House of Commons Hansard #66 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was afghanistan.

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Afghanistan
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4:35 p.m.

Conservative

Daryl Kramp Prince Edward—Hastings, ON

Quite honestly, Mr. Speaker, I do not believe it can be squared. Quite frankly, I think the NDP and the Bloc positions are right off the wall. They either care or they do not care for humanity, public safety, and the future of people who are in a disadvantaged society. As for suggesting that women here or in another country are more or less important, we take so many things for granted here. We do not have a high mortality rate, yet in Afghanistan, because we do care, because we have made efforts, we have reduced the mortality rate--

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4:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

Order. Resuming debate, the hon. member for Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte.

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4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Gerry Byrne Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte, NL

Mr. Speaker, what has been recognized here during the course of the debate on this motion is the incredible honour and valour displayed by the men and women of our Canadian armed forces in the work they do in Afghanistan and the sense of purpose they give not only to that country and to the countrymen there, but to this House and to all Canadians. They truly are an exemplary group of people. I think that by the nature of the debate we are conducting, we do indeed honour them.

I come to this from a different vantage point than many. I have an opportunity to discuss the Afghanistan mission on a regular basis with soldiers who have served there. It is not that I have ever had the opportunity to travel to Afghanistan and I have not spent an incredible amount of time with the military on our nation's Canadian Forces bases. I do so from a different perspective. I speak not only directly to them when they are on leave, when they are on furlough and back home in the communities they come from in Newfoundland and Labrador, but as well I speak to their grandparents, their parents, their brothers and sisters.

My riding is blessed, I can tell members, in that we have a very significant number of members of the Canadian armed forces from Newfoundland and Labrador. In fact, while the province itself represents approximately 1.7% of the Canadian population, members of the Canadian armed forces from Newfoundland and Labrador constitute over 10%. So it goes without saying that I do indeed have a very direct connection and a strong understanding of not only the job they do but the nature of the character and the valour behind how they do it.

They come from Newfoundland and Labrador, and in fact they come from all over Canada, but that Newfoundland and Labrador connection has made me very, very sensitized to the importance of getting this mission right. There are some who would suggest that the proper approach to take here is simply to abandon Afghanistan, to move out completely, now, and to remove all Canadian military presence immediately.

While that may be an attractive position to some, if we think through the consequences of that, it would mean there would be no further reconstruction or redevelopment occurring at any point in time. To remove any and all Canadian military presence basically sends a signal not only to the Afghans but to the rest of our NATO partners that we are not in it as we committed to be under the NATO charter.

To leave this mission open-ended is not responsible behaviour either. That is what has been told to me. There have to be some conditions. There has to be some support put in place to mark a direction.

Also, it is not responsible to simply remove Canadian armed forces after an end date of 2009. Those who would suggest this are suggesting that there should be no Canadian aid presence in Afghanistan beyond 2009 either, because we cannot send Canadian aid workers into a hostile environment without basic protections. The best protections we can afford them are from the Canadian military.

However, there does have to be a rebalancing and this motion that is now before the House represents that rebalancing. I am very proud of the fact that the Liberal Party of Canada and its leadership have provided the essence of this revised motion. It does not call for a quick and dirty “out immediately” strategy. It does not provide for a never-ending campaign.

It provides balance to the mission. It provides a sense of continuity for those who are conducting it. That is what is being told to me by the members of the Canadian armed forces whom I proudly call constituents of Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte, Newfoundland and Labrador.

In our province, we do have a very strong military presence, not in our bases but in our province, because we do not have very many bases at all, but we are very proud of the contribution that Newfoundlanders and Labradorians make to the forces, and we are especially proud of what they are doing in Afghanistan.

That said, I note that this debate has been in accordance with exactly the values they are fighting for over there. The discourse has been civilized and very thoughtful. This is the thoughtfulness that I think they have brought to me as I discuss the overall mission with them. They really do suggest to me that it is inappropriate to remove the role of the Canadian armed forces from Afghanistan right now.

They do suggest to me that there is a need, a requirement, for an end date to the mission. The balance that has been struck and centred around the date of 2009 is very responsible. The combat intensive mission, as currently engaged in or prioritized, must end by 2009, and that is reinforced by my constituents. We also recognize that the continued presence of Canadian Forces to provide protection for those most valuable aid projects is also extremely wise.

