|| (1) whereas the House on April 10, 2006 debated a motion in support of Canada’s significant commitment in Afghanistan;
|| (2) whereas Canada’s commitment in Afghanistan is an important contribution, with that of more than 30 other countries, to international efforts under the auspices of the United Nations and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO);
|| (3) whereas these international efforts are reducing poverty, enhancing human rights and gender equality, strengthening civil society and helping to build a free, secure and self-sustaining democratic state for all Afghan men, women and children; and
|| (4) whereas Canada’s commitment in Afghanistan is consistent with Canada’s support of freedom, democracy, the rule of law and human rights around the world;
||the House support the government’s two year extension of Canada’s deployment of diplomatic, development, civilian police and military personnel in Afghanistan and the provision of funding and equipment for this extension.
He said: Mr. Speaker, as members of the House know, we made a pledge during the last election campaign to put international treaties and military engagements to a vote in this chamber.
If we made this promise, it was because before we send diplomats, relief workers and soldiers on dangerous missions abroad, it is important to be able to tell them that Canada’s parliamentarians believe in their objectives and support what they are doing.
This is an opportune time for such a debate and such a vote. Last week the Minister of Foreign Affairs visited Afghanistan. During his visit to Afghanistan, President Karzai requested that Canada extend its peace and security operation in his country beyond our existing commitment which expires in February 2007. This operation of our national defence personnel is fundamentally linked with our other diplomatic and humanitarian efforts. President Karzai and the Afghan people are waiting for our response.
This evening we will vote for a renewed commitment.
It is a vote that is long overdue. It is a vote that all parties in the House have asked for and have agreed to. As members know, our diplomats, aid workers and soldiers have been deployed in Afghanistan for almost five years.
Despite the fact that members of three of four parties in the House have consistently voiced support for a mission in Afghanistan, Canadians on the ground in Kabul, Kandahar and in the PRT have never received a clear mandate from this Parliament. That is not fair to the brave men and women who wear the maple leaf. They need to know that their Parliament is behind them.
President Karzai's request provides us with an opportune time to explain our next moves forward and to renew our commitment. Today we will debate and tonight we will vote.
President Karzai is not the only person waiting for Canada to decide. Our international and NATO allies will also be watching. They, too, want a renewed commitment. As members know, both the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, our two primary partners in southern Afghanistan, have recently renewed their commitments, two year and three year commitments respectively. The Dutch and the British have made their commitments.
Our rationale for being in Afghanistan is clear. It is in the interests of this country.
We are there as well at the invitation of the Afghan government. We are taking part in a multinational operation sanctioned by the United Nations.
Our mission there is not some sort of throwaway option among competing alternatives. It is not a manufactured make-work project to keep soldiers and diplomats busy. It certainly is not a unilateral effort on Canada's part.
The events of September 11, 2001 were a wake-up call not just to Americans but to people in all free and democratic nations. Two dozen Canadians were killed as a result of the attacks on the twin towers. They were our ordinary fellow citizens, people with stories, families and dreams. The attacks in New York and Washington have been followed by others in Madrid, Bali, London, Turkey, Egypt and elsewhere.
We should be clear. Canada is not safe from such attacks. We will never be safe so long as we are a society that defends freedom, democracy and human rights.
We have known as a nation since the beginning that as long as we defend the values of freedom, democracy and human rights, we will not be safe from attack from those who oppose them. Not surprisingly, al-Qaeda has singled out Canada along with a number of other nations for attack. It is the same al-Qaeda that together with the Taliban took an undemocratic, failed Afghanistan and made it a safe haven from which to plan terrorist attacks worldwide.
We just cannot sit back and let the Taliban backed by al-Qaeda or similar extremist elements return to power in Afghanistan. It cannot be allowed to happen. The continued existence of Taliban pockets following defeat of the regime means our efforts in Afghanistan have never been peacekeeping in the traditional sense.
Al-Qaeda and the Taliban are not interested in peace. They target civilians. They target women and children in a quest to impose once again their will and their dark and backward vision of life on the Afghan people. They promise their followers heaven in the afterlife. What they deliver is hell on earth.
The previous government recognized this.
In fact, the leader of the official opposition never shied away from voicing his support for fellow Canadians in Afghanistan. In the debate just last month on our mission to Afghanistan, he stated, “I want to start by echoing the minister's words.... We are very proud of them”. On numerous times he corrected misinformation about our role in Afghanistan. I quote:
|| We are in Afghanistan because the Afghans want us in Afghanistan. This is not an invasion or occupation. This is going to help people.
Support for the mission was echoed last month in the House by the member for Vancouver South, who stated:
|| Our government agreed to this deployment. We believed then and we believe now that destroying root and branch the agents and infrastructure of supply and training that made Afghanistan into a safe haven for international terrorism is in Canada's vital national interest.
Support for our troops has also been expressed consistently by the Bloc Québécois and even some members of the New Democratic Party. I could quote the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore on this.
It is an opinion shared by the hon. member for La Pointe-de-l'Île, who stated: “Why should we be in Afghanistan? Because it is a question of international solidarity that can make Quebeckers feel obliged to be there”.
I can tell you from direct experience that our men and women in Afghanistan are grateful to the many members from such diverse parties who supported what they are doing.
Together, diplomats, workers and soldiers from 35 countries are working with the government of Afghanistan to rebuild that country. We are providing knowledge, financial assistance, security; security that allows the Afghan people to build a justice system, develop and grow their economy, construct schools, hospitals and irrigation systems, and yes, ensure that the rights of the Afghan people are protected.
I am thinking of the right of women to be treated like human beings, of the right to see, read and say whatever one wants, of the right to choose one’s leaders through the electoral process.
There are real risks involved in helping the Afghan people achieve these gains. There are risks for Afghans, risks for our allies, and as we all know, risks for Canadians. We know this because we had again today a combat fatality. These risks, as tragic as they are, and these losses, as tragic as they are, are not unique to this time and this place. There were risks when Canada went to the Balkans, to Cyprus, or during the Suez crisis, and of course, in Korea and in two world wars.
Canadians accept risks when those risks are in the service of a greater good. We honour those who take risks and make the ultimate sacrifice by staying the course and supporting their mission.
In the government’s view, the emergence of a stable, safe, self-sufficient, democratic Afghanistan that will never again be a haven for terrorists or traffickers is well worth the effort.
Canadians, particularly young Canadians, often ask me what I saw in Afghanistan. They want to know what work we are doing there. I tell them the work is both serious and complex.
We are working together with our partners from Afghanistan, the UN, NATO and NGOs in an integrated international effort to support the recovery of this country.
Key to this are the 27,000 troops from dozens of countries, including Canadian Forces personnel, who are helping to stabilize Afghanistan so that vital humanitarian and development work can be undertaken.
The challenges are enormous. There are no quick fixes and success cannot be assured by military means alone.
In fact, Canada and her allies all agree that we need to promote simultaneous support for Afghan governance and economic development to bring about a lasting recovery. This is why we opened a mission in Kabul, in great danger in 2003, and recently doubled our presence there.
Canadians from our embassy are working directly every day with Afghans, the UN, the World Bank, NATO and our other partners to ensure that the reconstruction of this country is a success. This pre-supposes that the resources intended for development are there and distributed equitably among the Afghan people.
Our work is paying off. In little more than three short years, 12 million Afghans, both men and women, have registered to vote in two historic elections. Close to five million children have been enrolled in school, one-third of them young girls. Almost four million refugees have returned and more than half of all Afghan villages have received grants to allow them to begin to rebuild.
All that has happened in a country where, just a few years ago, there were no elections, there was virtually no public education, women had no rights, and the future looked very bleak.
I saw this progress first-hand, and it made me proud to know that Canada was there making it happen.
Working with our allies and the Afghan people, Canada has achieved great things, but there is much more to do.
Afghanistan is still the fifth poorest country in the world. The Taliban are trying to return to power and too many people have to fall back on drug trafficking to meet the needs of their families.
We need to extend our mission so we can work to finish the job the previous government started. We need to improve the security situation in southern Afghanistan to bring it in line with the north and the west of the country. We need to ensure that children in southern Afghanistan will be able to go to school without fear of attack. We need to ensure that the people there can get the things we take for granted, things like clean water, roads without mines and reliable sources of energy.
Stability in southern Afghanistan will also help the Afghan national government focus on improving the country's emerging democratic infrastructure.
That is to say, an independent human rights commission, a new central bank, and a professional police force.
Our mission in Afghanistan is one more example of the Canadian leadership tradition in world affairs, a tradition that crosses party lines, a tradition of which we are all proud, a tradition that favours actions over words, results over process, principle over politics.
The allied governments that have sent missions to Afghanistan are a diverse lot: conservative, liberal, social democrats; people in parties who would normally and naturally disagree on so many other day to day political issues, as we do in this chamber, but who share a common resolve to strengthen democracy, ensure equality rights for women, reduce poverty and make the free world safe from the threat of terrorism.
To achieve these objectives, our allies agree that we must eliminate the threat posed by al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and train Afghan security forces so they are capable of sustaining security in their own country.
Therefore, this government is seeking Parliament's clear support to renew Canada's mission in Afghanistan. Our men and women need to know that we share their goals and support their efforts and are willing, regardless of polls that sometimes go up or down, to back them for the next few years so they can finish the work they were sent there to do.
We are asking Parliament to make a commitment in three areas: diplomacy, development and defence.
All three are inextricably linked. In a moment I want to go through what we are asking Parliament specifically to support over the next couple of years.
I think I also need to be clear, given the events over the last 24 hours or so, of what the consequences would be if there were a No vote. Let me be clear on this. This would be a surprise to this government. In debates in this chamber up until last month and in private meetings until very recently, we had every reason to believe that three of four parties, which have consistently supported this action, would continue to do so.
Should that turn out not to be the case, this government is not in a position to simply walk away or to run away. What the government will do, if we do not get a clear mandate, the clear will of Parliament to extend for two years and beyond, is proceed cautiously with a one year extension. We cannot walk away quickly. We will proceed with another year and if we need further efforts or a further mandate to go ahead into the future, we will go so alone and we will go to the Canadian people to get that mandate.
We are asking for a two year mandate that extends the elements of the current deployment.
The first part of our commitment entails the construction of a permanent, secure Canadian embassy in Kabul, which will serve Canada’s interests and meet Afghanistan’s needs for at least 15 years.
The second is the approval of an additional $310 million expenditure for development assistance from next year until 2010-11, which will raise Canada’s total contribution to nearly $1 billion over 10 years.
Third and finally, we are seeking to extend the mission of both the Canadian Forces in Kandahar as well as the efforts of Canadian military diplomats, development workers and police in the PRT, the provincial reconstruction team, for 24 more months. 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.
Extending the mission of the Canadian Forces has operational consequences. We will take on once again a second leadership rotation from November 2007 to May 2008, and this is new. As I said earlier today, we will be prepared to assume overall leadership of the ISAF for one year starting in February 2008.
Near the end of each calendar year, 2006, 2007, 2008, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, International Cooperation and National Defence will evaluate the results of our involvement, in concert with our allies, according to the criteria set out at the London conference, and we will share this evaluation with parliamentarians of all parties.
There we have it, the reaffirmation of Canada's intent expressed through a clear and renewed commitment, a commitment that builds on past achievements, a commitment in line with Canadian values, a commitment that allows us to finish the job.
Mr. Speaker, I think I can speak for all members of the House in saying that this is certainly one of the most important and profound debates that we have had in this chamber. It is, perhaps, unfortunate that it is being held in conditions that have made it so difficult to get to the results I believe we all want, which is the good of our country, the good of our troops and, ultimately, the good of the world.
As the Prime Minister said, in recent debates in the House I and other members of the Liberal caucus strongly supported our mission in Afghanistan. We were at the origins of it. We were proud of our decision and we still are. This mission is consistent with our foreign policy review and our defence review which foresaw difficult missions in failing states such as Afghanistan where the military is not there exclusively on military missions. In fact, we foresaw in our foreign policy review precisely the nature that this mission would need to take to be successful. It needed to have what we called a 3D approach: diplomacy, defence and development. We needed the military there to set conditions for success.
While we have this debate tonight let no one misinterpret what we are doing in all parts of the House when we do our parliamentary duty to understand the nature of the mission and the chances for success. I have been in Afghanistan, as have members of our caucus.
I have seen the extraordinary feats our soldiers perform daily in difficult situations, in an inhospitable setting and in the face of serious danger.
I believe our soldiers know they are there to set conditions for success and to support our PRT, our provincial reconstruction team. We also have an aid component. One of our diplomats, the brave Glyn Berry, gave his life for his country, not as a military person but as a diplomat participating in an overall mission that was designed, not only with a military focus, but with a view to reconstructing Afghanistan so it may become a peaceful member of the family of nations once again.
