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Baird mulls extending Canada’s Libya mission past September

The apparent overthrow of Moammar Gadhafi's regime may not signal an end to Canada's military involvement in Libya, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird says.

Canada's role in NATO's close support of the rebels-turned-rulers is due to end on Sept. 27, when Parliament's mandate for involvement expires. But Mr. Baird is not ruling out continuing that mission into October and beyond.

Although the civil war appears to be ending, "It's not over yet," Mr. Baird said on CBC's Power & Politics. "Canada will obviously be there in theatre to support the Libyan people."

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He added that the Conservative government was taking the situation "one day at a time."

If Canada does extend the mission, it will do so over the protests of the New Democratic Party. While the Official Opposition has supported Canada's involvement in Libya in two previous votes, foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar has said his party believes the time has come to bring the Canadian contingent of CF-18 fighter jets home.

But as Prime Minister Stephen Harper heads to Europe for meetings with Canada's allies to plot next steps in the NATO-led mission, it is certain that this country will act in concert with Britain, France and the United States in deciding when and whether to wind down military support, even as the transitional regime continues to search for the former Libyan leader and seeks to root out the last enclaves of resistance.

"Canadian Forces, as long as our NATO allies are on this UN-sanctioned mission, are there to ensure that we continue to protect civilians," Mr. Baird said.

As NATO leaders prepare for Thursday's Libyan summit, the Canadian government is looking to balance democracy-building efforts with hard-power support for the new regime.

The key, said the Prime Minister's communications director, Dimitri Soudas, is to co-ordinate that response with other nations.

"Before you just start putting things into force and implementing them, you actually have to make sure everyone is going [in] the same direction," he said in a briefing Tuesday.

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Mr. Soudas insisted that Thursday's mission is not an opportunity for NATO leaders to pat each other on the back for a job well done, as a semblance of normal life slowly begins to return to parts of country after months of bitter clashes.

"The definition of victory is always something that people try to establish," he said. "Victory to a large extent is democracy in Libya."

The fact remains that the rebels might never have overcome Mr. Gadhafi's entrenched regime without the help from NATO air support and special forces on the ground.

Canada's mission in Libya has cost an estimated $60-million – a modest sum considering the stakes involved.

The Canadian Forces are contributing 650 personnel along with CF-18 fighter jets, aerial tankers, a warship and surveillance planes. So far, Canada has dropped 550 bombs on the country, according to statistics provided Tuesday.

Before heading into the meetings, Mr. Harper will pay a visit to the NATO airbase in Italy.

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With reports from The Canadian Press

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About the Author

John Ibbitson started at The Globe in 1999 and has been Queen's Park columnist and Ottawa political affairs correspondent.Most recently, he was a correspondent and columnist in Washington, where he wrote Open and Shut: Why America has Barack Obama and Canada has Stephen Harper. He returned to Ottawa as bureau chief in 2009. More

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