The rebalance that is represented within the mission is completely consistent with the advice that is being given to me by my constituents, who are very proud and active members of the Canadian armed forces. I am very proud of the leadership of the Liberal Party that brought us here.

The mission itself is too valuable to be simply brought down on partisan lines. It is also too valuable not to think through the consequences of either the extended spectrum of the argument, cut and run immediately, and without any due concern for the consequences of a complete and utter removal of Canadian armed forces in the present term.

It also balances the fact that we do need to send our men and women a message as to exactly what will be expected of them in the long term. That notion of balance is a product of the Liberal Party and the consultations that we conducted not only within our own caucus but with members of the Canadian armed forces and with the members of the Canadian public at large.

What else can be said? It is very important that we all stand firmly, shoulder-to-shoulder, with those that so proudly represent us in uniform, and give them the political direction as our military provides them with the operational direction.

It is very important to all of us that we continue to maintain a very vigilant focus on the nature of the mission and that we provide oversight so that we continue to get it right. It is also very important that we engage Canadians in a continuing dialogue as to exactly where this mission is going and a representation of its effect, of a results-based analysis.

It is very important that this House continue to analyze issues of cost. It is very important that we continue to analyze the issues of effectiveness. Most importantly, with the rebalancing of this mission that this House is prepared to consider and hopefully pass, it is very important that we continue to monitor and analyze the effect, and the value of our aid efforts, of our rebuilding and reconstruction efforts, to turn the economy of Afghanistan from a somewhat predominated by the trade of illicit products into an economy based on legitimate activities based on the development of natural resources and people power, its human resources.

That can only be done through the creation of long lasting community-based infrastructure related to transportation, sanitation, water, sewer, roads, bridges, educational infrastructure and health care infrastructure. This is really what the people of Afghanistan have been crying out for.

They recognize the need for protection, but they also need to recognize that in order for them to rebuild their country, its democratic institutions and its basic ability for its own citizens to eke out a legitimate living and build those democratic institutions, they do indeed need the support of the international community to focus in, in a very meaningful, thoughtful and effective way, on aid and reconstruction.

I do not believe that if we were to proceed with the previous motion put before this House, this emphasis would have been there, nor would that direction through our own federal agencies involved in international development be there either. It is now.

That is a very important issue that I think Canadians can be very proud of, that there is now a focus on the mission. It is rebalanced, it is headed in the right direction, and meets with a significant amount of support from the Canadian people.

Thinking through those two dimensions, the polar opposites as it were, is not the proper thing to do, to simply just cut and run. Canadians do not do that. We have never done that and we never will.

We also recognize there is a requirement for continuity but at the same time, an ending. That is what has been brought to the floor of this House and to the direction that we give to our senior leaders, both in government and in the military.

The operational issues will remain the prerogative of our military, but it needs the policy stance of this House and the direction given to this government to say exactly what is the Canadian intention in Afghanistan.

I think that is more clearly articulated now than it ever has been. I think that members opposite, members throughout this entire House, will agree that when we send our men and women in harm's way, when we send our aid workers out to do very difficult tasks, it is absolutely essential that they do it from the point of view of a framework that is well understood by all, not only by Canadians here in Canada but the international community as well.

We have done that. We have shown great leadership. As the ministers of the government now head to NATO to conferences in Europe in the coming months, looking to establish further partnerships, further commitments of military presence in Afghanistan, I am hoping that this debate and the passage of this particular motion will assist in those efforts to really reinforce to the international community, to our NATO allies and partners, the spirit of rotation must be respected, the spirit of all pulling their full weight and share must be adhered to. It is the basic tenet and philosophy of the NATO partnership. I think right now we have given the tools to our government, upon passage of this, to enable this to happen.

I am particularly proud of the men and women who served from my riding of Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte. While I could stand here and pay tribute to so many, and I would like to, I can only think of the time that I spent with the Bungy-boys of La Scie.

