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Dion blasts Harper on foreign policy

The Canadian Press

MONTREAL — Stéphane Dion unleashed a string of insults Thursday to condemn Stephen Harper's foreign policy, describing it as mediocre, rigid, simplistic, amateurish and incompetent.

Taking aim at the government's unclear plan for the future of the Afghanistan mission, the Liberal leader outlined a foreign affairs agenda that includes a new role for Canada in Afghanistan after 2009 when combat operations are scheduled to end.

But Mr. Dion provided few details on what Canada would do instead, saying he would boost the number of Canadian development workers in the country and help provide Afghans with clean water.

Mr. Dion accused Prime Minister Stephen Harper of slavishly following the lead of U.S. President George Bush on foreign policy — abandoning the Kyoto Protocol to reduce greenhouse gases, ramping up defence spending, and ignoring human rights violations in the pursuit of terrorists.

"Mr. Harper has given Canada a foreign policy that draws its inspiration from the American right, a foreign policy that does little to advance Canadian interests," Mr. Dion told a foreign relations think-tank.

Mr. Dion said it's up to Mr. Harper's government to hammer out a plan with NATO allies, not the Liberals.

The government is working on it, according to Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre.

Mr. Poilievre accused Mr. Dion of his own flip-flop for demanding an end to an Afghan mission he helped launch while he was a Liberal cabinet minister.

"He helped put our troops in heavy combat," Mr. Poilievre said in an interview.

"Then he opposed their mission in an act of breathtaking hypocrisy. He's flip-flopped so many times it's impossible to keep track."

Mr. Dion said a Liberal government would return to a more multilateral approach that puts a little distance between Canada and the U.S.

Among other things, he said a Liberal government would champion global efforts to combat climate change and promote human rights. It would also seek a worldwide ban on cluster bombs, in same way that Canada led the charge to ban land mines under Jean Chrétien's Liberal government.

Mr. Poilievre pointed out that Mr. Dion was in cabinet when Canada failed to meet climate change targets.

"He's trying to distract from his weak leadership with these vicious attacks," the Ontario Tory MP said.

Mr. Dion said he would also attempt to make Canada the world's best "fresh-water managers," preserving a precious resource at home while helping to prevent the rapid depletion of water reserves elsewhere in the world.

Mr. Dion was most critical of the Tory government's handling of Canada's combat mission in Afghanistan, calling it "the most appalling example among a series of foreign policy blunders."

He said the government has bungled the issue of Afghan detainees, proved incapable of administering Canadian aid in the country, and sent a series of confusing mixed signals on when the combat mission will end.

"It's always worrisome when a politician constantly flip-flops, but when people's lives are at stake, it's inexcusable," Mr. Dion said.

Mr. Dion said a Liberal regime would give Canada's NATO allies immediate notice that the combat mission will end in February 2009 so the alliance can plan for the change.

Mr. Dion's attack came one day after Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier gave his first, halting speech in his new job.

Interrupted repeatedly by hecklers, Mr. Bernier read closely from a prepared text and tripped over questions about the Afghanistan mission's structure and mandate.

Mr. Dion chided Mr. Harper for refusing to intervene in the case of Omar Khadr, the lone Canadian being held at the controversial U.S. detention centre in Guantanamo. Mr. Khadr, who is accused of fighting alongside al-Qaeda terrorists and killing a U.S. army medic, was captured by American troops in Afghanistan six years ago when he was only 15.

Mr. Dion reiterated the Liberal contention that Canada should pressure the Americans to ensure Mr. Khadr receives due process in a civilian court.

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