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PM: UN peacekeeping mission possible in 2017, even though Canada mum on details

PM won't rule out 2017 peacekeeping mission

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is not ruling out sending troops to a peacekeeping mission this year, even though Canada has not yet told the United Nations what it is up to.

"We have a difficult history in Africa as peacekeepers and we need to make sure that when we embark on any . . . military mission, we make the right decisions about what we're going to do, how we're going to do it, and the kind of impact we're going to have on the ground and on Canadians," Trudeau said Saturday.

"That's a decision we're not going to fast-track. We're making it responsibly and thoughtfully."

The Liberal government pledged last summer to provide up to 600 troops and 150 police officers for UN peacekeeping operations, plus $450 million over three years on peace and stability projects.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan originally promised to reveal where they were headed by the end of last year. Military officials and Canadian diplomats put some work into figuring out where Canadian troops could make an impact, but an announcement has yet to be made.

The Liberals ended up stalling their plans — including a request from the UN to lead the peacekeeping mission in Mali — as the federal government tried to figure out the priorities of U.S. President Donald Trump and his administration.

Jordan Owens, a spokeswoman for Sajjan, confirmed Saturday that Canada has not provided the UN with formal notice of its specific contributions, saying "it would be inappropriate" to do so before the government has decided what that would be.

Asked Saturday morning whether that means Canada will not be sending more blue helmets out in the world by the end of the year, Trudeau said he would not draw that conclusion.

"We continue to look very carefully at ways to move forward on the strong commitment we made on peacekeeping," Trudeau said.

"We know that Canada has to play a strong and effective role on the world stage in ways that suit our capacities and we're looking to make sure that that happens right," he said.

Sajjan had a similar message Saturday afternoon, as he was pressed on whether there is a chance the mission will still not be underway by the time Canada hosts an international peacekeeping summit in Vancouver.

"We want to make sure that we get this right, and we will," Sajjan said.

Trudeau also stood firm on the Canadian line that its contribution to NATO should not be measured by that fact that it spend about one per cent of its GDP on defence, which falls short of the agreed-upon target of two per cent.

"Lots of different countries in NATO measure their contributions in different ways. Canada measures its contribution by the amount of times and ways that we step up concretely on issues that matter," Trudeau said.

Trudeau is on Parliament Hill for a rare weekend Liberal caucus meeting, where MPs are discussing the budget and how to make the most of their remaining time in Ottawa before they head home for the summer.

One of the highlights of the 2017 budget was $7 billion over the next decade to help increase access to affordable child care across the country.

Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said child care talks to hammer out an early learning and child care multilateral framework — followed by bilateral deals with each province and territory — are picking up steam now that money is on the table.

"Those conversations are now going faster and we look forward to further announcements," Duclos said.

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said there were a number of issues to discuss, including the ongoing efforts to build a strong relationship with the new Trump administration.

"Canada and the United States is a very important issue," she said.

There is also the issue of caucus dynamics to discuss.

Liberal MPs who sit on the backbenches have recently been exercising the freedom Trudeau promised them with more free votes, such as when a majority of them voted earlier this month in favour of a bill that would bar health and life insurance companies from forcing clients to disclose the results of genetic testing. That happened even though cabinet voted against it and Trudeau said it was unconstitutional.

The prime minister said Saturday that his caucus is more united than ever.

"One of the great strengths of the Liberal party is there is always a range of perspectives that allow us to represent the range of perspectives of Canadians," Trudeau said on his way in to the second day of the meeting.

— With files from Lee Berthiaume

— Follow @smithjoanna on Twitter

Joanna Smith, The Canadian Press