Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for .
I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak to our mission in Afghanistan. Our government believes that the Afghan mission is important. It is important to the people of that country and it is important to Canadians. It is especially important to the Canadian sons and daughters who are on the ground there, our military, our diplomats and the civilian aid workers who are all trying to rebuild the lives and livelihoods of the Afghan people.
Last week, Mr. Speaker, you introduced six women seated in that gallery. Those women were parliamentarians in the fledgling Afghan government. Seven short years ago those same women could not have left their homes without burkas or unaccompanied by a male relative. Seven years ago they could not walk to the corner by themselves or access medical care. Now they are free to travel halfway around the world to sit in the gallery of the Canadian Parliament with their faces bare.
As parliamentarians in Canada, we all face certain challenges but having our lives threatened constantly is not one of them. These female Afghan parliamentarians deal with this threat on a daily basis.
In this, our 39th Parliament, 21% of the members are women. In Afghanistan, women account for 25% of parliament. They have no budget for a constituency office and must perform their duties, one on one, over vast areas of terrain under dangerous conditions.
What makes these women leave the relative safety of their homes to take on this very dangerous task? According to them, it is quite simple. They have an inner knowledge that their daring stand for democracy will ultimately have a positive effect on their lives and the lives of their children.
Canadian parliamentarians stood and applauded the bravery of these women and their achievements. I, therefore, see no reason why any member would choose not to continue to stand for them as they continue to rebuild their country into a place that is governed by a democratically elected Parliament, the rule of law, human rights and freedom.
Their victory will not happen overnight, but we knew that going in, and our Canadian Forces on the ground knew that going in.
We in this Parliament have a clear choice. We can be part of the solution or we can be part of the problem. Ten reservists from my riding made their decision themselves when they left a short time ago for a tour of duty in Afghanistan. They are going to do their part. Five Rocky Mountain Rangers have already been there for a tour of duty and, thankfully, returned safety.
I have spoken to them and I have heard the stories of their many successes, which add up to progress being made for the Afghan people. They have no regrets. They are the creators of change.
In January of this year, an American aid worker and her driver were abducted in Kandahar. Cyd Mizell had worked in the area for six years on educational projects and women's development. To date, she and her driver have not been found. In a show of support, 500 Afghan women gathered to protest the kidnapping. They called on officials, elders and ordinary citizens to work for her release. These women could not have dared to rally seven years ago. Canadians made it possible.
Just last week, Afghans celebrated International Women's Day. Hundreds of women marched for peace in Kandahar, the hotbed of Taliban insurgents. In the north, women held public meetings in the provincial capitals on giving women voices, with the provincial governors, women's councils, local police, judges and religious leaders participating. These meetings would not have been allowed to take place seven years ago. Canadians made it possible.
None of this progress would have been made without the security of the NATO troops provided to the Afghan people.
There are members of the House who would have our troops pulled out of Afghanistan immediately. Those members undermine the positive work that is going on in Afghanistan. Their propaganda is an insult to today's military and to the men and women who have served in areas of conflict during the history of our nation.
Canadians have never cut and run when the going got tough. We have a tradition of coming to the aid of those in need, whether it is in a peacekeeping capacity or in a peace-making capacity, and we do it well.
As the , I have had many opportunities to attend special remembrance ceremonies, both here and abroad. I have also witnessed the increased awareness of our military history among the younger generation. There is an earned pride that comes with the awareness and an appreciation for the sacrifices made in the name of oppressed people around the world.
Today, one only has to see the overpasses on the Highway of Heroes jammed with saluting, flag-waving Canadians for a member of our military who has paid the ultimate price and has returned home for burial. It is truly remarkable.
Canadians are gaining a renewed pride in our military men and women who, for too long, were underfunded and ignored by the government. Members of the military are now getting the recognition they so richly deserve and, I must say, some are quite surprised by it.
When we walk up to any man or woman in uniform and thank them for all they do for us, their first reaction is a quizzical look, then a big smile and a bit of embarrassment. Our military do not serve for praise. They are proud to wear their uniform and serve their country.
I have not been to Afghanistan but I am aware of the many successes, such as the mortality rate for newborns declining 22% because the number of skilled childbirth workers has almost quadrupled since 2001. Access to basic medical services has increased to 83%, up from 9% in 2004.
I recognize that there are close to six million children, a full one-third girls, now enrolled in school compared to only 700,000 exclusively male children in 2001. I am aware of the wonderful opportunities, through the Canadian micro-finance plan, that allows women to run their own small businesses to support their families.
However, there is no more compelling evidence for me that the failing Afghan state is on the road to recovery than the sight of those six women sitting in the gallery. They are putting their lives on the line for their country and they deserve no less than our full support.
Our world will be a better place with a free and democratic Afghanistan.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to be here today to speak to the motion on Canada's role in Afghanistan. I am glad to see that the government and the official opposition have reached an agreement on Canada's mission in Afghanistan. This motion is neither a Conservative nor a Liberal motion; it is a Canadian motion that is consistent with our history and our values.
During the first world war, Conservative Robert Borden was in power. Historians witnessed the birth of Canada as a nation in the hell of trench warfare.
Some thirty years later, Mackenzie King, a Liberal, led our country through the second world war.
We fought alongside our American and British allies and played a role in the success of one of the biggest land invasions in history.
I sit on the national defence and had the privilege of asking Brigadier General Atkinson about the intelligence gathering abilities of the Taliban. I think too many in the House assume that the Taliban are a ragtag band of primeval warriors, and it is easy to think that because their values are so primitive.
However Brigadier General Atkinson answered thoughtfully. He stated that when a story is printed the Ottawa Citizen today, no matter what it is, it is being read. If it is on the BBC news or from somewhere else, they have it.
We should all ponder that statement when we debate in the House. It is not the statements of the general are anything new either. I think we can all remember that notable phrase from World War II that “loose lips sink ships” and it is not much different from that.
