Mr. Claude Bachand (Saint-Jean, BQ)
|| That this House condemn the government’s decision to unilaterally extend the Canadian mission in Afghanistan to 2014, whereby it is breaking two promises it made to Canadians, one made on May 10, 2006, in this House and repeated in the 2007 Throne Speech, that any military deployment would be subject to a vote in Parliament, and another made on January 6, 2010, that the mission in Afghanistan would become a strictly civilian commitment after 2011, without any military presence beyond what would be needed to protect the embassy.
He said: Mr. Speaker, I first want to thank the leader of the Bloc Québécois for allowing me to put forward this motion on behalf of our party. It is actually somewhat tragic that it has been left to the Bloc Québécois to debate the real issues regarding the mission in Afghanistan. These issues have been before us for a decade now. For some strange reason, the Bloc Québécois has had to step up and move a motion to force the House to debate and vote on this matter.
I intend to show that the Prime Minister and the Conservative Party have misled the House, among other things by breaking their word. I will give you very specific examples later. In my conclusion I will also be reaffirming that, for the third time in a row, the Bloc Québécois will object to the extension of the military mission in Afghanistan, for a number of reasons, one of which is that the burden is unevenly shared among NATO members.
Before I begin, I would like to describe briefly how I see an MP's job, for the benefit of those listening in. First of all, an MP is someone who is elected by the people, someone representing an electoral quotient, as it is called in political terms, of approximately 100,000 constituents. This is true for each member representing one of Canada's 308 electoral districts.
A candidate wages an election campaign. I have personally waged six campaigns, so I know what I am talking about. Running an election campaign is by no means easy because you are fighting opponents whose views differ from yours. The public ultimately decides who will represent them in the House of Commons. Members of the public choose their representatives. They do not have time to follow politics on a daily basis, so they place their trust in their elected official, not merely in the Prime Minister and his cabinet.
As the member forSaint-Jean, I am accountable to my constituents. When the next election is called, constituents will once again have to decide whether I have done a good job, listened to them, acted according to their wishes and stood up for them every day here in the House of Commons.
On election day, when the results come in, each of the 308 elected members of Parliament will become the legitimate official representative of their constituents. The familiar Latin expression Vox populi, vox Dei comes to mind, meaning that the voice of the people is the voice of God. The residents of the riding of Saint-Jean spoke in that godlike voice on election day, when they chose me as their MP. Each of the 308 members of the House of Commons also became legitimate representatives when they were elected.
So then we are here in the public arena, the House of Commons, the place where we discuss the issues, where we choose to have a democratic debate, with all the conflicting views such a debate may generate, and where we must not only debate the issues, but also vote on legislative measures. Voting is important, because a vote should represent the interests of our constituents—in the riding of Saint-Jean for me, and in the other members' ridings, for each of them. A vote can also reflect the sometimes opposing views of other members. Of course, the majority rules. Ultimately, then, the minority has to bow to the majority. In the House of Commons, we always have an opportunity to discuss issues, to try to bring an issue back into focus and to see things from a different perspective as time goes on. I think it is important to point that out.
Entering the House of Commons means accepting certain principles. In my case, I accept that the Prime Minister has certain powers and that he has a lot of power, but not all the power. That is something very different. At certain times, the Prime Minister has to share his views and his power with the rest of the House. I believe that the issue before us today is deserving of the House's consideration. As I said at the beginning of my remarks, it has been the Bloc Québécois that has put the spotlight back on this issue, not the Prime Minister, who uses all sorts of arguments to justify his decision, arguments that I will refute shortly.
I said earlier that the government had broken its promise. And I have here six quotes where the government very clearly stated that it did not intend to take the approach adopted in Lisbon. Here are some examples.
This is what the Prime Minister said in January 2010:
|| But we will not be undertaking any activities that require any kind of military presence, other than the odd guard guarding an embassy....so, it will become a strictly civilian mission.
It was clear that the military component of the mission would be ending.
Several months later, the Prime Minister stated:
|| Mr. Speaker, I have the same answer that I had last week, and it will be the same next week: Canada's military mission in Afghanistan will end in 2011, in accordance with a resolution adopted by Parliament. We plan on remaining involved in Afghanistan in terms of development, governance and humanitarian assistance. We invite the opposition to share its ideas on the future of this mission.
Again, the statement made it very clear that the military component of the mission would end.
On April 11, 2010, the Minister of National Defence had this to say about the training of the Afghan army:
|| After 2011, the military mission will end.... What we will do beyond that point in the area of training will predominantly be in the area of policing. And that is very much a key component part of security for Afghanistan.... Let's be clear, it's speculation at this point. We're talking over a year before Canada's military mission will end.
It is interesting to note that theMinister of Foreign Affairswas also opposed to a vote in the House:
|| We have made it clear that the military will not be in Afghanistan] post-2011 and in that regard there is no need to have a debate in the House.
It is fairly clear: the military mission was supposed to end. In December 2009, the Chief of the Defence Staff had this to say:
|| Military operations must end in July 2011, according to the motion passed by the House of Commons. When we say “military“, we mean all military personnel, including those assigned to the Provincial Reconstruction Team, those protecting our civilians and those involved in the training of Afghan forces. The plan is to bring all our military personnel home.
We were extremely surprised to hear rumours that between 950 and 1,000 soldiers would remain stationed in Afghanistan. Despite all the statements made over the past year, the opposite is occurring. That is why we are saying that the Prime Minister and the Conservative government have broken their word. Hence the debate that we are having here today.
The Bloc Québécois stresses once again that the authority to deploy troops is extremely important and the Prime Minister must share this authority with the House of Commons. The Bloc and I have stated on numerous occasions that we take issue with the type of mission the government wishes to undertake. We do not have any issues with members of the military, who are following orders issued by the civil authorities.
I have stood alongside the military on numerous occasions. I went to Bosnia with the Royal 22nd Regiment, and I have been to Afghanistan three times. So, once again, I can say loud and clear that the armed forces are doing an exceptional job. They are not to blame. We object to the type of mission and to the manner in which operations are being conducted in Afghanistan under this government. That is why we need to force a debate on this issue today.
As the critic, it is my job not only to assess the mission, but also to review budgets and to determine whether it is time to declare war or peace. And that responsibility is shared by all the members of my party. That responsibility must be shared by Parliament and on every member of the House.
We have repeatedly criticized the fact that the government has reversed its policy. It has procured a tremendous amount of military equipment. We are not necessarily opposed to that, but we would have preferred that it be done in a much more structured way. This government is leading the country down a very militaristic path, which, by the way, began under the previous Liberal government. Today, there are hardly any peacekeeping missions left to speak of.
The purchase of strategic and tactical aircraft, armoured vehicles and other military equipment must be done with a specific purpose in mind. Why are we buying all this equipment?
The government set out the Canada first defence strategy, but the policy did not come from the Department of Foreign Affairs. The government should have put forward a foreign affairs policy outlining what Canada wants to achieve. There is only one department behind the strategy, the Department of National Defence, which is involved in foreign affairs. The government needs to state what the future objectives of the Canadian Forces are, and then it could buy equipment to achieve those objectives.
In terms of the process I just described, the government, unfortunately, did things backwards. It began by buying the equipment, and it plans to use that equipment in Afghanistan or elsewhere; it does not really know where. It has not established a clear foreign affairs policy. We are in a policy vacuum, and we are in serious trouble. Now that it has spent $50 billion or $60 billion on military equipment, will the government try to get its money's worth by coming up with a policy that makes use of that equipment? It should have done that first.
The Bloc Québécois is opposed to the mission as such. For some time now, delegations have been sent to speak to NATO authorities, and I was one of the first people to speak out about this. NATO should be sharing the burden of the military mission in Afghanistan. I have been to Afghanistan three times. I have been to the north, where I met up with German troops, and I can tell you that not much is happening there.
The problem is in the south. That is where Canadians are currently deployed, and where they have been positioned for several years now. We have often asked NATO authorities if there is some way to have the burden shared more equally, since we are paying a heavy toll, not just in human lives, but financially as well, to maintain a theatre of operations like the one in Kandahar, which is on the other side of the world. Equipment must be transported and housed and so forth. The costs are astronomical, and some are beginning to say that the final price tag for this mission will be $20 billion.
Where Canadian troops are positioned in Afghanistan is important. They are in Taliban territory. They are suffering the greatest number of losses per capita. We are losing this conflict, which is escalating significantly, according to NATO and UN reports. For that reason, the Bloc Québécois feels that Canadian Forces have done enough. It is now time for someone else to take over. We could continue with a mission that ensures a police, development or diplomatic presence, aspects that are often overlooked. But we are hearing much more talk about the military component than about anything else.
The government maintains that our military will be behind the lines training soldiers. I saw what that entails when I travelled to Afghanistan. There is more involved in training soldiers. It is more than merely showing them how a safety catch works. It is quite a bit more complicated than that. Theory courses are not enough. Practical courses must be given as well. I have had my doubts ever since I heard that our military would be stationed in Kabul and would not be in the theatre of operations. And who confirmed my suspicions last week? None other than General Rick Hillier, the former Chief of the Defence Staff, who had this to say about training soldiers without going into combat:
|| You can come up with all kinds of schemes to hide away in camp and train people for the Afghan army, but they lack credibility. If you try to help train and develop the Afghan army...you are going to be in combat.
When you train troops, the first step is to show them how to hold and shoot a weapon, and how to get in basic position. Then it is just like hockey practice. Everything is easy in practice, but it is a different story when you play a real game. In a few years, we will find out that mentors coached troops in the theatre of operations. Movements and strategies need to be corrected in the heat of battle. If you are not there, you do not know what is happening. The general himself said that training would fall short if mentors did not accompany their students into the theatre of operations. So that is where things stand with training.
For the third time, when we vote on Tuesday, the Bloc Québécois will oppose the type of mission being put forward. We have examined the issue from every angle. In the past, it seemed that we did not have an exit strategy and that training was not happening fast enough. Now the training process has been sped up. We are going to vote for a third time because we have responsibilities to fulfill. My Liberal friends disappointed me the last time. For a year, prior to the most recent extension, I heard them say that the mission had lasted long enough. I very clearly remember them using the same arguments that I am today, especially with respect to the importance of rotation within NATO so the burden does not always fall on the same countries. Much to my surprise, they ultimately decided to back the Conservatives in extending the mission.
Today, we no longer want to extend the mission. That has been the long-held view. The government is contradicting what it has been saying for a year. No doubt it has come under pressure, but that does not justify a sudden about-face.
The Bloc's political position is in line with what Quebeckers want. According to recent polls, 78% of Quebeckers object to the new mission that the government wants to launch. Voters keep up with the news. Like us, they have been hearing for a year now that the military component would come to an end. We are not just talking about the combat aspect, because our military presence also includes training. We were all under the impression that there would probably be only one soldier left, the military attaché at the embassy in Kabul. But that is not what is happening now.
