He said: Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to have the opportunity to participate and to address this House on such an important issue as was just outlined in the motion presented to the chamber.
I want to begin my remarks by doing something that is seldom done in this place and that is to express appreciation and respect for members opposite for taking part in this important debate. I am firmly of the belief that this sincere effort to forge consensus on this important subject augurs well for this Parliament and for the future of our country.
This is perhaps the most important debate facing our Parliament and our nation today. It has important broad implications for Canadians, Afghans and for the world.
It is also worth expressing special acknowledgement of the role of the Leader of the Opposition, the deputy leader of the opposition, and other members of the Liberal Party for bringing forward consensus at a critical time that can result in a truly Canadian position. This is rare in this often partisan-charged air of this chamber. We are seeing democracy in action, the very thing that we seek to protect and promote in Afghanistan.
By putting aside our political differences and our party lines on an issue such as this, we demonstrate to our fellow Canadians and those who put their faith in us that we can see the bigger picture, that we can come together on a cause that others from our country are literally prepared to die for and do what is right and just.
Coming together on this motion is demonstrative and reminiscent of previous times in our country's history when soldiers were deployed, when it was patriotism over partisanship.
I am personally grateful that we appear ready to rise above the rancour and personal sniping, and put forward a message to Canadians, Afghans and those around the world who are watching this debate, including the Taliban, that we are united.
We are a substantive and serious Parliament, responsive and responsible, on issues that matter. Behind the people who we send to far-off places to promote the values that we believe in, those acts of parliamentary union elevate us, and bring credit and credibility to public office holders.
As the Prime Minister has stated, the government broadly accepts the report and recommendations of the independent committee on Canada's future role in Afghanistan.
I want to thank John Manley, Pamela Wallin, Derek Burney, Paul Tellier and Jake Epp for their extraordinary dedicated efforts and important insights into the question of Canada's future role in Afghanistan. It is a comprehensive and well written report. It will contribute much to the debate before the House.
Subject to the conditions laid out in the motion before this House, this government supports extending Canada's responsibility for security in Kandahar to the end of 2011. That date would coincide closely with the benchmarks on development outlined in the Afghanistan Compact.
The government is already moving ahead to carry out several of the key recommendations made by the independent panel. A new cabinet committee has been struck.
Furthermore, the Privy Council Office established an Afghanistan task force made up of senior members of the government and the public service. Together with David Mulroney of Foreign Affairs Canada, the task force has coordinated this file over the past year.
These two groups will improve the coordination of the government's work in Afghanistan. In order to keep doing what we are doing in Afghanistan, we are pursuing discussions with our allies and partners to bring more troops into Kandahar.
We are also exploring all available avenues to ensure that our soldiers get the equipment they need.
To date Poland has come forward with two Mi-17 medium-lift helicopters to be made available for Canadian use at Kandahar airfield. We thank Poland sincerely for that contribution, and others we hope will follow suit, for we know that every little bit helps.
The government is committed to ensuring that our men and women in Afghanistan are positioned for success. With the proper equipment and support, we believe that success will come sooner.
I ask all members to weigh carefully the independent panel's report. It was comprehensive and instructive in the recommendations.
I urge all members, as well, to support this motion before us. It matters to Canadians, our soldiers and to the international community. The world is watching, including the people of Afghanistan and their oppressors. A falter or slip in support does in fact embolden and strengthen the terrorists to return and wreak havoc upon the people of Afghanistan again.
Canadians can be proud of what we are doing, proud of the role that we are playing, a leadership role in the international community's efforts to stabilize Afghanistan. We have played this role before, in the first and second world wars, and in Korea.
Whenever the world rallied against an aggressor, Canada was there early and saw those victorious efforts through. Canada is there again, once again at the forefront of a struggle with grave and global consequences.
Our role within the United Nations mandate, mission to Afghanistan, has been earned through commitment, hard work and sacrifice, and we have won the respect of the Afghan people, our international allies and partners.
On the backs of our soldiers rests more than just a uniform, but the pride and the purpose of a grateful nation. Those who take on the task of military service are our best citizens.
The simple title of soldier is worthy of respect and gratitude, and Canadians, in growing numbers, are expressing these sentiments in words, cards, letters and acts of thanks. At red rallies, speaking events, airports, halls, places of work and on the street, soldiers are feeling that gratitude.
Yes, the mantle the leadership can weigh heavily. It has costs that are deeply felt by Canadians. The sacrifices of Canadian soldiers are remarkable by any standard at any time in our nation's history. Their willingness to stand against terror and tyranny, against oppression and indignity, is a credit not only to our country but to all humanity.
All the same, there are times when we, as a country, must take a stand and assert ourselves. We have to assert ourselves by promoting our fundamental values and interests, and by being clear about what we are prepared to do to defend them. We cannot expect others to do the heavy lifting for us. If we truly believe in this mission, we must realize that actions speak louder than words.
The time for action is now. Afghanistan needs us. Stabilizing Afghanistan is a noble and critical cause. Let us consider the circumstances.
Here again, I ask all to consider the circumstances that led us to this point. The Afghans want us there. The people of Afghanistan were living in the grip of fear every day under the Taliban. They were deprived of the simplest things and denied hope for a better future. That hope, as basic as the air we breathe, was choked by the Taliban.
The United Nations wants us there. NATO needs us there. The Manley panel has recommended we persevere in the mission. If not this mission, then when? When would we be better justified to play a part?
Afghanistan is a Canadian mission. It is not a Conservative or Liberal mission. We had two positions. We now have one. Yet, we know there are those in this House who will oppose this mission and this motion.
On one side we have a position held by the government and the Liberal Party, we believe, to essentially support the continued presence of Canada in Afghanistan.
This reflects our international obligations as well as our commitment to the Afghan people, whom we have said we would protect and help to further their own development and capacity building to allow them to assume full responsibility for their own national sovereignty and security within their borders. That goal can be achieved, but it will not be achieved if we bring our soldiers home.
