• Thanks for stopping by. Logging in to a registered account will remove all generic ads. Please reach out with any questions or concerns.

War and the Constitution

Edward Campbell

Army.ca Myth
Reaction score
This article, reproduced under the Fair Dealing provisions of the Copyright Act from the Globe and Mail gives me a chance to  :deadhorse: :


Government will hold vote in Parliament before launching air strikes: Baird

New York — The Globe and Mail

Last updated Friday, Sep. 26 2014

Canada’s Conservative government would hold a vote in Parliament before taking on any future combat role in Iraq, including air strikes, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird says.

Mr. Baird’s comments come one day after Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced he had received a request from the United States to increase Canada’s contribution to the offensive against Islamic State militants. Mr. Harper did not reveal the contents of the U.S. request, saying only that the U.S. had asked for “some additional contribution” and Canada was weighing its response. He said he would bring the matter to cabinet for further consideration.

Canada has so far contributed several dozen troops to a U.S.-led effort to battle Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq. Those troops are advising Kurdish security forces in northern Iraq for a 30-day period and do not currently have a combat role, the government has said.

However, there were questions about who had initiated the discussion around additional military assistance from Canada. A spokeswoman for the U.S. Secretary of Defence said Canada had asked the U.S. for more details on how it could help, and the U.S. responded with a letter laying out areas where Canadian contributions would be helpful.

“What I can tell you is that the Canadians requested additional details on what they could do to contribute to coalition efforts to aid the Government of Iraq in countering [the Islamic State] and [the Department of Defence] sent a letter describing areas where their contributions would be helpful,” Commander Elissa Smith wrote in an e-mail.

Jason MacDonald, a spokesman for the Prime Minister, said the two governments have held ongoing conversations about what more Canada can do. He said the government asked for more information from the U.S. so it could have a more informed conversation at cabinet about what the government might be prepared to do.

The Opposition NDP has been calling on the government to bring the mission before Parliament for a vote. Speaking in Question Period, Mr. Harper has previously suggested that because the current mission does not involve combat, the government does not believe it merits a vote.

Mr. Baird said on Thursday that the government has been “very clear” that it would go before Parliament and hold a vote on any future combat mission. Asked if the government would consider air strikes to constitute a combat mission, Mr. Baird said it “absolutely” would.

“There’s no constitutional requirement, there’s no law,” on holding a vote, Mr. Baird told reporters. “This is something that the Prime Minister has sought, whether it’s two or three occasions with respect to Canada’s mission in Afghanistan and then with respect to the mission in Libya and the renewal of that mission.”

Mr. Harper revealed this week that Canadian forces have been in Iraq for several weeks and are currently the second-largest force, after the U.S., working in support of Iraqi troops. He said the goal of the military operation is to ensure that terrorist organizations are not able to operate in the open.

“We haven’t ruled out anything,” Mr. Harper said. “We need to have some additional debate within our government before we reach a final decision.”

Amid growing concern about Islamic State militants, Mr. Harper took the stage at the United Nations General Aseembly on Thursday evening, where he set aside the threat of terrorism and urged the world to put maternal and child health at the core of its international development priorities.

In his first speech to the UN in four years, Mr. Harper played the role of world statesman, touting Canada’s assistance for those in poverty and calling it an “honour and a pleasure” to address the assembly once again.

The speech made only brief mention of major international crises, citing the strife in Ukraine, the Middle East, Iraq and Syria and fears about the threat of pandemics and climate change. Mr. Harper has been a staunch opponent of Russian aggression in Ukraine and has spoken frequently about his concerns about Islamic State militants; he was widely expected to use the UN speech to address those issues in particular.

Instead, the Prime Minister said he had chosen to use the opportunity to deal with an issue he said is “closest to my heart” – the global effort to reduce the number of children and mothers who die every year of preventable causes. He touted Canada’s trade deals with developing countries but acknowledged that free trade alone wouldn’t solve the world’s problems. “Sometimes people need a helping hand,” he said.

Now, I think going to parliament to discuss foreign affairs and defence, and, especially, to discuss sending military forces into harm's way is good politics, but it is not, in any way, any sort of proper constitutional requirement. Minister Baird made that clear.

