House of Commons Hansard #63 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was afghanistan.

Topics

Consumer Price Index
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to table the second petition this afternoon that arises out of my national campaign to fight for fairness for ordinary Canadians and in particular for seniors who were shortchanged by their government as a result of an error in calculating the rate of inflation. The government has acknowledged the mistake made by Statistics Canada but is refusing to take any remedial action.

The petitioners call upon Parliament to take full responsibility for this error, which negatively impacted their incomes from 2001 to 2006, and to take the required steps to repay every Canadian who has been shortchanged by a government program because of a miscalculation of the CPI.

The petitions are signed by hundreds of people from Hamilton, including an overwhelming number from my riding of Hamilton Mountain. The petitioners are people who have worked hard all their lives, have played by the rules and now are finding it harder and harder to make ends meet. All the petitioners are asking for is a bit of fairness from their government.

It is a privilege to table this petition on their behalf.

Student Loans
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

Diane Marleau Sudbury, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to stand here today and present a petition signed by many of the students from Laurentian University.

They are asking that the government consider giving large grants to those students who come from poor families. Tuition fees have increased tremendously and more students are relying on loans and it is extremely difficult for them to repay the loans when they graduate.

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre
Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

I would like to inform the House that under the provisions of Standing Order 30, I am designating Wednesday, March 12 as the day fixed for the consideration of private member's motion No. 310 standing in the order of precedence in the name of the hon. member for Kitchener—Waterloo.

This additional private members' hour will take place immediately after the time for private members' business already planned for this day, after which the House will proceed to the adjournment debate pursuant to Standing Order 38.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Opposition Motion--Afghanistan
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Before question period, the hon. member for Halifax had the floor for questions and comments consequent upon her speech. There are four minutes remaining in the time allotted for questions and comments to the hon. member for Halifax.

Questions and comments. The hon. member for Burnaby—Douglas.

Opposition Motion--Afghanistan
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:10 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, in her speech earlier today the member for Halifax addressed the whole question of the need for more initiatives around peacemaking, seeking peace and working toward peace in Afghanistan. I want to read a quote from Oxfam's “Community Peacebuilding in Afghanistan” report:

As Oxfam research shows, for the vast majority of Afghans, problems have local causes and people turn to local institutions and individuals to resolve them. Yet little work has been done with local institutions and other actors, especially with shuras, to enhance their capabilities to promote peace. Peace work at the community level strengthens community cohesion, reduces violence, and enhances resistance to militants.

Canada is talking about signature projects that will publicize the effort in Afghanistan, mainly to Canadians. We have seen how some of our aid in Afghanistan seems to have been primarily directed at bolstering the military effort, the road building efforts for instance, and not necessarily directed to what is good and best for the Afghan people.

I wonder if the member for Halifax could comment on what Oxfam says is a deficiency in our foreign aid commitment to Afghanistan.

Opposition Motion--Afghanistan
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

NDP

Alexa McDonough Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am going to invite all members to introduce themselves to the complete report, “Community Peacebuilding in Afghanistan: The Case for a National Strategy”, authored by Matt Waldman of Oxfam International. I am sure they can find it on the website.

It is important for me not to do an unfair summary of the excellent proposal for what we should be doing instead, and in the very few moments left, I want not to use up my time to respond to the insults that were being hurled by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence during my speech today. Rather I would like to invite him and other members of the Liberal-Conservative alliance for continuing the Afghan counter-insurgency on a very brief tour of defence ministers and military leaders who have shown themselves more willing to face up to the reality of the hazards and the flaws in the counter-insurgency mission.

“Every time you kill an angry young man overseas, you're creating 15 more who will come after you” Who said that? Major General Andrew Leslie, former chief of the Canadian land staff. “I don't think Canada is winning the war, and this war is not winnable”. Who said that? Retired Colonel Michel Drapeau.

Afghanistan is a “textbook case of how to screw up a counter-insurgency”. Who said that? British Captain Leo Docherty. “The situation is deteriorating and...NATO forces risk appearing like an army of occupation.” The Belgium defence minister said that. “One should not try to bury one's head in the sand...the operation is encountering real difficulties.... the situation is not improving.” The French defence minister said that. “If...the international community cannot find a”-- political solution--“...then...we have no moral right to ask our young people to expose themselves to that danger”. Des Browne, the U.K. defence minister, said that.

