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39th PARLIAMENT, 2nd SESSION

EDITED HANSARD • NUMBER 053

CONTENTS

Monday, February 25, 2008





CANADA

House of Commons Debates

VOLUME 142 
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NUMBER 053 
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2nd SESSION 
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39th PARLIAMENT 

OFFICIAL REPORT (HANSARD)

Monday, February 25, 2008

Speaker: The Honourable Peter Milliken

    The House met at 11 a.m.

Prayers



PRIVATE MEMBERS' BUSINESS

[Private Members' Business]

  (1100)  

[English]

Income Tax Act

    The House resumed from February 1 consideration of the motion that Bill C-219, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (deduction for volunteer emergency service), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
    Mr. Speaker, I am privileged to join in today's debate on Bill C-219, if for no other reason than to spend a moment talking about what emergency service volunteers, especially our volunteer firefighters, mean to communities across Canada.
    I do not believe that anyone in the House would argue the notion that we as a society tend to have an elevated view, and rightly so, of those among us who don the uniform of the firefighter, if not for the risks they take, then for the noble purpose for which they take them in the service of others and their communities.
    It is little wonder that Edward F. Croker, a New York City fire department chief in the early 1900s and a pioneer in the movement to safeguard against fire hazards, once remarked:
    When a man becomes a fireman his greatest act of bravery has been accomplished. What he does after that is all in the line of work.
    That sentiment of gratitude and respect is especially true in smaller communities and towns in Canada, places where, amazingly to many of us, firefighters serve voluntarily in addition to their regular 7 to 3, 3 to 11 or 11 to 7 work duties. Or he or she may be a small business owner.
    These men and women are ready to serve their communities at any hour, night or day. They serve in circumstances of grave danger to their own personal safety. As Mike Walsh, past president of the Canadian Volunteer Fire Services Association, noted:
    Volunteer firefighters are the first-line defenders against many domestic threats involving fire, medical emergencies, hazardous materials, motor vehicle accidents and rescues....
    With every call and every fire, these brave men and women face consequences that we would rather not contemplate, because our heroes are not supposed to die.
     But they do. They are heroes like Gary Bryant. Mr. Bryant was a member of the 24-person Wolfe Island volunteer fire department in the Kingston, Ontario area. A few years back, Mr. Bryant tragically passed away in the line of duty. His colleagues and friends remembered him as a human being who put his community before himself. As one close friend noted, “To Gary, everybody came before him”.
    Wolfe Island volunteer fire chief James White recalled a man who was very eager to join the fire department because he wanted to “give back to the community”, a community for which he would make the ultimate sacrifice, a sacrifice few of us have the inner strength to even consider. That is why, as Chief White sombrely remarked, we should “be proud of him because he died as a hero to us”, a hero to us in life and in death. And so we honour and thank them all.
    As legislators, though, we can and do thank them with more than mere words. We can thank them by supporting their efforts. That is why I was so pleased when my government's last budget included an important measure to assist firefighters to ensure they have the training they need to safely and effectively react to emergencies.
    A key part of that means helping them deal with hazardous materials, including chemical and biological emergencies. Do members know that volunteer firefighters are an integral part of our emergency measures plans all across Canada? That is why budget 2007 provided $1 million to the Canadian arm of the International Association of Fire Fighters to help put in place a hazardous materials training program, which is available to all first responders such as firefighters.
    IAFF general president Harold Schaitberger hailed that announcement as a major advance for public and first responder safety in Canada and expressed his gratitude to the government for “listening to the IAFF and acting decisively on this issue”.

  (1105)  

    Local fire departments also welcomed the announcement. Bruce Carpenter, a firefighter in St. Catharines, Ontario, and the IAFF's 13th District vice-president for Ontario and Manitoba, said:
    With the announcement in Budget 2007 to fund the IAFF's training programs in Canada, the Conservative government has demonstrated that it's serious about public safety and about protecting Canadians and Canadian first responders from the aftermath of a haz-mat or CBRN incident.
    The income tax system also includes measures to support our emergency service volunteers. Presently under the current Income Tax Act rules, volunteers can receive honoraria from a public authority of up to $1,000 exempt from income tax, meaning they pay no tax on the first $1,000 they receive from a public authority.
    That brings us to the measure under debate today, one that is very similar to two unsuccessful ones proposed and previously debated in the 37th and 38th Parliaments, one of which, in fact, was voted against by the Liberal member sponsoring this bill.
    This proposal, somewhat like the previous two, seeks to establish a tax deduction for emergency service volunteers who do not qualify for the existing $1,000 income tax exemption. More precisely, the proposed bill would allow qualifying emergency service volunteers to deduct from their income tax between $1,000 and $2,000 depending upon the number of hours volunteered.
    However, as we move forward, we must recall that very similar proposals have been defeated twice after concerns were raised by members of this House and at the Standing Committee on Finance, concerns ranging from equity, physical cost and complexity to the definitional issues and effectiveness.
    For example, some people have suggested that such a proposal would provide no relief for volunteers with little or no taxable income. Others contend that it will only add administrative complexity for both the volunteer organizations and the volunteers themselves, while yet others feel that it fails to clearly define who should be considered an emergency service volunteer. These concerns and many others were raised by the all party Standing Committee on Finance when it recommended that the House not proceed with a nearly identical piece of legislation in 2005.
    What is surprising, considering that a Liberal member has sponsored this legislation, is the degree to which some of his current colleagues have been critical of similar legislation in the past and the tenor of that criticism.
    Let us consider that his Liberal colleague from Richmond Hill once stated that such a measure:
--would hardly be fair or reasonable from the perspective of other persons who also contribute to society.
     For instance, consider the plight of a single parent of young children working at a fast food restaurant. This person probably has little time to devote to volunteer activities and thus could not gain access to the deduction because he or she is raising young children, and yet the worker's income is fully subject to taxation.
    Or what about his Liberal colleague from Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, who scorned such a proposal, remarking that it would be “difficult to justify to other Canadians who work at low wage jobs” and that it would “put a value on one type of volunteerism as opposed to others”.
    As well, the Liberal member for Halifax West dismissed a similar bill by simply saying:
    I do not see that this bill is going to make it more likely that we will have more volunteers in our society.
    Plainly as we move forward there will be certain questions that must be addressed when undertaking a thorough examination of the issues surrounding such a proposal, but what cannot and will not be questioned is our unresolved gratitude and admiration for those brave men and women who give of themselves so selflessly, heroes like Gary Bryant.

  (1110)  

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, speaking to a bill like this one is a wonderful way to start the week. This bill would improve tax deductions for volunteer firefighters. It would also apply to volunteer ambulance technicians and to volunteers who assist in the search and rescue of individuals or in other emergency situations. It would apply to anyone considered to be a first responder.
    The initiative of the member for Malpeque deserves our support; however, we must be careful not to turn this into a partisan issue.
    The maximum deduction for a volunteer firefighter is currently $1,000. I have represented a rural area for 15 years, and I know what a valuable contribution volunteer firefighters make to society. There are a few women, but the volunteers are primarily men. These men have other jobs and agree to training so that they are prepared to fight fires. They also work hard on fire prevention.
    I currently represent the regional county municipalities of Montmagny, L'Islet, Kamouraska and Rivière-du-Loup, but I have also represented Témiscouata and Les Basques in the past. I had the opportunity to attend several competitions in these regions to showcase the work done by these volunteers. I can say that one does not agree to be a volunteer firefighter in order to fulfill an administrative role. These people must carry heavy equipment and be prepared to face dangerous situations, and are occasionally called on to save lives.
    In turn, our society has decided to offer them a $1,000 tax deduction, to which I think they are fully entitled. The member is suggesting that we increase the deduction to $2,000 when an individual volunteers 200 hours in a year. This is not too much to ask. This amount better reflects the current reality facing these volunteers. I hope that, after the debate in this House, the vote will enable us to examine this bill more closely.
    My Conservative colleague who spoke before me alluded to previous debates, when it was argued that this measure was not totally warranted and would not necessarily help boost volunteerism. We have to consider these remarks as constructive proposals.
    The committee members will have to make sure that this measure is in keeping with the spirit of the Income Tax Act, but also that this additional recognition is feasible. The men and women who do this work do it voluntarily; it is a choice they make. They are compensated for what they do, but often this compensation amounts to no more than they are already making at their regular jobs.
    People tend to make a personal choice to become a volunteer firefighter. They are contributing to the quality of life in their community. Essentially, their aim is to prevent, as much as possible, fires that cause property damage and sometimes cost human lives. There have been disasters in the past.
    Volunteer firefighters have been around for some time now. Decades ago, there were far more fires out in the country than there are today. Mutual insurance companies had to be created so that people whose homes had unfortunately been destroyed by fire would have a future. A number of prevention measures were developed, and one duty of volunteer firefighters is to promote them.
    Initially, volunteer firefighters stepped forward out of the goodness of their heart in the event of a fire. Over the years, their job has become increasingly complex. They have to take a number of training courses, and the cost of that training is not necessarily covered by the tax deduction. It covers only costs associated with fighting fires or providing emergency assistance.
    From the standpoint of recruitment to renew the ranks of volunteer firefighters, this measure serves as an added incentive or benefit for someone who has obtained his employer's authorization to leave work when called to respond to an emergency. Such a person should not be penalized, but should be able to benefit from this very minor tax advantage, which at the very least would enable him to keep on volunteering.

  (1115)  

    Under the bill presented by the hon. member for Malpeque, a person who meets specific criteria—they get a $1,000 deduction for the first 100 hours of work and up to $2,000 when the number of hours worked in the year reaches 200—is sent a T4/Relevé 1 form by the government for this income. The first $1,000 will be excluded from the slips since that amount is not taxable.
    The purpose of Bill C-219 before us is to improve the tax exemption by making it $1,000 when a person has worked 100 hours and $2,000 when that person has worked 200 hours, in order to take into account roughly the average salary that a volunteer firefighter could make.
    However, if the person is employed in a non volunteer capacity to provide the same services or similar services, then they cannot benefit from the federal deduction. It is not a question of granting a deduction to someone who already performs a similar task in their regular job, but to someone who made the personal choice to devote themselves to this type of role in their community when they already have an entirely different job.
    The big cities have permanent and regular firefighters. Throughout rural Quebec and Canada the people concerned have to take very rigorous and demanding training to help them not only prevent fires, but also develop a sense of discipline to cope with any emergency situation. On occasion I have seen—with my own two eyes—that this training means people react properly and quickly to cardiovascular problems, when a person has a heart attack for example, or to any other difficult situation. The fire training they receive can also apply to many other situations. Often this results in a life being saved to carry on in an acceptable manner, rather than resulting in a death.
    In that sense, our society, which must be judged not only by its capacity to produce wealth, but also by its capacity to share it, has an opportunity to recognize in a much more valid and sustained way the work done by volunteer firefighters. The members of the Bloc Québécois and I, personally, will support this motion. We hope the discussion in committee improves the situation. According to information we have received from volunteer firefighters, this measure would truly be welcome and would correspond better to the current reality in our various municipalities. We believe the initiative of the hon. member for Malpeque deserves our support.

  (1120)  

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the federal NDP, it gives me great pleasure to rise on this important bill. I want to thank the hon. member for Malpeque for bringing it forward.
    Most of us in our ridings across the country have volunteer firefighters and they do an outstanding job. Every Tuesday in my riding is a training night for all the firefighters. They train hard and afterwards they get together in a camaraderie on what they are doing.
    It takes a very special person to answer a call at three in the morning in a winter storm and go to a house fire or to deal with an issue of a medical emergency. These people do this with very little or no pay whatsoever. In fact, they do not even want a thank you. They do it because they know they are serving their community. They know it because they feel in their heart of hearts that what they are doing is just and it is right.
    On Sunday on the CBC in Nova Scotia there was a half hour show talking about what is happening in rural Canada. Many communities are starting to lose their volunteer firefighters. They are not losing them because of a lack of interest, they are losing them because of the economic reality of rural Canada. I remember very well in Newfoundland and Labrador during the cod crisis of the early 1990s many communities basically lost their best and brightest. The first thing to go, besides people moving down the road, was the firefighter.
    Can we imagine a community that loses its volunteer firefighters and can no longer provide any kind of fire coverage for its community? The insurance companies come along and if we do not have fire protection of some kind they are not sure if they are able to insure the particular homes or properties. That puts these communities and families at great risk.
    At the end of the day, there will be volunteer firefighters across this country willing to answer the call. In many cases they know they are risking their lives for the benefit of everyone. That is why this bill is important. That is why it should be supported across all political lines and it should be done fairly expeditiously.
    I would like to expand on a bill that I have and not just piggyback on volunteer firefighters, but we need to look at volunteers in this country as a whole. In Nova Scotia alone volunteerism generates approximately $2 billion of economic activity. Imagine what it would be like in Ontario, Quebec and the bigger provinces.
    Without volunteers we simply would not have the society that we have today. I am sure that many of my colleagues in the House of Commons and in the Senate have volunteered many hours of their time and their family's time over the years to benefit their community. That is the beauty as many of us, as busy as we are as MPs, still in some way manage to volunteer to help out in our community, be it fundraising, looking after our community or whatever it may be.
    If it were possible to expand the debate, I think that all volunteers who show a certain number of hours per year, and my bill specifically says 250 hours, should be entitled to a $1,000 tax credit.
    Years ago when I represented the Eastern Shore as far as the Ecum Secum Bridge in Nova Scotia, I knew a Lions Club member that would volunteer to drive people from Sheet Harbour all the way into Halifax, which is well over an hour drive, and he did this on his own. He did not ask for remuneration or anything of that nature and that was when gas was at 75¢ a litre. Now, at $1.18 a litre in Halifax, we can imagine how expensive it is for that person to volunteer to do that. However, he still does because he knows it is the right thing to bring people with disabilities or people with very low income into Halifax to either do major shopping or see their medical professionals.
    It is people like that who we need to honour every day and not just in this House of Commons but in the Senate as well. At this time I want to send a special kudos over to our colleague from London who himself was a long term firefighter before he entered the halls of Parliament. He deserves a great round of applause for his great work as well.
    My own brother-in-law was a firefighter at the Vancouver airport for over 32 years and he has just retired. He fortunately never had any major incident of any kind to affect his health or his life and he feels very blessed by that.

  (1125)  

    However, he knew many other firefighters who came down with various illnesses and cancers because of the chemicals they were exposed to. These were paid firefighters. Imagine the number of volunteers out there.
    The volunteer firefighters in the areas of Fall River, Musquodoboit Harbour, Lake Charlotte, Chezzetcook, Eastern Passage, the whole crew, are some of the best citizens in this country. They love what they do, but the reality is they need more support.
    The city I live in has only so much money to provide in terms of equipment and everything else. The government and all parliamentarians need to understand that giving them a little stipend like this may be beneficial to at least cover the costs.
    I again want to thank my colleague from Malpeque for bringing this very important bill forward and I hope it will pass very soon. In fact, it would be lovely if it was in tomorrow's budget, but we will have to wait until four o'clock to see if indeed that is the case.
    Once again, a tip of the salt and pepper cap to all volunteer firefighters and especially their families. Those who volunteer also have families who worry about their return. I want to thank the families, the individual members, and all communities right across this country.
    Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to speak to this particular initiative.
    First I want to congratulate my hon. colleague from Malpeque for bringing this forward. We have been discussing, debating and voting on this for many years, certainly within almost the last decade.
    What a gift this is. Someone earlier mentioned how this would entice people to get involved in the volunteer service for emergency workers. It will go a long way, especially in our rural areas for several reasons.
    First, let us take a look at the incentive. Over 100 hours of service will provide a $1,000 tax credit and over 200 hours, which a vast majority do easily, a $2,000 tax credit.
    What I like about this is that it is a beautiful gift and finally an acknowledgement by the Government of Canada to say that it believes in what they are doing.
    I said it before and I will say it again. These are people who volunteer their time. When there is a fire or a disaster, these people are the first to go into that fire. More than that, when the community needs their support to raise money and raise awareness, volunteer firefighters are the first to get out. They come out for their community and they do it voluntarily.
    I do rise in support of Bill C-219, a bill that would have a tremendous effect on all of rural Canada, especially in rural Newfoundland and Labrador and certainly in my own riding.
    A couple of weeks ago in the House I rose to present a petition signed by thousands of people from all over Newfoundland and Labrador calling upon the government to put the bill into law and make the necessary amendments to the tax code.
    Why do I support Bill C-219? I will flesh out some of the more important reasons. A lot of it comes down to numbers, quite frankly. I represent over 86,000 people in my riding. Over 115 communities in my riding are protected by 52 volunteer fire departments, ranging from 15 to 20 and beyond.
    In the province of Newfoundland and Labrador there are 315 volunteer fire departments consisting of 6,200 volunteers, people who put their lives on the line and risk it all for the sake of safety, for the sake of their communities and for the sake of their families. There are also 27 ground search and rescue teams consisting of 872 volunteers, a phenomenal amount of volunteer time put into search and rescue.
    When they leave the comfort of their homes, more often than not in harsh weather conditions, they do not know if they will return to their families. That is a fact of life that all emergency responders have to live with.
    To provide an incentive of a $2,000 tax credit is a small gift but, beyond the monetary value, this would finally acknowledge that the Government of Canada sees what they are doing and it wants to reward them for it. We want them to be recognized across the country for what it is they do and the time they spend doing it, not just for safety but again for the community.
    Most of us would not want to know the feeling of having someone seriously injured or worse, someone who has perished in a vehicle crash. These people are first on the scene. Most of us have never experienced the unique smell of burning insulation, the intense heat, the roar of a burning structure or the uneasy feeling of being unable to see anything upon entering a burning building to rescue someone in peril.
    What must the volunteers be thinking as they respond to an emergency call: Is this a false alarm or is it a real fire? Will I return? Will I see my family once again when this is all over? The worse possible thing that could happen: is there a child inside? Does a child's life need to be saved?
    Our ground search and rescue teams are there to assist in finding lost individuals, whether it be along our coast, in the forest or someone trapped on a rock face injured or unable to move for fear of falling.
    Yes, it is a life-threatening task that we ask these volunteers to do and they do it so valiantly.

  (1130)  

    Our emergency volunteers carry out their duties in a professional manner in the same way that our paid emergency service workers do. Often, volunteers' street clothes are damaged or destroyed because they did not have time to change into their fire protection clothes or ground search and rescue apparel. They incur expenses with their personal vehicles getting to the fire hall daily for training. They spend countless hours at the fire hall training and cleaning their equipment and emergency vehicles with little or no compensation.
    The hon. member for Sackville—Eastern Shore touched on training night. In my hometown of Bishop's Falls, Wednesday night is training night. The feeling of camaraderie between men and women firefighters is second to none. They feel so good about their community. Once in a while they even let me attend. How noble.
     I must say that the little bit that we can do here today by voting for this and seeing this into law is such a small thing for us to do but such a great acknowledgement for the sacrifices that they make.
    I will give two examples from my own riding where volunteer services have become crucial and essential.
    Emergency service volunteers were called into action because of floods in the town of Badger several years ago. It was a state of emergency. It was one of the most devastating floods the province has ever seen. The amount of hours that volunteers put in, not just volunteer firefighters, search and research workers and ambulance workers, but our town councillors and our municipal politicians, many of whom are volunteers as well, but they all do it for the sake of the community and the sake of their family.
     I respectfully submit that we should support this as such a crucial element of us saying, yes, that these people are intertwined in our communities and are absolutely essentially.
     I would like to take a moment to read something called “What is a Firefighter”.
     He's the [person] next door...He [she] has never gotten over the excitement of engines and sirens and danger. He's [she's] a [person] like you and me with wants and worries and unfulfilled dreams. Yet [they] stand taller than most of us.
    He's [she's] a fireman.
    He [she] puts it all on the line when the bell rings.... A fireman is at once the most fortunate and the least fortunate...[they are people] who save lives because [they have] seen too much death. He's [she's] a gentle [person] because he [she] has seen the awesome power of violence out of control. [They are] responsive to a child's laughter because [their] arms have held too many small bodies that will never laugh again. [They] appreciate the simple pleasures of life--hot coffee held in numb, unbending fingers--a warm bed for bone and muscle compelled beyond feeling--the camaraderie of brave men [and women]--the divine peace and selfless service of a job well done in the name of all [people].
    Those are the people we have come here to talk about today. We need to acknowledge these people and the volunteer time that they put in to ensure the community comes first. It is a sacrifice that is not compensated whatsoever and it is about time the Government of Canada said yes to these people. A simple measure is all we ask: a $1,000 tax credit up to a $2,000 tax credit. It is absolutely essential.
    I asked that this House pass it unanimously but was unsuccessful. However, despite that, I still call upon the government to include this in its budget. Maybe time is short but imagine these volunteer firefighters in the middle of a blaze, in the middle of a situation that is life or death. Now we are talking about time being short. We are talking about finally being able to thank them for all they have done and to thank their families.
     I believe in our volunteer emergency people because they are the backbone of rural Newfoundland and Labrador for what it is today.

  (1135)  

    Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity today to address the hon. members of the House on Bill C-219.
    The bill, if adopted, would entitle emergency service volunteers to claim either a $2,000 deduction if they volunteer 200 or more hours or a $1,000 deduction if they volunteer at least 100 hours or more but less than 200 hours.
    Today I would like to use this time to acknowledge the role of emergency service volunteers and others to talk about their motivation and to acknowledge the valuable contributions these Canadians make to our country.
    First, I wholeheartedly agree with the hon. member for Malpeque on the principle of the bill. Emergency service volunteers deserve to be recognized for their valuable contributions to the safety, security and well-being of our communities.
    There are numerous examples that come to mind in which emergency service volunteers have played an important role in this nation: the tornado that whipped through Edmonton in 1987 and left large numbers of Edmontonians homeless; the Manitoba and Saguenay floods; the crippling 1998 ice storm in Quebec and eastern Ontario in which my family was trapped and became victimized; the 2003 forest fires in British Columbia; Hurricane Juan, which battered the east coast in the fall of 2003; and, of course, on a day to day basis, intervening to rescue Canadians from danger and to alleviate their pain and suffering.
     In all those instances, disaster relief volunteers provide crucial assistance at critical times. They aid distressed victims and help bring calm out of chaos and generosity out of calamity. They all make me feel proud to be Canadian.These fine citizens make us all proud to be Canadian.
    There are many kinds of volunteers who deserve recognition and there are many different ways to recognize these contributions. This may be surprising to some members of the House but Statistics Canada estimated that there are approximately 11.8 million Canadians from all parts of this country who volunteered in 2004. As we can imagine, each one of these volunteers makes a valuable contribution to their communities in many different ways. Some volunteers help to improve the quality of life of our seniors. Some coach our children's sports teams. Some prepare, serve and deliver meals to others in need. Some provide education services and advocate on important issues. Some help to protect our environment by monitoring ecosystems and cleaning our beaches, just like in my own riding of Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale where the Hamilton Area Eco-Network does a great job of managing one of the UNESCO biosphere reserves in this country.
    In 2004, volunteers freely donated over two billion hours of their time, which is an average of 168 hours per volunteer. I know it would never happen but since we are talking about 11 million Canadians and two billion hours of their time, we should think for a moment what would happen if, just for a week, all volunteers stopped doing what they had been doing and what kind of country this would be.
     Imagine how overrun the regular resources of local police departments would be if the auxiliary police were not available.
    At every sporting event I have ever attended I have seen the St. John Ambulance van, our historic volunteer emergency medical service, sitting over on the side ready to help anybody in a medical emergency. Imagine if it were not around.
     Imagine if Roots youth drop-in centre in Dundas, Ontario were not there to help youth make the right decisions rather than get on the wrong track and end up in a lifestyle of crime.
    How about Mission Services, Good Shepherd, Wesley Urban Ministries or the Olive Branch that is in downtown Hamilton that serve meals, pick people up off the street and ensures that those who are on the margins of society are helped so they can become contributing citizens.
    Two weeks ago at the Ancaster food drive 70,000 pounds of food was collected. That would be consumed in three weeks alone. Imagine if those kinds of people were not around but, fortunately, we never need to be concerned about that.
    We do need to be concerned about why these volunteers give their time so generously. For context, I will take this opportunity to describe the findings of a recent Statistics Canada survey that sheds light on this question. Perhaps it should not be surprising that the survey finds that most Canadians do not appear to expect financial assistance or incentives as a reward for volunteering.

  (1140)  

    The Canada Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating conducted in 2004 found that none of the principal reasons for volunteering are related to financial gain whatsoever. For example, 92% said they volunteered because they wanted to make a contribution to their community. Seventy-seven per cent volunteered because they wanted to put their skills and experience to work. Almost 60% volunteered because they had been personally affected by the cause of the organization that they support.
    Canadians cited several other reasons for volunteering as well. They see volunteering as a way to explore their own strengths. They have friends who volunteer and they want to share in that experience. They want to fulfill religious obligations or beliefs. For some, volunteering is a way to demonstrate or acquire skills in order to open doors for new opportunities for themselves.
    The same Statistics Canada survey asked Canadians why they did not volunteer or why they did not volunteer more. We have to search well down the list of reasons to find financial cost.
    In fact, Statistics Canada found that the main barrier preventing individuals from increasing their volunteering contributions was a lack of time. Seven in ten Canadians cited time limitations, not financial considerations, as the reason for not volunteering more or not volunteering at all.
    Time is not the only barrier to volunteering. Some find they are unable to make a year-round commitment to volunteering. Some might consider becoming a volunteer but have never personally been asked to do so. Perhaps they just need an invitation to get them started. Still others cite health problems.
     Although recognizing this important group of volunteers is something I am sure all Canadians would agree is worthy, I do believe that it would be irresponsible to have this discussion without exploring the motivations and expectations of our volunteers.
    I also think that during the course of this discussion we should explore additional methods to acknowledge and encourage efforts at volunteering because there are many ways. Sometimes it is simply raising awareness of the volunteers' cause or enhancing the experience of volunteering. For example, one way we can recognize the efforts of volunteers in Canada is through public awards and honours. There are a multitude of awards distributed each year that recognize the outstanding contributions of all volunteers. For instance, the Governor General's Caring Canadian Award is bestowed on a long service volunteer who has contributed substantially to families and groups in his or her community.
    Volunteers, including emergency service volunteers, are also recognized by the Government of Canada through the Thérèse Casgrain Volunteer Award. This award was established by the Government of Canada in 2001 during the International Year of the Volunteer.
    Provincially there are many examples as well. In British Columbia, the provincial emergency program recognizes volunteers annually in each of its five programs: search and rescue; emergency social services; air search; amateur radio; and road rescue.
    The Ontario volunteer service award ceremony acknowledges, among other achievements, the bravery of those who serve as police officers and volunteer firefighters. In addition, many emergency service volunteers have also been awarded the Ontario Lieutenant Governor's Medal for Bravery.
    In conclusion, all of us in this House support and respect the work of emergency service volunteers. On that we have unanimity. However, we have a responsibility to all Canadians to do our homework when making policy.
    Once again, I want to commend the hon. member for Malpeque for bringing this legislative initiative forward and for recognizing the significant contribution emergency service workers make to our communities. That being said, there are still some questions about this initiative that I look forward to hearing the member address both here in the chamber and perhaps at committee in the future as well.
    I believe we need to study this measure carefully to make sure that it is the appropriate way to acknowledge the work of emergency service volunteers to whom we are all grateful for their service.

  (1145)  

    Mr. Speaker, I want to participate in this debate and support the hon. member for Malpeque who has brought a very important issue to the House regarding the contribution that firefighters and public safety officers in general make to society.
    The International Association of Fire Fighters has been the lead group to speak on behalf of public safety officers. It has dealt with a number of areas, whether it be the treatment of hazardous goods or the markings on train cars with respect to an emergency plan should there be a derailment.
    There is another very interesting point which has been advocated for in this place for a number of years. It is the public safety officers compensation fund in the event that a public safety officer loses his or her life in the line of duty.
    The bill that was previously before this place on behalf of firefighters and other public safety officers was to provide for the families and the survivors of police officers, firefighters and other public safety officers who had lost their lives in the line of duty. This bill has been advocated for by the IAFF because a similar fund has existed in the United States for a number of years.
    In fact, the amount of money paid in the United States initially was $100,000. It was paid by the United States government to the families of public safety officers who had lost their lives in the line of duty. After 9/11 that amount was increased because there were many firefighters and volunteers who had lost their lives during that horrific event. The government raised the amount to $250,000 on behalf of those public safety officers. Many of those public safety officers are now suffering from serious long term illnesses as a consequence of being in an environment that contained dangerous fumes and toxic substances.
    All of this leads nicely into the bill that the member for Malpeque has put before the House. Those of us from urban centres can talk about the excellent firefighting services that deal with the concentration of populations in urban centres and the economies of scale in having that kind of a service. However, in the suburban, rural and remote areas of Canada, those who are called on to serve Canadians and to put their lives on the line are not part of a major policing or firefighting authority. They are volunteers.
    I was once told that only about 15% of what firefighters do actually deals with fighting fires or other fire related emergencies. Firefighters spend the rest of their time educating the public, supporting community events, raising money and being on call. Firefighters are always on call. They are the ones who go in to a burning building when everyone else is running out. That is the difference. This is the characteristic that we are trying to recognize in this bill.
    Volunteer firefighters do not receive the same kind of recognition . They are there and are ready to do the same job. It is similar to military reservists who are trained to the same levels as are full time military personnel. The reservists go into theatre and put their lives at risk. It is the same with these volunteers. They have to have the same kind of training. When an emergency occurs, when property and lives are at risk, they are called on at a moment's notice to go in when others are running out.

