THE CANADIAN PRESS -- OTTAWA - The cost of Canada's military mission in Libya could hit $60 million.
Defence Minister Peter MacKay revealed the cost of Canada's participation in the NATO-led offensive to topple Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.
The mission cost Canadians about $26 million to June 2, MacKay said Thursday at a NATO meeting in Brussels. The Defence Department in Ottawa had rebuffed previous requests to make public the incremental cost of the mission.
The government will introduce a motion in Parliament next week to extend the mission another three and a half months — to the end of September. That extension would add another $34 million in incremental costs.
"If Parliament accepts this motion, our projected costs to save lives in Libya will be $60 million," MacKay said.
"Together with our international allies, we have steadily and systematically reduced the ability of the Gadhafi regime to threaten its own population with violence," said MacKay, who was attending a meeting of NATO defence ministers in Brussels.
"Simply put, Canada's leadership in this mission has protected civilians and saved thousands of civilian in Libya."
The Canadian Forces are contributing 650 personnel along with fighter jets, aerial tankers, a warship and surveillance planes to the UN-approved mission to protect civilians from the Gadhafi regime.
The CF-18 fighter jets have flown more than 1,750 hours on more than 360 attack missions, MacKay said, while maritime patrol aircraft have flown more than 530 hours on 65 missions.
"Canada's refuellers are ensuring that our forces and our allies have the ability to target the Gadhafi regime's command and control structures," he said.
MacKay said Canada's decision to extend the mission is in line with the recent 90-day extension by the NATO alliance.
"We need to continue this momentum that we've achieved thus far."
In March, the previous minority Conservative government committed Canada to a three-month mission. But now that the Tories hold a majority in the House of Commons, there will be no roadblocks to extending the operation.
MacKay said MPs will debate the issue on Tuesday and vote on Wednesday.
Opposition MPs have questioned the operation, wondering if what is known as "mission creep" is setting in. The Harper government has so far ruled out the use of ground troops.
"Will the government confirm that our mandate remains unchanged, and that Canada's engagement does not include affecting regime change in Libya by force?" NDP defence critic Jack Harris asked Thursday in the Commons.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird dismissed the regime change question, saying the motion introduced next week would be a renewal of the current mandate, "to protect civilians and ... to continue with the current military mission we sought approval from Parliament for."
In March, when he committed military assets to the Libya mission, Prime Minister Stephen Harper endorsed giving rebel forces the power to drive Gadhafi from power.
"I think that is the basis on which we're moving forward. If I am being frank here, that is probably more understood than spoken aloud. But I just said it aloud,'' Harper said after an emergency summit in Paris that marked the start of the bombing campaign.
So far, the NATO bombardment has failed to unseat Gadhafi, whose forces have fought back in recent days with a counteroffensive on the western city of Misrata.
The NATO bombardment continued Thursday with another round of air attacks on the outskirts of the capital, Tripoli.
"I believe we are making headway. It is slow but we are making progress," Baird told reporters in Ottawa Thursday. "I’m not going to contemplate failure because I believe we will meet with success. We’ve just got to be patient."
As the defence ministers began their meeting in Brussels, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen reaffirmed the alliance's goal of forcing Gadhafi from power after 42 years of iron-fisted rule.
Rasmussen said he does not see NATO playing a role in rebuilding Libya once the current crisis is over.
"We see the United Nations playing a lead role in the post-Gadhafi, post-conflict scenario," he said.
Baird also endorsed coalition efforts to support the Libyan rebels political leaders, based in the western city of Benghazi.
"Canada and our allies should have a greater engagement with the transitional council in Benghazi."