Jean Charest goes against Liberal grain to defend Afghanistan mission
Following the death of private Simon Longtin, the first member of the Royal 22nd Regiment (The Van Doos) killed in Afghanistan, one could expect that Quebec’s Liberal premier, Jean Charest, would find it politically convenient to denounce Canada’s involvement in the war in Afghanistan.
With “entrenched” public opinion in Quebec (according to University of Montreal political scientist Pierre Martin) staunchly against the war in Afghanistan, one could almost understand if Charest found it necessary to denounce the war for political purposes (that is, understand it, but not respect it).
One could even understand if Charest gave in to such political pressures after being reduced from a majority to a minority government.
After all, it is what his federal counterparts have deigned to do (although they were reduced from a minority government to the official opposition).
But even if one could understand if Charest caved in, one must applaud him for showing the courage and conviction that he has opted for instead.
“We, as citizens of Quebec, have a duty to support the men and women who are there and who are doing this work in our name and are making the biggest sacrifice that can be asked of a human being,” Charest recently announced.
“We have to continue. We must not politicize [our] presence in Afghanistan. We must, on the contrary, especially at this time, remind all the soldiers that Quebecers are behind them in the mission they are conducting in our name in Afghanistan.”
Even Stephane Dion had supportive words in the wake of private Longtin’s death. “Today's loss serves as a reminder of the very real challenges the men and women of the Canadian Forces face every day as they undertake this mission, and I speak for all Canadians when I say that we greatly appreciate their sacrifices to help the people of Afghanistan and bring stability to the region."
Yet when compared to Dion’s overall stance on Afghanistan, this statement can’t help but come across as disingenuous. In fact, Dion wasn’t even yet Liberal leader when he announced his opposition to the mission, insisting that the mission was “ill-conceived and misguided”.
He has also indulged himself in polarizing this actually non-partisan war. “It is really sad what happened because Mr. Harper last spring played the macho the one who will be able to carry us out of Afghanistan. He copied the speeches of Mr. Bush, I think President Bush should request copyright from these speeches,'' Dion said in 2006.
Dion even found it in himself to criticize Stephen Harper for doing what the preceding Liberal governments wouldn’t, in giving parliament a say in extending the mission. “This decision belongs to the executive branch of government. Government must be accountable for it.”
Dion has more recently insisted that the consensus necessary to continue the mission (at least in its current form) will never exist. "This consensus will never exist," Dion insisted. "The prime minister should say to NATO right away that the combat mission will end in February 2009."
When one considers the fact that it was the Liberals who committed Canadian forces to Kandahar to begin with, it all comes across as very insincere, and tantamount to cannibalizing his own party’s foreign affairs record.
Apparently, such partisan politics seem to be below Charest, who has been steadfast in his support of the mission, and seems willing to pay the price politically, if necessary.
Stephane Dion, however, apparently knows a good divisive wedge issue when he sees it, and hasn’t been afraid to exploit it.
Dion’s stance on Afghanistan has given the Conservative party all the ammunition they’ll ever need to question whether or not Dion is a leader. Jean Charest, on the other hand, has proven himself to be precisely the kind of principled leader the Liberals could really use.
Stephane Dion is not a leader. Fortunately for Quebec Liberals, Jean Charest is.