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Red Cross, Taliban Prisoners, Afghanistan

Liberals at their funniest when they feign indignation

By Arthur Weinreb

Monday, March 26, 2007

And they are even funnier when they actually are indignant.

The Conservative Party's Defence Minister, Gordon O'Connor, misled the House of Commons when he stated that the Red Cross was monitoring Taliban detainees who were captured by Canadian forces and handed over to the Afghan government. The Red Cross was able to visit these detainees but did not actually monitor them. O'Connor has since arranged for an Afghanistan human rights organization to monitor these detainees and report their findings to Canada and has apologized in the House for his previous misleading statements.

During last Wednesday's Question Period, the opposition again went after O'Connor. Both Liberal defence critic Denis Coderre and Liberal leader Stéphane Dion demanded the minister's resignation. The opposition outbursts led Prime Minister Stephen Harper to respond to Dion by saying, "I can understand the passion that the Leader of the Opposition and members of his party feel for Taliban prisoners. I just wish occasionally they would show the same passion for Canadian soldiers."

Well, of course all hell broke loose both within the Liberal caucus and the Liberal-friendly Canadian media. Comparisons to the Navdeep Bains incident became the talk of the town. As Yogi would say, it was déjà vu all over again. Last month Harper implied (the opposition prevented him from saying what he wanted to say) that the Liberals killed Canada's anti-terrorism legislation in order to protect Bains' father-in-law who may have been questioned under its provisions. Once again, the Liberals were "shocked" by the PM's statements and demanded an apology for them; an apology that was neither deserved nor forthcoming.

It's hard to know whether the opposition is truly seeking O'Connor's resignation or if they are just playing politics as usual. Many times resignations are called for, not for the purpose of having a minister resign but simply to score political points. A classic example of this occurred in September 1985 when then-Fisheries Minister John Fraser overruled the decision of his inspectors and allowed cans of possibly tainted tuna to be sold. Demands for Fraser's resignation abounded and within a week Brian Mulroney, who had been an MP and prime minister for all of a year, forced his Fisheries Minister to resign. The opposition was shocked. John Fraser was a nice guy and respected on both sides of the House and none of the opposition MPs who called for his resignation actually wanted to see him booted from cabinet. Mulroney was severely criticized for not standing by his minister and the popular Fraser later went on to become Speaker of the House.

It's one thing to play these games during Question Period; it is quite another to do so when the subject matter involves the members of Canada's military. Men and women of the Canadian Forces who are in harm's way in Afghanistan are not cans of tuna. But the Liberals are the great equivalencers. During the heated exchange Dion said, "Mr. Speaker, there are few things that are more important for the honour of a country than its duty to protect human lives, including war detainees" [Emphasis added]. No one is accusing the troops or the government of torturing or murdering prisoners; yet Dion lumps the lives of the enemy in with the lives of our soldiers and innocent civilians. The Liberals see no difference between the Taliban and the members of our armed forces. No doubt, the Liberals would be just as happy if the Taliban won the war or better yet, if no one won the war; that would be "fair".

If Steffi was really concerned about Canada's troops he wouldn't have appointed Denis Coderre as his party's defence critic. Coderre, when not marching along side Hezbollah supporters, is calling Canada's Chief of Defence Staff Rick Hillier, a "pawn" of the Conservative government. The fact that Hillier is Canada's top soldier does not put him above criticism, but once again, playing politics with the military; saying that Hillier was a pawn was showing a complete and utter lack of respect for the military.

There was nothing wrong with what Harper said; he merely stated that he wished the Liberals had as much passion for Canadian troops as they have for the Taliban. Going back to 1993, it's hard to argue this point on the facts.

Of course it is perfectly okay for Dion to describe Harper as a "neo-con" and a climate change "denier" with all the connotations that those terms are meant to imply. Watching Dion and his loyal sidekick Iggy shake with righteous indignation makes for good comedy.

The title of a National Post editorial on this parliamentary exchange says it all - "Dear Stéphane: Be a man".