I could go on. There are others who said much the same. A Dutch military commander said that ultimately, the key to defeating the counter-insurgency is political accommodation, and in Afghanistan, that means talking to the Taliban.

We have no moral right, as was suggested by many of these highly placed, experienced defence ministers and military leaders, to keep sending our young men and women to Afghanistan in a mission that is either going to jeopardize their lives or destroy their health for all time.

We need to get on a path to peace. We have to take the leadership necessary to do that. In doing so, we can regain the respect that countries around the world have had for Canada's traditional role of peace seeking, peace building and peacekeeping in our troubled world.

Opposition Motion--Afghanistan
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan York—Simcoe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order.

I have a motion, for which there have been discussions among the parties. I would have made it earlier but I had not yet heard back from the NDP. We now have heard back from them, so I believe you hopefully will find support for this.

That, notwithstanding any Standing Order or usual practices of the House, on Thursday, March 13, 2008, the House shall again consider Government Business No. 5 and, unless previously disposed of, at the expiry of time provided for Government Orders the Speaker shall interrupt the proceedings and put forthwith, without further debate or amendment, every question necessary to dispose of Government Business No. 5.

That is, of course, the Afghanistan motion.

Opposition Motion--Afghanistan
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Does the hon. government House leader have the unanimous consent of the House to propose this motion?

Opposition Motion--Afghanistan
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Opposition Motion--Afghanistan
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Marcel Proulx Hull—Aylmer, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on the same point of order, simply to explain our position. We indeed had some discussions, but we are considering the request at this time. We will get back to the government with an answer on this as soon as possible.

Opposition Motion--Afghanistan
Business of Supply
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

John McKay Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine.

I want to pick up on the comments by the member for Halifax. She referenced an Oxfam report entitled, “Community peacebuilding in Afghanistan: The case for a national strategy”. I, too, think it is well worth the read. It is an excellent analysis of part of the way forward.

As many commentators have noted, the government has essentially photocopied the Liberal position on the future role of Afghanistan, and largely, so to speak, the political sizzle has gone out of the debate. I am hoping that the government actually responds positively to this motion so that we can enter into a substantive conversation as to where we go in Afghanistan instead of this eternal game of gotcha politics, which is really just playing with men's and women's lives, those of our own men and women and those in Afghanistan.

Until recently, this exercise in gotcha politics has largely characterized the debate. I hope we can move off that to this motion for change. It really is a motion for change.

It is conditional upon getting another 1,000 troops. I hope the government answers the questions put forward by the leader of the Liberal Party with respect to why 1,000 troops should make a difference, what the significance is in the number of 1,000, what exactly the troops will do, and whether an extra 1,000 actually will make a difference in Afghanistan.

To be truthful, my expectations of improvement are not all that high, given that historically Afghanistan has long been the place where armies go to die and treasuries get depleted. In particular, in regard to Britain in the 18th century, I think there were two occupations, which ended in a rather unsatisfactory conclusion and drained the exchequer of Great Britain. We also have the more recent example of the Russian invasion in the last 20 years, in the past generation. It, too, was a very unsatisfactory experience for the Russians. Now NATO is in Afghanistan and we have been there some seven years. Of course, the Americans have their own version in Iraq, where there is an insurgency which is very difficult to control and is in fact depleting their treasury.

Speaking of the NATO mission, the current mission in Afghanistan unfortunately has served to highlight some deep divisions among the NATO partners concerning the question of the appropriate role for the alliance in that desperate land. Despite the desperate state of affairs in that country, we still wish to believe that Afghans, like everyone else, wish to aspire to a greater sense of peace and security, much like other countries enjoy, and we are there because of that working assumption.

That hope is the basis on which I support the resolution going forward and that eventually we will improve the chances of the Afghan people realizing the standard of peace and prosperity. This is the main reason that I think this resolution needs to be supported going forward to 2011.

