The House resumed consideration of the motion.
Mr. Robert Bouchard (Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise and speak to this motion on military operations in Afghanistan, especially since a number of Canadian Forces personnel from 3 Wing Bagotville in my riding of Chicoutimi—Le Fjord are actively involved in the mission. I want to salute their courage and dedication.
Regardless of the disagreements that members of the House of Commons may have regarding the mission in Afghanistan, we all have full confidence in our men and women in the field. There is also no question of an early withdrawal of our troops before 2009. Canada has a duty to inform its allies before withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan because the 2009 deadline is rapidly approaching. That is basically what this motion proposes.
Even though we on this side of the House support the motion, we also propose a rebalancing of the operations in Afghanistan, particularly in regard to Canada’s strategy for supporting peace in Afghanistan and the mandate and methods of the Canadian armed forces.
The people of Canada and Quebec are divided on the issue of our military presence in Afghanistan. The Quebec nation has values and interests of its own, and whenever the Bloc Québécois takes a position on a motion or a bill, it must always ask itself whether this is in the interests of Quebec. Am I for this or against it? Each time we try to decide what the government of a sovereign Quebec would do. That is why today’s debate is very important.
In light of what I have heard in the debates today, I believe that we need to rebalance the mission in Afghanistan. The basic objective of the international coalition and the NATO countries must be to rebuild the economy and democracy and make Afghanistan a viable country. To succeed in this, Canada must play a leadership role in delivering and distributing humanitarian aid for the reconstruction of Afghanistan. It is important to state very clearly, not only for the members of the coalition and the NATO countries but also for the people of Quebec and Canada, that the Canadian army in Afghanistan is going to rebalance its efforts in the field.
The Bloc Québécois has always supported sending troops to Afghanistan as part of a NATO mission. The operation that Canada undertook was more or less a peace mission to stabilize the Kabul region and surrounding areas. Unfortunately, it has become a war operation.
Why are the people of Canada and Quebec still so divided when it comes to the presence of the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan? The people have been told that the Taliban rebels have a fallback position in Pakistan and that they are getting stronger, not weaker. That is the situation. Moreover, according to NATO officials in charge of military deployment, there are not enough troops.
Quebeckers and Canadians must be given assurances that the government is capable of taking the Afghanistan situation to the next level after 2009. Right now, people think that the mission in Afghanistan is getting more and more dangerous.
The situation is getting a lot more dangerous, but there is still time to change the thrust of international intervention. Doing so is becoming more urgent. We will not win the support of the Afghan people by just fighting the Taliban with our weapons and chasing them around the mountains.
The Bloc Québécois is talking about bringing a new balance to the mission. If we continue doing what we are doing, more lives may be lost. Shifting the mission's focus in the following three areas is urgent.
First, we must increase reconstruction assistance and do a better job of coordinating it. From 2001 to 2006, Canada spent $1.8 billion on military efforts and only $300 million on reconstruction. This is extremely unbalanced. Put simply, this is a ratio of $6 to $1. For every $6 spent on military activities and offensive action, $1 was spent on reconstruction and humanitarian aid.
Second, the nature of our military activities must change. Everyone knows that we cannot provide assistance effectively without a minimum level of security. General Richards, the head of NATO forces there, is asking NATO countries for 2,500 more soldiers. Let me be clear: we will not succeed by repeatedly increasing the number of troops. We must remember that the priority in Afghanistan must be speeding up development and reconstruction.
Third, we must drastically change how we look at the opium problem. Afghanistan is the source of 90% of the world's heroin supply. While maintaining our efforts against drug traffickers, we must propose an alternative to Afghan farmers by helping them establish programs for new crops, to grow something other than poppies, and we must help them build infrastructures such as roads, wells, public markets and hospitals.
Social development in Afghanistan is appalling. In 2004, this country was ranked 173rd out of 178 countries listed on the human development index.
The purpose of today's debate is to clarify the situation with respect to the coalition member countries and NATO member countries, as well as Canada's role after 2009. Like the people of Canada and Quebec, those countries have the right to know the issues and repercussions involved in the active participation of the armed forces and to demand that, as quickly as possible, Canadian operations focus more on humanitarian aid, social development and peacekeeping.
With respect to the mandates and methods used by the armed forces, our soldiers must not be like warriors or vigilantes. Rather, they should be considered more as agents of peace and reconstruction.
The most important thing is to redefine the mandate of our soldiers in Afghanistan. We must be able to measure the progress made. From that perspective, if we cannot quantify the progress, it becomes clear that public opinion will focus only on the loss of human life we are suffering.
Quebeckers and Canadians are willing to send troops to Afghanistan, but only if their safety can be ensured.
This is why the government must establish precise timeframes to rebalance the mission, and ensure that our soldiers have the resources they need to carry out reconstruction and security work in the field.
In closing, on behalf of the Bloc Québécois, I would like to remind the House that, if the balance of this mission is not restored, we will no longer be able to support an operation that is doomed to failure.
Mr. John Cannis (Scarborough Centre, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, let me say how pleased I am to have this opportunity to discuss this Liberal motion. It gives us an opportunity to talk about some concrete facts, not the way they have been distorted over the past several months or year and even today.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Sydney—Victoria.
Of the five points in the motion brought forward by the member for Bourassa, the defence critic, there are two points I will focus on. I wish to read them both, so that members and Canadians from coast to coast to coast can appreciate what I am about to say. The first is:
|| (1) whereas all Members of this House, whatever their disagreements may be about the mission in Afghanistan, support the courageous men and women of the Canadian Forces;
The other is:
|| (3) whereas it is incumbent upon Canada to provide adequate notice to the other members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) of our intentions beyond that date;
On the first point, there is no question that each and every member in this honourable chamber and each and every Canadian support our military, not only our men and women who serve in missions abroad, for example in Afghanistan or other missions that they are engaged in today, but the men and women who do very important work here in Canada as well.
