Afghanistan has once again bulldozed its way into a Canadian election. Robin Sears writes:
Midcampaign, on Oct. 12, 2008, CBC journalist Mellissa Fung was kidnapped in Kabul. And on Sep. 2, 2015, again midcampaign, a photograph of the body of a Kurdish refugee child named Alan Kurdi lying on a Turkish beach shocked Canadians.
The death of three-year-old Alan touched Canadians’ hearts, and cast a spotlight on how little compassion Stephen Harper’s government had shown in its refugee policy, especially toward Afghan refugees. Alan’s Canadian relatives expressed their hurt and anger. The Conservative campaign team was knocked off stride for several days.
Once again, Afghanistan has changed the political calculus:
The collapse of the regime in Kabul — literally as this election was being launched — seems likely to play a more significant role in the outcome than any of those previous incidents. The government has known for more than four months that the Americans would be pulling out of Afghanistan after more than 20 years, thousands of American deaths, tens of thousands of casualties and the waste of more than a trillion dollars. Yet it was only a few weeks ago that Justin Trudeau’s government outlined a vague plan to help extricate the thousands of Afghans who had supported Canadian troops in their 12-year campaign — one where more than 40,000 Canadians served, thousands were casualties and 158 died.
Scrambling after his election call, Trudeau announced that Canada would admit 20,000 Afghan refugees. No guarantee was offered to those Canadian supporters still in Afghanistan, however. It was an attempt to repeat his 2015 campaign success, when he opened Canada’s doors to tens of thousands of Syrian refugees and received wide praise.
This time is different: we have no ability to ensure that the interpreters, drivers and guides who worked closely with our troops and NGOs in Kandahar and elsewhere can get out. We are at the mercy of the Taliban and the Americans, and access to a single-runway airport. On Thursday, Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan announced that flights will resume “shortly.” But the prime minister said hours later that getting out all those Afghans with a Canadian connection would be “almost impossible.”
This is beginning to look like an opportunity for Erin O’Toole and Jagmeet Singh to use this disaster as a wedge to attack the Trudeau government’s often shambolic international relations record more broadly.
Nanox is out with a new poll this morning, suggesting that there is one percentage point separating the Liberals and the Conservatives, while NDP numbers are rising.
Afghanistan could be a significant reason for Justin Trudeau's defeat. As Harold Macmillan told John Kennedy, "Events, dear boy" can change the outcomes of elections.