Liberals and Conservatives agree that the mission should wrap up in 2011. Liberals and Conservatives agree that we must focus on our efforts on training, development and reconstruction.
We agree that we are in Afghanistan on a military mission and that military decisions are to be made by those on the groun who are able to assess the situation and make important operational decisions in the theatre.
This position also reflects our obligations to our fellow Canadians serving in Afghanistan: our men and women in uniform, our diplomats and our development workers. We applaud them all. They believe deeply in the mission and they must know that they have clear, unambiguous support from home for their important work.
Clearly, it needs to be pointed out again that military means alone will not assure success. The enormous contributions of CIDA, DFAIT, Canadian Border Services, RCMP, municipal police and other government agencies, in addition to what the military is doing, I believe, will prevail.
I want to applaud those heroes for all they do, including our fine Ambassador Arif Lalani, Bob Chamberlain, Karen Foss and others at the PRT, and I welcome Elissa Golberg to her new role in Afghanistan.
At the same time, we have the position of the NDP and the Bloc which is to pull Canadian troops out of Afghanistan as early as next year. Simply put, reality seems to have escaped these two parties.
We believe we should stay and finish the job. We do not want to abandon the Afghan people or turn our back on the international community. Staying in Afghanistan is not the easy thing to do, but staying there is the right thing to do.
The world needs to understand why we are in Afghanistan. By helping the Afghan people, we are helping ourselves. We cannot ignore the conflicts going on around the world.
In a world that seems to be growing smaller by the day, no nation is immune to terrorism. We are not shielded from the horrors that touch other countries, and we ourselves have been touched. Canadians were killed in the attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York.
Terrorists have also attacked other places, killing innocent people in Washington, London, Madrid and Bali.
Let us never forget that the worst terror attack prior to 9/11 to hit North America was the bombing of Air-India, the flight that left Vancouver and took 329 lives. As we sit in the House, the very symbol and essence of Canadian democracy, we should remember always that these attacks were an unprovoked assault on democracy and on all civilized nations on values that transcend religion and culture, an attack on reason itself.
The attacks have continued. Last week two separate and deadly explosions set off near the Arghandab Valley took the lives of over 100 Afghans and injured four Canadians. The magnitude of the pain and suffering reverberated around the globe, and reminds us of the brutality and the lack of humanity that are the Taliban. We mourn the loss of all innocent lives in Afghanistan and express our sincere sympathies to their families.
We are reminded time and time again that Afghanistan is not someone else's problem. It is our problem too. If Afghanistan were to once again become a safe haven and an incubator for terrorism, Canadians and the people we are there to serve would be in increased danger, the world would be a more dangerous place. The Afghan people want and deserve the same things that Canadians want. They want to live free from oppression. They want dignity and human life respected and protected. They want a better life for their children. They want hope. They want opportunity.
With an incubator and an exporter of the threat of terrorism represented in Afghanistan, Canadians undoubtedly would face increased danger because freedom, democracy and human rights and the rule of law, all things we embody and embrace as a nation, would be under threat. All of this would be an abomination to those who preach hate and practise murder if we were to walk away.
Make no mistake about it, our security and that of our allies is at stake in Afghanistan, along with the people of that country and region. That is why we are there. We are there with our allies, our partners in both NATO and UN. Over 60 like-minded and determined nations in various roles are contributing to the peace, security and betterment of the country.
This is why we cannot abandon the vital leadership role that we have been assuming in Afghanistan until we reach that critical tipping point, until we are able to give it the ability to assume a larger role and govern itself completely free of the shadows of Taliban terror.
It pays to do a retrospect and from time to time to look back, not only ahead, to assess what has been accomplished. Addressing the root causes that have allowed Afghanistan to become a safe haven for terrorism is challenging. Long term stability in Afghanistan means helping the Afghans develop the tools they need to govern themselves justly, to realize their social and economic potential and to provide for their own security. These are the essential elements of the Afghanistan compact, signed in early 2006, which guides the international community and the Afghan government's efforts. Canada participated in the formation, the drafting and is a signatory of the compact.
Canada's engagement follows this international blueprint. Our mission is multifaceted, involving numerous government departments and agencies. It draws upon national strengths and combines these with those of our allies and our partners. Helping the Afghans rebuild their country after decades of conflict is a monumental task, a task made more difficult by the insurgency that ebbs and flows into Afghanistan across the Pakistan border.
We must never forget that in Kandahar province, in geographic terms, we are in the south with the largely open Pakistan border. We call upon Pakistan, even in the midst of its own internal problems, to elevate its efforts to stop recruitment from refugee camps, to provide better security at the border, known often as the Durand Line, and to crack down on insurgency within their own lands.
Let us not forget that by working with our allies and our partners, we are achieving real and substantive progress on the ground.
Consider the seeds of democracy that have been planted, which are now taking root within this once tumultuous country. It pays to calculate the difference today compared to a short five or six years ago in Afghanistan.
Over 10 million Afghans, including women who had previously been forbidden to participate in public life, now register and vote in national elections. Women do not just register to vote and cast ballots. They place their name on ballots and they are elected to public office. Over 25% of the Afghan parliament is made up of those brave women. The Afghan people selected their government through free and fair elections.
There is freedom of expression, freedom of expression that simply did not exist previously. Today there are seven television and forty radio stations broadcasting. Over 350 newspapers are published. There are extraordinary accomplishments and will undoubtedly lead to more.
This informal debate, this issue of national awareness both here and in Afghanistan is of critical importance as it develops its own national awareness and identity.
None of this environment for public discourse or exchange of ideas existed in Afghanistan a few years ago. There were no universal suffrage, no democratically elected government, no free press until Canada and others said yes to Afghanistan's call for help.
