The Liberal candidate in our riding, Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, made it easy. Serious, impressive young guy, great C.V. Had a big red sign on our front lawn touting him, the minute the writ was dropped. Easy choice.
Standing in the voting booth at a local school on Election Day, a stub of pencil hovering over a slip of paper, however, I hesitated a bit. I thought back over the preceding months.
Justin Trudeau’s verbal flubs, which his own staff had admitted to me were a problem. The preoccupation with marijuana to the seeming exclusion of anything else. Letting imported terrorists keep acquired Canadian citizenship, even after they were convicted of killing someone. The selfies. Eve Adams. Not-so-open nominations. And so on. There had been not a few things to make one think twice, perhaps, about voting Liberal.
But the big one, for me, was the promise to pull out of the coalition fighting ISIS. That one, for me – along with several million other Canadians, for quite a while – had me wondering how to vote. When veteran Liberal MP Irwin Cotler abstained on his party’s ISIS position in the House of Commons, I knew: Trudeau had made a big, big mistake. The polls reflected it.
The Vatican had called ISIS the authors of genocide. The United Nations had provided proof they were engaged in genocide. ISIS had revealed itself to be a well-funded, well-organized genocidal cult – a malignant force unlike any that we had seen in our lifetimes. They were not going away, either. Beheadings, crucifixions, mass rapes, enslavements, torture, and – don’t forget – the actual murder of actual Canadian citizens. ISIS was doing all of those things, sometimes on YouTube so everyone could see it. There was proof. It was real.
Equally real, equally true, was this: the Liberal Party of Canada sent Canadian forces into battle to fight fascism in the Second World War. To stop genocide, in Bosnia. To contain terror, in Afghanistan. It was Liberal governments which made those difficult decisions.
Liberals rightly opposed the war in Iraq in 2003 because that American-led effort lacked evidence of weapons of mass destruction. It lacked United Nations support. In 2015, however, the United Nations had clearly documented horrors carried out by ISIS – including the murder and enslavement of children. How – I and many others wondered – how could Justin Trudeau be unmoved by all that?
Well, he wasn’t.
For quite some time, I had agreed with Trudeau on one important criticism: Stephen Harper’s contribution to the war against ISIS was a bit of a farce. Six fighter jets? That is all? Harper’s soaring anti-ISIS rhetoric did not even remotely match what he was doing on the ground in Iraq and Syria. He was not doing nearly enough.
Trudeau initially gave us all the impression that he felt Harper was doing too much, true. But it turns out it was a head fake. When it came time for the newly-minted Liberal Prime Minister to make a decision of his own, at or about the 100-day mark of his administration, here is what he decided: he didn’t pull Canada out. He actually committed us to an even greater role in the just and proper fight against ISIS. More, not less.
He is tripling – tripling – the number of Canadian special forces, on the ground, training Kurdish forces. He is sending Canadian troops into nations other than Iraq. He is spending millions more on counter-terrorism measures. It was a change that was “riskier overall,” said Canada’s Chief of Defence staff. And, from our Minister of Defence: “There’s no mistake about it, we are in a conflict zone.”
The reaction of our allies? Barack Obama, David Cameron and the Pentagon all rushed to applaud it. The White House even issued a statement: “The President welcomed Canada’s current and new contributions to Coalition efforts and highlighted Canada’s leadership in the Coalition.”
Sound like Trudeau is cutting and running to you? Me, neither. If anything, he’s more fully committed to the fight against the enemy than Harper was.
Moral of the story? There may have indeed been reasons not to vote Liberal in 2015.
But Justin Trudeau’s apparent reluctance to take the fight to ISIS was not one of them.
Warren Kinsella is a Canadian journalist, political adviser and commentator.