Parliament is an advisory body, it doesn't, and constitutionally cannot, decide anything. Decisions, in Canada, are the exclusive prerogative of the Queen, through her Governor General. Parliament tells the Queen that her government, her "Committee of the Queen's Privy Council" (AKA the cabinet) has the confidence of parliament, specifically of the House of Commons, which, parliament and Queen assume, expresses the "will of the people." Parliament doesn't make laws. It debates and, eventually recommends bills proposed by members - usually, but not always members speaking for the cabinet, the government - but those bill only become laws when the Governor general (or, now and again, the Queen, herself, or the Chief Justice of the SCC standing in for the GG) gives them "royal assent," until, in other words, (s)he signs a bill and turns it into a law. (The GG could, theoretically, and at the HUGE risk of creating a real, interesting constitutional crisis, take his/her pen and amend a bill before signing it, thus destroying parliament's "will" and substituting his/her own. That sort of thing happened, in Britain, a few hundred years ago)

More specifically: the decision to go to war is part of the executive function of government and the executive does not sit in parliament. The executive is the "Committee of the Queen's Privy Council," the cabinet. Now, by an enormously powerful constitutional convention something far, far, far more powerful, in law, than the written Constitution, the cabinet can only govern as the executive so long as it can demonstrate to the sovereign/GG that it has the confidence of the parliament, of the people. (It's not just an abstract academic point, it, our constitution, is what makes us a functioning democracy ... there are other democratic models, the German one,* for example, that are, both a) similar to ours, and b) actually, more democratic (more modern, I might suggest) than ours.) Thus, the House of Commons does not need to be involved in deciding to deploy troops, even to declare war. But, starting in 1939, successive Canadian (and Australian and British) governments have involved parliament more and more in such decisions. It's good politics, but it is not parliament's job. In my opinion, accepting that parliament wants to be consulted and agreeing that there is nothing to suggest that the executive ought not to consult parliament, then a "take note debate" is the appropriate method. Then, if Thomas Mulcair and Justin Trudeau and a large handful of renegade Conservatives want they can bring forward a confidence motion and (try to) defeat the government and force an election on the issue.

(The GG could be placed in a sticky wicket: suppose the executive, which, at the time, had the confidence of parliament, ordered a six pack of CF-18s to Iraq, then, a couple of days later the opposition brought forth a confidence motion, specifically on that mission, and the government was defeated. Would the GG be required in his/her role as "commander in chief" to rescind the deployment order? In my opinion the answer is No. But, after the requisite election, a new government might, as an executive function, order the cancellation of the mission.)

* The modern German Constitution was actually written by British civil servants, in London, in the aftermath of World War II

Sounds like a great "letter to the editor" of any newspaper that publishes anything that suggests we *must* debate this in the H of C.
I want to expand this thread to include "War and the Constitution and the Politics of Going to War."

All 'the usual suspects' are out and about explaining why Prime Minister Harper and Opposition Leader Mulcair and the 'young pretender' and 3rd part leader Justin Trudeau are being hypocritical, as Michael Den Tandt does in this article which is reproduced under the Fair Dealing provisions of the Copyright Act from the National Post:


Questionable record leaves Harper’s military flank exposed

Michael Den Tandt | October 2, 2014

It is true, of course, that the opposition parties are playing silly buggers when it comes to Canada’s imminent participation in the international air war against the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham. In this instance, under these circumstances, they’re right to do so. They have an obligation, even, to do so.

The reasons are trust, or the lack thereof, and the enormous import of what is being proposed.  “They’re evil butchers, we’ve got this, let’s go,” is not a war plan. And the Harper government, which has been unusually punctilious this week in fielding questions about the looming mission, is late to the game of earnest disclosure.

There is little need at this stage for further elaborations on the barbaric nature of the “caliphate” in Iraq and Syria, though we are certain to hear many. The Islamic State is comprised of deviants who kidnap innocents and cut off their heads, as we have seen; they murder, summarily execute, butcher and maim; they rape. They enslave. They recruit and convert at the point of a gun or a blade. They rob, pillage, loot and destroy.

All these crimes are laid out in exhaustive and harrowing detail in a report issued this week by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. There really is no arguing this point. Left unchecked, with the Arab Spring a smouldering ruin, there is no telling what horrors the IS may perpetrate.

But that doesn’t mean any Canadian, and certainly not the opposition parties whose job it is to hold the government to account, can be faulted for being skeptical about this country going back to war.

There is no recent track record of success, in Ottawa, for either the skillful handling of foreign military engagements, or loyalty to the people doing the engaging. On the contrary, Liberal governments in the 1990s and now the Harper government have used the Canadian Forces’ budget as a giant line of credit, to be drawn on as needed, as I have written previously.

Some 40,000 Canadians served in Afghanistan, beginning in 2002. Rather than shower returning soldiers with honours and benefits, leaving no stone unturned, the government closed veterans’ centres. Though efforts are being made within the military to address the problems of the wounded, including those with psychological wounds, the response has been inadequate, as the tragic record of suicides shows.

Canadians who served in Afghanistan were told they were engaged in a noble effort, to combat global terrorism and help the Afghan people. Skeptics scoffed but many soldiers took that message to heart. Yet today, the Afghan Islamist insurgency is not defeated, nor is there any peace there. According to Graeme Smith, a former colleague now based in Kabul as an analyst for the International Crisis Group, the security situation is tenuous, at best.

