House of Commons Hansard #141 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

11:10 a.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I point out for the secretary of state that the woman about whom she spoke, the advocate for women's rights from Kandahar, Afghanistan, was the same woman who asked for protection and did not receive it. This is a very clear example of where the mission is not working.

I listened to the member's comments. She has said that we are in Afghanistan to defend democracy, equality and women's rights. It seems very incongruous to me that on that basis the Canadian government is spending ten times the amount on the military mission than it is on aid and development and reconstruction. Canada has spent now over $4 billion on the military effort.

The leader of the NDP pointed out earlier, as did the member for New Westminster—Coquitlam, who has done a great job on this issue, that the government is now in confusion and chaos about its mission. We get different strategies and timetables about when Canada will be exiting. Why is the secretary of state not answer those questions?

There was a motion in the House—

Opposition Motion—Afghanistan
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:10 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

Sorry, we have to give the secretary of state some time to respond.

Opposition Motion—Afghanistan
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Helena Guergis Simcoe—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, other incredible progress is going on in Afghanistan, having had a chance to speak with no less than nine women who have been recipients of the micro-finance program. Again, Canada is the leading donor for micro-finance.

When we see micro-finance set up in other nations and developing countries, it usually takes 20 years for the program to be sustainable. The one in Afghanistan will be sustainable in five years. The Afghan people are at three years now and they tell us they will be on track for five years.

What does that say about the Afghan people, particularly Afghan women? Some 98% of the loans, on average about $100 Canadian, are repaid. Of all those loans, 72% are for women. They can now feed their families and children. Some of those women walked seven to eight hours to say “thank you” to me. They asked me to take a message back to Canada, asking us not to leave. They also know what the NDP and the opposition are up to here. They do not understand from where the parties are coming.

I go back to Rona Tareen, who was very clear in her message to Canada. She thanks us and appreciates everything we are doing. She wonders why we are having this conversation.

Opposition Motion—Afghanistan
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Pierre Lemieux Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleagues, I stand here today to say—without hesitation—that I will not support this motion put forward by the hon. member for Toronto—Danforth. This motion is based on an erroneous assumption. It assumes that development and diplomacy can be undertaken successfully in Kandahar without the crucial support provided by our Canadian Forces.

In the Afghan compact, which we signed along with the government of Afghanistan and members of the international community over a year ago, we recognized that success in this mission would require efforts along three lines: security, governance and development. The document said that progress in each of these three areas was crucial, and must happen concurrently.

In fact, the document called these three areas critical and interdependent. It says that security, governance and development are all pillars of this mission, implying that together they hold up the mission. And if you pull one of the pillars out, the mission will collapse.

Because we are pursuing efforts on all three fronts we are making progress in Afghanistan. Infrastructure is being rebuilt; the economy is growing; the government is establishing its authority and women and children are enjoying freedoms they were not allowed before. These signs of progress are a result of the security that our troops are helping to provide.

So when the member for Toronto—Danforth proposes that we put an end to the Canadian Forces contribution to this mission, he is essentially proposing that we undermine the pursuit of diplomacy and development in Afghanistan as well.

However, let us now listen to what other Canadians have to say on this matter. Appreciation for our Canadian Forces efforts in Afghanistan is being expressed across the country. From Bedford, Nova Scotia, a young boy wrote to our troops in Afghanistan. He said:

I am 10 years old, and in grade 5. What I want to say is, tonight I am at home, enjoying my book, my playstation, and my family. I am very comfortable. I know you are away from home, away from your things, and very uncomfortable. I want to say thank you, from me and from my family, for all that you do. Keep safe.

From Bradford, Ontario, it is just a simple message and straight to the point. It states:

Thank you so much. Afghanistan is now getting the help it needs to become a safer and better country. You guys and girls are amazing.

From Vancouver, B.C., the message states:

I have moments of deep frustration; I see the desolation and poverty on my streets, and I wonder why the government has chosen to put our brave soldiers in a war on foreign soil, when we have so many lost battles here. Then I realize that there are battles that only soldiers can fight and battles that only civilians can fight. Thank you for fighting the war that I cannot fight...My faith in the importance of protecting freedom is firm.

From Winnipeg, Manitoba, it states:

Watching our country's recent rededication of the Vimy Ridge Memorial, what moved me the most was near the end as the camera panned the crowd and there was a soldier--possibly retired--holding a picture of relatives in WWI military attire, possibly survivors of Vimy. Our country has a long history of helping others, even if sometimes it means laying down our lives. All of you in our Armed Services deserve our gratitude, our respect. Thank you.

From Yukon, it states:

You are all the ultimate “Team Canada”! There aren't words enough to describe my deep gratitude for your courage and personal sacrifice in the service of our country. All I can offer is a sincere and heartfelt thank you!