We did what we have done previously. We answered to call from a nation in need. The progress in other areas is equally striking. Consider Afghanistan's crippled infrastructure is being rebuilt, schools, hospitals, clinics, place of commerce. Irrigation canals are transforming the countryside. Land that once lay barren is fertile ground, allowing for alternative crops to grow instead of the scourge of poppy for heroin production and proliferation. Today in Afghanistan over 6,000 kilometres of new and refurbished roads allow farmers to bring their crops to market.
I do not have to tell politicians present the important of roads in any country. These roads make a daily difference in the lives of Afghans. This past Christmas, during a visit to the Arghandab district, we saw a bridge near Ma'sum Ghar, an impressive structure by any standard, connecting two villages across a flood plain that had previously divided them, presumably for centuries. It has transformed their way of life, their ability to do commerce with one another and their ability to exchange in normal life activities.
Make no mistake about it, the lives of ordinary Afghans have improved. Per capita incomes have doubled in the last three years. Afghans certainly feel today a hope for a better future that is reflected in polls and in the most important measure, and that is in the words, actions and deeds of the people of Afghanistan themselves.
That future, as with all countries, will depend on their youth. Great work is underway to ensure the children of Afghanistan are empowered to create the peaceful and stable future for themselves. Schools are being built. Places of learning are out of the shadows and now prominent everywhere. Thousands of teachers are being trained. Today six million children are being educated in Afghanistan, a truly transformative development. This is a spectacular rise in student employment, up from only 700,000 during the Taliban's brutal rule. Most notable, two million of the Afghan students today are girls, girls who would never have been permitted inside a classroom just a few short years ago. This is empowering and a powerful change for a generation of young Afghan females.
More than 80% of Afghans now have access to basic health care, something that was as low as 7% a few years ago. That is progress undeniably. Infant and child mortality rates have plunged, a remarkable success. Because of massive efforts of vaccinations and inoculations, diseases like polio and tuberculosis are in retreat. This is something all Canadians should rightly be proud of.
In a very real and positive way, international assistance is having a profound impact upon the lives of Afghan people. Millions have returned as a result of a change in conditions inside their country, and perhaps this is the clearest sign of hope revisited on those who have left their war-torn country, returning home for a future in a place they call home.
This progress has been made despite the violent efforts of the opposition, the Taliban and the insurgents, insurgents who have no use for the ballot box. Why? Because they know the only way they will return to power is through violence. Their plan is simple. What the Taliban insurgents seek to do is sow chaos, feed fear, drive the allied military forces out and reverse the progress being made on democratic and human rights inside the country.
We cannot and will not let the insurgents succeed. To this end, maintaining and improving security on the ground is essential because security enables governance, reconstruction and the development initiatives to flourish.
There cannot be democracy without security. There will be no development, no reconstruction, no prosperity and no hope for the Afghan people without security. There is an inextricable link. Afghanistan could, once again, become a breeding ground and safe haven for terrorism without security.
The way forward is clear. The way to success is clear. We must keep our resolve. All I have said thus far should not be interpreted as blind to the challenges and obstacles that still exist. Clearly we can all agree there is much left to do in Afghanistan. Yet it is essential that we continue to help the Afghan government to extend its authority throughout Kandahar province and the entire country. It must have an increased presence and visibility, particularly in the south.
I know the Prime Minister, other members of the present government and the previous government have made this point repeatedly to President Karzai and members of his administration.
The Canadian Forces will accelerate their efforts to mentor and train the Afghan security forces so they can eventually fully defend their own borders and sovereignty.
Members here should know that there have been notable improvements in the capabilities of the Afghanistan National Security Forces. I have met and spoke with President Karzai and my counterpart, General Wardak, on numerous occasions on this subject, as have others. They and the government of Afghanistan understand the urgency to accept and accelerate the pace at which they must grow their security forces.
With Canada's help, I note that 35,000 Afghans have graduated from the national army training centre in Kabul, a remarkable graduation rate. In Kandahar, our forces are mentoring six army battalions, or kandaks. The Canadian police are also monitoring and mentoring the improvements within the Afghan National Police force, another important contribution to its national security.
We are helping the Afghan National Army and police develop their own ability to plan and conduct operations. We are providing them, as well, with equipment and uniforms. Professionalizing their forces is clearly a priority.
We have seen improvement in other areas, and let me give an example of a concrete change that has occurred. During the battle of the Panjwai, the largest ground operation in NATO's history, Canadian Forces were in the vanguard. The Afghan National Army at that time did not play a decisive role in this engagement.
Now, 18 months later, the Afghan National Army is a significant force that can make its presence felt in Kandahar province. It demonstrated that very recently in an operation where it was shoulder to shoulder with Canadian Forces in liberating a village. It was celebrated with notable enthusiasm by the local people, with gratitude for the freedom that was bestowed by this exercise.
As the capabilities of the Afghan security forces in Kandahar increase, Canada will be able to hand over more responsibility to them. Until that time, Canadian Forces must continue their operations and mentoring in the field through OMLTs and POMLTs, which are operational mentoring liaison teams and a similar type of training with police.
As I draw my comments to a close, I note that over the past two years I have had the opportunity to visit Afghanistan a number of times, most recently at Christmas with my colleague, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence, the member from Edmonton. While I was there, one of my most memorable experiences occurred, a very personal experience that I want to share with this House.
As we visited the provincial reconstruction team outside Kandahar, we met with some students to bring them school supplies that had been donated by a local Ottawa school board to the children. Some were as young as seven or eight years old. I remember how proud and overjoyed those kids were to receive these simple items: pencils, books, scribblers, pens, a special toy or two, and candy, all enclosed in colourful backpacks and prepared with love here in Canada.
One little girl I noticed was hugging her backpack so tightly and so closely that it was as if she thought it would somehow disappear if she let it out of her presence. I will not forget the look on her face and her stunning green eyes. In that face and those eyes, I could see hope for a better future for Afghan children. I could see in convincing personal terms that the work we were doing was having an impact and that our continued presence was necessary. We are having a profound effect on the lives of the children in Afghanistan.