  (1150)  

    I want to congratulate the member for Malpeque for bringing this bill forward. It is an important bill from the standpoint that it is a recognition by Parliament that if recognition cannot be done in terms of a public safety officers compensation fund or some other blanket support, this is one additional step to show the respect, trust and reliance that is placed on these professionals, who are prepared to risk their health, safety and lives on behalf of Canadians.
    Mr. Speaker, I move:
    That Bill C-219, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (deduction for volunteer emergency service) be adopted at second reading and be referred to committee.
    Does the hon. member have the unanimous consent of the House to move the motion?
    Some hon. members: Agreed.
    The Acting Speaker (Mr. Royal Galipeau): The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?
    Some hon. members: Agreed.

     (Motion agreed to, bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

    Mr. Speaker, I would seek the consent of the House to allow the member for Malpeque to have a few brief moments to thank the House with regard to his bill since he would not now have his normal right of reply.
    Does the hon. member have the unanimous consent of the House to move?
    Some hon. members: Agreed.
    The Acting Speaker (Mr. Royal Galipeau): The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?
    Some hon. members: Agreed.
    An hon. member: No.

Suspension of Sitting 

    I was going to ask for unanimous consent to see the clock for the next order of the day, but I will suspend sitting until 12:02 p.m.

    (The sitting of the House was suspended at 11:52 a.m.)

Sitting Resumed  

    (The House resumed at 12:02 p.m.)


Government Orders

[Government Orders]

  (1200)  

[English]

Afghanistan

Hon. Peter MacKay (for the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform)  
    moved:
Whereas,
the House recognizes the important contribution and sacrifice of Canadian Forces and Canadian civilian personnel as part of the UN mandated, NATO-led mission deployed in Afghanistan at the request of the democratically elected government of Afghanistan;
the House believes that Canada must remain committed to the people of Afghanistan beyond February 2009;
the House takes note that in February 2002, the government took a decision to deploy 850 troops to Kandahar to join the international coalition that went to Afghanistan to drive out the Taliban in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and that this deployment lasted for six months at which time the troops rotated out of Afghanistan and returned home;
the House takes note that in February 2003, the government took a decision that Canada would commit 2000 troops and lead for one year, starting in the summer of 2003, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul and at the end of the one-year commitment, Canada’s 2000 troop commitment was reduced to a 750-person reconnaissance unit as Canada’s NATO ally, Turkey, rotated into Kabul to replace Canada as the lead nation of the ISAF mission;
the House takes note that in August 2005, Canada assumed responsibility of the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Kandahar province which included roughly 300 Canadian Forces personnel;
the House takes note that the government took a decision to commit a combat Battle Group of roughly 1200 troops to Kandahar for a period of one year, from February 2006 to February 2007;
the House takes note that in January 2006, the government participated in the London Conference on Afghanistan which resulted in the signing of the Afghanistan Compact which set out benchmarks and timelines until the end of 2010 for improving the security, the governance and the economic and social development of Afghanistan;
the House takes note that in May 2006, Parliament supported 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;
the House welcomes the Report of the Independent Panel on Canada’s Future Role in Afghanistan, chaired by the Honourable John Manley, and recognizes the important contribution its members have made;
the House takes note that it has long been a guiding principle of Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan that all three components of a comprehensive government strategy--defence, diplomacy and development--must reinforce each other and that the government must strike a balance between these components to be most effective;
the House takes note that the ultimate aim of Canadian policy is to leave Afghanistan to Afghans, in a country that is better governed, more peaceful and more secure and to create the necessary space and conditions to allow the Afghans themselves to achieve a political solution to the conflict; and
the House takes note that in order to achieve that aim, it is essential to assist the people of Afghanistan to have properly trained, equipped and paid members of the four pillars of their security apparatus: the army, the police, the judicial system and the correctional system;
therefore, it is the opinion of the House,
that Canada should continue a military presence in Kandahar beyond February 2009, to July 2011, in a manner fully consistent with the UN mandate on Afghanistan, and that the military mission should consist of:
(a) training the Afghan National Security Forces so that they can expeditiously take increasing responsibility for security in Kandahar and Afghanistan as a whole;
(b) providing security for reconstruction and development efforts in Kandahar;
(c) the continuation of Canada’s responsibility for the Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team;
that, consistent with this mandate, this extension of Canada’s military presence in Afghanistan is approved by this House expressly on the condition that:
(a) NATO secure a battle group of approximately 1000 to rotate into Kandahar (operational no later than February 2009);
(b) to better ensure the safety and effectiveness of the Canadian contingent, the government secure medium helicopter lift capacity and high performance Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance before February 2009; and
(c) the government of Canada notify NATO that Canada will end its presence in Kandahar as of July 2011, and, as of that date, the redeployment of Canadian Forces troops out of Kandahar and their replacement by Afghan forces start as soon as possible, so that it will have been completed by December 2011;
that the government of Canada, together with our allies and the government of Afghanistan, must set firm targets and timelines for the training, equiping of the Afghan National Army, the Afghan National Police, the members of the judicial system and the members of the correctional system
that Canada’s contribution to the reconstruction and development of Afghanistan should:
(a) be revamped and increased to strike a better balance between our military efforts and our development efforts in Afghanistan;
(b) focus on our traditional strengths as a nation, particularly through the development of sound judicial and correctional systems and strong political institutions on the ground in Afghanistan and the pursuit of a greater role for Canada in addressing the chronic fresh water shortages in the country;
(c) address the crippling issue of the na2istently undermines progress in Afghanistan, through the pursuit of solutions that do not further alienate the goodwill of the local population;
(d) be held to a greater level of accountability and scrutiny so that the Canadian people can be sure that our development contributions are being spent effectively in Afghanistan;
that Canada should assert a stronger and more disciplined diplomatic position regarding Afghanistan and the regional players, including support for the naming of a special envoy to the region who could both ensure greater coherence in all diplomatic initiatives in the region and also press for greater coordination amongst our partners in the UN in the pursuit of common diplomatic goals in the region;
that the government should provide the public with franker and more frequent reporting on events in Afghanistan, offering more assessments of Canada’s role and giving greater emphasis to the diplomatic and reconstruction efforts as well as those of the military and, for greater clarity, the government should table in Parliament detailed reports on the progress of the mission in Afghanistan on a quarterly basis;
that the House of Commons should strike a special parliamentary committee on Afghanistan which would meet regularly with the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, International Cooperation and National Defence and senior officials, and that the House should authorize travel by the special committee to Afghanistan and the surrounding region so that the special committee can make frequent recommendations on the conduct and progress of our efforts in Afghanistan;
that, the special parliamentary committee on Afghanistan should review the laws and procedures governing the use of operational and national security exceptions for the withholding of information from Parliament, the Courts and the Canadian people with those responsible for administering those laws and procedures, to ensure that Canadians are being provided with ample information on the conduct and progress of the mission; and
that with respect to the transfer of Afghan detainees to Afghan authorities, the government must:
(a) commit to meeting the highest NATO and international standards with respect to protecting the rights of detainees, transferring only when it believes it can do so in keeping with Canada’s international obligations;
(b) pursue a NATO-wide solution to the question of detainees through diplomatic efforts that are rooted in the core Canadian values of respect for human rights and the dignity of all people;
(c) commit to a policy of greater transparency with respect to its policy on the taking of and transferring of detainees including a commitment to report on the results of reviews or inspections of Afghan prisons undertaken by Canadian officials; and
that the government must commit to improved interdepartmental coordination to achieve greater cross-government coherence and coordination of the government’s domestic management of our commitment to Afghanistan, including the creation of a full-time task force which is responsible directly to the Prime Minister to lead these efforts.

  (1210)  

 
     He said: Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to have the opportunity to participate and to address this House on such an important issue as was just outlined in the motion presented to the chamber.
    I want to begin my remarks by doing something that is seldom done in this place and that is to express appreciation and respect for members opposite for taking part in this important debate. I am firmly of the belief that this sincere effort to forge consensus on this important subject augurs well for this Parliament and for the future of our country.
    This is perhaps the most important debate facing our Parliament and our nation today. It has important broad implications for Canadians, Afghans and for the world.
    It is also worth expressing special acknowledgement of the role of the Leader of the Opposition, the deputy leader of the opposition, and other members of the Liberal Party for bringing forward consensus at a critical time that can result in a truly Canadian position. This is rare in this often partisan-charged air of this chamber. We are seeing democracy in action, the very thing that we seek to protect and promote in Afghanistan.
    By putting aside our political differences and our party lines on an issue such as this, we demonstrate to our fellow Canadians and those who put their faith in us that we can see the bigger picture, that we can come together on a cause that others from our country are literally prepared to die for and do what is right and just.
    Coming together on this motion is demonstrative and reminiscent of previous times in our country's history when soldiers were deployed, when it was patriotism over partisanship.
    I am personally grateful that we appear ready to rise above the rancour and personal sniping, and put forward a message to Canadians, Afghans and those around the world who are watching this debate, including the Taliban, that we are united.
    We are a substantive and serious Parliament, responsive and responsible, on issues that matter. Behind the people who we send to far-off places to promote the values that we believe in, those acts of parliamentary union elevate us, and bring credit and credibility to public office holders.
    As the Prime Minister has stated, the government broadly accepts the report and recommendations of the independent committee on Canada's future role in Afghanistan.
    I want to thank John Manley, Pamela Wallin, Derek Burney, Paul Tellier and Jake Epp for their extraordinary dedicated efforts and important insights into the question of Canada's future role in Afghanistan. It is a comprehensive and well written report. It will contribute much to the debate before the House.
    Subject to the conditions laid out in the motion before this House, this government supports extending Canada's responsibility for security in Kandahar to the end of 2011. That date would coincide closely with the benchmarks on development outlined in the Afghanistan Compact.
    The government is already moving ahead to carry out several of the key recommendations made by the independent panel. A new cabinet committee has been struck.

[Translation]

    Furthermore, the Privy Council Office established an Afghanistan task force made up of senior members of the government and the public service. Together with David Mulroney of Foreign Affairs Canada, the task force has coordinated this file over the past year.
    These two groups will improve the coordination of the government's work in Afghanistan. In order to keep doing what we are doing in Afghanistan, we are pursuing discussions with our allies and partners to bring more troops into Kandahar.
    We are also exploring all available avenues to ensure that our soldiers get the equipment they need.

  (1215)  

[English]

    To date Poland has come forward with two Mi-17 medium-lift helicopters to be made available for Canadian use at Kandahar airfield. We thank Poland sincerely for that contribution, and others we hope will follow suit, for we know that every little bit helps.
    The government is committed to ensuring that our men and women in Afghanistan are positioned for success. With the proper equipment and support, we believe that success will come sooner.
    I ask all members to weigh carefully the independent panel's report. It was comprehensive and instructive in the recommendations.
    I urge all members, as well, to support this motion before us. It matters to Canadians, our soldiers and to the international community. The world is watching, including the people of Afghanistan and their oppressors. A falter or slip in support does in fact embolden and strengthen the terrorists to return and wreak havoc upon the people of Afghanistan again.
    Canadians can be proud of what we are doing, proud of the role that we are playing, a leadership role in the international community's efforts to stabilize Afghanistan. We have played this role before, in the first and second world wars, and in Korea.
    Whenever the world rallied against an aggressor, Canada was there early and saw those victorious efforts through. Canada is there again, once again at the forefront of a struggle with grave and global consequences.
    Our role within the United Nations mandate, mission to Afghanistan, has been earned through commitment, hard work and sacrifice, and we have won the respect of the Afghan people, our international allies and partners.
    On the backs of our soldiers rests more than just a uniform, but the pride and the purpose of a grateful nation. Those who take on the task of military service are our best citizens.
    The simple title of soldier is worthy of respect and gratitude, and Canadians, in growing numbers, are expressing these sentiments in words, cards, letters and acts of thanks. At red rallies, speaking events, airports, halls, places of work and on the street, soldiers are feeling that gratitude.
    Yes, the mantle the leadership can weigh heavily. It has costs that are deeply felt by Canadians. The sacrifices of Canadian soldiers are remarkable by any standard at any time in our nation's history. Their willingness to stand against terror and tyranny, against oppression and indignity, is a credit not only to our country but to all humanity.

  (1220)  

[Translation]

    All the same, there are times when we, as a country, must take a stand and assert ourselves. We have to assert ourselves by promoting our fundamental values and interests, and by being clear about what we are prepared to do to defend them. We cannot expect others to do the heavy lifting for us. If we truly believe in this mission, we must realize that actions speak louder than words.
    The time for action is now. Afghanistan needs us. Stabilizing Afghanistan is a noble and critical cause. Let us consider the circumstances.

[English]

    Here again, I ask all to consider the circumstances that led us to this point. The Afghans want us there. The people of Afghanistan were living in the grip of fear every day under the Taliban. They were deprived of the simplest things and denied hope for a better future. That hope, as basic as the air we breathe, was choked by the Taliban.
    The United Nations wants us there. NATO needs us there. The Manley panel has recommended we persevere in the mission. If not this mission, then when? When would we be better justified to play a part?
     Afghanistan is a Canadian mission. It is not a Conservative or Liberal mission. We had two positions. We now have one. Yet, we know there are those in this House who will oppose this mission and this motion.
    On one side we have a position held by the government and the Liberal Party, we believe, to essentially support the continued presence of Canada in Afghanistan.
    This reflects our international obligations as well as our commitment to the Afghan people, whom we have said we would protect and help to further their own development and capacity building to allow them to assume full responsibility for their own national sovereignty and security within their borders. That goal can be achieved, but it will not be achieved if we bring our soldiers home.
    Liberals and Conservatives agree that the mission should wrap up in 2011. Liberals and Conservatives agree that we must focus on our efforts on training, development and reconstruction.
    We agree that we are in Afghanistan on a military mission and that military decisions are to be made by those on the groun who are able to assess the situation and make important operational decisions in the theatre.
    This position also reflects our obligations to our fellow Canadians serving in Afghanistan: our men and women in uniform, our diplomats and our development workers. We applaud them all. They believe deeply in the mission and they must know that they have clear, unambiguous support from home for their important work.
    Clearly, it needs to be pointed out again that military means alone will not assure success. The enormous contributions of CIDA, DFAIT, Canadian Border Services, RCMP, municipal police and other government agencies, in addition to what the military is doing, I believe, will prevail.
    I want to applaud those heroes for all they do, including our fine Ambassador Arif Lalani, Bob Chamberlain, Karen Foss and others at the PRT, and I welcome Elissa Golberg to her new role in Afghanistan.
    At the same time, we have the position of the NDP and the Bloc which is to pull Canadian troops out of Afghanistan as early as next year. Simply put, reality seems to have escaped these two parties.
    We believe we should stay and finish the job. We do not want to abandon the Afghan people or turn our back on the international community. Staying in Afghanistan is not the easy thing to do, but staying there is the right thing to do.

  (1225)  

[Translation]

    The world needs to understand why we are in Afghanistan. By helping the Afghan people, we are helping ourselves. We cannot ignore the conflicts going on around the world.
    In a world that seems to be growing smaller by the day, no nation is immune to terrorism. We are not shielded from the horrors that touch other countries, and we ourselves have been touched. Canadians were killed in the attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York.
    Terrorists have also attacked other places, killing innocent people in Washington, London, Madrid and Bali.

[English]

    Let us never forget that the worst terror attack prior to 9/11 to hit North America was the bombing of Air-India, the flight that left Vancouver and took 329 lives. As we sit in the House, the very symbol and essence of Canadian democracy, we should remember always that these attacks were an unprovoked assault on democracy and on all civilized nations on values that transcend religion and culture, an attack on reason itself.
    The attacks have continued. Last week two separate and deadly explosions set off near the Arghandab Valley took the lives of over 100 Afghans and injured four Canadians. The magnitude of the pain and suffering reverberated around the globe, and reminds us of the brutality and the lack of humanity that are the Taliban. We mourn the loss of all innocent lives in Afghanistan and express our sincere sympathies to their families.
    We are reminded time and time again that Afghanistan is not someone else's problem. It is our problem too. If Afghanistan were to once again become a safe haven and an incubator for terrorism, Canadians and the people we are there to serve would be in increased danger, the world would be a more dangerous place. The Afghan people want and deserve the same things that Canadians want. They want to live free from oppression. They want dignity and human life respected and protected. They want a better life for their children. They want hope. They want opportunity.
    With an incubator and an exporter of the threat of terrorism represented in Afghanistan, Canadians undoubtedly would face increased danger because freedom, democracy and human rights and the rule of law, all things we embody and embrace as a nation, would be under threat. All of this would be an abomination to those who preach hate and practise murder if we were to walk away.
    Make no mistake about it, our security and that of our allies is at stake in Afghanistan, along with the people of that country and region. That is why we are there. We are there with our allies, our partners in both NATO and UN. Over 60 like-minded and determined nations in various roles are contributing to the peace, security and betterment of the country.
    This is why we cannot abandon the vital leadership role that we have been assuming in Afghanistan until we reach that critical tipping point, until we are able to give it the ability to assume a larger role and govern itself completely free of the shadows of Taliban terror.
    It pays to do a retrospect and from time to time to look back, not only ahead, to assess what has been accomplished. Addressing the root causes that have allowed Afghanistan to become a safe haven for terrorism is challenging. Long term stability in Afghanistan means helping the Afghans develop the tools they need to govern themselves justly, to realize their social and economic potential and to provide for their own security. These are the essential elements of the Afghanistan compact, signed in early 2006, which guides the international community and the Afghan government's efforts. Canada participated in the formation, the drafting and is a signatory of the compact.
    Canada's engagement follows this international blueprint. Our mission is multifaceted, involving numerous government departments and agencies. It draws upon national strengths and combines these with those of our allies and our partners. Helping the Afghans rebuild their country after decades of conflict is a monumental task, a task made more difficult by the insurgency that ebbs and flows into Afghanistan across the Pakistan border.
    We must never forget that in Kandahar province, in geographic terms, we are in the south with the largely open Pakistan border. We call upon Pakistan, even in the midst of its own internal problems, to elevate its efforts to stop recruitment from refugee camps, to provide better security at the border, known often as the Durand Line, and to crack down on insurgency within their own lands.
    Let us not forget that by working with our allies and our partners, we are achieving real and substantive progress on the ground.

  (1230)  

    Consider the seeds of democracy that have been planted, which are now taking root within this once tumultuous country. It pays to calculate the difference today compared to a short five or six years ago in Afghanistan.
     Over 10 million Afghans, including women who had previously been forbidden to participate in public life, now register and vote in national elections. Women do not just register to vote and cast ballots. They place their name on ballots and they are elected to public office. Over 25% of the Afghan parliament is made up of those brave women. The Afghan people selected their government through free and fair elections.
     There is freedom of expression, freedom of expression that simply did not exist previously. Today there are seven television and forty radio stations broadcasting. Over 350 newspapers are published. There are extraordinary accomplishments and will undoubtedly lead to more.
    This informal debate, this issue of national awareness both here and in Afghanistan is of critical importance as it develops its own national awareness and identity.
    None of this environment for public discourse or exchange of ideas existed in Afghanistan a few years ago. There were no universal suffrage, no democratically elected government, no free press until Canada and others said yes to Afghanistan's call for help.
    We did what we have done previously. We answered to call from a nation in need. The progress in other areas is equally striking. Consider Afghanistan's crippled infrastructure is being rebuilt, schools, hospitals, clinics, place of commerce. Irrigation canals are transforming the countryside. Land that once lay barren is fertile ground, allowing for alternative crops to grow instead of the scourge of poppy for heroin production and proliferation. Today in Afghanistan over 6,000 kilometres of new and refurbished roads allow farmers to bring their crops to market.
    I do not have to tell politicians present the important of roads in any country. These roads make a daily difference in the lives of Afghans. This past Christmas, during a visit to the Arghandab district, we saw a bridge near Ma'sum Ghar, an impressive structure by any standard, connecting two villages across a flood plain that had previously divided them, presumably for centuries. It has transformed their way of life, their ability to do commerce with one another and their ability to exchange in normal life activities.
    Make no mistake about it, the lives of ordinary Afghans have improved. Per capita incomes have doubled in the last three years. Afghans certainly feel today a hope for a better future that is reflected in polls and in the most important measure, and that is in the words, actions and deeds of the people of Afghanistan themselves.
    That future, as with all countries, will depend on their youth. Great work is underway to ensure the children of Afghanistan are empowered to create the peaceful and stable future for themselves. Schools are being built. Places of learning are out of the shadows and now prominent everywhere. Thousands of teachers are being trained. Today six million children are being educated in Afghanistan, a truly transformative development. This is a spectacular rise in student employment, up from only 700,000 during the Taliban's brutal rule. Most notable, two million of the Afghan students today are girls, girls who would never have been permitted inside a classroom just a few short years ago. This is empowering and a powerful change for a generation of young Afghan females.
    More than 80% of Afghans now have access to basic health care, something that was as low as 7% a few years ago. That is progress undeniably. Infant and child mortality rates have plunged, a remarkable success. Because of massive efforts of vaccinations and inoculations, diseases like polio and tuberculosis are in retreat. This is something all Canadians should rightly be proud of.

  (1235)  

    In a very real and positive way, international assistance is having a profound impact upon the lives of Afghan people. Millions have returned as a result of a change in conditions inside their country, and perhaps this is the clearest sign of hope revisited on those who have left their war-torn country, returning home for a future in a place they call home.
    This progress has been made despite the violent efforts of the opposition, the Taliban and the insurgents, insurgents who have no use for the ballot box. Why? Because they know the only way they will return to power is through violence. Their plan is simple. What the Taliban insurgents seek to do is sow chaos, feed fear, drive the allied military forces out and reverse the progress being made on democratic and human rights inside the country.
    We cannot and will not let the insurgents succeed. To this end, maintaining and improving security on the ground is essential because security enables governance, reconstruction and the development initiatives to flourish.
    There cannot be democracy without security. There will be no development, no reconstruction, no prosperity and no hope for the Afghan people without security. There is an inextricable link. Afghanistan could, once again, become a breeding ground and safe haven for terrorism without security.
    The way forward is clear. The way to success is clear. We must keep our resolve. All I have said thus far should not be interpreted as blind to the challenges and obstacles that still exist. Clearly we can all agree there is much left to do in Afghanistan. Yet it is essential that we continue to help the Afghan government to extend its authority throughout Kandahar province and the entire country. It must have an increased presence and visibility, particularly in the south.
    I know the Prime Minister, other members of the present government and the previous government have made this point repeatedly to President Karzai and members of his administration.
     The Canadian Forces will accelerate their efforts to mentor and train the Afghan security forces so they can eventually fully defend their own borders and sovereignty.
    Members here should know that there have been notable improvements in the capabilities of the Afghanistan National Security Forces. I have met and spoke with President Karzai and my counterpart, General Wardak, on numerous occasions on this subject, as have others. They and the government of Afghanistan understand the urgency to accept and accelerate the pace at which they must grow their security forces.
    With Canada's help, I note that 35,000 Afghans have graduated from the national army training centre in Kabul, a remarkable graduation rate. In Kandahar, our forces are mentoring six army battalions, or kandaks. The Canadian police are also monitoring and mentoring the improvements within the Afghan National Police force, another important contribution to its national security.
     We are helping the Afghan National Army and police develop their own ability to plan and conduct operations. We are providing them, as well, with equipment and uniforms. Professionalizing their forces is clearly a priority.
    We have seen improvement in other areas, and let me give an example of a concrete change that has occurred. During the battle of the Panjwai, the largest ground operation in NATO's history, Canadian Forces were in the vanguard. The Afghan National Army at that time did not play a decisive role in this engagement.
    Now, 18 months later, the Afghan National Army is a significant force that can make its presence felt in Kandahar province. It demonstrated that very recently in an operation where it was shoulder to shoulder with Canadian Forces in liberating a village. It was celebrated with notable enthusiasm by the local people, with gratitude for the freedom that was bestowed by this exercise.
    As the capabilities of the Afghan security forces in Kandahar increase, Canada will be able to hand over more responsibility to them. Until that time, Canadian Forces must continue their operations and mentoring in the field through OMLTs and POMLTs, which are operational mentoring liaison teams and a similar type of training with police.

  (1240)  

    As I draw my comments to a close, I note that over the past two years I have had the opportunity to visit Afghanistan a number of times, most recently at Christmas with my colleague, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence, the member from Edmonton. While I was there, one of my most memorable experiences occurred, a very personal experience that I want to share with this House.
    As we visited the provincial reconstruction team outside Kandahar, we met with some students to bring them school supplies that had been donated by a local Ottawa school board to the children. Some were as young as seven or eight years old. I remember how proud and overjoyed those kids were to receive these simple items: pencils, books, scribblers, pens, a special toy or two, and candy, all enclosed in colourful backpacks and prepared with love here in Canada.
    One little girl I noticed was hugging her backpack so tightly and so closely that it was as if she thought it would somehow disappear if she let it out of her presence. I will not forget the look on her face and her stunning green eyes. In that face and those eyes, I could see hope for a better future for Afghan children. I could see in convincing personal terms that the work we were doing was having an impact and that our continued presence was necessary. We are having a profound effect on the lives of the children in Afghanistan.
    I relate that experience to a similar one that I had just a month before on Remembrance Day, similarly at a school, in my own riding in Central Nova, and it reinforced my belief. A child almost the same age as those children, a young girl, asked me what would happen to the children of Afghanistan if the Canadian soldiers left and came home. In a moment of clarity, that little girl's question tying those two events together made perfect sense.
    I have already touched upon the numerous statistics demonstrating the progress that is occurring in Afghanistan. A comprehensive and coordinated approach is undoubtedly needed, but we should never overlook or forget the human impact that we are having on the lives of children, of family members, of men and women who want nothing more than a better future.
    For me, however, nothing bears more powerful testimony to the value of our efforts, above and beyond the statistics, the NATO discussions, the reports and the commentary, than the hope and caring reflected in the eyes and faces of those two little girls. It speaks to the depth of caring of children anywhere in the world. I challenge anyone to look in the faces of these children and not say that we have more to do or to say that we would walk away.
    Yes, the road ahead may be difficult, but stability in Afghanistan is achievable. We must persevere, for the consequences of abandoning Afghanistan are grave.
    As members consider the future of the Afghan mission, they should bear in mind that the world is watching, friends and allies alike, and that the decision of this House will reverberate around the globe and will be far reaching in Canadian history. This debate will be recorded in the annals of this place and perhaps reviewed in other conflicts in times hence.
     I hope that this debate and its final vote will be positive and instructive. The consequences of pulling Canada's military out of Afghanistan could have a far-reaching effect or a domino effect on others. Simply put, our friends would be weaker and our enemies stronger.
    I would like to quote Nelofer Pazira, the author of the book A Bed of Red Flowers, who reflects upon some of her personal experiences in Afghanistan:

  (1245)  

...Imagine one morning you wake up and get ready to go to work. But when you open the door, a group of young men, dressed in dusty and filthy clothes, push you inside the house with their rifles and say you're not allowed to leave. Imagine your younger sister wants to go to school and your mother has to go grocery shopping. Your sister is told she doesn't need any education, and your mother, though fully covered, is beaten or sent back home if she's not accompanied by a man. Imagine that your income is essential for the survival of your family, but you're told with indifference that you are not allowed to go to work. Imagine all of this happens to you only because you're a woman. What would you do if all you could do was stare at the walls inside your house as a substitute for living a normal life?
    Those reflections and all that we know of Afghanistan demonstrate again that the stakes are simply too high for us to abandon Afghanistan and desert our allies at this critical juncture.
    The UN Secretary-General recently said that withdrawing international forces would be “a mistake of historic proportions”. The Secretary General of NATO has warned that failure in Afghanistan would increase the security threat facing the alliance.
     The independent panel, from which I am sure much of this debate will be drawn, has advised that events in Afghanistan “will directly affect Canada's security, our reputation in the world, and our future ability to engage the international community in achieving objectives of peace, security and shared prosperity”.
    I ask all members of the House to carefully consider the consequences of rejecting the motion before us, which could lead to an abandonment of not only the Afghans and our allies but also our principles.
    We do not want the Afghan campaign and the allied efforts to unravel. Other nations followed us into southern Afghanistan, and soon more will arrive, we hope, to fortify our efforts there.

