House votes in favour of extending Afghan mission
A confidence motion to keep Canadian soldiers in Kandahar until 2011 has passed easily in the House of Commons.
The Conservative motion passed by a vote of 198 to 77. It was the second confidence vote the government survived Thursday, and carried the possibility of triggering an election if it hadn't passed.
Defence Minister Peter MacKay saluted the vote, saying it will bolster the men and women serving in Afghanistan.
"It shows confidence in everything they're doing, as well as aid working shoulder to shoulder with our Forces," MacKay told reporters outside the House following the motion's passing.
Revised following consultations with the Liberal party, the motion calls for the mission to be renewed past 2009, but with a focus on reconstruction and training of Afghan troops.
It also includes a firm pullout date, calling for Canadian troops to leave Afghanistan by December 2011.
Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier said the vote will give Prime Minister Stephen Harper a "strong mandate" heading into the upcoming NATO meeting in Bucharest to appeal to allies for more troop support for the Kandahar region.
The mission's extension is contingent on whether NATO allies provide 1,000 extra troops and Ottawa secures access to unmanned surveillance drones and large helicopters.
"Now we have a mission that is not a Conservative mission, not a Liberal mission, but a Canadian mission," Bernier said.
The Liberals voted in favour of the motion Thursday, following a series of confidence votes in which the party has abstained or sent only a handful of MPs to vote.
Both the Bloc Québécois and the NDP voted against it, having consistently rejected any extension of the mission.
"There are millions of Canadians who don't want this strategy to continue," NDP Leader Jack Layton said following the vote. "The population prefers a road to peace."
Former Liberal MP Blair Wilson, who currently sits as an Independent, voted against the motion, while Quebec Independent MP André Arthur supported it.
Liberals at ease with move
Liberal defence critic Denis Coderre said earlier in the day that it wouldn't be difficult for the Opposition to back the government.
"We wanted the mission to change, wanted to have an end date. And we wanted to do otherwise besides a solely military level. So, when you're looking at it and reading it, it's clear," he said.
An earlier vote on an NDP amendment to the motion that called for Canada to immediately begin diplomatic efforts to withdraw troops from Afghanistan did not pass Thursday evening.
Reporting from Parliament Hill, the CBC's Rosemary Barton said the Bloc didn't support the amendment because it believes the mission should continue until its current mandate ends in 2009.
Canada has 2,500 troops participating in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, mostly around Kandahar province in the country's volatile south.
Master Cpl. Tatyana Danylyshyn said earlier Thursday she would welcome a move to continue Canada's operations in Afghanistan.
"I think we're doing a good job here, and that I'd like to be back here, I'd like to actually finish this … fulfil Canada's role here, stay here until it's self-sustainable," she told CBCNews.
Many Canadian soldiers are on their second tour in Afghanistan. Despite a heavy casualty count — 80 soldiers have died since the mission began in 2002 — they remain committed to the operation.
"Every war has a price and I really am in no position to know whether or not we are getting anywhere or what rate we're achieving our goal or not," said Cpl. Vartan Koumayan.