I relate that experience to a similar one that I had just a month before on Remembrance Day, similarly at a school, in my own riding in Central Nova, and it reinforced my belief. A child almost the same age as those children, a young girl, asked me what would happen to the children of Afghanistan if the Canadian soldiers left and came home. In a moment of clarity, that little girl's question tying those two events together made perfect sense.
I have already touched upon the numerous statistics demonstrating the progress that is occurring in Afghanistan. A comprehensive and coordinated approach is undoubtedly needed, but we should never overlook or forget the human impact that we are having on the lives of children, of family members, of men and women who want nothing more than a better future.
For me, however, nothing bears more powerful testimony to the value of our efforts, above and beyond the statistics, the NATO discussions, the reports and the commentary, than the hope and caring reflected in the eyes and faces of those two little girls. It speaks to the depth of caring of children anywhere in the world. I challenge anyone to look in the faces of these children and not say that we have more to do or to say that we would walk away.
Yes, the road ahead may be difficult, but stability in Afghanistan is achievable. We must persevere, for the consequences of abandoning Afghanistan are grave.
As members consider the future of the Afghan mission, they should bear in mind that the world is watching, friends and allies alike, and that the decision of this House will reverberate around the globe and will be far reaching in Canadian history. This debate will be recorded in the annals of this place and perhaps reviewed in other conflicts in times hence.
I hope that this debate and its final vote will be positive and instructive. The consequences of pulling Canada's military out of Afghanistan could have a far-reaching effect or a domino effect on others. Simply put, our friends would be weaker and our enemies stronger.
I would like to quote Nelofer Pazira, the author of the book A Bed of Red Flowers, who reflects upon some of her personal experiences in Afghanistan:
||...Imagine one morning you wake up and get ready to go to work. But when you open the door, a group of young men, dressed in dusty and filthy clothes, push you inside the house with their rifles and say you're not allowed to leave. Imagine your younger sister wants to go to school and your mother has to go grocery shopping. Your sister is told she doesn't need any education, and your mother, though fully covered, is beaten or sent back home if she's not accompanied by a man. Imagine that your income is essential for the survival of your family, but you're told with indifference that you are not allowed to go to work. Imagine all of this happens to you only because you're a woman. What would you do if all you could do was stare at the walls inside your house as a substitute for living a normal life?
Those reflections and all that we know of Afghanistan demonstrate again that the stakes are simply too high for us to abandon Afghanistan and desert our allies at this critical juncture.
The UN Secretary-General recently said that withdrawing international forces would be “a mistake of historic proportions”. The Secretary General of NATO has warned that failure in Afghanistan would increase the security threat facing the alliance.
The independent panel, from which I am sure much of this debate will be drawn, has advised that events in Afghanistan “will directly affect Canada's security, our reputation in the world, and our future ability to engage the international community in achieving objectives of peace, security and shared prosperity”.
I ask all members of the House to carefully consider the consequences of rejecting the motion before us, which could lead to an abandonment of not only the Afghans and our allies but also our principles.
We do not want the Afghan campaign and the allied efforts to unravel. Other nations followed us into southern Afghanistan, and soon more will arrive, we hope, to fortify our efforts there.
What would stop them from withdrawing if we do?
Canada is respected for having pioneered the concept of the responsibility to protect. We do not want to become known for bowing out when we are most needed.
Do we want the Afghan people to take a step backward, to return to anarchy, to a time when public executions were common and human rights ignored, when it was not uncommon for women and children to be hung from posts on soccer fields? Today, children play on those very fields, some with soccer balls donated by generous Canadians like Joshua Zuidema from South Mountain, Ontario.
Do we want this fragile region to deteriorate further?
Do we want to tarnish Canada's reputation?
Could we ever regain the confidence of allies after deserting them at a critical moment? This is not the history of Canadian commitment to noble causes. How would history judge us if Canada walked away from Afghanistan?
In Canada today, we are a country that pays tribute to those who embarked on unbelievable acts of heroism and courage, who seized the heights of Vimy Ridge, who waded ashore at Juno Beach, and who gave their lives in the service of peace around the world in places such as Korea, Bosnia and Africa.
We honour the generations that looked tyranny in the face, did not blink and did not retreat. But what of us? I believe we are a generation that will not falter, nor we will abandon our nation's noblest traditions.
We have everyday heroes in Afghanistan today. They may not wear the uniform of an athlete, nor draw the salary of one or hear the applause, but they wear the proud clothing of a generation of Canadian soldiers just as proudly and with as much heart and guts as any who went before them.
If we do abandon these traditions, what kind of world are we leaving behind for our children?
There can be no graver decision of any government of any political stripe than sending into harm's way a generation of young men and women who so proudly wear the flag of their country on their shoulders, and the civilian members of our government committed to Canadian values and their promotion outside our borders.
As Minister of National Defence, nothing has touched me more deeply or more profoundly than the loss of Canadians in Afghanistan. Those 79 who gave their all shall be remembered, as will their families, for their enormous contributions and courage.
Some admire oratory and eloquence, others policy. I admire and prefer action, deeds not words, a motto which encapsulates our Canadian Forces. The members of the Canadian Forces enact policy and direction from Parliament. They are an instrument of our free and democratic institution and give purpose to policy.
They are delivering what we talk of and wish for others: freedom, security and a place to feel safe, to go to school, to eat well and to drink clean water. They are a credit to this nation. The uniform they wear is a source of pride for them and an inspiration to all for their selfless actions and efforts.
My colleagues and I are convinced, I believe, that Canada must continue this mission. As the independent panel led by the Hon. John Manley noted:
|| After 30 years of strife—in Soviet occupation, civil war and the coercive repression of Taliban rule—Afghan men and women are building a government committed to the democratic rule of law and the full exercise of human rights.
In conclusion, helping the Afghans at this critical time is consistent with Canadian values and interests. The mission is achievable. We must stay the course.