I have heard from Afghans. I have heard from women and children. I, too, like the Prime Minister and others, have heard from President Karzai. We know why they support our mission and our troops. They want success across the board in building their country.
That of course was the question that we had in the last debate in this House. The question we have today is: Why we are prolonging this mission for two additional years at this time given the amount of information available to members of the House and given the present situation?
What we are looking for from the Prime Minister is not a description of the mission as one that is dealing with the insurgency or the threat to Canada. We have debated that. All members of this House participated in that debate and agreed that was the nature of the mission and the reason we went there in the first place.
I will repeat the words of the member from Markham. What I need and what those of us who have been so supportive of these missions need to hear tonight are the other conditions. What is the government's commitment to aid? There is no point in sending our military for an additional two years if this House does not hear from the government that it will be committing the amount of aid necessary to rebuild Afghanistan and recreate Afghanistan.
I hope I will hear from the foreign affairs minister or the defence minister about how we are rebuilding governance structures, how we are dealing with corruption and how we are dealing with other issues.
If we do approve the mission for two years, I would like to know from the government what role the House will play as we go forward. Is the government saying that it wants a blank cheque?
The defence committee tried to pass a resolution the other day to be involved in matters and we were told that this would not be dealt with through the defence committee. If this goes ahead, I thought I heard the Prime Minister say earlier, in answer to a question, that there would be regular updates to the House but I did not hear that tonight.
We have not been told about other things. What are the necessary benchmarks? We have been told, for example, that 2009 was chosen because that is the end of Mr. Karzai's term. What about the problems of corruption, the Pakistan source of insurgents? What about the difficult issue of other missions? I hope the defence minister will help us this evening by telling us that the government recognizes that Afghanistan cannot be the only focus of our military activities.
If there is a crisis in Haiti or a crisis in Darfur where we can make a contribution, will the government give us its assurance that it will be possible for us to respond as Canada must respond? That is why we always had short missions before and why we insisted that we have flexibility to go in and help.
Before I can make a decision tonight I need to hear a response, and I beg the defence minister to give us the facts, on whether we will be able to respond to those missions as a responsible country. Those are the issues we need to deal with.
Let me comment on the process, as the member from Markham did. We had a debate on this before. We know there is no constitutional need for this debate. Is this debate and this particular vote, held in these circumstances, one for political gain or is it to support our troops on missions?
For example, if I understood correctly, yesterday our Bloc Québécois colleagues supported the mission. But today they no longer support it because their motion was defeated in committee.
Everyone is trying to take part, but if roadblocks are thrown up at every turn, it is hard.
We have very little time. We hear that the Dutch parliament had 10 weeks; we have just six hours.
So much of what we heard today from the Prime Minister was for the first time.
We heard of Mr. Karzai's request.
We heard from the Prime Minister that a one year mandate is a possible consideration by the government. I think if the government had put to us a one year mandate, I honestly believe it would have got more support from members of the House. It would have been more understandable than a blank cheque for two years. Why now spring one year on us in the middle of the debate?
We hear for the first time about the leadership of ISAF from Jane Taber in the Globe and Mail.
Our caucus had only a few hours to discuss the motion that this government has put before the House this evening. We had a good discussion. A number of different opinions were expressed, and some common points were made. The Liberal caucus firmly supports our troops. We firmly believe in the current mission and the global goals. We also firmly believe that the government's process will not allow many parliamentarians to make an informed decision about this crucial issue. It is unfair to place parliamentarians in this position.
That said, I can speak on behalf of my caucus. We are here, and we have an opportunity to vote for or against this motion this evening, depending on what the government says. We will take part in this debate. We will listen to the government's arguments, and each of our members will vote according to the information we receive from the government.
All our members will exercise their parliamentary responsibility. Our duties to our constituents and to this august House demand no less.
I have listened to the Prime Minister. I will listen to the defence minister. I will listen to other members of the House. I will vote in favour of this mission if they satisfy me on those issues I referred to, because I believe I can only in conscience vote if in fact we are getting that right assurance, and I will vote for the mission.
But let there be no doubt. The responsibility for this process lies squarely with the government. We could have had a committee. We could have had more time. We had to negotiate the amount of time we got. Surely members opposite, in good faith, would want more time to discuss this.
Certainly no vote in the House in these circumstances could ever be interpreted as a lack of support for our troops. Let us not descend into jingoism. Let us try to find out what is best for our country and, sincerely, what is best for our troops.
I end as I began. We have seldom participated in a debate so important for our troops and for our country. I know that our members on our side will vote their conscience when we have heard the government case.
For myself, like the member for Markham, I hope the government will make that case, because we believe in this mission, but I know each and every member of the House will be seeking guidance from whatever individual divine inspiration they choose to seek.
I know also that they will vote in a way that is true to our country, to our troops in this mission, in a way in which we, who happen to live in one of the most fortunate countries in the world, can help those less fortunate than ourselves, who may be half a world away, but who are also part of our human family.
Mr. Speaker, I would first like to offer my most sincere sympathies to the family of Nichola Goddard, who died today in Afghanistan.
This tragic end of a woman who worked to build a better world should remind us that the debate we are undertaking today deals with a serious question. The question is actually to decide whether we should extend the presence of men and women who are risking their lives in Afghanistan. The real question deals with the renewal for two years of Canada’s military commitment in Afghanistan. The Bloc Québécois will vote against the extension of this mission.
Sending men and women to risk their lives is a decision laden with very heavy consequences, which cannot, and which should not, be taken lightly. This decision should be made in full knowledge of the facts. We should therefore be able to answer certain questions.
Is such an intervention justified, necessary and realistic? Do the people who will risk their lives have the necessary means to carry out the mission that we wish to assign them? What exactly is the nature of the Canadian military commitment? Is there a specific schedule and a withdrawal plan should the situation become uncontrollable?
In connection with Canada’s current commitment in Afghanistan, we did not get answers to all our questions. But we have enough knowledge and certainty to support it. That is what the Bloc Québécois is doing.
The intervention is justified, if for no other reason than to ensure the security of Afghans, those who have lived in insecurity for such a long time, and to rebuild this ravaged country and rebuild its government. The intervention is realistic since, to our knowledge, it has received the support of the Afghan people and government. The soldiers have the necessary means and there are enough troops to fulfill this mandate until February 2007. We know the nature of Canada’s commitment, and there is a specific deadline, that is, February 2007. All this enables us to support the current mission.
Do we have enough answers to support an additional two-year extension? Definitely not. For this reason, the Bloc Québécois has asked the Standing Committee on National Defence to study all these questions. Do we have an idea of the real duration of the mission in Afghanistan? Will it be 10 years, as the Chief of Staff has implied, or 20 years, as a former major-general affirms. Likewise, can we have an estimate of the cost of the mission? There is talk of $2 billion. Is this realistic? Does this figure include all the costs: premiums paid to the soldiers, the increased maintenance of equipment or the purchase of new equipment? What are the criteria used to measure the success of the mission?
Beyond the show of visits by the Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, this government has to be able to tell the public whether we are making progress or not. What is the strategy for achieving peace and for rebuilding in that country? What importance is being given to development assistance? How can we ensure that rebuilding activities in Afghanistan will not be marginalized by strictly military activities?
The answer to this crisis cannot and must not be strictly military. What about the treatment of civilians, the effectiveness of the convention on the treatment of prisoners signed with the Afghan government and the use of antipersonnel mines?
On November 15, 2005, the official opposition critic asked a series of questions that remain unanswered. One of those questions concerned an exit plan in case the mission takes a bad turn. Does the minister have such a plan? Under what circumstances, if any, would he consider withdrawing?
What guarantee do we have of avoiding a hard line approach to this issue?
The national defence critic who asked all those questions, which everyone felt were legitimate, was none other than the current Minister of National Defence. I believe it is legitimate for us to ask the very same questions without being considered disloyal to the soldiers in Afghanistan.
This minister who asked all those questions, a career soldier, is not answering his own questions today. As long as we do not get answers to our questions, the Bloc Québécois will not support a renewed military commitment by Canada in Afghanistan.
In his typical fashion, the Prime Minister has decided to call a rushed vote on extending Canada's military commitment. It was, “There will be a vote or I will decide without a vote”. That is why we agreed to have a vote. However, just because we agreed to have a vote does not mean we will vote absolutely in favour. That is not what democracy is all about.
By rushing matters, the Prime Minister is being irresponsible, in my opinion. This shows a lack of respect for the House of Commons, parliamentarians and the public. It is offensive.
I do not believe, and I have never believed, that issues of war and peace should be based on partisan or electioneering considerations. We do not send men and women to fight wars and risk their lives so lightly. To take such an approach to issues like these is petty politicking, very petty politicking. This is a serious matter, one that deserves our full attention, thorough debate and careful thought. Certainly, once the matter is resolved and a decision has been made, we must stand firm on that decision and live with it. That is what we did regarding Canada’s current presence in Afghanistan. Nonetheless, the Prime Minister has decided to rush things. He has placed his party politics ahead of government policy. That is unforgivable on the part of a prime minister.
Even worse, the Prime Minister is trying to use Parliament to endorse a decision about which the public has very serious reservations. The public cannot be accused of not understanding all the issues and opposing participation by Canada when it is not being offered clear and adequate answers.
Before seeking the support of Parliament, the support of the people must be sought, because members of Parliament express the will of the people. That is the primary role and duty of government. In rushing to a vote, the Prime Minister is refusing to explain himself and to persuade the public.
Demonstrating leadership does not just mean making decisions quickly, as the Prime Minister likes to do. It also means persuading and explaining. Any authoritarian leader can impose decisions.
The Prime Minister says that he wants members’ unflagging support for the men and women deployed in Afghanistan. I am convinced that all the elected members assembled here support the troops of Canada and Quebec and that they will do everything in their power to help them perform their duties. However, that is not what the government is asking us to do today. It is asking us to blindly give it a blank check for years to come.
The government wants us to be a rubber stamp. For the Bloc Québécois, rubber stamping, abstaining from doing its duty in the way it should be done, responsibly and carefully, is out of the question.
The Bloc Québécois will not write any blank check to the Prime Minister or the government. As you know, I myself was in favour of an intervention in Afghanistan. I was deeply disgusted by the atrocities committed against women by the Taliban, to cite one example. The dynamiting of the statues of Buddha, for those who remember, showed a very disturbing fanaticism. Afghanistan had become a place of chaos and terror where inhumanity was triumphing. Certainly the attacks of September 11 were the straw, in fact the bale, that broke the camel’s back. All of the western nations rallied to support the United States.
At that time the international community made a commitment to ousting the Taliban regime, guaranteeing security and helping to rebuild this country scarred by successive wars.
I am proud that the Bloc Québécois supported this international intervention, as I am proud of our support for the intervention in Kosovo which helped put an end to the Balkan war.
Many of my colleagues know my convictions on these matters. I am deeply convinced that, in certain situations, armed intervention is necessary. That was the case in Rwanda, in 1994, and we failed in our task. It was necessary in Kosovo, in 1998, and we assumed our responsibilities.
It is very difficult to make these sorts of decisions. Often it is unpopular, but unfortunately, sometimes it is necessary. As a parliamentarian and party leader, I have not hesitated, and will not hesitate in future, to make such decisions, even if they should prove unpopular. We in this House are politicians. We are very aware of public opinion, and it is healthy that we should be.
As I was saying a little earlier, however, one cannot make such a decision on partisan grounds. Of course, we represent the people—in the Bloc’s case, the people of Quebec. In a democracy, we have to take that into account; in fact, it is a democratic imperative. We are also responsible for making decisions that may be unpopular. There are certain fundamental issues which require us to do so. So we have to consider popular opinion, but cannot let our attitude be dictated by that alone. For it sometimes happens that, to serve the common good, we must act contrary to public opinion.
Neither should we forget the context of this intervention in Afghanistan. In the face of terrorism, a military response is neither sufficient nor satisfactory, but it is necessary. Destroying bin Laden and his confederates is one thing. Destroying terrorism is another. One has to go after its causes, which are poverty, the absence of democracy, dictatorship, and the abysmal ignorance that these things breed. These causes are no justification for the fanaticism we have witnessed. But we must realize that these causes are the fertile ground that permits fanaticism and terrorism to grow.
As for the military commitment, it was necessary to intervene and necessary to offer logistical support and, above all, humanitarian aid. We must be clear about the role of the Canadian army before making decisions that commit us for a number of years. Humanitarian aid, logistical support and intervention in peacekeeping missions seem to me the priorities that would permit the Canadian army to play a useful role, without ruling out purely military intervention.
It is the fate of the Afghan people that must guide our decision. It is also the nature of the role that Canada can and must play. It is also and above all the fate that awaits the men and women who will risk their lives in Afghanistan. We know that some will lose their lives there, that caskets will be coming back to Canada, that there will be funerals. So it is a serious decision that we will be making as we vote. There will be tearful mothers, widows and widowers, and orphans in our own constituencies.
