Prime Minister Stephen Harper says he is hoping for unanimous consent when Parliament is asked next month to approve a "reasonable" extension of Canada's military mission in Libya.
In an interview airing on CBC Radio’s The House on Saturday, Harper said there are encouraging signs of success in Libya, but added the reasons Canada intervened there in the first place haven't changed and warrant the military’s continued involvement.
Harper's remarks come just as NATO announced Saturday that its jets had attacked Moammar Gadhafi's compound in Tripoli, destroying guard towers on the perimeter of the Bab al-Aziziya complex. NATO officials say the compound also contains military barracks and headquarters and is the heart of Gadhafi's network of secret police and intelligence agencies.
Harper announced Friday at the G8 summit in Deauville, France that Parliament will be asked to agree to an extension after the new session opens June 2.
"The government is very committed to the mission and we can, I think, report to Parliament that it has both gone well so far and that its continuation is essential for the original reasons we embarked on it," the prime minister told CBC Radio’s Susan Lunn.
The House of Commons unanimously approved a three-month operation in mid-March, just ahead of the spring election that began March 26. Canada is helping to enforce a no-fly zone as part of a multinational operation. About 650 Canadian Forces members are involved.
"We had unanimity before, I don't know whether we can get that again. I'd obviously welcome that but I think we'll have a good debate. I think all of the reasons all parties agreed to go into Libya are still present," said Harper.
Parliament will be a very different place when MPs return to it next week to elect a Speaker of the House of Commons on June 2 and hear the speech from the throne the following day. Harper now leads a majority government with the NDP as the Official Opposition instead of the Liberals, and the Bloc Québécois, with only four seats, isn’t even an official party.
Harper told The House that Parliament would not be asked for an open-ended military commitment in Libya.
"The government is going to ask for a reasonable extension and to continue parliamentary monitoring of what we’re doing," he said.
The prime minister said sending more troops to Libya is not under consideration and that Canada’s military contribution is already "substantial."
"We think our military involvement is about what it should be but if we want to make any changes to that we’ll certainly be very transparent with Parliament on that," said Harper.
The prime minister also touched on other foreign policy issues during the interview, including relations with Russia and the security perimeter deal that's in the works with the United States.
Border deal a priority
Harper met with U.S. President Barack Obama while at the two-day G8 summit and he said the president continues to be a "champion" for the agreement the two leaders signed in February that aims to better co-ordinate border security measures.
Harper said the U.S. government has a lot on its plate, but that the Conservatives will push hard to make progress on the deal a priority.
"We have to really put our shoulder to the wheel to accomplish that," he said, adding that he’s optimistic the two governments will move forward quickly in the next few weeks to finish an "action plan."
Harper acknowledged that Canada is not as important to the U.S. economically as the U.S. is to Canada and that the imbalance is "a constant struggle" in Canada-U.S. relations.
He also bluntly said that Russia "is not in a formal sense an ally," when compared to the longstanding relationships Canada has with the other G8 nations.
Issues such as Arctic sovereignty have caused some tension between Canada and Russia but Harper said he sees signs of improvement.
"I actually think our relations, and more broadly the West’s relations with Russia are trending in the right direction," said Harper.
In the coming years he thinks their values and interests will increasingly converge with those of western nations, he said.
"I gradually see it happening and anything we can do to facilitate that process I want to do it, while obviously not backing down on issues we think are important to our vital interests," he said.
On the domestic front, Harper was asked for his thoughts on retiring Auditor General Sheila Fraser’s warning this week that the government needs to start preparing for long-term financial challenges that are on the horizon such as an aging population and the impact of climate change.
The outgoing auditor general, whose last day on the job is Monday, said in a speech Wednesday that other countries, and several provinces provide economic projections looking up to 75 years in the future.
Harper said the issues identified by Fraser are "interesting" and "challenging." He said the impact of an aging population is something many countries will be grappling with in the coming years.
"Hopefully we can get the public to look at those and contemplate them over the years to come and take some action," he said.
"They’re issues that have to be dealt with — they don’t have to be dealt with today — but they are issues that will have to be dealt with as time goes on."