House of Commons Hansard #53 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was troops.

Topics

Afghanistan
Government Orders

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Michael Ignatieff Etobicoke—Lakeshore, ON

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

I would like to begin by making a few brief remarks, if it is possible, about the NDP amendment that was offered in debate this afternoon.

I have two questions to ask the members of the NDP about their amendment. The first clause calls for “the safe withdrawal of Canadian soldiers from the combat mission”. The second clause calls for engaging the UN “in a robust diplomatic process”.

I am curious to know what members of the NDP would actually say to the Afghans. How would they explain the withdrawal of the Canadian Forces who are protecting them? What would they say to the Afghan women who depend on the Canadian Forces for security? How can the NDP go to the UN and pretend that the UN can initiate a diplomatic initiative in the absence of all security?

I make these points simply to point out that there are times when a party makes proposals in the House of Commons which render them unfit to govern. This, in my judgment, was one such occasion.

On Friday, the Chief of the Defence Staff challenged everyone in this House to provide clarity on the purpose of the mission in Afghanistan after 2009. It is a challenge that I am happy to accept.

It is up to parliamentarians to decide the objective of our mission, and it is up to our military to decide how to do it. Our party does not try to tell military commanders how to do their job.

Our party accepts that politicians should not tie the hands of our troops in the field, but we insist that elected leaders define the strategic goal that our country should pursue and seek to attain in Afghanistan.

Our party’s position is very clear. Three principles are set forth in our motion: the mission must change; the mission must end in 2011; and the mission must be accountable to Parliament and Canadians.

As for each of these points in turn, the government has now accepted our position that the mission must end in 2011. I welcome this sign of progress from the other side.

I think the government members agree, as we do, that there is a very clear and important reason for a deadline. Until the Afghan authorities clearly understand that there are fixed limits to Canada's engagement, the Afghans will lack clear incentives to step up their commitment to their own security.

Canada must maintain its solidarity with the Afghan people. Our party believes that profoundly, but solidarity is not a blank cheque. Solidarity is a relationship. That relationship should change over time. We gradually stand back and we help them to stand up. That, it seems to me in a nutshell, is what we want to achieve between 2009 and 2011.

If we concentrate on training the Afghan army and police forces, we will be able to withdraw in 2011. We will be able by then to end the military mission and undertake a new mission to help the Afghans rebuild their country.

Therefore, after 2011, we can envisage continuing engagement with Afghanistan but not in a military role.

The government also agreed to the second point, which was that the management of the mission must become more transparent and accountable. It agreed to create a special parliamentary committee on Afghanistan. It agreed to revise its information policy, especially in regard to the transfer and handling of detainees. We will hold the government to these promises.

I come now to the crux of the matter. There does remain a crucial ambiguity in the government's position on the fundamental question, which is: What is the overall purpose of the mission after 2009?

The government's resolution, which closely mirrors the language of the Liberal amendment, says that the military mission in Kandahar will consist of: (a) training the Afghan national security forces; (b) providing security for reconstruction and development in Kandahar; and (c) continuation of the Kandahar PRT.

Let us drill down here and get a little more clear. Canada is already training Afghan forces. It is already training and providing security for reconstruction and development, and it is already sustaining the PRT.

Our party believes that these three points should be the sole purpose of our efforts in Kandahar over the remaining years of the mission. Other aspects of our current mission should be assigned to another NATO battle contingent, which will rotate in by February 2009.

Our party agrees that there is a military participation component to the training of Afghan forces. However, these joint military operations must be related to a comprehensive strategy for reconstruction and development so that real progress can be made in regard to the security and quality of life of the people of Afghanistan. After all, they are the ones we are there to protect.

We understand that the training of the Afghan forces does require combined military operations in the OMLT formation and other formations but we believe profoundly that must be related to a comprehensive strategy of development and reconstruction. We believe the mission must focus on training.

The point is that we cannot be there forever. It is not our country. It is their country and our job is to help them train and develop the capacity to defend themselves. We must focus our efforts to get them ready for 2011. There is work to do but we can achieve it if we focus on this goal.

I want to emphasize the notion of focus. With the troops at our disposal, we cannot do everything. The Liberal suggestion, at its heart, is to focus on training to get the Afghan army and police ready for the job of defending their own country. That should be the focus of the mission.

On my recent visit to Afghanistan, I visited Afghan security forces who were training side by side with Canadians in forward operating bases in the Zare and Panjwai areas. The Afghan officers with whom I spoke were clear that they were ready to fight and defend their own country but that they needed two more years of training. We should provide this but on a strict timetable that would leave the Afghans in no doubt that the time was coming when they would need to have exclusive responsibility for their own defence.

The question of questions in this debate is whether the government understands its revised motion in the same letter and spirit that we proposed most of the wording for. The question is whether it understands the words in the same sense that we do. If we do not have this understanding, the Canadian consensus that both sides seek will be elusive.

We envisage a changed mission focusing on training and reconstruction. If the government accepts that the mission must take on this new focus, a Canadian consensus on Afghanistan is possible. The clarity, to return to where I began, that our generals are rightly seeking and that our citizens want, will issue forth in the united will of this Parliament.

If the government does not accept a clear focus on training and reconstruction, if it believes it can sneak past Parliament a motion that continues the existing mission and continues the status quo, I am afraid it will have difficulty securing the Canadian consensus that this party is seeking.

Afghanistan
Government Orders

February 25th, 2008 / 4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Myron Thompson Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to mention something and maybe the hon. member could respond.

On my way back to Ottawa this past weekend, I visited with my son who was in Afghanistan for over a year. I told him I was coming here back to this debate and asked him what he thought. He said, “Dad, just remind them that Afghans deserve freedom, freedom that we've taken for granted they deserve to have for the first time in their lives and that we all have a role to play in getting that done”.

We have our troops over there and we all support them. I am not talking about a difference of opinion, whether the troops should be brought home, as the NDP would indicate. We talk about reconstruction and building but Is it not true that part of the big mission is to do what we can to provide freedom in that far away land? If we establish freedom in more and more lands as we go along over the years, we will, sooner or later, get closer and closer to achieving peace. Sometimes it is very costly.

I come from the United States. I immigrated here 40 years ago. The one thing I learned all through school was the cost of the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, World War I and World War II to maintain the freedoms in other countries so that we could continue to enjoy the freedom we have in our own. We must maintain and do everything we can so that every community, church, school and activity in the country has a commitment to work toward freedom and to maintain it. One of the best ways to do that, of course, is to be fully behind our troops in everything that they do.

I do not quite understand why the NDP and the Bloc are objecting to this because they have the freedom to come here and pursue their wishes. The Bloc wants to separate, and it has the freedom to do that, but where else could that be done? I also recognize that the NDP has the freedom to express its views today, and I will never condemn them for that, but I do not agree with them one bit.

Freedom does not come cheap but does the member not believe that freedom is one of the main objectives of this mission, yes or no?

Afghanistan
Government Orders

5 p.m.

Liberal

Michael Ignatieff Etobicoke—Lakeshore, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member for Wild Rose is one of the members whose departure from the House I shall regret. I thank him for his contribution to the public service of his province and country. I also want to say very directly that I thank his son for his service to his country in Afghanistan.

I take his point about freedom and I would accept it entirely. We are there to enable young women to have the freedom to go to school and to provide the security that makes freedom possible. The only thing I would add to the remarks of the member for Wild Rose is that with freedom comes responsibility. I think the burden of what we in Canada have to do is to ensure that responsibility for security is shared with the Afghan authorities and police. We need to train them so they can exercise the responsibility for defending their own freedom.

Afghanistan
Government Orders

5 p.m.

Central Nova
Nova Scotia

Conservative

Peter MacKay Minister of National Defence and Minister of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague opposite for his participation and his significant contributions to this debate.

However, he should and would know that the mission began under a previous government, of which, granted, he was not a member. Therefore, when he speaks of matters being snuck by Parliament, I would remind him that the previous mission began without this type of substantive debate, without a mandate from Parliament, so to speak.

He spoke of the need for clarity of words and of purpose, of which I certainly agree. That direct line must be communicated to our soldiers. Their very existence depends on it and on the actions they take in the field.

However, would the member not agree that the important signal that is sent from Parliament is in fact contained in the motion? We can quibble about words and talk about interpretations but I think the substantive message is clear, that soldiers, and I heard him say it, and their leadership must use that discretion in the field, which sometimes, and I know he will agree, does include the use of lethal force. That is contained as part of this mission. Does he agree with that interpretation?

Afghanistan
Government Orders

5 p.m.

Liberal

Michael Ignatieff Etobicoke—Lakeshore, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. Minister of National Defence and I share a common objective of clarity. I acknowledge and recognize the fact that the government has brought this to the floor of the House of Commons for a serious debate.

It is infinitely superior, if I may say so, to very truncated debate we had in 2006. I think we have made progress. I salute him for that.

I also acknowledge, as I said very clearly in my statement, that combined military operations by the Afghan army and police with Canadian Forces will involve the use of lethal force. I also made it clear that we understand that the last thing a responsible member of Parliament wants to do is to direct soldiers as to the use of lethal force.

However, I want to come back finally to the point that it is about focus. It is about where we put the focus of our effort between 2009 and 2011 and we are saying make the focus on training.

Afghanistan
Government Orders

5 p.m.

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Richmond Hill, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am certainly pleased to participate in this debate. As the son of a World War II veteran, I learned very early the importance of the military and the sacrifices that our men and women make on the battlefield.

I am also pleased to see the Minister of National Defence here because I had the opportunity to go to Afghanistan with him when he was Minister of Foreign Affairs in April 2006. We saw firsthand the training of our soldiers, the people doing reconstruction, the need for medium lift helicopters, and the fact that we had to be transported by American Chinooks from place to place. That certainly had a great impact on me.

I thanked the minister at that time because we had the opportunity to see what a lot of Canadians did not see: men and women on the front line prepared to put their lives on the line for this country, for freedom, and to ensure the Afghan people had the benefits they did not have that Canadians took for granted. That was very important.

Not long after our return, the motion came from the government to extend the mission until February 2009. That was the government motion. I am now pleased to see that the government, in responding to the official opposition's proposal, has come a long way in embracing what we have said.

It is important to emphasize that we have said the mission must change. It must end and it must be more than military. There is no question that rotation is now being spoken about by the government. That is critical because when Canadian troops went to Kandahar originally in 2002, they rotated out after six months. When they went to Kabul, they rotated out and the Turks came in. Why? Because this is a NATO-led mission.

This is not an issue that some have described in the past about cutting and running. This is a NATO-led mission. Over 35 countries are involved. Many have covenants on their participation, but Canada has always stepped up to the plate. However, this is not solely a Canadian mission. Therefore, it is unrealistic to expect that Canadians should be going back for third and fourth tours of duty.

Obviously, in the proposal to respond to the government, Liberals wanted to have a number of things clearly spelled out. One, of course, was an end date. I will be looking forward to hearing from the government as to why it chose the end of 2011.

The Liberals had said our troops should be completely out by July 2011. It is too bad that this debate had not occurred over a year ago because this side of the House has been pushing for over a year to in fact find out when the government would notify NATO. We are pleased that it has finally said it will notify NATO and that our mission will end in 2011.

We are pleased that the government has also embraced the Liberal position with regard to training, which is currently being done. However, more training is necessary not only for the Afghan military but for the police because once an area is cleared, it is the Afghan police, which are woefully undertrained and underpaid at the moment, who need the reinforcement. Canadians can do the job but the heavy lifting part we talk about needs to be done in terms of rotation by others.

The government has said it wants 1,000 more troops. I would like to find where in the Manley report or the government report dealing with Afghanistan it is 1,000. Why is it not 2,000 or 5,000 in terms of this mission to support our troops and also the medium lift helicopters which I spoke of before? It is absolutely critical.

When I visited in April 2006, the troops told me that Canadians were the best equipped army on the ground, that the previous government had supplied them with the best equipment possible, except that they needed helicopters. That is something which the government at this date is trying to find. If we do not get those two key elements, obviously we cannot support them.

The mission must change in terms not being just military. We have on this side of the House argued for a long time that ultimately a military solution is not going to be possible in Afghanistan.

We know that because the defence department, in a 3D mission evaluating Soviet participation in Afghanistan in the 1980s, said in one of its conclusions that ultimately it must be an issue of reconciliation, that a military solution was not possible and therefore diplomatic efforts must be undertaken. This party has argued for diplomacy for a long time with allies in the region and obviously a special envoy.

Again, it is too bad that the government has waited so long to respond to this, but the reality is we have been arguing this and our leader spoke of this in February 2007. Had some members paid attention at that time, we certainly had articulated that, but again, sometimes it is better late than never.

It is too bad, when we are dealing with this situation, that the government did not responded much sooner. A diplomatic solution is absolutely key, and obviously reconciliation.

We talk about the issues of detainees, and one of the things that we believe and are trying to support is a better judicial and prison system over there. Again, is that not about Canadian values?

We are talking to the government. We do not want it to be like the Taliban. We want to make sure that we have a process dealing with law, to make sure the people are fairly tried, that the conditions which they are in are not overcramped, and that they are certainly not in a situation that we could not tolerate. We have asked for NATO-wide standards. We see that in the resolution and again we appreciate the fact that the government has embraced that.

It does not matter what side of the issue one is on, we all support our men and women in the field. Again, we have heard sometimes language in this House which really is not appropriate. We want to say, whether it is the New Democratic Party or the Bloc or the government, that we all support our troops. We may come at it from different positions from time to time, but nobody has a monopoly on it.

Clearly, I see the need for coordination and transparency. We have argued for a long time that Canadians need to know the facts. The trouble, unfortunately, with a lot of issues in the federal government is that we are dealing with silos. People are not talking to each other, the military with foreign affairs and foreign affairs with CIDA. Therefore cross-departmental discussions need to take place. They are absolutely critical.

There is a need for clarity and therefore, having a special committee to get updates regularly from the government, from all of those departments involved, is absolutely critical. Parliamentarians ultimately have to make decisions and they have to be based on available facts. Again, we have argued this for a long time.

I know I may get a question from the other side, saying that we had our chance to have the Manley people come and talk about this before the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development and the Standing Committee on National Defence. That was after the fact.

I raised the point, in the foreign affairs committee, that we should have them beforehand, before they wrote their report, so we could give parliamentary input into what they were saying. However, the government probably did not want to do that because it was not sure what it was going to say.

After the fact, when the Conservatives embraced it, they said that we needed to have them come. We had already read the Manley report. We want to have a genuine discussion, and again it is too bad that the government has waited until the eleventh hour to do this.

It is not practical at this point to suggest that we want to change the mission in a way which recognizes rotation, which recognizes that training is absolutely critical, and that others must step up to the plate.

If in fact we have not been able to get the necessary requirements to this date, I am not sure what the government is doing to ensure that by the time it goes to Bucharest, if in fact this resolution passes, that it will in fact have the ability. When is it going to make a firm decision? Is it going to make the decision on January 31, 2009, or is it going to say, when it goes to Bucharest and no one has stepped up to the plate, that we cannot continue?

The mission cannot be business as usual. If anyone out there thinks that this party supports business as usual, the answer is no. Obviously, the government does not support business as usual or it would not embrace what is basically 95% of the language of what we put together.

It is nice that the Conservatives have finally come on board, but again, in seeking all party support, it would be helpful if they would listen for a change. Often they are very good at catcalls, but they are not very good at listening. In this business, listening is sometimes better.

Afghanistan
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

Edmonton Centre
Alberta

Conservative

Laurie Hawn Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest, as I always do, to my hon. colleague across the way. He said something that has been perpetuated about this government of wanting a never-ending mission. No one in the government has ever used that language or intended this to be a never-ending mission. This phrase is an invention of the Liberal Party. I point that out for the hon. member.