[Translation]

    What would stop them from withdrawing if we do?
    Canada is respected for having pioneered the concept of the responsibility to protect. We do not want to become known for bowing out when we are most needed.
    Do we want the Afghan people to take a step backward, to return to anarchy, to a time when public executions were common and human rights ignored, when it was not uncommon for women and children to be hung from posts on soccer fields? Today, children play on those very fields, some with soccer balls donated by generous Canadians like Joshua Zuidema from South Mountain, Ontario.
    Do we want this fragile region to deteriorate further?
    Do we want to tarnish Canada's reputation?

[English]

    Could we ever regain the confidence of allies after deserting them at a critical moment? This is not the history of Canadian commitment to noble causes. How would history judge us if Canada walked away from Afghanistan?
    In Canada today, we are a country that pays tribute to those who embarked on unbelievable acts of heroism and courage, who seized the heights of Vimy Ridge, who waded ashore at Juno Beach, and who gave their lives in the service of peace around the world in places such as Korea, Bosnia and Africa.
    We honour the generations that looked tyranny in the face, did not blink and did not retreat. But what of us? I believe we are a generation that will not falter, nor we will abandon our nation's noblest traditions.
     We have everyday heroes in Afghanistan today. They may not wear the uniform of an athlete, nor draw the salary of one or hear the applause, but they wear the proud clothing of a generation of Canadian soldiers just as proudly and with as much heart and guts as any who went before them.
     If we do abandon these traditions, what kind of world are we leaving behind for our children?
    There can be no graver decision of any government of any political stripe than sending into harm's way a generation of young men and women who so proudly wear the flag of their country on their shoulders, and the civilian members of our government committed to Canadian values and their promotion outside our borders.
    As Minister of National Defence, nothing has touched me more deeply or more profoundly than the loss of Canadians in Afghanistan. Those 79 who gave their all shall be remembered, as will their families, for their enormous contributions and courage.
    Some admire oratory and eloquence, others policy. I admire and prefer action, deeds not words, a motto which encapsulates our Canadian Forces. The members of the Canadian Forces enact policy and direction from Parliament. They are an instrument of our free and democratic institution and give purpose to policy.
     They are delivering what we talk of and wish for others: freedom, security and a place to feel safe, to go to school, to eat well and to drink clean water. They are a credit to this nation. The uniform they wear is a source of pride for them and an inspiration to all for their selfless actions and efforts.
    My colleagues and I are convinced, I believe, that Canada must continue this mission. As the independent panel led by the Hon. John Manley noted:
    After 30 years of strife—in Soviet occupation, civil war and the coercive repression of Taliban rule—Afghan men and women are building a government committed to the democratic rule of law and the full exercise of human rights.
    In conclusion, helping the Afghans at this critical time is consistent with Canadian values and interests. The mission is achievable. We must stay the course.
     I urge all members to support the motion and in so doing commemorate those fallen and those who forged ahead. Supporting the motion before the House is the best memorial we can build for our country and that of the people of Afghanistan.

  (1250)  

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I share the concerns of the Minister of National Defence regarding the situation in Afghanistan. I too actually visited the area and we saw that we need to do things differently. We support the Afghanistan Compact. We must focus much more on development and reconstruction. The purpose of today's debate, however, is also to seek clarification. It is important for us to take the time to debate this, but it is also important to clearly understand the issue since all Canadians are now watching this debate.
    The minister said earlier that it was not a Liberal mission or a Conservative mission, but rather a Canadian mission. In fact, it is a NATO mission, in which Canada is participating. It is crucial that the wording of the motion presented reflects very clearly the government's official position on certain concepts. The official opposition believes that the mission must change.
    I would like the minister to explain to us, in his own words, what he means by the word “rotation”.

  (1255)  

[English]

    Does that mean to support or does it mean to replace? If we need to do that mission, we will need to ensure we are sharing the burden, which means that other countries will need to step up to the plate. Therefore, I would like a definition of “rotation” from the Minister of National Defence.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his question. I appreciate the spirit in which he posed the question and offered his comments. I agree with many of the points he made. Clearly, it is time to try to adopt a united position in this House, a position that must be reflected in this motion, in the best interests of our country and our soldiers.
    He asked me about the definition of “rotation”. I could perhaps ask him the same question, since the word appears in the Manley report, and in the Liberal Party motion.

[English]

    This word “rotation” or “rotates”, in my view, speaks of reinforcement, of assignment, of duty.
    Currently, American forces will be rotated into southern Afghanistan as part of our effort to push back a spring offensive. We hope, through our collective efforts, upon the passage of the motion, if I could presume such, to secure more troops from other countries, like the French for example, to rotate in, to reinforce, to add ability to our current effort there.
    Therefore, rotate is something that Canada did itself in deploying into southern Afghanistan. I would hope that all members and the member for Bourassa would support the efforts to add to, reinforce or buttress the current battalion that we have in Afghanistan and in southern Afghanistan in particular.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, the minister painted a very idyllic picture, especially when he spoke about the hope in the young girl's eyes and said that everything is so wonderful. I would like to remind the minister that the motion before us is supposed to speak frankly to Canadians, in a transparent manner, in order to give them straightforward information about the developments.
    He may have seen hope in a young girl's eyes, but I would say to him that approximately 3,000 civilians have been killed in Afghanistan this year. I do not know if he saw the terror in the eyes of young girls whose villages were bombed. I do not know if he saw the terror in the eyes of the young boys and girls shot at by Canadian soldiers because they panicked when their vehicle was bombed and they shot at anything that moved. I do not know if he saw the desperation of the young children living in refugee camps.
    The picture he has painted is far too idyllic. If he is promising to speak frankly and openly to Canadians from this point forward, he should change his approach and tell us what is really happening. What is happening there is not idyllic, quite the contrary.
    Mr. Speaker, unfortunately this member is a pessimist. I am a realist. He was not there. He did not see the young girl's face. He did not see the look in these people's eyes and their optimism for the future. However, he is right about one thing. A great deal needs to be done on the ground. That is clear. In Afghanistan, the situation is not very good. What he said is not what I conveyed to this House.

  (1300)  

[English]

    I am not suggesting for a minute that we have solved the problems, addressed the issues of poverty, of abject frailty and the injustices that still prevail. My attempt to present to this House some of my observations was simply an attempt to portray what I think is an improvement in the lives of children in particular. It was simply an attempt to say that we should take a moment to look at how far we have come in a relatively short time in transforming a country that was in absolute chaos. I wanted us to take a moment to reflect back on some of the things we have done right, while at the same time taking measure of what more needs to happen to see that this little girl does have a future to grow up.
    Surely my friend would agree that bringing home soldiers and restricting the ability of aid workers and diplomats to continue in their efforts to build that country would be a travesty. Surely that would not lead to a better future for that little girl or any other child in Afghanistan.
    My friend may be cynical and pessimistic but all I am here to say is that the progress that I have seen indicates to me that there is more progress to occur and that we have more to do, but for that child a difference was made. For others, I believe a difference will be made if we stay and continue to make these contributions and provide the basic security and necessities of life that we as Canadians enjoy and sometimes take for granted.
    That is part of the debate I think that we will hear more of in the coming days.
    Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to the minister's address today. All Canadians want to see the lives of the Afghan people improve but it is a question of how we go about that.
    I also listened to his short story from the book A Bed of Red Flowers: In Search of My Afghanistan. I have read the book. She also tells another story in that book, a story of when the Russians came and handed out things to students in Afghanistan. She talked about how they reacted to those gifts, such as school supplies and dresses from the Russian, and how they destroyed them after they were handed to them.
     Will the battle group remain in Kandahar after 2009, and will the Canadian Forces no longer be involved in any form of combat after 2009?
    Mr. Speaker, I think the motion speaks for itself as to the dates and to the intent, and that will be the will of the House.
     However, I do not think the member took time to read the motion. She obviously did not read history because if she had she would know that the Russians invaded Afghanistan. They had no NATO backing and no UN mandate. They were not there at the invitation of the Afghanistan government. Surely the member is being delusional if she is trying to compare the occupation of Afghanistan by the Russians with the current effort by an international coalition with a UN mandate, NATO-led and with 60 countries there participating in development, now with a democratically elected government looking for assistance from Canada. Surely she is not suggesting, as the NDP seems to be, that sending minstrels and fruit-pickers to Afghanistan will improve that country.
    Mr. Speaker, I rise today to discuss the government's new motion on the future of Canada's involvement in Afghanistan.
    The decision to send the men and women of the Canadian Forces into harm's way is one of the most important decisions that the government can make. It is not something to be taken lightly. It must be approached with extreme vigilance. It can never be viewed as an opportunity to take partisan advantage. Our troops should never be used as props in our domestic political landscape.
    There are those who would argue that engaging in a debate such as this is potentially harmful as it may increase the danger for our troops and civilians on the ground, but in a democracy like Canada the debate on the military mission is normal and in fact unavoidable. We cannot allow our political process to be held hostage by those forces we oppose in Afghanistan who would deny ordinary Afghans the rights we hold so dear, like the right of holding a free debate.
     We cannot send our troops to the other side of the world to help bring democracy and good governance to a country that has sadly lacked both for too long and then abandon those principles at home. We have a solemn duty in this House to do what we believe is best for the nation. We owe it to the men and women who serve in our military and to all the citizens of this great country to debate this issue fully, to challenge each other's position and to ensure that the government is truly making the right choice. No one should ever confuse a debate over the future of the mission with a debate over whether or not we support our troops.
    Regardless of the opposition on Afghanistan, every member of the House of Commons supports our troops. For that reason, I would urge all hon. members to avoid the kind of insulting language that has too often dominated the political discourse over this issue. Those who would seek to extend the mission are not warmongers. Those who would seek to end the mission are obviously not Taliban sympathizers. We are all members of Parliament seeking to do what is right and the opinions of all parties should be vigorously scrutinized in the climate of mutual respect.
    It is the conviction of the Liberal caucus that what Canada has been doing and what we continue to do in Afghanistan reflects the best traditions of our country. Canada proudly figures among the rare groups of countries, too rare, that have only ever sent their troops abroad to defend the universal values of freedom, democracy, human rights and the dignity of all people. This is something in which we should all take immense pride.
    It is clear that the broad majority of the Afghan population wants us there not as never-ending occupying power, obviously not, but to help them get to a point where they can govern themselves effectively and provide security and freedom to their own country.

  (1305)  

    In order to succeed in our endeavour, we must make sure that NATO will work in this first mission outside of its traditional European base. This is why a year ago when I delivered one of my first major speeches as leader of the Liberal Party in Montreal on the topic of Afghanistan, I said that for Liberals it was critical that Canada respect its international obligations, and that we could not back away from a commitment that the Government of Canada had made, but for the NATO mission to succeed, I said that Canada could not be called upon to carry such a heavy burden for an indefinite period of time.
    That is why I said that the mission could not continue in the same form after our current commitment expired in February 2009. At that time, a full year ago, we urged the government to notify NATO of this fact, so that NATO could begin the process of identifying additional troops who could rotate into Kandahar to replace the current role of the Canadian troops.
    As a party, we gave the House the opportunity to support this position last April in an opposition day motion. Unfortunately, the government and the NDP rejected this proposal at that time and our motion was defeated. The government assured us that it was far too early to discuss such matters. It assured us that we did not need to debate the issue until 2008.
    As a result of its mistake, a year has passed since that time and the government has done nothing to seriously engage NATO to replace our troops. So, a year later, we find ourselves no further ahead. That was last year and we now see the difficult position this delay has put us in. We must now scramble to find new troops for Kandahar.
    Earlier this month the government put forward its first motion on the future of the mission post-February 2009. As I indicated at that time, I found it to be inconsistent with the position of the Liberal Party which is supported by a majority of Canadians. So, we took it upon ourselves as a party to produce an alternative motion.
    In drafting our proposed motion we were guided by three simple principles that were lacking from the government's original motion. One, the mission must change. We must change the mission to one that is a mission dedicated to training, security and reconstruction. Two, the mission must end. We must have a clear end date to the mission, not a further review date that will lead us down the path of a never ending mission. Three, the mission must be about more than the military. There is no exclusively military solution to the conflict in Afghanistan, so our efforts should be balanced between defence, diplomacy and reconstruction.
    Working with these three principles and a belief in the fact that Canadians deserve greater transparency and accountability when it comes to Afghanistan, we produced our amended motion.
    I was pleased last week to see that the government has abandoned its flawed and lacking motion and largely adopted the language that the Liberal Party put forward. There are obviously some slight differences in the two motions. I will go through these differences over the course of my remarks today.
    I agree with the Prime Minister and the defence minister that what we have now is neither a Conservative motion nor a Liberal motion. It is a Canadian motion. But for now, at least, we have a Conservative government that will implement this mission on the ground in Afghanistan.

  (1310)  

    The government must be accountable to the spirit and the letter of the motion. No matter what happens in this House, the decision to deploy troops and conduct the mission is the responsibility of the executive branch in our political system. It is the government that will ultimately be responsible to implement what is articulated in the motion.
    That is why we have placed certain emphasis on the transparency and accountability in the motion we have before us. It will be incumbent upon the government to show the House and all Canadians that it is respecting both the spirit and the letter of the motion. Allow me now to review the motion that is before us today.

  (1315)  

[Translation]

    The mission must change. This motion is consistent with that position. The mission must change in February 2009 for two reasons.
    First, we have to start focusing Canada's mission on actions that will enable the Afghan people and their government to ensure security and governance themselves in their country. If we simply continue to do the work for them, the situation will never change. That is why the Liberal Party is placing such great emphasis on the need for a shift toward the training of the Afghan national security forces.
    Second, the mission must change because we cannot continue to ask of our troops that they carry such a heavy responsibility indefinitely. Come February 2009, our troops will have been involved for three years in one of the most demanding, and probably also the most dangerous, missions they have participated in since the Korean war. We cannot ask them, and NATO cannot expect us, to sustain much longer operations of this scope and magnitude.
    This motion clearly stipulates that, after February 2009, Canada's mission in Kandahar should consist of training Afghan national security forces, providing security for reconstruction and development projects in Kandahar, and continuing Canada's responsibility for the Kandahar provincial reconstruction team. That is a shift from what our troops in Kandahar have been doing since the beginning of 2006.
    We are no longer talking about a proactive counter-insurgency mission to seek out and destroy insurgents. We will not, however, tie the hands of our troops by telling them that they cannot take military action to defend themselves or those they are there to protect.
    As I said, it is up to politicians to set the focus of military missions. That is a responsibility incumbent upon elected representatives of the people. While generals must refrain from imposing policies on elected representatives, we must refrain from micromanaging our generals.
    Like the Liberal motion on which it was based, the motion brought before Parliament by the government makes the continuation of a Canadian military presence in Kandahar contingent on three broad conditions: a clear end date, additional troops, and new equipment. Allow me to expand on each of these conditions.
    Why is it so important to have a clear end date for the mission? If we have a clear end date, we can develop a clear plan with realistic objectives and benchmarks. It is up to the government to determine these benchmarks and objectives and to clearly communicate them to our soldiers and to all Canadians. We are expecting the government to indicate, during this debate, what the benchmarks and objectives for training and development will be.
    Furthermore, a clear end date will encourage our NATO allies and the Afghan government to prepare for our departure. If we are not clear about the end date of our mission, they will never prepare for our departure.
    We are happy to learn that the government's new motion respects our request to establish a clear end date for Canada's mission in Kandahar. Although we called for the mission to end in February 2011 and for all of our soldiers to be out of Kandahar by July 2011, the government chose to have the mission end in July 2011 and to have all of our troops out of Kandahar by December 2011.
    I think the government should explain during this debate why it chose later dates. We chose the start of 2011 as the end date for the mission because the benchmarks and timelines established by the Afghanistan Compact must be respected by the end of 2010.

  (1320)  

    We want to know why the government bothered to change the date we proposed and put it back to the middle of 2011. If the government has a reasonable and logical explanation, our party will not oppose this change.
    Moreover, we hope that if the House adopts this motion, the government will inform NATO immediately and formally of the firm end date of our mission in Kandahar. We do not want to find ourselves in a situation in 2011 where NATO is surprised to learn that our mission is ending. We must not make the same mistake twice.
    We are concerned that the government omitted the word “immediately” from the part of the motion that asks the government to notify NATO of the date when our mission will end. Our NATO allies and the Afghan government will need this clarity and transparency when the NATO heads of state meet shortly in Bucharest. We do not have the right to conceal things from our allies. At that meeting, Canada will ask NATO for additional assistance. We must therefore be very clear about the length of our commitment.

[English]

    Now, the issue of additional troops. The Liberal motion called for additional NATO troops to be sent to Kandahar. We did this because we believe it is important for another NATO nation to rotate into Kandahar to take over some of Canada's current responsibilities.
    It is not reasonable to say that the focus of the mission will change to one of training and reconstruction if there is no one else to take over our previous offensive military responsibilities. Calling for a NATO rotation, which allows for a sharing of the burden, is appropriate and responsible.
    As a matter of fact, rotation is a concept upon which the entire ISAF mission in Afghanistan has been based since NATO assumed responsibility of the mission in 2003. NATO's overall mission in Afghanistan will only be successful if all members respect the principle of rotation and take on a relatively equal share of the burden.
    The government's motion calls for a battle group of 1,000 NATO troops to rotate into Kandahar by February 2009. We call on the government to ensure that this is a true rotation, one where Canada is able to shed some of its current responsibilities so it can engage in new ones.
    Obviously, the government's wording in this section is different from what we called for in our motion, and we have two very specific questions that will need answers over the course of this debate.
    First, why 1,000 troops? We have all read the report of the Prime Minister's Afghanistan plan, and we know that it recommends 1,000 troops, but we on this side of the House have never understood where this number comes from. Is there a justification for this number, or is it simply a number chosen because that is all that we think we can get?
    The Liberal motion called for sufficient troops. We need to understand why the government thinks 1,000 is sufficient. Even one of Canada's own senior military commanders in the region has suggested that at least 5,000 troops are needed.
    The second question about the rotation process is, how long is the government prepared to wait before it determines whether or not this condition has been met? The government needs to be clear on this point.
    We cannot wait until January 31, 2009 to say whether or not NATO has come through with the requisite troops. The government needs to set a date and say that if these troops are not committed by this date, Canada will not commit to a military presence in Kandahar beyond February 2009.
    Let me speak about additional equipment. We obviously agree with the current motion's insistence on new helicopters and UAVs. The government must be forthright with the Canadian people and explain exactly how much this will cost.
    In addition, the government must explain how it intends to have this equipment available before February 2009 as it called for in the motion. Again, we cannot wait until the last possible minute to confirm that we have this necessary equipment.
    The mission must be about more than the military. We must all understand that there is no exclusive military solution to the conflict in Afghanistan. I am reminded of what President Karzai said when he addressed Parliament in September 2006:
    We will not succeed in eliminating terrorism unless we seek and fight the source of terrorism wherever it might be and dry its roots. Our strategy of fighting terrorism in Afghanistan has so far been mainly focused on addressing the symptoms of terrorism, that is, on killing terrorists who come from across our borders.
    This strategy is bound to fail unless we move beyond the military operations in Afghanistan and to address terrorism's political ideological and financial basis.

  (1325)  

    That is why our motion placed a greater emphasis on stronger and more disciplined diplomatic efforts and a better balance with respect to reconstruction and development efforts, issues that the government's original motion virtually ignored.
    I am very pleased to see that almost all of the Liberal proposals on this matter have been accepted in the government's motion.
     Like the Liberal motion, upon which it is based, the new motion states:
--that Canada's contribution to the reconstruction and development of Afghanistan should:
(a) be revamped and increased to strike a better balance between our military efforts and our development efforts in Afghanistan;
(b) focus on our traditional strengths as a nation, particularly through the development of sound judicial and correctional systems and strong political institutions on the ground in Afghanistan and the pursuit of a greater role for Canada in addressing the chronic fresh water shortages in the country;
(c) address the crippling issue of the narco-economy that consistently undermines progress in Afghanistan, through the pursuit of solutions that do not further alienate the goodwill of the local population;
(d) be held to a greater level of accountability and scrutiny so that the Canadian people can be sure that our development contributions are being spent effectively in Afghanistan;--

[Translation]

    The amendments also call for a stronger, more disciplined diplomatic position on Afghanistan and the other players in the region.
    The government did not consider our idea of appointing a Canadian special envoy whose dual role would be to ensure greater coherence in Canadian diplomatic initiatives in the region and press for greater coordination amongst our partners in the UN in the pursuit of common diplomatic goals in the region.
    Instead, the government said it would be generally in favour of appointing a special envoy. We assume that the government is referring to the much-debated plan to appoint a UN special envoy to the region. We have nothing against this, but we would like to know why the government rejected the idea of a Canadian special envoy to the region.
    Regardless of the final decision on Afghanistan, one thing is certain: the government must be much more transparent and honest about the situation and progress in the field. Canadians have the right to know this vital information. To be successful, the mission must be based on the principle of democracy, and transparency and accountability are crucial to any democratic action.
    The motion we introduced called on the government to be more transparent and to report better on the conduct and status of the mission. It contained specific proposals to that end.
    More specifically, the Liberal amendment recommended that quarterly reports on the mission's progress be tabled in Parliament and suggested that the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of International Cooperation and the Minister of National Defence be asked to meet regularly with a special parliamentary committee on Afghanistan. The Liberal government adopted a similar approach in the context of the NATO mission in Kosovo and I think most parliamentarians found this to be a very positive move.
    We are thrilled to see that the government included these ideas in the motion, along with our proposal that challenges the abusive practice of claiming national security reasons to deprive Canadians of legitimate information.
    Lastly, the motion we presented addressed the issue of transferring Afghan detainees.
    The opposition parties are quite right to be concerned about this serious matter because, in our opinion, this is a fundamental issue of human rights and dignity, the very values for which Canada is fighting in Afghanistan.
    In our motion, we asked that the current suspension of the transfer of Afghan detainees be maintained. In order to solve the problem, we called on the government to pursue a NATO-wide solution instead of trying to fight on its own. Moreover—and perhaps most importantly—we asked for greater openness and transparency in general on this matter.
    The government articulated the last two points in wording very similar to ours, but it changed our wording on the first point. Unlike our proposal, it does not mention maintaining the suspension of the transfer of detainees. The government prefers to say that it will allow the transfer of detainees only when it is believed that such transfers will be done in accordance with Canada's international obligations.
    For us, that means maintaining the suspension of transfers. At this time, there is too much evidence that Canada cannot transfer detainees without neglecting its international obligation to defend and promote human rights.
    The government now has an opportunity to demonstrate that it is committed to transparency on this matter from now on. All it has to do is confirm today in the House that the suspension of transfers is being maintained and that the government will notify the House immediately of any changes to this policy.

  (1330)  

[English]

    To conclude, I applaud the government on the reasonable steps it has taken to find the common ground between our two positions. We are pleased to see that the government has accepted the fundamental principles the Liberal Party has been guided by: a change of the mission; an end to the mission; a greater commitment to development and diplomacy; and greater transparency and accountability by the government.
    Today I have laid out the principles behind the motion. As we move forward, we call on the government to adhere to the new standards of transparency and accountability laid out in the motion to demonstrate that the government has respected these principles.
    We will be listening attentively over the course of the debate to how the government responds to the questions that I have raised over the course of this speech. If the government provides us with reasonable responses to our questions and indicates that it is committed to the letter and spirit of the motion, then the official opposition will support the motion.
    The Liberal Party has been at the forefront of this debate for the past year. We have been the party that has been putting forward detailed proposals about the future of the mission, first in my speech last February, then in our opposition day motion in the House last April, then in our submission to the independent panel last December, and most recently in our proposed motion earlier this month.
    We have been engaged in a constructive dialogue with Canadians on this issue. This has led us to a position that we believe is supported by a majority of Canadians. We welcome the shift that the government has made to join us in this position, and we welcome all of the parties to this national debate of which we have been part for over a year.
    The Liberal Party believes that the successful future for Afghanistan is in our national best interest. We believe that our efforts there have reflected the values and principles in which Canadians believe: freedom, democracy, equality, security, and the respect of fundamental human rights. The Liberal Party believes that these values are worth pursuing. We believe that our efforts in Afghanistan, supported with a clear UN mandate, can be successful.
    Canadian efforts to date have come at a great cost. As a nation, we have mourned every casualty that we have suffered. We must honour those sacrifices by ensuring that we are defining the right mission going forward. Let us all pledge to be guided over the course of this debate to do what is best for Canada and what is best for Afghanistan. Let us always keep in mind the efforts and sacrifices of the men and women in the Canadian Forces, our diplomatic and development officers, and all Canadians who have been active in Afghanistan.

  (1335)  

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I listened closely to the speech of the Leader of the Opposition and I heard him lament the fact that we have lost a year. Perhaps he could explain to me why then, in 2007, he wanted the mission in Afghanistan to end in February 2009. I clearly heard the Leader of the Opposition say that throughout 2007. I also clearly heard his national defence critic, the hon. member for Bourassa, standing on the barricades, waving the banner, “End of mission: 2009”. That is the issue before us today. We are not talking about embellishing the mission; we are talking about ending it.
    I also heard the Leader of the Opposition tell us that the soldiers could continue the military operations of chasing, persecuting and killing the Taliban and that the generals will call the shots, not Parliament. It seems to me that the Leader of the Opposition is completely contradicting everything he maintained throughout 2007.
    I would like the Leader of the Opposition to explain this flip flop.
    Mr. Speaker, that is not at all the case. The Liberal Party, the Liberal position, demanded that the counter-insurgency mission end in February 2009, but never said that the mission had to end in February 2009. We still have responsibilities. There is a provincial reconstruction team under Canadian protection. That will not end in February 2009.
    We want the mission to change and to focus much more on security, development and training Afghan troops. We believe that there should be a firm end date of February 2011 and that the government should provide clear objectives on what can be accomplished by February 2011. Therefore, we are being consistent.
    The problem is that the government did not approach NATO in 2007 to ensure that troops would be rotated and enable us to concentrate on training, reconstruction and security. It is very late in doing so. The Prime Minister is on the phone trying to obtain these troops at all costs and at the very last minute. The government is responsible for this delay, not the official opposition. The NDP is also responsible for the delay because it did not agree to vote in favour of the resolution in this House.
    That is the situation we find ourselves in. We are not here just to criticize, but also to put forward proposals. We proposed a motion that the government accepted for the most part and, on this basis, we will have a debate that I hope will be as fruitful as possible for Canada, Afghanistan and NATO.

  (1340)  

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to the Leader of the Opposition as he gave his comments. I also heard the question from my Bloc Québécois colleague.
    I would simply take issue with the Leader of the Opposition saying that the government has not asked for help in southern Afghanistan. I think the government has pleaded over and over again for assistance in southern Afghanistan. It is simply that other NATO countries are not willing and do not have the support of their people to go to the south.
    I congratulate the leader of the Liberal Party on his flexibility today in turning this motion around. I want to ask him two specific questions.
    My first question is, does this motion prevent a future government from adopting a new motion supporting a further extension past 2011?
    My second question is, does this motion preclude combat concurrent with the position that the Leader of the Opposition was advocating only a couple of short weeks ago? I have a quote by the Leader of the Opposition who said, “the combat mission in Kandahar must end by February 2009”.
    Mr. Speaker, to answer the hon. member's first question, she knows very well that Parliament is free to debate what Parliament wants. A government in the future may request new military missions for Canada anywhere in the world.
    We have a motion before us which says that Canada's military presence in Kandahar will end in July 2011, and it is on this basis that the issue will be debated.
    We only say that once it is accepted by Parliament, assuming that is the case, NATO and the government of Afghanistan should be notified right away. This would allow them to prepare for the rotation.
    The motion that is facing us clearly says that the new mission will be about construction, security, development and training. This is clearly what we must focus on.
    We will not tell our military how to implement the mission, but it is our role as representatives of the Canadian people to define the mission. This is the definition that we have advocated for over the last year. It is the one that we support.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the Leader of the Opposition what he means by rotation. He is basing his argument on the fact that there is a major change in the mission. However, earlier, we heard the Minister of National Defence give us a rather convoluted definition of what he means by rotation, which seems more like a strengthening of the mission.
    Will the Leader of the Opposition talk about this so that we know exactly what it means? It seems to be a pivotal aspect of his argument.
    Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her question.
    It is very important to understand that in order for Canadian troops to concentrate on the three objectives cited in the motion, other troops must be sent to Afghanistan to look after the other aspects of the mission.
    The rotation will allow Canada to concentrate on the tasks of security, development and training Afghan forces. Clear objectives, or benchmarks, must be established. That would be the role of Canadian troops. Therefore, the other troops must be responsible for other aspects of the mission, particularly counter-insurgency operations. That is what is required, that is what the motion sets out and that is what we must debate. Without these other troops, we will obviously not be able to change the mission.
    The government is saying that 1,000 troops should be enough. We wonder why 1,000 and how that figure was chosen, given that other military personnel say that 5,000 troops are needed.
    Those are some of the terms for our debate here in this House.