The Bungy-boys are two brothers. One served five rotations in Afghanistan; his younger brother served three. They saw what was going on there. One of them came to me and explained how important his work was. We had a discussion about continuing the mission. We talked about its various aspects, the need for rebalancing, and how to continue on with what we are doing.

I think, quite frankly, going through the motion, the directions that have been put forward, he would be very proud of the fact that we are supporting our troops, supporting what they do, but in the process, providing a policy direction which is sensible, coherent and will be effective.

To our troops, I would like to say we are with them.

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4:50 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will make my comment brief as the clock is going.

The hon. member, for a moment, talked about the basis of his decision and I will comment on one point. There are many that I would like to debate, but the one in particular is on costs.

I am wondering if he is aware that his vote this evening, which will obviously be cast in favour of extending the mission for an indefinite time, is based without the knowledge of what this mission will actually cost.

I just want to deal with the dollars. There are all sorts of other figures and issues we can deal with, but on the cost front, I wonder if he is aware that he will cast his vote tonight without the knowledge of what the actual cost to Canadian taxpayers will be because the mission, already a minimum of $700 million over budget, will continue in that path.

Senior federal officials within the government have been briefed on the estimates of costs because they do know these, but yet those have not been made public. Those have not been brought to the light of day.

They have not informed my hon. colleague. He talked about that issue during his discourse, about knowing the full cost and knowing what the terms and conditions of this vote will actually mean.

I would appreciate a response to this one important piece, that he will cast a vote tonight with no clear knowledge or understanding of information that once again this government has chosen to withhold from Parliament and the Canadian people on the eve of such a momentous vote as will take place this evening.

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4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Gerry Byrne Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte, NL

Mr. Speaker, the most important and fundamental reason we are in Afghanistan, supporting the people in the rebuilding of their country, is to provide peace and security throughout the entire world. It is to ensure that the costs of insecurity are not realized. That is in large measure what this is all about. The costs of insecurity are overwhelming to the global community.

Cost is definitely a factor. It is an issue that must be considered. It is also something that the government can provide. Clear accountability and transparency about the cost of this particular mission is a must. It is an absolute essential that the government can indeed provide.

However, we are talking in this particular motion about the fundamental aspects. Are we in Afghanistan for the right reasons to support the Afghani people to rebuild its economy, its democratic institutions, its ability to be a full and equal player on the international stage, and to participate in the security of the world? If so, then we have to be there for the long term.

We will continue with our colleagues in the NDP and the other parties to hold the government to account, to provide that transparency, but fundamentally, we are making our commitment to doing this right. Costing accountability is part of this, but also our accountability on the international stage for Canada to do what is right is also on the table.

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4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Leon Benoit Vegreville—Wainwright, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted that today I have listened to a member of the Liberal Party and agree with most of what he is saying. It was very well said, in fact, and I commend him for that.

My wife Linda and I have five children between the ages of 25 and 30. None of them are serving in the Canadian Forces. If they were, I would be very proud of them because I would know the work they were doing was so valuable. My wife and I are proud of them. All five of them are doing very useful work for our country. If one or more of them were providing aid in Afghanistan, I would be very proud of them. We would both be busting at the seams. It is very important work.

However, I know that if I had a choice between having one of my children serving in the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan or one of my children providing aid in Afghanistan with the military removed and the security gone, I would feel much safer and more comfortable with the child serving in the Canadian Forces providing security. If they were trying to provide aid without our forces there, it would be impossible. It would be extremely dangerous and simply would not happen.

I listened to the members of the Bloc and the NDP arguing that we do not want to be involved in combat but want to keep providing aid. That is completely unrealistic. I would like to ask the member opposite how he thinks the members of the Bloc and the NDP square their positions.

They say they care about the people of Afghanistan, but want to remove the security that allows aid to be delivered. They argue both sides. They must know that without the security there, aid simply cannot be delivered and the people of Afghanistan will slip back under Taliban control in time. That is certainly what would happen.

I would like the member to comment on that and provide an answer, if he could, as to how they square these two positions that just do not seem to make any sense.

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4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Gerry Byrne Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte, NL

Mr. Speaker, there is a fundamental truth to that in the sense that if there was a complete removal of a military presence to provide protection, there is no doubt about it, as we have heard from the president of Afghanistan and others, the country would collapse and there would be anarchy. That cannot be allowed to happen.