If he listened to the last throne speech, we talked about the need for training. Training is what we have been doing on the ground, not just the past year but from the start of the mission. Did my hon. colleague listen to the throne speech? Does he understand that the emphasis on training has been going on in the mission for a very long time and that we are continuing and accelerating that?

Afghanistan
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Richmond Hill, ON

Mr. Speaker, first, I point out for the hon. member that it was only a few weeks ago in the House that the government used the language “around 2011” to end the mission. That is not very precise. Maybe for the Conservatives that is precise, but “around” does not give an end date. We are pleased that now they support our position of 2011. Again, I want to know this from the government. Why the end of 2011?

On the issue of training, absolutely we agree with training. We heard that in the Speech from the Throne. The problem is the government was not prepared to put that on the front burner. It said that it would continue the combat role and at some point down the road it would shift to training.

Afghanistan
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Afghanistan
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Richmond Hill, ON

If the hon. member wants to hear the answer, heckling is probably not a good idea. If one asks the question, one would assume one would listen to the answer. The answer is quite clear. The Conservatives mentioned training, but they did not put that on the front burner. Maybe they should have come to this conclusion a lot sooner than now. Then we would have had better answers.

Afghanistan
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I want to put on the record that the member for Durham and the member for New Brunswick Southwest have consistently said that the NDP have not done anything for veterans. I want to remind the House that the Conservatives, when they were in opposition, promised the extension of VIP services for widows and veterans. The former defence minister said that the system file would be removed. The Conservatives voted against the veterans first motions, which would have benefited a tremendous number of people. Also, the Auditor General of Canada cited the short-sightedness of the government when it came to assisting returning troops.

The date the Liberals and Conservatives have agreed to seems to be 2011. Does he honestly believe, as Mr. Hillier has said, that this mission could have been 10 or even more years a couple of years ago? Does he honestly believe the situation in Afghanistan could be cured with 1,000 more troops and be ended by 2011?

Afghanistan
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Richmond Hill, ON

Mr. Speaker, I said very clearly in my speech that the issue of national reconciliation ultimately would be the path, which is why we need diplomacy and why we need to encourage those kind of ongoing discussions.

Militarily, by 2011, if the emphasis is on training, at least we sincerely hope the Afghans will be able to be better prepared to defend themselves.

My colleague may be having a hard time hearing the answer to his question because of the catcalls from government members. Again, I do not understand this. We are trying to come up with a consensus in the House. The member asks if we will have a military solution by 2011. The answer is no.

The Conservatives can shout all they like, but the reality is they are late in coming to the table on this. We have pushed for reconciliation, diplomacy and development issues. We know that all three together will advance the issue, but not just one.

Business of the House
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

York—Simcoe
Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, I apologize for interrupting this very important debate on important issues on which I know there is great common ground, at least between the two major parties in the House. However, there have been considerable discussions among all House leaders in all the parties and I believe we have common ground on a number of other matters. I would like to put the following motion for the unanimous consent of the House. I move:

That, notwithstanding any Standing Order or usual practice of this House, the House shall sit beyond the ordinary hour of daily adjournment today; after 6:30 p.m. the Chair shall not receive any quorum calls, dilatory motions or requests for unanimous consent; when no member rises to speak to Government Motion No. 5, or at 10 p.m., whichever is earlier, the debate shall adjourn without the question being put; after the debate on Government Motion No. 5 is adjourned, the House shall consider the second reading motion of Bill C-44, An Act to amend the Agricultural Marketing Programs Act; a member from each recognized party may speak for not more than 20 minutes on the second reading motion of Bill C-44, after which, Bill C-44 shall be deemed to have been read a second time and referred to a committee of the whole, deemed considered in committee of the whole, deemed reported without amendment, deemed concurred in at report stage, and deemed read a third time and passed; after Bill C-44 is read a third time and passed, the House shall adjourn to the next sitting day.

Business of the House
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

I would like to inform the House that I have seen the motion and I find it to be in order, but I will go through the usual process nonetheless. Does the hon. minister have the unanimous consent of the House to move the motion?

Business of the House
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.