We must and we will answer for our decisions. How can we be answerable if the decision is hasty and made without having answers to our questions?
Fortunately, the Bloc Québécois asked the Standing Committee on National Defence to take a good look at all these questions. The Prime Minister is rushing things, though, and requiring us to decide before we have the answers. How can we in all decency send people to risk their lives when we are not even sure that it will be for good reasons? What assurance is there that two or three years from now, the situation in Afghanistan will not have turned into a nightmare? If this happens, who can guarantee that this government will not decide to stay for purely strategic reasons and justify the war by this vote in the House? How can we decide to send young people to risk their lives when we do not know whether they will be sent in good conditions?
After such massive participation on Canada’s part, who can assure us that after another three years, there will be enough Canadian troops and they will not be exhausted, totally worn out? For the time being, the government is counting on a hypothetical increase in troop numbers. But what assurance is there that these objectives will be reached when only yesterday the Auditor General underlined the army’s chronic inability to reach its targets?
How can I, as a member of Parliament, ask someone to risk his life without knowing whether there is an exit plan if things take a serious turn for the worse? What will this government do if the people of Afghanistan turn against the international presence? We cannot ignore Afghan history. I cannot in all conscience ask someone to risk his life without a firm conviction based on specific answers and clear decisions.
We cannot agree to send human beings to risk their lives in this way just because our arms are being twisted and even though we are totally in the dark. We must act responsibly and refuse to blindly sign this blank cheque that the Prime Minister wants from us. I therefore ask the elected members of this House to vote against the Prime Minister’s motion.
When he was leader of the official opposition, the Prime Minister stated that governments should respect the decisions of the House of Commons. I ask him, therefore, to abide by his own principles and respect the decision that the House of Commons is going to make on the motion that he himself introduced and I encourage him to participate actively in the Standing Committee on National Defence so that we have the information we need to make a wise decision.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for New Westminster--Coquitlam.
As I begin, I wish to express, on behalf of the New Democratic Party, our profound sadness in learning today that Captain Nichola Goddard, based in Shilo, Manitoba, has been killed in service to our country in Afghanistan. Our thoughts and our prayers are with Captain Goddard's family, friends and all members of the Canadian Forces serving our country at home and abroad.
New Democrats stand in opposition to the government's plans to lock our country into a long term, war-fighting role in Afghanistan, a role that does not properly reflect the principles and ideals of the people of Canada.
For nearly five decades, Canada has pursued peace in nations around the world and brought hope to lives torn apart by war. From the Suez Canal to Cyprus, from the Sinai to the former Yugoslavia, Canada has built a reputation as a respected peacekeeping nation. Canada is not a super power but as a middle power, we have long punched above our weight, as they say, because our contribution to the world as peacekeepers, with resolve to uphold the commitment of multilateralism through the United Nations, has always been fundamental.
Our foreign policy must reflect the reality that we are a country renowned for our pursuit of peace. We are a nation of facilitators, not occupiers. We are a people committed to the ideals of building bridges, not burning them. We must not allow that legacy of good work to falter in the growing shadow of the Bush administration's Operation Enduring Freedom.
It is far too convenient to pretend that each new mission is simply an extension of the previous mission. The government is not asking for an extension, but a commitment to a new mission that will last till the end of the decade.
Some people, on either side of the House, will claim that everything will be lost if Canada redirects its energy after four years in Afghanistan. Some people are prepared to see Canada stuck in Afghanistan until the end of the decade and beyond. According to them, doing less than that amounts to turning one’s back on the problem. In truth, Canada’s military contribution has been considerable, considering our capacities.
Afghanistan is now the largest recipient of Canadian overseas development assistance. The NDP unequivocally supports the continuation of this funding. We fully support an ongoing development and diplomatic role for Canada in Afghanistan, but the government has tied war-making and aid together in this motion, and we oppose that.
New Democrats, indeed all Canadians, value our country's principled place in the world as a nation that seeks peace not conflict. There is a role well-suited for Canada to play in Afghanistan, but it is not the role that the government has narrowly thrust upon the nation in this motion.
We must also bear in mind that because of the unilateral decisions of the Prime Minister and the Liberals before him, Canada has been rendered incapable of further serious contributions around the world.
Despite hard-won debates and months of questioning in the House, the government, like the Liberal government before it, has refused to answer the questions that we have asked. What is the effective command and control structure? What are the goals and objectives of this mission and how do they meet Canada's foreign policy objectives? What is the definition of success in this mission? What is our exit strategy?
When the Conservatives were in opposition, they asked these legitimate questions, and they received no answers from the Liberals. Just a few weeks ago New Democrats asked these same questions in the House, and have received no answers. Canadians deserve these answers.
As any officer in our Canadian Forces will tell us, time spent in reconnaissance is never wasted. The government, like its Liberal predecessor, is not interested in due diligence. It is interested in merely satisfying the optics of consent.
The New Democrats have not written a blank cheque so that this government, or any other government, can drag Canada still farther into war, so that it can remove us farther from our role as international peacekeepers.
The Prime Minister and his government are entitled to blindfold the members in this House, to tie their hands and to conduct this mock debate. Canadians, however, will not be blind. In spite of your intimidation, we will not accept the unacceptable.
Time after time I have stood in my place and have asked the Prime Minister directly to fully inform Canadians about our role in Afghanistan. Time after time I am sad to say, the Prime Minister has stood in his place and refused to answer these questions. Instead he has proclaimed, in no uncertain terms, that if we question the mission, we are against our troops.
Let me be very clear. Canadians will not be lured into this false trap created by the Prime Minister's borrowed sloganeering. It is an injustice to democracy that we ask Canada's young men and women in uniform to defend, with their lives, when the government confuses patriotism with jingoism.
We will take no lessons from the government on supporting our women and men in uniform. Let us all remember that last year it was the Conservatives who voted against a budget that invested $13.5 billion in the Canadian Forces, a budget that invested $8.2 billion more than the Conservatives' budget this spring. It was New Democrats, not Conservatives, who voted for that budget and made sure it passed to ensure that our troops would get the equipment and training they needed and the financial support over the long term. That is how our party shows support for our troops.
Just this week the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore stood in his place and asked why, after 14 years, the government continued to deny benefits to the widow of a soldier who died in uniform and why the government continued to let lawyers fight to keep that family from receiving the support they deserved. That is how the government shows its support for our troops.
If we ask this country to go on waging war, every Canadian citizen must understand all the facts. Our troops deserve to know what we are asking them to do. The families deserve to know what we are asking of their sons and daughters. If there is one aspect of our public discourse that should be absolutely free of any partisan proclamation, it is our foreign policy. That also applies when we decide on our troops’ missions by asking them to defend our values and perhaps even give their lives.
It is the responsibility of every member in this House to ask hard questions, and it is the responsibility of the government to answer them.
There is an immense debate in NATO countries like Britain and the Netherlands right now about the future mission in Afghanistan. In Canada the government is trying to ram through a motion, with no room for amendment, no option for clarity. The government does not really seek a debate, but rather a rubber stamp from the House to commit the Canadian Forces to a new and highly uncertain and ill-defined mission. It is not in the interests of Canadians to blindly allow our country to be locked into a new long term commitment in Afghanistan.
New Democrats will stand against the motion because we believe the new mission, defined so poorly by the government, is not in line with the values and principles held by Canadians. It is not the right role to pursue the objectives of Canada's foreign policy.
New Democrats asked for this debate and vote. We welcomed the opportunity to stand and defend Canada's place in the world. I ask members of the House to join us. Let our country set the standard. Let Canada lead and not follow. Let us forge our own path in the world, a path that builds upon our strengths and reflects globally the values and principles of the pursuit of peace that define us nationally.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today as a member of Parliament, as the defence critic for the New Democratic Party, and also as a concerned Canadian citizen, mother and grandmother.
When I became defence critic four months ago, I did not know a lot about military affairs, but I had a guiding principle then and it remains my guiding principle today. After four months of total immersion in Canadian defence policy, I am more convinced than ever that military force must be used only as a last resort.
Military force is a blunt, dangerous and expensive instrument. It has profound, often negative consequences for the lives of individual human beings. Those individuals include the soldiers we send into harm's way, their husbands, their wives, their sons, their daughters, and yes, their mothers and fathers, as well as their grandmothers and grandfathers.
Never let us forget the grave responsibility we carry anytime we put the lives of young Canadians on the line. Is the mission necessary? Is it a mission that can succeed? Is it the right mission? Are we doing everything possible to ensure the safety and well-being of our soldiers? Are we doing everything possible to adhere to international standards concerning the protection of civilians, the choice and the use of weapons, and the treatment of detainees?
The decision to deploy a military force is a deadly serious one. We are not playing a video game. We must guard against becoming pumped full of aggression and testosterone, throwing caution to the wind, secure in the knowledge that we here as members of Parliament will never find ourselves in harm's way.
The NDP has serious concerns about the proposal to complete our mission in 2007 and then have a new mission for a further two years in Afghanistan. It is our responsibility as members of Parliament to voice those concerns. We are not afraid to vote against this motion. Our concerns have been inadequately addressed. It is our right. It is our responsibility. The government has not addressed our serious concerns. It has failed to answer our questions.
For four years the U.S. military, the most powerful military in the world, has tried to stabilize southern Afghanistan at the point of a gun through a forward leaning, counter-insurgency approach. The U.S. military has failed in that effort. The situation has become more, not less, dangerous. Osama bin Laden remains at large. Heroin production has skyrocketed. The insurgents are becoming ever more adept at building and deploying sophisticated roadside bombs.
Today the United States wants to draw down its forces in Afghanistan and it wants its allies to pick up the slack. Most of those allies, most of NATO, have been dragging their heels, concerned that the counter-insurgency approach creates more problems than it solves. Canada, however, has rushed into this gap, taking on the most dangerous mission in Afghanistan as part of the U.S.-led Operation Enduring Freedom in Kandahar province.
The NDP shares the concerns of many of Canada's allies that the counter-insurgency approach cannot succeed, and if it cannot succeed, why are we there? Is it simply because the United States has asked us to be there because it wants out? Or is it simply because we do not have the imagination or wherewithal to devise a better approach? Or is it because we do not want to be elsewhere on a different, less macho, more explicitly humanitarian mission, saving the people of Darfur from a full-blown genocide?
Afghanistan is the largest recipient of Canadian overseas development assistance. The NDP unequivocally supports the continuation of that funding, especially when it supports the work of non-governmental aid organizations operating at arm's length from foreign military forces whenever possible.
Afghanistan is a large and diverse country that offers many opportunities for the deployment of reconstruction teams made up of a mix of Canadian Forces, CIDA, foreign affairs and RCMP personnel. The NDP unequivocally supports the maintenance of a sizeable Canadian reconstruction presence in Afghanistan. However, as the leader of our party has explained, the NDP believes that the extension of the counter-insurgency mission is not the best use that could be made of Canada's small but highly skilled professional army.
Genocide is occurring in Darfur. Yesterday the UN Security Council charged Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary General, to find countries willing and able to commit troops and equipment for that all important humanitarian mission. Canada is able to answer that call with the best soldiers in the world and equipment designed specifically for robust peacekeeping, unless we vote today to extend the counter-insurgency mission in Afghanistan.
Turning our backs on genocide is not a decision that we should take lightly or in haste. It is not a decision that should be pre-empted by a snap vote after only six hours of debate and no consideration by parliamentary committees. It is a decision that strikes at the very heart of what this country is and what we as Canadians believe.
The NDP has other concerns about the extension of the counter-insurgency mission in southern Afghanistan. We remain concerned about Canadian soldiers transferring detainees to Afghan or U.S. custody without adequate protections for Canada's continuing obligations to those detainees under international law. We remain concerned about Canadian soldiers relying on anti-personnel land mines laid by foreign forces in violation of the spirit and the intent of the Ottawa land mines convention.
We are also very concerned about the cost of this mission. By the time the current mission is complete in February 2007, it will have likely cost Canadians in excess of $5 billion. The Polaris Institute has estimated that a two year extension or a new mission would cost an additional $2 billion to $3 billion.
We could provide a huge amount of reconstruction and humanitarian aid for $7 billion, not just in Afghanistan but also elsewhere. As I mentioned at the beginning of my speech, military force is a blunt, dangerous and expensive instrument. For $7 billion it is incumbent upon us as guardians of the public purse to confirm that there is no alternative to the counter-insurgency approach and to ensure that this is the right mission.
Finally, the NDP is concerned about the continuing uncertainty over the timing for the transfer of overall operational control over Canada's soldiers from the U.S. military to NATO.