The 2011 Libyan air campaign, to which Canada contributed, was heralded as vital to international peace and security, and led to the toppling of the Gadhafi regime. Currently, Postmedia’s David ******** recently reported, Libya is a patchwork of warring factions – and some of the same people who fought to topple Moammar Gadhafi in 2011, thus benefitting from Canada’s actions then, are now fighting for the IS.

It’s fair to say that the Liberal party was hypocritical in the way in which it broadened the Afghan mission in late 2005, then began playing politics with it as soon as the Tories took office. The shift in the Liberal position on Iraq since the initial Commons debate two weeks ago, which was essentially supportive, and the present day, which is essentially against, has been remarkable.

It’s also fair to say that the New Democrats, because of the party’s reflexive opposition to most any military action, don’t have much credibility on this file. Some of the questions being repeated daily in the House of Commons by opposition leader Thomas Mulcair – how dare there be 26 special forces soldiers on the ground one day, when there were 69 the day before, and the like – are granular to the point of sounding silly.

But the fact remains that two strands of history support the need for rigorous questioning – about the risks to Canadian military personnel, the estimated long-term costs, the coalition’s strategic objectives, measures of success, and an exit strategy. Afghanistan and Libya comprise the first strand. The second is the Harper government’s execrable record of insularity, epitomized by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s decision to reveal new details about this pending engagement in New York before doing so at home, and the government’s hyper-partisan, petty handling of questions about the Iraq engagement, until four days ago.

The Conservatives should expect, given what has gone before, that Canadians will be skeptical of joining another high-minded, unfocussed international effort to stop Islamist extremism in its tracks. And they should come prepared to answer every conceivable question and address every conceivable concern, no matter how picayune those interrogations may seem. They will have to sell this mission. It will not sell itself, as the Afghan effort did in the early days.

National Post

There is no question in my mind, not a single scintilla of doubt about the fact that there is no strategy - not in Washington, not in London, not in Canberra and not in Ottawa - about what to do about/for/with/to militant Islam.We don't, really, know what it is or why it exists or what it wants or where it's headed; we don't really know if it is a real threat to anyone about whom we care (and I'm sorry to be the one to tell you this, but governments don't give a flying ____ about "innocent" women and children who are blown up by bombs), and we don't really know what to do about what we don't really understand. Thrashing about blindly does not qualify as a strategy. The current "someone do something about IS**" notion is 100% about domestic politics.

Now, in Canada, we ought to have a good understanding of the politics of war. We fought, long and hard, albeit with great political reluctance and, indeed, fear for the 'national unity' consequences of fighting too long and too hard, to defeat Hitler's Nazis. We fought and bled and expended a great deal of money (7% of GDP in the 1950s!) to contain Stalin's Communist USSR and Mao's Communist China. In the 1960s our views began to change, partly because we saw, in Washington, that "the emperor had no clothes," but also, partly, because a well crafted propaganda campaign eroded our (Western) faith in ourselves - it was the 'best' campaign the Russians ever waged. By 2001 Jean Chrétien understood, clearly, that Canadians were reluctant to join the USA in what many people saw, still see, as mindless military adventurism. I have little doubt that, absent the sponsorship scandal, M. Chrétien could have both a) survived Paul Martin's challenge, and b) won yet another government, maybe only a minority, on the basis that he didn't join the Irag war imbroglio. What Jean Chrétien understood, instinctively, I think, is that Canadians don't like America and they don't like going to war - any war. We are direct, linear descendants of Queen Elizabeth I, we hate war for its expense, we are afraid that the costs of war will deprive us of out 'entitlements,' to which we all feel very, very entitled (as David Dingwall so aptly put it).

Prime Minister Stephen Harper knows that, too, but he also believes that we must support the USA, even when we are pretty sure that they are blundering about blindly.

So, yes, all parties are playing politics with this mission, but didn't someone say that war is just the continuation of politics by other means? How, we should probably ask, does a six-pack of CF-18s effect the Keystone XL pipeline decision?
There are two articles in today's Globe and Mail that are germane:

    1. NDP, Liberals say they won’t support Canadian jets in Iraq; and

    2. Your turn to vote: Should Canada enter combat in Iraq? which features essays by Foreign Minister John Baird and Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair.

Mr Mulcair's position is clear and comprehensible and consistent with his party's traditional positions: anti-war and anti-American.

M. Trudeau's position is pure Jean Chrétien: he is certain that Canadian's initial enthusiasm for military action (recent polls say 60%+ support sending CF-18s) will decay quickly and turn to regret and that he, M. Trudeau, will be able to ride Canadians instinctive anti-Americanism and parsimony to electoral victory.