House of Commons Hansard #136 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was afghanistan.

Topics

Opposition motion—Afghanistan
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, I agree with the hon. member for Halifax about the necessity to show, despite the arguments, that we are trying to help the people of Afghanistan and play a good role. I respect her point of view. I still think we may do good things in the next two years.

Canada is committed until February 2009. The motion does not create this commitment. The commitment has been made, and Canada must honour it.

We are part of a coalition. We will be better players on the team to help the people of Afghanistan if we are clear about what we intend to do. That is my point and the point of the motion. I call on the NDP to agree with that.

I understand that the NDP thinks the mission of today is a failure and that we need to get out, but I still think Canada can do positive things over the next two years. This will be facilitated if we are clear and not ambiguous about how long we will have the combat mission.

Opposition motion—Afghanistan
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

Macleod
Alberta

Conservative

Ted Menzies Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade and Minister of International Cooperation

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale.

I, too, on behalf of the government, would like to offer condolences to the family and the friends of the soldier who died in Afghanistan yesterday. It saddens all of us to see this happen.

I rise to speak today to the motion, which states that the combat operations in south Afghanistan conclude in February 2009. This is a place for reasonable debate, but, to me, this is the worst form of cheap partisan politics the House has seen.

The member for Bourassa and the Liberal Party are jeopardizing the safety and the lives of our brave men and women who are risking their lives to bring hope and freedom to the people of Afghanistan.

We in the House know that it is not just Canadians who are watching this debate. It is not just Canadians who hear the date that has been put forward. That shows an incredible weakness, vulnerability and opportunity for the Taliban to declare victory. This is unacceptable to me.

I highlight the fact that the Government of Canada's commitment to the reconstruction and security of Afghanistan is not limited to southern Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is the single largest recipient of Canadian development assistance. Canada's contribution to the reconstruction and development of that country is improving the daily lives of many thousands of people. The efforts of our soldiers, diplomats and development specialists are bringing about positive change in a very challenging environment, and we are making real progress.

Let me share with the House some of the achievements to which our assistance has contributed.

Canada is among the top five donors of the Afghan reconstruction trust fund, a multilateral mechanism that contributes to regular salary payments to more than 270,000 civil servants, including 144,000 teachers. The Afghan government was especially proud that over 6 million children had returned to school by last month, compared to 5.4 million last year. Nearly 35% of that number is girls. This is a major accomplishment. By contrast, only 700,000 children were in school in 2001 and not one of those was a girl.

The Minister of International Cooperation and myself were in Afghanistan last week. We met with the education minister, a very eloquent man. I am sure some members of the House met with him when he was here less than a year ago. He could not say enough good things about the difference Canada had made in getting children back to school, in paying teachers' wages, in providing education for these teachers, who can in turn impart it to the children so those children can have hope of a better life.

Another solid building block that has exceeded our expectations is the micro-finance investment support facility for Afghanistan. I will refer to it as MISFA. As of February 28, over 325,000 Afghans, almost three-quarters of whom are women, have obtained small loans and savings services. Each month the program reaches an average of 10,000 new clients. Last week the minister and I met with a group of these women.

This is the hope that we impart to these women. Not all people will be entrepreneurs, but we met with a group of them who are. I spoke with one middle aged lady who had no hope at all under the Taliban. This lady is manufacturing suits and clothing. Her husband is now working for her as are 14 other members of her family. She is earning a living for her entire family through a microcredit loan that was provided to her with the support of the Canadian government.

Other women are making pottery, dishes, processing food, all kinds of small home-based industries that would never have started under the Taliban, that would have been unable to be financed unless countries like Canada and other donor countries had not stepped up and become involved in that process.

Through CIDA, the Government of Canada is also proud to be a trusted partner in the national solidarity program, which has been successful in Kandahar and elsewhere in the country. We have 16,000 community development councils, elected by the local village people, that make decisions as to what projects should be funded. Local councils decide where the money from CIDA and other donor countries will be spent.

Minister Zia, with whom we met, told us that not one of those projects, which had been decided by a local council, had been targeted by insurgents. This is the success that we need to provide the environment for these projects to flourish under. Minister Zia met us at one of these community development council meetings, which was about 40 kilometres outside of what we refer to as the wire.

The Minister of International Cooperation and I travelled outside the wire where Canadians and civilians would not have dared travel a year or two years ago. We sat down with the local council and discussed what its projects were. This has to continue. This is the opportunity that we have provided.

Yes, it takes as military presence to provide the security for this kind of project to flourish under. Those projects bring water to new crops. This is the way we will solve the opium problem. There is irrigation water available, but until we fund the process to get it to these fields so they can grow alternative crops, we will be unsuccessful in getting rid of the opium crop.