When a member from whichever party asks a question, whether it be in committee or in this honourable House or outside, that any member would have the audacity to take the position that the member asking the question does not support our military is shameful and uncalled for. I would go as far as to say it is unpatriotic. We are asking them to make sure that in whatever is being undertaken, whether it is procurement of equipment, whether it is upholding our three D policy of defence, development and diplomacy, we are indeed doing the right thing.
I sit on the defence committee. The committee invites various representatives to brief us on an ongoing basis to keep us up to date on what is happening, to make sure that the policy the government has laid out is being carried out.
I would say to each and every member that even during question period when questions are asked, and I have heard it from my constituents and from Canadians in general, it is not wise to put up what have been described as Bush tactics. President Bush got away with it for six or seven years by using those tactics, but thank God the American people finally woke up and realized that that was not going to play out any more.
Nevertheless, on the second point in terms of our NATO commitment to Afghanistan, today the leader of the Liberal Party put it in perspective when he talked about clarity, and who better to talk about clarity than the person who brought clarity to this country and peace and harmony through his legislation. Today what he is asking and what I am asking and what I think the member for Bourassa is asking for is clarity.
It has been frustrating to ask questions over and over again of the new Conservative government, the Prime Minister and the Minister of National Defence. The rebuttals have been so ambiguous that we are being asked by our constituents to get a straight answer.
For example, recently the Minister of National Defence was on Question Period on television. When he was asked a question, he talked about 2010. The military experts who have come before our committee know better than we do, and they have said repeatedly that this is not a four, five, seven or 10 year mission. This mission is going to be anywhere between 20 years to 25 years. Nobody is questioning that.
Let me go back to May 2006. Today Canadians are asking what the compelling reason was to bring forward and debate for six hours a motion to extend the mission for an additional two years when the mission as we will recall had just commenced. We were two months into that mission. It is the same as someone who buys a car, drives it for a month, and before it is even broken in, says that he is going to trade it in because it is no good when he has not even put 500 kilometres on it yet.
The mission started. We had not even arrived there. We had not even set up yet and all of a sudden for no apparent reason, and we have not been told the reason to this very day, there was a proposal in the House to extend the mission for an additional two years. Fine, but I have a problem with that.
The minister and the committee went to Slovenia to the NATO meeting. The minister went there and literally begged the NATO partners and all the allies to lift the so-called caveats. This is what is most upsetting because we committed our men and women to an extension to 2009 without setting the terms of engagement before that commitment. It was a bad deal. Had we known then what the terms of engagement were, who knows, maybe we would have committed our men and women for the additional two years, but there were no terms.
After we made the commitment, all of a sudden we discovered there were these so-called caveats where other nations that are involved cannot move their troops. They say that the Canadians can take care of the hot spots, no problem. When we ask them for support they say, “There are these caveats. We cannot really go down. We cannot really participate”.
Earlier today the parliamentary secretary referred to conflicts in the past. The Conservative whip talked about the second world war and how we all engaged in the second world war. My father did as well. Many members' fathers and mothers participated in those major conflicts, but they engaged in those conflicts together. It was one collective effort. They did not stand up and say, “I am going to go fight over here”, or “I am going to stay over there”. That was not the strategy then. This is very upsetting to me.
On the other hand, the Prime Minister today in question period referred to it in answer to a question. He said that the people of Afghanistan want us to be there. Of course they want us to be there. In Cyprus they want us to be there. In Bosnia-Herzegovina they want us to be there. In Kosovo they want us to be there. In Darfur they want us to be there. They want Canadians to be in every trouble spot because we have an excellent reputation. But we cannot be everywhere. They also want the international community to do its fair share.
The Prime Minister said in answer to another question, “NATO is not asking us for a decision today”. That is a very good answer. NATO did not ask for a decision in May 2006. The big question Canadians have is who put that initiative forward. We are ordering equipment today for our military, tanks and helicopters for example, that are not to be delivered until 2009-10. Canadians are asking for clarity.
On the development side people have come before our committee. Today people talked about young men and women going to school. When I hear that it pleases me very much. We also heard President Karzai in an interview with Peter Mansbridge on television during his visit say in his own words that this year 200,000 fewer students are attending school. That is not coming from any politician. That is coming right from President Karzai.
Development is not really where it should be. We must shut down that poppy growing area. We also found out in committee that President Karzai has apparently been negotiating with the Taliban. The Conservative Party says, “We are not going to deal with these terrorists. We are not going to deal with the Taliban”. President Karzai is dealing with them at the cost of Canadian blood, and I do not accept that. We have to get that straight.
The Taliban has new equipment, ground to air missiles, we have been told in committee. Where is the Taliban finding the funds to buy this equipment? I believe that if we cut the head, the body will fall. We have to cut off the Taliban's ability to secure funds because it is through these funds that they are buying the equipment that is killing our men and women. We have to concentrate on that.
Hon. Mark Eyking (Sydney—Victoria, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, the situation in Afghanistan remains a cause of grave concern for members of the House and the Canadian people. The men and women of the Canadian Forces and our civilian personnel are continuing to earn our respect and pride. However, we are failing in our responsibilities to them. We do not constantly seek to evaluate the wider picture in terms of the current NATO policies and programs, as our parliamentary colleagues across the world are doing.
We know that NATO's objective of building conditions so the Afghan people can enjoy a representative government and self-sustaining peace and security is honourable but we cannot shy away from the realities of the daunting tasks faced by our troops and personnel in Afghanistan.
In 2001, Canada sought to utilize the 3D model in Afghanistan: defence, diplomacy and development. Being the critic for CIDA, today I want to speak to the latter, development, and voice my concerns in common with legislatures from other forces and other nations about where we are with development assistance in Afghanistan.
We know from committee testimony and from the antics in the House that the Conservative government is keen to distract attention and divert scrutiny when it comes to the Afghan mission. Members who dare to exhibit some concern, the Conservatives call them a Taliban lover.