These are messages that have been sent to our troops in Afghanistan. These have all been written in just the last few months.

Canadians recognize that the security being established by the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan is ultimately connected to the security we enjoy here in Canada. They recognize that the diplomatic and development efforts that are improving the lives of Afghans are possible precisely because the Canadian Forces are there. They recognize that some jobs in this world, unfortunately, require military force. They recognize that this mission continues a long Canadian tradition of helping others in need. And at the end of the day, Canadians just want to say thanks.

If members of the House still question the need for the security provided by the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan, they do not need to accept the words of those Canadians either. Appreciation for the vital contributions of the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan is also voiced by experts, diplomatic experts, in fact. Nigel Fisher, the head of UNICEF Canada said just last week that “a strong international military presence is needed now” and he said it will be needed for years to come.

Allow me to provide a substantive example of exactly how the work of our men and women in uniform is improving the daily lives of the Afghan people. For the last two weeks Canadian troops have been supporting an operation called “Op Achilles”, ISAF's largest operation with the Afghan national security forces to date. The intent of Op Achilles is to disrupt Taliban plans and establish security in the area of the Sangin Valley, a part of Helmand province that borders Kandahar province.

For the people of Afghanistan, the impact of security and, sadly, the impact of insecurity is very real. For instance, just north of the Sangin Valley is the Kajaki dam and powerhouse. The Kajaki dam is the largest dam in Afghanistan and it is the prime source of hydro electricity for the south. The hundreds of thousands of Afghans who live in Kandahar City, among others, depend on that dam for power and water.

In the fall and early spring, the dam's power output was wavering, but due to ISAF efforts, the supply of electricity to Kandahar City was sustained and now work can proceed on the dam's refurbishment project. This project aims to almost double the dam's electrical power output and triple irrigation capacity in the region. The Kajaki dam project is expected to benefit almost two million Afghans.

The economic and social impact of such a project will be enormous, but this project can proceed only if ISAF follows through on its commitment to provide the necessary security for the engineers and labourers to do their work. So when members talk about pulling the Canadian Forces out of Afghanistan today, they will jeopardize countless projects just like this.

Reconstruction and development cannot happen without security forces in place to help provide that necessary security. We do not want to leave the Afghans without light, heat and water, and we certainly do not want to leave them to live in a region that will be retaken by murderous insurgents. We do not want to leave them to suffer more bombs in the markets, more mines hidden cunningly on the side of the road, more gunmen terrorizing the streets, but that is exactly what we would be doing if we pulled our Canadian Forces out.

If we pull our military out now, the impact of the resulting insecurity would be heart-wrenching. For the sake of the Afghan people and for the sake of the Canadians who want to help them, I cannot support this motion.

Opposition Motion—Afghanistan
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:20 a.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the hon. member to comment on what his understanding is in terms of when this mission will end.

As he is probably aware, in May 2006 there was a vote in the House of Commons to extend this mission to February 2009. It was very narrowly approved by a vote of 149 to 145, so it was a very close vote. A number of Liberals, as we know, voted with the government. We have that on the record.

However, since then we have had very conflicting information from the Minister of National Defence and from military officials who are planning to extend this mission beyond 2009. We have heard 2011, 2015 and even beyond that, so I think it is very important in this debate.

We are calling for withdrawal now, but we would like to hear from the government a very clear position regarding the exit strategy. Is it 2009? Is it beyond that? We hear of these other plans that are in the department that the Minister of National Defence is not able to clarify and provide adequate information to Canadians.

I would ask the hon. member to tell his constituents and all Canadians when this mission will end.

Opposition Motion—Afghanistan
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:20 a.m.

Conservative

Pierre Lemieux Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, the point I would like to underline is that the motion we are discussing today is a reckless motion regarding the safety and security of our Canadian Forces and their operations in Afghanistan.

Our government brought before the House a debate and the House voted on extending the mission until 2009. We will respect that vote that was taken right here in the House. In terms of what will happen in 2009, that is two years away. We are focused on the here and now.

I have already listed some of the accomplishment that we have realized in Afghanistan. My colleagues have spoken about the re-establishment of security, the rebuilding of facilities, the rebuilding of villages, and stabilizing the economy. These are all pluses that are occurring thanks to our participation in this mission and the participation of other countries. As we proceed, we will continue to evaluate.

Opposition Motion—Afghanistan
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:20 a.m.

Prince George—Peace River
B.C.

Conservative

Jay Hill Secretary of State and Chief Government Whip

Mr. Speaker, I will try and keep this very short and allow my colleague time to address my concerns.

The hon. member for New Westminster—Coquitlam from the NDP was saying how in her assessment this mission was senseless and that it was misguided. Somehow the NDP seems to be living under this illusion that we can somehow deliver aid and assistance to the Afghanistan people without providing security.