The motion before us states that Canada's commitment in Afghanistan is an important contribution with that of more than 30 other countries to international efforts under the auspices of the United Nations and NATO. But where is NATO? When the current mission was decided upon last summer, the Liberals told us that Canadian Forces would be transferred to NATO operational control by this spring, by February. The transfer has been delayed, not once but several times. Today we read newspaper reports that Canada might well end up leading the NATO mission, presumably because no other NATO country wants the job.
It is a misleading motion before us. Our current commitment is under the auspices neither of the United Nations nor NATO. It is under Operation Enduring Freedom. In this situation, facing this uncertainty, the NDP could not in good conscience vote for it.
I have spoken today as a member of Parliament, as a citizen, as a mother and as a grandmother. The decision to use military force is one of the most important decisions a government could ever make. I repeat that this is not a video game. We are talking today about the lives of millions of people, Canadian lives, Afghan lives and the lives of the people of Darfur. We have to ensure that we make the very best decision, that this is the right mission and that all of us can in one, two or ten years look the families of our soldiers in the eye and say yes, it was a mission worth dying for.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased and honoured to take part in the debate here this evening, a historic debate by all accounts, and I congratulate all members who have taken part this evening and who will take part.
This debate can be placed very much in the context of how much Canada has already accomplished by its commitment and its mission in Afghanistan. Afghanistan, as a country, in just over three years is impressive by any standard when we look at from where it came. Its GDP has doubled. Some 63,000 former combatants have been disarmed, demobilized and reintegrated. Approximately 11,000 heavy weapons have been removed and safely secured. A national police force is being built. Women are starting small businesses. Refugees have returned in the millions.
These are just statistics. There is much more that we have to examine in the context of what Canada is accomplishing. These statistics do not adequately convey the profound human dimensions of such striking progress. They do not capture the many individual triumphs that Afghans have achieved since 2001: the little girl that is going to school for the first time; the widow becoming self-sufficient; the voter being empowered by choice; and the family of refugees finally coming home.
I am privileged to say that I saw these people with my own eyes when I was in Afghanistan, to say that I looked into the eyes of a little girl in an Afghan school in Kabul, a school that was sponsored by the Canada Fund. It allowed young Afghans to go to school and receive vocational training, basic human skills of sanitation and discourse, reading and writing. This little girl would never have had that opportunity were it not for the intervention of the allies, including Canada. I asked that little girl what she liked about school and she said she enjoyed math. I said, “What do you want to do when you finish school?” She said, “I want to teach other little girls so they'll have this opportunity as well”.
That is the human impact of Canadians being in Afghanistan today. Those opportunities would not exist. These are the exact Canadian values that we embrace in this country. What is more Canadian than ensuring that young women have that opportunity to go to school, be educated and lead productive lives?
Protecting and ensuring a safe home, a chance at education, free from exploitation or worse, violence, abuse, building democracies, these are all such important bedrock pillars of our society. Why would we not want to share this with the people of Afghanistan?
Canada is helping to create freedom from fear, a freedom that will allow ordinary Afghans to lead their daily lives without fear. I saw this directly during this visit to Kabul and Kandahar, a palpable sense of hope that after so many decades of devastation that country is well on its way to recovery and renewal.
My colleagues mentioned some of the other tangible impacts such as clean water. Thousands of schools are being opened. Millions of children are now able to attend school. The Afghans I met there, whether they were leaders, high level officials or ordinary Afghans, went out of their way to thank Canadians who were there, Canadian officials, to specifically express their gratitude for Canada's contributions. They also took the time to express their sympathies for our considerable sacrifices, meaning the lives of Canadian soldiers and diplomats who have given so much in the cause.
The president himself, Mr. Karzai, was particularly gracious in expressing that sentiment. He echoed the comments that I heard at numerous meetings, whether they be NATO meetings, EU meetings, or meetings with our allies generally. The Afghan people recognize, appreciate and commend Canada for its contribution to the cause of rebuilding Afghanistan.
They were all unanimous in expressing their deepest hope that we would not abandon them in this critical hour.
After two and a half decades of conflict, the Afghans themselves have made considerable investments in their own future. The progress made has taken hard work, but positive change can be seen everywhere. Afghans enjoy opportunities that were inconceivable under the Taliban, including, and especially, for women and children, whose dignity had been systematically trampled under a repressive regime.
Now is not the time to capitulate. Now is the time to capitalize. It is fundamental that these institutions that have been built and the stability that is still being built are not abandoned at this critical time.
The foundations for responsible, effective Afghan management institutions have been laid: a constitution has been written, and a president, a parliament and 24 provincial councils elected. The country is now in a position to capitalize on this democratic progress, and large numbers of Afghan citizens are looking forward eagerly to the elections coming up in 2009. This is further evidence that our initial efforts will have lasting effect.
The Afghanistan Compact that was signed earlier this year at the London conference will provide a guide for the ongoing rebuilding of Afghanistan over the next five years. It lays down specific benchmarks for security, management and development, benchmarks that the Afghan government and the international community have agreed to pursue jointly, for example the destruction of all antipersonnel mines, the enactment of anti-corruption laws by the end of 2007, and a 20% increase in the number of women in the workforce by the end of 2010.
These are benchmarks that were identified and espoused by the Afghan government itself as the best way to ensure future security, good governance and prosperity for the Afghan people.
While Afghan authorities are working hard to build a truly national government, Afghanistan cannot yet move forward on its own. President Karzai and the Afghan government however recognize that sustained support will be required to reach these critical milestones. They expressed that to me in very emphatic terms, as they did to the Prime Minister during his very first visit abroad which took him to Afghanistan, a commendable and brave effort on the part of our national leader.
These are critical times for a truly remarkable man, President Karzai. This is the time for us to support him in this fashion. This is a president of vision, a president who is demonstrating exemplary leadership at a difficult time. He has asked specifically that Canada continue its commitment and demonstrate resolve. He recognizes, as we should recognize, that there is a responsibility to support Afghan state building efforts.
The international community undertook to help Afghanistan realize these goals with more than 60 delegations, including Canada, participating in a London conference on Afghanistan which was co-hosted by President Karzai, the United Nations Secretary General Koffi Annan and U.K. Prime Minister Blair, on January 31, 2006. Strong, unambiguous support for the Afghanistan compact was expressed in London by our allies and included a thorough $10.5 billion in pledges.
I want to speak to Canada's commitment and the Leader of the Opposition, who is a former minister of defence and of foreign affairs. He has asked some very specific questions which I hope to address in my remarks.
Canada's engagement in Afghanistan is an important part of the international effort to support Afghanistan as it does move forward. Alongside our Afghan, UN, NATO, and other international partners, we are working for clear, measurable results identified within the Afghan compact. Our common objective is to ensure that the people of Afghanistan and the country itself succeed in the vision of the compact as enunciated.
This is a considerable undertaking and that is why it is so important that we take our own international responsibility seriously. Canada has made a commitment to the United Nations to stay engaged in Afghanistan. We made a commitment to our allies and to NATO as part of the alliance's most important mission in its first out-of-area operation and a critical test of its ability to respond to a 21st century security challenge.
NATO as a security provider has played a vital role in the achievements to date and will remain key to the future progress of Afghanistan. Extending our engagement is in line with commitments made by the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, our key partners along with others in southern Afghanistan. Both of those countries I note, as the Prime Minister did today, have already extended their commitments.
The Netherlands, I am also quick to note, is very much in the region and has committed to this mission because of the Canadian commitment. We were part of the discussion that took place in the Dutch parliament. Most importantly, we made a commitment to the Afghan people themselves to stay the course. It would be gravely irresponsible, and the effect itself would imperil the success of the mission, if we were to bail, as has been suggested by some in the House tonight.
To reduce or withdraw our presence before the Afghan government is fully established would be to invite the return of the Taliban and al-Qaeda, negating our accomplishments to date and ultimately threatening not only Afghanistan's long term security but Canada's security itself. That would be nothing short of irresponsible.
We cannot be seen as being part of an effort to destabilize or fall-back on our nation's word and reputation. Canada does not shrink or shirk duty in the face of adversity. In times of turmoil, in places where security is at risk, Canada has always been there. We step up, we step in, we carry our load, we keep faith, and we do not break our word.
An extended commitment to Afghanistan involving integrated Canadian stabilization, governance and development efforts is taking hold. It will allow Canada to continue to help the Afghan government and the international community to get the job done.
Furthermore, the enhanced Canadian engagement in all three areas announced by the Prime Minister will ensure that we are well positioned to continue to exercise leadership in Afghanistan and within the NATO mission which will continue.
This is not a traditional peacekeeping mission. Al-Qaeda and the Taliban refuse to recognize the will expressed by the Afghan people through successive and successful elections. Their efforts to destabilize Afghanistan and provoke the departure of international military forces must not be allowed to succeed. Our continued commitment will send a strong message to the insurgents regarding our resolve. I would suggest that any lack of resolve would send the opposite message, also imperiling the life and safety of Canadian troops and our international partners on the ground in that country.
An extension of our troop presence will also help the Afghan security forces in meeting their training and development benchmarks identified in the Afghanistan compact. This 24 month time period also coincides with the commitments of our NATO allies and it will bring us in line and give us time to help build the secure environment necessary for Afghans to make progress in building critical institutions and infrastructure.
Our presence in Kandahar, in particular, will help the Afghan government bring the benefits of reconstruction to the southern regions of the country in line with NATO's plans to extend its area of operations in support of the Government of Afghanistan in that part of the country. This is a critical time, I emphasize again, and this is the area of the country most in need.
I met with the governor of Kandahar who similarly expressed a desire to have Canadians there to work with Afghan army officials and NATO allies to finish what we started. Even as the security situation improves, non-military elements will be required, including ongoing assistance and a permanent Canadian embassy, a presence in Kabul. For this reason, as important elements of Canada's overall efforts in Afghanistan, we have planned for additional results based development assistance and enhanced diplomatic representation.
As I mentioned, the Leader of the Opposition has expressed specific concerns which I wish to answer.
Canada will increase its international development assistance. An increase of $310 million in development assistance, raising our total contribution to nearly $1 billion over 10 years to the year 2011, will rank Canada among the leading international donors to Afghanistan's reconstruction. The Leader of the Opposition can take pride in knowing that it was his government that began this effort and we encourage him to support this government's effort to continue that capacity building.
Second, there was a question from the member opposite about Canada's commitment. Near the end of each calendar year, 2006, 2007 and 2008, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, International Cooperation and National Defence will evaluate results with our allies according to the criteria set out at the London conference and we will share their evaluations with Parliament. That is a solid commitment to keep Parliament informed about progress and benchmarks.
With respect to other commitments in other places, and I know the Minister of National Defence will speak to this in his remarks as well, clearly Canada's commitment to Afghanistan will have some impact on our ability to make further contributions.
However, those requests will be considered carefully in light of the mission itself, which is the responsible thing to do, and demands on Canadian Forces will be given full consideration if and when that ask comes. However one is not contingent upon the other. Our commitment currently in places, such as Haiti and the obvious need for further involvement in Sudan, is not diminished by Canada's commitment to Afghanistan. One does not hinge upon the other.
As well, Canada needs to establish a longer term commitment for the simple reason that the Afghan people need and deserve that at this time.
By purchasing land and building permanent embassy facilities, Canada will be able to continue playing a leading role on the national scene in Kabul, alongside the Afghan government.
The Afghan government needs our help to provide basic services and protect its citizens. We have told them that we will do our part and more, as we have so often done in the past in times of international crisis and need.
Canada has and always will stand for something. Canada stands for democracy, for human rights, for generosity and for courage, values that the Afghan people so desperately need and want to embrace. I am quick to add that none of the development or the democracy building could happen in that country today without the presence of defence, security and boots on the ground. That is the important connection that cannot be missed.
For some members to suggest that we can surpass the security and defence aspects of this is naive beyond belief. Canadians do not believe in hopscotch democracy. These things cannot happen without security. It is not responsible to somehow suggest that we can pull our troops out and then believe that democracy and development will flourish in Afghanistan.
We have chosen to make a difference, to develop a democratically elected government, to establish accountable governance institutions across the country and to help protect Afghans while they seek to rebuild their lives by eliminating the threat posed by the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and that is happening. Let us just dwell on that for a moment. What must it be like to live in fear, fear that one's school or home may be burned down with no connection whatsoever to one's life? It just happens because one is there. That has been eliminated to a large degree by the presence of troops in that country.
We need to help the United Nations, NATO, the World Bank and our other international partners in their efforts to support Afghanistan's economic recovery, to help train their security forces so they themselves can have an international army, to help strengthen the rule of law, to help farmers find alternatives to poppy crops, to help women advance their lives and the quality of their lives and to help children learn. It is countries like Canada that are making a difference.