We cannot deny that there has been some progress in Afghanistan. Some roads, hospitals and schools have been built and more women are going to school. Education in the political process is taking place and security sector reform has helped in the process of reconstituting the army and the police force. NATO's and Canada's approach to providing long term security and stability requires a comprehensive strategy that encompasses reconstruction and development, as well as military operations.
However, the coalition, Canada included, has taken on a mammoth task. We need to know that we have the equation correct in determining the proper mix between civilian and military activities. It is critical that we know that Canadian development aid is going to do the utmost before any possible pullout in 2009.
Do we need to be doing more to extend our developmental footprint before 2009 rolls around? Should we not look, at the very least, to match our military expenditures in Afghanistan with development assistance dollars?
The former Afghan finance minister, now advisor to Karzai, has recently said that Afghanistan has reached a tipping point, warning that the population could turn against the international community if the economy and access to housing, employment and basic services are not improved. This sentiment has been echoed by Dr. Abdullah, a former Afghan foreign minister, saying that the Afghan people will not remain patient forever.
Afghanistan remains one of the poorest countries in the world. Five years after the international community came to Afghanistan, only 6% of Afghans have electricity. It has been estimated by the UN Refugee Agency that there are 130,000 internally displaced people, although that figure may be higher given the food and security problems in the south at present. We have not been able to address essential needs, including sustainable health clinics, sustainable provision of clean water and sanitation across the board.
Afghanistan is the largest recipient of Canadian development assistance at present, with nearly $1 billion pledged up to 2011, but we need to do the job before 2009. The government, in playing with smoke and mirrors, recently announced $200 million in reconstruction and development funds, which in reality were part of the existing pledge. However, the international community's spending per capita on development assistance is significantly lower than what was spent in Bosnia.
The Afghan government is limited in its capability to spend this assistance and, of the vast majority of aid set aside for Afghanistan, nearly 83% is spent by the international community on its projects.
A lot of donors chasing a variety of objectives, tying up aid and failing to coordinate, too often has a negative effect on a country's institutional capacity. It is even more negative when it is a fragile state like Afghanistan. Canada must pursue a strategy that is focused, with the real needs of the Afghan people in mind, and it must be coordinated.
I want to talk about the Kandahar province, which, in common with the other southern provinces, is teaching the international community that unless we can deliver services and provide protection to the civilian population, just the military operation alone will not suffice. It has also illustrated the major difficulty in the NATO mission tasking security cannot be achieved without development and yet development cannot be implemented without security. They go hand in hand.
Where NATO has not been able to extend effective governance away from the major urban centres, such as Kabul and Kandahar, the threat of renewed violence will always be there. Southern Afghanistan continues to be affected by extreme poverty and has recently suffered from drought. The system of food aid distribution has been erratic at best.
There is a real concern that the local disillusionment with ISAF troops may help to fuel a grassroots insurgency. Mr. Seth Jones with Rand corps, after two weeks in Kandahar, has claimed that while Kandahar city and two other districts are seeing reconstruction, virtually nothing else is taking place in the rest of Kandahar province, mainly as a result of the security situation.
We need to ensure that our troops' safety is not jeopardized by a lack of impact of Canada's broader aid development policies that must address the real needs of the Afghan people, nor that a weakness in the reconstruction effort prevents the consolidation of tactical gains, as recently pointed out by Dr. Rubin in the journal of the council on foreign relations.
Sterling work has been done by our PRT in Kandahar province but let us not forget that PRTs are military organizations, not development organizations. They are designed to deliver quick impact projects, not to replace sustained long term development.
Qualifying efficiency in terms of the total amount of dollars spent and the number of projects completed has been problematic for some of the other PRT teams and we must be cautious not to fall into the same trap in deciding on the real impact of the work that we have already done.
Our developmental efforts in Afghanistan cannot be undertaken with just our own priorities and poll numbers in mind, as the government seems to believe. An effective developmental assistance program is about addressing Afghan's real needs, not what sells a story.
A lot of work still needs to be done in Afghanistan before 2009 and Canadian troops have already demonstrated a thousand times over their dedication, professionalism and cool-headedness under the most difficult situations. It is time the government really ramped up Canada's developmental assistance program and ensured that the Canadian mission is 100% successful.
Mr. Blaine Calkins (Wetaskiwin, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I would like to advise you that I will be sharing my time with the member for Edmonton Centre.
I would also like to take this opportunity to express the gratitude of the constituents of Wetaskiwin to the brave men and women who serve our great nation as members of the Canadian armed forces and also to express our condolences to the families and friends of all of our brave soldiers who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.
I am proud to have the opportunity to discuss our mission in Afghanistan. This is a reckless motion from the official opposition that only encourages our enemies and could lead to more intensive action against our troops. But, instead, I would like to talk about why Canada made this commitment and what we are accomplishing.
Canada is fulfilling its duty as a member of the G-8, as a founding member of NATO and of the United Nations, to stand with the global community in the preservation and enforcement of peace and security.
Canada is in Afghanistan, together with more than three dozen other countries, as part of the UN-authorized international security assistance force. Our military is working alongside Canadian diplomats, the RCMP, municipal police officers, correctional services officers, and development workers in an integrated approach to help the Afghan people.
We are there working together with our Afghan partners, including the Afghan national army and the Afghan national police. We are helping the Afghan people carry out their plans for their country and we are helping them take real and positive steps toward achieving security within their country.
We are also securing the safety of Canadian citizens at home and abroad. After September 11, 2001, Canada acted in accordance with article 51 of the charter of the United Nations in the exercise of our individual and collective right of self-defence. The United Nations Security Council recognized this right in resolution 1368, passed on September 12, 2001. However, the Afghanistan mission is about much more than that.
