MPs debate Canada's role in Mali

Members of Parliament took part in a four-hour 'take-note' debate on the conflict in Mali and Canada's contribution to the mission Tuesday night.
Canada has contributed one of its large C-17 military cargo planes to deliver supplies to the capital of Mali after a request from France. (Richard Lam/Canadian Press)

Members of Parliament took part in a four-hour 'take-note' debate on the conflict in Mali and Canada's contribution to the mission Tuesday night.  

While 'take-note' debates are non-binding, they allow for MPs to make their views known in the development of government policy.

Bob Dechert, the parliamentary secretary to the minister of foreign affairs, kicked off the debate by saying this was "only one part" of the federal government's commitment to engage MPs on Canada's reaction to the conflict in Mali.

"It is our hope that we will find consensus on this matter," said Dechert.

To date, the federal government has contributed one C-17 military transport plane to help support the French military intervention in Mali at a cost of roughly $18.6 million to Canadian taxpayers.

The massive cargo-lifter was dispatched roughly three weeks ago and has completed 13 airlift missions to Bamako, the capital of Mali. Its mission is due to end Feb. 15.

Dechert reiterated that Canada's C-17 and the 40 troops deployed in support of the military transport plane's operations "have not been and will not be part of combat operations."

The Conservative MP said Canada's objective is to see Mali return to "a fully democratic and constitutional rule."

New Democrat MP Paul Dewar, who is his party's foreign affairs critic, said while the debate helps provide "much-needed oversight" of Canada's role in Mali, the government's position has been "inconsistent" with ministers sending "mixed messages."

"The government must be clear both about the purpose and level of commitment," said Dewar.

Interim Liberal leader Bob Rae said he got the sense the government was being very cautious about its engagement in Mali and wondered why the federal government would not keep the C-17 running as long as Canada felt it necessary "to protect the security of Mali, West Africa, Canada and the world," instead of setting a deadline.

Last Thursday, a parliamentary committee was briefed on Canada's military, humanitarian and diplomatic efforts in Mali.

Maj.-Gen. Jonathan Vance, head of the military's high-level Strategic Joint Staff, told MPs that one aircraft is responsible for moving to Bamako more than 350,000 kilograms of French military equipment, including armoured vehicles, medical supplies, freight and ammunition.

Vance said the Canadian airlift was a key enabler for the French mission.

Earlier last week, International Co-operation Minister Julian Fantino pledged $13 million in new money to support humanitarian relief in the region. The new money comes after the government suspended direct aid to Mali following a coup in that country last year.

As CBC News first revealed, the Canadian government has also deployed special forces troops to Mali, to provide security at the embassy in Bamako.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said he would like to see a "broad consensus" behind Canada's efforts in Mali.

Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair has supported the government's decision to offer the assistance of the C-17 and said he supported efforts to provide security to Canadian assets such as the embassy and its personnel in Mali.

But Mulcair has said any further expansion of the Canadian mission would require consultation with Parliament.

Harper and Mulcair did not take part in the debate. Nor did any Conservative cabinet minister.

With files from CBC's James Cudmore