The motion we are considering tonight will also make a difference. It will help ensure that Canada continues to be in a position to finish the job we started. An extended and enhanced Canadian commitment to Afghanistan will demonstrate clearly, unequivocally and tangibly to ordinary Afghans that they are right to hold out hope that tomorrow can be better than today.
Securing Afghans' future is in Canada's interests. It is the right thing to do. I have never felt stronger upon my return from Afghanistan that we were there for the right reasons.
In this context, this House should send a clear message of support to the Government of Afghanistan, our international partners and the Canadian men and women of the Canadian Forces who wear their flag, that this mission will be a success, that we are with them all the way.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Oakville.
First of all, permit me to offer my condolences to the family and relatives of officer Nichola Goddard.
Unfortunately, the first thing that has to be said here is that there has been a little too much verbal bombast. Regardless of how we vote, it is important to send our troops in Afghanistan the clear message that we support them and their mission. Each time there is an attempt to play politics with this issue, it becomes clear how the Conservative Party, this government, has tried from the outset to corner us in a political trap. The Prime Minister’s message this evening has been loud and clear. He said that even if the motion is defeated there will be a renewal for one year, after which we would make it an issue in the next election. That is the situation today: regardless of whether or not we hold a debate and a vote, clearly this government already holds the hand it is going to play. It makes you wonder if he hasn’t prepared a little communication session, given the visit of the Australian prime minister here tomorrow, to announce that we ourselves have done the same thing. Unfortunately, that is not how things should work in politics.
I also find it regrettable that the Minister of Foreign Affairs called one of our colleagues a 21st century Chamberlain. We should be spared such insults. That is extremely regrettable. The hon. member for Etobicoke—Lakeshore asked him some extremely pertinent questions, but unfortunately we got no answers.
Given that lack of response, on behalf of the citizens of the riding of Bourassa whom I represent and as a Canadian and a Quebecker, I am not able to write this government a blank cheque. We know for a fact that countries such as the Netherlands have held discussions for months and set a date long in advance: that is how they have been able to reach a decision on the renewal of this mission.
We have also presented a golden opportunity. The Liberal Party, the official opposition, has supported the motion of the Bloc Québécois in the Standing Committee on National Defence. This is not complicated. Anyone who knows anything at all about the military issue knows for a fact that we have at least until next fall to make a final decision. It would not cost more. We do not want to play politics—petty politics—to the detriment of the troops we support, the men and women working on humanitarian grounds, the great Canadians who are supporting and guiding the Afghan people. We must not play politics at their expense. That would be extremely regrettable. We must support them.
It was our government, at the time, that proposed this mission. First of all, members will recall that we were working in collaboration with NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, in Kabul. Why are we being pressed so hard today to give this response? Why, after 36 hours’ notice, hold a six-hour debate, at the end of which we will unfortunately be obliged to make this sort of decision? In any case, the Prime Minister has stated very clearly today that if the motion is defeated, there will still be a renewal for one year, after which we would go to the polls.
As minister of the Crown and special advisor on Haiti for the Prime Minister at the time, the hon. member for LaSalle—Émard, I was proud to see the extent to which it is important to combine security and humanitarian assistance. The NDP is way off course in trying to say that we should focus strictly on humanitarian assistance without regard for security. Security is essential. If we want to make sure that things will work out well, we must have an exit strategy too. Some very specific criteria must be taken into account when we deploy a mission to a country out of our desire to help people who have suffered too long. We must avoid at all cost getting bogged down in this kind of conflict. That is not a lack of courage. In doing so, we are just demonstrating a sense of responsibility. We know that if we want to be effective over there, we must work as well with our other allies.
The Minister of National Defence says that if we send troops to Afghanistan, we will not have any others to deploy elsewhere. But we know very well that the United Nations has asked for the Darfur process to be started up right away.
I am also very pleased that Haiti has a new president, but his situation is still very fragile. Canada plays a key role and has important responsibilities in the Americas. We have a role to play here too. If we go there, we cannot go elsewhere and are putting all our eggs in one basket. It is only natural for us as members of Parliament, the elected representatives of the people in this cradle of democracy, not to flout the legislative process. We too want to ask some questions.
It does not cost us anything to take our time when we know very well that the deadline is February 2007 and that in any case, even if we say no, the mission will continue until February 2008.
I find this very disturbing. I can quote figures. We are going to spend another $310 million on humanitarian assistance, but in accordance with what requirements, what plan of attack? We know very well that the more things heat up, the more troops will be needed. This means that it will cost more in resources and human lives. It is important as well to say so. Is it irresponsible to ask this kind of question? This is not only a technical matter but a strategic one as well.
Churchill said that battles are won with tactics. We want to win the war, and in order to win it, we need a strategy. This means that we must be inclusive.
All of us here are Canadians and proud of it. We are proud of our troops and proud of this mission. But the government should not ask us today for a blank cheque, not on such short notice and after a six-hour debate. That is totally unacceptable. We were elected to carry out our responsibilities and fully play our part.
I do not think it is too much to ask for a little more time. I know one thing for sure, and that is the heat is on. It is going to take more. I totally support the mission and our troops. I pay tribute to the men and women who highly represent our great nation. It is important to mention that. However, I also believe that when we make a decision to prolong the mission for two more years, some criteria have to be fulfilled.
The only thing the government is asking us for is a blank cheque. The Prime Minister is playing politics. This was shown by his attitude in the House today. If the House says no to this motion, he has said it does not matter. He does not care what we think. The government would automatically renew for one year and then the Prime Minister would go to the polls. It is totally shameful to make that kind of statement.
I am proud to be the nephew of Charles Arbour, whom I salute here today. He was a military police sergeant. He participated in the liberation of Holland and Belgium. He contributed to the democracy and freedom that we now enjoy. However, he also knows from experience that, when such important action is needed, proper preparations must be made. Naturally, certain parameters and guidelines must be established.
We are told that we do not necessarily have the equipment required. How will we obtain what is needed? I am very proud that we are in Afghanistan, but we are told that the past four years have already cost us $4.1 billion. I am willing to make this investment and to see Canada continuing to work and provide support in this area. However, it seems only logical to also ask whether we have the tools we need to succeed.
This is a universal issue. It is an international issue. We are there to accompany them. We are there to support the Afghan people. For God's sake, I just hope that once and for all we stop playing politics on the backs of our troops and do our job. Let us get together. Let us take more time. We will be there to help them.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to participate in this debate. In all of us who are parliamentarians, this debate stimulates a self-examination of our responsibilities. Simply put, I believe we are responsible for two basic things: the establishment and maintenance of conditions that facilitate the well-being of our citizens at home and abroad, and second, the prudent use of the financial resources of Canada's treasury.
As a member of the loyal opposition, I have a third responsibility. According to the rules of Parliament, I am responsible to hold the government to account through questioning and, where appropriate, even criticism.
Tonight the minority Conservative government is asking us to support an extension of two years to our mission in Afghanistan, two years beyond February 2007. The end date of the request is February 2009. That is 33 months from now.
How does this request for an extension impact my three basic responsibilities? First, on the well-being of our citizens abroad, I must consider our members of the armed forces, Canadians working in Afghanistan in diplomacy, community development and all forms of human service to the Afghan people.
I must also consider Canadians at home, including the family members of our soldiers and aid workers and those generous Canadians who work to raise money for the reconstruction of Afghanistan. For example, my local chapter of Canadians in Support of Afghan Women has, since 1998, sent $280,000 directly to schools in Afghanistan.
I must be clear at this point that I supported the mission which began only three months ago. I support the three components of that mission, that is, defence, development and diplomacy, but I want to see how these three components work together to effectively better the lives of all Afghans.
As I said in the take note debate just about a month ago, we must monitor our activities in Afghanistan, watch for outcomes, both intended and unintended, evaluate the facts that emerge, and make decisions as the situation evolves. So I ask myself, do the first three months of this new type of operation give us enough information to decide our course of action for 33 more months?
Certainly we all agree on the goals. They are laudable, but will our activities there achieve these goals? In my opinion, it is too soon to tell. That is why yesterday in the House I introduced an amendment to the government's motion.
My amendment referred the motion to a joint committee of defence and foreign affairs. It asked such a committee to hold public consultations with Canadians, both experts and regular folks, and then to report to Parliament by October 15. At that time, the government would have had nine months of observations on the mission and reports that would give us sufficient information on which to base a judgment and a plan for the future.
As the previous speaker mentioned, the Dutch debate on their role in Afghanistan took 10 months. They concluded a commitment of two years after 10 months of debate. We are being asked to stretch our commitment, and we are committed to it, to three years, after six hours of debate. There is something inappropriate about this request from the government.
I am totally aware that this mission itself represents life and death for some of our soldiers. It represents the viability of certain Canadian families who may lose a husband, a wife, or a son or a daughter. It represents hope for the future of the Afghan people. It is very important, and we are the people who are responsible.
That is why my main question is, what is the big rush? Is Parliament in charge of our foreign and defence policy or is NATO or is Operation Enduring Freedom? I keep hearing we are being asked to do this and asked to do that, but I think Canadians are prudent folks and they would like to take their time and be sure that a course of action is viable and affordable and has a chance of being successful.
Talking about affordable, on the prudent use of financial resources, we know that we have already spent over $4 billion in Afghanistan since we first went there on our various missions. During the same period we spent only $214 million on UN operations. We know we have 2,300 troops in Afghanistan and only 59 abroad in UN operations.
I ask myself, is this the balance that Canadians want? We do not know. How much will 33 more months cost? For example, if the terms change and if 2,300 troops become 5,300 troops after the big recruitment drive by the government, that would at least double the cost. We do not know what the government's plans are. We do know that the plans in the budget suggest another 23,000 members of the armed forces and we know there are great big dollars in the budget to accommodate that, but we do not know the connection between all those new service people and the Afghan mission.
Certainly I am not against spending money in Afghanistan. They have needs there and Canadians are generous, but I question whether Canadians are on side for this large expenditure. After all, as the government keeps reminding us, it is their money.
What about my responsibility as a member of the loyal opposition? In the last election, Canadians decided to give the Conservatives a chance to govern, but as a slim minority. Canadians decided to elect a strong opposition to keep the new group in check. If I vote yes to this motion, I give the government my approval for whatever manner it chooses in conducting this mission, because if I ask a question, the government will come back at me and say, “You voted yes”.
I believe Canadians are always right. Their marching orders to me are, hold the new government to account. Therefore, I cannot give up my right to question and monitor the government's management of an important military mission abroad.
The Prime Minister seems happy about his first 100 days and Canadians are respectful of their Prime Minister and his accomplishments, but they are also aware that he has little more than 100 days of experience as a Prime Minister and no previous cabinet experience.
I admit he carries a very heavy load and in my opinion he can benefit from the longer experience in government, in life and in matters of world geopolitics that can be found in some members on this side. That is why I want to keep the lines of communication open, the ability for this side to question that side all through the next several months.
For all these reasons, the fact that it is too rushed, the fact that Canadians do not like quick decisions, the fact that I am not comfortable that I know the whole story, that it has not been shared with me, I will definitely be voting no at this time.
Mr. Speaker, as I begin, I want to offer condolences to the family of Captain Nichola Goddard. Our thoughts are with them tonight.
Today, Canada faces a weighty decision: whether to continue our diplomatic, military, police and development efforts in Afghanistan for another two years, or to let our contributions expire in February 2007.
Last month, I stood in this House to explain why the Canadian Forces are involved in Afghanistan. While six weeks have passed, the rationale for this mission has obviously not changed. In fact, the rationale has not changed since the previous government committed the Canadian Forces to this mission four years ago.
I stand here today to advise Canadians that our job in Afghanistan—a job that we have executed successfully so far—is not finished. The right decision is obvious.
The bottom line is that the mission in Afghanistan supports one of the enduring goals of Canada's foreign and defence policy: to protect Canada's national interest. We must commit to seeing our mission through. Our national interest is straightforward: to ensure the security and prosperity of the Canadian people. This government has summed it up in two words: Canada first.
The Canada first defence strategy seeks to protect Canadians from threats that confront us at home, along our coastlines and from any place abroad. Right now this means being in Afghanistan, once a failed state that harboured terrorists, terrorists who attacked our closest friend and ally, terrorists who killed Canadians and who still threaten Canada, terrorists who now seek to undermine the democratically elected government of Afghanistan.
In 2002 Canada decided to help ensure that Afghanistan does not again harbour such extremists. We are not in Afghanistan alone but with a dedicated group of more than 30 countries. The mission is a priority for our allies in NATO, the G-8 and the United Nations. As a responsible ally and member of the international community, Canada must continue to participate in this mission.
We are also in Afghanistan at the request of the Afghans themselves. We responded to that request because Canada has a longstanding tradition of helping those in need.