Our Canadian forces are in Afghanistan at the request of the Afghan government. We have a moral duty to support them. Life for ordinary citizens in Afghanistan is very difficult. In the south, they face the worst kind of hardships and lack the most basic government services. Their communities lack proper education and health care, and public infrastructure is damaged or non-existent. Moreover, they live under threat from groups of violent extremists. Social and economic development for Afghan people cannot be achieved while these conditions remain.
Our troops, diplomats, police and development workers are working hard alongside our allies to help the Afghan people realize their hopes for a stable and secure future for themselves and for their families.
The role of our Canadian Forces, an integrated and multidimensional approach, is something understood very well by our troops. As difficult as the job is, our men and women in uniform have met the people. They have seen the children. They know the country.
Beyond security operations, they know that our objectives of development and reconstruction are vital to success. Our men and women in uniform see great promise for the future of these people, especially the children. They believe, as all Canadians should, that supporting the democratically-elected government of Afghanistan is the best way to ensure that all Afghans can enjoy the basic rights and freedoms that we enjoy in Canada.
I want to pay tribute to the men and women of our Canadian Forces, especially those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of our country and our mission in Afghanistan. They come from places like Owen Sound, New Glasgow, Dalmeny, Comox and Montreal; places just down the road; places a few hours away; and places easily found on a map.
They were soldiers who believed in our mission, like all of the Canadian Forces members serving in Afghanistan. They made a difference in places like Panjwai, Daman, Spin Buldak, Ghorak, Khakrez and Kandahar City.
These soldiers helped in ensuring that Afghanistan never again slides into the clutches of the Taliban, or those like it.
These soldiers gave their lives to stabilize and rebuild a country that has known nothing but war for more than 20 years.
We must ensure that they did not die in vain.
They and their comrades in Kandahar today are leaving behind a proud legacy for the Afghan people: a legacy of hope and confidence in the future of Afghanistan.
Roads, schools, a reliable police force, a sanitary waste management system, clean water, toys for the children are just a few examples of the numerous and many projects these men and women have helped to accomplish; all huge gifts to the Afghan people; all things many of us take for granted in Canada.
Reconstruction and development in Afghanistan are Canada's fundamental goals and they remain a high priority for our government. Canadian troops are making it difficult for Taliban extremists to gain the upper hand. But all of this may be put at risk if Canada signals that it wants to withdraw from the military mission prematurely.
Our military is supporting Afghan objectives by building a safe and secure environment which is essential for long-lasting development. Thanks to our troops and other committed Canadians, we are making significant progress in Afghanistan, but we are not finished yet.
Our goals are simple. They have been outlined many times and they are consistent with the Afghanistan compact. When Afghanistan and its democratic government are stabilized and able to independently handle domestic security concerns, and when the terrorists and their local support networks are no longer a destabilizing threat to Afghanistan, we will know that we have succeeded.
We are moving toward these goals. Canada has contributed greatly to Afghan progress so far and Canadians should be proud of our reconstruction efforts. We have truly broken new ground in our approach to development. Our provincial reconstruction team is helping to reinforce the authority of the Afghan government in Kandahar province. It is assisting in the stabilization and development of the region and it is monitoring security, promoting Afghan government policies and priorities with local authorities, and facilitating security sector reforms.
However, the PRT cannot do its work without the security operations that are still being carried out to help stabilize the Kandahar region. Addressing the root conditions of instability is our focus. Our goal is to help the Afghan people rebuild their country so that they can govern and protect themselves.
Our progress in the Kandahar region over the last year has laid the groundwork for continued improvement. Our forces and their Afghan partners are now patrolling in areas previously considered Taliban sanctuaries, confronting the Taliban where it has not previously been challenged. Our operations in the Pashmull and Panjwai areas have also planted vital seeds of development.
We are building Afghanistan development zones in strategic areas, pockets of development from which future renewal can spread. We are helping to build up the Afghan national security forces through our work at the national training centre, through combined operations with the Afghan authorities, and through initiatives such as our operational mentoring and liaison teams.
Daily, Canadian men and women are meeting ordinary, hard-working and peace-loving Afghans. They are conducting meetings with elders, delivering development aid and making a difference in the everyday lives of Afghans. Importantly, they are building Afghan domestic capacity and helping us move closer to our ultimate objective of a fully independent and stable Afghanistan.
Furthermore, Foreign Affairs Canada is making a profound contribution in promoting Afghan governance. Our diplomats are providing Afghan officials with advice on a range of key issues such as promoting and protecting human rights, security sector reform, and building sound international institutions.
CIDA is also working hard to assist the government of Afghanistan. It is continuing to deliver on Canada's aid commitments in Kandahar and across the country. Canadian police officers are building the capacity of their Afghan counterparts. They are monitoring, advising, mentoring and providing much needed training.
As a Canadian, I am very proud of all of our country's efforts.
I want to conclude by reminding this House how, once again, our Canadian Forces have stepped to the forefront to protect Canadian interests, to promote our values and to help Afghanistan. Our soldiers are among the best in the world and they are making progress in one of the most volatile regions of Afghanistan.
Are the Canadian Forces finished with the job we have asked them to do in Afghanistan? The answer is: not yet. Will they be finished on February 28, 2009? It is too early to tell.
We brought forward a motion to the House of Commons to extend the current Afghan mission to February 2009. The government has been clear that, if it were to seek further extension, it would come to Parliament to do that, and that remains our position.
Canada has invested much in this mission. We have another two years remaining in our commitment, two years of challenges, two years to make more progress, and two years of lighting beacons of renewal in the harsh landscape of a war-torn country.
Now is not the time to turn tail and run. Now is the time to remember Canada's commitment and the reasons behind it.
Hon. Keith Martin (Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I listened closely to the hon. member's comments. They certainly reflect the kind of dialogue that is coming out of the government.
I want to go back a little bit to after 9/11 when we originally went to Afghanistan. We went there to remove al-Qaeda. We went there to remove in part the Taliban. We were successful to a degree certainly in removing al-Qaeda.
