In politics there are sometimes issues that erupt like wildfires. They flare-up seemingly out of nowhere, burn brightly, sucking-up political oxygen, shooting red-hot embers in all directions and imperilling anyone who approaches unequipped. Last year’s “Quebec-as-a-nation” motion is one such example.
But the mission in Afghanistan is not a "sudden" issue at all.
Canada’s involvement goes back seven years and this particular mission got its start with Paul Martin’s government in 2005. In short, there’s no excuse why after all this time and the $3.1 billion price tag that every party shouldn’t be crystal clear about where they stand. But it’s been over a week since the Manley Panel issued their report and the Liberals have yet to take a position.
According to one columnist, that’s because the Manley Panel has become a surrogate for the leadership race which has begun anew in the Liberal ranks.
"Mr. Dion, whose stance is said by one Liberal to be 'closer to Jack Layton than John Manley,' is standing firm on the party's long-held position that the combat mission in Kandahar must end in February, 2009, although he is open to a non-combat role after that date.
He believes Prime Minister Stephen Harper's embrace this week of Mr. Manley's recommendations on the future of Canada's mission in Afghanistan are "a design for a never-ending mission."
Then, there is foreign affairs critic Bob Rae, who seems to be on all sides of the issue at once, mainly so as not to alienate caucus members ahead of the leadership review he apparently expects if and when Mr. Dion loses the next election. He also talks about 'never-ending missions,' but at the same time accepts the "broad recommendations" of the Manley panel.
Lastly, there is deputy leader Michael Ignatieff, who is said to have moved beyond the February, 2009, commitment, by using the Manley report as a stick to beat the Harper government -- 'a scathing criticism of [the Prime Minister's] leadership,' he said in the House of Commons yesterday -- while, at the same time, backing its main recommendations.
Confused? You will be. "I'm beginning to wonder who the leader is," said one MP."
In Dion’s defence, the Liberals have been divided on this mission forever, with 24 of them having supported Harper’s decision to extend it back in 2006 when Bill Graham was leader.
It's just a symptom of the disease. Without a strong leader to give them direction or a sense of hope that they can win the next election, Liberals can endulge themselves while Harper governs with only the NDP opposing him.
As Chantal Hebert says, the Liberal Party is lacking “the fire in the belly to acquit itself of some of its most basic parliamentary duties. On Monday, the first day back in Parliament after a six-week break, more than 30 Liberal MPs were missing in action for question period. Given the diplomatic, military and political forces at play behind the Manley plan and their own listlessness, the Liberals may be in no shape to do more than roll over and play dead while Harper continues to attend to the nation's business.”
Without leadership, decisions don’t get made. And without decisions you can’t take a position. And without a position (on the central issue of the Harper Government) what’s the point of the Liberal Party other than issuing fundraising letters to pay for leadership conventions? Not sure.
And now for real leadership and real opposition, back to you, Jack Layton.