  (1345)  

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I listened with intent to the hon. opposition leader's speech and I thank him for the fact that regardless of what side of view we take on the Afghan mission, every member of the House and all Canadians support their troops and their families.
     The Auditor General came out with her report the other day and the surgeon general of DND said that over 27% of regular forces coming back have a mental or physical injury. One was not done for the reserve forces, so the thinking is that one-third, one out of every three troops coming back from Afghanistan, are suffering from mental or physical problems. The reality is that the previous government failed to recognize this and put programs in place to help them and their families and the current government is being woefully inadequate on it as well.
     We have heard the stories of the children of Petawawa who were not getting help and it took the media and an ombudsman report to get it done. We hear the stories today in The Hill Times of the many veterans who are suffering PTSD concerns and trying to get help from the government and from the previous government. We all support the troops but that support when they come home seems to drop off dramatically.
    What programs would the hon. member and the Liberal Party like the Conservative Party to put in place to ensure that when these troops come back the only questions they will be asked is whether they served and how can we help them? That is what Parliament should be doing for those brave men and women when they come home from Afghanistan or anywhere else in the world.
    Mr. Speaker, that is a very valid point. The government should enhance the new veterans charter programs that the previous Liberal government enacted.
    It is very true that we are demanding a lot from our troops. If I am not wrong, the new contingent will be shaped by something like 25% of reservists. This is a big concern for the official opposition and, I understand, for the hon. member, which is why we are saying to the government that we cannot continue beyond February 2009 unless the mission changes and unless we receive the rotation process from NATO. We have asked the government why 1,000 troops when so many experts have said that we need many more than that.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, on February 15, the minority Conservative government put forward a motion that included the Liberal Party's amendments. Despite the fact that the Prime Minister has made it a matter of confidence, the motion does not change the Bloc Québécois' position. We have said it before, and we will say it again: we are ready for an election on this issue.
    This Conservative motion would extend the Canadian mission in Kandahar to December 2011. Canada has been in Kandahar since 2006. We think that by the time the mission's current deadline arrives in February 2009, Canada will have done its part. The Liberals and the Conservatives share the same basic position on this issue. Both parties want Canada to stay in Kandahar until 2011.
    Considering that most Quebeckers want Canada to end its mission in February 2009, it is clear that only the Bloc Québécois represents Quebeckers' will and their values. The Liberal and Conservative parties are completely out of touch with Quebec's reality. The position these parties share is convoluted and rife with contradiction. Just a few weeks ago, the Liberals were fighting tooth and nail to ensure that Canada would withdraw from combat zones at the end of the current mission in February 2009, but now they are ready to extend the mission until 2011. They simply changed their minds. How inconsistent!
    The government House leader claims that he wants an open and transparent debate, but we have reason to doubt that. Since coming to power, the Conservatives have maintained a culture of secrecy. Moreover, despite their claim that this motion is not a partisan matter, they have turned it into a confidence vote. The government has turned the Afghanistan issue into an ideological debate with only two possible options: one can be either for or against the stated position.
    As far as the substance of the motion is concerned, we think Canada must focus more on reconstruction and military training. That has always been the position of the Bloc Québécois, who would like to see this process begin immediately and continue until the end of the mission in February 2009.
    We should add that the government has still not set a date to vote on this motion. We are calling for a clear commitment to have this vote before the NATO summit in Bucharest, which is to begin on April 2, 2008.
    Let us remember that this is not the first time Parliament is debating the mission in Afghanistan and its February 2009 deadline.
    Let us recap. The war in Afghanistan was authorized by the UN from the outset after the tragic events of September 11, 2001. At first, it was an operation— Operation Enduring Freedom—whereby the United States exercised its right to legitimate defence after receiving proper permission from the UN. The purpose of the operation was to push the Northern Alliance, which was fighting the Taliban regime, toward the capital. The goal was to weaken the Taliban, who had been recognized by the UN as a threat to international peace and security.
     Defeating the Taliban regime was relatively easy; achieving peace and rebuilding a viable Afghan state is a far more demanding task. The fundamental objective of the international coalition and the United Nations is to reconstruct the economy, the democracy and a viable Afghan state enabling Afghans to take control of their country and their development.
    Canada has been on mission in the Kandahar region since October 2005. In February 2006, it assumed command from the United States of the regional command south in Kandahar. Canada was responsible for the Enduring Freedom operations conducted by the coalition in southern Afghanistan until November 2006. At that time, Canada also committed to keeping most of its troops there until February 2007.
    In May 2006, the Conservative government asked the House to support extending the Afghan mission by another two years, effective 2007.

  (1350)  

    The House agreed to this extension. At that point, the mission was to end in February 2009. In July 2006, NATO officially took over command in southern Afghanistan. The Canadian Forces left Operation Enduring Freedom to join the International Security Assistance Force. The situation in southern Afghanistan proved to be much tougher than originally thought. NATO troops, and particularly Canadian troops, have faced organized and ferocious resistance from the Taliban. It was at that point that the number of deaths of Quebeckers and Canadians started rising at an alarming rate, going from eight deaths between 2001 and 2005, to 70 deaths between 2006 and 2008. For a country of about 30 million people, we can consider that we have done our part.
    In fact, Canada has deployed the fourth-largest number of troops in Afghanistan, and has suffered the third-highest number of deaths. Canada has paid a high human price to maintain security in Kandahar. The country has not lost so many lives since the Korean War. Add to that the financial cost of the mission. According to figures published in the report on National Defence's plans and priorities, the cost of Canadian operations in Afghanistan was over $7.7 billion for the period from 2001 to 2008.
    If it ended the combat mission in February 2009, Canada would have some financial flexibility to invest in development assistance in Afghanistan. Furthermore, if we consider that NATO's mission in Kandahar is an international mission and that 38 countries currently have a military presence in Afghanistan, we can say without shame that Canada has carried out an important and dangerous mission in Afghanistan for over three years, and that the time has come for others to take over in that region.
    Even though we want Canada to withdraw from Kandahar at the end of its mission, we do not think that the entire NATO mission should end. That is why we have always advocated handing the reins over to other NATO countries to replace the Canadian contingent in Kandahar. The federal government should notify NATO member countries now that our mission will end in February 2009. Complete withdrawal from Afghanistan, as recommended by the NDP, would be irresponsible toward the Afghan people, their government and our allies, who are counting on our participation until 2009. We need to create a new balance by then. That is why for some time now, the Bloc Québécois has supported focusing on increasing development and diplomacy in Afghanistan. To avoid losing the support of the Afghan people, Canada must make development assistance a priority right away. This is urgent.
    In the wake of over 20 years of war, devastation reigns in Afghanistan. There is next to no civil infrastructure or economic growth. Everything needs to be reconstructed. It is therefore not surprising that Afghanistan is considered one of the poorest countries in the world. Let us not forget that this is what brought the international community and the Afghan government together for the London Conference on Afghanistan in 2006, where participants adopted the Afghanistan compact. Participants also set a number of goals and a five-year timeline to bring about improvements in three crucial areas—one: security; two: governance, rule of law and human rights; and three: social and economic development in Afghanistan.
    To achieve the London goals, we need the support of the Afghan people as we work to ensure their security and, most importantly, improve their daily living conditions.

  (1355)  

    Concerted action by the international community is required for successful development in Afghanistan. To convince our allies to do more, Canada must lead by example and increase aid immediately. Funding must be increased in order to provide humanitarian aid in the short term and commit to the construction of roads, wells, basic infrastructures, and so on.
    Furthermore, it is well known that, generally speaking, international aid and reconstruction efforts are poorly coordinated. The secretary general of NATO stated: “We need a better international coordination structure for Afghanistan. We must provide the security and do the reconstruction but we must also do the politics.” His comments echo those of the UN secretary general.
     Without stronger leadership from the Afghan government, greater donor coherence, and in particular, better cooperation among military and civil organizations from the international community in Afghanistan, as well as a strong commitment from neighbouring countries, many of the gains made since the Bonn Conference in terms of security, reinforced institutions and development could be lost or reversed.
    In January 2007, inspired by what was done in Bosnia and Kosovo, the Bloc Québécois proposed the appointment of a senior UN official with real, considerable power to better coordinate all international aid in cooperation with the Afghan government. This senior representative would also act as the link between NATO and the reconstruction teams in order to direct aid to where it is needed most. We were pleased to hear the Minister of Foreign Affairs say he was in favour of such an appointment in his speech to the UN General Assembly on October 2, 2007—

  (1400)  

    Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. member, but it is now time for statements by members. The hon. member will have eight minutes left when debate resumes.

STATEMENTS BY MEMBERS

[Statements by Members]

[English]

Simonds Elementary School

    Mr. Speaker, in my riding of Langley, students at Simonds Elementary School composed some lyrics and music to celebrate our beautiful community. I would like to share one of the songs about Langley, written by Ms. Rogers' and Ms. Lewis' grades 1 and 2 classes.
    

The Salmon, Nicomekl, and the Fraser River
Flow through our community
We have parks and we have playgrounds
Where you can come and play with me.

We've got bike trails; we've got hike trails,
We can ride our horses to.
If you come and live in Langley
We'll share all these things with you

    These bright young students capture the welcoming spirit of Langley. I would like to congratulate Simonds Elementary School and all its students for their fine display of talent. I also invite everyone to visit beautiful Langley this year and help us celebrate the 150th birthday of British Columbia.

Curling

    Mr. Speaker, Manitoba's curling supremacy is once more bolstered by yesterday's results at the Scottie's Tournament of Hearts held in Regina.
    The Jennifer Jones foursome, which hails from the St. Vital Curling Club in my riding of Saint Boniface, demonstrated why they are the best female curlers in the world.
    Joining Ms. Jones on the podium are third Cathy Overton-Clapham, second Jill Officer and lead Dawn Askin. They played brilliantly and emerged victoriously from a classic on-ice battle of wits to win their second Canadian curling championship.

[Translation]

    Jennifer and her teammates will take advantage of that strong momentum when they compete in the world championship in Vernon, British Columbia, next month.

[English]

    With yesterday's triumph comes not only an automatic return to the 2009 Scottie's as team Canada, but it also guarantees the foursome a much coveted berth in the Canadian Olympic trials to take place in October 2009.
    I would ask all my colleagues in the House to congratulate Ms. Jones and her teammates on this extraordinary accomplishment and join me in wishing them the best of luck representing Canada in next month's world championships in Vernon, B.C.

[Translation]

Old Age Security Act

    Mr. Speaker, on December 5, I had the honour to introduce Bill C-490, An Act to amend the Old Age Security Act. This bill provides for full retroactive payment of amounts owed to thousands of seniors, a $110 increase in the monthly guaranteed income supplement and payment of a deceased person's benefits to that person's spouse or common-law partner for six months. It also provides for automatic registration of people who are eligible for the guaranteed income supplement.
    People who are or should be receiving the guaranteed income supplement are among the most vulnerable in our society. These people are living below the poverty line and quite often do not have the means to defend their rights.
    I ask my colleagues in all parties to support this initiative in order to improve the lives of our seniors.

Radio-Canada

    Mr. Speaker, Radio-Canada plays a vital role in the cultural life of francophones in northern Ontario, but it has forgotten that it is required to support local voices. Its new plan will cut service in the Timmins area. This reorganization means that only one journalist will be available to cover our large area.
    We have many communities without private French-language radio stations or newspapers. Radio-Canada is the only voice they have. Service in this area must continue and expand. The people of Cochrane, Kapuskasing and Timmins have the right to listen to broadcasts on Radio-Canada. They hear a great deal about Montreal and Toronto.
    I am opposed to this plan. Northern francophones deserve better service. Radio-Canada should remember that northern Ontario is part of francophone Canada.

[English]

Fruit Farmers

    Mr. Speaker, I rise to highlight our government's record supporting grape growers and the tender fruit farmers in my riding of Niagara West—Glanbrook and across this country.
    Since 2006, our government has delivered millions of dollars in relief from excise tax for grape and wine producers.
    Last year, our government provided $45 million in new funding for fruit farmers to help them eradicate the deadly plum pox virus from their orchards.
    Grape and tree fruit farmers also benefit from our $15 million federal investment in research happening at our revitalized Vineland Research Centre.
    Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to announce, on behalf of the Minister of Agriculture, $23 million to help farmers transition to new fruit varieties so they can remain competitive in the global market.
    I campaigned on federal support for our local grape and tender fruit producers during the last election and I am proud to stand by our government's record on delivering results for my riding and for this country.

  (1405)  

Ontario Senior Achievement Award

    Mr. Speaker, I rise to pay tribute to Dr. Henry Hedges, recipient of an Ontario Senior Achievement Award which recognizes seniors who have made significant contributions to their communities through voluntary or professional activities.
    By any gauge, Dr. Hedges has contributed very significantly to his community. He is an accomplished author, professor, horticulturalist, environmentalist and an advocate for people with special needs.
    Well before the terms became fashionable and used rather indiscriminately, Dr. Hedges was and continues to be visionary, innovative and progressive. He is a person of very considerable accomplishments but is a man of modesty, humility and obvious dignity.
    How appropriate it is that this very fine man be awarded the province's highest recognition for seniors. There is truly nobody more deserving than Hank Hedges.

Marianne van Silfhout Gallery

    Mr. Speaker, last week I announced, on behalf of the hon. Minister of Canadian Heritage and the Government of Canada, a $100,000 contribution in support of the St. Lawrence College Brockville campus in my riding of Leeds--Grenville for the new Marianne van Silfhout Gallery.
    I want to thank the college and its president, Chris Whitaker, for the excellent work in developing this gallery. I also want to congratulate the City of Brockville on its first public art gallery.
    By allowing emerging, developing and professional visual artists to share their works with the public, the gallery will play an important role in the community.
    For more than 35 years, the Brockville campus has offered part time fine arts programs and, just last year, the college launched its first full time fine arts program.
    The gallery offers a place for the work of the region's professional artists, emerging talents and students, as well as travelling exhibitions.
    A great number of people donated their time and energy to ensure the success of this wonderful initiative. I would like to thank them all for this fine addition to the community.

[Translation]

United Nations Literacy Decade

    Mr. Speaker, throughout the world we are celebrating the United Nations Literacy Decade. In Quebec, one million people between 16 and 65, or one in five adults, has very low literacy skills.
    In 2006, the Conservative government made $5 million in cuts to literacy program funding in Quebec. Last month, the Conservatives stuck to the cuts.
    Agencies committed to promoting and recruiting illiterate people are currently on life support. Ad hoc agreements do not allow for long term strategy development.
    The Conservatives are insensitive to the demands of the Fondation québécoise pour l'alphabétisation. It is high time they adopted a long term vision if we are to celebrate the United Nations Literacy Decade.

[English]

Heroism

    Mr. Speaker, on February 5, a terrible tragedy was averted in my riding of Kildonan--St. Paul due to the heroic actions of an off duty Winnipeg firefighter.
    One of my constituents, 23-year-old Lisa Klassen, was driving to work when her vehicle swerved onto a buildup of ice on a highway bridge and plunged over the railing to the Red River 15 metres below.
    Having witnessed this accident, Mr. Dale Kasper, who is also a constituent and a volunteer with the East St. Paul Fire Department, quickly scrambled down the riverbank and onto the ice, risking his own life as he entered the frigid water to help Ms. Klassen. After pulling her from the submerged vehicle, he performed CPR until rescue authorities arrived.
    I would like to take this opportunity to commend Mr. Kasper for the brave and heroic actions he took on February 5 to rescue Lisa Klassen. By risking his well-being for the life of another, I believe he truly represents the essence of courage that Canadians have become known for.

  (1410)  

Darfur

    Mr. Speaker, last week I was honoured to participate in a STAND event, Students Taking Action Now! Darfur, at Westmount Collegiate Institute in my riding of Thornhill where students and teachers came together to help support the people of Darfur.
    The students raised money by sponsoring their favourite teacher in a dance contest and used this opportunity to raise awareness of the crisis and to help support the men, women and children affected by the genocide in Darfur.
     I would like to commend, first and foremost, Kayla Simms, Adam Schwartz, the members of STAND and the teaching staff at Westmount Collegiate for organizing this important, successful event.
     I have received many letters from Westmount Collegiate students who are concerned about the atrocities taking place in Darfur, urging the Government of Canada to take needed action, more action.
    It is very heartening to see Thornhill youth actively reaching out, determined to help those in dire need. I hope this inspirational work will help motivate all of us to do more for the people of Darfur.

Tackling Violent Crime Act

    Mr. Speaker, the tackling violent crime act has been in the Senate for 89 days and it has still not passed. The time for filibustering, stall tactics and delay by the Liberal dominated Senate must end and end now. Shame on the Liberals.
     The message is clear. It is time to pass the tackling violent crime act and to pass it now. Those who are victims of crime want it passed. Why not the Liberals? Those who want to see the age of sexual consent raised from 14 years to 16 years want it passed. Why not the Liberals? Those who want to protect their children from sexual exploitation by dangerous offenders want it passed. Indeed, Canadians want it passed, yet the Liberals walked out of the House and abandoned not only the House, but parents, young children, those abused by dangerous offenders and all Canadians.
     It is not a time for sitting on one's hands or walking out on Canadians. It is time for the leader of the official opposition to show some fortitude. Enough of the stall tactics. It is time to instruct the Senate to pass Bill C-2 and to pass it now.

Arts and Culture

    Mr. Speaker, the big six cultural organizations in Toronto renewed their call today for the federal government to include much needed top-up funding in their budget announcement tomorrow.
    Organizations like the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Royal Ontario Museum are invaluable institutions that tell Canadian stories, shape our identity as a nation and allow Canadians to share the work of our great artists and performers.
    These cultural organizations have managed their limited finances well, but maintaining and improving their infrastructure is very costly. Canadian tourism is already threatened because of the dramatic rise of our Canadian dollar. Canadians overwhelmingly support their artists and have handed over hundreds of millions in donations.
    It would be a tragedy for Canada's cultural industry to suffer because our finance minister could not offer up the modest funds that many Canadians have already surpassed in donations from their own pocket.

Infrastructure

    Mr. Speaker, the recent Federation of Canadian Municipalities-McGill University infrastructure survey estimates a $123.6 billion national infrastructure deficit in 2007.
    Municipal leaders across my riding have flooded my office with letters that call on the federal and provincial governments to work together to develop a long term plan for tackling this very serious situation. Many towns such as Rainy River are wondering where the applications and the money are.
    The Liberal Party has a plan to address this crisis. It is a plan that FCM has called “bold and visionary, with the potential to change the face of our country”. It is a plan that would make the gas tax transfer permanent. It is a Liberal plan that would ensure a fairer, richer and greener Canada that respects all communities.

[Translation]

Denis Lazure

    Mr. Speaker, if we could put a face on humanism in Quebec, it would be that of Denis Lazure, who is no longer with us.
    Dr. Denis Lazure passed away on Saturday at the age of 82. He was one of the architects of a real revolution in psychiatry in Quebec. But most Quebeckers would know him for the very important role he played in René Lévesque's first government, in which he focused on defending the rights of the disabled. He had a long career that spanned over 50 years, during which he tenaciously fought against all kinds of social inequalities, injustices and prejudices.
    Quebeckers will also remember his strong support for the sovereignty of Quebec, and the integrity, dedication and intelligence he brought to this noble struggle. Passion, compassion, action and persuasion typified this great social democrat.
    My Bloc Québécois colleagues and I would like to offer our sincerest condolences to his wife, Anne-Marie, his children, and to all of his friends and family.

[English]

Landmines

    Mr. Speaker, I stand in the House today to join in the celebration and recognition of the achievements made by Canada and the global community in achieving a comprehensive ban on anti-personnel landmines. This week marks the ninth annual Canadian Landmine Action Week.
    This week is an important opportunity to reinforce the Canadian commitment to human security everywhere through events, educating communities and raising funds for this worthy cause.
    Canada has made positive steps in aiding multilateral organizations such as the UN in landmine action. Canada continues to support the Mine Ban Treaty, also known as the Ottawa Convention of 1997, in which Canada was a pioneer. It is also important that the government continue to utilize the excellent smaller Canadian organizations which have a great record in demining.
    Canadians must continue to show leadership to rid our globe of this terrible device that destroys so many lives.

  (1415)  

Leader of the Opposition

    Mr. Speaker, it appears that the leader of the Liberal Party has bought himself a new pair of glasses, and just in time because he has been making spending promise after spending promise. He is at the point where his tax and spend announcements would cost taxpayers at least $62.5 billion and those are just the ones he has priced. He still has 33 of them that he has not priced out yet.
    He even sent his finance critic over to my riding and left everyone there shaking their heads, wondering what his plan was.
    Therefore, we will see if the new glasses give the leader of the Liberals a clear view of his spending promises and his deficit budgets. Come to think of it, perhaps a new pair of glasses is not enough to take care of that massive sea of debt. What the leader of the Liberal Party really needs is a swimsuit so he can do the front crawl in his own ocean of debt and broken promises.

ORAL QUESTIONS

[Oral Questions]

[Translation]

The Environment

    Mr. Speaker, on the issue of Afghanistan, the Prime Minister has shown a new openness, which we would like to see extended to other issues, such as climate change, one of the worst threats to humankind. The government killed the clean air bill, Bill C-30, a comprehensive plan to combat climate change.
    Could the Prime Minister not resurrect this plan and hold a debate in this House on the basis of this bill, to prove that his new openness will not be limited to the issue of Afghanistan?
    Mr. Speaker, last fall, in the throne speech, this government presented its very specific approach to climate change. Our reduction targets are 20% by 2020 and 70% by 2050. The House adopted these targets.
    Mr. Speaker, the plan put forward by the Minister of the Environment has been roundly criticized and is considered very weak, whereas Bill C-30 was widely praised for good reason. Moreover, it is based on the Liberal idea of a carbon budget. The Pembina Institute called it the best proposal any Canadian political party ever made to control industrial pollution caused by greenhouse gas emissions.
    I therefore want to ask the Prime Minister this: what is preventing him from recognizing the excellent work done by Parliament and allowing a debate in this House on Bill C-30, Canada's Clean Air and Climate Change Act?
    Mr. Speaker, we are working out the details of our plan. We are considering not only the work of the House, but also economic analyses. It is important to consider everything.
    I should also mention that this government presented its targets to this Parliament in the throne speech and that, with the Liberal Party's help, Parliament adopted the throne speech.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, perhaps the Prime Minister should make up his mind. Sometimes he says that we do not make our minds up. Then he says that we support him.
    We certainly do not support this weak plan. We are disappointed by the fact that the Prime Minister comes back to his vagueness now that we are not speaking about Afghanistan. There is maybe a lack of commitment and conviction from the Prime Minister who spoke about the so-called greenhouse gases.
    Now we have the journal Nature's condemnation of what it has called the government's “manifest disregard for science”. How does the Prime Minister explain that he is condemned by this international academic journal if—

  (1420)  

    The right hon. Prime Minister.
    Mr. Speaker, once again, in the throne speech the government was absolutely clear on its targets for greenhouse gas reductions, a reduction of 20% going forward to 2020, and 60% to 70% until 2050. The government has been very clear and is now developing the details of its plan in that regard.
    The Leader of the Opposition should be aware of those targets and aware of that plan because it was he who assisted the passage of the throne speech.

Atomic Energy of Canada Limited

    Mr. Speaker, we have tried to work with the government on Afghanistan. We have also tried to work with it to restart the Chalk River reactor, and it was not such a happy experience.
    The government promised to guarantee the authority of Canada's nuclear regulator, but no sooner had we passed the legislation than the regulator was fired. Now we begin to understand why.
    Will the minister admit that he fired Ms. Keen in order to pave the way for the privatization of AECL?
    Mr. Speaker, nothing could be further from the truth. With respect to Ms. Keen, I will not comment on that. It is before the court.
    Our government launched a review of AECL well before any of these events took place.
    What is interesting is members opposite cannot make up their minds. One day they say that they want us to act sooner. The next day they say that we should not have acted at all. They do not know what they stand for. They change their minds from one week to the next.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, the government has to tell Canadians the truth about its plans for Atomic Energy of Canada. The minister must answer—and truly answer this time—a very simple question.
    Will he admit that he bent the nuclear safety rules to make Atomic Energy of Canada appear more attractive to private investors?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, that is absolute nonsense coming from the other side. When we were faced with a situation in early December, the government took reasonable steps, and ultimately had the support of every political party, to ensure the health and safety of all Canadians by resuming the production of medical isotopes.
    The hon. member and the party opposite do not know what they stand for. One day they say that we should not have acted. The next day they say that we did not act soon enough. They say that they support Bill C-38. The following week they change their minds. They say that they are not sure if they should have done so. They do not know where they stand.

[Translation]

Finance

    Mr. Speaker, regardless of tomorrow's budget, there is a $10.6 billion surplus for this fiscal year. A report published by the Desjardins movement last week concluded that not all of the surplus should be put toward the debt and that some of it should be used to stimulate the economy. A few days later, the Bank of Montreal came to the same conclusion.
    Does the Prime Minister realize that, although it is important to pay down the debt, it is also important to meet the needs of the people, especially during an economic slowdown?
    Mr. Speaker, this government has already done significant spending and investing in a number of areas. We have also cut taxes for businesses and individuals. Furthermore, we have targets for the national debt. It is important to maintain a balanced approach and that is what the government intends to do.
    Mr. Speaker, cutting taxes for companies that are not making a profit is not balanced: this helps the oil companies and does nothing for the manufacturing and forestry industries, absolutely nothing.
    With a $10.6 billion surplus for this fiscal year, the Prime Minister has room to manoeuvre without creating a deficit, we are talking about a surplus. If this surplus is not used by March 31, the whole thing will be put toward the debt.
    Would it not be better to use that money not just for the debt, but also for addressing the problem in the manufacturing and forestry industries and for helping the workers affected by this crisis?

  (1425)  

    Mr. Speaker, the Bloc leader is absolutely wrong. In reality, this government has cut taxes for everyone, not just for certain companies, but for every company in the country, for families and for individuals.
    Quebeckers supported the GST reduction and the personal income tax reductions. Exporters and manufacturers in Quebec supported the reductions offered to companies. There will be an $8 billion cut for the manufacturers, including $2 billion for Quebec manufacturers.
    Mr. Speaker, by talking about the deficit and a balanced approach to the surplus in the same sentence, the Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister are trying to hide their obsession with paying off the debt at the expense of the needs of the economy. With a $10.6 billion surplus, it is ridiculous to even mention the deficit. Instead, the minister should listen to the CSN, the FTQ, the manufacturers and financial institutions, which are calling for real balance that will allow the debt to be repaid as well as allow improvements to the assistance plan for the manufacturing and forestry sectors.
    Will the minister act responsibly and respond to the Quebec consensus?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, it is an interesting question coming from my friend across the way.
    I am not one who wants to pass on to my children and grandchildren the kind of debt that the Liberals passed on to us. That is not the way this government will go forward.
    We are balancing a budget. I am looking forward to tomorrow when we will once again have the finance minister table a balanced budget in this House that will act upon reducing the debt and will support communities.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, the last thing we need is such a vaudeville act between the Liberals and the Conservatives. What we need is action for the economy.
    Quebec has lost nearly 150,000 jobs in the manufacturing and forestry sectors in five years, half of which have been lost under this Conservative government.
    Will the minister take the only responsible action he can under such circumstances, that is, concrete action to address the crisis in the manufacturing and forestry sectors? Tomorrow is budget day and we must know as soon as possible.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I might remind the hon. member that in January alone there were 7,200 new jobs created in Quebec. I know he is concerned about job losses as we all are, but 7,200 new jobs have been created. These are high value jobs.
    That is because this government took steps last fall in our economic statement to provide incentive for industries to keep hiring, to grow jobs, and to grow the economy.