At the same time, this motion is very clear. Consistent with the principles of rotation within the NATO family and alliance, there must be an end date. We will hold the government to account to ensure that after 2009, the mission will take on a very different tenor for Canadian Forces and personnel, both civilian and military, than what currently exists. That is important for all Canadians to know. That is the position of the Liberal Party of Canada and it is articulated within the context of this particular motion.

While we say that we will not abandon the people of Afghanistan, we will do this right. We will be there to fulfill our commitments as we promised, as we said we would. We will be sensible about this and not pander to a populist point of view in some circles that the simple, fast and immediate removal of all Canadian armed forces would somehow allow for any measure of peace and security to take hold in Afghanistan. It would not, but there must be closure to this and that is exactly what is contained within the context of this motion.

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4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, my colleague from Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte and I deal with a lot of similar people being in neighbouring regions. My riding has 9 Wing Gander and many people from his riding serve that Canadian Forces base proudly.

One of the great contributions from Newfoundland and Labrador to our country and to the world is the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, an organization of great history and an organization which predates Confederation. This regiment dates back to 1812 in its origins and serves so proudly to this day in the mission in Afghanistan.

Could the member comment once again about how Newfoundland and Labrador contributes way above the average in terms of support for troops and resources on a per capita basis? Our population base if 500,000 people. Could he talk about the sense of pride that soldiers have when they return from this mission and other missions around the world?

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4:55 p.m.

Liberal

Gerry Byrne Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte, NL

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague is quite right. The tradition of military service and performance is deeply ingrained and entrenched in the psyche of all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. I will not get into the specifics because we all know them well. At the battle of Beaumont-Hamel, Newfoundland and Labrador truly became an entity onto itself, a nation.

Since then, we have been bestowed a huge legacy, the Royal Newfoundland Regiment. We have members of the Canadian armed forces in the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, both active and reserve, who have served in Afghanistan and continue to serve there. Members of my own constituency, members of the reserve, are currently active in the field.

As the hon. member mentioned, the contribution that has been given by the people of Newfoundland and Labrador, not only historically but current day, is significant. While Newfoundland and Labrador represents approximately 1.7% of the Canadian population, well over 10% of the Canadian armed forces are proud Newfoundlanders and Labradorians and proud Canadians.

I remember having a conversation with the—

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5 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley.

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5 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured and pleased to speak to the debate this afternoon. It is an opportunity to practice democracy, and many members in this House have talked about that during this debate. It is an opportunity to talk about the kind of democracy we want in this country.

After all this time, I am truly concerned about the tone and the words used by my colleague, but particularly by the government. It is high time the opposition state its concerns and ask questions about this mission.

First, l will be sharing my time with the member for Simcoe North.

It is important to establish and to appreciate the work that our men and women do in our armed services. Because members of my family served in the military, I believe that for many years there was a certain neglect that went on in our country, a certain taking for granted of those who did join the forces. I saw the living conditions. I saw how underpaid and undervalued many of our service people were. If there is any silver lining in this debate, it is that there is greater attention being paid to those who choose to go out on our behalf to represent our country and to fight and die under our flag.

We hold them to the highest standard. We offer them our greatest respect. Within this very debate, the respect that we show our military men and women is to challenge the government, to present our opinions and to present debate when we are in the House of Commons. We represent the people of our country. They sent us here to apply our intelligence and our vigour to each and every debate that is before us, to ensure our country, which we cherish, is headed down the right path.

The analogy of two paths before us is a correct one. When I look at the amendment the New Democrats have put before the House and I hear the misconstruction in a way that is twisted by those particularly in the Conservative and Liberal parties today, I am saddened by this.

When members consistently use jingoistic language, when they beat their chests and distort a debate, it does a disservice to this place, it does a disservice to our democracy and I believe fundamentally it does disservice to our men and women who are fighting on our behalf. We must allow the truth to be presented and allow that truth to be debated.