We all have to face the consequences of our actions when we decide to go to war. For several years, the focus has increasingly been on the combat mission instead of the peacekeeping mission. We should perhaps return to our peacekeeping missions. That would be more in line with what the public wants. We look at how things have evolved, and this needs to stop at some point. We think that it should have stopped a long time ago. Every time that the government makes these militaristic proposals, we should object and refuse to extend the mission.
According to my notes, I have attended the funerals of five soldiers. That is a direct consequence of the actions taken by the House of Commons. When we go to war there are consequences for everyone. It is unacceptable to have to stand beside the grave of a young soldier who was only 22, 23 or 25 years old. To date, 152 soldiers, one diplomat, one journalist and two humanitarian aid workers have been killed. That is a lot and does not include the thousands of wounded soldiers. We think that is enough.
We have spent $20 billion, lost 152 soldiers and seen several hundred wounded. The sacrifice has become too great. We have suffered too much. We think that other NATO countries should provide assistance and that we should focus on a civilian approach with police officers, on the jail system and prison guards, on the justice system and so on.
It is time for our troops to come home.
Hon. Lawrence Cannon (Minister of Foreign Affairs, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague, the hon. Minister of National Defence.
By the time the Canadian Forces complete their combat mission in Kandahar in 2011, Canada will have been involved in Afghanistan for a decade—the longest military combat engagement in Canadian history.
From the beginning, the dedication shown by the Canadian Forces and Canadian civilians, and the considerable efforts they continue to make today, have shaped our nation’s understanding of sacrifice and service. We should not forget why we went to Afghanistan in the first place.
Canada is in Afghanistan for one very clear reason: Canada's national security. We went to Afghanistan following the attack on the United States on September 11, 2001, when 2,976 people from 77 countries were killed, including 24 Canadians.
Under the Taliban regime, Afghanistan had become a safe haven for international terrorists, providing al-Qaeda with an ideal stronghold from which to organize a series of international terrorist attacks.
The events of September 11 made it terrifyingly clear that we were all vulnerable and that innocent citizens anywhere could and would be targeted by this new breed of international terrorists. Borders no longer mattered. We had a responsibility as a global citizen. Thanks to the international community’s efforts and Canada’s sacrifices in Kandahar, Afghanistan is no longer a safe haven for terrorists. And the Taliban are no longer controlling the lives of the Afghan people, denying them fundamental freedoms and rights.
Canada is in Afghanistan as part of a UN-mandated, NATO-led mission with over 60 other nations and international organizations at the request of the democratically elected Afghan government. Let us also remember that Canada's ultimate goal is to leave Afghanistan to Afghans, as a country that is better governed, more peaceful and more secure. We are helping to create the necessary conditions that allow Afghans themselves to achieve a political solution to the conflict.
Canada has made a tremendous contribution. The ultimate sacrifice was made by 152 members of our Canadian Forces, one diplomat, one journalist and two NGO aid workers, working to keep us safe, to defend our values and to help Afghanistan emerge as a more secure and peaceful society. We must honour the legacy of those brave men and women and continue building on what we have achieved and learned in Afghanistan. We do this because our work in Afghanistan is not yet complete.
We have been one of NATO's top six force contributors to the military mission. We have contributed nearly $2 billion in development assistance, making us one of the top bilateral donors. Canadian Forces have been deployed in Kandahar province, one of the most dangerous places on earth, for five years. Home of the Taliban, the province lies at the heart of the conflict in Afghanistan.
Through the courageous efforts of our armed forces, the terrorist threat has been contained, allowing Afghans the security to live and to breathe. We must build on what we have learned in Kandahar to continue the training necessary to solidify our gains and sustain our investment. We still have work to do.
Security in Afghanistan is not yet sustainable, nor are the gains we made irreversible. This is why we must stay.
We have always understood that Afghanistan could not rise up out of the ashes of 30 years of conflict and civil strife through military force alone.
From the outset of our engagement in Afghanistan, we have pursued a whole of government strategy, complementing our military engagement with civilian efforts to build governance and security structures in Afghanistan and to support development in that country. Canada's contribution has focused on helping to rebuild government services, the national army, the national police, education, health care and respect for human rights.
We have worked in partnership with the Afghan government to strengthen the Afghan national army's capacity to conduct operations and sustain a more secure environment and increase the Afghan national police ability to promote law and order in the province of Kandahar.
We helped built the Afghan government's institutional capacity to deliver core services and promote economic growth, enhancing the confidence of Kandaharis in their government.
We provided humanitarian assistance to vulnerable people, including refugees, returnees and internally displaced persons.
We enhanced border security, with facilitation of bilateral dialogue between officials from Pakistan and Afghanistan.
We advanced Afghanistan's capacity for democratic governance by contributing to effective, accountable public institutions and electoral process.
We supported Afghan-led efforts towards political reconciliation.
Canada's approach recognizes that Afghanistan cannot create the conditions for sustainable peace through military means alone.
When we first arrived in Afghanistan, the education system was crippled and girls’ schools were closed. Today an estimated 6 million children are now in school, one-third of them girls—the highest enrolment rate in the country’s history. Canada continues to build, expand and repair schools in Kandahar province, having completed work on 26 schools thus far.
Under Taliban rule, human rights and women’s rights were non-existent. Today, those rights are enshrined within the country’s constitution. Canada has fought for the establishment and protection of those human rights in Afghanistan including the rights of women and children. The promotion and protection of human rights, including women’s rights, is a core element of Canada’s engagement in Afghanistan.
Canada is actively supporting Afghan justice sector reform, with a view to strengthening capacity and promoting human rights. Canada provides ongoing support to the Government of Afghanistan and Afghan organizations to build their capacity to ensure that laws respect the Afghan constitution and the country’s international human rights obligations.
Canada supports the Afghan Ministry of Justice’s human rights support unit through a $1.3 million contribution. The unit will help Afghan governance bodies to incorporate and internalize human rights in their legislation, policies and respective areas of responsibility.
While these gains are remarkable, without our help they remain fragile.
I reiterate that our work in Afghanistan is not yet complete. Decades of conflict left Afghanistan and Pakistan deeply distrustful of each other. Canada has worked to help strengthen those relations by bringing Afghan and Pakistani border officials together, often for the first time through the Dubai process.
Long-term peace can only come about through dialogue and mutual understanding. Well-managed borders are instrumental for long-term economic development, as well as for long-term stability and security.
As one of Canada's priorities, we have played a central role in helping Afghanistan generate customs revenue and battle corruption in customs sectors.
Canada remains committed and has always said that we would remain engaged after 2011. We are respecting the parliamentary motion and we will build on what we have learned through the outstanding work of Canada in Kandahar.
The key to a stable and more secure future in Afghanistan is its ability to provide for its own security. Security is the foundation for progress. This is why the government has decided that it will provide Canadian Forces personnel to the NATO training mission in Afghanistan to continue training the Afghan national security forces over the next three years. We will provide 950 military trainers and support personnel.
We will also focus on four themes: we will invest in the future of Afghan children and youth, notably through education and health; we will work to advance security, the rule of law and human rights; we will promote good regional relations, which are key to the future of Afghanistan, through active diplomacy; and we will continue to provide humanitarian assistance.
Our commitment to the Afghan people is clear and unwavering. We are working harder than ever with Afghans, and closer together as an international community, to create the conditions for a more prosperous, better governed and more secure Afghanistan.
Hon. Peter MacKay (Minister of National Defence, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak in this important debate with respect to Canada's military mission in Afghanistan.
As we all know, the Canadian Forces have been a fundamental part of Canada's whole of government approach to the mission in Afghanistan to help Afghans build stronger institutions and a stable environment in their country. This is a monumental undertaking, to be clear, given the history and the complexity of that country.
Our men and women in uniform, along with their civilian counterparts, have done an outstanding job and incredible work in Afghanistan. Their steadfast dedication to the mission and to the Afghan people is making a real difference. In fact, it came at quite a price. My colleague, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, has referenced the fact that 152 Canadian Forces were lost, civilian lives as well, and many have suffered grievous physical and psychological injury. That solid understanding is very important to keep in the context of what our country has brought to this mission.
I have made a dozen or more visits in the past number of years and I can say that the security situation is in fact improving. Tangible evidence is there, evidence which should be a great source of pride for Canadians.
All of this improvement in Afghanistan, and in particular around Kandahar, has been the result of these brave men and women in uniform and their civilian partners putting their all into improving the situation for Afghans, and in fact for the international community at large.
In five of the last seven years we have been in Kandahar province, which has been described aptly as the heartland of the Taliban and the most difficult terrain to capture and keep. The accomplishments are many and the commitment unwavering. The Canadian Forces, with their international partners, prevented the region from falling back into the hands of the Taliban. They built roads and dug wells in wadis. They enabled education, vaccination, much of the very tangible condition for commerce to flourish in the future, micro finance in particular as a highlight for women in that country. All of this is done under the umbrella and the sometimes very difficult to maintain protective yet impenetrable perimeter of safety provided by the Canadian Forces and ISAF.
They are helping to bring about stability and a sense of normalcy to the people long held hostage by tyranny and violence. Human rights and quality of life are very much improving and are attributable to those efforts.
Thanks to the soldiers' professionalism and hard work, Kandahar can now envision a more peaceful and prosperous future than it could just a few short years ago.
In keeping with the 2008 parliamentary motion, the government has decided that there will be no combat role for our military in Kandahar past July 2011. Canada and Canadians are proud of the way the Canadian Forces have assumed their share of the burden in this difficult region.
And starting in July 2011, our NATO and Afghan partners will assume responsibility for security in Kandahar, building on the exceptional work accomplished by the men and women of our military.
The government still believes, however, that there is an important role for the Canadian Forces to play in Afghanistan.
That role will reinforce the successes achieved so far by our military in training and mentoring the Afghan National Army.
Since the adoption of the Afghanistan Compact and the extension of the ISAF mission to all of Afghanistan, training the Afghan national security forces has been a key objective of the international mission. ISAF participating nations along with the Afghan government understood from the beginning that any mission success would not be sustainable unless the Afghans themselves could assume responsibility for their country's own security.
They established important targets with a view to growing and enhancing the Afghan national security forces, both army and police. The Canadian Forces have already been at the forefront of the training and mentoring provided to the Afghan national security forces over the last few years.
Among other important accomplishments, Canadians are clearly very good at training. It is the approach, attitude and engagement which Canadians naturally bring to this task. Yes, combat skills are transferable. This has been one of the core objectives of our military and one of the six priorities identified for the Canadian mission two years ago.
Over the course of my visits there, I have had the opportunity to witness some of the great work members of our military have been doing in support of the development of the Afghan national security forces. Their professionalism, dedication and personal hands-on approach is nothing short of spectacular. The way in which they have done this has earned the admiration and respect of our Afghan and international partners.
Just last month, for instance, the Minister of Veterans Affairs and I visited the junior officer staff course in Kabul, a key component of Canada's efforts to enhance the professionalism of the Afghan national army. We also toured the site where a new Canadian-funded facility is being built to house the course.
We went to Camp Nathan Smith where our provincial reconstruction team provides essential training to the members of the Afghan police, corrections services, border guards and judicial system. The efforts of our whole of government team to lead Afghans to build stronger institutions and more effective governance mechanisms are quite remarkable.