Canada is supporting projects that are changing the lives of the people of Afghanistan. From helping UNICEF establish a maternal health clinic in Kandahar to funding projects that provide alternatives to poppy production across the country, Canada is making a difference in changing lives.

It is remarkable that the Liberal Party can stand up and talk about balancing aid to military involvement. Canada's military has been involved in some of the greatest conflicts of this century. As a nation, we believe the lives of people outside of our borders have value and fighting for democratic freedoms is worth it.

To the Liberals, the numbers of people helped through Canadian aid in Afghanistan are just that, numbers. They are unable to see that each of those numbers, each of those millions of little girls going to school, has a name, a face and a hope that there is better life than the one they have known. Canada is not helping numbers. We are helping real people who deserve no less than we do: shelter, food, water and the ability to provide for their families. Why do the Liberals believe the people of Afghanistan deserve to be abandoned?

Opposition motion—Afghanistan
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11 a.m.

Liberal

Bill Graham Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have a comment and a question. The hon. member started his comments by suggesting to members of this House and to the Canadian public that by having this debate we are somehow being disloyal to our troops and giving comfort to the Taliban.

I would suggest to him that if that logic takes place, we will never be able to ask in committee a question of the Chief of the Defence Staff as to whether or not the operational tempo of our troops is being stretched. We will never be able to ask a question of any of our operational leaders as to what the nature of the success of the mission is. It will always be hidden under the pretext that we are giving comfort to the enemy.

I would suggest to hon. members that as members of this democratic institution we will have lost this war today if we give to the Taliban the control as to what we can debate in this House of Commons. We should never allow ourselves to go there.

This motion recognizes the fact that our troops are often stretched in these missions. We have committed, as our leader said, for the longest period of time. It is a reasonable proposition for us to debate.

Here is what I would like to ask the hon. member to say from his departmental point of view. If we had the commander of the forces in the south in this House or before the committee, would he say that CIDA is delivering the type of aid and the amount of aid necessary for them to conduct an anti-insurgency operation?

Our understanding is that we are not delivering the level of aid necessary to do that, and while we can say that there are some successes, those successes are not sufficient to allow us to win what is not a military war but an insurgency matter, which requires an approach of aid, of diplomacy, of governance and of winning the war against opium trafficking and corruption and all the other issues in the Afghan government.

If we do not have that coordinated approach, we will never succeed at this, because it is not a military operation. Our leader made that clear in his speech and that is the thrust--

Opposition motion—Afghanistan
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11 a.m.

Conservative

Opposition motion—Afghanistan
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11 a.m.

Conservative

Ted Menzies Macleod, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to clarify for the hon. member that I did not at any time suggest disloyalty. What I suggested is that this is playing partisan politics with people's lives, with our soldiers who are willing to place their lives on the line to help our neighbours in Afghanistan. I never suggested the word “disloyal”, nor would I.

But I do want to clarify that if we suggested or made a decision in this House that we are going to withdraw our troops in February 2009, what message would that send to the Taliban? All the Taliban needs to do then is sit back and wait for us to leave.

What does that do to that woman I met in Kabul? What future does that leave for that woman? What future does that leave for the little boy that I met out in that field in Afghanistan who trusts those soldiers with his life? He came over and talked to us. He came over and held his hands out to us and said, “Ball”. That little boy trusts our Canadian soldiers because our soldiers are there not only to protect them but to provide friendship to them.

We cannot abandon these people.

Opposition motion—Afghanistan
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11 a.m.

NDP

Alexa McDonough Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, the parliamentary secretary speaks about the loyalty that we owe to our courageous troops and I would say the loyalty that we owe to the people of Afghanistan.

Would he not agree that since the beginning of the Kandahar mission neither the Liberals, who committed us to this Kandahar aggressive combat mission, nor the Conservatives, who carried it on and propose to carry it on even beyond 2009, failed to do the due diligence necessary? Would he not agree that they failed to do the due diligence necessary to ensure that we had a comprehensive strategy and that we would not be increasing the insecurity that is resulting in thousands and thousands of civilian deaths and is driving people into the arms of the Taliban?

Opposition motion—Afghanistan
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11 a.m.

Conservative

Ted Menzies Macleod, AB

Very quickly, Mr. Speaker, I owe the hon. member who spoke previously an answer to his question. I got a little caught up in my answer and I did not answer the question. Yes, the commander communicated to us directly that we are making a difference and that we are improving the lives of those Afghans that we are there to help. Can we do more? We can always do more, and we can do more on our own soil, but yes, we are helping.

I believe that the loss of lives of the local Afghans is a very sad reality, but it is not because of a lack of focus. It is not because of a lack of effort on our behalf. It is because we are dealing with people who want to destroy the lives of the Afghan people.

Opposition motion—Afghanistan
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:05 a.m.

South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale
B.C.