She also said, and I wrote it down because I wanted to make sure I got it accurately, “There are better ways to achieve security”. That is what she said.

I know my colleague had a long and distinguished career in the Canadian Forces. I wonder whether, with his experience, he would be able to identify any ways that the Canadian Forces could actually achieve security through better ways than what they are attempting to do now because the NDP has failed to do that in the debate thus far?

Opposition Motion—Afghanistan
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:25 a.m.

Conservative

Pierre Lemieux Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, as my colleague pointed out, I did serve in our Canadian Forces for 20 years in the army. In order to respond to his question I would like to say that there is no better way to establish security in Afghanistan than the way in which we are doing it now.

We are working with our Canadian Forces. We are working with the forces of other nations. We are working with the Afghanistan security forces to bring about physical security within Afghanistan.

Within that umbrella of physical security, we are able to deliver important projects. We are able to deliver food aid, launch vaccination programs, rebuild bridges, schools and road networks. It is under this umbrella of security that we are able to accomplish what we are accomplishing today.

Opposition Motion—Afghanistan
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:25 a.m.

Liberal

Ujjal Dosanjh Vancouver South, BC

Mr. Speaker, I must admit that I am somewhat puzzled by this motion on the part of the NDP. I started wondering why, after voting down a specific end to the combat role of our mission, it would bring forward a motion that it knows for all practical purposes is not going to be approved by the House. Obviously it is either a pursuit of some ideological purity, which baffles me, or some partisan calculations to do some damage control for having voted against the Liberal motion last Tuesday.

As we well know, in May 2006 Parliament voted to extend Canada's mission in southern Afghanistan until February 2009. The Conservative government rushed that motion through the House and gave parliamentarians little information and only six hours of debate. The Prime Minister's desire to play politics with this very important issue played a large part in the way that motion was handled by the Conservative Party.

This past Tuesday, as I said, Parliament voted on a Liberal motion that sought to ensure the departure date of 2009 was honoured. NDP members have made it clear how they feel about Canada's mission in Afghanistan. Clearly, they want the combat mission in southern Afghanistan to end.

In light of that, they had a choice to make last Tuesday. They could have voted for that Liberal motion and, with the Liberal opposition, sent a clear message calling for an end to our combat role in southern Afghanistan by the end of February 2009.

I should note, Mr. Speaker, that I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Richmond Hill.

Obviously if the Liberal motion had passed Canadians would have clarity on when the combat role was going to end. Our NATO allies would have clarity as to what arrangements they might need to make in case other troops from other jurisdictions might be needed. The government and people of Afghanistan would also know that our combat role would come to an end. This does not mean that our mission would come to an end in February 2009 but that our combat role would.

However, that did not happen, because the NDP voted to support the Conservative government in defeating that motion. The NDP knows realistically that the troops will remain in Afghanistan until 2009. As long as NDP members continue to vote with the Conservatives to oppose our efforts to put a deadline on the combat role, that combat role will continue until 2009. As well, the government is not at any time soon going to bring forward a motion to end the combat role any earlier than 2009.

As a result of what the NDP has done, what may in fact happen is that the government may bring forward a motion to extend this combat role for our troops beyond 2009. Of course, that means the government, as it wishes, would have an open-ended power to continue the combat role beyond 2009 if it so chooses.

Today the NDP has put forward a motion that calls for Canada to break its word to Afghanistan, as I have said, and to our NATO partners. It knows that this motion has no chance of success. I must say with a great deal of regret that this is highly irresponsible and unrealistic.

Whatever one may think of the way in which the mission was extended to 2009 or the way the Conservative government has handled this mission, the fact remains that Canada made a commitment on the world stage to the people and government of Afghanistan, to our NATO allies and to the rest of the world. Such a commitment cannot be taken lightly. No responsible political party can ever or should ever lightly turn its back on any international commitment signed by Canada and approved by this Parliament.

What the Conservative government did in the way it rushed the extension was not to my liking. I voted against that extension, but the fact is that we have given our word to Afghanistan through a legitimate government of our country and we cannot go back on that word.

We need to provide some notice to our NATO allies. If this motion passes, arranging a replacement force in the wake of an immediate Canadian departure, as the motion demands, would be nearly impossible. NATO and our other allies require notice. We have to work with them to deal with this issue.

The behaviour of the NDP lays bare its willingness to give the Conservative government a pass, as demonstrated in the last federal election, even if the end result is to produce an outcome absolutely contrary to its policies and its stated values. In the last election, a right-wing Conservative government took over. In the way that NDP members defeated the Liberal motion by supporting the Conservative government, they have given a blank cheque to that government for an open-ended mission, possibly beyond 2009.

