Commons OKs three more months in Libya

"We'll be there till the end," says MacKay. "We need a different mandate," says the NDP.

Photo of Libyan rebels courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

It was a symbolic debate, given the Tory majority, but the parties laid out their positions on continuing Canada's role in the war in Libya before a vote Monday.

The Conservatives and Liberals voted for a three-month extension. The NDP fought unsuccessfully for a different mandate.

The Canadian Press has the story:

OTTAWA -- Canada was there at the start of the NATO-led mission in Libya and intends to be there when it ends, Defence Minister Peter MacKay said Monday as the House of Commons deliberated an extension to Canada's participation in the mission.

With a Conservative majority, the debate was largely symbolic. The motion was passed easily by a vote of 189 to 98, with Liberals supporting the extension.

The New Democrats opposed the measure, saying Canada should remain in Libya but with a different mandate.

Canada's current contribution to the military effort in Libya was set to expire Tuesday and the Conservatives were seeking approval for a three-month extension in line with NATO's decision earlier this month that the mandate they received to protect Libyan civilians remains in place.

"Yes, there are significant hurdles to overcome but success is not an option -- it's an imperative,'' MacKay told the Commons.

NDP defence critic Jack Harris questioned whether those hurdles still need the attention of international troops.

NATO is now in the end-game of a civil war, he said.

"Although it may be questioned as to what role can NATO play now in terms of the end game, when we're looking at an eroding defensive position by the Gadhafi forces it's clear that its role is much less, and lessening by the day,'' he said.

"We are not there to take sides in a civil war.''

Pockets of pro-Gadhafi forces remain and his family has signalled in recent days that the ousted leader is still marshalling support.

Meanwhile, the rebel-backed National Transitional Council has taken over the country's seat at the United Nations and billions in assets seized as part of a crackdown on the Gadhafi regime are slowly being freed.

The international community is on the NTC's side. Prime Minister Stephen Harper was part of a group of global leaders who met in New York last week to chart the way forward.

Diplomatic missions are being re-established, including Canada's, and at least two dozen Canadian businesses are among those exploring how to tap into the country's new economy.

Libya sits atop Africa's largest proven reserves of conventional crude, raking in $40 billion in revenue last year from oil and gas exports. Still, experts say it could take more than a year to get Libya back to its prewar production rate of 1.6 million barrels a day.

MacKay insisted Canada did not join the military efforts in Libya to get a piece of that economic pie.

"Canada still has more of a load to shoulder, which we do willingly, with enthusiasm, with no expectation of anything in return except the success of the Libyan people,'' he said.

Canada has contributed more than 600 soldiers to NATO efforts, along with planes and ships. The cost of the mission was pegged at $60 million to the end of this month.

Over $10 million in humanitarian assistance has also been provided.

That number needs to go up, the NDP argued.

"We should not be there on a military mission, we should actually be there providing civilian expertise and resources for humanitarian assistance and helping with institution building and democratic development,'' said the NDP's Carol Hughes.

"Should that not be our role? If we get into all these other ones, won't we be setting a precedent for every other civil war that's out there?''

But the Liberals called that position small-minded, arguing it makes Canada look indifferent to the brutal legacy of Gadhafi's rule.

It doesn't have to be a one or the other option, Liberal Leader Bob Rae said.

"We can do both,'' he said. "We can say we are there to see this conflict through and the emergence of a government that speaks for the people of Libya, and we are also there to assist in achievement of better governance in the country itself.''

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