Evidence of meeting #18 for National Defence in the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was kandahar.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Joe McGuire Egmont, PE

I suspect somebody is growing poppies for the medicinal trade. I'm not sure how many acres you need to support that particular endeavour, how you would satisfy that supply, or where it's coming from now, but maybe it's not as far-fetched as we first thought when we heard about it.

I think your position of supporting our troops and supporting the people of Afghanistan is basically the position of the Canadian people and people around this table. It's certainly our position that we should support our troops and we should do what we can to support the people our troops are sent there to help.

To leave Kandahar for a while, what is going on in the rest of Afghanistan, as far as progress being made and as far as good government is concerned? You've been in Kabul and in other areas outside of Kabul. Describe the situation there. Are hospitals being built? Are girls going to school? Are schools being built? Are highways and the infrastructure being...? Is the money and sacrifice we're putting in there showing dividends elsewhere, while we're still trying to grapple with Kandahar province and so on? Can you give us an idea of what's happening in the rest of the country?

4:45 p.m.

President and Founder, The Senlis Council

Norine MacDonald

Absolutely there's good news in lots of parts of Afghanistan, in the north in particular. There is a lot less fighting. There is some indication of Taliban resurgence in Badakhshan.

In Kabul there's a lot of economic development. If you listen to the complaints, there's a new rich, but the poor are still poor. So there's a big income divide going on there.

Somehow Canada got one of the three worst provinces. There is Helmand, Oruzgan, and we got Kandahar. Most of the people in Kabul will not travel to Kandahar. The southern part is the area that is now a Taliban no man's land. You can really divide the country that way.

The poppy problem is a problem throughout Afghanistan. Alternative livelihood programs don't last long enough. A lot of the schools that have been built in the south have been burned.

For every good story there is a really bad story. Afghanistan is a bit like a roller coaster. You can have one day where you think there are wonderful things happening here, it's a beautiful country with beautiful people, and somehow we're going to see this through. Then the next day, all you can see are the difficulties we are faced with and you feel like we'll never sort it out, it's always been a problem and always will be. You want to throw up your hands.

When we went there after 9/11, we all did a remarkable thing. They welcomed us with open arms. They thought we were freedom fighters. That was a fantastic opportunity for the western world to build a really close relationship with an Islamic nation. We're kind of on a cusp now, a tipping point, as to which way this is going to go. That is why I'm pleading so strongly for staying the course there and finding new initiatives.

I can walk around on the streets in Herat, in Kondoz, in Mazar, in Jalalabad. I cannot walk openly on the streets in the city of Kandahar or in Lashkar Gah. You can really see two different stories at this moment. Unfortunately, we are responsible for part of the area where it's most difficult.

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Joe McGuire Egmont, PE

Do the people in that area know what's happening in the rest of Afghanistan, that their fellow citizens are enjoying at least a level of prosperity and peace and safety?

4:50 p.m.

President and Founder, The Senlis Council

Norine MacDonald

The people you saw on that screen live in villages, and they've never even been to Kandahar. When I ask them about their aspirations, they tell me they would like to go to Kandahar one day. It's a half-hour drive away. They're very unsophisticated people, and they don't read and write, but they're clever about survival.

In the city of Kandahar, you can see the international community and you can see our wealth. You can see our cars, you can see our gadgets. There is this huge disparity between what they perceive to be the immense luxuries of our lives and their struggle for survival. That does cause a real tension on the ground.

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Joe McGuire Egmont, PE

Thank you.

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Rick Casson

Thanks, Joe.

Ms. Gallant, five minutes.

October 25th, 2006 / 4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Cheryl Gallant Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Thank you for your presentation thus far.

On the topic of the drug trade in Afghanistan, we can all take great pride in the job the Canadian Forces are doing in Afghanistan. They were successful in seizing nine tonnes of marijuana. In the south, 55 kilograms of opium was seized. That's a significant amount of dope that won't be poisoning the youth of our countries. The profits of these seizures will not be used to pay insurgents who in turn kill our soldiers. It's something we can celebrate.

I applaud your philanthropy. I wish you were around to help our maritimers when foreign countries ganged up on them when they were struggling to survive and they lost one of their livelihoods.

It was asked during the course of this discussion if simply cutting a cheque would help the starving people in Afghanistan. Over the weekend, the Canadian government did cut a cheque for approximately $40 million--$18.5 million over the next four years. That will hopefully assist in dealing with the starvation. In the foreign affairs committee, I believe the minister made a statement as to how much food distribution is going on. We'll probably have those details in a little while.

It may also comfort you to know that Canada's defence minister testified before this committee one week ago that whatever solution NATO and the Afghan government come up with to suppress the drug protection, there has to be some way to legitimately compensate farmers. That's the position of this government. The minister also advised us that at the moment it's the U.K. that's responsible within NATO to try to bring the opium production under control.

I do have questions.

You claim that the Afghans living near the Canadian troops are starving. The Minister of Defence, who is currently testifying before the foreign affairs committee, has just confirmed that our troops have scoured the area surrounding Kandahar, and they have handed out food to over 8,500 people. The minister for CIDA has just announced an additional $5 million towards an emergency food program on top of the money announced by the Prime Minister earlier this year.

Can you be more specific and inform this committee about exactly where the starving people you have seen are located?

4:55 p.m.

President and Founder, The Senlis Council

Norine MacDonald

I can. And I'll reiterate my invitation. I'm going back to Kandahar soon, and if you'd like to join me, I'll take you there.

You drive south past the Pakistani embassy and into the last development. There are about a thousand families there. In Panjawai, when you leave the main road, you turn left and go about 15 minutes past the Canadian military presence in the desert. You'll find about another 1,500 families there. If you would like to go north of Kandahar, you can go to Arghandab district, and you will see three Kuchi villages by a small river there. If you want to go farther north into Nazyan district, which that gentleman lives in, you will see two villages with about 6,000 families together. If you drive south through where the Panjawai battles were, you'll find another village in the desert with about 10,000 families. It takes about a half an hour to drive through that one.

Would you like me to continue?

I suggest you come and visit.

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Cheryl Gallant Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

I hope we have that opportunity.

How much time do I have?

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Rick Casson

You have one minute.

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Cheryl Gallant Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

You mentioned earlier that you're funded through the NEF Mercator Fund and that you're the operational arm. Does the Senlis Council derive revenues from any other sources?

4:55 p.m.

President and Founder, The Senlis Council

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Cheryl Gallant Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

None whatsoever?

4:55 p.m.

President and Founder, The Senlis Council

Norine MacDonald

None whatsoever.

4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Cheryl Gallant Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

You're an attorney, I understand.