Canada to vote on Afghan mission, election risked

Wed Feb 6, 2008 2:06pm EST
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By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's minority government, risking an early election, plans a parliamentary vote of confidence late next month on prolonging its military mission in Afghanistan, officials said on Wednesday.

The three opposition parties -- which between them control Parliament -- reject the idea of an extension. Unless the two sides can reach a compromise, the Conservative government will fall after just over two years in power.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper wants the 2,500 Canadian soldiers in southern Afghanistan to stay longer but says he will pull them out on schedule early next year unless NATO sends in 1,000 extra troops.

Debate is set to start next week and a vote on the motion would take place in late March if Ottawa believed NATO allies were ready to provide additional military help, Harper officials said.

"This government believes this to be a very serious matter and one of great importance to Canada," said Harper spokeswoman Carolyn Stewart-Olsen.

If the motion is to pass, Harper will need the support of the official opposition Liberals. The two other parties in Parliament are opposed to extending the mission.

Liberal leader Stephane Dion said Harper had told him on Tuesday that the vote would be matter of confidence.

"He made that very clear," he told reporters.   Continued...

<p>Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa February 5, 2008. REUTERS/Chris Wattie</p>