I urge all members to support the motion and in so doing commemorate those fallen and those who forged ahead. Supporting the motion before the House is the best memorial we can build for our country and that of the people of Afghanistan.
Hon. Stéphane Dion (Leader of the Opposition, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to discuss the government's new motion on the future of Canada's involvement in Afghanistan.
The decision to send the men and women of the Canadian Forces into harm's way is one of the most important decisions that the government can make. It is not something to be taken lightly. It must be approached with extreme vigilance. It can never be viewed as an opportunity to take partisan advantage. Our troops should never be used as props in our domestic political landscape.
There are those who would argue that engaging in a debate such as this is potentially harmful as it may increase the danger for our troops and civilians on the ground, but in a democracy like Canada the debate on the military mission is normal and in fact unavoidable. We cannot allow our political process to be held hostage by those forces we oppose in Afghanistan who would deny ordinary Afghans the rights we hold so dear, like the right of holding a free debate.
We cannot send our troops to the other side of the world to help bring democracy and good governance to a country that has sadly lacked both for too long and then abandon those principles at home. We have a solemn duty in this House to do what we believe is best for the nation. We owe it to the men and women who serve in our military and to all the citizens of this great country to debate this issue fully, to challenge each other's position and to ensure that the government is truly making the right choice. No one should ever confuse a debate over the future of the mission with a debate over whether or not we support our troops.
Regardless of the opposition on Afghanistan, every member of the House of Commons supports our troops. For that reason, I would urge all hon. members to avoid the kind of insulting language that has too often dominated the political discourse over this issue. Those who would seek to extend the mission are not warmongers. Those who would seek to end the mission are obviously not Taliban sympathizers. We are all members of Parliament seeking to do what is right and the opinions of all parties should be vigorously scrutinized in the climate of mutual respect.
It is the conviction of the Liberal caucus that what Canada has been doing and what we continue to do in Afghanistan reflects the best traditions of our country. Canada proudly figures among the rare groups of countries, too rare, that have only ever sent their troops abroad to defend the universal values of freedom, democracy, human rights and the dignity of all people. This is something in which we should all take immense pride.
It is clear that the broad majority of the Afghan population wants us there not as never-ending occupying power, obviously not, but to help them get to a point where they can govern themselves effectively and provide security and freedom to their own country.
In order to succeed in our endeavour, we must make sure that NATO will work in this first mission outside of its traditional European base. This is why a year ago when I delivered one of my first major speeches as leader of the Liberal Party in Montreal on the topic of Afghanistan, I said that for Liberals it was critical that Canada respect its international obligations, and that we could not back away from a commitment that the Government of Canada had made, but for the NATO mission to succeed, I said that Canada could not be called upon to carry such a heavy burden for an indefinite period of time.
That is why I said that the mission could not continue in the same form after our current commitment expired in February 2009. At that time, a full year ago, we urged the government to notify NATO of this fact, so that NATO could begin the process of identifying additional troops who could rotate into Kandahar to replace the current role of the Canadian troops.
As a party, we gave the House the opportunity to support this position last April in an opposition day motion. Unfortunately, the government and the NDP rejected this proposal at that time and our motion was defeated. The government assured us that it was far too early to discuss such matters. It assured us that we did not need to debate the issue until 2008.
As a result of its mistake, a year has passed since that time and the government has done nothing to seriously engage NATO to replace our troops. So, a year later, we find ourselves no further ahead. That was last year and we now see the difficult position this delay has put us in. We must now scramble to find new troops for Kandahar.
Earlier this month the government put forward its first motion on the future of the mission post-February 2009. As I indicated at that time, I found it to be inconsistent with the position of the Liberal Party which is supported by a majority of Canadians. So, we took it upon ourselves as a party to produce an alternative motion.
In drafting our proposed motion we were guided by three simple principles that were lacking from the government's original motion. One, the mission must change. We must change the mission to one that is a mission dedicated to training, security and reconstruction. Two, the mission must end. We must have a clear end date to the mission, not a further review date that will lead us down the path of a never ending mission. Three, the mission must be about more than the military. There is no exclusively military solution to the conflict in Afghanistan, so our efforts should be balanced between defence, diplomacy and reconstruction.
Working with these three principles and a belief in the fact that Canadians deserve greater transparency and accountability when it comes to Afghanistan, we produced our amended motion.
I was pleased last week to see that the government has abandoned its flawed and lacking motion and largely adopted the language that the Liberal Party put forward. There are obviously some slight differences in the two motions. I will go through these differences over the course of my remarks today.
I agree with the Prime Minister and the defence minister that what we have now is neither a Conservative motion nor a Liberal motion. It is a Canadian motion. But for now, at least, we have a Conservative government that will implement this mission on the ground in Afghanistan.
The government must be accountable to the spirit and the letter of the motion. No matter what happens in this House, the decision to deploy troops and conduct the mission is the responsibility of the executive branch in our political system. It is the government that will ultimately be responsible to implement what is articulated in the motion.
That is why we have placed certain emphasis on the transparency and accountability in the motion we have before us. It will be incumbent upon the government to show the House and all Canadians that it is respecting both the spirit and the letter of the motion. Allow me now to review the motion that is before us today.
The mission must change. This motion is consistent with that position. The mission must change in February 2009 for two reasons.
First, we have to start focusing Canada's mission on actions that will enable the Afghan people and their government to ensure security and governance themselves in their country. If we simply continue to do the work for them, the situation will never change. That is why the Liberal Party is placing such great emphasis on the need for a shift toward the training of the Afghan national security forces.
Second, the mission must change because we cannot continue to ask of our troops that they carry such a heavy responsibility indefinitely. Come February 2009, our troops will have been involved for three years in one of the most demanding, and probably also the most dangerous, missions they have participated in since the Korean war. We cannot ask them, and NATO cannot expect us, to sustain much longer operations of this scope and magnitude.
