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

Business of the House
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Business of the House
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Business of the House
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed consideration of the motion, and of the amendment.

Afghanistan
Government Orders

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Blaney Lévis—Bellechasse, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to inform you that I wish to share my time with the parliamentary secretary, the member for Edmonton Centre.

Last night, I was at the Quebec City airport to welcome some one hundred soldiers returning to Valcartier from a dangerous and demanding mission in Afghanistan. Accompanied by General Barabé, commander of Land Forces Quebec Area, I personally greeted each soldier as they returned to Canadian soil. Their faces showed signs of fatigue, but they also reflected a sense of duty done and, above all, feverish excitement at being reunited with their families after so much time apart.

I am thinking of them now as I take part in this debate on the motion concerning the future of the mission in Afghanistan. Canadian soldiers are there at the request of the Afghan people and their president, Hamid Karzai—who has visited us here in the House of Commons—and with the support of the United Nations, working alongside many other nations, including France, Germany, Great Britain, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands and our neighbours to the south.

First, I would like to stress that Afghanistan is not a Conservative nor a Liberal mission. It is a Canadian mission.

For several months now, reservists and soldiers from Chaudière-Appalaches, Charlevoix, Quebec City, the Gaspé and elsewhere in Quebec have been deployed in Kandahar and the surrounding area to spread and protect the universal values of democracy, peace and freedom. These Quebeckers went willingly to secure a better future for the Afghan people, who have been shaken by decades of terror and violence.

Today, I would like to salute these men and women from Quebec. I want to salute the courage, tenacity and loyalty they have shown during difficult times and under dangerous and exhausting conditions.

I would also like to honour those who were left behind: the spouses, friends and family members of our soldiers and reservists who remained here in Canada with the children and who have been waiting and hoping, wondering and worrying, for their loved ones to return. It is a great relief for them to have their loved ones back, safe and sound.

I am thinking, for example, of the secretary treasurer of Sainte-Justine, in Les Etchemins, whose son is working as a nurse at the military hospital in Kandahar and helps every day to save human lives, Afghan and Canadian alike. I am anxious to see them reunited back home.

I would also like to recognize the people who have, tragically, lost a family member who has made the ultimate sacrifice, who fell in combat for his or her country, and whose courage I salute today. I would like to pay my greatest respect to those who have experienced such losses.

I will soon have an opportunity to acknowledge all the sacrifices made in my riding and to be with our troops and reservists to express my recognition and admiration for them, on behalf of myself and the entire population of Lévis, Bellechasse and Les Etchemins.

For now we must act as responsible parliamentarians, and engage in an informed debate about the future of this mission, because it is essential that our women and men in uniform, whom we send on missions abroad, be given the support of the Parliament of Canada. It is also crucial that we, as parliamentarians, provide our troops with our unwavering support, based on our values, the values of both Canada and Quebec.

For the first time in the history of our young country, we can hold, and we are holding, a second debate in the House about the future of the Canadian mission in Afghanistan—freely, democratically, and with the opportunity to exchange our various views.

In fact, this is a commitment that our troops in the Canadian Forces are carrying out enthusiastically. They have demonstrated, and they demonstrate every day, that they have the skills, the experience and the desire that they need to pursue their mission until it succeeds, and the Afghans take charge of their own destiny. And it is the role of our government to ensure that they have the equipment and support they need to do their job.

They have the support not only of parliamentarians, but also of many Canadians.

Our country is currently engaged in a debate over Canada's future role in Afghanistan. The Prime Minister, in an effort to help communicate and inform this debate, asked a panel of eminent Canadians to advise Parliament on options for the Afghanistan mission, once its mandate ends in one year. We welcome the recommendations made by Mr. Manley and his esteemed panel.

Unfortunately, while our government was seeking for an open debate at the defence and foreign affairs committee, the opposition refused to hold a debate and rejected that motion. It is something I can hardly understand while there is so much at stake.

Our government believes this mission should be extended. However, we also believe in the parliamentary process and the voices of the people of Canada. The people of Canada are saying that Canada is doing its fair share in Afghanistan.

Recently we gave notice of a motion to extend Canada's commitment to the United Nations mandated mission in Afghanistan until the end of 2011. The two predicated conditions are: one, that Canada can secure an ally that will provide a battle group of 1,000 troops to join us in the south; and two, that we secure unmanned aerial vehicles and medium-lift helicopters.

It is my hope that Canadians across the country will engage in this debate. It is not a debate for Parliament alone.

All Canadians who follow the debate about Canada’s mission in Afghanistan know the demanding work our troops are doing there. I have witnessed it myself, along with members of all parties on the Standing Committee on National Defence, which travelled to Afghanistan for a week and lived with the troops, slept in barracks, shared their meals and visited their facilities. They were able to see the remarkable work being done by our troops in Afghanistan.

These Canadians support our work in Afghanistan and want to stay informed about this mission. Certainly they listen to the news and they see our troops, as we all do, providing aid to the Afghan people and engaging in reconstruction efforts. They listen to the radio and they hear about the role our troops are playing in clearing roads so that people can move about in safety, so that farmers can do their work and the economy can take its course in Afghanistan.

These Canadians know that our 2,500 soldiers in Afghanistan are there with NATO on a mission under the aegis of the United Nations. We saw them off last summer. I was with my colleagues from Beauport—Limoilou and Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière. The Premier of Quebec was also there to bid our troops farewell. The Lieutenant-Governor was there too, as well as Mayor Boucher, the patron of the Royal 22e Régiment, who addressed the troops with much affection, calling them her nieces and nephews and opening her heart to them.

Unfortunately, the warm, and vibrant voice of Mayor Boucher has now fallen silent. Who would have thought that she would not be there for the troops’ return to Quebec City? I know that she would have been very proud of their accomplishments and that they honour her memory.

It is obvious that there can be no development without security, and that is why the mission must proceed in a balanced way and in accordance with the three aspects. Many Canadians have devoted time and resources and made sacrifices for the benefit of our operations in Afghanistan. As a country, we have made an enormous investment. The Canadian Forces are doing a great job and have shown they can succeed with flying colours in helping the people of Afghanistan along the road to emancipation.

I encourage all my colleagues to forego these sterile, partisan debates and examine with all requisite seriousness this motion to enable our Canadian troops and our country of Canada to carry on alongside the great democracies of the world and under UN auspices to complete the reconstruction job undertaken in Afghanistan in an environment of diplomacy, development and security.

Afghanistan
Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his very well thought out speech today in discussing the future of our troops in Afghanistan.

I have one question for him. He said he had the opportunity and honour to welcome 100 returning troops at his local airport. It is an outstanding thing for him to do, to welcome troops when they come back.

I am just wondering if he has any inside knowledge about the concerns of those troops. A fair number of them will come back with either physical or mental concerns, and they and their families require much more assistance than the government is providing now. This is what the Auditor General and the Surgeon General of DND have both indicated.

I am hoping that the member is able to encourage his government to ensure that a great deal more resources, human and financial, are put in place so that the brave men and women coming back to Canada will have the services they need immediately and not down the road.

Afghanistan
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5:30 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Blaney Lévis—Bellechasse, QC

Mr. Speaker, I actually sit on the defence committee with the member's colleague from Vancouver, the member for New Westminster--Coquitlam. The defence committee is studying the issue of our military returning from their mission.

Our troops returning from Afghanistan have clearly had some out of the ordinary experiences. They should be given all the help and support they need to maintain good mental health. As I just said, the committee is currently studying, for example, possible post-traumatic stress syndrome.

According to all we know so far, it is normal for soldiers to have reactions after returning from a mission. The army is there, though, and very familiar with these reactions. There is a solid health services structure in place. If the committee’s work turns up any recommendations that should be made, we will pass them along to the government. For the time being, though, everything seems to indicate that our soldiers are getting the help they need.

Afghanistan
Government Orders

5:30 p.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for my colleague from the Standing Committee on National Defence. I am wondering whether he shares some of my concerns.

Canada's foreign affairs policy in the last 50 years has focused on peace missions. Everyone agrees that the current mission is not a peace mission. So we are in the process of undermining the policy Canada has had for the last 50 years, which has focused on peace missions and through which Canada became an international mediator, with beneficial results. But the current mission we have gotten ourselves into is the complete opposite.

The Americans are very happy about our mission, but the rest of the international community must now do without a mediator that once played a role between the United States and the rest of this international community.

I would like to know whether he also thinks we are undermining Canada's foreign affairs policy.

Afghanistan
Government Orders

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Blaney Lévis—Bellechasse, QC

Mr. Speaker, I sit on the same committee with my hon. friend opposite, and I have to say that I do not share his point of view in the least.

On the contrary, the mission must be adapted to the context. It is clear that the context in which the mission in Afghanistan is taking place is completely different from the context of previous missions. As well, the Canadian approach has sometimes not produced the expected results. We have only to think of the tragedy in Rwanda, for example. God knows we do not want to go through that again.

As my colleague knows, I also have a problem with the position taken by him and his party, which strikes me as irresponsible and inconsistent in many respects and which also reeks of improvisation. In June 2006, my friend said, “I believe that if we leave, the Taliban will come back and the people will be in a bad way”. I really believe that, contrary to what my colleague says, the Canadian mission is adapted to the needs on the ground. Depending on how the situation evolves, we will be able to put more effort into development and diplomacy.

Afghanistan
Government Orders

5:35 p.m.

Edmonton Centre
Alberta

Conservative

Laurie Hawn Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to add my voice to this most important debate in my two short years in Parliament.

Our nation has a long and honourable tradition of contributing to international peace and security. It is a heritage that was born in the fields of Flanders, the hedgerows of northwest Europe, and the hills of Korea. It is a heritage of Canadians serving for the greater good.

Canadians take pride in our past role on the world stage and they can take pride in our role in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is not a Conservative mission nor a Liberal mission. It is a Canadian mission, and the most important one we have undertaken in over 50 years.

Liberals and Conservatives agree that the mission should wrap up in 2011. Both parties agree that we must focus our efforts on training, reconstruction and development. As the Manley panel report states:

We like to talk about Canada's role in the world. Well, we have a meaningful one in Afghanistan. As our report states, it should not be faint-hearted nor should it be open-ended. Above all, we must not abandon it prematurely.

Like all of our military missions, it is being conducted with allies who share our support of and commitment to liberal democracy and the values that it represents.

Canadians are being asked to form an opinion about the mission, but most are only getting part of the story.

Frankly, what I find hugely annoying is the crowd of critics who automatically interpret any bad news as gospel and start making generalizations about the mission as a whole. When we announce some good news, we are accused of looking at the world through rose-coloured glasses. Anyone who says no progress has been made has not been to Afghanistan, is not listening to the people who have been there or has an axe to grind.

Of course there are major challenges to be met in Afghanistan. That is why we are there, with 38 allies, on a UN-mandated, NATO-led mission, at the express request of the democratically elected government of Afghanistan.

There are a number of things we have to improve, and that is why we made the commitment in question, knowing that it will not be easy, that it will be a short-term commitment and there will be sacrifices to be made.

If we had quit on South Korea, it would be a communist country today instead of one of the strongest economies in the world. Croatia is one of the 39 allies within the International Security Assistance Force. It was not long ago that Croatia was failing and the alliance stepped in to help. Maybe if we get this right, Afghanistan could be part of an alliance helping out someone else in the future.

In 1938 a British member of Parliament, Leo Amery, said of the situation at the time, “The issue has become very simple. Are we to surrender to ruthless brutality a free people whose cause we have espoused, but are now to throw to the wolves to save our own skins; or are we still able to stand up to a bully? It is not Czechoslovakia but our own soul that is at stake”.

I suggest that the basic principle at play is not much different. This mission is about three things.

It is about national interest. It is clearly in Canada's national interest to not let Afghanistan become a breeding ground for terrorism once again. We have seen what happened to our markets and economy after 9/11. We have seen what happened to our ability to move freely across borders and for commerce to move freely. What happens to our allies, such as the United States, has a direct impact on our security, our prosperity and our quality of life.

It is also about values. It is about the values of liberal democracies that we all share--freedom, human rights and rule of law--and which Afghans deserve a taste of.

It is about trust. We have told Afghanistan to trust us.

We will be there to help them until they are able to provide for their own security.

If we leave too early, the people who trusted us and worked with us will not be treated well by the people who replace us.

The next time we ask someone to trust us, they will be quite right to say: “No, thank you. Even if things are difficult for us, at least we know what to expect.”

We cannot let that happen.

I would like to share a few memories of my visits to Afghanistan over the Christmas holidays.

On Christmas Eve 2006, at Mas'um Ghar, I was with General Hillier. We were talking about war and peace, listening to the bombs explode some distance away, and contemplating a blackened landscape.

When I found myself in the same place on Christmas Eve this past year, together with the Minister of National Defence, the landscape had been completely transformed. You would have thought you were on the Canadian Prairies, with the lights of several villages twinkling on the horizon.

After decades of darkness the lights are back on, because after decades of darkness the Canadian forces are equipped to do the job and because Canada is there.

There are many measures of the success we are achieving. I met a little girl about six years old on Christmas Day. She was wearing nail polish. She would have had her fingers cut off by the Taliban for that crime. Today she is allowed to go to one of the 4,000 schools that Canada has helped build and be taught by some of the 9,000 teachers that Canada has helped train. She will be able to grow up and get a job. She may be one of hundreds of thousands of women who start small businesses with micro loans from Canada.

She will be able to leave home wearing what she wants, without being escorted by a male member of her immediate family.

Violation of any of those rules would have resulted in a public hanging under the Taliban.

She might be elected to public office in Afghanistan, where there are more women in that role now than in Canada. She may be one of the 40,000 Afghan babies who no longer die at birth every year in Afghanistan.

None of this progress would have been possible under the Taliban, and we cannot allow the Taliban to take that country backward again.

Who would have thought that there would one day be the equivalent of a Terry Fox run in Kandahar, with thousands of participants dressed in white tee-shirts and pants? And yet it happened last year.

Some people invoke the memory of Lester Pearson as justification for adopting what they see as a blue beret approach to resolution of the situation in Afghanistan. I suggest they go back and reread their history.

Lester Pearson was not Mahatma Gandhi and he was not Pollyanna. Mr. Pearson had a clear understanding of the requirement for a robust military that was properly funded and equipped. He was a key part of a Liberal government that raised defence spending to 7% of GDP. Lester Pearson's government did not stare down our enemies through the power of love and isolationism. It stared them down through a combination of strength and national resolve in cooperation with like-minded allies.

As compelling as the image of the power of the blue beret may be, it is simply dangerously unrealistic to believe that this will strike fear into the hearts of the Taliban and bring stability to Afghanistan.

These same people would say that we should withdraw NATO and bring in the UN. Brilliant. In fact, it was so brilliant that it was done years ago. Who the heck do they think the 39 allies in ISAF are, if not representative of the United Nations?

Let me quote from a recent article in the Globe and Mail written by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon:

Afghanistan is a potent symbol of the costs inherent in abandoning nations to the lawless forces of anarchy. That alone justifies international efforts to help rebuild the country....

Our collective success depends on the continuing presence of the International Security Assistance Force, commanded by NATO and helping local governments in nearly every province to maintain security and carry out reconstruction projects....

The Afghan government has far to go before it regains control of its own destiny. But that day will come. It is hard work. There is little glory. It requires sacrifices. And that is why we are there.

Others say we should simply stop combat operations and concentrate on training and development. I would suggest to them that the purpose of the mission from day one has been to work toward that goal and that is exactly what we have been doing.