The problem is that in the south where our troops are right now, in the area of Pashtun tribal lands, is an area that has never been able to be tamed by western forces. That is the concern that I have.
I have a military base in my riding and our hearts go out to the families as well as our deep appreciation to the Canadian Forces members who are doing an extraordinary job there and to the families who support them. They have our undying love, appreciation and gratitude for their courageous work.
However, my fear is that what we have done is we have put our troops in an area that is very different from Kabul in the north. The Pashtun tribal lands that go into Pakistan, where in fact the Taliban's bases are, is a situation that we cannot win. We are fighting an insurgency that has its bases outside the country with which we are dealing.
What the insurgents are going to use and have been using to kill our troops are the IEDs, the suicide bombers and the snipers. We are fighting an unconventional war with conventional means. We will lose. We are putting our troops into a meat grinder without giving them the political component parts that are necessary for their success.
I want to ask the member this. Would a better solution not be to take our troops back, stop the ink blot strategy, put our troops in and just use them to remove Taliban forces if they are coming in en masse, while enabling an increased ability--
Mr. Laurie Hawn (Edmonton Centre, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I am proud to be able to participate in this debate on our mission in Afghanistan, and to speak about the men, women and families of the Canadian Forces that I am so proud of.
I would like to start by reminding everyone that this government committed to remaining in Afghanistan until February 2009. We have not made any commitments beyond that. However, announcing a definite withdrawal date for our troops today would hurt the mission and the work we are doing to rebuild the country.
We brought a motion forward to the House of Commons to extend the current Afghan mission to February 2009. The government has been clear that if it were to seek a further extension it would come to Parliament to do that, and that remains our position.
When the time comes to make a decision, the government will consider many factors. We will do just that, but this motion today from the opposition is in fact a reckless motion that encourages our foes and could lead to more intensive action against our troops.
I would like to pick up on a few of the things that I have heard today. The leader of the official opposition said that this motion is about the good of Afghanistan and the good of Canada's troops. In fact, this motion puts exactly that good in jeopardy.
What this motion in fact would do is empower the Taliban and tell the people of Afghanistan that we will not be there for them in their most basic need: physical security.
We heard a member of the NDP quote Winston Churchill saying that it is better to jaw-jaw than to war-war, and I do not disagree. Churchill said many other insightful things. He also said that an appeaser is one who feeds an alligator hoping that it will eat him last. The Taliban is an alligator.
Winston Churchill was also the leader who had the courage and determination to take on the alligator of Naziism, without time limit, until the mission was accomplished. What he certainly did not do was invite the enemy into the cabinet war rooms or telegraph allied strategy and timelines.
My colleague, the Chief Government Whip, was criticized for reminding the House about some of that history. The Liberals countered with talk about caveats. There are no caveats to evil. There is simply evil.
There is only one way to deal with evil. That way is not the Pollyannaish approach to foreign policy and defence espoused by the NDP, which suggests that the Taliban may not really be evil at heart and we just do not understand them. That is right up there with the utterly idiotic soft power approach to foreign policy engaged in by former Liberal minister of foreign affairs Lloyd Axworthy.
It was that misguided ideology of soft power that resulted in the decade of darkness and decimation that the Canadian Forces underwent at the hands of the party opposite. This government is turning that situation around for the benefit of the people of Canada, the people of Afghanistan, our allies, and the brave men and women of the Canadian Forces.
I do not doubt the sincerity of all members of the House. What I do question is their grasp of some of the realities of military and foreign affairs.
We have talked about many things today that are indeed important, such as reconstruction, development and so on. However, the essence of this motion is about the defence portion of this mission.
I know there are members of the House who are well read on the subject of warfare through authors such as Sun Tzu and von Clausewitz. I am pretty sure the hon. member for Etobicoke—Lakeshore is one of them. There are many quotes by the member that show he is well read in that area and that he cannot possibly support this motion in his heart.
One of the things that we do not do in warfare is telegraph our intentions to the enemy. No matter what the opposition wants to believe, that does empower the enemy and it does put our men and women at greater risk.
Clearly, there is planning happening. We have heard various dates tossed around. Planning is a constant in any military organization. In any government organization, planning is a constant. Any organization that fails to plan is in fact planning to fail.
The NDP also talked about meaningful peace building, reconstruction and development and suggested that somehow this is not what is happening. That is what is happening.
It is slower than we would like and it is painful, but it is happening, bearing in mind that we are in one of the toughest areas in the entire country, which has 34 provinces, in 28 of which, relatively speaking, we have peace, security, development and so on.
Canada has drawn the tough job of doing that in Kandahar. We do that job because, frankly, our people are the best and our equipment is the best. Development is happening and it is happening only because of the defence component of the mission that Canada is contributing to so strongly.
Let me remind hon. members that everything that every member of the Canadian Forces does every single day is about peace. Members can call it what they want, but the ultimate aim of everything they do is peace.
Like the Chief Government Whip, I was also privileged to spend Christmas outside the wire in the Panjwai district of Afghanistan. One of the most meaningful experiences of my life was sitting up on Christmas Eve with Chief of the Defence Staff General Rick Hillier at a place called Ma'sum Ghar, out where the Taliban roam, smoking a cigar and talking about war and peace and people in politics.
There is no question that General Hillier and everybody there would rather have been at home with their families at Christmas. There is no question that everybody knew why they were there. They knew it was important and they were getting on with the job.
We spent about 30 hours outside the wire, travelling the roads in convoy in LAV IIIs and Nyalas. We saw markets open. We saw children playing. We saw women going about their business. Markets are not like the Byward Market here, but for those Afghanis, that was a sense of normalcy. It was a bit of real life. It was only happening because our people were there.
I spent a lot of time at the garrison in Edmonton. I spent a lot of time meeting flights coming back with wounded or just with people rotating back from the mission in Afghanistan. I have talked to families. I have talked to families who have lost people over there. They get it. They understand why the military part of the mission is so essential.
