is why not do all that was announced and leave the F-18s deployed as well? There is no reason. You can call the Liberal approach many things but “taking the fight to ISIS” is not one of them.

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    Aongasha says:

    Put lipstick on the pig as you will – no cogent reason has been given why we couldn’t do both if this was the master plan, which I highly doubt. More like spouting policy via off the cuff remarks and then having to live with it. Whatever. No diplomats or other leaders are going to publicly criticize an allied leader and you know that. The planes were doing a good job, according to all reports and should have stayed. This has put more of our military in danger and what ever the consequences this has now become Trudeau’s war. And all the lipstick in the world won’t hide that fact.

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    Vancouverois says:

    “There may have indeed been reasons not to vote Liberal in 2015.

    “But Justin Trudeau’s apparent reluctance to take the fight to ISIS was not one of them.”

    On the contrary, it was an absolutely valid reason not to vote Liberal. The fact that he was lying about it (oh, sorry – that he later changed his mind) doesn’t change what he was publicly advocating. That in itself is damaging to the cause. It made withdrawal seem like a valid option, where a true leader would have made it clear that ISIS must be fought.

    It’s also damaging to the political process in general. Trudeau’s duplicity here isn’t praiseworthy. It only demonstrates that his word is worth nothing: he’ll say whatever he thinks will get the most votes and worry about it later, instead of coming up with a thoughtful policy to begin with and openly standing up for what’s right.

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    patrick says:

    Troops on the ground will be far more effective than bombing everything and inspiring followers who have nothing to lose, delusions of grandeur and a dead family. Troops will at least be a visible attempt to contain and protect the locals and this puts a good face on the west and fights the propaganda of ISIS. Still it’s a battle against a tactic and that’s always going to be long term difficult and costly.

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    Ridiculosity says:

    Erskine-Smith not only has an impressive C.V. He’s also whip smart and a man of great integrity.

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    Sean says:

    Head Fake…. please. Incompetence.

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    Jack D says:

    I’m a big proponent of training the Kurdish forces. They’re the only ones in the region that are doing the heavy lifting without being on a religious fanatic rage. They are fighting a war on several fronts; Turkish on one side, Syrian army on another and ISIS at their door-steps. They have displayed great aptitude and resiliency but severely lack the fire-arm support to continue on. If we supply them with weapons and the training, we could possibly finally have a true ally in the region with the credibility needed to sustain themselves long term.

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    davie says:

    Liberals likely did not get a landslide because of their platform. the y got a landslide because large numbers of voters saw them as the better choice to get rid of the Conservatives.

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      davie says:

      A quibble:
      I think Canadians who wanted to fight fascism did so in 1937 when they went to Spain.
      Liberals leaders showed their attitudes toward fascism with their open admiration for what was happening in Italy and Germany through the 1930’s. The Liberal leadership were not upset by the darker sides of fascism when it came to the refugees on the good ship St Louis in 1939.
      The Liberals sent our military to war against Germany in 1939 because, as in 1914, we were part of the empire. We declared war on behalf of king an empire, going along with England/Britain’s over 200 year old policy of intervening on the continent to keep any one power for dominating. We demobilized and returned home leaving 2 fascist regimes to carry on in Europe another 3 decades.
      We did not go to war in 1939 to fight fascism.

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    Angela says:

    All these people congratulating Trudeau for pulling the jets out and sending in ground troops like as if that was his genius plan all along. It sure was not his plan all along but something he had to do in order to save his trust amongst the people of Canada and quite their cries. However genius the brain washed libtards think this is, well it’s not. All I hear is it’s “less costly” so I guess Canadian military lives are less costly then having the Cf-18’s there. Canadians lives indispensable. Any basic knowledge knows the Cf’s need to be there to cover the ground troops or else you’re sending them in for open slaughter but hey, I guess it is cheaper that way.

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      davie says:

      Somewhere in the first part of the 1960’s I remember reading an American ne’er-do-well writer’s piece in which he asks about his country’s increasing involvement in Vietnam: Hey, wait a minute: 15 000 ‘trainers?’
      That question likely has tainted my view of ‘trainers’ ever since.
      In Afghanistan we were training people. I wondered, These people have been fighting a Soviet occupation for a decade, followed by a civil war for a bit over a decade, and they still don’t know what they are doing on their own turf? It struck me as
      our time in Afghanistan continued that, while people we trained seemed to be having a tough time, the Taliban seemed to have no problem training its cadres.
      Now we are sending close to a battalion of trainers to train Kurds who have been fighting on their own turf, against well known enemies for a number of years. I guess it is a national security secret, but I do wonder what our
      military knows that the Kurds do not know.

      We might keep in real close touch with our NATO allies in Istanbul while we are training Kurds.

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      doconnor says:

      It was his plan all along.

      From June 24, 2015; http://www.cbc.ca/beta/news/politics/justin-trudeau-i-ll-end-isis-combat-mission-restore-relations-with-iran-1.3124949

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    lance mclean says:

    I remember many years ago as a young radio operator working in 1 brigades tactical air command post, I kind of remember that one of the main points of of having the tactical air capability was to support ground troops. HMM, Maybe Trudeau had those AWAC and refueling planes refitted with weapons to support our troops when the calls come in for air cover.

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    Ronald O'Dowd says:


    Training is bullshit. Hasn’t worked since 2003 in Afghanistan or Iraq. Won’t work this time either.

    And what the hell were the allies supposed to say whether they really like it or not. And special forces are special because specialized combat missions are their raison d’être.

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    Barbara says:

    When is Trudeau going to visit the troops in the field? Not the guys who fly his plane. Why didn’t he visit the troops during his Christmas break? What is he waiting for?

    I am waiting to see the day when he gets down and dirty and can eat the food in the mess tent while listening to some home truths.

    It’s called leadership.

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    Rick Joyce says:

    I watched the TVO program, the Agenda, last evenig. One of the participants was Martha Hall Finley. After hearing her speak, I wondered to myself, how did they choose Trudeau when there were candidates like her available.

    To suggest that JT has a thoughtful position on anything is giving him too much credit (based on his first 100 days). He is a serial panderer – until he shows us otherwise!

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    Tim Sullivan says:


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