Afghanistan was a failed state and remains one of the poorest countries in the world. By helping provide security and stability in Afghanistan, the Canadian Forces are creating a safe environment where reconstruction can take place. Let me assure you, Afghans have no doubt as to why we are in Afghanistan or to the positive impact that we are having there.
Because our national interest is at stake, because our allies need our help, and because Afghans themselves requested our presence, over 7,000 Canadian troops have been deployed to Afghanistan since 2002. Altogether some 16,000 Canadian troops have been involved in the international campaign against terrorism since September 11, 2001.
Today we have over 2,000 troops in Afghanistan. The 1st Battalion of the Princess Patricia's is helping the Afghan national security forces improve security in Kandahar province. We have a provincial reconstruction team stationed in Kandahar City comprised not only of Canadian Forces members but also of specialists from CIDA, the Department of Foreign Affairs and the RCMP. Together they form a multi-dimensional and integrated team that is working to stabilize Kandahar province and facilitate and encourage development efforts there.
We have a strategic advisory team in Kabul giving advice to President Karzai's government. We have Canadian Forces personnel working at the Kabul military training centre, the coalition hospital at Kandahar airport and in ISAF headquarters. We are leading the multinational brigade for regional command south in its transition to NATO control scheduled for this summer. Our troops in Afghanistan are among the most capable in the world.
They have acquitted themselves well under fire. They have captured Taliban insurgents. They have befriended local leaders. They have helped provide for the pressing humanitarian needs of the local population. They have supported efforts to diversify the Afghan economy and to deal with the global threat posed by narcotics originating in that country.
In short, we have the right personnel with the right skills, training and equipment to meet the requirements of the mission in Afghanistan and to deal with the risks involved.
Be assured that we will continue to make sure that our troops have the right equipment to be successful. The Department of National Defence is currently conducting a study to determine how well the needs of our soldiers are being met for the mission in Afghanistan and what we can do to support them better.
Moreover, the Department of National Defence has purchased $234 million of new equipment specifically in support of this mission, including the heavily armoured Nyala patrol vehicles our forces recently received, one of which, as we witnessed last Monday, already saved the lives of two Canadian soldiers when it was struck by a roadside bomb.
Our troops are also equipped with robust rules of engagement that allow them to execute operations effectively and they are rooted in a strong command and control structure that is framed around a new generation of leaders formed in the crucible of real and relevant operations.
Moreover, their mission stands on a firm legal basis. After September 11, 2001, Canada acted in accordance with article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, which maintains our individual and collective rights of self-defence. The United Nations Security Council recognized this right in resolution 1368, passed on September 12, 2001. Our current mission in Afghanistan is based on our legal right to defend ourselves.
In addition, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, which is scheduled to expand this summer, is mandated by the United Nations, under Security Council resolution 1623. Moreover, the Government of Canada has the consent of the government of Afghanistan.
We all know that the Canadian commitment has not and will not come without cost. A cost measured not only in dollars and cents, but also in human lives. We have mourned the loss of 17 Canadians since the mission began. And others have suffered serious injury. But Canada must persevere in this mission.
The efforts of the Canadian Forces have brought about real progress in Afghanistan. Upon its expansion this summer, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force will be present in three-quarters of the country, with plans to expand soon thereafter.
We are moving into areas where al-Qaeda and the Taliban were previously uncontested. We are restricting their movement, undermining their local support and engaging them face to face. Our Canadian trainers are working at the Kabul Military Training Centre, graduating up to 800 Afghan recruits every two weeks.
Just last week, Canadian soldiers captured 10 suspected Taliban fighters or sympathizers who were hiding out near the Gombad forward operating base. This was the biggest capture of suspected insurgents by Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan to date.
The detainees were then rightfully turned over to the Afghan authorities, in accordance with our arrangement regarding detainees, an arrangement that supports the principle that Afghan authorities have the responsibility for handling detainees captured in their sovereign territory, an arrangement that helps strengthen local capacity and good governance.
Our strategic advisory team, a highly influential group of just 15 people, is currently working with Afghan leaders in Kabul to develop the fledgling institutions of the Afghan state. This team was specifically requested by President Karzai. Its military and civilian members are working with his senior economic adviser on the Afghan national development strategy. They are helping the Civil Service Commission build a legitimate and accountable public service and they are on hand to assist President Karzai's chief of staff.
Our Canadian Forces medical outreach team, which is part of our provincial reconstruction team, as well as members of our battle group, regularly visit villages and offer medical services to the suffering population.
These are the real efforts and achievements of the Canadian Forces, in partnership with officials from foreign affairs, CIDA and the RCMP.
We have concrete benchmarks to evaluate the progress and success of this mission. The Afghanistan Compact, along with Canada's own strategy and plans for the mission in Afghanistan, lays out the medium-term benchmarks and the final objectives to which we are aiming.
The compact, signed in London earlier this year, outlines how the Government of Afghanistan, the United Nations, the international community, and Canada are going to work over the next five years to ensure that the Afghanistan mission achieves its desired effects. While we still have significant work left to do, we have a clear roadmap guiding us forward.
Ultimate success in Afghanistan will be achieved when the country and its government are stabilized, when the terrorists and their local support networks are defeated, when we are assured that terrorist groups will be denied sanctuary within Afghanistan, when the Afghan national security forces are well established and under the firm and legitimate control of the government of Afghanistan and when these forces can protect their own people and their own country.
Working toward these objectives requires long term commitment and sustained effort by the international community. It depends upon the future contributions of Canada.
That is why, in parallel with expanded diplomatic and development efforts, the government strongly believes that the mandate of the Canadian Forces contingents, including the army task force, its enabling forces and the provincial reconstruction team, should be extended for another 24 months from February 2007 to February 2009. This is the minimum contribution necessary to achieve mission success and to exercise leadership among our allies.
Canada should also plan to reassume the leadership of the multinational brigade in Kandahar in November 2007 for another six months and will be open to other leadership opportunities as they arise.
A two-year commitment will allow the additional time needed for Afghan security forces to become operationally effective.
A two-year commitment will help ensure a smooth political transition in 2009 when the current mandate of President Karzai ends.
A two-year commitment is what our allies expect and need from us. The planned contributions of the U.K. and the Netherlands, for example—who have committed troops for the next three and two years respectively—are predicated upon Canadian participation in this mission. If we let our mandate expire in February, we would risk our allies' support for the mission and the success of the mission itself.
The two year commitment is also consistent with the timeline expected in the Afghanistan compact. A two year commitment will employ significant military resources, but the Canadian Forces will retain some flexibility to respond to other priorities or to other unforeseen crises. This was a question that was raised by the Leader of the Opposition.
We can maintain the commitment into Afghanistan ad infinitum at its current level. What we can also do is have a naval task force available for deployment in the world to meet a crisis. We can also contribute modest land force contributions to meet other anticipated crises. From what we know is evolving in Darfur and Haiti, which are two examples, we believe we can meet whatever requirement is being set for us by the United Nations or other forces.
In the long term, the government is committed to expanding the Canadian Forces in support of a greater leadership role for Canada in world affairs.
In the short term, however, these expansion efforts will limit our ability to undertake another major operation. We will continue to play supporting roles in other operations or crises.
The Canadian Forces are in Afghanistan standing up for Canada's national interest.
They are partnering with our allies. They are helping the people of Afghanistan. But their mission is not yet complete. Together with our allies, we have devised a clear plan that outlines the way forward, to achieve the aims that we have set out.
As a responsible member of the international community, as one of the most prosperous nations on earth, and with our national interest at stake, Canada must extend and expand our commitment to this multinational mission.
As was said by Edmund Burke, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing”. Afghanistan asked for our help and that of the international community in eliminating the threat posed by al-Qaeda and the Taliban. These terrorist networks are failing in Afghanistan because Canadians recognize the implications of complacency.
Through the good work of Canadians, Afghan institutions are functioning again. Liberty is returning after a long and cold absence. Women have a stake and a voice in the country. Learning is blossoming in countless schools.
Simply put, the Taliban and al-Qaeda are losing the battle because brave Canadians have stood up in the front lines.
Let us solidify the achievements we have gained so far. Let us move this mission forward, for the sake of the Afghan people, for the sake of our allies and for the sake of each and every Canadian. As the Canadian Forces put Canada's national interest first, they deserve nothing less than our continued support.
Therefore, I call upon all members of Parliament to support the motion that extends Canada's commitment in Afghanistan to February 2009.
Mr. Speaker, I would first like to pay tribute and offer my sincere condolences to the family of Captain Nichola Goddard, who died during an important military operation in the Panjwai region, about 20 kilometres west of Kandahar.
Recalling this unfortunate event, which took place west of the Kandahar region, brings me to the very heart of the matter, the Canadian soldiers, men and women, who have been in the Kandahar region for a while and whose presence there is requested for another two years. When the defence minister said 12 years instead of two, perhaps he was revealing something he had not thought to.
It is important to know that the Kandahar region is quite large and has a population of some 1 million and that only a small part of the city is under Afghan rule. I mention this because the 13 districts of the Kandahar region and the city of Kandahar are under the negotiated protection of various municipal councils—or Choura—that is, under the protection of the Taliban.
I have looked over the literature on the state of things recently, studies done in March and April 2006. What I see there is that, since 2005, the situation has gone downhill rapidly and that the Taliban, previously more or less blended into the population after the coalition attack routed them from power, are returning little by little. They are gathering momentum and thus transforming the situation in which Canadian soldiers and others have fought up to now.
One of the studies I saw was written by the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations. It quotes President Bush on a visit to congratulate the Afghan government, “You are inspiring others and the inspiration will cause others to demand their freedom”.
Does this mean that the principle of democracy is contagious? Yet, just the day before, the chiefs of the Afghan secret service had reported that the activities of the anti-government forces were on the rise and were an even greater threat than at any other time since late 2001.
It mentioned also events or revelations such as the following:
|| An increasingly murderous rebel movement with hideouts in Pakistan where al-Qaeda leaders and Taliban members are found.
|| A corrupt and ineffective administration, without resources, and an obviously dysfunctional Parliament.
|| Levels of poverty, famine, poor health, illiteracy, inequality of the sexes that put Afghanistan at the bottom of the list of the world's countries.
I would like to mention a few details taken from the report published by UNDP in conjunction with CIDA.
|| Despite economic recovery (we cannot speak of growth in this case) in 2003 of between 10% and 12% of GDP—not taking into account drug revenues (because they are not included: they go up in smoke)—Afghanistan is ranked 173 out of the 178 countries in the 2004 UNDP Human Development Index .
|| With a GDP in the neighbourhood of $200, life expectancy of 44.5 years (20 years less than in neighbouring countries and six years less than the average for least developed countries) and a literacy rate of 28.7%, Afghanistan ranks just above Burundi, Burkina Faso, Niger and Sierra Leone.
||—these dismal indicators reaffirm that long-term conflicts are the most certain vectors of chronic underdevelopment. They are the indirect consequences of conflict and the absence of institutions in Afghanistan.
The report continues and I will quote another passage:
|| The first step in helping the Afghan people is to acknowledge the real security problems they face. On October 19, on the eve of the election in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, the American ambassador in Kabul, identified the challenges ahead for the newly-elected government: eliminating the Taliban threat, dismantling the remaining armed Afghan militia and fighting narcotics trafficking.
This could have been seen or heard here this evening, in terms of objectives. The report concludes:
|| We do not deny the security challenges ahead. However, the Afghan government's priorities should be employment, fighting the extreme poverty and deplorable standards of living, and eradicating inequality, so that all Afghan people may contribute to building the capacities of their state. Once the population is no longer threatened by poverty or terrorism, broader solutions, more than just military solutions, can be sought. The security interests of other nations are still not of interest to the Afghan people.
|| This was recently confirmed when the American government planned to eradicate drugs in Afghanistan by aerial spraying to destroy the crops.
However, this caused a revolt because there are practically no other sources of revenue. Furthermore, the course of action was not always tactful. One could say that the eradication of drugs in Afghanistan, which we favour, only managed to distance the population from the soldiers who were trying to enforce it.
The Taliban, for their part, exploit this.
The following quotation is worth noting, because the authors of the study are two professors. They say:
|| As well, the deployment of NATO troops outside Kabul may be thought of as a short-term solution to the violence that threatens coalition troops. However, it is not an adequate response to the security problems of the Afghans themselves. Ultimately, it should be the prerogative of the Government of Afghanistan to take charge of the security of the country.
Why do I emphasize this? Because it seems to me that we have to regard this proposed mission as part of an attempt to help the Afghan people, and not only as the solution to the security problem that might otherwise be felt here.
Afghanistan has received little international aid. Its economy and government are heavily influenced by drug traffickers. I will continue my list: huge arms stockpiles, despite the demobilization of a number of militias, the potential denial of the Islamic legitimacy of the Afghan government by a clergy that feels marginalized, ethnic detention, and so on. I will stop there. There was a long list. Why such a long list? Because this mission in Afghanistan cannot be thought of solely from the perspective of Canada’s interests. If we are talking about international solidarity, we must also think about what the interests of the Afghans are.
