Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan has told a House of Commons debate on the future of Canada's contribution to the U.S.-led mission against ISIS that Canada's CF-18 fighter jets have flown their last mission in Iraq and Syria.
In announcing the changes to Canada's mission last week, the government said the CF-18 involvement in airstrikes would end by Feb. 22, but Sajjan told MPs Wednesday the CF-18s flew their last mission on Monday.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose and NDP Leader Tom Mulcair delivered remarks Wednesday in the House as MPs debated the federal government's recently-announced changes to the mission to combat ISIS.
Trudeau kicked off debate Wednesday afternoon by thanking the Canadian forces for their work in the mission to date. He paid tribute to Sgt. Andrew Doiron, the Canadian soldier killed in Iraq last March.
Trudeau went on to tout his plan to replace CF-18 fighter jets with a bigger contingent of soldiers to train local forces.
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The Conservatives, who under Stephen Harper drafted the original mission to send Canadian fighter-bombers into battle, are condemning the changes as a step back from the fight.
The NDP is asking for a clearer definition of the new effort, seeking to know if Canadian trainers will be in harm's way and urging the government to spell out an exit strategy.
The government is stressing a broader approach, including more humanitarian aid and help for refugees.
Trudeau says the training mission is the right role for Canada in the right place.
"Our goal is to allow local forces to take the fight directly to ISIL, to reclaim their homes, land and future," he told the Commons.
"We will be more significantly involved in counter-terrorism measures, improving chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear security in the region."
Trudeau rejected the notion that Canada is backing away from the fight.
"We believe there is an important role for Canada to plan in the fight against ISIL, a role that we can play, a role that we must play."
In addition to more trainers, Canada will keep its aerial refuelling and reconnaissance planes in the fight, which the prime minister characterized as defending peace and democracy against "terrorism and barbarism."
"(ISIS) stands against everything that we value as Canadians and poses a direct threat to our people and our friends."
He said the government's revamped mission will be robust, comprehensive and effective and will deliver results on the ground.
Tories ask for Combat mission
Interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose begged to differ.
"There are times in the life of a Parliament, and in the history of this House, when providence calls upon us to lead," Ambrose said.
"Lead by conviction, lead by a responsibility we collectively have to the Canadian people and lead by fighting evil — and, sadly, today is not a day of leadership."
Withdrawing from the bombing campaign means pulling a vital component out of the U.S.-led coalition effort against ISIL, she added.
"To blunt the sharp end of our spear is not in keeping with the contributions of our allies," she said. "We know, too, thanks to poll after poll, that it's not what most Canadians want us to do."
While Interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose spoke, her twitter account was active:
The training we are doing and will continue to do is valuable, but it is not enough. We must fight by their side and in the air.— @RonaAmbrose
It is not enough to talk about our values: about freedom and democracy, about human rights and human dignity. We must defend them.— @RonaAmbrose
NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair's Twitter account was also buzzing during his speech in the House of Commons:
The Liberals had said that we need a clearer line between combat and non-combat but this new mission blurs these lines even more. #cdnpoli— @ThomasMulcair
ISIS is not Islam. We must expose the utter lack of religious basis for its atrocities. #cdnpoli— @ThomasMulcair
On Feb. 8, the Liberal government announced that Canada will end its contribution to coalition airstrikes and withdraw its six fighter jets.
But Canada will also triple the number of special forces deployed on the ground to train Iraqi forces for the next two years.
The $1.6 billion budget for Canada's mission includes:
- $264 million to extend the military mission in Iraq and Syria for one year until March 31, 2017.
- $145 million over three years for non-military security efforts, such as counter-terrorism initiatives.
- $840 million over three years in humanitarian assistance.
- $270 million over three years to "build local capacity" in Jordan and Lebanon, where there are a large number of refugees.
- $42 million to redeploy staff and equipment to the region over the course of the new military commitment.
- An increased diplomatic presence in the region.
Canada's fighter jets have conducted roughly 2.5 per cent of all the airstrikes conducted by coalition forces in Iraq and Syria. About 98 per cent were in Iraq and the remaining 2 per cent in Syria.
A CBC News analysis found that January was a lower-than-average month for Canada's mission, with Canadian jets conducting 2.2 per cent of strikes. So far in February, that has increased to 3.1 per cent.
Up to Feb. 1 (the most recent data available), Canada's CF-18s have taken part in 5 per cent of all the coalition sorties by combat jets.