The crisis in Afghanistan — alongside the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic — has thrown up an alarming backdrop to the federal election, which could overshadow the campaign efforts of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau as his government’s record comes under scrutiny.
Party leaders hit the road last week just as the fourth wave began to surge and Kabul fell to the Taliban, prompting a desperate push to ramp up evacuation efforts for Canadian expats and former Afghan support staff at the capital’s airport. That effort ended early Thursday morning.
Trudeau has faced questions daily about the situation on the ground in Afghanistan, where Canada boarded some 3,700 Canadian nationals and Afghan refugees onto evacuation flights in recent weeks.
Reports of at least two explosions near the Kabul airport Thursday morning confirmed by the Pentagon again took attention away from the Liberal leader’s campaign message about support for low-income seniors during a campaign stop in Quebec City.
Trudeau called it a “very difficult day” but said Ottawa’s commitment to resettle more than 20,000 Afghans in Canada and support residents in the war-torn region will continue.
“Our engagement with Afghanistan is not done. Yes, this phase of the emergency air bridge facilitated by the Americans until they pull out finally has been important and has been something we’ve been in wholeheartedly over the past many weeks,” he said.
“This particular moment is done and it’s heartbreaking to see, but there is much more to do and Canada will continue to be there for Afghans and Afghan people.”
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said Canada’s exit was a “failure.”
“Many veterans have raised concerns around the process being too complicated, requiring access to the internet when many people didn’t have it, and just not meeting the needs of people in a crisis,” he said in Winnipeg, where he highlighted the NDP’s pledge on housing.
“It’s with a heavy heart that we now see thousands of our allies, people that put their lives at risk to support our troops, are now being left behind.”
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole had said Wednesday Trudeau has “abandoned people there” and waited too long to act.
Meanwhile, COVID-19 hospitalization rates in several provinces continue to creep up as the fourth wave rises before children head back to school.
Trudeau avoided directly answering a question on whether he supported giving booster shots to Canadians. The World Health Organization has called for a moratorium on booster doses in a bid to channel more vaccines to parts of the world with low inoculation rates.
“On booster shots, on further vaccinations, we will always pay close attention to the recommendations of our public health officials. But the reality is the more Canadians get vaccinated — the more we get that number up — the safer we’ll all be and the better we’ll be able to make sure we’re ending this pandemic everywhere around the world as well,” he said.
He noted Canada has started to donate tens of millions of surplus vaccine doses to low- and middle-income countries.
—Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press