You know, I was a history professor and I have to stop myself from going on and on. I would therefore like to point out, very briefly, that the Afghan people have had an extremely miserable and insecure life for a long time. They have endured many acts of violence. They have had leaders who helped them to develop. They had a period of democratic development, of liberalization of the laws for women, of liberalization of social values, but then they endured numerous revolutions. I will not speak at length about the Russian invasion episode. I do, however, want to point out that the Russian invasion, to which the Mujahedin and Saudi Arabia, with help from the United States, put an end, is the source of what then became the Taliban. I point this out because some things being said here give the impression that hunting down the Taliban, apprehending them, eliminating them from the scene, will be an easy matter.
I would like to point out that the Taliban, this movement of religious young people—who can no longer all be young—are Pashtuns. I am coming now to what is the most important argument for our missions. A region like Kandahar is largely Pashtun. As I said earlier, they are starting to establish a presence in the various small municipalities and they are offering security.
So when Canadian soldiers—there are no more American soldiers there—and the British soldiers who are arriving, and French soldiers, meet with Afghan women and men, they will always have to remember that if they reach out, if they make friendly overtures, the Taliban may attack them.
I wish to point out that, in order to finally eradicate opium or simply to ensure soldiers can function in a normal way in Afghanistan, they must have the collaboration and support of the people. I have just described a situation in which this would be immensely difficult for them.
I would like that to be one of the questions being asked. Will this mission be prepared and equipped in the full knowledge of how it can help the Afghan people and how those people may accept it? This is one of the most important questions, which now brings me to the motion itself.
I must say that, on reading this motion, like half the members of the House, I was angry. It was chiefly the third consideration that raised a serious problem for me. It reads as follows:
|| (3) whereas these international efforts are reducing poverty, enhancing human rights and gender equality, strengthening civil society and helping to build a free, secure and self-sustaining democratic state for all Afghan men, women and children;
I found this paragraph excessive, to say the least. If at least it read “whereas these international efforts aim to—”.
For the past few years, the international community has been making efforts to help the so-called collapsed states. In doing so, we are trying to develop models of exporting democracy to countries where it has never existed or has existed only minimally. It is extremely dangerous, though, to turn ourselves into a new modern colonizer for democracy and development if we do not consult the general population with regard to international aid or military intervention.
How are soldiers, men and women, prepared to intervene in a given country, in a specific region, other than by kicking down doors, with their guns poised? We think it extremely important to put this question on the table and to be able to answer it.
Kandahar is a region to which the Taliban have returned and where the government is not established. How can we think that soldiers from Canada and Quebec—it seems the next batch will be from Quebec—will be able to fulfill the mission they are given? When we ask what the objectives of the missions are, we are told that we know what soldiers do. But what are the real objectives of the missions? Are we sending them on an impossible mission?
I would like to say something else, something I read recently. I do not want to underestimate the progress that has been made in Afghanistan, notably in education, but also in health, where there has been some improvement.
As for the rest, the situation as described is still dramatic, and security is immensely fragile.
As I still have one minute, I would ask that we also reflect on the question raised in the excellent speech by Gilles Duceppe, when he said that soldiers should be able to be in contact with the people. They need these people to fulfill the mission assigned to them.
Mr. Speaker, I am going to share my time with my colleague, the member for Macleod.
This evening I join my voice to that of all Canadians to express my sadness over the death of Captain Goddard.
Last April 10, I rose in the House to speak about some of Canada’s accomplishments in Afghanistan. Today I want to repeat how convinced I am of the importance, appropriateness and effectiveness of our assistance for the Afghan people.
This is not the time to abandon the people of Afghanistan. Quite the opposite: Canada must show leadership and compassion, not indifference.
Canada's role in Afghanistan is consistent with the support we provide worldwide with respect to freedom, democracy, rule of law and human rights. The Government of Canada believes that our country must continue to play a meaningful leadership role in Afghanistan.
We are part of the 36 nations that have made progress in Afghanistan under the auspices of the UN and NATO, but laying the foundations of democratic and economic development takes time and requires ongoing commitment.
More than 20 years of conflict, grave human rights violations, widespread poverty, and year after year of drought have destroyed nearly all sectors of society.
The reconstruction and development of a devastated country like Afghanistan is no easy task. It is important to emphasize that Canada is helping to make Afghanistan secure. That is an essential prerequisite for reconstruction.
Thanks to our integrated approach involving diplomats, the Canadian Forces, development experts and civilian police officers, we are helping the Afghan people stabilize their country, improve its governance and reduce poverty.
There are three complementary aspects to Canada’s commitment: security support, diplomacy and development assistance.
A few short years ago under the harsh Taliban regime, Afghan women were reduced to poverty. Their basic right to freedom of movement was taken away. Their confinement had many negative effects: their physical health and morale deteriorated and their life expectancy fell; women did not have the right to work and had to give up their roles as teachers, health professionals and merchants; the social fabric disintegrated.
Under the Taliban regime, women did not have the right to practise medicine and did not even have access to medical care. Little girls could not go to school, because all the schools for girls had been closed.
But since the fall of the Taliban, over four million children, a third of them girls, have gone back to school.
Thanks to the financial support of Canada, women’s centres have opened all across Afghanistan. These centres help women by providing them with basic services such as literacy training, health services, legal aid, shelter, and sometimes simply a place to talk where they feel safe and supported.
CIDA also supports food aid and training programs which have benefited over 10,000 widows and their families.
This sort of progress is important because, although the context is more open now, there continues to be opposition to women’s rights and women’s access to the labour market.
Like our 35 allies, our objective is to ensure that the Afghan government can implement its policies and ensure the viability of its development.
To ensure that sustainable results are achieved in Afghanistan, Canada is working in line with the priorities laid out by the Afghan government in its national development strategy. The Afghan government has in fact congratulated Canada on choosing this approach, which allows the Afghans to take charge of their own development.
The CIDA programs in Afghanistan are designed to help the Afghans meet the challenges they are facing. Canada has demonstrated its capacity to help the Afghan people, whom we must support.
Living in a country where war has raged for many years, the Afghans—women and children in particular—have suffered under one of the most repressive regimes in the world. Despite noteworthy advances, the country remains one of the poorest in the world.
Through CIDA, Canada is contributing to the development and improved well-being of the Afghans, but our commitment is producing effects that are much broader and more lasting.
Thanks to its development assistance, Canada has been able to make key contributions to security, governance and public order, as well as to social and rural development. The Canadian aid program in Afghanistan is delivered in a responsible fashion. I want to assure this House that that is one of my priorities.
CIDA is working to ensure that the administration of Canadian aid to national Afghan programs is based on effective mechanisms. CIDA is closely monitoring the performance of priority programs, particularly those on microlending and rural development. We are able to make the best use of Canadian contributions thanks to effective financial controls and appropriate accountability structures.
Canada must continue to have a positive impact on the development of Afghanistan and build on the progress made so far.
For example, with an increased commitment, Canada will continue to be a leader in microfinance and financial services, especially for Afghan women in rural communities.
Canada will continue to make a major contribution to security, particularly in the areas of demining and ammunition destruction, and to governance and promotion of women's socio-economic rights, including basic education.
Canada can also keep on playing a leading role in supporting the democratic process in Afghanistan and especially in developing institutions by strengthening the capacity of Afghan parliamentary institutions, for example.
Canada will also continue to be on the lookout for new opportunities to cooperate with non-governmental organizations and other Canadian partners in Afghanistan. We will continue to promote principles that reflect Canadian values we take pride in, such as respect for human rights, gender equality, freedom of speech and democracy, the same principles to which the Afghan people have shown their commitment, particularly in electing women to more than 25% of the seats in their new parliament.
I am convinced that our efforts are making tangible improvements in Afghans' lives. I am also convinced that Canada must make a commitment to continue supporting the Afghan people who still so desperately need our support.
This is not the time to leave the Afghan people in the lurch, to abandon the international community or to break with the Afghan government and our partners.
The time has come for all of us to rise on behalf of the Afghan people, to rise on behalf of the Afghan women and children. It is time to bring hope to the people of Afghanistan and help build a more secure world for our children.
The Afghan people need Canada today. They are counting on us to give them hope.
Mr. Speaker, I wish to echo the comments of many of the previous speakers in offering my personal condolences to the family of Nichola Goddard. It is with sadness that we received that news today and we offer our condolences to her family, friends and comrades.
I am pleased to participate in this evening's debate. I believe that in extending Canada's diplomatic, development and security mission in Afghanistan we will help to ensure a secure and prosperous future for Afghans.
The situation in Afghanistan is a matter of importance to all Canadians. I welcome this opportunity to express my views and to clearly record where I stand on this important matter.
With the help of Canada and the international community, Afghanistan is emerging from years of war and destruction. It is embracing democracy and taking the lead in ensuring that development benefits are extended to all regions of the country.
Since the fall of the Taliban, Afghanistan has advanced considerably in its reconstruction. Canada has supported the country's progress through a comprehensive approach that combines security, diplomacy and development assistance. However, while the Afghan people have made progress, they continue to need our support.
Afghanistan and our 35 allies in Afghanistan are looking to Canada to extend our mission. There will be a new command structure and a new diplomatic and development commitment and so it is important to seek the approval of the Parliament of Canada by voting on the motion that we are now debating.
The Dutch and the British, two other countries with leadership roles in Afghanistan, have already renewed their commitment. Our NATO allies now need to know what Canada is prepared to do.
By extending our mission in Afghanistan, we will show that we are continuing to play a leadership role. We will provide a signal to NATO and the Afghan government that they can count on us as they begin planning the next move to ensure that Afghanistan achieves the peace and stability that will allow its people to prosper in the future.
Canadians and the Afghan people should together be very proud of their accomplishments to date but we must continue to work together for continued success.
On March 9, the Minister of International Cooperation announced that CIDA will maintain its funding in Afghanistan at $100 million for the years 2006-07. This brings Canada's total contribution to $656 million since 2001. With CIDA's contribution, Afghanistan has seen many changes.
I would like to outline some of these changes and successes that have occurred in Afghanistan. It is vital that the Canadian people, as well as my colleagues here in the House of Commons, understand the significance of their contribution and the work that has been done.
Afghanistan took a very important step and has adopted a new constitution. It has also held presidential and parliamentary elections. The national solidarity program has provided to more than half of all Afghan villages and roughly 150,000 families access to funding for basic needs such as health clinics, roads and water wells. Over 4.5 million children are enrolled in formal schools. Over 150,000 Afghans, a large majority of whom are women, have access to credit and financial services.
As a farmer, I am personally pleased with the work we are doing to help the farming community of Afghanistan. We recognize that work needs to be done for the farmers to produce their crops in quantities sufficient to market them for broad sale and distribution. For that reason, our efforts include financing and rural infrastructure, such as roads and irrigation systems, to make it easier for those farmers.
National programs are also offering these farmers assistance so that they can purchase seeds and fertilizer. By encouraging them to focus on crops, such as fruit, nuts, vegetables and grain, they are able to feed their families.
I believe that the country's farmers, with our help, will make a significant contribution to returning stability to Afghanistan.
This is not the time to abandon the Afghan people, quite the contrary. We need to show leadership and compassion, not indifference. We must also work to ensure that the Afghan people are able to look after themselves once Canada is no longer there. Sustainable development is key to their future.
Through the provincial reconstruction teams, the PRTs, CIDA has designated resources of up to $10 million for a confidence in governance program. This program is focused on creating an environment where government led programs at the national, provincial and village levels can begin to flourish. As part of the program, grants are provided to disenfranchised communities so they can begin work projects which they themselves have identified as priorities.
Through its development assistance, Canada has been able to make key contributions to governance and sustainable development in Afghanistan. It is important to remember that by helping Afghanistan to become a stable, democratic and autonomous state, we are helping to ensure that it will never again be used as a haven for terrorists.
While the Afghan people have made progress, the need for our support is still there and it is vital that we extend our mission. Canadians should be proud of all that we are accomplishing in Afghanistan and be prepared to continue our support.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my good friend and colleague, the member for Cape Breton—Canso.
I join with all members of the House in expressing our pride, our concern, our support and our respect for the many Canadians serving in Afghanistan and who have served there over the last number of years. They are military personnel but they are also humanitarian aid workers, civilian police, members of the Canada Corps monitoring elections and other good governance advisers.
I intend to vote against this motion tonight. Having listened carefully to members speak today and throughout this evening, I do believe that a decision on this motion is premature. We have many months before we have to make this decision. To rush this debate with 36 hours' notice, with six hours of debate to make a life and death decision of this seriousness is a request to make an uninformed decision. The defence committee itself asked to hear expert witnesses to give information on how we are doing, what we intend to do, where we are going, what our exit strategy is, so that we can make an informed decision. That request was denied.
