Canada's NATO leadership role in Libya is perfect political timing
Mar 26, 2011

Canada's NATO leadership role in Libya is perfect political timing

The Harper government fell on the exact same day that Canada has taken over the lead role heading the NATO mission in the enforcement of the no-fly zone in Libya. This timing is a nearly perfect political move for Harper.

While the timing of the Harper government falling was ostensibly the release of the budget, the actual vote that did it was a no confidence vote regarding finding the government in contempt of parliament for failing to disclose cost figures related to corporate tax cuts, anti-crime programs and the fighter jet program. The last issue, the fighter jet program, is a huge negative issue for the Harper government with 68% of Canadians opposed to purchasing the new jets now. The opposition has done a good job of making a political issue not just of the purchase but of the procedures of the purchase such as the non competitive bidding and worries over huge cost overruns.

The Libyan leadership mission somewhat deflates this political issue. The mere action of Canada's fighter jets being a token participant in the actual bombing gives credence to the idea that having fancy, new, expensive fighter jets is important for Canadians. The fact that Canada is playing not just a token membership role but an active leader of the NATO mission is a huge vote of confidence for the capacities of the Canadian military and will undoubtedly result in an increasingly popular view of having a strong Canadian military equipped with modern capabilities. It transitions the perspective from the far more dubious previous narrative of patrolling the arctic (against a nonexistent threat as I think was correctly perceived) to engaging in humanitarian preventative missions as part of NATO and the UN. The result is that this issue may have been turned from a consistent thorn in the Conservatives side that was in the vote that brought down the government can be largely mitigated by this positive spin on the Canadian use of fighter jets.

This also accomplishes the goal of increasing Canada's relevance on the global stage. It was quite a sting - and contained considerable domestic political backlash - when Canada lost its push for a permanent security council seat. This was perceived to be a failure of the administration even though I think it had more to do with issues such as Canada's international image as siding with the US, particularly on issues like Israel/Palestine. Canada quite deftly rejected earlier British and French proposals to run the no fly zone as part of the G8 deciding instead to push it to the UN which paved the way for the NATO leadership role. While the Toronto G20 summit may have been the opportunity to soothe domestic worries about our international image the scandal with regards to protests and the police treatment thereof dominated that story. With Canada's declining mission in Afghanistan, the Libya lead thus represents a big example of Canadian international leadership and will help Harper look strong on foreign policy as well as on the military.

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