This motion clearly stipulates that, after February 2009, Canada's mission in Kandahar should consist of training Afghan national security forces, providing security for reconstruction and development projects in Kandahar, and continuing Canada's responsibility for the Kandahar provincial reconstruction team. That is a shift from what our troops in Kandahar have been doing since the beginning of 2006.
We are no longer talking about a proactive counter-insurgency mission to seek out and destroy insurgents. We will not, however, tie the hands of our troops by telling them that they cannot take military action to defend themselves or those they are there to protect.
As I said, it is up to politicians to set the focus of military missions. That is a responsibility incumbent upon elected representatives of the people. While generals must refrain from imposing policies on elected representatives, we must refrain from micromanaging our generals.
Like the Liberal motion on which it was based, the motion brought before Parliament by the government makes the continuation of a Canadian military presence in Kandahar contingent on three broad conditions: a clear end date, additional troops, and new equipment. Allow me to expand on each of these conditions.
Why is it so important to have a clear end date for the mission? If we have a clear end date, we can develop a clear plan with realistic objectives and benchmarks. It is up to the government to determine these benchmarks and objectives and to clearly communicate them to our soldiers and to all Canadians. We are expecting the government to indicate, during this debate, what the benchmarks and objectives for training and development will be.
Furthermore, a clear end date will encourage our NATO allies and the Afghan government to prepare for our departure. If we are not clear about the end date of our mission, they will never prepare for our departure.
We are happy to learn that the government's new motion respects our request to establish a clear end date for Canada's mission in Kandahar. Although we called for the mission to end in February 2011 and for all of our soldiers to be out of Kandahar by July 2011, the government chose to have the mission end in July 2011 and to have all of our troops out of Kandahar by December 2011.
I think the government should explain during this debate why it chose later dates. We chose the start of 2011 as the end date for the mission because the benchmarks and timelines established by the Afghanistan Compact must be respected by the end of 2010.
We want to know why the government bothered to change the date we proposed and put it back to the middle of 2011. If the government has a reasonable and logical explanation, our party will not oppose this change.
Moreover, we hope that if the House adopts this motion, the government will inform NATO immediately and formally of the firm end date of our mission in Kandahar. We do not want to find ourselves in a situation in 2011 where NATO is surprised to learn that our mission is ending. We must not make the same mistake twice.
We are concerned that the government omitted the word “immediately” from the part of the motion that asks the government to notify NATO of the date when our mission will end. Our NATO allies and the Afghan government will need this clarity and transparency when the NATO heads of state meet shortly in Bucharest. We do not have the right to conceal things from our allies. At that meeting, Canada will ask NATO for additional assistance. We must therefore be very clear about the length of our commitment.
Now, the issue of additional troops. The Liberal motion called for additional NATO troops to be sent to Kandahar. We did this because we believe it is important for another NATO nation to rotate into Kandahar to take over some of Canada's current responsibilities.
It is not reasonable to say that the focus of the mission will change to one of training and reconstruction if there is no one else to take over our previous offensive military responsibilities. Calling for a NATO rotation, which allows for a sharing of the burden, is appropriate and responsible.
As a matter of fact, rotation is a concept upon which the entire ISAF mission in Afghanistan has been based since NATO assumed responsibility of the mission in 2003. NATO's overall mission in Afghanistan will only be successful if all members respect the principle of rotation and take on a relatively equal share of the burden.
The government's motion calls for a battle group of 1,000 NATO troops to rotate into Kandahar by February 2009. We call on the government to ensure that this is a true rotation, one where Canada is able to shed some of its current responsibilities so it can engage in new ones.
Obviously, the government's wording in this section is different from what we called for in our motion, and we have two very specific questions that will need answers over the course of this debate.
First, why 1,000 troops? We have all read the report of the Prime Minister's Afghanistan plan, and we know that it recommends 1,000 troops, but we on this side of the House have never understood where this number comes from. Is there a justification for this number, or is it simply a number chosen because that is all that we think we can get?
The Liberal motion called for sufficient troops. We need to understand why the government thinks 1,000 is sufficient. Even one of Canada's own senior military commanders in the region has suggested that at least 5,000 troops are needed.
The second question about the rotation process is, how long is the government prepared to wait before it determines whether or not this condition has been met? The government needs to be clear on this point.
We cannot wait until January 31, 2009 to say whether or not NATO has come through with the requisite troops. The government needs to set a date and say that if these troops are not committed by this date, Canada will not commit to a military presence in Kandahar beyond February 2009.
Let me speak about additional equipment. We obviously agree with the current motion's insistence on new helicopters and UAVs. The government must be forthright with the Canadian people and explain exactly how much this will cost.
In addition, the government must explain how it intends to have this equipment available before February 2009 as it called for in the motion. Again, we cannot wait until the last possible minute to confirm that we have this necessary equipment.
The mission must be about more than the military. We must all understand that there is no exclusive military solution to the conflict in Afghanistan. I am reminded of what President Karzai said when he addressed Parliament in September 2006:
|| We will not succeed in eliminating terrorism unless we seek and fight the source of terrorism wherever it might be and dry its roots. Our strategy of fighting terrorism in Afghanistan has so far been mainly focused on addressing the symptoms of terrorism, that is, on killing terrorists who come from across our borders.
|| This strategy is bound to fail unless we move beyond the military operations in Afghanistan and to address terrorism's political ideological and financial basis.
That is why our motion placed a greater emphasis on stronger and more disciplined diplomatic efforts and a better balance with respect to reconstruction and development efforts, issues that the government's original motion virtually ignored.
I am very pleased to see that almost all of the Liberal proposals on this matter have been accepted in the government's motion.