Conservative

Russ Hiebert Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by saying that we deeply mourn yesterday's loss of a dedicated soldier and a fine Canadian. A member of Canada's Special Operations Forces died yesterday due to injuries from an accident that occurred in Afghanistan.

This is a time of great sorrow for his family and friends. On behalf of the Government of Canada, I would like to extend my deepest condolences to them during this difficult time. Our thoughts and prayers are with them.

Canadians stand united in pride and gratitude behind our Canadian Forces. We honour their courage and commitment. Their sacrifice will not be forgotten.

We are here today debating this motion because the Liberal Party of Canada now sees fit to abandon the mission to which it originally committed our nation. It seems that even in opposition the Liberals are determined to continue their new leader's record of not getting the job done. Is that the legacy we want to have for our Afghanistan mission? That we did not get the job done?

Interestingly, the deputy leader of the opposition, the member for Etobicoke—Lakeshore, has some different views. Let us look at what he has said about this mission just in the last several months. He said:

What I learned there is you cannot do development in Afghanistan unless you control the security situation. The schools and clinics you build by day are burned down by night unless you have the troops to secure the development gains that you have made.

Is the Liberal Party now committed to abandoning the children and patients even if we have not stabilized the security situation by 2009? The deputy leader said:

States like Canada cannot be safe if we let Afghanistan fail...and become a base for terrorist attacks.

Is the Liberal Party now committed to gambling that Afghanistan will not become a safe haven for terrorists again? The deputy leader said:

We have got to be a party that stands for human rights everywhere, that does the tough lifting when it has to be done...You ask us to do something hard and difficult and we can do it. We're doing it in Afghanistan. It's in the greatest tradition of our country and that's the kind of country we want.

Is the Liberal Party now committed to risking human rights and the great tradition of our country?

He went further. He wrapped the mission in his own party's flag just last summer when he said:

Liberals need to remember this is a Liberal mission. We're in Afghanistan because of the leadership of the two previous Liberal governments...We, as a party, cannot abandon what is right or what we believe for political convenience.

Finally, the deputy leader of the Liberal Party told us, “We should stay there until we get the job done...”.

In 2009, are Canadians going to be saying that we did not get it done? We are talking about the future of a country. We are talking about the future of some 30 million people, people just like us, except that we have the good fortune of living in Canada.

At this time of year, while many Canadians are engrossed in NHL playoffs and tax returns, Afghans are overwhelmed by much more fundamental preoccupations. Will their daughters be safe as they go off to school today? Will their crops wither from the drought this year? Or can they really rest assured that the Taliban who scattered from their village months ago have no plans to return?

Human lives hang in the balance. The motion hastily put forward today, which asks this House to call upon the government to terminate the Canadian Forces operation in Afghanistan by February 2009, demands that we make a hugely important decision without sufficient information and analysis.

Certainly February 2009 is the current date to which we are held. It is the date that the members of this House supported. For that reason, it must be taken seriously.

However, any proposal for an extension or a termination of our military mission in Afghanistan beyond February 2009 must be analyzed with the highest level of scrutiny, with the utmost appreciation for the work that Canadians and our allies have invested thus far, and with heartfelt concern for the plight of the Afghan people.

Out of respect for the vote taken by parliamentarians in May 2006, I insist that we not rush to judgment here today.

We brought forward a motion to the House to extend the current Afghan mission to February 2009. The government has been clear that if it were to seek a further extension it would come to Parliament to do that, and that remains our position.

There is no doubt that this mission has come at a cost. Tragically, it has cost Canadian lives. The costs to Canada form a crucial part of the equation when we look at the viability of this mission for Canada in the years to come.

However, the costs are only one part of the equation. The men and women who are currently facing danger in Afghanistan are well aware of this.

They understand that when we evaluate this mission we also need to weigh the reasons for it and the potential to make a difference.

The reasons are straightforward. The government of Afghanistan has asked for our help. Our allies and partners are depending on our contributions. The mission has been authorized by the United Nations and is being led by NATO. And quite simply, the future stability of Afghanistan has a bearing on the security of the world and the security of Canada.

This mission is not just about help for the Afghans. It is about international peace and security.

For example, as the Minister of National Defence highlighted in Montreal a few weeks ago: six million Afghan children, one-third of them girls, now go to school compared to 700,000 in 2001, all of whom were boys; 6,000 kilometres of roads have been built and repaired; 2,500 villages have electricity for the first time; and 80% of Afghans now have access to basic health care, compared to only 8% in 2001.

What if we took the Canadian Forces out of the equation?

The fact is that security is needed for development and reconstruction initiatives to move forward. Development and reconstruction need to continue if the people of Afghanistan are going to have faith in the ability of their democratically elected government to provide for them.

This mission is an integrated pan-Canadian effort. Not only that, but Canada's efforts fit into a larger multinational mission. We are in Afghanistan with 36 other countries. We are clearly not the only ones bearing the burden of this mission. In fact, Poland, Australia and the United States, among others, have just stepped up their contributions.