The Economy

    Mr. Speaker, contrary to what the representatives of the government say, if we go to cities across this country and spend time with the people who work in the economy to build it, we will find that thousands of them are being thrown out of work by the policies of the government. They have absolutely no hope.
    Why? It is because the government has already picked the winners: the big banks, the oil companies. They are getting all the help. Meanwhile, manufacturing, forestry and the middle class are getting squeezed.
    Why do we not see some action from the Prime Minister that would be focused on helping the people in this country who really need it, instead of those who have so much already?
    Mr. Speaker, as the Minister of Industry and others have admitted to the House, there certainly have been job losses in some sectors in some regions. At the same time, the creation of jobs across the country has far outstripped any job losses.
    We do talk to people who work in the real economy in this country. We believe they are saying to maintain the balanced approach.
    They are saying, yes, spend where the government needs to spend, make the investments the government needs to make to help people and help communities, but at the same time keep getting those taxes down and keep getting that debt down. That is what this government is doing.
    Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister should start using the real numbers: a third of a million good jobs lost. Those families are suffering right now.
    I have been travelling across the country and when I met with medical students in Halifax they said that they were being crushed by student debt.
    We were in Sault Ste. Marie where the emergency room is having to close. That is a crisis being faced across the country in terms of health care, along with prescription drugs that people cannot afford for their families. There are millions of Canadians with no doctors.
    The Prime Minister said he would do something about health. Why will he not?

  (1430)  

    Mr. Speaker, this government has made important investments in health care, including launching important projects on wait times and getting wait time guarantees in place in this country.
    In terms of employment, the numbers are clear. Yes, there have been job losses. We are dealing with those. There have been job increases that far outstrip those job losses.
    The problem the opposition has is that it is not all doom and gloom out there. Where there are problems, this government is acting, but this government is making sure that we do not simply blow the spending in this country but that we keep this economy growing.

Manufacturing Industry

    Mr. Speaker, last year in the finance minister's infamous $122,000 budget speech, he falsely claimed that “a long, tiring, unproductive era of bickering between the provincial and federal governments is over”. Yet, he spent all of last week insulting the Premier of Ontario, the very man who had to clean up the $5 billion mess that the minister left behind in that province.
    Why will he not partner with the Premier of Ontario and provide real help to the manufacturing sector instead of unprovoked attacks and bickering?
    Mr. Speaker, in terms of working together with industry, it is very clear that we are working together with the province of Ontario to finalize the community trust agreement but we are also working together with all of the industries. The auto sector in particular comes to mind.
    It is based on a sound fiscal framework. Public finances, that are the envy of the G-7, are attributable to this government. We create a sound framework. We work with industry. We will create jobs.
    Mr. Speaker, economists across the country agree that it is the strong Canadian dollar and the faltering U.S. economy that have hit Ontario's economy hard. These are clear areas of federal jurisdiction.
    Why does the federal finance minister continue petty attacks against the Ontario premier and thumb his nose at the hardships faced by hard-working Ontario families?
    Mr. Speaker, I am surprised that the hon. member is in such a poor mood. Actually, last week I was in her riding, in London. There is a very successful company in that riding.
    Diamond Aircraft Industries Inc. is doing remarkable things. It is one of the most remarkable companies in the Canadian aerospace industry. It is creating hundreds of jobs and is working together with the government to do so.
    What the member really wants to do is to spend the country into a deficit. We will not let that happen. That is what the Liberals are up to.
    Mr. Speaker, since the aerospace industry receives subsidies around the world, I have no problem with government support for that industry. My problem is with the government's selective application of laissez-faire principles.
    Why is direct support for aerospace okay while direct support for the auto industry in Ontario is not okay? Why is it dollars for aerospace and laissez-faire, do not care, for Ontario?
    How can the government possibly justify this blatant unfairness to the people of Ontario?
    Mr. Speaker, is it not classic that the Liberal Party and the hon. member would try to pit Canadian against Canadian and region against region. That is something the government will not do. That is something we do not do in building the country.
    We are working with the aerospace industry. We are having success. We will continue to do so. I encourage the member to be patient. We will get the job done with the auto industry as well because it trusts us.
    Mr. Speaker, he does not get it. I have nothing against subsidizing aerospace. I say do it in a consistent way. If the government is going to subsidize one industry, subsidize another industry. Why is that point not understood?
    It is about consistency and fairness to the people of Ontario. Why does the minister insist on policies that are flagrantly unfair to the people of Ontario?
    Mr. Speaker, I think it is pretty clear from the member opposite and from his party that what they call consistency is that they would subsidize everyone. They would subsidize the public purse into a deficit.
    There are nothing but promises from the Liberals amounting to $98 billion over the course of the next four years. There are no answers about where that is going to come from. All they would do is subsidize and subsidize, and put the country into a deficit.

  (1435)  

[Translation]

Older Workers

    Mr. Speaker, the crisis in the manufacturing and forestry sectors is affecting a lot of people, including many workers over 55 who, in many cases, do not have basic education. The Conservatives have told these crisis victims to get training and find new jobs, to move to Alberta, or to live in poverty while waiting for their pensions.
    What is stopping the Minister of Finance from funding a program that would really help older workers who, unfortunately, do not have the option of retraining?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, obviously, we have great sympathy for people who are taken out of their jobs because of sectoral change, like in the forestry industry and manufacturing, but we do not accept the doom and gloom from the Bloc.
    The fact is that older workers overwhelmingly have been more successful than the rest of the population in terms of finding jobs. We are supporting them and helping make those changes by providing big investments in training.
    I really have to say to the member from the Bloc that he should have a little bit more faith in the people of Quebec. Ultimately, the people of Quebec should have a lot less faith in the Bloc who cannot do anything to help the people sitting on that side.

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, the minister's answer is totally irresponsible. I would like to see him tell that to the workers in person. I would like to see him say that to the Donnacona workers and all of the other crisis victims.
    All it would take to help workers over 55 is $60 million. We have a $10.6 billion surplus.
    The government should help these victims by funding an income support program out of that surplus. Does the government realize that such a program would cost barely one-half of 1% of its surplus?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, there the Bloc goes again, reaching back to the 1980s for some ideas.
    The fact is this government is helping workers today. Whenever there is a layoff, Service Canada provides information so that people know where the new jobs are, what training initiatives there are and, of course, what kind of income support is available. We provide new training arrangements.
    But, most important, the finance minister and the Prime Minister are providing the hottest labour market in Canadian history, so that the people of Quebec can step into those jobs. We are helping them do that.

[Translation]

Kosovo

    Mr. Speaker, now that Kosovo has declared its independence, the Government of Canada should follow the lead of several European countries and the United States and support the nation's decision to take control of its own destiny.
    Can the Minister of Foreign Affairs tell us whether Canada intends to recognize Kosovo's independence?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, we note that the parliament of Kosovo has adopted a declaration of independence. We are assessing the situation. Canada has consistently supported UN efforts to broker a peaceful solution and we encourage all sides to remain calm.

[Translation]

TV5

    Mr. Speaker, France has just unilaterally decided to take complete control of TV5 by affiliating it with its holding France-Monde. Quebec, Belgium, and Switzerland are questioning this decision, which threatens the future of an important voice for the Francophonie.
    What does the Minister of Canadian Heritage, Status of Women and Official Languages have to say about the deafening silence of the Canadian government on this matter?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, the meeting that was held this weekend between representatives of the partnering governments on TV5 was a perfect occasion to highlight that TV5 is an important tool in promoting the culture and values of international Francophonie, and that it must remain a Francophonie project.

Federal-Provincial Relations

    Mr. Speaker, the Conservative government has broken its promise on the Atlantic accord. It made claims of spying on the cabinet of Newfoundland and Labrador and now lashed out at Ontario in its time of need.
    Last week Premier Williams defended Premier McGuinty, calling the Conservative government out on its blame game, and divide and conquer tactics. Remember, it was only last year the Minister of Finance famously announced to all Canadians that there was an end to the years of federal and provincial bickering.
    Why does the Minister of Finance not measure up to his own incompetence and admit he is truly the small man of Confederation?

  (1440)  

    Mr. Speaker, we can always expect some interesting comments out of that hon. member in the form of a question.
    However, I remind the hon. member that it was this Conservative government that finally brought a peaceful settlement to the fiscal imbalance that the Liberals would never even admit to, $39 billion.
    We have signed the accord with the Atlantic provinces of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. We are happy to have those onside.
    I thank him for his confidence, Mr. Speaker. That was very kind of him.
    Shall we continue the list? Conservatives have claimed that Premier McGuinty is the small man of Confederation for upholding democracy and now blame Ontario for the rising dollar and faltering U.S. economy.
    Perhaps the finance minister is following the lead of another person in the House, when this person looked at Danny Williams and said that in the next election he did not need Newfoundland. Who said that? The Prime Minister.
    When will the Conservatives stop bickering and smearing the reputations of our premiers?
    Mr. Speaker, I want to be clear. I said absolutely no such thing in that meeting or at any time.
    I will say that I was delighted to see Newfoundland and Labrador opt into the new equalization formula that this government created, that the Nova Scotia government also opted into.
    Far from not needing Newfoundland and Labrador, the contributions made by the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and his colleagues have been indispensable for this government.

Kosovo

    Mr. Speaker, over a weak ago Kosovo declared independence from Serbia. Since then a number of countries have formally recognized Kosovo's independence; others have not.
    A few minutes ago the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs announced a non-position.
    Can the Prime Minister tell us what his government's position is?
    Mr. Speaker, obviously the hon. member is not quick enough on his feet to come up with a different question, so I will give him the same answer.
    We are assessing the situation. We have consistently supported the UN efforts to broker a peaceful solution and we are encouraging all sides to remain calm.
    Mr. Speaker, a non-position is hardly a position. It may be for the government but it clearly will not satisfy Canadians.
    Can the government clearly tell us when it plans to come to a position, how does it plan to get there, and when will it announce its conclusion to members of the House of Commons?
    Mr. Speaker, maybe the hon. member might consider listening to his former colleague, former prime minister Chrétien, because he did advise that we should remain cautious.

Finance

    Mr. Speaker, in the fall economic statement our government acted early to deliver tax relief for Canadians.
    Tomorrow afternoon the Minister of Finance will bring forward our government's third budget.
    Can the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance please inform the House if the government will accept opposition amendments to budget 2008?
    Mr. Speaker, indeed tomorrow the finance minister will stand in his place and deliver the third consecutive Conservative balanced budget.
    Unlike the Liberals in previous years who amended their budget after it had been tabled, we will not accept any amendments that the Liberals would like to propose that would drive us into a deficit.

  (1445)  

Public Appointments

    Mr. Speaker, the government continues to roll out one patronage appointment after another. We have the failed Conservative candidate, Mark Patrone, parachuted into the CRTC. We have the guy who gave money to the finance minister's leadership bid who gets the cushy gig at the mint. We have old Elwin Hermanson dumped off at the Canadian Grain Commission.
    The government promised it was going to change how business was done in Ottawa. Instead, it just stole the old pork-barrel playbook from the Liberals.
    If we had a public appointments commission, the Conservatives would not get away with such brazen activity. Why have they broken this key pledge on accountability to the Canadian people?
    Mr. Speaker, I know that the problem in the House of Commons is that we have people like the NDP members who just will not stop attacking people in the media.
    Mark Patrone is a first rate Canadian with long experience in broadcasting. He is an example of the capable members that we keep appointing, people who serve their communities as well and who are eminently qualified for the positions they take on. We should be proud of their willingness to commit to help Canadians in that fashion.
    As for the NDP members, if they wanted that appointments commission in place, they did not have to work so hard to keep it from happening.
    Mr. Speaker, I have never heard such a tear-jerking defence of pork-barrelling.
    Let us go back to what Justice Gomery said. He slammed the government for its excuses on killing the public appointments commission. He said that this key aspect of accountability has fallen into a black hole of Conservative indifference.
    If we are going to have responsible government in this country, we have to drain the swamps of cronyism. Instead, the government is using taxpayers' dollars to give out untendered contracts to party pals. It is using the public appointments process as a massive job creation program for failed Tories.
    Why has the government broken this key promise to the Canadian people that it would end cronyism?
    Mr. Speaker, on that theme that I was developing a bit earlier, I know it is important for us to look to those folks in the media for whom the NDP have a low regard but we in some cases have a high regard, and I go to no more than Tim Naumetz of the Ottawa Citizen, who, in looking at our appointments, said the following: “...many, perhaps more, are going to eminently qualified Canadians. Better than ever, you are getting appointments of top-notch people that are going to serve Canada well. No more of the pork-barrel patronage that we saw in the past”.
    That is what our government is delivering: first rate, qualified appointments, regardless of their background.

Status of Women

    Mr. Speaker, the government keeps trying to defend cutting women's advocacy groups, and Canadian women are noticing. Yet the Conference of Defence Associations, the oldest and most influential advocacy group in Canada's defence community, receives $500,000 in funding from the government.
    Why is it that defence advocacy groups that get government contracts receive so much attention when women's advocacy groups fighting for women's rights get the door slammed in their faces?

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, our government spends $20 million every year on projects that a have a direct impact on women and young girls, a record for Status of Women Canada.
    Furthermore, several Canadian government programs are directly related to women, such as the official languages minority communities program, the aboriginal peoples program, particularly the national women's organizations component, and the women's multiculturalism program.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, the hon. member did not answer the question.
    We have no issue with the CDA receiving funding. We have a problem with the hypocrisy of the government, however.
    The government cut the court challenges program, telling Canadians it did not make sense to fund an organization that challenged the federal government. However, it has no problem giving money to organizations that agree with everything the Conservative government says.
    When will the Conservatives come clean and admit that they have a double standard?
    Mr. Speaker, the hon. member would be quite aware that that very particular issue is now before the courts. I think all members of the House of Commons would agree it would be inappropriate to make any comments on it at this time.

[Translation]

Cigarette Smuggling

    Mr. Speaker, once again, cigarette smuggling is in the news. This sort of problem has reared its head before. In the early 1990s, smugglers cost various levels of government billions of dollars in lost tax revenue. The authorities sometimes make successful busts, but that is only the tip of the iceberg.
    How does this government plan to fight tobacco smuggling?

  (1450)  

    Mr. Speaker, I agree with my hon. friend. That is why we have provided the RCMP and other authorities with additional resources to reduce the problem she mentioned.
    Mr. Speaker, additional resources are not enough. We need exact figures. Cigarette smuggling is not a problem just because it costs the government revenue. Smugglers also undermine all the anti-smoking programs created to maintain public health. Moreover, cigarette smugglers contribute to the rise of organized crime.
    What exactly is the government doing to make sure the illicit tobacco trade does not affect public health or the welfare of aboriginal communities?
    Mr. Speaker, we have exact figures. I can send them to my colleague. For example, between December 2 and 4 of last year, the RCMP seized nearly one million illegal cigarettes, and it is continuing to do its job.
    Mr. Speaker, this problem is so serious that it deserves four questions. Cigarette smuggling is flourishing and is now out of control. Federal and provincial governments are currently losing millions of dollars in tax revenues. Over the past few years, consumption of illegal cigarettes has doubled in Quebec, and things are getting worse.
    Is the Minister of Public Safety ready to ask the RCMP to take this matter firmly in hand and put an end to cigarette smuggling?
    Mr. Speaker, as I said, the RCMP will continue to work toward its goal of overcoming the problems my colleague mentioned. That is why we reversed cuts to funding and resources. In the past, when the Liberal government was in power, resources were cut and crime rates increased. We want to increase resources and cut crime.
    Mr. Speaker, last November, I asked the same question and received pretty much the same answer. However, smuggling has been shown to be on the rise. To fight this scourge, several organizations and departments must work together. If that happens, one minister must take the lead on concerted action, and the most logical person for the job is the Minister of Public Safety.
    Why is he so weak and missing in action? Why does he not assume leadership of such an operation? Can he tell us about the measures he plans to take?
    Mr. Speaker, as I said, we have already dedicated more resources and people to the problem. We have also equipped our integrated border teams with more resources to tackle the problem.
    That is something the Bloc members cannot do. They cannot do anything to help the people of Quebec with this problem, but we can.

Citizenship and Immigration

    Mr. Speaker, the heartless Conservative government sent Dunia Rivera-Mora, and consequently the son she was breastfeeding, back to Costa Rica. Her spouse is a Canadian and their child was born in Canada. I wrote two letters asking that the removal be postponed, and I made a number of calls, but to this day I have received no response. Ms. Rivera-Mora has apparently now filed a sponsorship application.
    Will the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration show more compassion than her colleague from Public Safety? When will she allow this family to be reunified in Canada?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, as the hon. member knows, each case is evaluated on its own unique merits and circumstances and based on all of the facts. We are happy to look at the situation on that basis.

  (1455)  

[Translation]

The Environment

    Mr. Speaker, over recent months, various regions of the country have seen a proliferation of blue-green algae in their lakes and rivers. This is a very important issue for many regions in Canada, including Ontario, Manitoba and Quebec.
    Can the Minister of the Environment explain here in the House what action will be taken to solve the problem?
    Mr. Speaker, all the questions I have received have come from the government caucus.
    Last week, the government issued a notice of its intention to regulate phosphates. Our measures will reduce their concentration to 0.5%. We are working very hard and in close cooperation with my colleague in Quebec, Ms. Beauchamp, as well as the minister in Manitoba, Christine Melnick.
    This is another good example of the open federalism practised by this government. We are working in partnership with the provinces and achieving real results for our environment.

[English]

Afghanistan

    Mr. Speaker, Canadian and U.S. military officials have confirmed it is impossible to have forces deployed in southern Afghanistan and not be engaged in active combat. Most recently, Admiral Fallon of the U.S. Central Command confirmed the impossibility to distinguish between a so-called defensive operation and the current operations ongoing in Kandahar.
    Does the Minister of National Defence agree with the admiral when he stated unequivocally that they cannot be in Kandahar and not engaged in combat, or does he agree with his new coalition partners, the Liberals, who say that they can?
    I absolutely do agree with my colleague from Bourassa who said something very similar, that we cannot have soldiers participating in this mission without the possibility of combat. Clearly what we are seeing in Afghanistan today with the operational mentoring and liaison training that is going on with the Afghan forces is that they are building capacity each and every day. The clear goal and what is envisioned in the motion is to continue to raise that capacity where Afghan soldiers will eventually be able to provide their own security.

Canadian Forces

    Mr. Speaker, what we really need is a new dawn or a new start in Afghanistan.
    All hon. members of this House support our brave women and men in the armed forces. That support must be more than words. Already the Auditor General reports that 27% of returning soldiers suffer from mental or physical injuries. However, current resources are simply inadequate, even for the current mission.
    Will the minister support increased resources for those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or acquired brain injury? Or does he agree with his parliamentary secretary who said that MPs should not meet with the families of those suffering from--
    The hon. Minister of Veterans Affairs.
    Mr. Speaker, this is the NDP members at their hypocritical best, because as they well know, we doubled the amount of OSI clinics in this country in our last budget, and they stood in the House and voted against that budget. They never stand up for our men and women in uniform, including our veterans. Their record is deplorable.
    I ask every member in the House to check the record when it comes to defending our men and women in uniform and our veterans.

Infrastructure

    Mr. Speaker, a year ago this month, the government announced it would fund the Manitoba floodway specifically under the Canadian strategic infrastructure fund. A month later, the province was informed the funding would be taken instead from Manitoba's share of a different infrastructure program, short-changing the province by $170 million.
    Why is this meanspirited government playing a shell game with Manitoba? Why will it not honour its original commitment? Why will it not give Manitoba its full fair share of infrastructure funding?
    Mr. Speaker, when our government got to the cupboard, the cupboard was bare. All that was there were commitments by the prior government, with no money in place.
    My colleague, the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, and the Prime Minister said that we would come up with that money. The hon. member should check the record. Manitoba got its money. The floodway is progressing as it should. That member should be ashamed. She did nothing for Manitoba.

  (1500)  

Human Resources

    Mr. Speaker, the unemployment rate in my province of Ontario dropped again last month. More than 13,000 new jobs were created last month alone, including more than 10,000 new full time jobs. Despite the fact that the Ontario economy is growing and performing exceptionally well, the government of Ontario is criticizing this government's support for Ontario workers.
    Can the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development please tell the House and the people of Ontario what this government has done to support the workers of my province, particularly those in the vulnerable industries?
    Mr. Speaker, some people just cannot stand good news.
     According to Statistics Canada, 75% of people in Ontario who contribute to EI are eligible for benefits. Ontario receives more in income support than any province, but the real good news is that jobs are being created. There were 95,000 new jobs in Ontario over the last year. We are helping those people retrain who do not have jobs and leading sectors that are restructuring. We made a major announcement last week of $1.2 billion to help the people of Ontario step into those jobs in the hottest labour market in our history.

[Translation]

Guaranteed Income Supplement

    Mr. Speaker, statistics often do not tell the whole story. According to observers, although the poverty rate among seniors has declined, some are living in increasingly alarming conditions. What kind of society do we have when our seniors are forced to turn to food banks, as is the case more and more?
    The Conservative government could make a commitment right now to improve living conditions for seniors by raising the guaranteed income supplement above the poverty line.
    Will the Minister of Finance include concrete measures to that end in the budget?

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I want to assure my friend that I think all right-thinking people are concerned about seniors who are struggling to make ends meet. That is why we have introduced a number of different measures to lift the burden, including raising the guaranteed income supplement two years in a row over and above the inflation rate and of course reducing taxes so that many seniors no longer have to pay income tax. We have reduced the GST.
    Most of all, seniors today have a voice at the cabinet table to make sure their concerns are heard, something that is unique to this government in recent history.

Atomic Energy of Canada Limited

    Mr. Speaker, the plot thickens in the AECL affair. We know that the Conservatives want to privatize AECL and they are removing, step by step, the blockages to a foreign sale of AECL.
     The regulator gave AECL a pre-approval for its Candu ACR-100 for Ontario, but Linda Keen cancelled it in 2006 because the CNSC did not have the resources to do the job. Less than a month after Ms. Keen was fired, AECL has the Candu ACR-100 pre-approval back.
    Is this why Ms. Keen was fired as Canada's top nuclear safety officer? So that AECL could be sold off to the highest foreign bidder?
    Mr. Speaker, of course with respect to Ms. Keen I cannot comment on that matter as it is before the courts.
    Decisions made by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission are completely within its authority and completely at arm's length from this government. I can say that in November our government announced a review of AECL. We are collecting all the information. We want the best advice before us before we make any decision on its future. We are looking forward to coming back and reporting that information to the House in the coming months.

Points of Order

Response to Oral Question  

[Points of Order]
    Mr. Speaker, during question period the Minister of Justice referred to my question as having been referred to the courts. With all due respect, I was not referring to the court challenges program although it was mentioned. My question had to do with the fact that not only have the advocacy programs for women been cut, but we continue not to have them. The answer was totally inappropriate.
    I think the hon. member for Beaches—East York, with her long experience in the House, is aware that Speakers do not rule on whether answers have anything to do with questions. I have no views in respect to that matter.
    The hon. member for Winnipeg South Centre is rising on another point of order.

  (1505)  

Committee Amendments to Bill C-21  

    Mr. Speaker, I rise to respond to the point of order raised on Thursday, February 14, by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and Federal Interlocutor for Métis and Non-Status Indians concerning two amendments to Bill C-21 adopted by the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.
    Mr. Speaker, it is not my intention to take up too much of the House's time. However, I do feel that it is important to have a couple of items on record before you give your ruling. The parliamentary secretary shared that in his opinion two amendments adopted in the standing committee should be ruled out of order because he felt they went beyond the scope of the bill.
    First, I would like to quote from the sixth edition of Beauchesne's Parliamentary Rules and Forms. At page 205 it states in article 689(2):
    The committee may so change the provisions of the bill...other than that which was referred. A committee may negative every clause and substitute new clauses, if relevant to the bill as read a second time.
    Article 694 on page 206 states:
    Amendments may be made in every part of a bill, whether in the title, preamble, clauses or schedules; clauses may be omitted; new clauses and schedules may be added.
    Beauchesne's sixth edition also states on page 205 that:
    The objects (also referred to as the principle or scope) of a bill are stated in its long title, which should cover everything contained in the bill as it was introduced.
    The long title of Bill C-21, as listed on the bill's cover page under the number assigned to the bill, is “An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act”. Therefore, the principle and/or scope are defined in this title, that is, to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act.
    The two amendments in question that are contested by the parliamentary secretary are essentially the addition of new clauses: an interpretive clause, clause 1.2, and a non-derogation clause, clause 1.1. The reason for a non-derogation clause is of much importance, as legislation must be consistent with the constitutional obligations of the Crown.
    The clause is important to first nations as it is an affirmation of their rights that are set out in the Constitution and ensures that those rights are respected with respect to any new legislation. A non-derogation clause protects established and asserted aboriginal treaty rights recognized in section 35 of the Constitution. The amendment dealing with this non-derogation clause was accepted by the committee chair.
    With respect to the interpretive clause, a review of the minutes of the relevant meeting reveals that the chair admitted that he had received mixed advice from “legislative people” as to its admissibility.
    These two additional amendments in no way alter the principle or the “scope” of the bill as stated in the long title, that is, to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act. Furthermore, the parliamentary secretary admitted himself that the said bill contained three specific items: first, it repealed section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act; second, it provided for a parliamentary review of the repeal within five years; third, it included a transitional provision concerning the implementation of the repeal of section 67.
    Again, the two amendments in no way alter these three items as presented by the parliamentary secretary. The bill, as amended, still proposes to repeal section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act. It still proposes a review and a transitional period for the said repeal. Therefore, I cannot see how the scope or the principle has been affected.
    Mr. Speaker, I respectfully request that you rule these amendments to be in order and allow the House as a whole to express itself when the bill is called for debate at report stage.
    Mr. Speaker, I will respond very briefly to the point of order raised by the member for Winnipeg South Centre as I have already made a submission to you on this matter and, of course, we look forward to your ruling.
    I will speak to one important element. The bill is very narrow in its scope. Its scope was simply to repeal section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act. The member for Nunavut, in response to my submission, stated that she thought it was necessary to go beyond the scope of the bill. She actually admitted that the Liberals were going beyond the scope of the bill with the amendments they brought forward.
    Mr. Speaker, should the ruling keep these amendments in place, we will see a precedent being set in the House of Commons that I do not think is appropriate for future bills that will be brought before the House. I look forward to your ruling to maintain the consistency of parliamentary procedure.

  (1510)  

    I thank the hon. parliamentary secretary and the hon. member for Winnipeg South Centre for their comments on this matter and I will take them under advisement before I render a decision.

ROUTINE PROCEEDINGS

[Routine Proceedings]

[Translation]

The Environment

    Mr. Speaker, with leave of the House, and pursuant to Standing Order 32(2), I would like to table, in both official languages, two treaties, entitled “International Convention on Civil Liability for Bunker Oil Pollution Damage (2001)” and “The Supplementary Fund Protocol of 2003 to the 1992 International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund”. Each treaty includes an explanatory note.

[English]

Government Response to Petitions

    Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36(8) I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the government's response to 24 petitions.

Agricultural Marketing Programs Act

     (Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

    Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. There has been some considerable anticipation about the bill that was just tabled and now that it is in the public domain and members will have an opportunity to examine the provisions of the bill in detail, I wonder if the government would be prepared to consider, later this afternoon, the opportunity to gather unanimous consent in the House to expedite the passage of the legislation, assuming that what is in the bill measures up to how it was described in principle in advance.
    I think there may be a disposition to move quickly on the legislation, perhaps even by the procedure of using the committee of the whole and expedite the provisions that are in the bill.
    I am not sure this is a point of order but I will hear from the government House leader in case he thinks it is.
    Mr. Speaker, as my friend is aware, we are making efforts to discuss with the other parties ways of dealing with the bill that the government has introduced on agricultural support and to have it dealt with as quickly as possible by the House, potentially by extending hours this evening, as well as extending hours with the objective of allowing the Afghanistan debate to continue. Those discussions I hope to be able to get back to the House on later this afternoon.
    I am sure we all look forward to hearing from the House leaders on this matter.

Committees of the House

Status of Women  

    Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the fourth and fifth reports of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women in relation to aboriginal women and aboriginal women's shelters.
    Aboriginal communities and aboriginal women in particular face discrimination and a disproportionate amount of violence. Therefore, the committee requests that the Minister of Canadian Heritage, Status of Women and Official Languages and Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development increase the current core funding for aboriginal women's shelters and put a stop to the delays in evaluating these shelters.
    As well, the committee requests that the Minister of Canadian Heritage, Status of Women and Official Languages reinstate the former criteria for women's programs as the removal of advocacy penalizes disproportionately aboriginal women's groups.

