Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird is leaving open the possibility of continuing Canadian military involvement in Libya after the scheduled Sept. 27 end date.
Canada's participation in NATO's air mission over Libya has been extended once, but the government hasn't yet said whether it will propose another extension. The NDP, the official Opposition, is against another extension.
Asked what happens after Sept. 27, Baird said he's taking the situation one day at a time.
"This is quickly coming to an end. It's not over yet. Canada will obviously be there in theatre to support the Libyan people," Baird told host Evan Solomon on CBC's Power & Politics.
"The end is in sight. We're not there yet, but let's take it one day at a time," he said.
Pressed again on whether the troops will return to Canada on Sept. 27, Baird reiterated "the job is not yet complete."
"I would think that once the people of Libya are safe, that'll be something that we’ll consider," he said.
"Canadian Forces, as long as our NATO allies are on this UN-sanctioned mission, are there to ensure that we continue to protect civilians."
Baird and Prime Minister Stephen Harper are among the world leaders heading to Paris Thursday to talk about how to stabilize Libya in the aftermath of a revolt that forced Moammar Gadhafi to leave power after 43 brutal years.
The Canadian government is consulting with Libya's National Transitional Council about what they need to rebuild the country following the end of Gadhafi’s regime, officials said Tuesday.
Baird downplayed the idea of giving the country any more aid, saying Libya already has a lot of money available.
"Obviously, they’ve got billions of dollars of their own money available. Where Canada can provide, I think, some really added value, is in support to transition to a democracy," he said.
Leaders meeting in Paris
In a briefing to reporters before the half-day Libya Contact Group meeting in Paris, Canadian officials said co-ordination is critical before offering specific assistance.
"Co-ordination is what led to the stage that we're at today in this mission and co-ordination is what will ensure that this transition occurs properly towards ultimately what the objective is, for the Libyan people to be able to democratically elect their government," said Dimitri Soudas, Harper's spokesman.
"The purpose of this meeting is to actually determine what is needed, how quickly it is needed, what the process, what the steps will be. Before you just start putting things into force and implementing them, you've actually gotta make sure everybody's rowing in the same direction, that the international community is actually moving the yardsticks forward instead of acting independently."
Canada could contribute expertise in areas like security, economic development, the justice system and democracy building, officials said.
Trying to unfreeze assets
One of the issues to be discussed in Paris is how to unfreeze the country's assets for the National Transitional Council. Libyan assets were frozen following a UN resolution so that Gadhafi's regime had less access to cash. Canada implemented further sanctions this summer.
There are an estimated $2 billion in frozen assets held in Canadian institutions, officials said at the briefing. They couldn't say whether the assets were held by companies or people listed in UN and Canadian sanctions, and couldn't say whether the bulk of the assets were in properties or cash.
Asked about what the Canadian Forces can do now that Gadhafi has fled the capital, Tripoli, Soudas said the government is looking at what the immediate, short- and long-term needs of the new governing authority will be. But the Sept. 27 planned end date for the military mission is too far away to speculate about what will be needed then, he said.
Canada has contributed personnel, planes and a ship to NATO's Libya air mission, intended to protect civilians from Libyan military attacks against them.
Violence against civilians continues, despite Gadhafi’s departure, an official noted.
U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Jacobson says the fact the Libyan people overthrew Gadhafi, albeit with support from a number of Western countries, bodes well for the country.
"Fundamentally, what happens in Libya is going to be up to the Libyan people," he told host Evan Solomon on CBC's Power & Politics.
"While there has been great support from NATO … fundamentally, this has been an effort of the Libyan people to liberate their own country."
Now that the anti-Gadhafi forces have control of the country, Canada and the other members of the Libya Contact Group are looking to help the NTC set up a democratic system.
Canada accredited an envoy from the NTC last week, chargé d’affaires Abubaker Karmos, to represent Libya in Canada. Karmos has had access to the former ambassador's residence, where there are boxes of files from the former embassy.
Canada’s embassy in Tripoli is closed because of the security situation in the capital, but officials say they will re-open it as soon as the country is stable enough.
Harper is stopping in Trapani, Italy, on the way to the meeting to visit Canadian Forces posted there for the mission over Libya.