Just four years ago the Canadian Forces were working with only a few hundred Afghan army personnel in Kandahar. When, for example, our military launched Operation Medusa in 2006 led by General Fraser, one of the most significant and galvanizing firefights in the entire mission aimed at disrupting insurgents in Kandahar, the Afghan army had only basic skills and its involvement in the operation was limited.
As we speak, close to 400 Canadian Forces personnel are now engaged in instructing, training and mentoring members of the Afghan national security forces and providing support services. They are mentoring an ANA brigade, or kandak, of 4,500 troops that is actively engaged in planning, conducting and holding ground in Kandahar in the operation.
Today the Afghan army is fielding approximately 10,500 personnel as part of Operation Hamkari in an Afghan-led initiative designed to improve security and strengthen governance, enable economic development and build trust in Kandahar province.
This means that in four years Canadian Forces moved from waging combat operations with the ANA on the sideline to supporting broader Afghan government and military operations where combat is not the main focus. They have in fact stepped up and stepped forward in that role. This is impressive in such a short period of time. It clearly illustrates the fundamental requirement for our capable, confident Afghan national security force. The more we do, the safer Afghanistan becomes and the better the world is.
Across Afghanistan, our allies and partners in ISAF have put considerable efforts toward the goal of empowering the Afghan national security forces. At the NATO summit in 2009, the alliance confirmed the creation of the NATO training mission in Afghanistan, where Major General Stu Beare is playing an important leadership role on behalf of our country. This mission's objective is to coordinate international efforts to train the Afghan army and police, and increase coherence and effectiveness across the board.
ISAF's focus on training the Afghan national security forces is delivering significant results. Over the course of the last 12 months alone, Afghan forces, the army and police have grown by 70,600 in number. The ANA now stands at 134,000 and is on track to meet the expansion targets of 171,000 troops by October of next year, up from a troop force of about 17,000 in 2001. It has increased tenfold.
NATO allies and partners, including Canada, have helped mentor and train about 50,000 Afghan security forces, shoulder to shoulder.
As we speak, we are seeing remarkable achievements. We maintain that we must continue to do this for the Afghans themselves and for the security of Canadians as well. In spite of great strides by the Afghan national security forces, we still have challenges there. The Afghan army needs to strengthen its institutional capability in key decisions on how deploy resources and to reinforce the military culture. We need to increase the capacity to support operations by building logistics and engineer capabilities.
These are a few examples of what we need to do to continue and yet the next phase of the Canadian Forces mission is clearly focused exclusively now on supporting ISAF's capacity building for the Afghan forces with up to 950 trainers and support staff to be deployed at facilities centred near Kabul.
This mission becomes an opportunity to see Canada's legacy continue and remain well rooted in the important sacrifice and commitment that has been demonstrated throughout.
Finally, it will help build a solid foundation for Afghan institutions and governance including those key security forces, well led, well trained and well equipped. This is what will be the essential ingredient for a safe and democratic future for Afghans, giving them the skills to do what we have done for them.
As long as this world spins, there will always be a need and requests for Canadian soldiers to deploy. We are very proud of what they have done across the board and we will support them as they move on to their new role in Afghanistan.
Hon. Bob Rae (Toronto Centre, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to participate in the debate.
Like all members, I learned just before coming into the House that Premier Williams of Newfoundland and Labrador has announced his retirement as the premier of that province.
Since the premier and I were both chosen to go to Oxford University on the same day at the same time from different provinces, I have always felt a very special kinship with him. I offer him the sincerest thanks of the Liberal Party of Canada and of Canadians everywhere for his service and, if I may say so, for the indomitable spirit and energy with which he has led the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador.
I want to assure members that I will get to the present very quickly, but in 1938 the most popular politician in the western world was Neville Chamberlain. Neville Chamberlain was the man who, after the Munich agreement, told the British public on a famous broadcast that there was absolutely no reason for people to go to war because of a dispute between two or three ethnic groups that were fighting in a country that was very far away and of which we knew almost nothing. I think I am almost quoting his words verbatim.
Seventeen months later, the Second World War broke out and, at that point, Mr. Chamberlain was no longer the most popular politician in the western world because, while he had told people what he thought they wanted to hear, in 1938 events very quickly overtook him and the world. I want to suggest to people that it is important for us to recall and reflect on that period of time as we try to understand the circumstances in which we find ourselves today.
As the foreign affairs critic for the Liberal Party, together with other members of Parliament, I have had an opportunity to visit Afghanistan on a number of occasions, both before I was an MP and after being elected to Parliament. I have had chances to visit the regions in Pakistan and in India. I had a lot of conversations with people about the challenges in the region.
I do not claim to have any monopoly of expertise or any monopoly of information. I am in the opposition and therefore do not have access to a lot of information that the government has. However, I do have certain instincts with respect to that situation that have always, I hope, been fuelled by information. I appreciated the comments made by both ministers today because they have added a little to the information that we have.
We are here today to discuss a motion by our friends in the Bloc Québécois. The Bloc Québécois and the New Democratic Party say that the Prime Minister has often said there would be no troops in Afghanistan after 2011. The Bloc Québécois quotes what General Hillier said two or three years ago, namely that it is impossible to provide training and development to troops without there being combat. I do not recall the date given by the hon. member for Saint-Jean. According to him, the decision by our Canadian government to accept a non-combat role in Afghanistan after 2011, with the presence of hundreds of Canadian troops providing training and development, shows that there is no democracy in Canada, that the government and the official opposition are allegedly dishonest, have no idea of what they are doing and are telling falsehoods to the population.
I can honestly say to my colleague from Saint-Jean, whom I know very well from having worked with him on two committees—as I shall continue to do—that I do not share his point of view. First of all, Canada has certain international obligations to the UN and to its NATO partners. I have often said in the House that it is a pity that the other NATO members have not taken their responsibilities toward Afghanistan more seriously. Our 2008 resolution clearly states that we are going to abandon the combat mission in Kandahar after 2011. It is natural that our friends in NATO should have wondered and are still wondering what we are going to do to keep up our assistance program in Afghanistan.
I have been asked whether NATO has exerted any pressure. I don’t know if it can be called pressure, but it is natural that our partners in NATO, including the United States, should ask us what we are prepared to do, while honouring the will of the House of Commons and the positions of the political parties of Canada.
I make no apology for saying that it is very clear what went on. A number of people, including this member and a number of other people, told the government that it should not exclude the possibility of a training mission if that fits in with the strategy that NATO and the United Nations are trying to establish in order to achieve the objective, which is very clearly set out and repeated again in the Lisbon statement this past weekend, and that is that we move from a position where it is NATO and other countries that are carrying the military load in Afghanistan to a point where it is the government of Afghanistan that takes on an ever-increasing degree of responsibility for the safety and security of its people.
That is the objective that the House should share. We should share the idea that the only long-term prospect is to make Afghanistan more capable of providing for the security and stability of its country to a point where all foreign troops can leave and all of us can get out and come home. As an alliance, how do we do that in a way that is effective and that respects the profound will of the House that our troops not be asked to engage in further combat post-2011?
I happen to think that what has been proposed is not perfect. I have some questions about it and some issues with it that I want to discuss, but, for my part, it is not a credible position for the Government of Canada to take to say that after 10 years we will not allow a single military personnel to stay behind in Afghanistan to do the job that still clearly has to be done and which we recognize has to be done. What kind of a reliable, sensible or thoughtful partner of NATO or of the United Nations would we be if we said no, that we cannot conceivably think of even doing that?
Everyone knows there is a training need. The Minister of National Defence has described it. There are lots of opportunities and ways in which we can help to train and educate. Now, is that the only thing we need to do? Not at all. I continue to say to the government, and will continue to do so, that Canada needs to be as clear a diplomatic and political partner in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, in the reconciliation with Pakistan and in the internal reconciliation that needs to take place in Afghanistan and in Pakistan as we have been a strong military player in the fighting in Afghanistan.
As the Prime Minister and many others have said, there is no military solution. As the Secretary General of the United Nations said in his press conference last week, there is no exclusively military solution to the conflict in Afghanistan. It requires far more than that. I happen to believe it requires more on the political side, on the diplomatic side, than the government has yet been prepared to do.
I want to clarify a rumour that has been spreading around the Internet and even today on the Internet. I want to make it clear that this is not a job application on my part in any way, shape or form. I have not been offered work nor would I accept work from the government. I am not interested in doing it. That is not what I am talking about. I am talking about putting the best of our diplomatic skills at work for Canada to ensure we are as effective a force for peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan and Pakistan and between those two countries as we have been on the battlefield and as we have been in the field of development.
Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the whole world. It is a country that has been through 30 years of civil war. It is a country whose infrastructure has been destroyed. It is a country where whole generations have never been to school and never received any education. It is a country that has a narco-economy, of which we are all familiar, where the narcotics economy is equal to at least half of the total GDP of the country. It is a country that is a dangerous and violent place.
I heard my colleague from Saint-Jean clearly say that he has been to the funerals. Frankly, we have all been. It is tragic, terrible and horrendous to see, not only the loss of life but the loss of limb and the deep trauma that comes with battle and with fighting.
One thing we have to understand about the world we are in today is that Afghanistan is not the only place we face conflicts or are going to face them. I do not say this as somebody who relishes conflict. I do not say this as someone who in the slightest bit celebrates war or thinks that somehow war is a great or cleansing experience for countries to go through. There have been many politicians over the generations who have had such strange ideas, but I am not one of those people.
We do have to understand that, in this kind of violent world in which we live, there are corners of extremism that have been allowed to fester and there are states that are not able to effectively control their jurisdictions. The world is getting smaller, where people can get on planes and move, where ideas can move across the Internet, hateful ideas, ideas that continue to advocate the genocide of a people, ideas that continue to advocate the genocide and the elimination of an entire state, the state of Israel.
These are the events and these are the times. This is the moment in which we are living. It is a dangerous and risky peace.
The hon. member for Saint-Jean has spoken of peacekeeping missions. But do any such peacekeeping missions exist where there is no conflict? One cannot talk about keeping the peace in Somalia or eastern Congo when wars there have wiped out 6 million people. Such is the reality of our world.
This is not easy. We are all politicians and we know what people think about this issue. They are telling us that enough is enough, that our troops have been there long enough and it is time to bring them back to Canada. Like my colleagues, I have been elected to the House. I am familiar with the people’s opinion. But what poses a problem, in my view, is that I see a world where Canada has no choice but to get involved, eliminate the sources of violence in the world, eliminate the potential for a great many deaths and, indeed, eliminate the possibility of consequences even worse than those that now exist.
I am not one of those people who says we were simply there in Afghanistan to kill the bad guys. I am not one of those who thinks there was ever a military solution.
I find it ironic that, for the longest time, I was described as un-Canadian by some members opposite because I advocated very strongly for the need for us to be engaged in the process of trying to create a basis for peace and the resolution of conflict alongside the military presence.
Now that I am saying we still have a job to do to train as well as do the peace and reconciliation and do the development, all of a sudden now people say, “Oh, the Liberals are suddenly going along with the Conservatives”.
