Public Opinion and Interventions Abroad

By Jean-Christophe Boucher and Kim Richard Nossal

Does public opinion influence Canadian decisions on interventions abroad? Do policy-makers pay attention to what ordinary Canadians think when they decide whether to commit the Canadian Armed Forces to overseas missions?

Two recent interventions—Canada’s long mission in Afghanistan and the current operation against the forces of Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS, Islamic State in Iraq and al-Shām)—provide an excellent opportunity to test the impact of the Canadian public on issues of war and peace.

In the case of Afghanistan, as we show in our chapter in Canada Among Nations 2015, public opinion was generally strongly opposed to the Canadian mission, but policy-makers in Ottawa largely ignored the opposition being expressed by the public: they refused to bring the troops home, and indeed maintained the mission until 2014, when much of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces were leaving. Indeed, the governing Conservatives and the opposition Liberals conspired with one another to take the Afghanistan mission off the domestic political agenda.

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