People talk about the emphasis on military versus reconstruction and so on, and they use simplistic numbers, saying there are 1,200 members of the battle group and only 350 members or whatever in the PRT. It is not as simple as a one for one for one split. There are jobs to be done and the jobs are getting done, but none of those jobs will get done without the basic defence and basic security part of the mission. We are making progress.
Canada also has a responsibility. At the United Nations, the former Liberal prime minister talked about the responsibility to protect and we agree with that. Countries like Canada do have a responsibility to protect other nations and other peoples that cannot protect themselves. They have a responsibility to join with other nations, as we have done in the 37 nation alliance that is in Afghanistan right now.
I will just point out to members that one of those 37 nations is in fact Croatia. It was not that long ago that we were helping Croatia out of a difficult situation. Maybe if we get this right, along with our allies, just maybe in five years or 10 years Afghanistan will be a member of an alliance that is helping another country to keep from becoming a failed state.
No one can guarantee success in any mission. No one can guarantee that any mission is going to be done by any date. We did not do that in 1914 or 1939 or in 1950 in Korea. We joined together with other peace-loving countries, other western liberal democracies, to get a job done for the benefit of people in another country who could not get the job done for themselves.
Canada has always taken on these responsibilities and I am proud of that as a Canadian. That does not mean it is easy. Doing the right thing is never easy, but it is still the right thing to do.
Our personnel are playing an important role in Afghanistan. They are helping to ensure that the country becomes secure so that reconstruction and economic development can take place. The government is committed to remaining in southern Afghanistan until February 2009. We have not made any commitments beyond that date and it is premature to do so.
As I have said, there are any number of plans out there on any number of shelves. It does not mean that the plans are going to be carried out, but we do have to plan.
I believe that to announce a departure date for our troops today would be detrimental to the mission. It would be detrimental to the welfare of our Canadian Forces men and women. It would certainly be detrimental to the benefit of the Afghan people we are trying to help.
Alex Morrison, president of the Canadian Institute of Strategic Studies, put it strongly when he said that “placing a definite withdrawal date would place the lives of our soldiers in danger”. At the appropriate time the government will decide whether to renew our military contribution to the multinational mission, whether to change it or whether to withdraw altogether, but it will come back to the House.
That is the essence of the motion: we cannot empower the enemy by saying that as of this date we are just going to close up shop from a very difficult mission and turn it over.
We are not going to do that. Canada will not abandon its responsibilities to Canadians and to people in countries around the world who are counting on us to live up to our responsibility to protect.
This motion puts Canadians and Afghans at risk and should be defeated.
Hon. Mauril Bélanger (Ottawa—Vanier, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Labrador.
First of all, like all my colleagues on both sides of the House today, I want to pay tribute to the men and women in the Canadian Forces for serving their country and their government in such an exemplary manner.
I will draw primarily on the first half of the speech that the Leader of the Opposition gave in February, in order to give some background and explain how we have reached the point we are at today.
First came Operation APOLLO. After the attacks of September 11, 2001, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, NATO, of which Canada is a founding member, invoked article 5 of its charter, which declares that an attack on one member of the alliance is an attack on all. This marked the first time in the history of NATO article 5 had been invoked. The principle underlying article 5, collective security, is one for which Canada will always stand.
In 2002, therefore, Canada went to Afghanistan under a UN mandate with 31 of our allies. For six months, roughly 800 Canadian soldiers joined the international coalition in Afghanistan to defeat the Taliban. This mission had a clearly defined purpose and a clear exit strategy.
After the Taliban was overthrown, the international community had an obligation to remain in Afghanistan to help stabilize and rebuild the country, one of the poorest countries in the world devastated by 30 years of foreign invasions and civil wars, and thus came Operation ATHENA.
In February 2003 Prime Minister Chrétien decided that Canada would lead the International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, in Kabul for one year. This was a multinational force, involving many countries, whose mission was to provide security in the capital to assist the newly created Afghan transitional authority and to help set the appropriate conditions for presidential and parliamentary elections. The Afghan elections took place successfully and peacefully, thanks in part to the assistance provided by Canada, and resulted in the election of President Hamid Karzai.
With 2,000 Canadian troops on the ground and General Hillier commanding the 6,000 strong ISAF force, Canada's effort was at the time our most significant mission in decades. Our soldiers did an outstanding job earning the praise and respect of our allies and of all Canadians.
From the outset, the Chrétien government worked hard to secure a replacement nation for Canada once the one year ISAF mission ended. Consequently, in 2004 Turkey replaced Canada as the lead nation in ISAF. We were able to reduce our presence on the ground, remaining engaged with about 750 troops as well as a major development assistance contribution. At this time, Canada's commitment to Afghanistan became our largest bilateral development program in our history.
Also in 2003, with the support of the Afghan government, UN-NATO assumed responsibility for the ISAF mission. Shortly thereafter, NATO again, with the full support of the Afghan government, decided to expand its presence outside of Kabul and gradually expanded its involvement for reconstruction and security throughout all Afghanistan. Thus were born the provincial reconstruction teams, or PRTs.
As part of the NATO expansion, the previous government, led by the member for LaSalle—Émard, decided to establish a provincial reconstruction team of roughly 250 personnel in Kandahar province. Many countries have PRTs throughout Afghanistan. Their mandate is to establish the authority of the Afghan government throughout the country and to assist in the reconstruction of Afghanistan.
In addition to the PRT, the previous government committed a task force of about 1,000 troops to Kandahar for one year, from February 2006 to February 2007, to work with our allies to provide security in this dangerous region and to facilitate the transition from a U.S.-led mission to a NATO-led one.
The key objective of this mission was first and foremost reconstruction and establishing security, recognizing that we would be undertaking this crucial work in a dangerous region. The government was under no illusion this mission would be more dangerous than our previous engagements in Afghanistan, as was said repeatedly by the then ministers of defence and foreign affairs.