That is not how I see things. I must confess that is not how I see it. I see it as the duty of a member of Parliament from time to time to speak his mind to his colleagues and to members opposite. It is our duty to try to understand the fact that, when we look at how we are going to deal with the situation involving not only the security of Afghanistan but the safety and security of Canadians and the safety and security of people all over the world, we have an obligation not simply to see this as a matter of partisan interest but to see this as a question of national interest.
There have been many commentators from the left and from the right over the last 10 days who have said, “The Liberal Party has made a colossal political mistake”, because we have allowed a tactical advantage to members from other parties to come along our side and to take all those of our supporters who perhaps have concerns about what has been going on in Afghanistan and would like things to change more quickly.
I want to simply say to those people and to all those reporters who have made those comments, and to all those who still harbour those thoughts, that this is not about partisan advantage. We do not start talking about Afghanistan by saying that we want to do a tranche count of the electorate, that we want to see how we can cut up the electorate so we can appeal to this portion over that portion.
That is not how I saw World War II. That is not how I have seen Korea. That is not how I have seen any conflict in which we were engaged as a country. I have had issues with the government's trying to suggest from time to time that, because we are concerned about the way in which things have happened or the way things have been conducted or have not been done, somehow we are unpatriotic in expressing those concerns.
Just as I do not accept that criticism, I do not accept for a moment the notion that somehow this is a great issue on which to divide the Canadian people and on which to try to say how can we reap partisan advantage from the challenge we face.
The combat mission is coming to an end. Let us get a grip here. We are not talking about a combat mission. We are talking about Canadians withdrawing from fighting. Do not think for a moment that all of our NATO allies are thrilled with that proposition, because they are not.
We then said we would participate in training; we will participate in colleges, staff colleges and building up the capacity. Yes we need to do more on the aid side.
I say to my colleague from Ottawa Centre: Am I satisfied with the aid package coming forward from the government? No, I am not. Do I think it is generous enough? No, I do not. Do I see huge health care needs and huge education needs and huge needs to deal with the governance crisis, and do I think what the government has put forward is adequate? No, I do not.
However that is not a basis upon which I am prepared to say that I do not support having a number of troops left behind in Kabul to do the training that is required, under the conditions that have clearly been set out and established by the parliamentary resolution, which if I may say so, this party had a hand in crafting.
Why would we not have a hand in crafting it? This mission goes beyond partisanship.
I was with my colleagues from the Conservative Party, from the Bloc and from the New Democratic Party, and my good friend from St. John's East. We saw together what we saw in Afghanistan in June. We saw the way in which Canadian troops worked. We saw the way in which Canadian civilians worked. We saw the way in which the Afghan army responded. We were all at the same meetings. We received the same briefings.
None of us could have come away from that experience and said that it looked as though it was going to be wrapped up in 2011. What was the expression we heard about the Taliban? “You've got the watches; we've got the time.”
The terrorists do not have a timetable. The terrorists do not have resolutions that say this is what has to happen and this is the day we have to do this and we have to do that.
The terrorists have a different objective, and we need to understand that as a House. Canadians have to come to terms with the need for this continuing engagement; they have to come to terms with the need for us to stay involved and stay engaged, not at the expense of our own people, not at the expense of our democratic traditions and not at the expense of how we do business as a country, but as partners.
I will always remember the Afghan colonel who said to us at a meeting that Canadians are different, that Canadians are not imperialists and are not there as occupiers; Canadians are there as partners.
Our role in partnership is changing. It should change. It is time for it to change. I was a strong advocate for that change, publicly and privately, and I am frankly proud that I was able to be. I continue to believe that Canada's role in partnership and in leadership in Afghanistan is ultimately going to do us far better as a country than any of the alternatives that have been proposed by some of my colleagues in the House.
Mr. Jack Harris (St. John's East, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, like the previous speaker, I want to acknowledge the announcement by the Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, my friend and former long-time law colleague, Danny Williams, on his decision to step down as premier. As most hon. members know, he has been a very strong force for the advancement of Newfoundland and Labrador. He is a very strong leader and has accomplished much in his seven years as the premier, and I will comment about that later.
A lot of Canadians are wondering why we are here on an opposition challenging the government's unilateral decision to extend the military mission in Afghanistan. It is because Canadians were promised a number of things by the government, starting when it sought to be in power in 2006 under the leadership of the current Prime Minister. The Conservatives promised that all foreign military engagements would be put to a vote in Parliament. That was said when they ran for office.
The second thing Canadians were promised was that we would no longer continue a military mission in Afghanistan after 2011. That was the vote of Parliament. We only have to go to the Prime Minister's words on this issue, which he gave in January and again in June when he said that the government could not have been more clear, that the military mission would end and all of our soldiers would be out of Afghanistan by the end of 2011.
Lest there be any doubt, the people in charge of the military said the same thing. The Chief of the Defence Staff, Walter Natynczyk, was at the defence committee on December 9, 2009. He was asked specific questions. He was there to tell us how the troops would be withdrawn and what the military would do. General Natynczyk talked about the motion of Parliament. There was some question about Kandahar versus the rest of Afghanistan, et cetera, which we are still hearing today as a way of trying to climb down from that motion, saying it was about a combat mission.
This is what he was asked by a member of the committee:
|| There is a difference between Kandahar and Afghanistan. Could you assure us that, in 2011, Canadian soldiers will be repatriated to Canada, and not just from Kandahar?
General Walter Natynczyk answered:
|| First, it is clear that the mission in Kandahar will end for all troops and, second, it is the end of the military mission in Afghanistan.
It was very clear from General Natynczyk and from the comments of the Prime Minister in January and June.
What do we have today? In the last two weeks the Prime Minister said that he did not really mean military engagements, that he meant combat engagements. The Conservatives are saying that the motion was about Kandahar not about Afghanistan. If some person in Parliament had said in 2008, when we voted on that motion, that it would amount to a permanent military mission in Afghanistan, he or she would have been laughed out of Parliament. That individual would have been told that he or she was imagining things and that we were talking about the extension of our military mission only to 2011.
How do we know that? If we go back to the comments that were made as early as 2006 and in 2008, it was very clear the Conservatives were talking about any mission involving Canadian troops.
It is not new for Parliament to want to have a say in what goes on with Canadian military interventions. The member for Toronto Centre started with a discussion about 1939 and talked about Great Britain. I want to go back to 1923 and Canada.
In 1923, Prime Minister Mackenzie King declared that only Parliament should ultimately decide on Canadian participation in foreign conflicts. He said:
|| It is for Parliament to decide whether or not we should participate in wars in different parts of the world, and it is neither right nor proper for any individual nor for any groups of individuals to take any step which in any way might limit the rights of Parliament in a matter which is of such great concern to all the people of our country.
That is how far back I can produce a definite statement about Parliament needing to have a say in this, and there have been many attempts over the years to increase that say. It happened in the 1980s and the 1990s where private members' bills were brought by members who now sit opposite.
The current Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities introduced a private member's bill that called for the necessity for Parliament to approve any peacekeeping mission under UN engagements of over 100 troops. He said that must be brought to Parliament.
Another Reform member of Parliament, Bob Mills, brought forward a similar private member's motion.
The Auditor General has spoken about the need for Parliament to have a say in matters involving foreign engagements and expenditure of these kinds of funds. So this is not new.
In fact, in 2005, there was an agreement among the Conservative Party of Canada, led by the current Prime Minister, the Bloc Québécois and the NDP to change the Standing Orders to allow for votes in Parliament specifically on military engagements abroad. None of this is very new, but in the execution this time we see the government breaking its promise.
Canadians expected Canadian troops to be out. The motion says we will get out. The understanding of it is that we will get out. Canadians want us to end our military engagement in Afghanistan.
The government says it is only a training mission. Let us go back in history. In 2006, the then minister of defence, who is the current government whip, said:
|| A two-year commitment will allow the additional time needed for Afghan security forces to become operationally effective.
He was saying two years were needed to help them become operationally effective. In other words, a training mission was what it was then.
The member for Toronto Centre made a terrifically eloquent speech back then. He was not in Parliament at the time, but I believe he was seeking the leadership of his party. He said that if he had a chance to vote, he would have voted against it.
In 2006, the extension for two years was supposedly for a short period of time, to allow a transition for Afghanistan itself. The current Prime Minister, when he presenting his motion to extend the war until 2009, said:
|| This mission extension, if the motion is passed, will cover the period from February 2007 to 2009 when we expect a transition of power in Afghanistan itself.
So we have been down this road before, starting in 2006 and then in 2008 when the mission was extended once again. In 2006, the mission was sold to Canadians as a short-term one that would allow the Kandaharis, the people of Afghanistan and its military to look after themselves. In 2006, we believed there was a better way. We thought Canadian resources should be directed to helping this then-failed state rebuild itself from the ashes of the civil wars of the 1990s and the disastrous rule of the Taliban.
New Democrats wanted to focus on nation-building. We believed that was the way that Canada should expand its resources. It was a serious situation in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, the largest player, the United States, which was attacked, after all, by al-Qaeda out of Afghanistan, explicitly rejected nation-building in Afghanistan as a foreign policy objective and instead turned its attention and resources to a war with Iraq, which amongst other things, of course, as we have seen, served to increase, not diminish, the strength of al-Qaeda in that region.
Who knows what a dedicated focus on Afghan nation-building, which we supported at the time and wanted Canada to focus on, serious international diplomatic and foreign policy efforts to engage the neighbourhood, in particular Pakistan, and to help them create a stable Afghanistan and create one out of the ashes, might have accomplished in the last 10 years? We do not know. However, we do know and we can be certain that the results would have been better than they are today.
In 2008, once again, when we were asked to extend the mission, the focus, the discussion and the quotations from members supporting this mission were all about training: we have to have training in Afghanistan; we want to train the Afghan army; we want to train those troops.
We have a whole series of quotes from the current leader of the Liberal Party in regard to this and his support for it because it was a training mission, all about putting the Afghan people in charge of their own affairs militarily and providing security.
In Afghanistan, that is what we have been engaged in, but has it been successful? The answer to date is “clearly not”.
We are opposed to the extension of this military mission in Afghanistan. We believe the expenditure of Canadian money and effort in Afghanistan militarily has been done and Canadians think it is a significant contribution to our NATO partners and to the people of Afghanistan on the military side.
What are we seeing now? We are seeing a unilateral decision by government to extend this mission militarily, at an admitted cost of $1.6 billion. At the same time, in terms of the nation-building that the member for Toronto Centre so eloquently talked about, I am shocked that he is not saying that we should take this money, this effort and these resources that are being expended on the military and use it for nation-building, because that is what is going to save the Afghan people. He might grumble, but he is not saying that. Instead, he is supporting the expenditure of five times as much on the military than on nation-building, which is so desperately required in Afghanistan.
However, I do not want to make a speech in the House without talking about what we have done and what we have accomplished. We do not want to take away, in any way, from what has been done by Canadian soldiers and civilians working and serving in Afghanistan.