Thanks in part to the efforts of the Minister of National Defence, significant progress has been made in strengthening our collective efforts in southern Afghanistan. In fact, just last week the minister held a meeting with the defence ministers of the other countries working with us in southern Afghanistan. We are part of a multinational team, a team that is depending on us.

The motion that stands before us today, which aims to carve in stone a deadline of February 2009, would have an impact far greater than many realize. It would let down our allies and partners in this mission. Quite simply, we would be shirking our responsibility to provide international and, ultimately, Canadian security.

Not only do we have international partners depending on us, but even more importantly, we have Afghan lives on the line.

Setting a deadline for the Canadian Forces' withdrawal right now would send a clear and dangerous signal to the Taliban. For the sake of the Afghans, our mission cannot be measured simply by the number of years or months we have invested. That is not an indicator of success, but simply a mark on a calendar.

We should not impose artificial deadlines that ignore the facts about progress being made toward agreed development and security objectives. This mission is to be measured by the impact we are making and will continue to make for the people of Afghanistan and for the people of Canada.

We cannot take today's motion lightly. The government will make an informed decision about this extremely important issue, based on extensive deliberations. We will also give Canadians and Parliament the opportunity to express their views on this issue.

Opposition motion—Afghanistan
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Michael Ignatieff Etobicoke—Lakeshore, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to address the remarks made by the parliamentary secretary. It appears that he has not paid sufficient attention to the terms of this mission.

Loose talk has been engaged on the opposite side of the House to the effect that this side of the House wants to abandon Afghanistan, whereas clause 5 of this resolution makes it very clear that we imply, as any sensible person would imply, that Canada's commitment to reconstruction, to diplomatic engagement and even, let me add, to military contributions to security in Afghanistan might well continue after February 2009 under a Liberal government. The issue here is whether it involves indirect combat operations in southern Afghanistan. That is point number one.

A second point that needs to be emphasized is that the parliamentary secretary talks as if the deadline was imposed by this side of the House. I would remind the member that February 2009 was the date proposed by the government. We on this side of the House are simply saying that the deadline is a fixed deadline.

I will make another point. When this deadline was brought before the House in May 2006, this side of the House was given six hours to debate a matter fundamental to Canada's national security.

If the government brings back another motion to extend the mission, I would ask the parliamentary secretary to allow the Canadian people and this House to have the debate that the motion warrants, as opposed to the situation we had last time when the debate was basically not enough time to give Canada enough time to consider the matter in all its gravity.

Given that there were meetings with Canada's allies in Quebec last week, what discussions were held in Quebec about the future of the mission, the extension of the mission? Canadian citizens have a right to know what engagements the Government of Canada is making with respect to the future of the mission.

I wonder whether the parliamentary secretary could clarify what discussions are underway with our allies in respect to the extension of the mission.

Opposition motion—Afghanistan
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

Russ Hiebert South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is interesting to hear the member say that the motion is clear as it implies. Right there is the evidence that there is not much clarity at all.

He talks about the frustration that he has experienced with this party. The reality is that our government was the first government to provide a vote on this mission. The Liberals, when they launched this mission, gave the army--

Opposition motion—Afghanistan
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:15 a.m.

Shawn Murphy

Answer the question.

Opposition motion—Afghanistan
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Michael Ignatieff Etobicoke—Lakeshore, ON

I asked you to read the mission statement.

Opposition motion—Afghanistan
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

Russ Hiebert South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale, BC

This is important. I would like you to hear this because since you were not here at the time you might not know. The member's government gave the army 15 minutes' notice about the fact that they were going to Afghanistan. There was no debate in this House, not even for six hours, and no vote in this House. It was simply an announcement that was made off the cuff without any notice to anyone.

The fact that we have taken these steps--

Opposition motion—Afghanistan
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

Order, please. The hon. parliamentary secretary has sufficient experience in the House to know that when he refers to other members of the House he should do it in the third person.

I now recognize the hon. member for Halifax for a question.

Opposition motion—Afghanistan
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:15 a.m.

NDP

Alexa McDonough Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I just listened to the Liberal member for Etobicoke—Lakeshore trash the debate that took place in this House when the government saw fit to extend the mission from 2007 to 2009. I listened to the Conservative member who said that any decision about launching such a mission or extending such a mission would require “the highest level of scrutiny”. He went on to say that it would require indepth analysis of the mission's success or current progress.

I must say that one is left to realize that there is not a whit of difference or a tiny beam of light between the Conservatives' position and the Liberals' position in how they have dealt with this mission.

How can the Liberal member who just spoke apply to this motion the highest level of scrutiny saying that we need to have a full evaluation before extending such a mission or terminating such a mission when his government utterly failed to do that when it extended this mission in May 2006 for two more years?