Thu, Oct 18, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Ottawa seeks extension to Afghan mission


Canada's Conservative government said on Tuesday that Canada's military mission should be extended to at least 2011 but promised a vote on the issue -- in a speech the main opposition Liberal Party would likely support so they can avoid an election.

In a a speech on its priorities for a new session of parliament, the government also promised a sweeping anti-crime bill, major tax cuts and said the country will not meet its climate change commitments under the Kyoto accord.

The government also plans to announce multiyear tax cuts for individuals and businesses and a 1 percentage point cut in the national sales tax.

If all three opposition parties were to vote against the priorities set by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper's minority bloc, it would automatically trigger an election. That seems unlikely since the Liberal party wants to avoid losing seats.

The first vote on the speech delivered by Governor-General Michaelle Jean is expected tonight and the Liberals say Canadians do not want an election. Liberal leader Stephane Dion is not expected to make a final decision about a Liberal vote until after meeting colleagues yesterday.

Jean -- Canada's ceremonial head of state -- delivered the so-called "throne speech," as is custom under the parliamentary system. She spoke on behalf of the government.

The government said Canada should stay directly involved in Afghanistan until at least 2011 when it believes the Afghan army and police training will be able provide its own security after enhanced training in the next few years.

The current mission expires in February 2009 and all three opposition parties are pressing the government to announce Canada will end its combat mission in southern Afghanistan.

The government said the mission will be put to a vote in parliament after Harper's hand-picked panel reports back with its recommendation on the future of the deployment. The options include pulling troops or remaining there.

Some 71 Canadian soldiers and one diplomat have lost their lives in Afghanistan since 2002. Canada has about 2,300 soldiers operating in Kandahar Province, the former Taliban stronghold.

The Liberals have pressed Harper to announce Canada's combat mission will not be extended after it expires.

But the Liberal Party is weaker since by-elections last month, when it lost a district it traditionally wins and will likely vote for the throne speech, even though the speech is expected to include priorities with which the party disagrees.

The Conservative government brought up Kyoto as a way of embarrassing the Liberals, who support the accords.

The government also announced a new crime bill that includes measures on impaired driving, raising the age of sexual consent, stricter bail conditions and mandatory prison terms for gun crimes.

Harper has made it clear that his new law-and-order legislation will be a confidence measure. An opposition defeat of an anti-crime bill will trigger an election, he has said.

If the speech is defeated in a confidence vote, Harper will hit the campaign trail in pursuit of a majority government and use the speech as the backbone of his election platform.

Harper's Conservative party now holds 126 seats of the 308 seats in parliament, while the Liberals have 96, the Bloc Quebecois 49 and the New Democrats 30. Three seats are held by Independents and four remain vacant.

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