I, like every parliamentarian who has gone to Afghanistan, have been extremely impressed with the dedication, commitment and professionalism of our troops, our support staff and our top-notch diplomatic personnel, who are doing a very good job, including the current ambassador, Mr. William Crosbie.
All Canadians owe them a debt of gratitude for their service and willingness to serve and to take the risks that they have taken and risk their lives and their future in doing so. We can all be proud of them as Canadians.
Sadly, too many Canadians, soldiers and their families have paid a huge price, including, of course, the 152 deaths that we have suffered, and we wish to honour their sacrifice.
The debate here today is about what Canada will do now, not necessarily what NATO will do. NATO has made a decision. It has a $1 billion per month budget for military training. But what should Canada do? What should we contribute? How should we honour the sacrifice that has been made?
We say that we should do something that is going to have lasting, permanent effect on the future of Afghanistan. We say, bring home our soldiers and make our contribution to Afghanistan in other ways.
What we have before us is a government that once again sells a training mission to Canadians, and sadly, cuts by more than half its aid and support for aid and development in Afghanistan. It says it will be $1.6 billion in terms of forces and $300 million for aid and assistance.
What is really needed in Afghanistan, of course, is aid and assistance to have a strong government that has the respect of the people. What do we have instead? We have in Afghanistan a government that the international transparency watch organization, in its corruption perception index, sees as tied for 176 out of 178 countries in the world for corruption. It is a government that is not respected by the people of Afghanistan and cannot have the respect without a significant amount of long-term work being done in that country.
In fact, that government is held in so much disrespect and disdain by the Canadian government that we had the Prime Minister in Lisbon saying that we will not dispense a dime to the Government of Afghanistan unless we are convinced the money will be spent in the way it is intended to be spent.
We had that confirmed yesterday by the officials from the Afghanistan task force, saying in regard to aid money that none of this $100 million over three years, which is grossly inadequate to do a significant job, will go to the Government of Afghanistan.
The irony of this is a bit shocking. We are saying that we do not trust that government with a dime of our money but we are prepared to give them an army. We are prepared to train and develop a force of up to 300,000 combined police and security officers and hand it over to that government that we do not trust with a dime of our money. That is what we are saying.
The irony of that should not be lost on the Canadian public, because that is what the government is saying.
The only long-term solution for Afghanistan has to be in the desire, will and ability of the people to have some control of their own affairs, at the local level through the kind of work that we have been doing and support for women. We have women's organizations in Afghanistan that are in desperate need of money and support for projects. We have had very successful programs, such as the national solidarity program, which has been effectively delivering programs and projects to communities, decided by them at local shuras as to what the leadership and the communities want and delivering those programs to the people. They are extremely successful programs, the kinds of things that give people confidence in their future and make them want to have control over their own country.
Support for literacy programs, education and rural electrification are the kinds of things that will help that country become more literate. We are doing things in education and I think all Canadians should be proud of that.
But why are we cutting our aid support in half? If we are only able to contribute the amount of money that is being offered, why are we not putting it all into something that will have long-term nation-building support?
I am talking Canada now. There are lots of other members in NATO and I am not talking about NATO's goals. I am talking about what Canadians want and should contribute to the people of Afghanistan in the coming years.
It should not be a one-, two- or three-year commitment. We should recognize that if we want to make the full commitment to the Afghan people based on our years of effort and sacrifice on the military side, which we have done and which Canadians expected from the motion to be over, we should honour that sacrifice and commitment by making a long-term commitment to the people of Afghanistan to help them build the nation that they have to build themselves. They are the ones who have to build that nation and they are the ones who are going to be in charge.
There are a lot of things we could say about Afghanistan. We have had President Karzai telling the Americans that they should be confined to bases and they should not do this and should not do that and the negotiations with the Taliban. All of that will go on and happen regardless of what Canada says or does.
However, I cannot help but remark on the irony of suggesting that we do not trust the Afghan government with a dime of our money but we are going to give them a fully trained army and let them take over when we get out in 2014. I do not think that is right.
I cannot help but remark on the irony of suggesting that we do not trust the government with a dime of our money, but we are going to give it a fully trained army and let it take over when we get out in 2014. I do not think that is right.
Ms. Johanne Deschamps (Laurentides—Labelle, BQ):
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my speaking time with the member for Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher.
We would not be here today debating this motion if the government had kept its word. What this government is doing is showing its contempt for parliamentary democracy, as it has done so well since it came to power. According to the Prime Minister, a vote in Parliament is not necessary for extending the mission of the Canadian troops in Afghanistan. On this he is contradicting himself, because in the 2007 Speech from the Throne, this very Prime Minister said that “our Government has made clear to Canadians and our allies that any future military deployments must also be supported by a majority of parliamentarians.”
We, the Bloc Québécois members of this House, demand that a vote be held on this crucial question. The federal government absolutely must obtain authorization from Parliament before deploying troops abroad, because excluding parliamentarians, the people’s elected representatives, amounts to a denial of democratic principles.
With no debate and with no vote in the House, the Canadian government has decided to maintain a presence in Kabul consisting of 950 troops, who will have responsibility for training the Afghan security forces. The government wants to sound reassuring, by saying that the members of the Canadian Armed Forces who remain in Afghanistan will not take part in combat missions. But how can he claim to know the future and to be sure that the insurgents will draw a bright line between the peaceful role of the Canadian Armed Forces and the offensive troops?
The Conservatives are contradicting themselves. In early 2010, the Prime Minister and members of his government declared that Canada’s military mission in Afghanistan would end in 2011 and Canadian involvement would be limited to development, governance, humanitarian assistance and training police. But now, in spite of everything it said in the past, the government is changing its tune and deciding to maintain a military presence in Afghanistan without consulting the public or their elected representatives.
The strategy the Conservatives have discovered for getting out of this, at least for avoiding a vote, is the discovery of the century. They are inventing a new type of mission, a non-combat mission. What is a non-combat mission? I happen to believe that there are two types of missions: military missions and peacekeeping missions. The Conservatives have become experts in semantic game-playing, a bright idea for evading the rules of this House and for not calling a vote.
In addition, the Prime Minister and his Minister of Foreign Affairs are becoming even more confrontational with the opposition, contending that all Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan will be brought home by March 2014 at the latest. Once again, a promise they cannot keep and a commitment they cannot honour. They truly have no credibility and the public is not fooled.
The Liberal Party members are also complicit in the extension of the Canadian mission in Afghanistan. In 2006, when there was a vote on extending the mission, it was the votes of several Liberal members that made it possible for the mission to be extended until 2009. In 2008, the Conservatives introduced a motion, amended by the Liberals, to extend the mission to 2011. Once again, the Liberals lined up with the Conservatives. We can see that they have the same vision and the same philosophy.
Canada can bring a lot to the Afghan people. While the Bloc Québécois feels that Canada has done more than its share militarily and that other allied countries can perhaps take over its role, we believe that Canada can get involved at a number of other levels.
Canadian police officers are renowned the world over. The Bloc Québécois therefore recommends sending a contingent of up to 50 police officers to provide training to Afghan police. The presence of a trained, equipped, legitimate police force may help reduce the lack of security of the Afghan people.
According to all reports, there are major deficiencies in the Afghan prison system, as is clear from the issue of Afghan detainees abused in Afghan jails.
According to NATO:
|| To western standards, conditions of many detention/correction facilities vary from inadequate to extremely poor in some places.
As a result, the Bloc Québécois is suggesting that the wardens of Afghan prisons receive support from Canadian assistant wardens. We are therefore recommending sending 50 civilians from the Canadian prison system.
Trust in the legal system is one of the bases of a lawful society. NATO revealed that:
|| The Afghans prize the system’s notion of “fairness” and prefer the use of the informal system, as the formal governmental system is perceived as highly corrupt.
To provide training for the Afghan legal system and to ensure that it functions properly, the Bloc Québécois proposes sending a delegation of Canadian legal experts who can help with the modernization of the legal system. The Bloc Québécois also believes that Canada must continue its official development assistance in Afghanistan and feels that the Minister of International Cooperation's announcement to reduce the ODA envelope by more than half from 2011 to 2014 is unacceptable.
As well, the Canadian government and CIDA must review the policy on development aid to Afghanistan. It must be better coordinated, more transparent and efficient. The ODA must also be restructured because, in the past seven years, 80% of international aid bypassed the Afghan government and was not strictly in line with this government's priorities.
We are here today to vote on a motion that condemns the government's decision to unilaterally extend the Canadian mission in Afghanistan until 2014. That is the Conservative way, and it has not changed since they came to power. Canada's foreign policy has shifted to the right, and we no longer hear about the 3D approach: development, defence and diplomacy. The government's three priorities now are security, prosperity and governance. The government dictates Canada's foreign policy in keeping with its economic and military priorities.
It allocates exorbitant amounts to defence and peanuts to development assistance. The Conservatives' diplomatic record is abysmal. It is no wonder this government lost its seat on the UN Security Council as a direct result of its foreign policy. But Canada enjoys a good reputation within NATO, which is understandable because NATO is a military alliance. Canada has invested heavily in military procurement for the past few years.
The Conservatives' militaristic policy is not in line with Quebeckers' values. The vast majority of Quebeckers are opposed to Canada's presence in Afghanistan.
According to a Harris/Decima poll conducted during the week of November 11, 59% of respondents in Quebec think Canada should bring all its troops home, and only 36% want the Canadian army to help train Afghan soldiers.
Clearly, the Conservative members from Quebec are out of touch with their constituents' concerns and are not standing up for their interests within this government.
I will close by inviting all the members of the House to vote for our motion, because any deployment of Canadian troops must by subject to a vote in the House of Commons.
Mr. Jean Dorion (Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher, BQ):
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this motion on this Bloc Québécois opposition day. I would first like to read out the motion:
|| That this House condemn the government’s decision to unilaterally extend the Canadian mission in Afghanistan to 2014, whereby it is breaking two promises it made to Canadians, one made on May 10, 2006, in this House and repeated in the 2007 Throne Speech, that any military deployment would be subject to a vote in Parliament, and another made on January 6, 2010, that the mission in Afghanistan would become a strictly civilian commitment after 2011, without any military presence beyond what would be needed to protect the embassy.
On this issue, the Bloc Québécois cannot support the government, its policies or its decisions. That explains why we oppose extending the Canadian mission.
The Conservative government wants us to be involved in a never-ending war on terror. This is no longer the aftermath of September 11. We have moved on. The government seems to think that the world can conquer terrorism simply by using force and that the best way to respond to what happened on September 11 is by using weapons. It is mistaken.
The best way to put an end to terrorism in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the world is first to give hope to those who have none. This has been the Bloc Québécois position for years and it is the only position that reflects Quebec's values and interests.
The Bloc Québécois is of the opinion that, militarily, Canada has done its share and that its role can be taken over by our allies. Although we do not agree with the form the mission has taken, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the military men and women who have taken part in the mission and pay tribute to the memory of those who have lost their lives there. We honour the sacrifice, the ultimate sacrifice, that they have made.