While I certainly understand that the modern media and communications has made issues like this vastly more complicated, all members should take time to examine the consciences. What we say in these halls might as well be said on the streets of Kandahar.
At the conclusion of this debate, we will show the Taliban and other radical groups how disputes should be settled, by a democratic debate and then a vote. However, after this vote, I would ask that all members remember the soldiers on the ground and support them in their task.
Providing helpful, strategic or tactical criticism is one thing, but all too often the farcical cries of question period are now proffered as legitimate advice on war and conflict.
The House should also know that it is not just generals expressing concern, but good-hearted journalists, like Christie Blatchford of the Globe and Mail. It is not often I quote journalists, but her column was particularly instructive. Speaking to her Afghan translator, who had recent communications with village friends in the countryside, she stated:
|| Truth is, it is quite believable that the Taliban would target Canadians if they sense that it is a useful time to inflict casualties.
|| Afghanistan may be a country reduced to rubble...but that doesn't translate to a primitive enemy...
I would like all members to remember these warnings, not as forcing silence but of asking wisdom of our spoken words.
We have made great strides in Afghanistan in the relatively short time that we have been there. Many members have spoken about this amazing progress, particularly for women. While it is far from perfect, it is far and away amazing progress in the last six years.
Consider the scenes we witnessed in the 1990s, a shaking and visibly fearful woman under a burqa, bending over in a soccer stadium while her barbaric executioner shoots her in the head. These are not visions from medieval Europe, but realities from just a short time ago in Afghanistan.
Then let us consider the pleasure that we had in the House just a short time ago as Afghan women parliamentarians sat in our galleries. Many of us went and visited with them and then thanked them for their bravery.
Just this past weekend, 1,000 women gathered in Kandahar to celebrate International Women's Day. This is from CP reporter Stephanie Levitz:
|| Since 2001 and the fall of the Taliban, women are slowly rising back up through the ranks of Afghan society. They sit in government, run hospitals and have regained the right to an education.
|| “This year is better than last year and the year before last year,” said Dr. Farishta Bwar, who works in the department of public health. “Every day the women's life becomes a little better.”
If these women can be brave, the least members can do in this place is stand with them. Unfortunately, some in the House would rather steep in their wilful denial of reality and their reckless ideology than embrace actual women with greater challenges.
I raise these issues not out of partisan wrangling, but out of genuine concern for the men and women. It seems from the debate thus far that the opposition and the government have come to an agreement that our troops will be in Kandahar till 2011. They will still be in danger and their families will still miss them terribly.
Canadian Forces Base Petawawa is located in my riding. One of my favourite constituency week activities is visiting the base, the soldiers and families of these brave women and men. These families have something to say. A child of a soldier who has served in Afghanistan wrote a wonderful speech, part of which bears reading into the record. This is what he had to say, not just of his dad who is undoubtedly a hero, but of the mother, a hero in his life. He said:
|| When people think of heroes what often comes to their mind is some fictional character like Batman or Superman. For me the person who first came to my mind was my Dad. He's a soldier and he's on his fifth deployment this time trying to make a better life for the people in Afghanistan.
|| But thinking more about heroes, I realize that a hero often has a “silent hero” behind him or her. The only way my Dad can be a hero and do what he does is to have a great person supporting him here in Canada. That made me think of the heroes behind the heroes, like my Mom.
|| She has stood behind my Dad's decisions to go on deployments and to move along with him when we were posted yet another time. She had to resign her jobs numerous times and give up her family and friends from the time she dated my Dad. Every move brought her new challenges, new environments and new adjustments to her life and career.
|| She keeps and has kept our family going while our Dad is gone on a deployment or an exercise. Although I miss my Dad when he's gone, my Mom makes sure our life just continues as if he were there.
In all this debate let us not forget the thousands of moms and dads who are also making a sacrifice, who sacrifice their children, their wives and husbands for the calling that we ask of them. Let us choose our words wisely for their sake, for all our sakes.
One of my constituents also expressed some important points on why we are in Afghanistan. He wrote in his letter:
|| Should we be there? It's a difficult question to answer. There are so many reasons to say, “yes”: Protecting the rights of women; promoting democracy; stopping the drug trade; promoting education and helping their country develop, so they can be a strong nation and learn to solve their own problems, fighting tyranny and intolerance, everything that Canada stands for. The answer is, yes. We should be in Afghanistan and take a closer look.
I am glad, as a member of the House, that the government and the official opposition have reached consensus on this issue. It sends a clear message to our troops and to Canadians of our intentions. It also sends a clear message to the Taliban that our wills cannot be shaken by their shadowy and cowardly acts.
There are so many successes in Afghanistan, whether it is the girls going to schools, the medical advances or the economic progress being made. I urge all members not to throw this away by a premature withdrawal.
With more troops, helicopters and UAVs, our troops will show even greater progress in the years to come. I, for certain, am looking forward to hearing their stories of success.
Mr. Speaker, I take the responsibility we have with great seriousness. In my view it is unfortunate the debate has not happened in a more fulsome way across the country.
This government initiative is of fundamental importance to all of us. Nothing the government does is more serious than sending our armed forces into another country. In light of that, it is important that we have this debate, but we also have to find some way to reach out to the broader society and allow Canadians the opportunity to have their say. People want to engage in debate on this issue because they are concerned. They are on both sides of this issue. We need to be respectful of and open to the possibility of their coming forward to put their thoughts on the table for us to consider.
In my few minutes today I am going to bring to the table some thoughts on this subject from some of the faith groups in Canada. They have taken great pains to gather information, to do research, to put together positions, and write letters to the powers that be on the important subject of our engagement in the lives of the people of Afghanistan.
There are a number of questions that need to be addressed, and they will be addressed ultimately by all of us as we stand to vote this afternoon.
Is the war winnable? If so, at what cost to Canadians, at what cost to the Canadian armed forces, and most important, at what cost to the people of Afghanistan? Is there a higher moral and ethical value that we need to consider than simply the logistics of executing a war in order to win that war? Is there a higher moral and ethical value that we need to consider if we want to be helpful in that area of the world that has been wracked with difficulty for such a long period of time?
Ultimately then, having considered those questions which I put forward with respect and humility to my colleagues, will this resolution that we are debating today get us there? Will it set us on a path to something which would be a win for everybody concerned? Will it respect the higher values and moral and ethical considerations of many around the world who look at war from a different perspective after having fought world wars and other wars of great consequence and great devastation and destruction?
The first question I will address is, is the war winnable? That is questionable at best and it is certainly not winnable without more troops and artillery as was outlined so clearly in the Manley report.
The story of the Afghan people is not dissimilar to stories in other parts of the world where outside forces try to impose new cultural mores or a new set of values. People will resist and defend with their lives what they treasure most, their land and their freedom.
I only have to look at my own story and the story of the Irish people to understand to some degree what is at play in Afghanistan. The war in Ireland could not be won no matter how many British soldiers were sent in. A resolution and a cease to hostilities was only possible with the Good Friday agreement, a negotiated agreement that involved sitting down with the IRA. As my colleague from Outremont related the other night, Canada played a significant and central role in that effort because we were trusted and because we were seen to be non-aligned.
Two nights ago, the member for shared brilliantly the recent experience of the failed Russian invasion of Afghanistan. The Russians used the same tactics as ourselves and yet, after engaging over 100,000 troops, they had to leave not having achieved any of their goals, however noble, and interestingly not unlike our own.
Manley outlines the many signs of failure in Afghanistan. Our leader, the member for , spoke about them in his opening remarks in this debate. The Associated Press reported 5,000 lives lost in Afghanistan in 2007 alone, 27 of them Canadian soldiers, but that number has now gone up to 31, and thousands of Afghan soldiers, women and children.
History and our experience today should tell us that under the present circumstances this war cannot be won. Even Manley tells us we will need at least another thousand troops. The Liberals asked a good question here in this House. How was that number arrived at? Will that be enough? Will we need more after we discover that a thousand just is not enough? And when do we stop?
I now take us into a broader discussion of the moral and ethical values which need to be considered as we look at this resolution and the further engagement of Canada in this insurgency. In its communiqué of January 24, 2008, the Canadian Council of Churches referred to its letter of June 25, 2007 to the in which it emphasized three points:
|| 1) the primary goal of Canadian engagement in Afghanistan must be the pursuit of peace for the people of Afghanistan rather than forwarding the war on terror;
|| 2) a political solution for reconciliation among the people of Afghanistan must be found using all available diplomatic means, including engaging civil society and religious networks; and
|| 3) the efforts of Canadian Forces must be directed to the protection of lives and the preservation of civilian infrastructure.
In a statement in February of this year, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops said:
|| The people of Afghanistan want peace. We hope this conviction will be central to the deliberations by the Parliament of Canada. Political and electoral considerations must take second place when it is a question of human lives and a people's future. We would invite the members of Parliament to put aside any predetermined stances, recognizing that the truth will involve concerted efforts. Diverse points of view need to be welcomed as contributions toward developing a detailed and constructive action plan, with peace as the ultimate goal.
|| Over the centuries, the Catholic Church has developed a rich and wise social teaching that can help inform the present discussion. I wish to suggest three points that flow from this teaching:
|| 1. "It is hardly possible to imagine that in an atomic era, war could be used as an instrument of justice." Peace negotiations, carried out in good faith and involving all the parties concerned - this approach needs special consideration.
|| 2. A clear distinction must be made between military operations and humanitarian aid. In particular, "humanitarian aid must reach the civilian population and must never be used to influence those receiving it." Otherwise, one endangers the lives of numerous civilians as well as those humanitarian workers who become targets for the insurgents.
|| 3. The human dignity of Canadian soldiers must be safeguarded. Their moral integrity is brought into question when international law is not respected, especially when the troubling issue is the torture of enemy combatants. Furthermore, the personal well-being of Canadian soldiers and their families must be ensured.
In August 2007 a number of Christian leaders wrote in a letter to the :
|| We share with you and all Canadians of good will the desire for peace and stability in Afghanistan. As churches, we are committed to protecting human life, promoting human dignity, working for justice, practicing forgiveness, and building peace and reconciliation. These commitments are part of our vision of living out the Good News of God in Jesus Christ.
They ask a number of important questions. For example, under the rubric “Reconciliation”:
|| How can Canada support reconciliation within Afghanistan?...How can Canada support negotiations leading to peace in Afghanistan?...How can Canada foster greater respect for human rights in Afghanistan?...How can Canada support Afghanistan, a fragile state, and promote human rights?...How can Canada best support reconstruction and development in Afghanistan?...How can the Canadian Forces best be deployed in Afghanistan to advance the safety and well being of people wherever they are threatened?...
These are the very questions that we in this caucus, in this little corner of the House, are asking in this very important debate on our engagement in Afghanistan. These leaders of many of the major church groups in our country went on to say:
|| We believe that The Canadian Forces should focus on enhancing protection of vulnerable Afghans rather than on aggressive engagement with insurgents in areas where the local population is suspicious or alienated from the central government. Such a shift in The Canadian Forces’ operational mandate would be an important consideration in the ongoing public dialogue regarding Canada’s role in Afghanistan.
These are words and thoughts which all of us should consider seriously and very thoughtfully as we make up our minds as to how long we are going to prolong this engagement and how that engagement is going to unfold in the next few years as we put our resources and efforts toward it.
The Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, an organization that does aid work in the third world, had this to say in its paper of October 23, 2006:
|| 1. We are in favour of a prosperous and secure Afghanistan for all, a country where Afghan men and women can live in dignity and enjoy a clear and active participation in the country's social, economic and political life.
It puts forward a number of positions, but I will share with the House two or three of the ones that fit with my thoughts and the presentation here today. That organization said:
|| 3. We ask that responsibility for foreign military operations in Afghanistan be turned over to the United Nations as soon as possible, and that NATO be relieved of this responsibility. It is essential that all military operations avoid being or being seen as a western occupation of the country. All NATO countries (with the exception of Turkey) are western nations.
The organization also stated:
|| 8. We ask that the all party intra-Afghan dialogue, involving both those within and those that have left the country, be re-established. The dialogue must be frank, open, and without fear of retaliation. All parties must have the ability to express their perspectives and grievances and, in doing so, contribute to building a new national consensus.
Those are the thoughtful comments of many of our esteemed church leaders who have spent years thinking about this issue and talking with their colleagues, their communities and others across this country. As we consider where they feel from a moral and ethical perspective we should be going, the question we need to consider as we move toward the vote on this resolution tonight is, can the results of this resolution, based on the Manley report, take us to another place based on the values outlined by many of our faith communities?
Will a recommitment to the insurgency for another three years or more after 2009 lead to peace ultimately, and peace is what all of us want, or will more troops get us there? Really, when we boil it down, that is what is being asked for by the Manley report. It says that we cannot win the war under the present circumstances and with the present engagement, but that if we add more troops and more artillery, we can win somewhere, somehow, down the way. We do not know when and we do not know how much it will take.
All we know, as was ably presented to us the other night by our colleague from British Columbia, is that the Russians, after laying out all the same reasons that we are now laying out for our engagement in Afghanistan, and after having brought in 100,000 troops, had to concede defeat and leave.
As for that report, I do not think so, personally, and that is why I am standing here today to make this thoughtful and serious presentation to all members in the House. There were many intelligent and cogent arguments made by my colleagues and others over the last few days to suggest that they agree as well: this resolution will not get us to that place of peace and freedom that the Afghan people so desperately want.
I will leave my thoughts with members. I will add a couple of ideas more, which members might ruminate on and think about during the few hours before the vote takes place, a couple of conditions that are laid out by those who do this kind of work of looking at what the conditions for a just war in our world today might be.
They say that a just war must be an effort of “last resort”. They say, “For resort to war to be justified, all peaceful alternatives must have been exhausted”. That is what we are asking for here as New Democrats: that all peaceful alternatives be exhausted in this exercise, this effort and this work that we do in Afghanistan.
There are a few other conditions that I think are important. Members might want to take some time to look at them. They are readily available on the Internet, which is where I found them.
The article goes on to say that there has to be some high degree of “probability of success”. The authors say, “This is a difficult criterion to apply, but its purpose is to prevent irrational resort to force or hopeless resistance when the outcome of either will clearly be disproportionate or futile”.
Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to have this opportunity to speak to this very important motion. In a way, this is a historic occasion for the House of Commons as it debates a mission to determine whether it should be extended or not, and above all, whether it should be modified.
About a year ago, I attended a discussion on the Afghanistan mission, which was being held across the street at the Pearson Peacekeeping Centre. On the panel were representatives from the Canadian military, the RCMP and the Canadian Red Cross and they all made good points.
What was interesting to me, and I hope my friend from Sault Ste. Marie will take notice, was when a member from the Red Cross, who, I think, was a senior Canadian Red Cross officer who had worked in Afghanistan, said that development work could not be done until security was established and was being maintained and that the non-governmental organizations did not have a peaceful place where they could do development. I think we need to take that into consideration when we consider this motion and we look at what is the best response, the best way to approach it.
I am the first one to thank the hon. John Manley and his colleagues for the report they wrote because it began a lot of very useful debate. In my riding there is no one common position nor, I would say, one favoured position. I am hearing a lot of different views from a lot of people. Some believe we should immediately cease operations and some suggest that we should see it through until the end.
I held two forums a few weeks ago in my riding and used the Manley report as a basis for discussion. I heard from the people in the riding, took their questions and answered as best I could to guide my opinion and guide my actions in Parliament. From that, within our caucus we had a very difficult and prolonged debate on the question of Afghanistan and what should be the Canadian position or the Liberal Party position. I am very pleased with what we came out with. Our leader put forward the amendments to the original Conservative motion. I think those amendments satisfied, in a responsible way, the concerns that I heard from the people in my riding. Again, not all people will be happy.
I want to tell members of the House that I am absolutely insulted when supporters of the mission point to people who do not support the mission and call on them to support the troops. Supporting the troops and supporting the decisions of government are two completely different things.
One can disagree with one's political masters and be supporting the troops. I was part of the cabinet that originally sent our troops into that region post-9/11. Canadians have a right to disagree with the decision that I made, but they are, and I see it from one end of the country to the other, fully supportive of our men and women in uniform who are serving abroad.
This all started, we we all remember, with 9/11. It is important to remind ourselves of how we got ourselves into this position and how we came to have Canadians on the ground in Afghanistan. One of our NATO partners was attacked on 9/11.
Canada is a huge country with a small population. We will never be able to defend our own security alone. We will always depend on alliances, such as NATO, the United Nations, Norad, all the international bodies that we work with, to promote security and provide for our defence. For me, NATO is the best example. It has worked very well since the second world war. It faces some challenges but it has worked very well.
One of our NATO allies was attacked with the bombing of the towers, the attack on the Pentagon and the other plane that was lost which was supposed to be going to Washington also. They were attacked by a group of terrorists who were given safe haven by a nation state in Afghanistan. The Taliban provided support to al-Qaeda operating out of its country and it refused to turn over al-Qaeda after the attack. It continued to defend al-Qaeda and the Americans, therefore, chose to attack that state.
To me, there was no decision and no choice, We are a member of NATO and the creed of NATO is that if one nation is attacked we are all attacked and we respond. So we went into Afghanistan.
Members may remember that around the same time not too long ago we were having the same sort of debate as to whether we would go to Iraq. Neither I nor the House supported going to Iraq. Some members in the House would have gone but, based on the same judgment, the same evaluation and the information provided, we did not go. I think the member for Sault Ste. Marie raised a lot of points that needed to be considered before going into an armed conflict.
However, we are in Afghanistan and we have destabilized the Taliban government. We are now in the position where, if we were to leave, we would create a void, not just us but NATO, and all those people we helped and who helped us and who cooperated with us would be left unprotected. I believe there would be a slaughter there and heads would literally roll.
Therefore, for me, to immediately leave Afghanistan is not a question. I think that is the NDP position and I cannot support that.
I felt that the Conservative position in the original motion put forward was also stupid on many levels, the first being that it had no change in the mission and we could not foresee an end. There was no way to measure the goal as to where we were going.
However, the most stupid part of the motion was that the told the House that he was looking for people to replace us. He said that he was calling on NATO for some assistance in the region but, at the same time, there was a non-confidence motion in the House on continuing the mission. That was not putting a lot of pressure on our allies within NATO because they knew that if he lost the motion they did not have to worry too much about it because there would be an election anyway in Canada, and if he won the motion, then we would be staying there. So that did not work.
We put forward an amendment to the motion, which I thought was responsible, and the government changed its motion in accordance to the amendment put forward by our leader.
At the end of the day, we have the NDP that would cut and run out of Afghanistan and the Conservatives who would cut and paste from our motion. The cut and paste works for me.
The amendment does a couple of the essential things that we wanted. It tells Canadians when our troops will be out of Kandahar and it gives us an end date. It also changes the mission. Those things need to work together. We cannot leave Afghanistan until we have established some security that will permit the treaty approach to work. We will then have additional development and better diplomacy.
The motion mentions that included in that security is the improvement of their armed forces, their police, their justice system and their corrections system so they can have some elements of democracy. We cannot expect that in two, three or ten years they will have a system that will parallel ours or that will be equal to ours. Our system is a lot better than it was 50 years ago but in 50 years Canadians will think we were Neanderthals because they will have improved the institutions of democracy some more. I have confidence in that. It will be the job of these pages, as they go forward, to make those improvements.
One of the things I discussed when I held those forums was whether this was a discussion for Parliament. As a take note debate for informing government, I think we would all agree it is. Some, myself being maybe the last Neanderthal in that respect, do not believe that sending soldiers into war is a decision of Parliament. The government must make those decisions. However, there can be discussions and it can be informed by Parliament but, at the end of the day, I do not see a member in the House who has the information required to decide if this mission can be successful, what it takes for that mission or how long it should be.
The government cannot tell me, and it should not tell me, all the secret information that is available to the Chief of Defence Staff, to the , to the and to the . Telling me would indicate to our enemies how the information gets to us. It would put our allies and our troops at risk and would not help but hinder us. However, I am one of the few who thinks that way. Even at those forums I made the suggestion that such an important decision should be put forward in a referendum, that it should be the most direct of democracies and that a lot of the information for those who wish to be informed can be informed.
We had good discussions. We did not have 100% agreement in any area but people brought those ideas forward and defended them quite well.
As I mentioned previously, I was uncomfortable with the original position of my party and, before we introduced the amendment, we had a lot of suggestions.
One of the things that is important is that we are not telling the military how to do its operation. We tell them the objective and the goal and the Chief of Defence Staff and his subordinates do what they need to do to carry it out.
We wanted to go to more of a security mission rather than a search and destroy but what do we need to do to provide security to a region? If it means doing some sorties and taking out the threat wherever it may exist, that is a decision for the military, not for politicians.
Our decision as politicians should be setting the goal of the mission. The Chief of Defence Staff should tell us what he needs to do it, whether the objective that we have given him is possible, whether it can be achieved, yes or no, and, if it can, what they need to do it. We then come to a decision as to whether we can provide what is needed.
That being said, the rest of it is out of the hands of politicians.
What is important, and it is mentioned in the motion, is transparency, which is part of Manley's report and part of our amendment. Canadians, through its institutions, need to be aware of how the mission is proceeding, not the secret elements, but they do need to know. That is part of the Manley report and part of the motion and we are hoping that it will be respected.
If we look at the newspapers today, we will see that on the question of detainees, commissions need to be set up that will cost $2 million to get the information that the government could readily hand over but is refusing. We see that in Le Devoir and the Globe and Mail and it is unacceptable. The government must take that transparency element responsibly.
One of the things that needs to be considered when the Chief of Defence Staff does a mission like this, or the government, is the ability of the Taliban and al-Qaeda to resupply. We need to know who is supplying them and whether we can we cut those areas off. We also need to know what we need from the other countries that are helping us, the other countries in the region. We also need to know our diplomatic role. Maybe we need to increase our diplomatic role in that region and, hopefully, we will see that flow through. That was also talked about in the Manley report.
Other elements that often come when we have a mission of this importance is the management of the mission, and that is an area in which government does have a role. We need to ensure that we are administering our operations in an area like that in a responsible manner.
I do not have all the answers and I do not know what we need, but I remember a while back reading in the paper that we needed tanks over there. I still have difficulty understanding that because we are not facing tanks or artillery. We are facing arms, but we are facing mostly terrorism-type arms. However, we sent tanks over and then decided we needed to rent a bunch of second-hand tanks from European countries because they were necessary for Afghanistan. That was a very expensive procurement project. I read later on that those tanks would not be available during the mission. Some of them would be repaired rather quickly but it would still be two or three years before we would get them.
Those are questions that can be better handled by the parliamentary committee. In true transparency, those questions can be brought forward and we can be advised on them. Maybe there are legitimate answers, but it seems unreasonable that we are in a position like that.
We also have the question of the cost. I read in the paper this week, as we would all have, that we were $1 billion over budget on the Afghan effort. The difficult discussion for me is not on the money. The difficult discussion is on whether or not we send our troops into battle.
If we decide to send the troops into battle, I hope the questions I posed as to whether we can achieve our mission and whether we have what is necessary to do the mission will have been properly answered. And, if we do make the commitment, we must supply our troops with whatever they need, at whatever cost.
However, it is the responsibility of the government to tell Canadians as it comes along. We can be surprised by $10 million but we should not be surprised by $1 billion. We need to know the ongoing cost, whether we have prepared and budgeted for it and what we will need to do in the future to sustain these activities.
They will not get cheaper by 2011 and 2012. Do we have the resources? I saw the budgets lately. As a result of the choices made by the two previous governments and by the Minister of Finance, the fiscal latitude within the budget is very slim. We are getting near a deficit. Do we have the ability to finance this further? Do we have the ability to finance supplies? Can this lead us toward a deficit?
Another question was raised about the 1,000 troops. Where did that number come from? Is it exactly 1,000? I do not have confidence that 1,000 troops are enough, but I understand from the report that this is the minimum requirement. Where are we with that?
We have been asking the government for over a year to advise NATO that the end of our term was coming up and that it should be making arrangements for our replacement. The government completely refused. It has now brought forward a motion indicating that we will remain there, in some capacity, for the next two years.
We still do not know what country is going to provide those troops in Kandahar. The newspapers indicate that France is willing to send more people, but I understand they will be sent to eastern Afghanistan where it already has some assets rather than the Kandahar region.
Good management requires transparency. The government cannot bring these matters to the House half-heartedly. The government has placed this motion before the House, so that the House can take responsibility for extending the mission, but it has not given us any information. At least we have a reasonable time for debate. The first time the government did this, we had three hours of debate.
How many debates did you give us? Zero.
Hon. Robert Thibault: Mr. Speaker, I am getting questions before the allotted period.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for .
I rise today to support the motion regarding Canada's future role in Afghanistan. It is not a Liberal or Conservative motion. It is a Canadian motion. It sets out the mandate to our allies, to the Afghan people and to our Canadian Forces.
The motion reaffirms Canada's position as a leader among the community of nations. To be sure, Canada is not the only leader among the community of nations, but it can certainly count itself as one of the world's leading nations. That is why we are one of the 50 founding members of the United Nations and one of the 12 founding members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. That is why we are one of the 19 founding members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. That is why we are a member of the G-8.
With leadership, comes responsibility, for responsibility is the price of leadership, a responsibility to be engaged in world affairs, a responsibility to multilateral engagement, a responsibility to the United Nations, a responsibility to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a responsibility to give generously of our foreign aid, a responsibility to our citizens to protect their security and many would add, a responsibility to protect. This is the price of being a world leader. That is why Canada is the second largest contributor to the Commonwealth and the second largest contributor to la Francophonie. That is why Canada is the seventh largest contributor to the regular budget of the United Nations. That is why over decades Canada has contributed thousands of soldiers to peacekeeping operations in dozens of United Nations led missions.
Canada is a leader in the world and with this leadership, comes responsibility. We have a responsibility to the United Nations to be in Afghanistan. Our mission in Afghanistan operates under a number of UN resolutions, the primary one of which is resolution 1267, which demands that the Taliban ceases activities and support of international terrorism. This UN resolution has been subsequently supported and reinforced by other UN resolutions, including resolution 1333 in the year 2000, resolution 1390 in 2002, resolution 1455 in 2003, resolution 1526 in 2004, resolution 1617 in 2005 and resolution 1735 in 2006.
The United Nations has not just passed one or two resolutions, but a total of seven resolutions on Afghanistan.
As a founding member of the United Nations, we have a responsibility to uphold these UN resolutions. That is why we are in Afghanistan.
Canada is a leader in the world and with leadership, comes responsibility. We have a responsibility to NATO to be in Afghanistan.
On April 4, 1949, Canada agreed to article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty which states:
|| The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.
On September 11, 2001, the United States, a NATO member, was attacked by an al-Qaeda cell supported by the Taliban in Afghanistan. On March 11, 2004, another NATO member was attacked by an al-Qaeda inspired terrorist cell when the Madrid subway system was bombed. On July 7, 2005, the United Kingdom, yet still another NATO member, was attacked when another al-Qaeda inspired terrorist cell bombed the Tube.
Article 5 states that an attack against one member shall be considered an attack against all NATO members Article 5 also states that each NATO member has an obligation to assist the member attacked and to take any and all means necessary, including force, to restore and maintain the security of North America and Europe.
Canada's word and its honour is in that NATO treaty. The word and honour of Canadians long gone is in that treaty. On April 4, 1949, those Canadians stood for Canada. They gave Canada's solemn word to uphold article 5. We must uphold article 5 or else we forgo our own word and our own honour and our word and our honour means little.
As founding members of NATO, we have a responsibility to support article 5 of the treaty, and that is why we are in Afghanistan.
As Canadians, we lead the world in terms of social outcomes and wealth. Canadians live in one of the wealthiest societies in the world. With wealth and leadership, come responsibility, responsibility to give generously of our foreign aid. Canada ranks among Afghanistan's top five donors, and Afghanistan is the single largest recipient nation of Canadian aid.
Over the 10 year period from 2001 to 2011, Canada will have contributed over $1 billion in aid. This aid assists Afghans as they seek to rebuild shattered dreams and lives, disrupted by decades of violence.
We live in one of the wealthiest nations of the world and wealthy nations have a responsibility to provide foreign aid to impoverished nations. Afghanistan is one of the most impoverished nations in the world, and that is why we are in Afghanistan. None of this aid is possible without the security and defence provided by Canadian Forces, and that is why the Canadian Forces are in Afghanistan.
We, as the elected representatives of the Canadian people in the House of Commons, are here to provide leadership. With this leadership, comes a responsibility to ensure the security of our citizens, a responsibility to protect our citizens from threats both domestic and foreign and a responsibility to protect our citizens from terrorist threats.
In the years leading up to 2001 the Taliban in Afghanistan provided a safe haven to the al-Qaeda network, which used Afghanistan to plan, to train and to deploy their attacks. We are in Afghanistan today to ensure that a Taliban government cannot return to provide a safe haven for groups like al-Qaeda to plan, train and launch their attacks on Canadian soil and on Canadian citizens.
As the elected leaders of Canada, we have a responsibility to protect Canadians and lower the risk of a terrorist group based in Afghanistan striking here and endangering our citizens. That is why we are in Afghanistan.
The number of years we have been involved, the price we have paid in lives, the moneys we have spent on defence, the moneys we have spent on aid should not weaken our resolve. Success in Afghanistan will not be easy. Debates will continue, arguments will be considered, solutions will be put forward. It is essential that we uphold our responsibilities to this world, for Canadians are leaders in the world and the price of leadership is responsibility.
We must all uphold our responsibilities to the United Nations, to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, to the people of Afghanistan and to Canadians. These are the reasons why we are in Afghanistan and that is why the motion in front of the House today should be supported.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to participate in this historic debate, a debate about something as fundamental as whether or not Canada should be involved on a combat basis in Afghanistan. I am glad we are having a debate. I may not agree with the Conservatives' position or the Liberals' position, but I am cognizant of the fact that this is a historic moment, something we had sought to achieve for many years with respect to the Liberal government when it was in power.
When the Liberal government first made its decision to send troops to Afghanistan, did we have a vote in this place? No. When it made decisions to send more troops into Kandahar, did we have a vote in this place? No. It took constant pressure before we even had a take note debate.
I thank the Conservatives, on behalf of Canadians, for allowing the views of Canadians to be heard through their representatives on something as fundamental as Canada's involvement in a war.
This issue goes to the heart of who we are as Canadians. It shows that in fact there are many different views that have to be respected. There is not one voice in this country demanding that we simply salute the government, send off our troops and say everything is fine. We are a critical nation. We are a nation that gets to the root of problems and we look for alternative solutions. We are also a nation that has a long historic tradition of peace building, peacemaking and peacekeeping.
Canadians are really concerned about what is at stake today. What is the government up to with respect to this motion before the House? Why are we extending the mission to 2011? Why are we not looking at alternatives that would in fact bring true peace to the region and would deal with some of the root causes of conflict, discontent and deprivation in the region?
I want to mention at the very outset that just because we are in opposition to the position taken by the Conservatives and the Liberals, it does not mean that we do not support our troops.
I want to make it very clear first of all that I regret the kind of heckling we have heard through some of this debate. I am glad that no one is heckling me right now and I hope no one does for the next 10 minutes. I was disturbed to hear the kind of heckling and the suggestion that New Democrats do not support our troops and somehow that we were less than Canadian and had less than strong Canadian values.
We bring our critical analysis to this issue and we have very good reasons for our position, but that does not mean we do not support our troops. We do.
In fact we stood in Manitoba as some 800 troops based in Shilo, Manitoba got ready to go into the battlefields of Kandahar. Just one month ago we saw 70 soldiers, mainly from Manitoba, leave Shilo and head for Kandahar. There are another 650 or 700 troops ready to leave Manitoba who have prepared for this day and who are off to Kandahar.
We worry about their future. We worry about the kind of risks they are putting their own lives through. We worry about the families who are left behind and the anxiety and fears they go through every single day. We support our troops and recognize that they have made a decision to take on this career and to be faithful to their country as their oath implies.
Let it not be said that we have any less commitment to our troops. In fact, all of us in the New Democratic Party and everywhere in the House have gone to events to support our troops. We have signed the yellow ribbons, have sent messages of support, have prayed with the families, and have mourned the loss of loved ones. We are there every step of the way, just as we are there for our veterans and the members of our legions right across the country.
This does not mean we support our veterans any less than anyone else in this place. This does not mean we are not there remembering our past and the valour of the soldiers who came before.
In fact I want the House to know that if it were not for my father entering World War II and putting his own life on the line, I would not be here today. I have a very valiant father. He took part in World War II, as a member of the Governor General's Horse Guards. He came up through Italy into Holland and there he met my mother during the liberation of Holland. As a result, I am here and so are five other kids. We are very grateful for the valour of my father and others like him.
That does not mean that my father, a veteran today, and other veterans like him and members in legions everywhere are not questioning the role of Canada in Kandahar, the role of Canada in Afghanistan. Everybody everywhere is questioning the policy and wondering whether or not it makes sense.
There are people on all sides of the issue. There is not a one-dimensional, homogeneous response to the situation. This is about people actually using their wisdom and experience and questioning what makes sense. They are saying that given what we know about Afghanistan and Kandahar, it does not make sense for Canada to be in Afghanistan, and it makes absolutely no sense for Canada to be there until 2011.
My goodness, we know of the dangers every day. We are now up to 80 deaths of Canadian soldiers from this conflict in Afghanistan. That is an incredibly high toll. How many more will die? How many more will suffer injuries or face disabilities? Hundreds and hundreds of soldiers are coming back to this country with very significant disabilities, suffering post-traumatic stress disorder, physical disabilities, mental disabilities.
We are creating a huge problem. I know the government says that it is trying hard to respond to those needs, but we are not able to address the full range of needs of soldiers who are coming back with disabilities, injuries and problems from their participation in Afghanistan.
Of course there are veterans and legion members are asking questions about the government's positions. The government tries to rationalize its position on the war, but it will not even care for the veterans and veterans' wives in this country. We dealt with this in the House recently. We heard that in the budget the government was going to supposedly fix the veterans independence program. What did it do? It opened the door just a crack so a few more widows could get coverage, but it left a whole range of widows without access to the veterans independence program.
Joyce Carter will not mince words when it comes to the promise of the government and how it could not even keep the promise it made in the last election to ensure that all veterans and veterans' widows would be able to access the VIP. A meagre little step was taken in the budget to try to camouflage the issue and pretend that the government is doing something. People expected some genuine response.
Every single day we are dealing with the outcome of the war in Afghanistan and problems which are not being addressed by the government. Look at what we dealt with yesterday on the whole question of transparency around the costs to Canadians. The government cannot even be forthcoming to Canadians about how much the war is actually costing. It would not verify the information received through a freedom of information request that the cost overrun for our involvement in Afghanistan this year alone is close to $1 billion. We are approaching $10 billion as an overall budget for our participation in Afghanistan.
That is a lot of money, especially when we consider the priorities, needs and demands of people in this nation. There are people living in third world conditions on reserves. The Conservative government, like the Liberal government before it, could not even find a way to support children who are now turning to suicide and suffering severe mental health problems.
I am certainly saddened today that the Liberals have decided to cave in and to lose sight of what is at stake here. I am saddened that they are going along with this motion from the Conservatives. I wish the Liberals had been true to their principles and true to their stated beliefs from the past number of years, at least as I understood them, although there is some confusion and grey area around Liberal decision making these days.
What we need in this whole situation where we do not dismiss the problems in Afghanistan is, quite simply, a new approach. I ask members to look at the amendment we proposed. It is a constructive amendment. Members will be able to vote on it. People will see the vote tonight. It is an amendment that says let us look for a more responsible, reasonable approach to the situation in Afghanistan.
We say that there are two paths to choose from. We can choose going on with prolonging the war, or we can choose to build a path toward peace. For the NDP, it is a choice between war and peace.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to take part today in this debate on Afghanistan. It is a debate that will have significant impact on future generations, the direction of future international relations, and determining the role that Canada should play in our relations with other states with respect to a process that requires that there first be peace.
Today, as the member for , I have the pleasure of rising in this House on behalf of the approximately 105,000 citizens whom I represent and proudly opposing the extension of this mission which, we believe, should end in February 2009.
This is not the first time we have had such emotional debates in this House. I remember the debate about whether or not Canada should participate in the war in Iraq. The Bloc Québécois was the political party in this House that was vigorously opposed to Canadian participation in the Iraq conflict.
I also remember the vote of May 17, 2006, on whether or not to extend the mission in Afghanistan by two years. I remember that in the hours before the vote, I asked myself four questions. Although they were simple questions, they allowed me, as a parliamentarian, to take a decision on whether or not we should extend the mission.
The first question I asked myself on May 17, 2006, was: is Canada's intervention justified, realistic and useful? My second question before voting on May 17, 2006, was: what is the exact nature of Canada's commitment—military or humanitarian? The third question I asked myself on May 17, 2006, was: are the people who are going to risk their lives appropriately equipped to succeed at the mission we want to give them? And the fourth question was: is there a specific strategy for this mission?
Those were the questions I asked myself, as a parliamentarian, before voting in this House on the need to extend the mission in Afghanistan by two years. What was the answer from the Bloc Québécois and the hon. member for ? The answer was no to extending the mission.
In reading the questions we asked ourselves at the time of the vote, we find they are echoed in a certain number of reports—published today—on the progress of this mission. The Manley report is very critical of this government's military approach. It clearly says:
|| It is essential to adjust funding and staffing imbalances between the heavy Canadian military commitment in Afghanistan and the comparatively lighter civilian commitment to reconstruction, development and governance.
Accordingly, our concerns of May 2006, have been validated by the Manley report, which recognizes that there is an imbalance between the military and humanitarian aspects.
In the meantime, should we do nothing? No. We should send a clear message in this House that this mission must end in February 2009. We must pressure this government to take some decisions. First, the government must advise its NATO allies of its intention to withdraw from Afghanistan in February 2009. The message to our allies must be clear. There is no room for compromise.
Canada will leave Afghanistan in February 2009, and our NATO allies need to be informed as quickly as possible.
Second, we need an exit plan. The government must develop a plan, because we cannot just pick up and leave Afghanistan, as though we are packing up our tent after a weekend at Mont Tremblant. That is not what we should do. A responsible government must immediately present a plan for the withdrawal of our troops in February 2009.
Third, in the meantime, we must rebalance the mission to put more emphasis on development assistance resources. According to DND reports, the operating costs for Canada's mission in Afghanistan are upwards of $7.718 million, from 2001 to 2008. We need to reallocate this money to humanitarian assistance. We need to develop capacities for the citizens and for civilian populations. We need to give them the means. In so doing, we will not only succeed in transferring and giving capacities to Afghanistan, but by transferring the money from the military sector to the humanitarian sector, we will also most certainly be able to meet the objective of 0.7% of the GDP for development assistance. This is yet another commitment that Canada is not currently fulfilling.
We must therefore inform our NATO allies that we want to and will withdraw from Afghanistan in February 2009; establish a plan for withdrawal and introduce a plan for immediate withdrawal; transfer and rebalance funding from the military sector to the humanitarian sector; place greater emphasis on diplomacy, because political discussion, dialogue and the exchange of ideas are most certainly where Canada should be focusing its efforts, not only regarding the problems in Afghanistan, but also regarding solutions that Canada should consider to resolve the conflicts.
We must be clear on this. The approach we favour would allow Canada to assume its responsibilities. However, we must bear in mind that there are limits to Canada's responsibilities. Canada's firm commitment, which involves withdrawing from Afghanistan by February 2009, is in our view non negotiable. I would remind the House that the Conservative motion extends the Canadian mission in Kandahar until 2011. In light of the debate here today, we see two forces at work. We see not only the Conservative force, which wants to keep our troops in Afghanistan, but also the Liberal force, which decided to side with the Canadian Conservative military approach in order to resolve this conflict.
I do not think this is the approach that Quebeckers want. We are a peaceful people who wish to see a speedy resolution to the conflicts through dialogue, diplomacy and political discussion.