  (1515)  

Public Accounts  

    Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present in the House today, in both official languages, the following reports of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts: fourth report, chapter 1, Expenditure Management System at the Government Centre, and chapter 2, Expenditure Management System in Departments of the November 2006 report of the Auditor General of Canada; the fifth report, chapter 11, Protection of Public Assets — Office of the Correctional Investigator of the November 2006 report of the Auditor General of Canada; the sixth report on the departmental answers to questions about government responses; the seventh report, chapter 3, Large Information Technology Projects of the November 2006 report of the Auditor General of Canada; and the eighth report of the committee on departmental performance report.

Criminal Code

     She said: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to present this private member's bill to strengthen the laws that protect our children. Children are special and vulnerable and deserve protection against those who would try to exploit or to abuse them.
    Luring or grooming is the start of this abuse. Currently, luring a child is a crime only if it is carried out by computer but we know that luring does not always take place in this way. My bill would expand the definition of luring to include grooming by all means, including by cellphone or by mail.
    It is time to modernize our child protection laws to ensure that we do protect the safety of our children.

     (Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Criminal Code

     She said: Mr. Speaker, to combat child sex tourism, Canada has laws that prosecute Canadians who travel overseas to abuse children. We must be constantly vigilant and it is now time to strengthen and update these laws.
    We know that child abuse often starts with luring and my bill would include luring in the list of offences committed abroad.
    If my bill were to pass, Canadians would no longer be able to lure children who are living overseas in order to abuse them.

     (Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

[Translation]

National Defence Act

    She said: Mr. Speaker, the bill I am introducing today at first reading would amend the National Defence Act so that when a foreign military mission includes or might include an offensive facet, the minister in question must table a motion for ratification of the declaration of intention to place the Canadian Forces on active service before the House of Commons.
    This essentially means that when any government decides to undertake a mission involving a military component, it must table a motion in the House.

    (Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

  (1520)  

[English]

Petitions

Manufacturing Industry  

    Mr. Speaker, I am proud to stand today with petitioners who are calling for a better Canadian manufacturing strategy.
    The headlines are troublesome. They include massive job cuts, company closures and hard-working families losing their main source of incomes. Those are only some of the by-products of Canada's current manufacturing crisis. It is a problem that is affecting millions of Canadians who work directly or indirectly in the sector.
    We, as members, must put forward a plan to help these families and to help secure Canada's future economic prosperity.
    The petitioners call upon Parliament to develop and implement a plan of action to protect Canadian manufacturing jobs in consultation with all stakeholder, including the labour and business communities.
    A better strategy is urgently needed to protect Canadian workers and protect Canada's economic future.

Security and Prosperity Partnership   

    Mr. Speaker, I am pleased today to present a petition from almost 200 people in my riding. The 250 people who attended a seminar on the Security and Prosperity Partnership were concerned that the implementation of the SPP will further advance NAFTA's goal of continental economic integration and push Canada closer to deep integration with the U.S.
    The petitioners are also concerned about the hearings proceeding further away from public scrutiny, with no democratic mandate. They call upon Parliament to have a full legislative review, including the work, recommendations and reports of all the SPP working groups, and a full debate and vote in Parliament.

[Translation]

Dangerous Offenders  

    Mr. Speaker, I would like to present two petitions today.
    The first petition follows another petition previously presented that called for increased monitoring of dangerous offenders. That petition contains approximately 5,000 signatures, to which I am adding more. The petition calls for an amendment to section 810 of the Criminal Code, in order to protect children from sexual predators.

Secularism of Institutions   

    Mr. Speaker, the other petition has also been signed by citizens in my riding in an effort to ensure the secularism of institutions. Essentially, they are asking that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms be amended to include secularism as one of the primary principles.

Age of Sexual Consent  

    Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to present two petitions today.

[English]

    One petition is presented on behalf of thousands of constituents who call upon the Liberal Senate to stop delaying the tackling violent crime act in order to raise the age of sexual consent from 14 to 16 years old. They believe this is important in protecting children, especially in this new age of online child predators.

International Aid  

    Mr. Speaker, my second petition is from constituents congratulating the government for cutting off aid to the Hamas government in the territories and urging the government to resist pressure from the Liberal opposition to restore that funding to Hamas.

Foreign Affairs  

    Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36 it is my pleasure and privilege to present a petition signed by several thousand Canadians in the greater Toronto area on the issue of abducted Israeli soldiers in the summer of 2006.
    As we know, three soldiers, Gilad Schalit, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, were abducted by Hamas and Hezbollah. We are all familiar with the events of 2006.
    The petitioners call upon Parliament, through the government, to use all reasonable means, including economic sanctions and breaking of ties with those organizations responsible for the abductions and the governments that support them, in order to bring about a safe and swift return of these young men to their families.
    While I am on my feet, I have an additional 1,070 signatures on a similar petition from the great citizens of Eglinton—Lawrence who also call upon the government to use all the means available to it to ensure that those same three young men, Gilad Schalit, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, abducted by Hamas and Hezbollah, be returned to their families and that Parliament employ whatever means available to it, whether it be economic sanctions, breaking of ties with those organizations responsible for the abductions--we know that they have already been declared to be terrorist organizations--and the governments that support them.
    All those petitioners rely on Parliament to ensure that these soldiers, who represent the great democratic values around the world, be returned safely and swiftly to their families.

  (1525)  

Rights of the Unborn  

    Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to present a large petition with 2,054 signatures from across the country, from Newfoundland and Labrador all the way to British Columbia. The petitioners request that Parliament enact legislation to protect unborn victims of crime.
    I thank Mr. Aydin Cocelli, the brother-in-law of murdered Aysun Sesen who lost her life and the life of her unborn child. He was the instigator of this. He has taken great initiative to provide support for my bill. He is collecting literally thousands of names on petitions across the country on that behalf.

Security and Prosperity Partnership 

    Mr. Speaker, I have a petition that is part of a response from thousands of Canadians to the Security and Prosperity Partnership.
    The petitioners call upon the Government of Canada to stop further implementation of the SPP with the United States and Mexico until there is a democratic mandate from the people of Canada and parliamentary oversight and consideration of the profound consequences the SPP will have on Canada's sovereignty and our ability to adopt autonomous and sustainable economic, social and environmental policies.
    The petitioners also urge the Government of Canada to conduct a transparent and accountable public debate of the SPP process, with meaningful public consultations with civil society, a full legislative review, including the work, recommendations and reports of all the SPP working groups, and a full debate and vote in Parliament.

Questions on the Order Paper

    Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.
    The Speaker: Is that agreed?
    Some hon. members: Agreed.

Government Orders

[Government Orders]

[Translation]

Afghanistan

     The House resumed consideration of Motion.
    Before members’ statements and oral question period, the hon. member for Papineau had the floor. She now has eight minutes left to finish her remarks.
    Mr. Speaker, I will simply continue my speech where I left off. Speaking of aid in Afghanistan, Canada and its allies must also channel their aid as much as possible through multilateral organizations, and in particular United Nations agencies, since this will eliminate duplication and avoid working at cross purposes.
     As well, the issue of poppy cultivation is key to the economic development of Afghanistan. The illegal opium trade feeds corruption in the Afghan government and is also used to finance the Taliban insurgents. The difficulty, however, lies in the fact that the poppy crop that is the source of opium is still a lucrative means of subsistence for some Afghan growers. We must recognize that since 2002, poppy production has risen steadily. It has increased from 70,000 hectares under cultivation in 2002 to 165,000 hectares in 2006.
     We therefore have to try to square the circle: how do we put an end to a crop that is the source of over 90% of the heroin in the world while at the same time making it possible for Afghans to work and earn a living? So far, the strategies used to combat this scourge have been synonymous with failure.
     We believe that we must now give serious thought to a three-stage strategy. First, continue and intensify enforcement efforts against drug traffickers. Second, fund and implement programs to encourage alternative crops, while building the infrastructure needed for marketing them. And third, for a transitional period, buy the poppy harvest directly from the small farmers, for medical use.
     I would also like to talk about the role Canada should play in the diplomatic realm.
     One of the major problems facing the international forces in southern Afghanistan is that the Taliban have a safe haven in Pakistan. That border can be described kindly as extremely porous, and Afghanistan has never recognized the border it shares with Pakistan. Some Pashtuns who have been blithely crossing from one country to the other for millennia even want to see a “Pashtunistan” created on that border.
     The government of Canada must bring more diplomatic pressure to bear on the Pakistani government to solve this problem. Pakistan is the linchpin for the consistent stability and development of Afghanistan.
     At present, Pakistan is experiencing widespread political instability. Since the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the country has been on the brink of a civil war, with democrats, the military and religious groups engaged in a struggle for power. Canada should use diplomacy, as far as possible, to create the conditions that are needed for stabilizing the country. If Pakistan were to descend into chaos, the impact on Afghanistan would be far-reaching.
     In addition to Pakistan, we must also intensify diplomatic efforts in dealing with other actors in the region of Afghanistan, including Iran, India and China. Those countries will have to be involved in resolving the conflict and, as far as possible, in the reconstruction of Afghanistan.
     And last, the Afghan government, the international community and Canada must be open to negotiations with the Taliban, again, as far as possible, in order to achieve a lasting peace. Negotiations have already been held between the Afghan government and the Taliban, in September 2007. The Taliban demanded that the foreign forces leave the country in exchange for surrendering their weapons. The Afghan government refused. We must still recognize, however, that this was the first time since 2001 that the government and the Taliban had engaged in negotiations.
     I want to mention a final point. Whether in Afghanistan or elsewhere, the Bloc Québécois has always supported the principle that Canada must treat prisoners humanely and in accordance with the Geneva Convention and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. This has hardly been the case of the detainees transferred to the Afghan authorities. Having heard about major problems and the torture of detainees, we asked repeatedly for changes to the relevant agreement between Canada and the Afghan defence department.
     As a result of all the pressure exerted by the Bloc Québécois and civil society, Canada signed a second agreement with Afghanistan on the treatment of detainees on May 3, 2007.

  (1530)  

     It was an improvement on the 2005 agreement, but to be effective, it had to be vigorously enforced.
     Problems persisted however, and the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, eventually admitted in November 2007 that there were still cases of torture in Afghan prisons. He said his government’s record was a thousand times better that what it had been, but there were still times when people were threatened or even tortured.
     The Prime Minister cannot continue to insist, therefore, that the allegations of torture are just Taliban propaganda. Canada has a duty to take action to ensure that the safety and dignity of detainees are not compromised when they are transferred to Afghan authorities.
     In the Bloc’s view, there should be a framework agreement between NATO and the Afghan government on detainee transfers. It would ensure greater uniformity in the treatment of detainees and more control over what goes on in Afghan prisons.
     The Bloc Québécois feels as well that, in proposing to extend this mission until December 2011 instead of ending it in February 2009 as originally intended, the Conservative government is completely disregarding the desires of the people of Quebec, who are vehemently opposed.
     Our soldiers have done their part by fighting for several years in the most dangerous area in Afghanistan. Other troops should take over now, and we should turn our talents toward helping the people of Afghanistan through the training of Afghan forces, reconstruction, development and diplomacy. That is what we know how to do best.

  (1535)  

    Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate my colleague from Papineau on her fine speech, which was very clear and incisive.
    Parliamentarians are facing a black hole they will not acknowledge and, at all costs, want to avoid talking about the cultivation of poppies. I thought my colleague was very clear on this point. Maybe she could just finish up, though, by telling us how poppies could used in the health sector to the benefit of the people of Afghanistan.
    Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question.
    Poppy production is clearly a scourge in Afghanistan. However, if the international powers agreed on a use for poppies at the international level, especially for medical purposes, that could help solve part of the problem. But since the Afghans use poppies to earn money to meet their needs, poppy cultivation should not be eradicated completely. Other uses for poppies must be found.
    Repression will not solve this problem. Other ways must be found to help the Afghan people and help them gradually stop growing poppies, as much as possible.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I appreciated the comments of the member opposite on the motion to extend the war in Afghanistan. How does she feel about the statements, which even the President of Afghanistan, Mr. Karzai, has made, that negotiations are needed with elements of the insurgency? Does she agree with that? Further, does she see the omission of a path for negotiations in the motion as a glaring omission?

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for that very good question.
    There is nothing really new in the motion before us. Postponing the end of the mission to 2011 does not meet any new condition. It is just the same as if we ended the mission in 2009.
    We therefore fail to see the merits of this measure. To us, it is just more of the same. Nothing in what we have seen so far could persuade us to look at this issue differently and refuse to vote for the motion.
    Mr. Speaker, I must have missed something.
    In view of her concerns about poppy production and given everything the Afghan people need to rebuild, recover and live in security, does my colleague not think it would be dangerous and irresponsible to leave Afghanistan?
    What will happen if we send a message to NATO members now that we can join them, but at some point in the future, we are no longer happy with the mission and want to leave Afghanistan on a few months' notice?
    Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her question. What we are saying is that Canadian troops have done enough. That is the crux of the matter.
    In our opinion, leaving the combat zone of Kandahar does not mean the end of the mission. There are 38 countries directly involved. It seems to us that after three years and considerable loss of life, Canada should be able to go elsewhere and do what it does best, that is work in humanitarian aid, reconstruction and development.
    That is in keeping with what Quebeckers want. They do not want us to abandon the Afghan people. They want us to do the work for which, over the years, we have gained an enviable reputation that is now being tarnished because we are fighting a war that we will never win.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to my colleague's speech and some of her answers. She talked about the values of Quebec and the values of Quebeckers. I believe that Quebeckers, like all Canadians, share the same values about human rights, women's rights and children's rights. Could she confirm that for me?
     Does she not think that Quebeckers might be a little concerned if we left early, before the job was done, before those rights were firmly established, before the Afghan forces and the Afghan government were able to maintain those rights for women and children in Afghanistan? Would she not agree that that is what they deserve, much as the people in Quebec deserve them, much as everybody deserves them?

  (1540)  

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, when talking about the values of Quebeckers we are not making any assumptions about the values of others or whether they are shared. We are not comparing the values of Quebeckers to those of others. We know that, in general, 70% of Canadians are in favour of withdrawing troops from Afghanistan. That does not change the issue.
    It is important to understand that we, as Quebeckers or Canadians, must withdraw from the Afghanistan war zones where we have been fighting for three years. For most of this conflict, we have been front and centre in the most dangerous area—it bears repeating—whereas other countries have been coming in and doing what they are good at.
    Historically, we have been recognized for our achievements in human rights and for our values of reconciliation and diplomacy. We should now be able to play this role fully and let others fight in the most dangerous areas. I will repeat, we have done that, we have fulfilled our obligation. We have been in Kandahar for three years and I believe that our soldiers should be elsewhere.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, what effective work does the hon. member believe we could do in the area of human rights if we were not to be there? If the international community were not to be in Afghanistan, there would be a great backlash from the Taliban regarding any activity, any meetings, any conversations, any kind of promotion of human rights in Afghanistan. How does she think that human rights will be promoted in Afghanistan without the protection of Canada in the southern province?

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, the minister would have me believe that Canada is the only country concerned about human rights. Indeed, we must continue to defend and promote human rights. However, we do not want to be in the war zone. It is as simple as that. It is not a matter of jeopardizing the mission, but Canada has done its share and has played this role during most of the conflict.
    Would it be possible to direct us more toward human rights, toward reconstruction, development and diplomacy? The mission has several chapters. From what we have heard, the war has received much more attention than the other chapters justifying Canada's presence.
    For now we are asking for a rotation and for attention to other issues that have been sorely neglected since we first arrived in Afghanistan.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, as members know, Canada participates in humanitarian development work all around the world. We are doing that work in other conflict areas. We have situations where the conflict is so extreme that we have to depend on international partners to get basic human needs met there. I wonder if the member is suggesting that Canada only go to those countries where there is no threat or possibility of conflict.
     Does she believe that Canada should only be present in Sudan as humanitarians, but should we then be participating in other countries?
    As we have been told, many areas of the world need Canada's help and we are going to have to try to meet those needs in the best way possible.
    Does she believe that we should only go to countries where it is safe and there is no danger? That is not necessarily where the greatest need is.

  (1545)  

[Translation]

    Mr. Speaker, that question is a crude attempt at evading the issue.
    The minister mentioned Sudan. Are we currently there? No, because all our resources are in Afghanistan making war. That is what I am talking about. We are not doing what we do best.
    I will say again, we have engaged in war and we are still engaging in war in Afghanistan.
    Let us not evade the issue by talking about every possible conflict imaginable to suggest that what I am saying is that Canada should only provide humanitarian aid. That is not what I am saying at all.
    I am saying that in Afghanistan, we have focused enough on war. Now we should be working on other aspects of the mission that we have neglected so far.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for New Westminster—Coquitlam.
    I rise today to speak on behalf of the millions of Canadians who are opposed to three more years of combat for our brave armed forces, three more years of war, three more years of counter-insurgency that many recognize will not bring stability or security to that region.

[Translation]

    Right here in Canada, some people think that debating our participation in this war is a sign of weakness. Nothing could be further from the truth.
    We cannot encourage debate in Parliament and allow people freedom of expression only when they share our position. On the contrary, debating and listening to the opinions of others is what it means to live in a democratic society, the kind of society that we want for the people of Afghanistan and others around the world.
    Holding such a debate does not mean we are weak; it means we are strong.

[English]

    We owe it to the men and women in uniform serving in Afghanistan to take a long and hard look at this mission and decide whether it is working and whether it is the right thing to do.
    There are two paths that Canada can follow in Afghanistan: the old path toward further war and the new path toward peace. This motion by the old parties would take us further down that well-worn path toward war. The Conservative-Liberal recommendation would see Canada help to carry forward George Bush's foreign policy long after he is gone. It is the wrong path.
    Last year when the Liberals proposed to extend the mission until February 2009, New Democrats said that two more years of this war was two years too long. Now the Liberals and Conservatives are working together and they want to extend the mission until 2011, another three long years.
    Canadian troops have been in Afghanistan now for six years, yet NATO is no closer to a military victory today than it was when it started.

[Translation]

    The humanitarian situation in Afghanistan has not improved. On the contrary, it is deteriorating. There is even less security. The average Afghan citizen continues to live in extreme poverty. Violence against women is reaching epidemic proportions. In a recent report, 87% of the women interviewed said they had been abused. Corruption, crime and opium production are all on the rise.
    We are far from having achieved our objectives. We are far from protecting the rights that we claim to defend. Furthermore, our soldiers who have courageously served in Afghanistan are not receiving the support they need to treat their injuries and post-traumatic stress when they return to Canada.

[English]

    It is clear that the path the Liberals and Conservatives have chosen, the path to war, is the wrong one. It is time to embrace the right one. It is time to build the path toward peace. The path to peace requires a political, not a military, approach. To carry out this vision, the key international body to be involved must be the United Nations, not NATO.
    Unlike NATO, the UN's explicit mandate is to preserve and promote international peace and security. UN agencies, such as the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, UNICEF, the United Nations Development Programme and the Peacebuilding Commission, tasked with carrying out this mandate have a vital role to play in meeting the challenges of Afghanistan.
    I believe that Canada should be leading the way on that path to peace. I believe we should be using the considerable skills and expertise of Canadians to bring the various actors in Afghanistan to the table. We should be working to put in place an effective disarmament program. We should be supporting women's rights groups, human rights organizations and emerging civil society groups that can help rebuild that country, which is exhausted from three decades of war. We should bring the various regional actors to the table because regional cooperation is essential to any successful peace strategy in Afghanistan.
    We cannot trust the Conservatives and the Liberals to get off the path to war even in 2011. In May 2006 the Prime Minister said that if Parliament did not vote to extend the mission for two years and beyond, his government would “proceed with another year and if we need further efforts or a further mandate to go ahead, we will go so alone”. We cannot have confidence that the Prime Minister will bring home our troops in 2011, despite the wording of this motion.
    In a debate last April the Leader of the Opposition said, “Canadians expect our mission in Kandahar to end in February 2009”. His party even moved a motion to make that the end date. But now the Liberals are teaming up with the Conservatives to extend the mission for another three years. They cannot be trusted to stick to the deadlines that they set, or their pledge to end counter-insurgency for that matter. In a press conference two weeks ago, the Leader of the Opposition said, and I am quoting, “military leaders should be left to make the decisions about what is combat and when it can happen”.
    Despite what the Conservatives and Liberals say, this motion does nothing to end the counter-insurgency. Make no mistake about it, this is a motion to continue a war.
    The experience of the last six years of engagement of NATO troops in Afghanistan has shown that a military approach will not lead to victory. Afghanistan could be a proud foreign policy achievement, but to make it so, we have to show leadership by choosing a path to peace and by using Canadian capacities internationally to urge other world leaders to join us in this new approach at the United Nations.
    Afghanistan could become a lasting legacy of Canada's commitment to peace and reconstruction rather than a war with ever-changing timelines and no end in sight.

  (1550)  

    Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest and intent to the comments of the leader of the New Democratic Party. It would appear obvious to me and to others listening that he would advocate a position that promotes women's rights, protection, development and all of the good things that are currently happening in Afghanistan, but that this continue without the security perimeter that allows for the very work he espouses and allows for the expansion into areas of Afghanistan where people's lives are still at risk from attack from the Taliban should they come back.
    What I am most troubled with this contradictory position is, does the leader of the NDP ever believe that the military have a role to protect and expand the type of development to which he and his party seem to cling so fervently? Does he ever believe that the military thus are enablers to allow for this to happen?
     I would point to one historically significant fact and it is one that resonates far and wide, particularly here in Canada. It is the mission in Rwanda, where we know that half a million, and some estimates go as high as a million, people died because a UN commander at the time, General Dallaire, was prevented from doing what he felt was appropriate.
     In reading the general's book and hearing him speak so passionately about this issue, he was in a position where it is almost on all fours with what the leader of the New Democratic Party is espousing, and that is having the military present but restricted from doing the very work which enables the type of development that he so passionately believes in. There is a disconnect of significant proportions in what the NDP leader has said and what he would actually hope to achieve in his position.

  (1555)  

    Mr. Speaker, far from there being a disconnect, what we are bringing to the House is the following proposition: that after six years of counter-insurgency warfare, which is the approach that has been taken by this government and by the previous government in Afghanistan and by NATO, we are facing conditions that are worsening on virtually every front and by virtually every measure.
    That is not this particular member speaking. That actually emerges from any review of the facts, including the Manley report which came to exactly the same conclusions with regard to the facts.
    Of course, there are circumstances where military intervention would be required, but we are saying here is that after six years and with the clear evidence before us that this approach is not working, it is time to set out on a course toward the achievement of peace and to use the institution built by the global community for exactly that purpose.
    The NATO mandate is to be a regional defensive organization led by the generals of NATO, so the concept of peace-building, political solutions, negotiations, the fostering of aid and reconstruction, all of those complex tasks that have to be coordinated together, is not something that NATO has a mandate or a capability to do.
    This is why we built the UN. Instead of having our Prime Minister on bended knee trying to convince NATO countries to contribute additional troops to the effort which is not working, he should be calling on global leaders to take a leadership role at the United Nations with Canada to set forth a plan that would engage the UN in all of its capacities toward the resolution of the crisis in Afghanistan because the current approach is simply not working by any measure.
    Mr. Speaker, since the last election we have had a number of debates in the House on Afghanistan, debates about the dramatic increase in the production of opium, increase in corruption, increase in suicide attacks, increase in IEDs, about the torture of detainees, and about the billions of dollars that Canadian taxpayers have been spending on this war. And above all, about the hundreds of brave Canadian soldiers who have lost their lives or been grievously injured.
    Oxfam, the UN, and the Red Cross among others, all state that the situation in Afghanistan is getting much worse. In fact, the Afghanistan NGO safety office says that 2007 marked the beginning of the war, not the end of the war.
    I made my first speech on Afghanistan on April 10, 2006, during the take note debate on the war. At that time, I expressed my sense of loss of the 11 Canadians who had lost their lives thus far. Today, less than two years later, the total number of soldiers lost is 78, as well as one Canadian diplomat. Hundreds more have suffered, suffered permanent disabling injuries and even more have been psychologically damaged.
    Then there are the costs to their families, the mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, the girlfriends and boyfriends and above all, the children, who see the people they hold so dear return, if not in coffins, often with shattered bodies, minds and souls.
    Today, as we debate this motion, it is of absolute importance that we remember the human costs of extending this mission. How many more young Canadians will die as a result of the political ideology of the Conservative Party and the political cowardice of the Liberals? How many more bereaved mothers, fathers, wives and husbands will be created? How many more children will grow up without their fathers?
    If this motion is adopted, four more rotations of soldiers will serve combat duty in Kandahar. The government has not volunteered who exactly will be sent into harm's way and why would it because to do so would be to make plain exactly who will pay the price with their lives, with their bodies and with their minds based on the motion that we are debating today.
    However, I have the information concerning the deployments that are planned for the months and years ahead. The Royal Canadian Regiment, made up mostly of soldiers from London and Petawawa, Ontario and Gagetown, New Brunswick, will leave for Kandahar this August.
    The 2 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group based in Petawawa was sent to Fort Bliss, Texas last month as part of their training and will join the Royal Canadian Regiment in Kandahar. If we were to defeat the motion today, they would be the last Canadian soldiers to face death and injury in southern Afghanistan.
    We are debating today rotations four, five and six into Afghanistan, those that will be approved by the Liberals and Conservatives when we vote on this motion. Those soldiers will begin training shortly and they will be in Kandahar starting February 2009. Starting February 2009, the Royal 22e Régiment, the Van Doos of Quebec, will go back into the Kandahar battle group.
    From February to August 2009, more brave Quebeckers will be wounded or killed. More families will be devastated. After that, the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, made up of thousands of soldiers from western Canada, will be redeployed in August 2009. More brave soldiers from Edmonton and Winnipeg may be killed or injured. More western Canadian families may be destined to care for broken bodies and broken minds.
    In February 2010 the Royal Canadian Regiment will be sent back to Kandahar yet again to continue fighting and perhaps to continue dying. How many more? How many more?
    Then in July 2010 the Van Doos will be sent to Kandahar for their third rotation. That is correct, today we are debating whether to send Quebec troops into combat not once more, but twice more.

  (1600)  

    How, I wonder, will the mothers, fathers, wives and husbands of these soldiers react to this devastating news? And what, again, of the children? We are in fact debating their future today.
    I urge both the Conservative and Liberal members to listen. We are contemplating sending soldiers on multiple tours barely 12 months apart. We are asking their families, friends and communities to carry the heaviest of burdens and to do so again, and again, and again. Because of a narrow Conservative viewpoint and Liberal political cowardice, the House will be voting to ask all of these brave, noble, hard-working Canadians to go through hell for three more years.
    On April 19 of last year, I asked the House, “How many more casualties must we suffer before the government comes to its senses?” At that time, I was a bit optimistic, because of growing public alarm and the minority government situation, that we would not be debating the continuation of war much longer.
    A majority of Liberals, including their leader, voted to end the combat mission by February 2009. However now, to avoid an election, the Liberals are endorsing this war for another three years. We have indeed seen a regression in the House.
    Some members have not paid attention to what is happening to those who return from combat. We have all seen the coffins. I have seen the broken bodies and psychological costs paid by those lucky enough to return alive. I have met and cried with mothers. As a mother of three sons, two of whom are police officers, I have some small appreciation of the hell those mothers go through, even if their sons and daughters escape injury.
    No one has explained to me why it is necessary to continue combat until 2011 against a foe that we can neither identify nor eliminate. No one in the House can explain to me why Canada's overwhelming role in Afghanistan must be that of combat and war, when every political figure in the region says negotiation is necessary.
    No one can explain to me why, despite the claims of the government, every other indication suggests that the security situation in Kandahar is growing worse, that the mission is failing, that we are sending our young women and men on a folly: a futile mission that will achieve nothing but more broken lives.
    The only answer is more of the same. By the end of 2011 Canada will have suffered death and injuries in Afghanistan for nearly 10 years.
    I implore all members present not to be scared by the threats made by the Prime Minister. We can find a way to help the people of Afghanistan that goes beyond combat, beyond search and destroy. Canada must be part of a political solution to Afghanistan's problems. We must seek the path of peace, not the path of never-ending war.
    Those here who vote in favour of this motion will have to explain why they have opted for more war, when peace and negotiation was an option to follow. I would ask them to do as I have: to go to the funerals of soldiers who have died and meet with those who have survived.
    I am asking every member of Parliament to talk to Canadians about this war. Millions of ordinary Canadians are opposed to this counter-insurgency mission. The majority of Canadians know instinctively it is wrong and it is simply not working.
    I do not trust the government to conduct this war and I do not trust the Prime Minister to find peace. I am not ready to commit thousands more Canadian soldiers and their families to the horrors of a war without end.
    The heaviest responsibility of any federal politician is when she or he votes on whether to send soldiers into harm's way. That is why, with a heavy heart, I will be voting no.