With respect to the Conservatives' plan to extend the military mission, the government is straying, in my view, from what its role should be. It should be participating in the reconstruction by providing financial and humanitarian support to recognized NGOs on the ground, not by providing a military presence now masquerading as a training mission that is a complete sham.
According to the Prime Minister, the mission is being extended solely in order to train Afghan soldiers. But the former chief of the defence staff, General Rick Hillier, stated that it is impossible to train soldiers without following up in the field, meaning in conflict situations. So it seems clear that the so-called “new” mission in Afghanistan will not be humanitarian in nature, as the Prime Minister would have us believe. Instead, it will be military in nature, with Canadian soldiers having to go into combat zones in order to do their work.
The government is trying to justify keeping Canadian troops in Afghanistan by claiming that they will not be involved in combat. The example of France shows that it is impossible to conduct training without becoming involved in combat missions. France has lost about fifty soldiers, a good number of them while training the Afghan army.
What is more, at the very recent NATO summit, the Prime Minister had the audacity to promise not to extend the mission in Afghanistan past 2014. But on January 6, 2010, he stated publicly that there would be no military presence in Afghanistan after 2011 beyond what would be needed to protect the Canadian embassy.
How much credibility does he have in setting this new 2014 deadline when, in so doing, he is going back on his promise to withdraw the troops in 2011? Who can believe him?
After having extended Canada’s military mission in Afghanistan four years beyond the original deadline, the Prime Minister is now forcing his decision to continue it beyond 2011 on the House by sending about 1,000 troops until 2014. The Conservative government also deliberately announced this arbitrary decision, made hurriedly and on the sly, during the parliamentary recess and therefore without any debate or vote in the House of Commons.
The Prime Minister broke his promise not to extend the military mission in Afghanistan, and in so doing, he lost all further credibility. In May 2006, the Prime Minister repeated the promise his government made during the election campaign to hold a vote on any further deployment of troops overseas. The Prime Minister should have kept this promise at the very least by holding a debate and a vote in the House on the extension of the mission in Afghanistan beyond 2011. That is why the Bloc Québécois wanted to have this debate today on an opposition day.
There is no way that an agreement made behind closed doors between the Conservatives and Liberals on the extension of the military mission in Afghanistan can substitute for a free and democratic debate. A real debate is needed to ensure that the Afghan mission is really a civilian commitment.
Since this mission started, the Bloc Québécois has been the only party advancing a consistent, responsible position. The Bloc stated that it was in favour of withdrawing our soldiers at the end of the mission and it was consistent enough to vote for the Liberal motion in 2007 that would have ended the mission in 2009, in contrast to the NDP, which supported the extension of the mission under false pretences.
This shows that the Bloc Québécois continues to represent Quebeckers and their values in Ottawa. Quebec does not want any more of this military mission. Quebec is against it, and most of all, Quebec wants the Premier Minister to reverse his anti-democratic decision and put an end to the military mission in favour of a civilian, humanitarian mission, as he promised he would do in January 2010.
I therefore encourage all members of the House to support our motion.
Mr. Deepak Obhrai (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and to the Minister of International Cooperation, CPC):
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Kootenay—Columbia.
As we are discussing the future of Canada's engagement in Afghanistan, I believe it is also important to reflect upon what we have achieved through this engagement until now.
Afghanistan is not the place that it once was. As the foreign affairs committee saw this past summer, it is a nation of people with incredible will, courage and resilience. When Canada first became involved in Afghanistan, it had been under the rule of the Taliban, one of the world's most repressive and regressive regimes. Poverty, illiteracy and oppression characterized life for all Afghans and the country had become a safe haven for international terrorists.
This was the situation that existed nearly 10 years ago and it is the starting point from which the accomplishments of Canada and its partners must be assessed. In such circumstances, progress takes time and setbacks are to be expected. Nevertheless, progress is being made and Canada has succeeded in making a difference in the lives of the Afghans. Our government feels strongly that we must continue to build on what we have achieved so far and maintain our commitment to Afghanistan.
This is something we owe to the thousands of remarkable Canadian men and women who have risked their lives, including the 152 members of the Canadian Forces, a diplomat, 2 NGO humanitarian aid workers and journalists who have made the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan.
The objective of Canadians was to help Afghans improve their own security, development and governance, both in Kandahar province and in Afghanistan as a whole. No one felt that achieving this objective would be free of obstacles and challenges, but that did not discourage the brave men and women, military and civilians, Canadians and Afghans who give the best of themselves to this noble goal, to provide measurable improvements to the lives of Afghan citizens.
Thanks to their hard work, very significant progress has been achieved with regard to our six priorities and three signature projects. This progress is compiled every quarter in the government's report to Parliament on Canada's engagement in Afghanistan. For each of our six priorities and three signature projects, benchmarks and progress indicators have been established. This gives Parliament and the Canadian public a very clear picture of our achievements to date and of what is left to accomplish in order to achieve our objectives.
No other country reports on established benchmarks like we do. Through quarterly reporting, our government ensures an exceptional level of accountability and transparency.
I believe it is important to emphasize how much of our accomplishments are in areas that many Canadians take for granted such as access to basic services, to education and health care. Building schools or providing polio vaccines may not sound like the most groundbreaking achievements to the average citizen of a developed country like Canada, but for an Afghan child, it may make the difference between a life of poverty and a life of opportunity, or even between life itself and death. This is what I hope my fellow parliamentarians and my fellow Canadians keep in mind when they reflect upon Canada's contribution in Afghanistan.
Now let me speak about some of our accomplishments in further detail.
Recognizing that Afghans need to build their own capacity to ensure their own security, Canada has worked tirelessly to enable the Afghanistan National Security Forces in Kandahar to sustain a more secure environment and promised law and order. To this end, we are training, mentoring and equipping the Afghan national army and the police, building capacity in administration and logistics support and carrying out complementary initiatives in justice and correctional systems.
With the rule of law comes the ability for citizens to defend and exercise their fundamental rights. Promoting and protecting human rights, including women's rights, is a core element of Canada's engagement in Afghanistan. Canada consistently raises human rights issue such as freedom of expression, free speech, gender equality and freedom of media with the government of Afghanistan. We also provide support to build Afghan capacity to ensure that laws are in accordance with its constitution and its international human right obligations and to enable justice sector reform
While we acknowledge that this is a long-term process, we have seen substantial improvements in this area since the beginning of our engagement in the country. For instance, women, who had virtually no rights merely 10 years ago, now represent over a quarter of the Afghan parliamentarians and are taking a more active part in the country's political and economic development.
Perhaps more important is girls now represent a third of school children, compared with none in 2001, ensuring a better life and better opportunities for future generations.
Canada is also fully conscious of the importance of regional dynamics and the need for increased regional co-operation in order to help Afghanistan become a more stable and prosperous country.
With this in mind, since November 2007, Canada has facilitated a series of workshops to enhance mutual understanding and confidence between Pakistani and Afghani officials, which will allow them to undertake targeted joint border management projects.
This effort, known as the Dubai process, brings together border officials to promote co-operation with regard to customs, movement of people, counter narcotics and law enforcement. The most recent Dubai process meetings held in April, July and November were very highly productive.
These are just a few examples of progress.
To Afghans, Canadian accomplishments are more than just numbers and quarterly reports. For many Afghans, this partnership with Canada and the progress we have achieved together means real opportunities, as well as hope for a better future.
We can be proud of what we have achieved, but we must remain aware that our work is not complete. As history has proven time and time again, Canadians do not shy away from challenges. Nor do we back down when faced with difficulties. We must continue to look at the bigger picture and maintain our commitment to the people of Afghanistan.
After all, with all of our experience, through blood and hard work, and the admiration and handicraft of the Afghan, it is the best legacy we can leave behind. The Bloc motion fails to recognize that.
Hon. Jim Abbott (Kootenay—Columbia, CPC):
Madam Speaker, it gives me great and tremendous pleasure to be a part of this debate today, having had the unique opportunity of being able to go to Afghanistan last June. I participated in a seven-day mission to Kandahar and Kabul as a member of the House of Commons Special Committee on Afghanistan.
The purpose of the trip was to effectively observe the situation facing our troops and aid workers in Afghanistan. Before the trip I had government briefings on the situation, but the media was definitely one of the largest sources of my information on Afghanistan.
A few days after returning, I was at a social event where MPs, senators and the national news media were mingling, and as I walked by some reporters, one of them asked me about my impressions from the trip. I told him, first, I was blown away with the complete enthusiastic dedication of the Canadian soldiers, aid workers and diplomats in Afghanistan. Their selfless commitment is overwhelming. They know what they are doing and they know why they are doing it. Every day they spend in Afghanistan, they are risking their next breath, yet they persevere.
I continued, though. I said that, second, the coverage of Afghanistan by our national news media has been at best inadequate. All Canadians should be proud of our contribution to the world by our Afghan commitments. We should be overwhelmingly, enthusiastically thankful to those who are serving. Instead, we are timid. The news editing mentality of “it bleeds, it leads” is not good enough for these situations because it is overly simplistic and breeds fear.
Regrettably, the news coverage, or lack of it, on Afghanistan has actually distorted the impressions that most Canadians have, or many Canadians anyway. Canadian media coverage of Afghanistan for 10 years has been the equivalent of covering news in Canada and Canadian events by having three reporters driving around in a Vancouver police cruiser on Vancouver's east side. What would that coverage tell Canadians about Canadians' aspiration or the beauty of our land or our potential? This parallel is appropriate, because news organizations from Canada have had an average of three people in Kandahar, driving around in LAVs or confined to the air base.
Let me tell the House what I saw and how it was very, very moving for me personally. I saw Canadian soldiers, diplomats and people involved in development activity who made my heart want to burst with pride over what we as Canadians were doing for the people in Afghanistan and that part of the world. Take the example of education. Canada has had 26 schools rehabilitated or reconstructed, with another 24 under construction or contracted to be reconstructed. There have been 23,000 Afghan adults completing a 10-month literacy program and 5,900 completing vocational training programs.
These investments are building the future of Afghanistan. Thanks in part to the funding of the international community and the hard work of Afghans themselves, there are now more than 158,000 teachers in Afghanistan, which is up from only 21,000 in 2002.
More than six million Afghans are now getting the education required to help lift their country out of poverty. One-third of these students are girls, compared to none in 2002. These investments will need to be continued over the coming years; therefore the government has already signalled its intention to make the education of Afghan children, especially girls, a thematic priority until 2014.
Regarding health, in 2000, believe it or not, only 9% of the population was within two hours' walking distance of primary health care services. Now 66% are within two hours' walking of primary health care. More than 1,450 health care workers, including doctors, nurses, midwives and community health workers, have received training.
We have also seen reductions in the infant mortality rate, thanks to increased access to health care services and improved quality of and access to emergency obstetric care in southern Afghanistan.
The Canadian signature project to eradicate polio in Afghanistan with investments through the polio eradication initiative has enhanced successes. Canada is currently the largest international donor toward these efforts in Afghanistan.
To date, Afghanistan's estimated 7.8 million children continue to receive vaccinations through multiple vaccination campaigns across the country carried out through the year. While there have been difficulties in accessing populations in order to deliver the vaccinations, the disease has been largely contained to the south.