NDP members can criticize the mission and they can say that troops should be withdrawn immediately, but when they back the Conservative government and risk indefinite extension of the mission in the process, anything else they say rings hollow. The talk does not match the actions. That party does not live up to the responsibility a responsible political party should have.

The NDP is not standing up in an effective way for what Canadians want. Those members obviously do not have respect for Canada's word on the international stage. They had a chance to join with the Liberals and the Bloc Québécois to deliver a clear message on behalf of the Canadian people to the Conservative government, but they failed. They stumbled.

Now they are trying to undo the political damage that they may have done to themselves n their own constituencies. The NDP chose to risk the extension of the very mission it opposed beyond 2009. That is a possibility. Given the NDP's position on this mission, it is incomprehensible to me why those members did what they did with respect to the Liberal motion.

A Liberal government would clearly commit to ending Canada's combat role in Kandahar in 2009 and would immediately inform NATO of this deadline to ensure it would be able to locate a suitable replacement for Canada. We feel that this is the most responsible approach under the circumstances and that it strikes a balance between the extreme approaches of the NDP on the one hand and the Conservatives on the other. Therefore, I will be opposing this motion.

Opposition Motion—Afghanistan
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Dawn Black New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, I hardly know where to begin to address the comments by the member for Vancouver South.

As for the Liberal motion that was before the House on Monday night and on which we voted, it would continue, unchanged, the search and destroy mission, the counter-insurgency mission, that the member has said he opposes, the exact mission that he voted against last year.

He was critical of the Conservatives for only offering a six hour warning of the debate on the mission in Afghanistan, yet his own government, the Liberal government that took us into this counter-insurgency mission in the first place, only gave the Canadian military a 45 minute warning that they were going into this counter-insurgency mission, in opposition to advice the Liberals had been given by the leadership of the Canadian military.

Let us make no mistake about it. This is a Liberal mission. Until a month or two months ago, it was operating under the mandate that the Liberal government gave to the Canadian Forces as a counter-insurgency search and destroy mission.

I want to ask the member for Vancouver South a couple of questions. First, surely he is embarrassed by his own caucus when the vote went down last year by only four votes and so many Liberals failed to show up in the House of Commons to vote on extending the mission. Second, how does he answer the questions about the detainee transfer agreement when, again, that agreement was signed under defence minister Bill Graham, who continues to defend it, even in--

Opposition Motion—Afghanistan
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:35 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

Order, please. The hon. member knows she cannot refer to people by their given names. The member she spoke of, the former minister of foreign affairs, is still in the House. In any event, the question has been asked.

The hon. member for Vancouver South.

Opposition Motion—Afghanistan
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Ujjal Dosanjh Vancouver South, BC

Mr. Speaker, there have been many questions, not just one.

Let me go back to the facts of the extension of this mission. There is no doubt in my mind that the Prime Minister played politics with this issue at that time. We all understood that. Parliament, and in a free vote on the part of the Liberals, decided the mission would be extended. We accept that. We gave our word on the international stage.

However, the fact is that now we have NDP members who want to end the mission today, who know this motion will not pass, and who defeated the motion that would put a specific end in February 2009 to the combat role. I fail to understand how that serves their purposes.

Ultimately, our objective with the motion we brought forward was to put an end to the combat role in 2009, to respect our word, which we have given to the international community, to respect our commitment to the people of Afghanistan, and to ensure that our NATO allies are able to find a replacement if they need one.

However, now we have the extreme approach of the NDP. Those members want to end the mission today, yet they support the Conservative government, if the government chooses to extend this mission beyond 2009, in possibly--

Opposition Motion—Afghanistan
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:35 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

We have one more question.

The hon. member for Nanaimo--Alberni.

Opposition Motion—Afghanistan
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

James Lunney Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the member a question as well. He seems to ignore that in fact it was the Liberals themselves who sent our troops into Afghanistan. We are part of a coalition of some 36 nations working to help this developing nation. Why is it that the Liberals now are so determined to undermine the good efforts of our Canadian Forces over there?

The military is giving their greatest effort ever, or at least in modern years, to establish this new country, working with developing Afghan security forces and our NATO partners. We are putting millions into relief efforts and our Canadian aid agencies working over there, with micro-finance programs helping women and women and girls getting education for the first time in a generation and perhaps in many generations. We are working to establish infrastructure in that country. We are giving hope to a nation that is just developing in the modern world.

Why are the Liberals in such a rush to undermine the good efforts that we are making and to send a message to the Taliban that if it puts our troops at risk and if it hammers our troops a little harder, maybe we will do just what the NDP wants and pull them out tomorrow rather than complete the mission and--

Opposition Motion—Afghanistan
Business of Supply
Government Orders

11:35 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

The hon. member for Vancouver South.