Last fall, when he predicted that Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper would lurch from "mission creep to mission leap", Thomas Mulcair, leader of the opposition New Democratic Party, scored a direct hit.

On Wednesday just outside of Toronto, while addressing factory workers who make hydraulics electronics for the military, Harper announced that, when Parliament resumes next week, he'll  be seeking its endorsement to extend Canada's six-month mission in Iraq, currently set to expire April 7.

Harper provided no details, nor did he rule out the possibility of leaping all the way into Syria.

"Let me just say the current authorisation laid open the possibility of going to Syria, although we have not done that," he said, adding "But we'll address issues like that next week when I make a proposal to the House of Commons."

Plays well on the Prairies

Not that Harper needs Parliament's endorsement. With his majority, he can merely fly the idea past his Cabinet and send in more fighter planes, surveillance aircraft, special forces, pilots and other personnel. But Harper, who has been fighting the coming fall election by carpet-bombing Canadians with fear, likely wants yet another opportunity to warn how ISIL is ready to "launch a terrorist jihad" on Canadians who "should not feel secure, even in our homes".

But terror talk and waging war are convenient distractions from debts and deficits, not to mention climate change, the government's lack of action on Canada's 1,200 murdered or missing Indigenous women ... well, the list goes on ...

 

Which plays well on the Prairies - and pretty much everywhere else in the country.

According to an EKOS poll conducted earlier this month, 60 per cent of respondents said they supported the allied mission against ISIL, an increase of five points since mid-February. This despite the death by "friendly fire" of Sgt. Andrew Joseph Doiron and the injury of three other Canadians in northern Iraq on March 6.

The Harper government is sowing more fear and loathing with its sustained attacks on women in hijab and other head coverings. On Monday for example, during a live radio broadcast in his rural Ontario riding, Conservative MP Larry Miller declared that Muslim women should "stay the hell where you came from" if they cover their faces covered during the citizenship ceremony.

Then, of course, there's the much-criticised, 60-plus page "Act to enact the Security of Canada Information Sharing Act and the Secure Air Travel Act, to amend the Criminal Code, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts", best known as Bill C-51, the "anti-terrorism" law.

Extending the Iraq mission

Last weekend, thousands of Canadians across the country marched in protest against it. Even die-hard Conservative loyalists such as the 75,000 member gun lobby say they are concerned about how it will affect civil rights and privacy.

Coincidentally - or not - Harper announced his intention to extend the Iraq mission the very day after news came out that support for C-51 had drastically dropped, from a stunning 82 per cent as reported in February by the Angus Reid polling company to 45 per cent according to Forum Research.

So eager is the prime minister to see C-51 passed he has set just about every parliamentary committee on it, including the finance committee. This while the country awaits the federal budget which should have been delivered well before the government's new fiscal year begins April 1.

Of course, not many are surprised by the postponement of the budget what with tanking oil prices, near record low manufacturing jobs, soaring household debt and a dollar that grows weaker against the US dollar every day. This government bet heavily on the tarsands in Alberta's where cast-off workers are now literally lining up at food banks. Now it's paying the price.

As for the cost of the Iraq mission so far, in February the government admitted to some $122 million while the Parliamentary Budget Officer came up with $166 million.

Sgt. Andrew Joseph Doiron was killed in a friendly fire incident in Iraq [Reuters]

Convenient distractions

But terror talk and waging war are convenient distractions from debts and deficits, not to mention climate change, the government's lack of action on Canada's 1,200 murdered or missing Indigenous women, the shabby treatment of veterans of the Afghanistan mission, persistent charges of election fraud in 2011, an ongoing Senate expense scandal and, well, the list goes on and on ...

But hey, look! ISIL! Squirrel!

The question is, how much longer can Harper continue to cry terrorist to his political advantage? The more he attempts to divide and distract Canadians from bread and butter issues by raising the Muslim menace, the more he attracts coverage and criticism of his tactics.

According to Forum Research, Canadians are starting to wake up to the real threat to their country, the one right here that could cost them their freedom of expression and other rights. And they don't like it one bit.

So, if Harper wants a war in Iraq in order to win his election fight, he'd better prepare for political blowback on the home front.

Antonia Zerbisias is an award-winning Canadian journalist. She has been a reporter and TV host for the Toronto Star, the CBC, as well as the Montreal correspondent for Variety trade paper.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

Source: Al Jazeera