Persisting insecurity challenges are still there, but despite this, the polio team has devised innovative approaches to extend the reach of immunization efforts. Improving the health of Afghanistan's children underlines the importance of our continued engagement in Afghanistan. We will not waver in this commitment.
Building on this commitment, our response to the G8 Muskoka initiative on maternal, newborn and child health, through which we will provide $30 million annually to help address critical gaps in the Afghan health sector, will build upon our investments of the past.
In general terms, thanks in part to Canadian investment, the World Food Programme provided 275,000 tonnes of food to more than nine million Afghans in 2009 alone. Also in 2009, the Government of Canada provided $20 million in response to the UN-led humanitarian action plan.
Just as crucial for the future of Afghanistan is our commitment to help build the confidence of Kandaharis in their own government in Kandahar. In 2008, the Government of Canada set out specific objectives to help the Kandahar government increase access to basic services and jobs.
The Afghan government has often highlighted the necessity for rural development programming in its country, Afghans' access to economic opportunity. A key goal there for the Government of Canada was to help reinvigorate Kandahar's agro-economy with the rehabilitation of the Dahla Dam, a signature project of this government at $50 million. Its irrigation system serves as a central building block to Afghans' future.
Once identified as the bread basket of Afghanistan, Kandahar's ability to produce food and crops remains severely weakened by years of conflict and continuous drought. Afghanistan has one of the lowest levels per capita of food ability in the world, due in part to the destruction of these agriculture systems in the Arghandab Valley and across Kandahar.
Kandaharis rely on these agricultural systems not only for sustenance but also for their livelihoods. The destruction of this agricultural system has led to reduced employment opportunities in the agricultural sector, on which 80% of local farmers and labourers are dependent.
Today, thanks to Canada's support and the hard work of Afghans, over 137,000 cubic metres of silt and debris have been removed from the irrigation system's canals. The resulting increased water flow has helped an additional 5,300 hectares of land benefit from improved irrigation. To date, the construction work associated with the canal rehabilitation has helped provide approximately 2,000 jobs to Kandaharis. The additional economic opportunity that Kandaharis will have upon completion of the work on the irrigation system will provide for local populations in the province for future generations to come.
However these are just statistics until we take a look at the face of the Canadians in Afghanistan who are delivering these services. They are making a commitment of their lives on a day-to-day, minute-to-minute basis, which is why I was so overwhelmed when I met them. The honour that the Afghan people give to Canadians who are there to serve is the deep, overwhelming respect they have for the Canadians and for their contributions and connections, person to person, man to man, woman to woman.
Canada's contribution of trainers, which is what we are discussing today, is to give Afghanistan the ability to keep peace. Canada is moving to a peacekeeping mission. I asked the Bloc member this morning if he wanted foreign troops to keep the peace in Afghanistan or whether we should be training the Afghan army to do the job themselves.
Our government is honouring the commitment of all those who have sacrificed already. I call upon the special committee on Afghanistan to step up and work more constructively to define Canada's contribution for this untold story. Because we have been honoured with that level of respect by the Afghan people, we are in a strategically unique position among citizens of the world to be able to deliver training to these people.
For me, it was an extreme privilege to shake hands with the dedicated Canadians working so diligently, contributing so much, in our armed forces, RCMP, correctional services, CIDA, DFAIT and civilian agencies. To them, I can only say that I thank them.
Mr. Thierry St-Cyr (Jeanne-Le Ber, BQ):
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Trois-Rivières.
Today I am happy to speak to the motion introduced by the Bloc Québecois asking the House to oppose another extension of the mission in Afghanistan. I am happy to do so because this is a democratic forum, and it is incumbent upon us to debate our ideas and opinions. It is somewhat unfortunate, however, that this has to come from the Bloc Québécois. The government made a promise, so it should have been the government's responsibility to ask for the House's permission to extend the military mission beyond the date the House had agreed to in spite of the opposition of the Bloc Québécois.
I will begin with a history of the mission, which I think is important if we are to understand the point we are at in this mission. It is not the first time the House has had to make a decision on this. Because both the Liberals and New Democrats went back and forth on this issue, we are in a situation where there are still Canadian troops in Afghanistan, when they could have returned home a long time ago.
The Liberals were in power when this mission was launched. I was not here and I do not remember if there was a vote. I did not hear about one. Once the new Parliament was convened after the 2006 general elections, this debate came to the fore again very quickly.
On May 17, 2006, the first vote was held on extending this mission. The motion stated that the House supported the extension of the deployment by the Government of Canada for a period of two years. The mission was to end at the beginning of 2007, and the purpose of the motion was to extend it until the beginning of 2009. At that time, the Bloc Québécois clearly expressed its opposition to the extension of this military mission, and it voted against the motion. The NDP did so as well. It was harder to determine the Liberals' position because their votes on the issue were split. They adopted a rather partisan approach, and in the ridings where this issue was particularly relevant, they voted against it. However, they made sure that they voted in sufficient numbers for the government to obtain Parliament's authorization to proceed.
Of course, the Bloc Québécois was disappointed by this decision, but Parliament had spoken on this issue and we had to acknowledge that fact. We have always said that the government should respect the will of this House. Therefore, once the House had made a decision, we could not go against its will simply because we did not agree with it. So, Canada extended its mission. It made international commitments and it decided to continue its presence until 2009.
On April 24, 2007, the House voted again on this issue. A motion had been presented by the Liberal member for Bourassa, and supported by the leader of the official opposition, the member for Etobicoke—Lakeshore, who is still the leader of the official opposition. This motion recognized that the mission “will continue until February 2009, at which time Canadian combat operations in Southern Afghanistan will conclude;”.
So, clearly, the House had before it a motion to ensure that we would end our military presence in Afghanistan at the beginning of 2009. We were pleased with this change of attitude on the part of the Liberals, and we were hoping that their whole caucus would support the mover and the seconder of their motion, namely the leader of the official opposition. That was the case. The Liberals all voted in favour of this motion to end the mission, to not extend it a second time. The Bloc Québécois did the same. That was its position. We had acknowledged the decision made by the House. Now that we had to vote again on the issue, we said we should withdraw from Afghanistan. Unfortunately, the NDP, for obviously partisan and vote-getting purposes, voted against that motion and joined the Conservatives to defeat it.
Of course, they will tell us that they were hoping for an immediate departure from Afghanistan. I too shared that hope, but it does not change anything to the fact that the House had already voted for the year 2009, and that we had an opportunity to end the mission. If, at that time, the NDP had shown more foresight, if its leader had acted responsibly, if he had set aside political partisanship and his will to make small short-term political gains, and if instead he had protected the country's best interests, we would not be debating this motion today. If the NDP had acted responsibly in April 2007, we would have decided, as a Parliament, not to extend the mission again, and our troops would be out of Afghanistan since the beginning of 2009. So, this issue would have been settled for almost two years now. It is extremely unfortunate that it is not the case.
Later, in March 2008, a proposal from the government was negotiated, again with the Liberals. They changed their minds one more time. They were the ones who had proposed that we leave as early as 2009. However, following yet another episode of fancy dancing, the Liberals were now prepared to extend the mission. The motion read as follows:
|| that Canada should continue a military presence in Kandahar beyond February 2009 [the date set by this House], to July 2011...
It has been more than just another two years. We were against the first extension and we were against the second request. We wanted to put an end to it at our second opportunity and we were obviously against a third extension. We voted against the motion, just like the NDP, which sort of came to its senses at that point. Unfortunately, in the end—because of negotiations with the Liberals—the motion was adopted and, because of its international commitment, Canada's military had to remain in Kandahar until 2011.
And here we are today with a government that wants to find a way to continue the mission. It has once again come to an agreement with the Liberals. We are being told that this military presence will be for training purposes only. I would point out that a military presence is a military presence, and if they send the military somewhere, it is because they feel that the military is needed to do the job. If it were classroom training, they would not need people on the ground in a combat situation to do the job, and they would not send the military. They would send textbooks, training manuals. This is not classroom training, it is practical training, and practical combat training takes place in a combat situation. It seems pretty logical to me. And that is why the Bloc Québécois moved this motion in the House, so that our soldiers can leave Afghanistan and we can concentrate solely on the humanitarian aspect of this mission.
I encourage all of the hon. members to support this motion.
Ms. Paule Brunelle (Trois-Rivières, BQ):
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the Bloc Québécois motion on this opposition day. I would like to reread the motion:
|| That this House condemn the government’s decision to unilaterally [the word “unilaterally” is very important here] extend the Canadian mission in Afghanistan to 2014, whereby it is breaking two promises it made to Canadians, one made on May 10, 2006, in this House and repeated in the 2007 Throne Speech, that any military deployment would be subject to a vote in Parliament, and another made on January 6, 2010, that the mission in Afghanistan would become a strictly civilian commitment after 2011, without any military presence beyond what would be needed to protect the embassy.
What are we supposed to think about the change in the Conservative government's position now? In its 2006 election platform, the Conservative government told us the following:
|| A Conservative government will...make Parliament responsible for exercising oversight over...the commitment of Canadian Forces to foreign operations.
In the 2007 Speech from the Throne, the government reiterated its intention to let the House of Commons decide. In 2008, the House voted to extend the mission, but until 2011 only. We could say that the Conservative government is somewhat like St. Peter, who denied Christ three times by breaking his word three times. The military mission in Afghanistan will continue without debate, except for the debate raised by the Bloc Québécois today, and without a vote in the House. In our view, excluding all parliamentarians from this major issue is denying the democratic principles that should underlie all the work in the House.
The former chief of the defence staff for the Canadian Forces, General Rick Hillier, stated that it is impossible to train soldiers without monitoring them on the ground, meaning in the combat zone. It seems that the so-called new Afghan mission will not focus on humanitarian or training activity, but rather military activity, which we are opposed to.
Is there such a thing as training without combat? The Conservative government announced that it will keep a contingent of 950 soldiers in Afghanistan to train the future Afghan army. It was quick to say that Canadian soldiers will not be involved in combat during their training activities. Can we trust the government? Is it telling us the truth?
General Hillier, who is after all the former chief of the defence staff, said that to provide training, our troops will have to go into the field of combat. We think the government’s argument is window dressing. It must not be forgotten that General Hillier has a great deal of credibility. He led the NATO troops in Afghanistan and is very familiar with the reality in the field. I am strongly inclined to believe what he says about the operational requirements for military training. We can trust him because he has been there and has led the troops.
As one telling example, French troops present in Afghanistan are engaged in military training. That has not prevented them from suffering loss of life. What can we learn from the French forces' training mission? This is an important example to take into consideration now that we are obliged to make such a serious decision.
Since 2002, France has participated in training the Afghan national army. This initiative is called Opération Épidote, and its purpose is to train Afghan officers, battalions and special forces. This is what Canada is about to go and do. As part of this operation, teams of advisors and instructors embedded in operational units of the Afghan army coach and advise the Afghans in all of their combat missions and instructions.