However, Canada, NATO and the Americans had not anticipated how violent and dangerous Kandahar would become in 2006. Between January and May 2006, eight soldiers and one diplomat were killed. That contrasted sharply with the seven fatalities the Canadian Forces sustained in Afghanistan over the previous four years.
By May, a mere three months after Canada's combat force went into Kandahar, the current government knew that we were facing a significant and violent insurgency, well beyond anything NATO had experienced in the past or for which it had planned. Before too long we saw that the Canadian effort in Kandahar had shifted from the original overriding objective of reconstruction to fighting a violent insurgency.
Faced with a rapidly deteriorating security environment, the Conservative government did not take the time to determine whether and how our mission could still achieve the goals we had set up. Instead, the Prime Minister extended the mission by two years without having obtained commitments from our allies to help us cope with the changed situation.
The Conservative government made no prior effort to obtain assurances from the government of Pakistan, for instance, to secure its border with Afghanistan, across which the insurgents move with impunity. It received no assurances from our NATO allies to replace Canada at the end of our mission.
In addition, the Prime Minister said that this mission would not hinder Canada's ability to undertake peace support missions elsewhere, such as in Darfur or Haiti. However, within a few weeks of the vote in Parliament in May last year, the defence minister made it clear that Canada no longer had any such troop capacity. General Hillier, the Chief of Defence Staff, has more recently confirmed this.
Let me quote the Prime Minister during that May 17, 2006, debate before the vote later that evening as to why, perhaps, we are doing what we are doing today. I am quoting from Hansard. He said:
|| We are asking Parliament to make a commitment in three areas: diplomacy, development and defence.
|| All three are inextricably linked. In a moment I want to go through what we are asking Parliament specifically to support over the next couple of years.
|| I think I also need to be clear, given the events over the last 24 hours or so, of what the consequences would be if there were a No vote. Let me be clear on this. This would be a surprise to this government. In debates in this chamber up until last month and in private meetings until very recently, we had every reason to believe that three of four parties, which have consistently supported this action, would continue to do so.
|| Should that turn out not to be the case, this government is not in a position to simply walk away or to run away. What the government will do, if we do not get a clear mandate, the clear will of Parliament to extend for two years and beyond, is proceed cautiously with a one year extension.
I put it to the House that the mindset of the Prime Minister, and it has been demonstrated by the responses and comments from the Minister of Defence, may very well be of the government pursuing this beyond February 2009. The Prime Minister said that in his speech in the House in May of last year. It is therefore important that we make this quite clear. The will of Parliament, and we will determine that with a vote on this, is that after February 2009 another member of NATO will do what Canada has done since last year in Kandahar.
It is not walking away, cutting and running. It is ensuring that NATO, which is the lead agency in this endeavour, ensures that the load is shared by its members and not carried punitively by one member of NATO. That is the intent of the clarity of this motion. I sure hope my colleagues understand this is the extent, nothing else, and none of the imaginings we have heard today.
In closing—and I do not necessarily blame the government for this—the main objective of our mission in Afghanistan, which is the development and reconstruction of Afghanistan, is being neglected and is not being met.
When we as the government make decisions on behalf of Canadians, we have to consider what Canadians want. Canadians do not want to be in Afghanistan indefinitely, and they certainly do not want to be there for military reasons alone. Defence must be balanced by development and diplomacy, and this government does not seem to want to respect that balance.
With the adoption of a motion such as the one before us today, we hope that the government can refocus Canada's mission in Afghanistan, at least until February 2009.
Mr. Todd Russell (Labrador, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to the motion put forward by my colleague from Bourassa.
Members on this side of the House are calling on the government to offer clarity and certainty to the Canadian people when it comes to our military mission in Afghanistan. There are Conservatives on that side of the House who will argue that to even raise this debate, to even ask these types of questions, is not to support the troops. Nothing could be further from the truth.
My riding of Labrador is a military riding in two senses. We have a major defence installation, 5 Wing Goose Bay, which has served the needs of Canada and our allies on both sides of the Atlantic since 1941. We also have numerous men and women in uniform in all three branches of the Canadian armed forces and many who have served overseas in Afghanistan, the Balkans and other international deployments over the years. Our broader community has been directly affected by our commitment as Canadians to serving in military missions overseas.
The past two weeks, as we all know, have been difficult for all of us, with nine Canadian servicemen losing their lives in the line of duty in Afghanistan. One of those was Private Kevin Kennedy, whose mother is from Wabush, Labrador. He is one of five soldiers from our province who has paid the ultimate price in service for the defence of Canada during the Afghanistan mission. On behalf of all Labrador constituents, I would like to extend my deepest condolences to the Kennedy family and to all those whom Private Kevin Kennedy touched in his life.
I can say with full confidence that the people of Labrador, who I represent, support our troops and hold our Canadian armed forces in the highest regard. At the same time, Labradorians and indeed all Canadians demand and deserve an open and respectful debate on Afghanistan and our future role in that country.
It is an important principle of military policy in Canada and in all democratic nations that our armed forces are under civilian political responsibility. This means that the policy questions of what we expect our armed forces to do and how we expect them to carry out the tasks that Canadians require them to do are separate from day to day military operations. We can and should discuss policy without any fear of being smeared as not supporting our troops.
Wherever we send our Canadian armed forces in the world, whether to Afghanistan or the Balkans in the 1990s, or on humanitarian missions such as the relief operations in the wake of the Asian tsunami or hurricane Katrina, Canadians are proud of our men and women in uniform and support them fully. However, that is and must be separate from the policy questions of what we as a country and as a society want our armed forces to do on our behalf.
