Bloc to spur Afghanistan vote

The Bloc Québécois will use its opposition day on Thursday to call for a vote on the post-2011 phase of Canada's mission in Afghanistan, which is to focus on training of Afghan soldiers, rather than combat, and continue until 2014.

The Bloc Québécois will use its opposition day on Thursday to call for a vote on the post-2011 phase of Canada's mission in Afghanistan, which is to focus on training of Afghan soldiers, rather than combat, and continue until 2014.

Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe, shown speaking to union members Friday in Quebec City, has been calling all along for a vote on the Afghanistan mission. ((Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press))

Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe announced his party's intent in Ottawa on Monday, hours after Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said he was willing to go along with a vote in the House.

The actual vote could happen Thursday or early next week.

Ignatieff had supported Prime Minister Stephen Harper's announcement that 950 soldiers will remain in Afghanistan to help train the Afghan military, a position that caused unease among some within the Liberal Party.

"We're happy to have a vote," he told reporters in Montreal after a public forum with students at Dawson College.

"I think the other parties have an opposition day that's available to them, [and] if they want to use that, that's fine. We've never ducked a democratic debate on Afghanistan."

Harper has said all along that a vote is not needed because troops will not be in a combat situation after 2011, an argument echoed in question period Monday by House leader John Baird.

"What we're talking about here is a technical and a training special mission," Baird said in response to a question about a vote from NDP Leader Jack Layton.

"Afghanistan is a war situation," Layton said. "That's why there should be a vote. There certainly are no logical reasons to explain why the government won't allow a vote on this key issue."

A tough spot

But given Monday's announcement by the Bloc, there will likely be a vote now, putting Ignatieff and Harper in a position of defending the training mission in the House of Commons.

On Friday, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen praised Canada's decision to maintain a non-combat presence in Afghanistan until 2014.

Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon on Nov. 16 confirmed reports that 950 military personnel will remain in Afghanistan after 2011 at a cost of an estimated $500 million per year.

"In the middle of the NATO summit, the prime minister had the nerve to promise not to extend the mission in Afghanistan beyond 2014, but on Jan. 6, 2010, [he] stated publicly that there would be no military presence in Afghanistan beyond 2011 except for protection of the Canadian Embassy," Duceppe said in question period.

"He broke his promise not to extend the military mission in Afghanistan. Will the prime minister not realize that he has lost all credibility and that he is no longer believed at all?"

With files from The Canadian Press