Like the Liberal motion, upon which it is based, the new motion states:
||--that Canada's contribution to the reconstruction and development of Afghanistan should:
||(a) be revamped and increased to strike a better balance between our military efforts and our development efforts in Afghanistan;
||(b) focus on our traditional strengths as a nation, particularly through the development of sound judicial and correctional systems and strong political institutions on the ground in Afghanistan and the pursuit of a greater role for Canada in addressing the chronic fresh water shortages in the country;
||(c) address the crippling issue of the narco-economy that consistently undermines progress in Afghanistan, through the pursuit of solutions that do not further alienate the goodwill of the local population;
||(d) be held to a greater level of accountability and scrutiny so that the Canadian people can be sure that our development contributions are being spent effectively in Afghanistan;--
The amendments also call for a stronger, more disciplined diplomatic position on Afghanistan and the other players in the region.
The government did not consider our idea of appointing a Canadian special envoy whose dual role would be to ensure greater coherence in Canadian diplomatic initiatives in the region and press for greater coordination amongst our partners in the UN in the pursuit of common diplomatic goals in the region.
Instead, the government said it would be generally in favour of appointing a special envoy. We assume that the government is referring to the much-debated plan to appoint a UN special envoy to the region. We have nothing against this, but we would like to know why the government rejected the idea of a Canadian special envoy to the region.
Regardless of the final decision on Afghanistan, one thing is certain: the government must be much more transparent and honest about the situation and progress in the field. Canadians have the right to know this vital information. To be successful, the mission must be based on the principle of democracy, and transparency and accountability are crucial to any democratic action.
The motion we introduced called on the government to be more transparent and to report better on the conduct and status of the mission. It contained specific proposals to that end.
More specifically, the Liberal amendment recommended that quarterly reports on the mission's progress be tabled in Parliament and suggested that the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of International Cooperation and the Minister of National Defence be asked to meet regularly with a special parliamentary committee on Afghanistan. The Liberal government adopted a similar approach in the context of the NATO mission in Kosovo and I think most parliamentarians found this to be a very positive move.
We are thrilled to see that the government included these ideas in the motion, along with our proposal that challenges the abusive practice of claiming national security reasons to deprive Canadians of legitimate information.
Lastly, the motion we presented addressed the issue of transferring Afghan detainees.
The opposition parties are quite right to be concerned about this serious matter because, in our opinion, this is a fundamental issue of human rights and dignity, the very values for which Canada is fighting in Afghanistan.
In our motion, we asked that the current suspension of the transfer of Afghan detainees be maintained. In order to solve the problem, we called on the government to pursue a NATO-wide solution instead of trying to fight on its own. Moreover—and perhaps most importantly—we asked for greater openness and transparency in general on this matter.
The government articulated the last two points in wording very similar to ours, but it changed our wording on the first point. Unlike our proposal, it does not mention maintaining the suspension of the transfer of detainees. The government prefers to say that it will allow the transfer of detainees only when it is believed that such transfers will be done in accordance with Canada's international obligations.
For us, that means maintaining the suspension of transfers. At this time, there is too much evidence that Canada cannot transfer detainees without neglecting its international obligation to defend and promote human rights.
The government now has an opportunity to demonstrate that it is committed to transparency on this matter from now on. All it has to do is confirm today in the House that the suspension of transfers is being maintained and that the government will notify the House immediately of any changes to this policy.
To conclude, I applaud the government on the reasonable steps it has taken to find the common ground between our two positions. We are pleased to see that the government has accepted the fundamental principles the Liberal Party has been guided by: a change of the mission; an end to the mission; a greater commitment to development and diplomacy; and greater transparency and accountability by the government.
Today I have laid out the principles behind the motion. As we move forward, we call on the government to adhere to the new standards of transparency and accountability laid out in the motion to demonstrate that the government has respected these principles.
We will be listening attentively over the course of the debate to how the government responds to the questions that I have raised over the course of this speech. If the government provides us with reasonable responses to our questions and indicates that it is committed to the letter and spirit of the motion, then the official opposition will support the motion.
The Liberal Party has been at the forefront of this debate for the past year. We have been the party that has been putting forward detailed proposals about the future of the mission, first in my speech last February, then in our opposition day motion in the House last April, then in our submission to the independent panel last December, and most recently in our proposed motion earlier this month.
We have been engaged in a constructive dialogue with Canadians on this issue. This has led us to a position that we believe is supported by a majority of Canadians. We welcome the shift that the government has made to join us in this position, and we welcome all of the parties to this national debate of which we have been part for over a year.
The Liberal Party believes that the successful future for Afghanistan is in our national best interest. We believe that our efforts there have reflected the values and principles in which Canadians believe: freedom, democracy, equality, security, and the respect of fundamental human rights. The Liberal Party believes that these values are worth pursuing. We believe that our efforts in Afghanistan, supported with a clear UN mandate, can be successful.
Canadian efforts to date have come at a great cost. As a nation, we have mourned every casualty that we have suffered. We must honour those sacrifices by ensuring that we are defining the right mission going forward. Let us all pledge to be guided over the course of this debate to do what is best for Canada and what is best for Afghanistan. Let us always keep in mind the efforts and sacrifices of the men and women in the Canadian Forces, our diplomatic and development officers, and all Canadians who have been active in Afghanistan.
Mrs. Vivian Barbot (Papineau, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, on February 15, the minority Conservative government put forward a motion that included the Liberal Party's amendments. Despite the fact that the Prime Minister has made it a matter of confidence, the motion does not change the Bloc Québécois' position. We have said it before, and we will say it again: we are ready for an election on this issue.
This Conservative motion would extend the Canadian mission in Kandahar to December 2011. Canada has been in Kandahar since 2006. We think that by the time the mission's current deadline arrives in February 2009, Canada will have done its part. The Liberals and the Conservatives share the same basic position on this issue. Both parties want Canada to stay in Kandahar until 2011.
Considering that most Quebeckers want Canada to end its mission in February 2009, it is clear that only the Bloc Québécois represents Quebeckers' will and their values. The Liberal and Conservative parties are completely out of touch with Quebec's reality. The position these parties share is convoluted and rife with contradiction. Just a few weeks ago, the Liberals were fighting tooth and nail to ensure that Canada would withdraw from combat zones at the end of the current mission in February 2009, but now they are ready to extend the mission until 2011. They simply changed their minds. How inconsistent!