However, we should not be under any illusion that this is a war or an insurgency that can be won in a conventional sense, because the situation is a bit like a Hydra-headed monster. Once one element of the insurgency is dealt with, up pops another head. The unavoidable reality is that over the last three years the insurgency has increased. We have to ask some fundamental questions, which is the point of this debate, as to the best way to deploy our brave men and women in Afghanistan.

It is easy enough to talk about the 3Ds. We seem to talk about the 3Ds all the time. Over the past year certainly, and over the past seven years, the emphasis has been on the deployment of military forces to the neglect of the other two Ds. It has not been working as it should. I do not want people to get all defensive on me, but surely after seven years, which is, incidentally, longer than we were in World War II, we need to ask some pretty basic questions.

Afghanistan is an extremely complicated situation, mainly because it is a war on terror, and the war on terror is layered over a civil war, and the civil war is layered over tribal conflicts, and further, that is layered over personal disputes. It goes on and on.

We get a notion of perpetual fermenting conflict in all of these layers. I wonder where we would be today if, for the past seven years, we had put as much money into the other two Ds as we have put into defence. Maybe if we had, we now would actually be aspiring to bring our troops home.

In fact, Canada has no direct strategic interest in Afghanistan. We do not have any major businesses there. We do not have any resources that we are interested in. Essentially we are there to bring peace to the situation. Initially, we went in to help in the war on terror, but unfortunately, in the words of John Kerry, President Bush took “his eye off the ball”, and al-Qaeda, while defeated a number of years ago, still maintains some presence in this conflict.

I want to mention, however, that I like the part of the resolution that shifts the emphasis of the mission, but it will be meaningful only if we put serious effort into conflict resolution among the Afghans themselves.

I want to share two stories that relate to peace-building. A well known NGO in Canada submitted a very detailed peace-building initiative to CIDA. Its members had a great deal of experience. They certainly know what they are talking about. They were prepared to put up their own resources. The submission was received by CIDA and returned to them with an offer of $1,000 towards their initiative. Needless to say, that $1,000 was declined. The NGO was somewhat insulted. Therein lies something of the tale as to why we are not dealing with peace-building, or serious peace-building, in this country.

The second story involves an elected senator in Afghanistan. He was to mediate a conflict between two tribes. Apparently there was a blood feud. I am not quite sure what it involved, but the solution was apparently to offer up two women from one tribe and give them to the other tribe. If in fact that is the level of conflict resolution in Afghanistan, is it any wonder that these layerings of conflict continue, whether it is a war on terror or inter-tribal conflicts, et cetera?

My view of the matter is that Canada and our NATO partners need to get serious about these kinds of peace-building initiatives. My point in sharing those two stories is to emphasize that unless these kinds of low level episodes of violence are not resolved in coherent and just ways, it is highly unlikely that we will ever see peace in Afghanistan, and I fear that our troops will be there forever.

Actually, I would amend the last statement. We probably will be there indefinitely until at some point we simply get fed up and walk away from it. I do not think that would be very good for us. I do not think it would be very good for the Afghan people. I do not think that would be very good for the stated goals that we have in being in Afghanistan.

What would a serious conflict resolution process look like?

First, I believe we have to be intentional about building capacity. I realize that is an overused word. It is a type of lingo in the NGO trade, but we really need to remember that this country has known nothing about conflict resolution for a very long time. Afghanistan is a place where institutions are in fact corrupt and where justice is quite clearly hit and miss, more miss than hit.

Second, capacity building is absolutely essential and it should be taught in Afghan schools, because we have to inculcate that view into the children of Afghanistan.

Third, it needs to be involved in everything we do there, including our deployment of troops. It needs to be involved in everything from aid to diplomacy to troop deployment.

To drive that point home, the fourth point is that we need to drive it into the heads of every Afghan official we meet, every political official, every politician, every warlord, every police officer, every judge, and every man, woman and child in that country.

I do not want to sound Pollyannaish, but unless we have peace-building from the ground up, then this will be a perpetual conflict. However, I do want to be recorded as supporting the fact that this is a motion for change. I hope this motion for change will go forward.