Pulse of Canada

Pulse of Canada: Should Canada get involved in the Mali conflict?

Each Friday, Yahoo! Canada News asks Canadians where they stand on the important issues of the day, and our panel of experts tackles the same question.

Canada recently sent a heavy-lift transport plane to aid the Mali government in its civil war. Should Canada get involved in the Mali conflict?

Here's what you said: 

Should Canada get involved in the Mali conflict?

Chase Kell: This is a tricky one. If you believe in protecting a country that has benefited from our developmental aid assistance for more than 40 years, then yes, Canada should assist the French with their efforts in Mali. Our country has been supporting this West African nation for nearly five decades; the Harper government gave $110 million to Mali in 2010-11 alone. With this in mind, it makes sense to help protect this sprawling nation from the surging Islamist militants. There are also many Canadian companies that have been involved in business ventures in Mali for more than 20 years, and while some may assume a Canadian effort in Mali is an attempt to follow the money, others may consider it an effort to protect our investments. But, as I stated earlier, this is a tricky one.

Matthew Coutts: Yeah, I say get in there and maybe even put some boots on the ground. Anything we can do to help, we should consider. We’ve got ties to the nation, we’ve pointed them out as a “country of focus” for our foreign aid, and we’ve got Canadians and Canadian companies operating in Mali.

But make no mistake; it isn’t just about protecting the impoverished nation and its people. It is important to keep Islamist rebels in check in West Africa. Not by taking them on by ourselves, but working with, and supporting, our allies. France is in there doing the heavy lifting, and I think we should be there to help them. One freight plane is a good start but there must be more we can do, even if we decide to remain in a technical or support role.

Andy Radia: I can't disagree with you guys more. The fact that we give aid to Mali is totally irrelevant. According to CBC News, in 2009-10 Canada gave distributed just over $5 billion in aid to 150 countries. Are we expected to come to the rescue of each of those 150 countries? Certainly the international community needs to do their part in keeping the Islamist militants in check as you say Matt. But we're a relatively small country and with a small army and navy. We need to pick our spots in terms of which battles we fight. Let the African nations come to the defence of their brethren. Let the European Union who have more a stake in the region take the lead here. It shouldn't be our battle to fight.

[ Last weeks' POC: Do you agree with blocking highways as a form of protest? ]

Kell: I hear you, Andy. But I’ll argue that as of now, we’re simply assisting an ally with the protection of this vulnerable nation. Canada has yet to pick the battle that you speak of. The Harper government has agreed to extend its support for another 30 days, but until we put boots on the ground, this is still France’s fight. And while Canada has given billions in aid to some 150 nations, not all of these countries have established the working relationship with Canada that Mali has. I think Mali deserves our support and as of now, that's exactly what we're providing.

Coutts: It seems to me that the government has learned from Afghanistan and won’t be taking a leadership role in this struggle, but I don’t think that means our military shouldn’t participate. Even if there are other forces that have a bigger stake in the region. If we waited to have the biggest stake in a battle, when exactly would we participate? If the U.S. were to be overrun, perhaps it would fall on us to charge in first but I wouldn’t like our chances against whatever force could accomplish that. Or a Commonwealth nation, perhaps. Otherwise, should we leave the fighting up to those with bigger stakes? Right now we have anted up with a plane. One. We’ve still got a few more chips we can play without going all in.

Radia: Sure, one plane for a month isn't a big deal. But I worry about 'mission creep.' No Matt, I'm not calling you a creep; what I'm saying is that first it was a plane for one week, now it's a plane for one month. What's next? Aircraft fighters? Boots on the ground?

Kell: Yeah. Who knows what will happen in the next month. But I think we can agree that Canada's ties to Mali warrant our initial support. Anything beyond air force transport assistance, however, is deserving of a national debate.

What do you think? Share your opinions in the comments area below.

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