Regrettably, there is someone else who gets a vote on how fast we can progress in that area, and that is the Taliban. As General Hillier and John Manley have rightly pointed out, we cannot train the Afghan national army and the Afghan national police force without exposing ourselves to combat.

It is also unrealistic to suggest that we simply move to another part of Afghanistan. The previous Liberal government chose Kandahar, with our support, and it is too late to turn back the clock. In the south alone, we have benefited from close partnerships and cooperation with Great Britain, the United States, Denmark, the Netherlands, Australia, Romania and Estonia.

Together with our allies and partners, we have almost 19,000 troops in the south of Afghanistan and others are joining us. We are in talks with our allies and partners to get more troops on the ground in Kandahar. Across Afghanistan, the international community is pulling together to support the mission.

The Prime Minister established the Manley panel last fall with the express intention of bringing a bipartisan consensus to this important mission. The Manley panel notes:

To make a difference in Afghanistan--to contribute to a more stable and peaceful, better governed and developing Afghanistan--Canadians will require sustained resolve and determined realism about what can be achieved.

“Freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law” cannot be simply fine words. They have to be backed up by strength and resolve. It is up to all of us to work together, remembering our proud history of doing the right thing internationally on Canadian missions under Conservative and Liberal governments for the past 140 years.

We owe it to our allies. We owe it to those who depend on us for help. We owe it to Canadians.

Afghanistan
Government Orders

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Allen Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the parliamentary secretary's words. I have a tremendous amount of respect for the background that he brings to the House and this debate.

A number of reservists and full members have gone from my riding to Afghanistan. Without question, there is tremendous support in Tobique—Mactaquac for the troops. I have not had the opportunity to be in Afghanistan and I have a question for the parliamentary secretary.

He commented about the training and development that needs to be done for the Afghan troops so they can secure their own country. Could the member comment about what he saw over there in the job that our Canadian troops are doing in mentoring these troops? Does he see success growing in that area?

Afghanistan
Government Orders

5:45 p.m.

Conservative

Laurie Hawn Edmonton Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, in my two visits to Afghanistan, which were a year apart, I saw significant progress. I talked to literally hundreds and hundreds of soldiers, some of whom had been there more than once. As I said in my comments, anybody who suggests that there has been no progress has not been there, has not listened to those who have, or has another agenda.

In fact, we have made tremendous progress in training the Afghan national army. We visited with some of the army when we were there with the Minister of National Defence this past Christmas. I think we have six kandaks in training right now. Some of them are online. More and more, they are taking the lead in missions. They are doing the planning, with Canadian assistance and supervision, but the Afghan national army is taking the lead on those missions more and more.

That is what this is about. It is about giving them back their own country, which they can manage themselves with the training and capacity that we have instilled in them. We are doing a great job of that.

A lot more needs to be done. There is no question about that. There are a lot of challenges, but we are getting the job done, thanks to the brave Canadian men and women.

Afghanistan
Government Orders

5:45 p.m.

Liberal

Alan Tonks York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague from Markham—Unionville indicated in his comments that the position taken by the opposition was that maybe there should be an update with respect to progress made in the area of reconstruction and institutional revitalization and also with respect to the military initiatives.

The suggestion was put forward that a special committee should be set up to receive those periodic reports. I have my own views and I have heard other members of the opposition give different views on that, but I would be interested to hear the member's response to this suggestion that is being put forward.

Afghanistan
Government Orders

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

Laurie Hawn Edmonton Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for the question because it gives me an opportunity to point out that we have taken this very seriously. In fact, the last two ministers of national defence have been before committees 17 times in the last two years, which is more often than the last four Liberal defence ministers combined.

There have been 11 technical briefings since 2001. Ten of those were by this government and one was by the previous government. We take communicating with Parliament and with Canadians very seriously. We have demonstrated that and we are going to continue to do that.

Afghanistan
Government Orders

5:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Don Valley East should know that there is a minute left for both the question and the answer.