How many French soldiers have died? As of October 15, 2010, 50 French soldiers had died in Afghanistan. In August 2010, two French soldiers were killed in Afghanistan while participating in the joint counter-insurgency operation with the Afghan army. On June 19, 2010, another soldier was killed by insurgent artillery fire while at a combat post. A French parachutist was killed on June 7, 2010, during a NATO mission. Nine other NATO soldiers were killed during that mission. On January 12, 2010, two French soldiers were killed while patrolling the Alasay valley. They were taking part in an international mission coaching the Afghan army.
I do not think anyone can tell me that there is no risk involved in these coaching missions.
On September 6, 2009, another French soldier was killed by an explosive device while participating in a reconnaissance convoy.
All of these examples illustrate the crux of the problem: how dangerous is a training mission? A training mission on a battlefield is dangerous and deadly.
The Bloc Québécois humbly suggests the following position to the House: the Bloc believes that Canada has done its part on the military front and that its role can be taken up by allied countries. As a state participating in the London and Kabul conferences, Canada must oversee a transition that is as peaceful and safe as possible to full assumption of control by the Afghan state. We are not shirking our responsibilities, for we are stakeholders in this, but not at any price.
The Bloc Québécois therefore proposes a three-pronged approach: first, support and training for the police forces and assistance in establishing the penal and administrative justice system; second, review and maintenance of official development assistance; and third, reconciliation and integration.
When we talk about military presence and technical support, what do we mean? We mean that the combat group must terminate its combat mission in July 2011 along with the provincial reconstruction team. That team of soldiers is responsible for protecting the NGOs. However, the majority of NGOs want the provincial reconstruction team to withdraw because they believe that the presence of troops is incompatible with their humanitarian mission.
The training of Afghan police officers has taken a back seat to the training of Afghan soldiers. However, a strong police presence is crucial to the proper functioning of society. The Bloc Québécois therefore recommends sending a contingent of 50 police officers to train Afghan police forces.
As for creating a modern judicial system, we believe that trust in that system is one of the fundamental elements of a lawful society. NATO has taught us that the Afghans prize the system’s notion of fairness and prefer the use of the informal system, as the formal governmental system is perceived as highly corrupt. To ensure adequate training and proper functioning of the Afghan judicial system, the Bloc Québécois proposes sending a delegation of Canadian legal experts to support and promote the modernization of the judicial system. These are some training aspects that are not military in nature.
We must also support the prison system. By all accounts, the Afghan prison system has some serious shortcomings, as demonstrated by the Afghan detainee issue and allegations of torture in Afghan prisons.
According to NATO, by western standards, conditions in many detention and correction facilities vary from inadequate to extremely poor in some places. We suggest that the directors of Afghan prisons be supported by Canadian deputy directors. We therefore recommend sending 50 civilians from our correctional system.
Lastly, we also propose the creation of a public service. A public service like the one we have in Quebec does not exist in Afghanistan and must therefore be created.
The take-home message is that we need to hold a vote in the House on the government's decision and proceed democratically. That is our main message.
Hon. Ken Dryden (York Centre, Lib.):
Madam Speaker, I will divide my time today with the member for Richmond Hill.
I will vote against this motion. The motion will not likely pass, as we know already, and what we say today will not change this outcome.
On a matter that is one of life and death for those in the military committed by our actions or for those who come home and who carry with them an experience that shapes their lives for a lifetime, one would expect a soul-searching debate of many weeks and months. But that is not what we have.
So if there is no real debate, let us at least set out some of the questions we would have discussed had there been one and keep those in mind as we get to the next milestones of the Afghanistan mission in 2011, 2014 and beyond.
I was in university at the height of the Vietnam war. Vietnam offered us many lessons. It taught us what happens when ideology, in this case Cold War ideology, makes us blind to what is there to see, when rhetoric sucks us in and sticks us with the wrong persuasive image, an image then of dominoes falling: if Vietnam falls, so will all of Southeast Asia; if Southeast Asia falls, so will....
But it also taught us of other traps. “Five hundred soldiers have been killed”, the U.S. government and military told us; “we can't allow them to have died in vain”. So more soldiers were committed, and more died. One thousand, 10,000, 20,000, until the war was not about dominoes anymore, and 10,000 more died because 20,000 had already died, and then 10,000 more. “We cannot leave now”, and there were 10,000 more.
Lessons offered, many lessons not learned, and one lesson that was learned: the U.S. public, in dismissing the Vietnam war, also dismissed the dedication of its soldiers. Its soldiers returned home broken and received no healing thanks. That would not happen the next time.
So in the years after September 11, 2001, Canada went into Afghanistan to fight terrorism, and in fighting terrorism, also to fight for those abused, especially women, by Afghan life.
Debate is so hard in a time of war. Criticism sounds unpatriotic. It is as if in war we lose our right to question and think. Yet it is a time when we must question and must think. Canadians are dying. Afghanis are dying. We have to be right. Situations can change, or we can begin to see those same situations differently. It is not about questioning our soldiers. Barring some rare abhorrent act, soldiers are always right. They do what they are told to do. It is their generals, or more so, it is those of us in Ottawa. It is their government. We make the final decisions. If we are wrong, far more than us, they pay the price.
We have to encourage debate because it is so easy to shut down debate and get things wrong; because this is about life and death, not dollars and cents; because we cannot face the prospect of being wrong.
It is so easy for us to wrap ourselves in the flag, to hide behind our soldiers, and at the first hint of criticism, say “We have to support our men and women in uniform”, to choke off debate of any kind. And who can argue?
In Vietnam, then, dismissive of the war, Americans were dismissive of their soldiers. In Canada now, far from being dismissive of our soldiers, it is very hard for us to be dismissive of any war they fight.
But true support for our men and women is committing them always to the right cause with the right chance to succeed, the right cause and chance today, tomorrow and every next day after that. So we must keep our eyes and minds always open, always alert.
More than 200 years ago, Samuel Johnson described patriotism as the last vestige of a scoundrel. This is not necessarily the case as Johnson understood it, but it can be. Question period, scrums and sound bites offer no time for thoughtful resolution, only enough time for pandering.
“But that is just the politics of it,” we say, “no big deal”. But in the absence of any other discussion, it becomes a big deal.
War, like grain subsidies, health care, and affordable housing, is about choices. We must provide our military the tools they need for the task we ask them to do, but is that task in Afghanistan, Darfur, or someplace else? Is it in defence, diplomacy, development, or all three? Or does it depend? There are choices. Do we buy the F-35 and pursue the foreign policy an F-35 can pursue, or fewer of them, or more?
People die in war. Tens of thousands of other Canadians die years and years before others do because they do not have the right food, the right shelter, or the right start in life. It costs about $2 billion a year to conduct our fight in Afghanistan. There are choices.
In Afghanistan, we know what we hope. We hope to shut down the actions of terrorists beyond Afghan borders. We hope for education and better lives for the Afghan people, especially for Afghan women. And we hope that long after we leave, the Afghan people will want this for themselves and be able to sustain this by themselves. Right now, we hope far more than we know, but we cannot allow hope, the ideology of terrorism-fighting, and the loss of Canadian lives to make us blind. The stakes are too high.
What do we owe the 153 Canadian soldiers who have died in Afghanistan? What do we owe their families? We owe them respect and gratitude. We owe them remembrance of what they have done for their country. More than anything, we owe them good choices in the future, for the sake of those who come after them.
I will vote against this motion, but like everyone else in this House and like everyone else in this country, I will go from here into the future with my eyes wide open.
Hon. Bryon Wilfert (Richmond Hill, Lib.):
Madam Speaker, I am delighted to participate in today's debate.
First, having travelled to Afghanistan on three different occasions, I have had an opportunity to see our men and women in the field, in the OMLT, in Kandahar, working with Afghans and assisting the Afghan national army in a support role. There is no question in my mind that Canadians are making a significant difference in Afghanistan and they are making that significant difference under the UN resolution and as part of NATO.
Canada has always been, and will continue to be, a country that responds when the need is there. On the issues of international terrorism and dealing with and creating a stable and productive Afghanistan, Canada does not take second place to anyone. We have done an outstanding job there. Every Canadian soldier, every aid worker and every contractor there will tell us that they are making a difference in the lives of the average Afghan.
The discussion before the House deals with whether we should have a training mission, what is commonly known as inside the wire, after the combat role ends in 2011.
In my view, there are two ways we could go. We could simply say that the combat mission ends, therefore our responsibility ends and then we go home and let somebody else do the job. I believe Canadians, by and large, do not take that view. They take the view that 152 Canadians have lost their lives there, 152 Canadians have paid the ultimate sacrifice.
What else can we do? Our party has always supported the 3-D approach, which is defence, diplomacy and development. However, clearly one of the elements is in the area of training the Afghan national army, so it not only can it defend itself, but it can also train other Afghans so they will not need international assistance.
It is important that we have a force there, which is now over 170,000, an Afghan army that is able not only to secure the territory, but also to defend that territory and defend the sovereignty of Afghanistan, not just from the Taliban but also from outside sources, such as al-Qaeda.
I believe that the training inside the wire, on which the government has enunciated although I know more details will come, in Kabul and in the military academy, will allow Afghan soldiers to continue on in defence of their country.
Some would argue that this is a continuation of the military mission, but clearly the focus of this mission will change. What we are expecting of our forces is going to change. We are not going to be out in the field in a support role. We are not going to be out in the field in any combat role. We are training and we are going to train individuals.
On my third trip to Afghanistan, we asked all key Afghan officials, the foreign minister, U.S. General McChrystal and others what their biggest need was. Clearly the biggest need, which we came back and enunciated, was for training, not just for the Afghan national army, but for the Afghan national police. We have now heard from the government that it believes, in concert with our allies, that training is a necessary component and that Canada can contribute in a very valuable and specific way to the training of the Afghan national army.
It is not only about training however. It is also about support for development, for more and more students to go to school. Six million young people have gone to school who did not go before. However, we cannot build schools and clinics unless there is security. We cannot have security unless we have forces that are trained in order to secure those towns, villages and cities.
Therefore, I believe we will play a role which will improve the quality of life for the average Afghan. It will allow young girls to go to school. A few years ago, when we had the opportunity to meet with President Karzai, he indicated that, for the first time in Afghan history, 600 doctors would graduate and 300 of them would women.
When we think of where Afghanistan was just over 10 years ago, young children, particularly girls, did not school and women did not go out of the house. They were confined. They could not get an education. Think of the development next year when the Dahla Dam is completed, which is one of the three signature projects in which Canada has been involved. It will not only provide clean running water but electricity, it will also help irrigate significant areas of southern Afghanistan for the growing of wheat in particular.
If we really want to change the lives of individuals, the only way we can do that is to provide the kind of skill sets that, in this case, Canada is good at. We have significant aid workers there and they have to be protected. Again, the training of the Afghan forces and providing those skill sets will assist in terms of the protection of aid workers, whether they are ours or someone else's.
Advancing security and the rule law is another area in which Canada has been involved. It is embedded in the ministry of justice. As a vice-chair of the Afghanistan special committee, I have been able to witness that. With some of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, we were able to see those kinds of changes.
The rule of law is absolutely important, as well as training people on human rights.