Debating Canada’s decision to fight ISIL: If I were MP

Adam Chapnick on what was missing from the debate over Canadian military action in Iraq.
By: /
October 27, 2014
Deputy Director of Education and an Associate Professor of Defence Studies at the Royal Military College of Canada

With much analysis expected over whether last week’s attacks on soldiers in Canada are linked to Canadian military action against ISIL, it is perhaps inevitable arguments will be made for and against increased involvement with the coalition. Members of Parliament have already had the opportunity to debate the government’s decision to play a combat role in the battle against ISIL, but this author argues several points were lacking from the debate. Now, more than ever, they need to be raised.

Had he had been an MP during recent discussions, this is what Adam Chapnick,associate professor of defence studies at the Canadian Forces College, would have said:

“Mr. Speaker, the threat posed by ISIL is real, and Canadians must play their part in countering it both at home and abroad.

Our response to the threat must be comprehensive, which means engaging our military, our diplomats, our humanitarian aid workers, and our refugee system.

It is therefore with great disappointment that I cannot, at present, support the government’s motion before this House.

My problems, Mr. Speaker, are twofold:

First, the Prime Minister has requested support for his decision to put our troops in harm’s way without providing this House with sufficient information to evaluate the legitimacy of his strategy.

Indeed, it is hard to believe that Canadians would want their members of Parliament to bless the engagement of our soldiers overseas without a thorough understanding of what the mission might entail.

Apart from members of Cabinet, Mr. Speaker, Canadians do not know what exactly our American colleagues have asked of us. We do not understand the extent of the threat that will be faced by our troops during their mission. We do not know how much our military engagement is expected to cost.

Consider, for example, the caveats imposed on the mission by our Prime Minister. If ISIL is a grave threat to international security, then why refuse to even consider ground troops, why restrict the location of our attacks, and why limit the mission to six months?

Did our experience in Afghanistan not teach us that such caveats only assist the enemy?

Perhaps the government has good reasons for its caution, but if it does, it has not made those reasons clear to Canadians. It must therefore invite one member of each opposition party into its confidential briefings.

These members will ensure that the proposal before us is both responsible and legitimate without compromising the obvious need for Cabinet secrecy.

Such a move would hardly be unprecedented. During the First World War, the Conservative Prime Minister, Robert Borden, created a Union government and included members of the opposition in his cabinet.

During the Second World War, the Liberal Prime Minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King, invited members of the opposition to join the Canadian delegation that negotiated the creation of the United Nations organization.

Trust goes both ways, Mr. Speaker. If the government wants Canadians to trust its judgment, then it must trust the capacity of the elected members of Parliament to be exposed to the same information as our strategic leaders without compromising national security.

Second, if we are to go to war, then Canadians must commit to doing so as a country: together.

Only some of us will risk our lives abroad. But the rest of us can and must contribute in other ways.

We introduced income tax during the First World War; we increased it dramatically during the Second. All Canadians sacrificed and therefore better appreciated the severity of the threat.

The current government plan to cut taxes at home when that money could otherwise be spent enhancing the capacity of the departments involved in deterring and defeating ISIL both at home (should there be blowback from Canada’s engagement) or abroad – be that National Defence, Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development, Citizenship and Immigration, or Public Safety and its relevant agencies – runs counter to the Canadian values that this government purports to represent.

The Prime Minister must also allocate new funding to Veterans Affairs Canada to supplement the support received by our veterans now and into the future. The government must increase the size of this contribution monthly for as long as our forces are in combat.

Over the next six months, regardless of whether we have troops on the ground, the brave men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces will experience trauma that could compromise their long-term mental health and threaten the stability of their families, many of whom, based on the events of recent days, already have reason to be concerned.

While they fight to defend our freedoms, we have a moral obligation to do everything we can to ensure that they, and their families, are well provided for when they return home and well into the future. A tax to support the troops is hardly too great a price to pay.

I end, Mr. Speaker, with a plea to this government: provide Canadians – through their elected representatives – with assurance that the mission’s goals are legitimate ones, take us into this conflict against ISIL together, and do more to ensure that those who risk their lives on our behalf are well taken-care-of when they come home.”