I will read the first portion of the amendment so those who are listening to the debate can have it in clarity and not listen to the short-handed media clips that some of my colleagues have used. It states:

That the House call upon the government to begin preparations for the safe withdrawal of Canadian soldiers from the combat mission in Afghanistan with no further extensions;

We believe this is a responsible action. We believe this is something that can be respected and be honoured in other places, in other democracies that are also fighting in Afghanistan.

I can recall the two paths chosen. This is an important recollection for Canadians, who many of which do not get to hear these debates. The first night we had a vote in the House for the first extension of the Afghanistan mission many of the same arguments were presented, that things were getting better, that they would improve, that we must continue and not pull back. I can recall that night because I had listened to the 12 hours of debate that had gone on in this place. I had watched members one after another rise in their place and present their views.

I respect those who present their views forthrightly, whether in support of the mission or against and use evidence and their intelligence to back up that position.

However, late in the evening that night we gathered ourselves for the vote, to stand in our places on behalf of the voters who sent us here. I remember talking to some of my Conservative colleagues because of us had all been doing the count. We had listened to the speeches. We watched members rise to declare their positions with some assertiveness. It seemed confirmed to us, not just those of us in the New Democratic Party but also some of my colleagues in the Conservative Party, that the vote was about to fail, that the extension of the mission would not happen.

I was in conversation with many in that party as to what would come next. They would have to make some plans. The higher ups and mucky-mucks in the PMO and all the rest would have to do something about the vote, which was about to fail.

Then I was given pause. I looked across the aisle at my Liberal colleagues on the opposition benches. I was filled with a moment of uncertainty. I was filled with a moment of fear. As I looked through the benches, there were not one or two members missing, as can happen, someone is sick, someone is away, something happens and they are unable to get here, a dozen were members missing. The member for LaSalle—Émard who had been here that afternoon debating this very motion—

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5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Albeit I am no expert on House functions and the rules and procedures, but I do know that pointing out the absences of many members is highly illegal.

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5:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

Illegal is a strong word, but nonetheless, generally it is understood by members that we do not point out the presence or the absence of members in the House.

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5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Garry Breitkreuz Yorkton—Melville, SK

Mr. Speaker, with all due respect, we can only point out the absence of people in the House at the present time. We may point out past absences, if I remember correctly.

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5:05 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from the Conservatives. I believe we are correct that pointing out the absence of members in past votes is absolutely a correct thing to do. The record shows it, regardless of whether this is in my speech, or I point out that Liberal members were absent that night.

When the vote passed by a slim number of votes, I walked from this place, as did we all that night. I can remember the evening well. It was raining. I looked back upon Parliament, this great building we have constructed to represent our democracy, and wondered whether justice had been done. Had justice been done for our troops, for our men and women serving in the military? Had a true vote been cast?

Members who choose not to be in their places, or to abstain, or to make themselves suddenly absent, who catch the parliamentary cold as they call it cynically, do a disservice to this place. It does a disservice to the efforts of our troops because they rely upon us to have the debate here.

They did not put themselves forward as elected members of Parliament. They did not run for office. They chose to join the military and, in doing so, represent our country in military action. Our job is to be here. It is to show up, do our homework, defend our positions and to stand with the courage of our convictions, be they for the mission or be they against.

This is important because there has been talk of some wonderful bipartisan harmony going on. While it may be true that the Liberals and Conservatives have chosen to join together on the extension of this mission, to suggest that there are no politics in a vote that is put forward at the end of a barrel of a confidence motion is absolutely ludicrous. In vote after vote we have seen from the so-called official opposition abstentions, absences and an unwillingness to vote, some this very afternoon on a motion of confidence.

It is important because it has been suggested that Canadians who have some concerns with this mission are somehow unpatriotic or unsupportive. Our top general said this was not true. This talk needs to stop in this place. We can be both supportive of the troops and not support this mission because we believe it is wrong for our country.

This is what the hon. member for Toronto—Danforth wrote to Échec à la guerre in Quebec: “We want to reiterate our support for your call for the withdrawal of Canadian troops from Afghanistan, particularly in the context of the global day of action to be held on March 15.”

We must provide clarity to the Canadian people as to what our intentions are and what supports our intentions. The New Democrats will not support an extension of this mission. We believe it to be wrong for our country.