Technically speaking, Jack Layton and the NDP did not cross the floor today. That’s because, technically speaking, they already sit on the government side. Thanks to the breakdown of the current minority parliament, there is no room on the opposition benches for Canada’s fourth party. So when Layton and his troops voted with the government against a Liberal motion today, they only symbolically crossed the aisle. The Liberal motion, introduced last week by defence critic Denis Coderre, called on the government to inform NATO that Canada will end its combat mission in Southern Afghanistan no later than February 2009. Thanks to NDP support, the Conservatives were able to beat it back, 150-134, in a vote Tuesday evening. The Bloc Quebecois joined the Liberals in support. Canada’s mission to Afghanistan is already scheduled to end in 2009. So what exactly this motion would have meant isn’t entirely clear. But, for the sake of journalism, I’ll try to break it down: The Conservatives are for the mission now, but want to keep their options open in the future. So a motion confirming they plan to end the mission when it’s scheduled to end doesn’t work. You don’t want the other NATO bigwigs thinking you’ve gone all wobbly. The NDP, on the other hand, are against the mission now and for the foreseeable future. (“It’s two years too long for a mission that is wrong for Canada and is not going to produce a military success,” is how Jack Layton put it to CBC News.) Voting to cap the mission in two years is presumably then too much like tacitly supporting the mission now. Hence the strange bed Layton made with Harper today. As for the Liberals… well, the Grits are already split on Afghanistan. The last time a vote on deployment hit the House, the party was fractured, with some voting to extend and some voting to end the mission. With this motion they got to be both for the mission now and against it in the future. How much any of this has to do with Canada’s actual mission in Afghanistan is an open question. Make no mistake, everyone is looking to score political points on this issue: The Conservatives by highlighting the split in the Liberal ranks, the NDP by solidifying the anti-war vote and the Liberals by doing what Liberals do best, camping out in the middle and stealing from the fringes of both sides. If you want to learn more about Canada’s mission to Afghanistan and you live in the Vancouver area, feel free to join us tomorrow night at the Alibi room in Gastown for our forum on the issue, which you can read more about here. If you don’t live in Vancouver and you still want to learn more, you can read this, or this, or even this.