  (1605)  

    Therefore, I move the following amendment to the motion:
    That the motion be amended by
A: Deleting all the words from “Whereas” to “goals in the region”, and replace them with:
    That this House calls upon the government to begin preparations for the safe withdrawal of Canadian soldiers from the combat mission in Afghanistan with no further mission extensions,
    That in the opinion of this House, the government should engage in a robust, diplomatic process to prepare the groundwork for a political solution, under explicit UN direction and authority, engaging both regional and local stakeholders, and ensuring the full respect for international human rights and humanitarian law,
    That in the opinion of this House, the government should maintain the current suspension on the transfer of Afghan detainees to Afghan authorities until substantial reforms of the prison system are undertaken,
    That in the opinion of this House, the government should provide effective and transparent development assistance under civilian direction consistent with the Afghanistan Compact.
    And B:
     By deleting all of the words following: “to ensure that Canadians are being provided with ample information on the conduct and the progress of the mission”.
    The Chair was in possession of an advanced copy of the motion and the motion is in order.
     Questions and comments, the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence.

  (1610)  

    Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to my colleague's speech.
    Members of her party constantly go on about taking NATO out and putting the UN in. Who the heck do they think ISAP, the 39 allies there and the 60 members who signed the Afghanistan Compact, is if not representatives of the United Nations? Have they forgotten we are there under a United Nations mandate? Have they forgotten we are there at the express request of the democratically elected government of Afghanistan?
    I have a quote from Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, in which they put such great stock, and it is a body in which we should be able to put stock. He said:
     Our collective success depends on the continuing presence of the International Security Assistance Force, commanded by NATO and helping local governments in nearly every province to maintain security and carry out reconstruction projects.
    Does she disagree with the Secretary-General of the United Nations?
    Mr. Speaker, the whole situation in Afghanistan is incredibly complex. I thought the parliamentary secretary understood that. Maybe I am not correct on that.
    The fact is many parts to the United Nations are perfectly suited to work in Afghanistan. The UN High Commission on Human Rights is not involved in a major way. UNICEF, which works with children, is not involved in a major way now. The UN development program should be involved. Most of all, the UN has a Peacebuilding Commission, headed by a Canadian, the newest body in the United Nations, that is perfectly suited to foster the kinds of negotiations that would lead Afghanistan into a secure and peaceful future for the people.
    All the reports, the UN report, have said IEDs are up, poppy production is up, corruption is up, security is down. Sarah Chayes was interviewed on television this past week. She has been working in Afghanistan in Kandahar since the fall of the Taliban. She said that when the Taliban first fell, she could drive her car from Kandahar to Kabul in safety, albeit along a dirt road. Now that road is paved from Kandahar to Kabul, she cannot drive on it because that part of the country is too unsafe to allow her to do so.
    We have not progressed there. It is time we took a different tack and looked at ways to effectively help the people of southern Afghanistan.
    Mr. Speaker, I too have been listening carefully. The member is right. It is a very complex situation. I think one of the complexities is to understand that the tactics used by the insurgents and the Taliban are evolving. They are more sophisticated. They are using other means, in fact to the extreme of using disabled children to carry those bombs.
    I also heard about an incident that occurred shortly after the Taliban were ousted. There was a school for girls and the insurgents waited until dismissal time, when the girls left building. As soon as they were outside, the Taliban machine-gunned those girls down. Since we have taken security forces into Afghanistan, this kind of thing has been prevented more and more. Is the member suggesting that we pull the Canadian soldiers out of Kandahar so this kind of action can resume?
    Does the member know IEDs are being laid at night? Our Canadian soldiers know about those IEDs. They know about the Taliban gathering around villages. Should our forces not to do anything about it and wait until the development workers, the aid workers, the Afghan women and children are on their way to school or to the market and let them be blown up? Should our Canadian soldiers, who are willing to do this and who are very courageously in Afghanistan, go in there to remove those IEDs and put their lives at risk?
    Canadians know why we are there. We are there for the right reasons. We are there to do a job. Is she suggesting that we allow this violence to continue?

  (1615)  

    Mr. Speaker, the very sad and tragic fact is all these things continue right now, while Canadian soldiers have lost their lives, or have been terribly injured or have come home with post traumatic stress disorder and with acquired brain injury.
    IEDs are up. The poppy production is up. It is the highest in the world. It supplies most of the world's opium and illegal heroin. Suicide attacks are up. All of that is growing.
    No one likes to see people hurt in Afghanistan. No one wants to see women or children injured in Afghanistan. That is a given. All of us deplore those kinds of actions. I am not talking about that.
    I am talking about finding an effective and meaningful way to stop that kind of action. What we are doing right now is not stopping it. It is growing and getting worse. Every independent analyst that comes out, the UN, the Red Cross, Oxfam, indicate that women are less secure now in Afghanistan than they were after the fall of the Taliban.
    That is a tragedy. It is very sad. This is not the fault of the men and women of the Canadian Forces. It is the fault of a misguided mission that has very little chance of success. This is what we are talking about today.
    Mr. Speaker, few topics are higher on the public agenda today than Canada's role in Afghanistan and our government welcomes all debate on Canada's mission. As my colleague, the Minister of National Defence, has pointed out, Canada's mission means working alongside our NATO allies and Afghan security and military forces.
    Canada is in Afghanistan to stabilize a country after years of chaos, oppression and violence. Today insurgents are terrorizing the people with horrendous acts that have no bounds or limitations. As part of the United Nations international effort, on the invitation of a democratically elected government, Canada's military, development and aid workers are working to bring hope and a brighter future to this ravaged country.
    Therefore, today I am pleased to contribute to the debate on the motion before the House, but the debate should also include the development and humanitarian aspects of the mission. It is the development side of the mission that will bring hope and confidence back to the Afghan people.
    It means being able to return to one's homeland and not having to flee as refugees into a neighbouring country. It means protection for all under the law. It means being able to feed their families and protect their children from exploitation. It means learning to read and write. It means health and access to medical services. It means spending an afternoon going to the stadium to see a soccer game, not witnessing executions. It means celebrating and preserving a rich culture and history that spans thousands of years. That is what bringing humanitarian aid and development means to the Afghan people.

[Translation]

     I would like to focus today on the development part of the mission. We should have an informed debate. It should be based on facts and not on disinformation. It should take into account the difficult environment in Afghanistan, especially in Kandahar.

[English]

    This is not a typical Canadian aid mission. The Afghan people have seen conflict and turmoil for over three decades. They have seen their schools and universities closed, hospitals destroyed, houses bombed and families in crisis. They have seen their property and businesses taken away. They have seen their family members seized, beaten and killed outside of any legal system, and they have lived under a rule where human life has little value.
    Canada is in Afghanistan helping to rebuild one of the most impoverished countries in the world, a country that only a few years ago was controlled by one of the most oppressive regimes of modern times. We are there to restore freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. We are there to help rebuild institutions, relieve suffering and hardship and reduce poverty.
    Conditions for delivering assistance are far from ideal but this is no reason for us to abandon the Afghan people. In fact, it is more reason why Canada's presence is needed and will be needed for many years to come.
    Laying the foundations for lasting peace and stability takes great effort and commitment. Despite the challenges we face in Afghanistan, it is important not to lose sight of the real and measurable difference being made in the lives of millions of Afghans. Experience has taught us that sustainable results are best achieved when local populations take the lead and are part of the process and assume ownership. As such, our work, led by the Afghan government, is focused on initiatives that promote community ownership and accountability.
    The national solidarity program is Afghanistan's flagship program for community development. To date, with Canada's support, remarkable results have been achieved, with more than 16,500 completed community projects, including the construction of wells, roads, bridges and irrigation canals, projects that make a difference.
    Canada is also the principal donor to the Microfinance Investment Support Facility for Afghanistan, or MISFA. It provides small loans and financial services to more than 400,000 clients, over two-thirds of them women. That is nearly half a million people now able to increase their incomes, rebuild their lives and support their families. We know that it is making a difference.
    Working with the Afghan government, through the Afghanistan reconstruction trust fund, CIDA contributes to salary payments for civil servants, including teachers. Let me assure members that this fund is structured with the necessary checks and balances to ensure that the money goes to those it is intended to go to.
    I am proud that Canada is the leading contributor to the education quality improvement project, Afghanistan's largest education initiative. This project is building schools, enhancing school management capacity and training teachers, with an emphasis on promoting increased opportunities for girls. Today, an unprecedented number of boys and girls are attending school, a difference I was heartened to witness firsthand when I visited the country.
    Through one project, 4,000 schools are being established and 9,000 teachers are being trained.
    Another project, with the Aga Khan Foundation, will focus on early childhood education, improve teacher training for women, provide distance education and improve school facilities. This project alone will benefit more than 100,000 girls and 4,600 teachers in close to 360 Afghan schools.

  (1620)  

    With projects and results like those, Canada is truly making a difference. It is an undisputed fact that increasing access to education for young Afghan children is crucial for the future of that country.
    Another area of focus has been in the health care sector. Only with healthy minds and bodies will Afghanistan be able to rebuild its communities and its country. Today, more than 80% of the population now has access to basic medical services, compared to less than 10% in 2002.
    There is a substantial drop in infant mortality. There are fewer infants dying in Afghanistan every year. More than seven million children will be immunized against polio, a crippling disease no longer seen in Canada. We can actually see a future when polio can also be eradicated in Afghanistan.
    Those are real results, results that are making a difference today and will mean a stronger future tomorrow.
    During my trip to Afghanistan, I also saw that Canada was working, not only with the Afghan government, but also with 60 other allied nations and committed international and Canadian partners. These partners are among the most highly experienced, reputable and accountable organizations in the world. For example, our support to the world food program helped deliver food aid to more than six million Afghans last year, including more than 400,000 in Kandahar province. I recently announced additional support to help feed up to 2.5 million more people now facing food shortages as a result of rising food prices.
    It is with UNICEF and the World Health Organization that the children are being vaccinated against polio and, of those seven million, there are approximately 350,000 in Kandahar province. Our support for measles and tetanus vaccinations has reached more than 200,000 children and 175,000 women of child bearing age in the south.
    CIDA also supports women's centres that provide basic services, such as literacy training, health and legal aid services and a refuge where they can feel safe and supported. We recognize that our efforts to improve the lives of Afghan women is critical. Literacy training for women means improved nutrition and health care for their children and families.
    Access to human rights and a justice system will reverse a regime under which women had no rights, a regime that meant no legal protection, no human rights, no freedom of mobility outside of the home, no access to education, no right to vote or participate in a democratic process and no rights to property or employment.
    However, as the lives of the Afghan people in meeting their basic needs improve, our most important work is our support in building their institutions. We are helping to rebuild and strengthen the institutions of government. For example, supported by CIDA, the International Development Law Organization has trained more than 70 prosecutors in financial and juvenile crime, and more than 200 judges in civil, criminal and commercial law.
    We are supporting the strengthening of human rights, including the new Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, which promotes human rights and monitors and investigates violations.
    As we move forward, we are mindful that it is good governance that holds the key to the long term viability of Afghanistan but there is still a long way to go.

  (1625)  

    As Afghan President Karzai has said, “A democratic nation is not built overnight”. The years ahead will mark the heavy lifting period. It will be the period in which sustainable Afghan institutions and its public sector must develop the capacity to deliver services to all of its citizens and take full ownership of their country.
    Canada is working closely, not only with the government of Afghanistan, but also with other allied nations and experienced development partners. However, whether CIDA's assistance flows through national programs or through NGOs, this government must ensure that our Canadian dollars are being spent effectively and accountability.
    In Afghanistan, CIDA strives for results with an approach that responds to the very real risks of working in a fragile state and in an area of conflict. Monitoring, reporting and evaluation are applied at three levels: first, at the country level through a joint coordination and monitoring board, the board assesses development progress against concrete benchmarks in the Afghanistan compact; second, at the program level, detailed monitoring and assessment of progress being made measures that collectively we are achieving the intended results; and finally, at the project level, CIDA employs feasibility and risk assessments, contractual agreements that include established reporting requirements, site monitoring visits and audits. In addition, CIDA approves annual work plans from its partners and received progress and financial reports.
    Working with trusted partners, such as the World Bank and UNICEF, CIDA is also able to leverage the accountability and oversight mechanisms of these well-established organizations.
    However, there have been those who have criticized our development activity in Afghanistan and we take those criticisms seriously. To be sure, Afghanistan is a challenging environment so we are constantly working to improve and achieve better coordination and to focus on maximizing results. To this end, we introduced the Kandahar local initiative program, a quick impact program that means we can respond swiftly to fluctuating needs on the ground.
    To achieve greater flexibility and responsiveness, we have doubled CIDA's presence in the field in the past year and will continue increasing our numbers in Afghanistan. We have moved decisions on staff movement within Afghanistan to the field. I will increase the level of project responsibility and authority in the field and we have a new Canadian envoy in Afghanistan to coordinate our Canadian efforts.
    Taken together, those steps are examples of how we continuously strive to meet the unique challenges faced in Afghanistan.
    There are other recommendations regarding CIDA's work in Afghanistan that will also be improved. We will ensure regular reports are available to Canadians of the progress being made. We will seek opportunities to enhance recognition of Canada's presence in its development work and we will continue to work toward increasing donor coordination among our partner countries, aid agencies and NGOs to achieve better effectiveness.
    However, let us not forget the results we have already achieved: some six million children in school, access to basic health care for more than 83% of Afghans, cut tuberculosis deaths in half, reduced child mortality rates by almost a quarter and a 55% decline in the number of landmine victims with over 520,000 mines destroyed and more than a billion square metres of land cleared.

  (1630)  

    We are achieving results. We are making a difference. As our work proceeds, we must ensure that the Afghan people can strengthen their belief in themselves and their government to deliver good governance, the rule of law, and basic human rights. They must see a brighter future for their families and communities.
     For these results to be sustainable, we must stay the course.
    That being said, nobody is denying that we face tremendous obstacles. As has been noted, there can be no development without security. There will be no development and aid workers in the field without security. To quote the Manley report, “security is an essential condition of good governance and lasting development”.

  (1635)  

[Translation]

     The environment in which we are operating is one of the most volatile and demanding our Canadian aid and development workers have ever had to face. As responsible members of the international community, we cannot simply turn our backs on the people of Afghanistan. I therefore encourage all members of Parliament to support the government motion.

[English]

    I remind the House that when the going gets tough, the tough get going, and when it is the right thing to do, Canadians are tough. Historically they have shown that they do not run. They stay to face the battle.
    I know that the members of the military we honoured in the past year at Vimy Ridge and Dieppe did not enter the battles, put on their uniforms and go out to fight that day knowing that it was going to be easy, yet they went. That is why our aid and development workers are in Afghanistan. That is why our military is there: to ensure protection and security so that we can improve the lives of all Afghans today for tomorrow.
    Mr. Speaker, I thank the minister for her contribution to this debate, which all in the House are taking very seriously today. It is my hope, in fact, that all points of view will be respected and that the tendency to heckle and shout down those opposed to the government's position will end.
    I want to begin by saying to the minister that I certainly share the best wishes of our caucus for all of the troops who have gone or are going to Afghanistan. In fact, I want to pay special tribute to some 800 Manitoba soldiers who are leaving or have left for Afghanistan, and I want to say that all of us are thinking about their safety, wishing them well and praying for their safe return. That is why, for example, the NDP supports the yellow ribbon campaign in Manitoba, which is a symbol of the thoughts and the prayers of Manitoba folks that go with these soldiers on their journey.
    I want to say, then, that no one in the House has a monopoly on human compassion. No one in the House has a monopoly over what it means to be tough. We have very strong positions on this issue. I am proud of the position taken by my leader and my caucus.
    I want to seek assurances from the minister that she understands that this debate may take different turns and twists in terms of positions around the combat role--or not--in Afghanistan. I would like to hear from her and all of her colleagues that no one on their side questions the compassion of any one of us, even if we stand and assert that there should not be a combat role in Afghanistan on the part of Canadian troops. That is one question.
    Let me also raise one more issue that has to do with the motion before us, which the Liberals appear to be supporting. I have heard no one in the debate to date give any assurances that in fact this motion is ironclad in any sense of the word. What is to prevent anyone in the future from opening up this agreement and supporting a further extension past 2011? We have been through these deadlines too many times. I think it is time to be straightforward, clear and up front with the people of Canada.

  (1640)  

    Mr. Speaker, I appreciate my colleague's comments. Certainly I believe that not one of us would be in this House if we did not have compassion, if we did not believe in human rights, and if we did not believe that we all share a quality of life in Canada that more people in this world should be so privileged to have.
    No one has a monopoly, and I do not dispute that, but what I say is that when we are in government we must understand what our principles and values are but we also must assess the reality. The reality is that the circumstances in Afghanistan are circumstances never before faced in this world on the global front. We have a degree of insurgency. We have tactics being used. We have open victimization of civilians, of children, of schoolchildren.
    This is why we believe that we have to base our assessment of the situation on reality. We have to assess it through those who are working day after day on the ground, those who can assess the security available for development to happen. More importantly, we have to base it on those who can assess the safety with which children can continue to go to school and women can continue to go to market on their own and continue to take jobs. We have to assess on the ground the safety and security by which supplies will go along roads to build those schools and to take the food aid to those villages that require food aid.
    That is why we work together with the Canadian military, our development workers, the international partners, and the UNICEFs, the agencies of the United Nations who are there working with us in Kandahar. They are dependent on the assessment, the protection and the security that our military is providing right now.
    As far as the motion is concerned, we have a motion before this House and, as I said, we welcome all debate and all viewpoints. But as I said in my conclusion, I urge all members to vote in favour of the motion before them now.
    Mr. Speaker, I have a couple of questions and a comment for the hon. member.
    We have heard that the Auditor General of Canada issued a report of public accounts which indicated that 27% of regular forces members coming back from Afghanistan are either physically or mentally injured and that the government is woefully ill-prepared to handle their needs and the needs of their families. It did not address the topic of re-service, so the estimate from the Surgeon General herself was in fact that it could be as high as one out of every three who are coming back with a physical or mental disability. Again, we are not prepared to handle them. Although we are doing our best at this time, I guess it is woefully inadequate in terms of assisting them.
    My question is for the minister. We know that soldiers are coming back with challenges and difficulties for them and their families. I can only assume that foreign aid workers who come back must have some of the same challenges through either physical or mental anxieties. What is the government doing to assist those civilian workers who are coming back to Canada after what they witnessed in Afghanistan? What is the government doing to assist them and their families in reintegrating into Canadian society?

  (1645)  

    Mr. Speaker, let me say I am almost breathless that this member would be asking these questions. He is asking what kind of support we give to our military, yet the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore, who has a base in his riding, has done nothing to provide service and support to the Canadian military. In fact, at every opportunity he voted against increased support and services, those very services that he is now asking for. He voted against providing the resources so that those services could be provided to the military, to those people who are serving on that base right within his riding. Shame.
    We provide the resources needed for the Canadian civilian workers who are returning and I can say that when the services are needed they are provided. The returning civilians with whom I have spoken feel very rewarded under the circumstances they faced when they were in Afghanistan, and I must also say that the civilians in Afghanistan are equal to our military in their heroism and their commitment to serving.
    When they come back, they say that they want to go back because they can see the difference in the eyes of the children. They can see the difference in the gratitude of the mothers who say that their babies are better. They can see the difference when the mother can come back to the family with a few more dollars in her hands to feed her family.
    We make sure that we provide the resources. We vote so that those resources will be made available. I ask that member to tell us what he has done to support the military.
    Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Richmond Hill.
     I would like to begin by making a few brief remarks, if it is possible, about the NDP amendment that was offered in debate this afternoon.
    I have two questions to ask the members of the NDP about their amendment. The first clause calls for “the safe withdrawal of Canadian soldiers from the combat mission”. The second clause calls for engaging the UN “in a robust diplomatic process”.
    I am curious to know what members of the NDP would actually say to the Afghans. How would they explain the withdrawal of the Canadian Forces who are protecting them? What would they say to the Afghan women who depend on the Canadian Forces for security? How can the NDP go to the UN and pretend that the UN can initiate a diplomatic initiative in the absence of all security?
    I make these points simply to point out that there are times when a party makes proposals in the House of Commons which render them unfit to govern. This, in my judgment, was one such occasion.
    On Friday, the Chief of the Defence Staff challenged everyone in this House to provide clarity on the purpose of the mission in Afghanistan after 2009. It is a challenge that I am happy to accept.

[Translation]

     It is up to parliamentarians to decide the objective of our mission, and it is up to our military to decide how to do it. Our party does not try to tell military commanders how to do their job.

[English]

    Our party accepts that politicians should not tie the hands of our troops in the field, but we insist that elected leaders define the strategic goal that our country should pursue and seek to attain in Afghanistan.

[Translation]

     Our party’s position is very clear. Three principles are set forth in our motion: the mission must change; the mission must end in 2011; and the mission must be accountable to Parliament and Canadians.

[English]

    As for each of these points in turn, the government has now accepted our position that the mission must end in 2011. I welcome this sign of progress from the other side.
     I think the government members agree, as we do, that there is a very clear and important reason for a deadline. Until the Afghan authorities clearly understand that there are fixed limits to Canada's engagement, the Afghans will lack clear incentives to step up their commitment to their own security.
    Canada must maintain its solidarity with the Afghan people. Our party believes that profoundly, but solidarity is not a blank cheque. Solidarity is a relationship. That relationship should change over time. We gradually stand back and we help them to stand up. That, it seems to me in a nutshell, is what we want to achieve between 2009 and 2011.

  (1650)  

[Translation]

     If we concentrate on training the Afghan army and police forces, we will be able to withdraw in 2011. We will be able by then to end the military mission and undertake a new mission to help the Afghans rebuild their country.

[English]

    Therefore, after 2011, we can envisage continuing engagement with Afghanistan but not in a military role.

[Translation]

     The government also agreed to the second point, which was that the management of the mission must become more transparent and accountable. It agreed to create a special parliamentary committee on Afghanistan. It agreed to revise its information policy, especially in regard to the transfer and handling of detainees. We will hold the government to these promises.

[English]

     I come now to the crux of the matter. There does remain a crucial ambiguity in the government's position on the fundamental question, which is: What is the overall purpose of the mission after 2009?
    The government's resolution, which closely mirrors the language of the Liberal amendment, says that the military mission in Kandahar will consist of: (a) training the Afghan national security forces; (b) providing security for reconstruction and development in Kandahar; and (c) continuation of the Kandahar PRT.
    Let us drill down here and get a little more clear. Canada is already training Afghan forces. It is already training and providing security for reconstruction and development, and it is already sustaining the PRT.

[Translation]

     Our party believes that these three points should be the sole purpose of our efforts in Kandahar over the remaining years of the mission. Other aspects of our current mission should be assigned to another NATO battle contingent, which will rotate in by February 2009.
     Our party agrees that there is a military participation component to the training of Afghan forces. However, these joint military operations must be related to a comprehensive strategy for reconstruction and development so that real progress can be made in regard to the security and quality of life of the people of Afghanistan. After all, they are the ones we are there to protect.

[English]

    We understand that the training of the Afghan forces does require combined military operations in the OMLT formation and other formations but we believe profoundly that must be related to a comprehensive strategy of development and reconstruction. We believe the mission must focus on training.
    The point is that we cannot be there forever. It is not our country. It is their country and our job is to help them train and develop the capacity to defend themselves. We must focus our efforts to get them ready for 2011. There is work to do but we can achieve it if we focus on this goal.
     I want to emphasize the notion of focus. With the troops at our disposal, we cannot do everything. The Liberal suggestion, at its heart, is to focus on training to get the Afghan army and police ready for the job of defending their own country. That should be the focus of the mission.
    On my recent visit to Afghanistan, I visited Afghan security forces who were training side by side with Canadians in forward operating bases in the Zare and Panjwai areas. The Afghan officers with whom I spoke were clear that they were ready to fight and defend their own country but that they needed two more years of training. We should provide this but on a strict timetable that would leave the Afghans in no doubt that the time was coming when they would need to have exclusive responsibility for their own defence.
     The question of questions in this debate is whether the government understands its revised motion in the same letter and spirit that we proposed most of the wording for. The question is whether it understands the words in the same sense that we do. If we do not have this understanding, the Canadian consensus that both sides seek will be elusive.
     We envisage a changed mission focusing on training and reconstruction. If the government accepts that the mission must take on this new focus, a Canadian consensus on Afghanistan is possible. The clarity, to return to where I began, that our generals are rightly seeking and that our citizens want, will issue forth in the united will of this Parliament.
     If the government does not accept a clear focus on training and reconstruction, if it believes it can sneak past Parliament a motion that continues the existing mission and continues the status quo, I am afraid it will have difficulty securing the Canadian consensus that this party is seeking.

  (1655)  

    Mr. Speaker, I would like to mention something and maybe the hon. member could respond.
    On my way back to Ottawa this past weekend, I visited with my son who was in Afghanistan for over a year. I told him I was coming here back to this debate and asked him what he thought. He said, “Dad, just remind them that Afghans deserve freedom, freedom that we've taken for granted they deserve to have for the first time in their lives and that we all have a role to play in getting that done”.
    We have our troops over there and we all support them. I am not talking about a difference of opinion, whether the troops should be brought home, as the NDP would indicate. We talk about reconstruction and building but Is it not true that part of the big mission is to do what we can to provide freedom in that far away land? If we establish freedom in more and more lands as we go along over the years, we will, sooner or later, get closer and closer to achieving peace. Sometimes it is very costly.
    I come from the United States. I immigrated here 40 years ago. The one thing I learned all through school was the cost of the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, World War I and World War II to maintain the freedoms in other countries so that we could continue to enjoy the freedom we have in our own. We must maintain and do everything we can so that every community, church, school and activity in the country has a commitment to work toward freedom and to maintain it. One of the best ways to do that, of course, is to be fully behind our troops in everything that they do.
    I do not quite understand why the NDP and the Bloc are objecting to this because they have the freedom to come here and pursue their wishes. The Bloc wants to separate, and it has the freedom to do that, but where else could that be done? I also recognize that the NDP has the freedom to express its views today, and I will never condemn them for that, but I do not agree with them one bit.
    Freedom does not come cheap but does the member not believe that freedom is one of the main objectives of this mission, yes or no?

  (1700)  

    Mr. Speaker, the member for Wild Rose is one of the members whose departure from the House I shall regret. I thank him for his contribution to the public service of his province and country. I also want to say very directly that I thank his son for his service to his country in Afghanistan.
    I take his point about freedom and I would accept it entirely. We are there to enable young women to have the freedom to go to school and to provide the security that makes freedom possible. The only thing I would add to the remarks of the member for Wild Rose is that with freedom comes responsibility. I think the burden of what we in Canada have to do is to ensure that responsibility for security is shared with the Afghan authorities and police. We need to train them so they can exercise the responsibility for defending their own freedom.
    Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague opposite for his participation and his significant contributions to this debate.
    However, he should and would know that the mission began under a previous government, of which, granted, he was not a member. Therefore, when he speaks of matters being snuck by Parliament, I would remind him that the previous mission began without this type of substantive debate, without a mandate from Parliament, so to speak.
    He spoke of the need for clarity of words and of purpose, of which I certainly agree. That direct line must be communicated to our soldiers. Their very existence depends on it and on the actions they take in the field.
    However, would the member not agree that the important signal that is sent from Parliament is in fact contained in the motion? We can quibble about words and talk about interpretations but I think the substantive message is clear, that soldiers, and I heard him say it, and their leadership must use that discretion in the field, which sometimes, and I know he will agree, does include the use of lethal force. That is contained as part of this mission. Does he agree with that interpretation?
    Mr. Speaker, the hon. Minister of National Defence and I share a common objective of clarity. I acknowledge and recognize the fact that the government has brought this to the floor of the House of Commons for a serious debate.
    It is infinitely superior, if I may say so, to very truncated debate we had in 2006. I think we have made progress. I salute him for that.
    I also acknowledge, as I said very clearly in my statement, that combined military operations by the Afghan army and police with Canadian Forces will involve the use of lethal force. I also made it clear that we understand that the last thing a responsible member of Parliament wants to do is to direct soldiers as to the use of lethal force.
    However, I want to come back finally to the point that it is about focus. It is about where we put the focus of our effort between 2009 and 2011 and we are saying make the focus on training.
    Mr. Speaker, I am certainly pleased to participate in this debate. As the son of a World War II veteran, I learned very early the importance of the military and the sacrifices that our men and women make on the battlefield.
    I am also pleased to see the Minister of National Defence here because I had the opportunity to go to Afghanistan with him when he was Minister of Foreign Affairs in April 2006. We saw firsthand the training of our soldiers, the people doing reconstruction, the need for medium lift helicopters, and the fact that we had to be transported by American Chinooks from place to place. That certainly had a great impact on me.
    I thanked the minister at that time because we had the opportunity to see what a lot of Canadians did not see: men and women on the front line prepared to put their lives on the line for this country, for freedom, and to ensure the Afghan people had the benefits they did not have that Canadians took for granted. That was very important.
    Not long after our return, the motion came from the government to extend the mission until February 2009. That was the government motion. I am now pleased to see that the government, in responding to the official opposition's proposal, has come a long way in embracing what we have said.
    It is important to emphasize that we have said the mission must change. It must end and it must be more than military. There is no question that rotation is now being spoken about by the government. That is critical because when Canadian troops went to Kandahar originally in 2002, they rotated out after six months. When they went to Kabul, they rotated out and the Turks came in. Why? Because this is a NATO-led mission.
    This is not an issue that some have described in the past about cutting and running. This is a NATO-led mission. Over 35 countries are involved. Many have covenants on their participation, but Canada has always stepped up to the plate. However, this is not solely a Canadian mission. Therefore, it is unrealistic to expect that Canadians should be going back for third and fourth tours of duty.
    Obviously, in the proposal to respond to the government, Liberals wanted to have a number of things clearly spelled out. One, of course, was an end date. I will be looking forward to hearing from the government as to why it chose the end of 2011.
    The Liberals had said our troops should be completely out by July 2011. It is too bad that this debate had not occurred over a year ago because this side of the House has been pushing for over a year to in fact find out when the government would notify NATO. We are pleased that it has finally said it will notify NATO and that our mission will end in 2011.
    We are pleased that the government has also embraced the Liberal position with regard to training, which is currently being done. However, more training is necessary not only for the Afghan military but for the police because once an area is cleared, it is the Afghan police, which are woefully undertrained and underpaid at the moment, who need the reinforcement. Canadians can do the job but the heavy lifting part we talk about needs to be done in terms of rotation by others.
    The government has said it wants 1,000 more troops. I would like to find where in the Manley report or the government report dealing with Afghanistan it is 1,000. Why is it not 2,000 or 5,000 in terms of this mission to support our troops and also the medium lift helicopters which I spoke of before? It is absolutely critical.
    When I visited in April 2006, the troops told me that Canadians were the best equipped army on the ground, that the previous government had supplied them with the best equipment possible, except that they needed helicopters. That is something which the government at this date is trying to find. If we do not get those two key elements, obviously we cannot support them.
    The mission must change in terms not being just military. We have on this side of the House argued for a long time that ultimately a military solution is not going to be possible in Afghanistan.

