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 afghanistan.

Topics

Afghanistan
Government Orders

1:35 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, that is not at all the case. The Liberal Party, the Liberal position, demanded that the counter-insurgency mission end in February 2009, but never said that the mission had to end in February 2009. We still have responsibilities. There is a provincial reconstruction team under Canadian protection. That will not end in February 2009.

We want the mission to change and to focus much more on security, development and training Afghan troops. We believe that there should be a firm end date of February 2011 and that the government should provide clear objectives on what can be accomplished by February 2011. Therefore, we are being consistent.

The problem is that the government did not approach NATO in 2007 to ensure that troops would be rotated and enable us to concentrate on training, reconstruction and security. It is very late in doing so. The Prime Minister is on the phone trying to obtain these troops at all costs and at the very last minute. The government is responsible for this delay, not the official opposition. The NDP is also responsible for the delay because it did not agree to vote in favour of the resolution in this House.

That is the situation we find ourselves in. We are not here just to criticize, but also to put forward proposals. We proposed a motion that the government accepted for the most part and, on this basis, we will have a debate that I hope will be as fruitful as possible for Canada, Afghanistan and NATO.

Afghanistan
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

NDP

Dawn Black New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to the Leader of the Opposition as he gave his comments. I also heard the question from my Bloc Québécois colleague.

I would simply take issue with the Leader of the Opposition saying that the government has not asked for help in southern Afghanistan. I think the government has pleaded over and over again for assistance in southern Afghanistan. It is simply that other NATO countries are not willing and do not have the support of their people to go to the south.

I congratulate the leader of the Liberal Party on his flexibility today in turning this motion around. I want to ask him two specific questions.

My first question is, does this motion prevent a future government from adopting a new motion supporting a further extension past 2011?

My second question is, does this motion preclude combat concurrent with the position that the Leader of the Opposition was advocating only a couple of short weeks ago? I have a quote by the Leader of the Opposition who said, “the combat mission in Kandahar must end by February 2009”.

Afghanistan
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, to answer the hon. member's first question, she knows very well that Parliament is free to debate what Parliament wants. A government in the future may request new military missions for Canada anywhere in the world.

We have a motion before us which says that Canada's military presence in Kandahar will end in July 2011, and it is on this basis that the issue will be debated.

We only say that once it is accepted by Parliament, assuming that is the case, NATO and the government of Afghanistan should be notified right away. This would allow them to prepare for the rotation.

The motion that is facing us clearly says that the new mission will be about construction, security, development and training. This is clearly what we must focus on.

We will not tell our military how to implement the mission, but it is our role as representatives of the Canadian people to define the mission. This is the definition that we have advocated for over the last year. It is the one that we support.

Afghanistan
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

Bloc

Vivian Barbot Papineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the Leader of the Opposition what he means by rotation. He is basing his argument on the fact that there is a major change in the mission. However, earlier, we heard the Minister of National Defence give us a rather convoluted definition of what he means by rotation, which seems more like a strengthening of the mission.

Will the Leader of the Opposition talk about this so that we know exactly what it means? It seems to be a pivotal aspect of his argument.

Afghanistan
Government Orders

1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her question.

It is very important to understand that in order for Canadian troops to concentrate on the three objectives cited in the motion, other troops must be sent to Afghanistan to look after the other aspects of the mission.

The rotation will allow Canada to concentrate on the tasks of security, development and training Afghan forces. Clear objectives, or benchmarks, must be established. That would be the role of Canadian troops. Therefore, the other troops must be responsible for other aspects of the mission, particularly counter-insurgency operations. That is what is required, that is what the motion sets out and that is what we must debate. Without these other troops, we will obviously not be able to change the mission.

The government is saying that 1,000 troops should be enough. We wonder why 1,000 and how that figure was chosen, given that other military personnel say that 5,000 troops are needed.

Those are some of the terms for our debate here in this House.

Afghanistan
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I listened with intent to the hon. opposition leader's speech and I thank him for the fact that regardless of what side of view we take on the Afghan mission, every member of the House and all Canadians support their troops and their families.

The Auditor General came out with her report the other day and the surgeon general of DND said that over 27% of regular forces coming back have a mental or physical injury. One was not done for the reserve forces, so the thinking is that one-third, one out of every three troops coming back from Afghanistan, are suffering from mental or physical problems. The reality is that the previous government failed to recognize this and put programs in place to help them and their families and the current government is being woefully inadequate on it as well.

We have heard the stories of the children of Petawawa who were not getting help and it took the media and an ombudsman report to get it done. We hear the stories today in The Hill Times of the many veterans who are suffering PTSD concerns and trying to get help from the government and from the previous government. We all support the troops but that support when they come home seems to drop off dramatically.

What programs would the hon. member and the Liberal Party like the Conservative Party to put in place to ensure that when these troops come back the only questions they will be asked is whether they served and how can we help them? That is what Parliament should be doing for those brave men and women when they come home from Afghanistan or anywhere else in the world.

Afghanistan
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, that is a very valid point. The government should enhance the new veterans charter programs that the previous Liberal government enacted.

It is very true that we are demanding a lot from our troops. If I am not wrong, the new contingent will be shaped by something like 25% of reservists. This is a big concern for the official opposition and, I understand, for the hon. member, which is why we are saying to the government that we cannot continue beyond February 2009 unless the mission changes and unless we receive the rotation process from NATO. We have asked the government why 1,000 troops when so many experts have said that we need many more than that.

Afghanistan
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

Bloc

Vivian Barbot Papineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, on February 15, the minority Conservative government put forward a motion that included the Liberal Party's amendments. Despite the fact that the Prime Minister has made it a matter of confidence, the motion does not change the Bloc Québécois' position. We have said it before, and we will say it again: we are ready for an election on this issue.

This Conservative motion would extend the Canadian mission in Kandahar to December 2011. Canada has been in Kandahar since 2006. We think that by the time the mission's current deadline arrives in February 2009, Canada will have done its part. The Liberals and the Conservatives share the same basic position on this issue. Both parties want Canada to stay in Kandahar until 2011.

Considering that most Quebeckers want Canada to end its mission in February 2009, it is clear that only the Bloc Québécois represents Quebeckers' will and their values. The Liberal and Conservative parties are completely out of touch with Quebec's reality. The position these parties share is convoluted and rife with contradiction. Just a few weeks ago, the Liberals were fighting tooth and nail to ensure that Canada would withdraw from combat zones at the end of the current mission in February 2009, but now they are ready to extend the mission until 2011. They simply changed their minds. How inconsistent!

The government House leader claims that he wants an open and transparent debate, but we have reason to doubt that. Since coming to power, the Conservatives have maintained a culture of secrecy. Moreover, despite their claim that this motion is not a partisan matter, they have turned it into a confidence vote. The government has turned the Afghanistan issue into an ideological debate with only two possible options: one can be either for or against the stated position.

As far as the substance of the motion is concerned, we think Canada must focus more on reconstruction and military training. That has always been the position of the Bloc Québécois, who would like to see this process begin immediately and continue until the end of the mission in February 2009.

We should add that the government has still not set a date to vote on this motion. We are calling for a clear commitment to have this vote before the NATO summit in Bucharest, which is to begin on April 2, 2008.

Let us remember that this is not the first time Parliament is debating the mission in Afghanistan and its February 2009 deadline.

Let us recap. The war in Afghanistan was authorized by the UN from the outset after the tragic events of September 11, 2001. At first, it was an operation— Operation Enduring Freedom—whereby the United States exercised its right to legitimate defence after receiving proper permission from the UN. The purpose of the operation was to push the Northern Alliance, which was fighting the Taliban regime, toward the capital. The goal was to weaken the Taliban, who had been recognized by the UN as a threat to international peace and security.

Defeating the Taliban regime was relatively easy; achieving peace and rebuilding a viable Afghan state is a far more demanding task. The fundamental objective of the international coalition and the United Nations is to reconstruct the economy, the democracy and a viable Afghan state enabling Afghans to take control of their country and their development.

Canada has been on mission in the Kandahar region since October 2005. In February 2006, it assumed command from the United States of the regional command south in Kandahar. Canada was responsible for the Enduring Freedom operations conducted by the coalition in southern Afghanistan until November 2006. At that time, Canada also committed to keeping most of its troops there until February 2007.

In May 2006, the Conservative government asked the House to support extending the Afghan mission by another two years, effective 2007.

The House agreed to this extension. At that point, the mission was to end in February 2009. In July 2006, NATO officially took over command in southern Afghanistan. The Canadian Forces left Operation Enduring Freedom to join the International Security Assistance Force. The situation in southern Afghanistan proved to be much tougher than originally thought. NATO troops, and particularly Canadian troops, have faced organized and ferocious resistance from the Taliban. It was at that point that the number of deaths of Quebeckers and Canadians started rising at an alarming rate, going from eight deaths between 2001 and 2005, to 70 deaths between 2006 and 2008. For a country of about 30 million people, we can consider that we have done our part.

In fact, Canada has deployed the fourth-largest number of troops in Afghanistan, and has suffered the third-highest number of deaths. Canada has paid a high human price to maintain security in Kandahar. The country has not lost so many lives since the Korean War. Add to that the financial cost of the mission. According to figures published in the report on National Defence's plans and priorities, the cost of Canadian operations in Afghanistan was over $7.7 billion for the period from 2001 to 2008.

If it ended the combat mission in February 2009, Canada would have some financial flexibility to invest in development assistance in Afghanistan. Furthermore, if we consider that NATO's mission in Kandahar is an international mission and that 38 countries currently have a military presence in Afghanistan, we can say without shame that Canada has carried out an important and dangerous mission in Afghanistan for over three years, and that the time has come for others to take over in that region.

Even though we want Canada to withdraw from Kandahar at the end of its mission, we do not think that the entire NATO mission should end. That is why we have always advocated handing the reins over to other NATO countries to replace the Canadian contingent in Kandahar. The federal government should notify NATO member countries now that our mission will end in February 2009. Complete withdrawal from Afghanistan, as recommended by the NDP, would be irresponsible toward the Afghan people, their government and our allies, who are counting on our participation until 2009. We need to create a new balance by then. That is why for some time now, the Bloc Québécois has supported focusing on increasing development and diplomacy in Afghanistan. To avoid losing the support of the Afghan people, Canada must make development assistance a priority right away. This is urgent.

In the wake of over 20 years of war, devastation reigns in Afghanistan. There is next to no civil infrastructure or economic growth. Everything needs to be reconstructed. It is therefore not surprising that Afghanistan is considered one of the poorest countries in the world. Let us not forget that this is what brought the international community and the Afghan government together for the London Conference on Afghanistan in 2006, where participants adopted the Afghanistan compact. Participants also set a number of goals and a five-year timeline to bring about improvements in three crucial areas—one: security; two: governance, rule of law and human rights; and three: social and economic development in Afghanistan.

To achieve the London goals, we need the support of the Afghan people as we work to ensure their security and, most importantly, improve their daily living conditions.

Concerted action by the international community is required for successful development in Afghanistan. To convince our allies to do more, Canada must lead by example and increase aid immediately. Funding must be increased in order to provide humanitarian aid in the short term and commit to the construction of roads, wells, basic infrastructures, and so on.

Furthermore, it is well known that, generally speaking, international aid and reconstruction efforts are poorly coordinated. The secretary general of NATO stated: “We need a better international coordination structure for Afghanistan. We must provide the security and do the reconstruction but we must also do the politics.” His comments echo those of the UN secretary general.

Without stronger leadership from the Afghan government, greater donor coherence, and in particular, better cooperation among military and civil organizations from the international community in Afghanistan, as well as a strong commitment from neighbouring countries, many of the gains made since the Bonn Conference in terms of security, reinforced institutions and development could be lost or reversed.

In January 2007, inspired by what was done in Bosnia and Kosovo, the Bloc Québécois proposed the appointment of a senior UN official with real, considerable power to better coordinate all international aid in cooperation with the Afghan government. This senior representative would also act as the link between NATO and the reconstruction teams in order to direct aid to where it is needed most. We were pleased to hear the Minister of Foreign Affairs say he was in favour of such an appointment in his speech to the UN General Assembly on October 2, 2007—

Afghanistan
Government Orders

2 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. member, but it is now time for statements by members. The hon. member will have eight minutes left when debate resumes.

Simonds Elementary School
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Warawa Langley, BC

Mr. Speaker, in my riding of Langley, students at Simonds Elementary School composed some lyrics and music to celebrate our beautiful community. I would like to share one of the songs about Langley, written by Ms. Rogers' and Ms. Lewis' grades 1 and 2 classes.

