Defusing an Issue - Ending the Afghanistan Mission in 2011
Besides the news that Elizabeth May would be joining the leaders' debate, the big news yesterday was Stephen Harper's announcement that Canada's current military mission in Afghanistan would not be extended past the 2011 deadline established by Parliament. It is important to note that this does not mean a complete military withdrawal from Afghanistan at that point, but that the Canadian mission will change dramatically at that point. Besides overshadowing whatever the opposition parties did yesterday, the announcement took Afghanistan off the table as an election issue.
Although foreign policy and defence policy are high profile issues, they often don't motivate many voters. But in a close election like this one, every little bit matters. With polls showing support for the Afghanistan mission at historic lows, this puts some distance between the Conservatives and the Afghanistan issue. It is also important in Quebec, where the Conservatives hope to pick up ground, and where the mission has been particularly unpopular. Now when the BQ or the NDP criticize the mission, it's going to be more about the timing about when the mission ends, not whether we should continue to be there. It's a much less stinging critique. Also, this announcement comes right on the heels of Bush's announcement that the US will be shifting its military efforts towards Afghanistan. Since critics have always tried to tie Harper to Bush, it doesn't hurt to have an announcement that runs counter to what the US is doing. This helps to blunt the effect of ads like the one the NDP is running in Quebec. It was a politically skillful move.