  (1705)  

    We know that because the defence department, in a 3D mission evaluating Soviet participation in Afghanistan in the 1980s, said in one of its conclusions that ultimately it must be an issue of reconciliation, that a military solution was not possible and therefore diplomatic efforts must be undertaken. This party has argued for diplomacy for a long time with allies in the region and obviously a special envoy.
    Again, it is too bad that the government has waited so long to respond to this, but the reality is we have been arguing this and our leader spoke of this in February 2007. Had some members paid attention at that time, we certainly had articulated that, but again, sometimes it is better late than never.
    It is too bad, when we are dealing with this situation, that the government did not responded much sooner. A diplomatic solution is absolutely key, and obviously reconciliation.
    We talk about the issues of detainees, and one of the things that we believe and are trying to support is a better judicial and prison system over there. Again, is that not about Canadian values?
    We are talking to the government. We do not want it to be like the Taliban. We want to make sure that we have a process dealing with law, to make sure the people are fairly tried, that the conditions which they are in are not overcramped, and that they are certainly not in a situation that we could not tolerate. We have asked for NATO-wide standards. We see that in the resolution and again we appreciate the fact that the government has embraced that.
    It does not matter what side of the issue one is on, we all support our men and women in the field. Again, we have heard sometimes language in this House which really is not appropriate. We want to say, whether it is the New Democratic Party or the Bloc or the government, that we all support our troops. We may come at it from different positions from time to time, but nobody has a monopoly on it.
    Clearly, I see the need for coordination and transparency. We have argued for a long time that Canadians need to know the facts. The trouble, unfortunately, with a lot of issues in the federal government is that we are dealing with silos. People are not talking to each other, the military with foreign affairs and foreign affairs with CIDA. Therefore cross-departmental discussions need to take place. They are absolutely critical.
    There is a need for clarity and therefore, having a special committee to get updates regularly from the government, from all of those departments involved, is absolutely critical. Parliamentarians ultimately have to make decisions and they have to be based on available facts. Again, we have argued this for a long time.
    I know I may get a question from the other side, saying that we had our chance to have the Manley people come and talk about this before the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development and the Standing Committee on National Defence. That was after the fact.
    I raised the point, in the foreign affairs committee, that we should have them beforehand, before they wrote their report, so we could give parliamentary input into what they were saying. However, the government probably did not want to do that because it was not sure what it was going to say.
    After the fact, when the Conservatives embraced it, they said that we needed to have them come. We had already read the Manley report. We want to have a genuine discussion, and again it is too bad that the government has waited until the eleventh hour to do this.
    It is not practical at this point to suggest that we want to change the mission in a way which recognizes rotation, which recognizes that training is absolutely critical, and that others must step up to the plate.
    If in fact we have not been able to get the necessary requirements to this date, I am not sure what the government is doing to ensure that by the time it goes to Bucharest, if in fact this resolution passes, that it will in fact have the ability. When is it going to make a firm decision? Is it going to make the decision on January 31, 2009, or is it going to say, when it goes to Bucharest and no one has stepped up to the plate, that we cannot continue?
    The mission cannot be business as usual. If anyone out there thinks that this party supports business as usual, the answer is no. Obviously, the government does not support business as usual or it would not embrace what is basically 95% of the language of what we put together.
     It is nice that the Conservatives have finally come on board, but again, in seeking all party support, it would be helpful if they would listen for a change. Often they are very good at catcalls, but they are not very good at listening. In this business, listening is sometimes better.

  (1710)  

    
    Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest, as I always do, to my hon. colleague across the way. He said something that has been perpetuated about this government of wanting a never-ending mission. No one in the government has ever used that language or intended this to be a never-ending mission. This phrase is an invention of the Liberal Party. I point that out for the hon. member.
    If he listened to the last throne speech, we talked about the need for training. Training is what we have been doing on the ground, not just the past year but from the start of the mission. Did my hon. colleague listen to the throne speech? Does he understand that the emphasis on training has been going on in the mission for a very long time and that we are continuing and accelerating that?

  (1715)  

    Mr. Speaker, first, I point out for the hon. member that it was only a few weeks ago in the House that the government used the language “around 2011” to end the mission. That is not very precise. Maybe for the Conservatives that is precise, but “around” does not give an end date. We are pleased that now they support our position of 2011. Again, I want to know this from the government. Why the end of 2011?
    On the issue of training, absolutely we agree with training. We heard that in the Speech from the Throne. The problem is the government was not prepared to put that on the front burner. It said that it would continue the combat role and at some point down the road it would shift to training.
    Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
    If the hon. member wants to hear the answer, heckling is probably not a good idea. If one asks the question, one would assume one would listen to the answer. The answer is quite clear. The Conservatives mentioned training, but they did not put that on the front burner. Maybe they should have come to this conclusion a lot sooner than now. Then we would have had better answers.
    Mr. Speaker, I want to put on the record that the member for Durham and the member for New Brunswick Southwest have consistently said that the NDP have not done anything for veterans. I want to remind the House that the Conservatives, when they were in opposition, promised the extension of VIP services for widows and veterans. The former defence minister said that the system file would be removed. The Conservatives voted against the veterans first motions, which would have benefited a tremendous number of people. Also, the Auditor General of Canada cited the short-sightedness of the government when it came to assisting returning troops.
    The date the Liberals and Conservatives have agreed to seems to be 2011. Does he honestly believe, as Mr. Hillier has said, that this mission could have been 10 or even more years a couple of years ago? Does he honestly believe the situation in Afghanistan could be cured with 1,000 more troops and be ended by 2011?
    Mr. Speaker, I said very clearly in my speech that the issue of national reconciliation ultimately would be the path, which is why we need diplomacy and why we need to encourage those kind of ongoing discussions.
    Militarily, by 2011, if the emphasis is on training, at least we sincerely hope the Afghans will be able to be better prepared to defend themselves.
    My colleague may be having a hard time hearing the answer to his question because of the catcalls from government members. Again, I do not understand this. We are trying to come up with a consensus in the House. The member asks if we will have a military solution by 2011. The answer is no.
    The Conservatives can shout all they like, but the reality is they are late in coming to the table on this. We have pushed for reconciliation, diplomacy and development issues. We know that all three together will advance the issue, but not just one.

Business of the House

[Business of the House]
    Mr. Speaker, I apologize for interrupting this very important debate on important issues on which I know there is great common ground, at least between the two major parties in the House. However, there have been considerable discussions among all House leaders in all the parties and I believe we have common ground on a number of other matters. I would like to put the following motion for the unanimous consent of the House. I move:
    That, notwithstanding any Standing Order or usual practice of this House, the House shall sit beyond the ordinary hour of daily adjournment today; after 6:30 p.m. the Chair shall not receive any quorum calls, dilatory motions or requests for unanimous consent; when no member rises to speak to Government Motion No. 5, or at 10 p.m., whichever is earlier, the debate shall adjourn without the question being put; after the debate on Government Motion No. 5 is adjourned, the House shall consider the second reading motion of Bill C-44, An Act to amend the Agricultural Marketing Programs Act; a member from each recognized party may speak for not more than 20 minutes on the second reading motion of Bill C-44, after which, Bill C-44 shall be deemed to have been read a second time and referred to a committee of the whole, deemed considered in committee of the whole, deemed reported without amendment, deemed concurred in at report stage, and deemed read a third time and passed; after Bill C-44 is read a third time and passed, the House shall adjourn to the next sitting day.

  (1720)  

    I would like to inform the House that I have seen the motion and I find it to be in order, but I will go through the usual process nonetheless. Does the hon. minister have the unanimous consent of the House to move the motion?
    Some hon. members: Agreed.
    The Acting Speaker (Mr. Royal Galipeau): The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?
    Some hon. members: Agreed.

    (Motion agreed to)


Government Orders

[Government Orders]

[Translation]

Afghanistan

    The House resumed consideration of the motion, and of the amendment.
    Mr. Speaker, I would like to inform you that I wish to share my time with the parliamentary secretary, the member for Edmonton Centre.
    Last night, I was at the Quebec City airport to welcome some one hundred soldiers returning to Valcartier from a dangerous and demanding mission in Afghanistan. Accompanied by General Barabé, commander of Land Forces Quebec Area, I personally greeted each soldier as they returned to Canadian soil. Their faces showed signs of fatigue, but they also reflected a sense of duty done and, above all, feverish excitement at being reunited with their families after so much time apart.
    I am thinking of them now as I take part in this debate on the motion concerning the future of the mission in Afghanistan. Canadian soldiers are there at the request of the Afghan people and their president, Hamid Karzai—who has visited us here in the House of Commons—and with the support of the United Nations, working alongside many other nations, including France, Germany, Great Britain, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands and our neighbours to the south.

[English]

    First, I would like to stress that Afghanistan is not a Conservative nor a Liberal mission. It is a Canadian mission.

[Translation]

    For several months now, reservists and soldiers from Chaudière-Appalaches, Charlevoix, Quebec City, the Gaspé and elsewhere in Quebec have been deployed in Kandahar and the surrounding area to spread and protect the universal values of democracy, peace and freedom. These Quebeckers went willingly to secure a better future for the Afghan people, who have been shaken by decades of terror and violence.
    Today, I would like to salute these men and women from Quebec. I want to salute the courage, tenacity and loyalty they have shown during difficult times and under dangerous and exhausting conditions.
    I would also like to honour those who were left behind: the spouses, friends and family members of our soldiers and reservists who remained here in Canada with the children and who have been waiting and hoping, wondering and worrying, for their loved ones to return. It is a great relief for them to have their loved ones back, safe and sound.
     I am thinking, for example, of the secretary treasurer of Sainte-Justine, in Les Etchemins, whose son is working as a nurse at the military hospital in Kandahar and helps every day to save human lives, Afghan and Canadian alike. I am anxious to see them reunited back home.
     I would also like to recognize the people who have, tragically, lost a family member who has made the ultimate sacrifice, who fell in combat for his or her country, and whose courage I salute today. I would like to pay my greatest respect to those who have experienced such losses.
     I will soon have an opportunity to acknowledge all the sacrifices made in my riding and to be with our troops and reservists to express my recognition and admiration for them, on behalf of myself and the entire population of Lévis, Bellechasse and Les Etchemins.
     For now we must act as responsible parliamentarians, and engage in an informed debate about the future of this mission, because it is essential that our women and men in uniform, whom we send on missions abroad, be given the support of the Parliament of Canada. It is also crucial that we, as parliamentarians, provide our troops with our unwavering support, based on our values, the values of both Canada and Quebec.
     For the first time in the history of our young country, we can hold, and we are holding, a second debate in the House about the future of the Canadian mission in Afghanistan—freely, democratically, and with the opportunity to exchange our various views.
     In fact, this is a commitment that our troops in the Canadian Forces are carrying out enthusiastically. They have demonstrated, and they demonstrate every day, that they have the skills, the experience and the desire that they need to pursue their mission until it succeeds, and the Afghans take charge of their own destiny. And it is the role of our government to ensure that they have the equipment and support they need to do their job.
     They have the support not only of parliamentarians, but also of many Canadians.

  (1725)  

[English]

    Our country is currently engaged in a debate over Canada's future role in Afghanistan. The Prime Minister, in an effort to help communicate and inform this debate, asked a panel of eminent Canadians to advise Parliament on options for the Afghanistan mission, once its mandate ends in one year. We welcome the recommendations made by Mr. Manley and his esteemed panel.
    Unfortunately, while our government was seeking for an open debate at the defence and foreign affairs committee, the opposition refused to hold a debate and rejected that motion. It is something I can hardly understand while there is so much at stake.
    Our government believes this mission should be extended. However, we also believe in the parliamentary process and the voices of the people of Canada. The people of Canada are saying that Canada is doing its fair share in Afghanistan.
    Recently we gave notice of a motion to extend Canada's commitment to the United Nations mandated mission in Afghanistan until the end of 2011. The two predicated conditions are: one, that Canada can secure an ally that will provide a battle group of 1,000 troops to join us in the south; and two, that we secure unmanned aerial vehicles and medium-lift helicopters.
    It is my hope that Canadians across the country will engage in this debate. It is not a debate for Parliament alone.

[Translation]

     All Canadians who follow the debate about Canada’s mission in Afghanistan know the demanding work our troops are doing there. I have witnessed it myself, along with members of all parties on the Standing Committee on National Defence, which travelled to Afghanistan for a week and lived with the troops, slept in barracks, shared their meals and visited their facilities. They were able to see the remarkable work being done by our troops in Afghanistan.
     These Canadians support our work in Afghanistan and want to stay informed about this mission. Certainly they listen to the news and they see our troops, as we all do, providing aid to the Afghan people and engaging in reconstruction efforts. They listen to the radio and they hear about the role our troops are playing in clearing roads so that people can move about in safety, so that farmers can do their work and the economy can take its course in Afghanistan.
     These Canadians know that our 2,500 soldiers in Afghanistan are there with NATO on a mission under the aegis of the United Nations. We saw them off last summer. I was with my colleagues from Beauport—Limoilou and Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière. The Premier of Quebec was also there to bid our troops farewell. The Lieutenant-Governor was there too, as well as Mayor Boucher, the patron of the Royal 22e Régiment, who addressed the troops with much affection, calling them her nieces and nephews and opening her heart to them.
     Unfortunately, the warm, and vibrant voice of Mayor Boucher has now fallen silent. Who would have thought that she would not be there for the troops’ return to Quebec City? I know that she would have been very proud of their accomplishments and that they honour her memory.
     It is obvious that there can be no development without security, and that is why the mission must proceed in a balanced way and in accordance with the three aspects. Many Canadians have devoted time and resources and made sacrifices for the benefit of our operations in Afghanistan. As a country, we have made an enormous investment. The Canadian Forces are doing a great job and have shown they can succeed with flying colours in helping the people of Afghanistan along the road to emancipation.
     I encourage all my colleagues to forego these sterile, partisan debates and examine with all requisite seriousness this motion to enable our Canadian troops and our country of Canada to carry on alongside the great democracies of the world and under UN auspices to complete the reconstruction job undertaken in Afghanistan in an environment of diplomacy, development and security.

  (1730)  

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his very well thought out speech today in discussing the future of our troops in Afghanistan.
    I have one question for him. He said he had the opportunity and honour to welcome 100 returning troops at his local airport. It is an outstanding thing for him to do, to welcome troops when they come back.
    I am just wondering if he has any inside knowledge about the concerns of those troops. A fair number of them will come back with either physical or mental concerns, and they and their families require much more assistance than the government is providing now. This is what the Auditor General and the Surgeon General of DND have both indicated.
    I am hoping that the member is able to encourage his government to ensure that a great deal more resources, human and financial, are put in place so that the brave men and women coming back to Canada will have the services they need immediately and not down the road.
    Mr. Speaker, I actually sit on the defence committee with the member's colleague from Vancouver, the member for New Westminster--Coquitlam. The defence committee is studying the issue of our military returning from their mission.

[Translation]

     Our troops returning from Afghanistan have clearly had some out of the ordinary experiences. They should be given all the help and support they need to maintain good mental health. As I just said, the committee is currently studying, for example, possible post-traumatic stress syndrome.
     According to all we know so far, it is normal for soldiers to have reactions after returning from a mission. The army is there, though, and very familiar with these reactions. There is a solid health services structure in place. If the committee’s work turns up any recommendations that should be made, we will pass them along to the government. For the time being, though, everything seems to indicate that our soldiers are getting the help they need.
    Mr. Speaker, I have a question for my colleague from the Standing Committee on National Defence. I am wondering whether he shares some of my concerns.
    Canada's foreign affairs policy in the last 50 years has focused on peace missions. Everyone agrees that the current mission is not a peace mission. So we are in the process of undermining the policy Canada has had for the last 50 years, which has focused on peace missions and through which Canada became an international mediator, with beneficial results. But the current mission we have gotten ourselves into is the complete opposite.
    The Americans are very happy about our mission, but the rest of the international community must now do without a mediator that once played a role between the United States and the rest of this international community.
    I would like to know whether he also thinks we are undermining Canada's foreign affairs policy.

  (1735)  

    Mr. Speaker, I sit on the same committee with my hon. friend opposite, and I have to say that I do not share his point of view in the least.
    On the contrary, the mission must be adapted to the context. It is clear that the context in which the mission in Afghanistan is taking place is completely different from the context of previous missions. As well, the Canadian approach has sometimes not produced the expected results. We have only to think of the tragedy in Rwanda, for example. God knows we do not want to go through that again.
    As my colleague knows, I also have a problem with the position taken by him and his party, which strikes me as irresponsible and inconsistent in many respects and which also reeks of improvisation. In June 2006, my friend said, “I believe that if we leave, the Taliban will come back and the people will be in a bad way”. I really believe that, contrary to what my colleague says, the Canadian mission is adapted to the needs on the ground. Depending on how the situation evolves, we will be able to put more effort into development and diplomacy.

[English]

    Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to add my voice to this most important debate in my two short years in Parliament.
    Our nation has a long and honourable tradition of contributing to international peace and security. It is a heritage that was born in the fields of Flanders, the hedgerows of northwest Europe, and the hills of Korea. It is a heritage of Canadians serving for the greater good.
    Canadians take pride in our past role on the world stage and they can take pride in our role in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is not a Conservative mission nor a Liberal mission. It is a Canadian mission, and the most important one we have undertaken in over 50 years.
    Liberals and Conservatives agree that the mission should wrap up in 2011. Both parties agree that we must focus our efforts on training, reconstruction and development. As the Manley panel report states:
We like to talk about Canada's role in the world. Well, we have a meaningful one in Afghanistan. As our report states, it should not be faint-hearted nor should it be open-ended. Above all, we must not abandon it prematurely.
    Like all of our military missions, it is being conducted with allies who share our support of and commitment to liberal democracy and the values that it represents.
    Canadians are being asked to form an opinion about the mission, but most are only getting part of the story.

[Translation]

     Frankly, what I find hugely annoying is the crowd of critics who automatically interpret any bad news as gospel and start making generalizations about the mission as a whole. When we announce some good news, we are accused of looking at the world through rose-coloured glasses. Anyone who says no progress has been made has not been to Afghanistan, is not listening to the people who have been there or has an axe to grind.
     Of course there are major challenges to be met in Afghanistan. That is why we are there, with 38 allies, on a UN-mandated, NATO-led mission, at the express request of the democratically elected government of Afghanistan.
     There are a number of things we have to improve, and that is why we made the commitment in question, knowing that it will not be easy, that it will be a short-term commitment and there will be sacrifices to be made.

[English]

    If we had quit on South Korea, it would be a communist country today instead of one of the strongest economies in the world. Croatia is one of the 39 allies within the International Security Assistance Force. It was not long ago that Croatia was failing and the alliance stepped in to help. Maybe if we get this right, Afghanistan could be part of an alliance helping out someone else in the future.
    In 1938 a British member of Parliament, Leo Amery, said of the situation at the time, “The issue has become very simple. Are we to surrender to ruthless brutality a free people whose cause we have espoused, but are now to throw to the wolves to save our own skins; or are we still able to stand up to a bully? It is not Czechoslovakia but our own soul that is at stake”.
    I suggest that the basic principle at play is not much different. This mission is about three things.
    It is about national interest. It is clearly in Canada's national interest to not let Afghanistan become a breeding ground for terrorism once again. We have seen what happened to our markets and economy after 9/11. We have seen what happened to our ability to move freely across borders and for commerce to move freely. What happens to our allies, such as the United States, has a direct impact on our security, our prosperity and our quality of life.
    It is also about values. It is about the values of liberal democracies that we all share--freedom, human rights and rule of law--and which Afghans deserve a taste of.
    It is about trust. We have told Afghanistan to trust us.

  (1740)  

[Translation]

     We will be there to help them until they are able to provide for their own security.
     If we leave too early, the people who trusted us and worked with us will not be treated well by the people who replace us.
     The next time we ask someone to trust us, they will be quite right to say: “No, thank you. Even if things are difficult for us, at least we know what to expect.”

[English]

    We cannot let that happen.

[Translation]

     I would like to share a few memories of my visits to Afghanistan over the Christmas holidays.
     On Christmas Eve 2006, at Mas'um Ghar, I was with General Hillier. We were talking about war and peace, listening to the bombs explode some distance away, and contemplating a blackened landscape.
     When I found myself in the same place on Christmas Eve this past year, together with the Minister of National Defence, the landscape had been completely transformed. You would have thought you were on the Canadian Prairies, with the lights of several villages twinkling on the horizon.

[English]

    After decades of darkness the lights are back on, because after decades of darkness the Canadian forces are equipped to do the job and because Canada is there.
    There are many measures of the success we are achieving. I met a little girl about six years old on Christmas Day. She was wearing nail polish. She would have had her fingers cut off by the Taliban for that crime. Today she is allowed to go to one of the 4,000 schools that Canada has helped build and be taught by some of the 9,000 teachers that Canada has helped train. She will be able to grow up and get a job. She may be one of hundreds of thousands of women who start small businesses with micro loans from Canada.

[Translation]

     She will be able to leave home wearing what she wants, without being escorted by a male member of her immediate family.
     Violation of any of those rules would have resulted in a public hanging under the Taliban.
     She might be elected to public office in Afghanistan, where there are more women in that role now than in Canada. She may be one of the 40,000 Afghan babies who no longer die at birth every year in Afghanistan.
     None of this progress would have been possible under the Taliban, and we cannot allow the Taliban to take that country backward again.
     Who would have thought that there would one day be the equivalent of a Terry Fox run in Kandahar, with thousands of participants dressed in white tee-shirts and pants? And yet it happened last year.

[English]

    Some people invoke the memory of Lester Pearson as justification for adopting what they see as a blue beret approach to resolution of the situation in Afghanistan. I suggest they go back and reread their history.
    Lester Pearson was not Mahatma Gandhi and he was not Pollyanna. Mr. Pearson had a clear understanding of the requirement for a robust military that was properly funded and equipped. He was a key part of a Liberal government that raised defence spending to 7% of GDP. Lester Pearson's government did not stare down our enemies through the power of love and isolationism. It stared them down through a combination of strength and national resolve in cooperation with like-minded allies.
    As compelling as the image of the power of the blue beret may be, it is simply dangerously unrealistic to believe that this will strike fear into the hearts of the Taliban and bring stability to Afghanistan.
    These same people would say that we should withdraw NATO and bring in the UN. Brilliant. In fact, it was so brilliant that it was done years ago. Who the heck do they think the 39 allies in ISAF are, if not representative of the United Nations?
    Let me quote from a recent article in the Globe and Mail written by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon:
    Afghanistan is a potent symbol of the costs inherent in abandoning nations to the lawless forces of anarchy. That alone justifies international efforts to help rebuild the country....
     Our collective success depends on the continuing presence of the International Security Assistance Force, commanded by NATO and helping local governments in nearly every province to maintain security and carry out reconstruction projects....
     The Afghan government has far to go before it regains control of its own destiny. But that day will come. It is hard work. There is little glory. It requires sacrifices. And that is why we are there.
    Others say we should simply stop combat operations and concentrate on training and development. I would suggest to them that the purpose of the mission from day one has been to work toward that goal and that is exactly what we have been doing.
    Regrettably, there is someone else who gets a vote on how fast we can progress in that area, and that is the Taliban. As General Hillier and John Manley have rightly pointed out, we cannot train the Afghan national army and the Afghan national police force without exposing ourselves to combat.
    It is also unrealistic to suggest that we simply move to another part of Afghanistan. The previous Liberal government chose Kandahar, with our support, and it is too late to turn back the clock. In the south alone, we have benefited from close partnerships and cooperation with Great Britain, the United States, Denmark, the Netherlands, Australia, Romania and Estonia.
    Together with our allies and partners, we have almost 19,000 troops in the south of Afghanistan and others are joining us. We are in talks with our allies and partners to get more troops on the ground in Kandahar. Across Afghanistan, the international community is pulling together to support the mission.
    The Prime Minister established the Manley panel last fall with the express intention of bringing a bipartisan consensus to this important mission. The Manley panel notes:
    To make a difference in Afghanistan--to contribute to a more stable and peaceful, better governed and developing Afghanistan--Canadians will require sustained resolve and determined realism about what can be achieved.
    “Freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law” cannot be simply fine words. They have to be backed up by strength and resolve. It is up to all of us to work together, remembering our proud history of doing the right thing internationally on Canadian missions under Conservative and Liberal governments for the past 140 years.
    We owe it to our allies. We owe it to those who depend on us for help. We owe it to Canadians.

  (1745)  

    Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the parliamentary secretary's words. I have a tremendous amount of respect for the background that he brings to the House and this debate.
    A number of reservists and full members have gone from my riding to Afghanistan. Without question, there is tremendous support in Tobique—Mactaquac for the troops. I have not had the opportunity to be in Afghanistan and I have a question for the parliamentary secretary.
    He commented about the training and development that needs to be done for the Afghan troops so they can secure their own country. Could the member comment about what he saw over there in the job that our Canadian troops are doing in mentoring these troops? Does he see success growing in that area?
    Mr. Speaker, in my two visits to Afghanistan, which were a year apart, I saw significant progress. I talked to literally hundreds and hundreds of soldiers, some of whom had been there more than once. As I said in my comments, anybody who suggests that there has been no progress has not been there, has not listened to those who have, or has another agenda.
    In fact, we have made tremendous progress in training the Afghan national army. We visited with some of the army when we were there with the Minister of National Defence this past Christmas. I think we have six kandaks in training right now. Some of them are online. More and more, they are taking the lead in missions. They are doing the planning, with Canadian assistance and supervision, but the Afghan national army is taking the lead on those missions more and more.
     That is what this is about. It is about giving them back their own country, which they can manage themselves with the training and capacity that we have instilled in them. We are doing a great job of that.
     A lot more needs to be done. There is no question about that. There are a lot of challenges, but we are getting the job done, thanks to the brave Canadian men and women.
    Mr. Speaker, my colleague from Markham—Unionville indicated in his comments that the position taken by the opposition was that maybe there should be an update with respect to progress made in the area of reconstruction and institutional revitalization and also with respect to the military initiatives.
     The suggestion was put forward that a special committee should be set up to receive those periodic reports. I have my own views and I have heard other members of the opposition give different views on that, but I would be interested to hear the member's response to this suggestion that is being put forward.

  (1750)  

    Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon.