Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to the government's motion to extend and expand Canada's mission in Iraq. Liberal Party members do not support this motion to seek Parliament's consent for an unfocused and potentially unending mission because it is not in the Canadian interest.
ISIL poses a real and serious threat to security around the world and in Canada. We recognize that. Liberals believe that Canada must be part of the international effort against ISIL. As one of 60 nations participating in the coalition against this ideological extremist and terrorist scourge, Canada must play a constructive role. We must make the best contribution we can, one that serves our national interest.
The mission proposed by the Prime Minister does not measure up. It has an unclear legal basis, unclear mission objectives and an open-ended scope. Overwhelmingly, it fails the national interest test.
Why else do Liberals oppose the Prime Minister's present motion? Let us discuss this.
Last fall, Liberals did support the government's plan to send special forces into Iraq to help behind the lines, training, advising and assisting Iraqi forces. We believe that ISIL will be stopped when local Iraqi forces can fight successfully against the ISIL rampage, can protect local people and their villages, can succeed in capturing and holding lost territory, and can commit to respecting minority rights. We want to help them to do those things.
However, the Liberals did not support the Prime Minister's October motion to go to war in Iraq, because he failed to offer a clear objective for his combat plan. He failed to outline a responsible plan to achieve it. He failed to make the case that a bombing role was the best contribution Canadians could make. Regrettably, the motion before us has similar deficits.
Earlier this week, the Liberal Party leader's speech in the House reminded Parliament of four core principles Liberals set out for the October combat mission in Iraq, and they still stand today. The first principle is that Canada has a role to play in confronting humanitarian crises in the world. That is an important Canadian value. Over many decades, Canadian governments have generously contributed help, military and non-military alike, in human emergencies abroad.
We opened our country's doors to the oppressed. We welcomed refugees to come, to rebuild their lives here, and those refugees have helped build Canada. Refugees from Vietnam, Uganda, Cambodia, Somalia, Nicaragua, from every corner of the world, have come to Canada and made our country better. This current motion contains no new ideas, no new funds, no new proposals to help alleviate the catastrophic humanitarian crisis in the region.
Under the second principle, when our government considers deploying our men and women in uniform, there must be a clear mission and a clear role for Canada. The October motion did not respect that principle and the motion that was moved today is just as vague about Canada's mission and role. In October, the Liberals expressed grave concern that lack of clear objectives masked the Prime Minister's real intentions, namely involving Canada in a longer, deeper combat engagement.
The motion moved today validates that concern. The Prime Minster is saying that the objective is to weaken the Islamic State, whereas the Minister of National Defence is saying that it is to defeat and completely eliminate the group. Those are two very different mandates.
Once again, the new motion on the combat mission does not set out any clear objectives or any plan as to when or how Canada will extricate itself from the multi-party conflict affecting this complex region, which is mired in deep-rooted divisions, tension and hate.
On the contrary, section (a) of the motion gives the government exceedingly vague and broad latitude to conduct this war. It reads that this House:
(a) continues to support the Government's decision to contribute Canadian military assets to the fight against ISIL, and terrorists aligned with ISIL, including air strike capability with authorisation to conduct air strikes in Iraq and Syria;
That is a pretty open-ended permission slip, and both the Minister of National Defence and the Minister of Foreign Affairs appear eager to use to it. They explicitly compared this new mission to Afghanistan, stating that “we're in this for the longer term”. In Afghanistan, the longer term meant a decade; the longest war in Canadian history.
When asked who takes over should ISIL be cleared from Syria, the Minister of National Defence told Evan Solomon on Power & Politics that he does not know how this is going to end.
No clear objective is not good enough. Without objectives, clarity, or boundaries in the motion, Canada's war on ISIL in Syria could well result in Syrian President Bashar al-Assad consolidating his grip on power. This president oppressed and terrorized his own people. In just four years, he bombed, gassed, and killed more than 130,000 of his own citizens, the vast majority of them civilians, and almost a quarter of the victims were women and children. Enabling Mr. al-Assad is not in Canadians' interest.
The third Liberal principle is that the case for deploying our forces must be made openly and transparently, based on clear, reliable, and dispassionately presented facts.
The current Conservative government has not been transparent and open on this mission, not with parliamentarians nor with the Canadian people. The Conservatives refused to provide cost estimates to Canadians until shamed into it by the Parliamentary Budget Officer. They refused to provide critics with briefings until yesterday, while troops were first deployed last September.
It is facts not fantasy that underpin the moral value of honesty. Honesty in turn earns trust. We cannot trust the current government, which has been dishonest to Canadians. At every opportunity, ministers promote the myth of stable increasing funding for defence, the myth of investment in state-of-the-art equipment. The fact is that the Conservatives have been cutting the budget for the last four years, they reduced the defence share of funding to 1% of GDP, the lowest in 70 years, and they failed to replace our rusting military planes, ships, trucks, tanks, and rifles.
The Minister of National Defence himself was caught in a string of falsehoods, misrepresenting a photo of a religious ceremony to promote his war rhetoric, making false claims about the NDP's past record on combat mission votes, and concocting false statistics on former Liberal government defence spending—statistics that are on public record.
Much more serious is the fact that our military was sent into ground combat operations in Iraq despite the Prime Minister's repeated, explicit assurances that this would not happen. Canadians were assured by government and by the generals that the special forces would not accompany troops to the front lines, they would not do what is called “close combat advising”, and they would not engage in combat. However, in fact, they did and they are.
In January we learned that, since last November, the mission had “evolved”. Canadian troops are active on the front lines. They regularly engage in direct combat activities. Unlike our closest allies whose advisors stay behind the wire, we are needlessly risking our soldiers' lives. Tragically, Sargent Andrew Joseph Doiron lost his life in this combat zone.
Now the government gives false reasons for participating in the Syria bombing mission. The Conservatives claim Canada has been asked because only Canada has precision-guided smart bombs to assist the United States. That is false. Even Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have these munitions and use them very effectively in the region, according to the chair of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Dempsey.
Voting yes now to a longer, deeper war for Canada, led by a dishonest government we cannot trust, is simply not in Canadians' interest.
Our final principle is that Canada's role must reflect the broad scope of Canadian capabilities, so we help how best we can.
Given the Conservatives' massive defence cuts, the Liberals are concerned about asking our Canadian Armed Forces to do more. The Conference of Defence Associations Institute reported that the forces' current international deployments “mask a considerable decline in their capabilities and readiness”. Today's soldiers injured in the Afghanistan war are still waiting to receive timely professional mental health care. How unacceptable.
What are Canada's capabilities? How can Canada play a constructive role in this very challenged region? What roles reflect Canadian values and our national interest? What do Liberals support?
Canada can do better. Canada can act on the values it was known for throughout the world. These are values like working constructively with others, helping the less fortunate, doing more than our fair share, and being honest.
I will talk about three areas that the Liberals support. First, Canada can work constructively with coalition allies to accelerate the training and capabilities of more Iraqi soldiers. According to Major-General Michael Hood, 69 special forces members currently work with Americans to provide strategic and tactical advice to security forces in the Iraqi army. To date, they have conducted 42 training courses with 650 peshmerga soldiers.
Canada has a clear expertise in helping to train Iraqi forces to fight and stop ISIL. Surely there is a need for more trainers. Canada supplied more than 1,000 fine trainers in its final years in Afghanistan. Surely Canada can do more now in Iraq. We can, and must, do it away from the front lines.
This is an area in which we differ from our NDP colleagues, who have been all over the map about military missions, sometimes talking about potentially being supportive of strategic airlifts or military use to bring supplies. Today, we heard that the NDP is not interested in any military involvement at all, while we, the Liberals, have respect for our Canadian Armed Forces members. We know that they can play an essential role here.
Second, Canada could lead a well-funded and well-planned international humanitarian aid intervention to help people in need in the Levant region. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, has said that there are now 3.8 million Syrian refugees registered and 12 million displaced persons who need help within Syria itself. That is not including the millions of other displaced persons and refugees from Iraq.
Last month, the High Commissioner launched an appeal to gather $3.7 billion in humanitarian aid for 2015 alone. He said that the need for humanitarian aid in Syria is growing much more rapidly than the contributions from the international community. He encouraged donor countries to give a lot more aid to support refugees and host communities. This refugee crisis is threatening the stability and security of the region. Neighbouring countries, such as Lebanon and Jordan, have been destabilized. Turkey is feeding and housing millions of refugees.
What is in Canada's best interest? We must do more to help vulnerable refugee families, because it is a Canadian value and so that these families' soldiers can confidently fight ISIL.
Third, Canada should expand our country's target for Syrian refugee settlement. Let us give more victims of war an opportunity to start a new life in Canada. The Conservative government's promises have been weak, and its delivery has been even weaker.
Here is an example of past Canadian governments' generosity. In just 1979 and 1980, 50,000 Vietnamese refugees settled in Canada.
These immigrants, known as boat people, were both urban and rural dwellers. They did not speak English or French, by and large, they had no Canadian relatives, and they arrived during an economic downturn in Canada. This made integrating into Canada and achieving economic independence a difficult struggle. Today, these Vietnamese Canadians are recognized for their successes, their strong communities, and their tremendous contributions to Canada. We should keep the figure of 50,000 over two years in mind.
In contrast, the Conservative government has been miserly in its treatment of Syrian refugees. Originally targeting only 1,300 refugees over 18 months, the government resettled less than half by its target date of last December. At opposition members' urging, the government recently increased its pledge to 10,000 refugees in three years, but refugee aid groups are skeptical of this pledge because much of the funding must be raised by sponsoring families and private organizations, not provided by government. It is not a Canadian value to do less than our fair share. Canadians believe in helping more, and that is in the Canadian interest.
Finally, of the four commitments in the government motion, Liberals enthusiastically endorse only the last, which I will quote:
Accordingly, this House:...
(d) offers its resolute and wholehearted support to the brave men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces who stand on guard for all of us.
The Liberal Party respects and recognizes the professionalism, courage and dedication of all those who serve our country. We have never hesitated to deploy our extremely competent Canadian Armed Forces to combat zones when doing so was very clearly in the best interest of Canada and Canadians. In each of those cases, the best interest of the nation was very clear.
A mission designed to uphold Canada's interest must have transparent objectives, a responsible plan to achieve them, and a plan to exit the theatre of war. That is missing from this motion and from this proposed combat mission.
Liberals encourage the government, as quickly and as responsibly as possible, to shift Canada's role in Iraq, shift it not into a bombing role in Syria but back to a non-combat mission, focused on expanded Iraqi troop training, humanitarian aid leadership, and a far more generous and warm-hearted welcome to this war's refugees. That is the Canadian way.