The Mike Duffy affair resurfaced on Parliament Hill Thursday, as the NDP asked the Speaker of the House of Commons to determine whether Prime Minister Stephen Harper intentionally misled MPs about Canada’s war in Iraq.
In strongly worded language, NDP defence critic Jack Harris accused the prime minister of hiding plans to put Canadian soldiers on the frontlines when MPs were debating the Iraq mission in the fall.
“There can be little doubt that the prime minister misled this House and Canadians in order to minimize the risk that public opinion or the consciences of parliamentarians would turn against him ahead of the vote to authorize the mission,” Harris said in the House of Commons.
Harris made the comments as he asked Scheer to rule on whether Harper was in contempt of Parliament for telling the House of Commons on Sept. 30 that Canadian soldiers would not be accompanying Iraqi and Kurdish forces into battle. Scheer said he would rule on the NDP’s request at a later time.
In response to questions from NDP leader Tom Mulcair, Harper said back in the fall that “Canadians soldiers are not accompanying the Iraqi forces into combat,” and that the mission was “to advise and to assist. It is not to accompany.”
Senior military officials have since confirmed that Canadian commandos in northern Iraq are spending about 20 per cent of their time on the frontlines, where they have been calling in airstrikes and have killed attacking Islamic State fighters with sniper fire.
Harris noted that Scheer had previously found Harper did not violate MPs’ privileges in 2013 when he repeatedly told the House that no one in his office knew about the $90,000 payment between Duffy and Harper’s former chief of staff, Nigel Wright.
The prime minister later said he had responded with the best information available to him, but denied having intentionally misled Parliament, and Scheer ruled there was no evidence to suggest otherwise.
But Harris said Harper’s comments about the Iraq war were different. “I would contend there is no possible way to interpret the current contradiction as a difference of opinion,” he said. “Canadian troops are accompanying Iraqi forces to the front line, and the prime minister said they weren’t.”
Government House Leader Peter Van Loan countered that Canadian troops in Iraq have abided by the mission parameters approved by Parliament, which was that they would not engage in “ground combat operations” against ISIL.
Arguing that the government has been open and transparent when it comes to the providing information about the mission, Van Loan said there is no such thing as a “frontline” in the traditional sense of the word and that Canadian troops have shot back at ISIL only in self-defence.
“Nobody has ever told this House of Commons or suggested that our soldiers should go there, (nobody) from this government at least, that our soldiers should go there with their hands tied behind their backs,” he added.