The Salmon, Nicomekl, and the Fraser River
Flow through our community
We have parks and we have playgrounds
Where you can come and play with me.
We've got bike trails; we've got hike trails,
We can ride our horses to.
If you come and live in Langley
We'll share all these things with you

These bright young students capture the welcoming spirit of Langley. I would like to congratulate Simonds Elementary School and all its students for their fine display of talent. I also invite everyone to visit beautiful Langley this year and help us celebrate the 150th birthday of British Columbia.

Curling
Statements By Members

February 25th, 2008 / 2 p.m.

Liberal

Raymond Simard Saint Boniface, MB

Mr. Speaker, Manitoba's curling supremacy is once more bolstered by yesterday's results at the Scottie's Tournament of Hearts held in Regina.

The Jennifer Jones foursome, which hails from the St. Vital Curling Club in my riding of Saint Boniface, demonstrated why they are the best female curlers in the world.

Joining Ms. Jones on the podium are third Cathy Overton-Clapham, second Jill Officer and lead Dawn Askin. They played brilliantly and emerged victoriously from a classic on-ice battle of wits to win their second Canadian curling championship.

Jennifer and her teammates will take advantage of that strong momentum when they compete in the world championship in Vernon, British Columbia, next month.

With yesterday's triumph comes not only an automatic return to the 2009 Scottie's as team Canada, but it also guarantees the foursome a much coveted berth in the Canadian Olympic trials to take place in October 2009.

I would ask all my colleagues in the House to congratulate Ms. Jones and her teammates on this extraordinary accomplishment and join me in wishing them the best of luck representing Canada in next month's world championships in Vernon, B.C.

Old Age Security Act
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Carrier Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, on December 5, I had the honour to introduce Bill C-490, An Act to amend the Old Age Security Act. This bill provides for full retroactive payment of amounts owed to thousands of seniors, a $110 increase in the monthly guaranteed income supplement and payment of a deceased person's benefits to that person's spouse or common-law partner for six months. It also provides for automatic registration of people who are eligible for the guaranteed income supplement.

People who are or should be receiving the guaranteed income supplement are among the most vulnerable in our society. These people are living below the poverty line and quite often do not have the means to defend their rights.

I ask my colleagues in all parties to support this initiative in order to improve the lives of our seniors.

Radio-Canada
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, Radio-Canada plays a vital role in the cultural life of francophones in northern Ontario, but it has forgotten that it is required to support local voices. Its new plan will cut service in the Timmins area. This reorganization means that only one journalist will be available to cover our large area.

We have many communities without private French-language radio stations or newspapers. Radio-Canada is the only voice they have. Service in this area must continue and expand. The people of Cochrane, Kapuskasing and Timmins have the right to listen to broadcasts on Radio-Canada. They hear a great deal about Montreal and Toronto.

I am opposed to this plan. Northern francophones deserve better service. Radio-Canada should remember that northern Ontario is part of francophone Canada.

Fruit Farmers
Statements By Members

2 p.m.

Conservative

Dean Allison Niagara West—Glanbrook, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise to highlight our government's record supporting grape growers and the tender fruit farmers in my riding of Niagara West—Glanbrook and across this country.

Since 2006, our government has delivered millions of dollars in relief from excise tax for grape and wine producers.

Last year, our government provided $45 million in new funding for fruit farmers to help them eradicate the deadly plum pox virus from their orchards.

Grape and tree fruit farmers also benefit from our $15 million federal investment in research happening at our revitalized Vineland Research Centre.

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to announce, on behalf of the Minister of Agriculture, $23 million to help farmers transition to new fruit varieties so they can remain competitive in the global market.

I campaigned on federal support for our local grape and tender fruit producers during the last election and I am proud to stand by our government's record on delivering results for my riding and for this country.

Ontario Senior Achievement Award
Statements By Members

2:05 p.m.

Liberal

Lloyd St. Amand Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise to pay tribute to Dr. Henry Hedges, recipient of an Ontario Senior Achievement Award which recognizes seniors who have made significant contributions to their communities through voluntary or professional activities.

By any gauge, Dr. Hedges has contributed very significantly to his community. He is an accomplished author, professor, horticulturalist, environmentalist and an advocate for people with special needs.

Well before the terms became fashionable and used rather indiscriminately, Dr. Hedges was and continues to be visionary, innovative and progressive. He is a person of very considerable accomplishments but is a man of modesty, humility and obvious dignity.

How appropriate it is that this very fine man be awarded the province's highest recognition for seniors. There is truly nobody more deserving than Hank Hedges.