Jack Layton has now put the NDP on record as unequivocally opposed to further Canadian participation in military action in Afghanistan. This could potentially represent a clear demarcation between the Liberals and the NDP in the next election, one in which in foreign policy could be highly salient. This will be especially true if Michael Ignatieff wins the Liberal leadership race. Other Liberal candidates with the exception of Scott Brison voted against (or in the case of Bob Rae, said they would have) but none have gone as far as the NDP. Gerard Kennedy issued a statement strongly criticizing the current strategy in Afghanistan. It brought him close to the NDP’s position but still short of a decisive break.
This move by Layton is being derided by the usual Ottawa suspects, but certainly won’t hurt the NDP. Look at this Strategic Counsel poll on page 12. The question offers three options: keep the troops there as long as needed; for a limited period - 2 or more years, or bring them home now. Support for the "bring them home" choice ranges from a low of 31% in the west to 54% in Quebec. All these numbers are well above NDP support in the last election. Whether it will be an important issue in the next election is what we don’t know right now. But another question, on page 10 reveals that 25% are strongly opposed to sending troops to Afghanistan, 35% in Quebec and 22% elsewhere. The actual state of the conflict and the cumulative casualty toll will be the key factors in determining its salience when the campaign arrives.
Opposing the Afghanistan mission is most popular in Quebec. However, the principal beneficiary there will be the Bloc. But it won’t hurt the NDP elsewhere and might help.
I might myself be supportive of the Canadian effort if I thought it had any chance of success in the sense of being able to contribute to a positive revitalization of Afghanistan, but I find it hard to disagree with this article called "Death Trap" that appeared a couple of months ago in the London Sunday Times (TC linked to it at the time). The war is likely to fail and increasingly be seen as another western neo-colonial intervention in the third world. Layton’s course appears to be the wisest alternative.