We need to hear from all of the relevant committees hearing witnesses before them from government and outside of government, to find out where we are and where we are going. It is disrespectful if we are asked to make a decision without this information. It is disrespectful to members of Parliament and through us to the public of Canada. Most of all, it is disrespectful to those brave Canadians who are serving or will go to serve in Afghanistan. That disrespect is dangerous. It is putting them in danger without our making an informed decision and having the respect to do that and demand that. In that sense it is unprincipled.
There is a principled reason that we are in Afghanistan right now. It is principled on the best principles of humanitarian intervention as they have developed over the last decade. Canada and members of this chamber have been participants in defining those new principles of humanitarian intervention. It is a just cause.
With those principles in mind, we fashioned a new international policy statement. Canadians in Afghanistan at this time are putting into practice for the first time the international policy statement developed by the previous government. It combines security forces with humanitarian aid workers, with good governance advisers, with civilian police trainers so that it is integrated, so that it is effective.
What is the principled approach going forward before we extend this mission? The principled approach is to get the necessary information to make an informed decision. Take the time that is necessary.
We have heard reference to the Dutch decision to extend. The Dutch parliament did not have 36 hours' notice for a six hour uninformed debate without witnesses, without adequate information. It was debated for 10 months. What is the rush at this time? We need the analysis once we have the information. Then we need to plan the next phase, the role definition, the objectives, the benchmarks, the exit strategy. What do we do in the next situation?
We have the time. We owe it to those Canadians who are bravely serving in Afghanistan and those who will in the future. We owe it to the Afghan people. It is our responsibility in pushing forward to protect as an international norm. We owe it to all of those interests.
In coming to this decision, and I think it is a principled one, I have been advised by my constituents of Vancouver Quadra in a way that is unprecedented in my, albeit short, five year experience in the House. In the last 24 hours I have had more immediate, voluminous and unanimous communication from my constituents to vote against this motion.
I had one single person, in a very advised way, suggest that I support it in a conditional way. I am advised by that and I take that very seriously, with my constituents, but with the principled approach of taking the time to be informed, to be principled, to be respectful, to be secure, and to go forward and take that time.
In voting against this motion tonight, I am not saying no as in “no, never”. I am saying no as in “no, not now”. It is disrespectful because it is uninformed, and it is therefore unprincipled, and I will not make that decision.
Mr. Speaker, I begin my comments this evening by offering condolences to the family of Nichola Goddard, a soldier who was lost today, and certainly to her friends and colleagues. I know that tragedy like this is shared by all members in the chamber and indeed by all Canadians. I think tonight's tragedy further underlines the importance and significance of tonight's debate.
Certainly over the last evening, and then again all day today, we in the Liberal caucus have had an opportunity to discuss this very important motion placed before the House this evening. There is a wide array of interventions, of shared opinions, which I believe for the most part are intellectually shared, brutally intellectually and brutally honestly shared, I believe, but respectfully shared as well.
I understand that among my caucus colleagues there are concerns just with the process that has been put forward by the government in coming forward with this motion and with the expedience that is necessary with this particular motion.
We look back to the Dutch decision. That has been referenced several times this evening. They were 10 months in debating that outcome, that extension of two years, so there is some scepticism on this side as to whether or not this is a political ploy on the part of the government.
That said, I came to this debate this evening for two reasons. I came to make sure that our soldiers, our men and women in uniform, and the parents of our soldiers understand that we support them, that this party supports their efforts and that in fact we support their mission.
I have listened to the entire debate and I will say that I also came to this debate for assurances, because I supported the initial intervention. I understood the rationale behind the initial intervention. I came here this evening wanting several questions answered.
I wanted to find out if in fact the essence of the mission would be changed. I wanted to find out if in fact there was going to be a significant number of troops added to the mission. I wanted to find out, if we were asked by the UN to intervene in Darfur, in Haiti or one of the other hot spots in the world, that we would be able to do that.
What I got tonight from the Minister of National Defence and Minister of Foreign Affairs were their assurances that the essence of this mission would not change. All of us in the chamber know that the circumstances on the ground in Kandahar have changed. We understand that it has been amplified. It has become tougher, but if it were an easy job, it would not have been Canada that would have been asked to intervene. They would have asked a lesser country.
When things get tough, that is not the time to flinch, and that is why tonight I will stand to support the motion. We all wrestle with the same questions. People come to me all the time and ask what in the name of God our young men and women are doing in Afghanistan. Why are we in Afghanistan? I think that over time we have come to learn what troubles face that nation.
People are able to connect the dots when they watch the evening news and when they think back to 9/11. They know that Afghanistan was just a breeding ground for terrorism. They know that terrorist cells were rampant within that country. When they look at the pictures on TV, they see the squalor, the poverty and the hunger. They see women being abused and terrorized. As for education in Afghanistan, there was virtually no public education system five years ago. People here understand that and they know that at the root of the squalor is the lack of education.
Therefore, we could not stand idly by. That is why I supported this intervention initially. We did not go over there on our own accord. It was a unilateral intervention. We were asked by the UN to join in a NATO mission. We stood, we did the best we could, and we have made a tremendous impact.
Canadians must know that we are making a difference there. For anyone watching this debate tonight it has been articulated. They can see the increase in democracy and in the governance systems. We have been able to make inroads in working with the judicial system. Reference was made to the lack of a public education system. Now 3 million children are enrolled school.
We had a significant take note debate in April in the House. It garnered full support from all parties in the House for the troops and for the mission.
I spoke with the member for Nipissing—Timiskaming earlier. He had the opportunity to travel to Afghanistan and had been in Kabul. He has seen the things that are taking place now. People are walking the streets. They are doing commerce on the streets. Life is far from normal, but far improved from where they were four years ago.
Kandahar is where Kabul was four years ago. It has been tough. There has been sacrifice for sure, but Canadians have made a difference. We have developed infrastructure. We have invested, as I said, in education and fresh water. We have addressed human rights issues. We have been able to do that over the last number of years. As Canadians, I believe it is expected of us to stand until the job is complete.
I want to identify with the troops. In my riding of Cape Breton—Canso we have a great number of young men and women who have volunteered for the cause and have pursued a career in the armed forces. In my conversations with them, they understand the great task that they face in Afghanistan, but they are up to task.
I want to read to the House an interview that took place this morning on CBC Radio. The House was very saddened when we lost Corporal Paul Davis, a 28 year old who was killed when his armoured vehicle collided with a taxi and flipped over near Kandahar. He left behind a wife and two young girls. It was a sad event. His dad, Jim Davis, is very well known to many of the Nova Scotia MPs in the House and is very respected. He is a great Canadian and obviously a great father. In the interview this morning, Jim Davis said that he hopes all the political parties agree to extend the mission. He said:
|| I know our troops over there do like to know that they are supported by Canadians at home. The bottom line is, you want a united effort behind this mission.
I respect each member's decision, as they stand and vote this evening, but I want to reiterate that I will be supporting the motion.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to have the opportunity today to speak in support of extending our important mission in Afghanistan. As we have all become too aware in recent years, we live in an unstable and unpredictable world, where terrorists operating from failed states can strike anywhere in the world, including here in North America.
On September 11 our vulnerability to terrorism was fully exposed. Among the thousands who lost their lives that day were 24 Canadians. Since then, terrorists have struck in the heartland of several of our closest NATO allies, killing hundreds of innocents in Spain, Turkey and Great Britain, as well as many other places around the world.
We also must not forget that Canada has been identified by al-Qaeda as a target. The present threat to Canada must be taken seriously. However, the government also takes its responsibilities to defend our nation seriously.
Let me be clear. When it comes to defence and security, the government believes in putting Canada first. We will not stand by and allow others to decide the fate of Canadians. That is why the government is committed to strengthening our independent capacity to defend our national sovereignty and security.
As a result, Canada is prepared to meet threats to its security anywhere in the world. That is an important part of the reason why we are in Afghanistan.
The troops we have deployed to Afghanistan, along with our diplomats and humanitarian workers, have helped the Afghan people elect a responsible government to replace the aggressive Taliban regime.
And let us not forget that the Taliban provided training facilities and safe haven to the terrorists behind the September 11 attack.
I will be sharing my time, Mr. Speaker, with the member for Calgary East.
Today, Canada's objective in Afghanistan is still to prevent the country from becoming once again a haven for terrorists and their destructive network. As such, our soldiers in Afghanistan are protecting Canada and Canadians. We are in Afghanistan to offer humanitarian aid and to lay the foundations for the country's economic, social and democratic development. We are there to demonstrate Canada's leadership role in the world. We are there because it is in our national interest.
Canada has more than 2,000 men and women in Afghanistan. Most of them are in the Kandahar region, a known Taliban stronghold. Our soldiers serving there truly believe in our mission. They know that their efforts are bearing fruit. These brave soldiers, sailors and airmen and women are true heroes, heroes who are putting their lives on the line to protect the lives of their fellow Canadians here at home.
We are proud of our fighting men and women and we are grateful for the sacrifices they are making to defend us on the other side of the world.
Our mission in Afghanistan includes activities from humanitarian assistance to rebuilding roads and institutions. Our mission would be impossible without the Canadian Forces.
Our soldiers are helping to create the security environment that will allow the Afghan people to live safe lives and rebuild their communities. They are working for the return of stability to the country. They are also preventing insurgents from disrupting the establishment of this secure environment.
We are also making substantial progress in development and diplomacy. For instance, Afghanistan is the single largest recipient of Canadian development assistance, with $656 million pledged since 2001. Our government will allocate an additional $310 million, raising Canada's total contribution to nearly $1 billion over 10 years.
Canadian diplomats in Afghanistan are also helping the Afghan people rebuild their political institutions. To support our diplomatic affairs, we will establish a permanent embassy in Kabul.
Individual Canadians, and the private organizations they support, are also doing their part to help Afghanis. For example, CARE Canada has people on the ground involved in food distribution, road construction, irrigation system repair, erosion control, water and sanitation system rehabilitation, home schooling and growing small businesses. These efforts must not be allowed to lapse in February.
With the help of Canada and the international community, the Afghan people are triumphing over tyranny and taking back their country. The signs of progress are clear. Shattered communities and lives are being put back together with international help and reconstruction efforts are helping reduce poverty and misery.
Schools, hospitals and roads are being rebuilt. Millions of people are now able to vote. Women are enjoying greater rights and opportunities than were ever imagined under the Taliban. Close to four million refugees have returned home.
Clean water is a growing reality for thousands of villages. Tens of thousands of small arms and heavy weapons have been collected and secured. Land mine removal is under way and more than 4.5 million Afghan children, more than one-third of them girls, are now enrolled in school. Last but not least, critical instruments of national security such as the Afghan national army and the Afghan national police are increasing their capabilities, and reaching out to all areas of Afghanistan. Canadians are playing a key role in their training.
These efforts are showing positive results. They have undeniably enhanced the ability of the Afghan security forces to respond to threats, whether they are terrorist threats to the new Afghan national assembly, or drug lords pursuing their illicit trade. Our efforts to help bring security to Afghanistan, strengthen governance, and reduce poverty are making a real difference in the lives of Afghanis.
That is why the House should support the government's decision to extend and expand Canada's mission in Afghanistan to February 2009. Through this decision we are demonstrating to our allies and the rest of the world that Canada is a country that can be counted on in tough times.
Canada's history is filled with examples of how we have accepted our responsibilities, be they at home or overseas. We have always been willing to help those in need and we have always been steadfast in our support for democracy, individual rights and the rule of law.
We know that some think we should retreat from Afghanistan and devote ourselves exclusively to our own domestic affairs. They speak of costs and casualties. Let me tell them this. Yes, there is a cost to protecting Canada, our freedom and our interests. There has always been a cost, but they are mistaken if they think we can separate ourselves from the real world and the real threat to Canadians.
Others suggest that extending the mission there to 2009 for a total of seven years since Canadians first put boots on the ground is too long. To them, I say there was a Canadian military presence in Cyprus for 30 years. For 33 years Canadian troops kept the peace in the Golan Heights. While our Afghan mission will take only a fraction of that amount of time, it is clear that in the pursuit of lasting peace and security, our Canadian commitments must not be arbitrarily constrained.
A Canada first defence policy means accepting that Canada must engage in an often dangerous world beyond our peaceful shores, that we have responsibilities when it comes to international peace, security and stability.
The Canadian commitment in Afghanistan is a clear demonstration of how Canada can be counted upon to act on these responsibilities. Afghanistan must have the opportunity to develop into a more stable, secure and democratic state so that it does not again become a base for tyrants and terrorists.
I urge all members to support this motion, and may God keep our land glorious and free.