There are also some who will falsely allege that by raising these questions is to be soft on terrorism. Again, nothing could be further from the truth. I remember very well the morning of September 11, 2001. We all remember the horror of what became the worst single terrorist plot in human history, with nearly 3,000 dead, 9,000 injured and countless lives changed forever. We also remember that this plot was carried out by al-Qaeda, which at the time enjoyed the support and safe haven offered to it by the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
That is why Canada, under the leadership of our former prime minister, Jean Chrétien, joined with the United States and our allies in a multinational effort to dismantle the Taliban regime, bring order to Afghanistan and to ensure that the country would no longer be a haven for international terrorism. That was a decision of a Liberal government and it was the right decision.
We will never let it be said that we are soft on terrorism. When the world needed us, we were there and our record will stand the test of history.
All that being said, there is no reason why we should not now, six years later, engage in a respectful and intelligent debate on what our role in Afghanistan should be in the future.
Canada has committed to remaining in Afghanistan until February 2009 and we support that, but we also take the position that Canada needs to set out a firm date for our rotation out of Afghanistan, with our place, after nearly a decade, to be taken up by one of our NATO partners.
It is not a question of abandoning Afghanistan. We are committed to a multi-pronged approach to achieving progress for the people of Afghanistan. That includes military operations for the duration of our involvement in the Afghanistan mission. It also includes diplomacy, development assistance and support for Canadian NGOs who are at work in the country, and by every means at our disposal to build a civil society.
However, we must not let the remnants of the Taliban dictate our policy or, even as the governing Conservatives suggest, dictate the terms of our political debate.
Our long-standing parliamentary tradition, our Charter of Rights and Freedoms and our human rights laws demand respect for free speech and respectful debate. This is fundamental to our democratic society. It is not a sign of weakness that we can have this debate. It is a sign of strength. It is everything that the Taliban has fought against.
To avoid this discussion, to avoid this conversation because of what the Taliban might read into it, because of whatever false hope they might derive from it, is to let ourselves become their puppets. It cannot happen and it will not happen.
These open debates make our democratic institutions such powerful examples for the world and for our friends in the fledgling Afghan democracy.
Afghanistan, with international support, including that of the Government of Canada and with the Canadian armed forces, have made progress since the fall of 2001 and the fall of the Taliban regime. We are proud of our achievements and we stand in full support of what our Canadian armed forces have achieved on the ground in Afghanistan. We support them.
We continue to support them even as we begin the rational and constructive process of discussing how Canada will disengage, just as we have done so in our other overseas deployments since the second world war.
It is not weakness to begin this policy discussion. It is not softness. It is strength. It is the strength of our democracy and the image of Canada we seek to project around the world.
We are proud of our record in Afghanistan and will remain proud, even as we work to transition our military responsibilities, and as we seek to ensure a robust continued Canadian involvement in Afghanistan through our other branches of the Canadian government and other instruments of foreign policy.
The Conservatives will try to score crass political points with this matter but they will fail, just as they have failed in their other shameful attempts to politicize our Canadian armed forces.
During the last election campaign, for example, they made an astounding variety of political promises to Goose Bay in my riding, promises they are unable to provide and increasingly unwilling to keep.
It was not just Goose Bay. They made similar promises on the backs of the Canadian armed forces and the Department of National Defence in St. John's, Comox, Bagotville, Trenton, Gagetown, Cold Lake, Iqaluit and many other communities across this country. The Conservatives wrote political IOUs on DND's account which they cannot cash.
Just as in the Afghanistan debate, the Conservatives were shameful and shameless in their willingness to use the Canadian military as a political pawn. We cannot allow that to happen.
Our discussions as a Parliament, as a government and as Canadians on military matters must be civil and respectful. It is not unpatriotic, it is not disrespectful of our troops and it is not failing to support them to engage in these debates.
Our democratic principles and the fundamental principle of civilian political responsibility for our military demand that we must engage in this debate. Again, we support our troops.
We ask these questions and contemplate these decisions without fear that our patriotism or respect for the Canadian armed forces would ever be questioned. Anything less would be disrespectful of the freedom and liberty that 54 Canadians have died for in the line of duty and what they have died for in building and defending Afghanistan.
I stand in favour of this motion.
Ms. Alexa McDonough (Halifax, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am very sorry to have so little time and to not be able to share my time with the member for Burnaby--Douglas who also had hoped to participate in the debate.
Let me say very briefly that in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, I stood in the House as leader of the New Democratic Party and issued a plea that was being expressed around the world that the same values that cause us to be outraged and repulsed by the acts of barbarity of 9/11 guide us in our response to those horrible crimes. From that day to this, I have had ringing in my ears the words of a survivor of 9/11, who stated the following at the World Trade Center site:
|| As I silently remember my friends and co-workers who have perished, I know only this: If we fail to wage peace instead of war, if we do not learn to value all life as fervently as we value our own, then their deaths will mean nothing, and terror and violence will remain our dark companions.
I will never forget standing on the tarmac in Kandahar surrounded by troops, courageous men and women, who are doing what they have been asked and assigned to do on behalf of Canadians as members of the Canadian armed forces. They continue to do what is being asked of them to this day. A very tragic number of them have lost their lives.
Let me make it clear, as I once again issue a plea, that we understand we have to commit to participation in a comprehensive peace process. I issue the plea for the government to understand that if it continues to say that every Taliban is evil and the enemy and must be exterminated, it is going to continue to drive people into the arms of the Taliban as the loved ones of civilians, men, women and children, are killed in the attempt to defeat the Taliban.
The case has been made again and again by many with much broader experience than I that we must launch a comprehensive peace process, understanding that we must reach out to the moderate Taliban. We must understand that we will drive people into the arms of the Taliban if we continue to kill civilians, if we continue to ignore the fact that babies die because they are starving because we are directing more and more of our resources into expensive military equipment. Instead we should understand that the way to rebuild the lives of people in Afghanistan, which surely is what our commitment is supposed to be about, is to do what needs to be done to improve life conditions in that country.
We are so out of balance and we have so lost sight of that needing to be the path to peace that I and my colleagues cannot possibly commit to what the Liberals are proposing today, that we continue with two years of the flawed failing strategy that is condemned to fail in the mission.