The government House leader claims that he wants an open and transparent debate, but we have reason to doubt that. Since coming to power, the Conservatives have maintained a culture of secrecy. Moreover, despite their claim that this motion is not a partisan matter, they have turned it into a confidence vote. The government has turned the Afghanistan issue into an ideological debate with only two possible options: one can be either for or against the stated position.
As far as the substance of the motion is concerned, we think Canada must focus more on reconstruction and military training. That has always been the position of the Bloc Québécois, who would like to see this process begin immediately and continue until the end of the mission in February 2009.
We should add that the government has still not set a date to vote on this motion. We are calling for a clear commitment to have this vote before the NATO summit in Bucharest, which is to begin on April 2, 2008.
Let us remember that this is not the first time Parliament is debating the mission in Afghanistan and its February 2009 deadline.
Let us recap. The war in Afghanistan was authorized by the UN from the outset after the tragic events of September 11, 2001. At first, it was an operation— Operation Enduring Freedom—whereby the United States exercised its right to legitimate defence after receiving proper permission from the UN. The purpose of the operation was to push the Northern Alliance, which was fighting the Taliban regime, toward the capital. The goal was to weaken the Taliban, who had been recognized by the UN as a threat to international peace and security.
Defeating the Taliban regime was relatively easy; achieving peace and rebuilding a viable Afghan state is a far more demanding task. The fundamental objective of the international coalition and the United Nations is to reconstruct the economy, the democracy and a viable Afghan state enabling Afghans to take control of their country and their development.
Canada has been on mission in the Kandahar region since October 2005. In February 2006, it assumed command from the United States of the regional command south in Kandahar. Canada was responsible for the Enduring Freedom operations conducted by the coalition in southern Afghanistan until November 2006. At that time, Canada also committed to keeping most of its troops there until February 2007.
In May 2006, the Conservative government asked the House to support extending the Afghan mission by another two years, effective 2007.
The House agreed to this extension. At that point, the mission was to end in February 2009. In July 2006, NATO officially took over command in southern Afghanistan. The Canadian Forces left Operation Enduring Freedom to join the International Security Assistance Force. The situation in southern Afghanistan proved to be much tougher than originally thought. NATO troops, and particularly Canadian troops, have faced organized and ferocious resistance from the Taliban. It was at that point that the number of deaths of Quebeckers and Canadians started rising at an alarming rate, going from eight deaths between 2001 and 2005, to 70 deaths between 2006 and 2008. For a country of about 30 million people, we can consider that we have done our part.
In fact, Canada has deployed the fourth-largest number of troops in Afghanistan, and has suffered the third-highest number of deaths. Canada has paid a high human price to maintain security in Kandahar. The country has not lost so many lives since the Korean War. Add to that the financial cost of the mission. According to figures published in the report on National Defence's plans and priorities, the cost of Canadian operations in Afghanistan was over $7.7 billion for the period from 2001 to 2008.
If it ended the combat mission in February 2009, Canada would have some financial flexibility to invest in development assistance in Afghanistan. Furthermore, if we consider that NATO's mission in Kandahar is an international mission and that 38 countries currently have a military presence in Afghanistan, we can say without shame that Canada has carried out an important and dangerous mission in Afghanistan for over three years, and that the time has come for others to take over in that region.
Even though we want Canada to withdraw from Kandahar at the end of its mission, we do not think that the entire NATO mission should end. That is why we have always advocated handing the reins over to other NATO countries to replace the Canadian contingent in Kandahar. The federal government should notify NATO member countries now that our mission will end in February 2009. Complete withdrawal from Afghanistan, as recommended by the NDP, would be irresponsible toward the Afghan people, their government and our allies, who are counting on our participation until 2009. We need to create a new balance by then. That is why for some time now, the Bloc Québécois has supported focusing on increasing development and diplomacy in Afghanistan. To avoid losing the support of the Afghan people, Canada must make development assistance a priority right away. This is urgent.
In the wake of over 20 years of war, devastation reigns in Afghanistan. There is next to no civil infrastructure or economic growth. Everything needs to be reconstructed. It is therefore not surprising that Afghanistan is considered one of the poorest countries in the world. Let us not forget that this is what brought the international community and the Afghan government together for the London Conference on Afghanistan in 2006, where participants adopted the Afghanistan compact. Participants also set a number of goals and a five-year timeline to bring about improvements in three crucial areas—one: security; two: governance, rule of law and human rights; and three: social and economic development in Afghanistan.
To achieve the London goals, we need the support of the Afghan people as we work to ensure their security and, most importantly, improve their daily living conditions.
Concerted action by the international community is required for successful development in Afghanistan. To convince our allies to do more, Canada must lead by example and increase aid immediately. Funding must be increased in order to provide humanitarian aid in the short term and commit to the construction of roads, wells, basic infrastructures, and so on.
Furthermore, it is well known that, generally speaking, international aid and reconstruction efforts are poorly coordinated. The secretary general of NATO stated: “We need a better international coordination structure for Afghanistan. We must provide the security and do the reconstruction but we must also do the politics.” His comments echo those of the UN secretary general.
Without stronger leadership from the Afghan government, greater donor coherence, and in particular, better cooperation among military and civil organizations from the international community in Afghanistan, as well as a strong commitment from neighbouring countries, many of the gains made since the Bonn Conference in terms of security, reinforced institutions and development could be lost or reversed.
In January 2007, inspired by what was done in Bosnia and Kosovo, the Bloc Québécois proposed the appointment of a senior UN official with real, considerable power to better coordinate all international aid in cooperation with the Afghan government. This senior representative would also act as the link between NATO and the reconstruction teams in order to direct aid to where it is needed most. We were pleased to hear the Minister of Foreign Affairs say he was in favour of such an appointment in his speech to the UN General Assembly on October 2, 2007—