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 troops.

Topics

Afghanistan
Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

Conservative

Blaine Calkins Wetaskiwin, AB

Mr. Speaker, I reject the premise of the question on some certain grounds. The member asks me if I believe the addition of the troops and the equipment will make a difference. Of course it will make a difference.

As a matter of fact, I just got back from the NATO parliamentary trip to the joint forces command in Brunssum at NATO headquarters, where we sat down with the North Atlantic Council and had some pretty frank discussions at the political level. What I found was that parliamentarians from all 26 allied countries were actually quite supportive of Canada's position insofar as asking for more help in Kandahar.

When it comes to discussing the issues pertaining to security, the more men and women we have on the ground and the better equipment we have for reconnaissance are obviously going to make a difference. That is the difference that we need to make before more development can be done and before more aid can be given. It has to be done in a secure environment.

Pulling back or changing the colour of our helmets is not going to make a difference at all, as the member for Ottawa Centre suggests. All it will do is simply make them feel better about the fact that Canada is in a difficult situation.

Pulling out is not an option either. There has been a lot of discussion about whether or not Canada's mission should change or whether we should rotate out. I asked that question very specifically. After the amount of time that Canada has spent in Kandahar, the relationships we have built and the time that has been invested, to rotate out of Kandahar and let somebody else do the work would simply be a travesty.

It would be one of the worst things we could do in denying the sacrifices that have already been made by our men and women in Kandahar. We must stick to our principles, our goals and our values and ensure that this mission succeeds in Kandahar.

Afghanistan
Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, there was an error in my colleague's speech. The last time Parliament made a decision about this issue, it decided to extend the mission until 2009. The member says that we cannot withdraw from Afghanistan now because Canada committed to being there until February 2009, by which time we will have fulfilled our obligation and done exactly what we told the international community we would do.

I had the impression I was listening to an American general in Vietnam in the mid-1960s, a few years before the Americans were forced to leave Vietnam following their humiliating defeat. They believed that more soldiers and a bigger military budget would solve the problem.

We have to wonder about this, and wondering about it does not make one a bad citizen. Has Canada not done its part? Can NATO not continue the mission? Are there not other contributions we can make in terms of diplomacy and international cooperation?

I believe that we have done our part and played our role in the combat mission.

Afghanistan
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

Conservative

Blaine Calkins Wetaskiwin, AB

Mr. Speaker, I disagree. First, let me be very clear. I am not an American general. The principles are very clear. Either we believe, as a NATO ally, a country and a member of the United Nations, which has sanctioned this mission, that we can actually make a difference in Afghanistan, or we do not.

I believe, as I believe many of my colleagues here do, and as I know the brave men and women who continue to serve not only in our Canadian armed forces but also in our diplomatic and development efforts also believe, that there is something there that is worth fighting for. I will continue to support this mission as long as it has that support.

Let me be very clear on this, as the Prime Minister has been: those conditions that were laid out in the Manley report must be met. We need those thousand troops. We need that equipment. If we get that, and if our allies come through for us, as I am relatively confident they will, I believe we should continue that mission. However, we will pull out if those conditions are not met, and the Prime Minister has been very clear.

I am very hopeful and very optimistic. I appreciate the support of the Liberal Party, which has finally come around to an agreement on this motion. As the two parties that traditionally have been responsible for governing this great country, we have an international responsibility.

Afghanistan
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is difficult to rise in the chamber and speak on this motion from the perspective that we in the NDP bring without feeling a significant degree of anger, quite frankly, over the position Canada finds itself in at the present time, and with a great deal of frustration.

What it comes down to, in my opinion, is the incredible naïveté that I am seeing from both the government side and the official opposition side in support of the motion before us today. One wants to cry out, “Have we learned nothing from history?”

Have we forgotten the lessons? Let me be very specific. Have we forgotten the lessons of Vietnam? Have we forgotten the lessons of the Soviet experience in Afghanistan? Or we could go back historically to the British experience in Afghanistan, or all the way back to Alexander the Great's experience in Afghanistan, literally thousands of years ago.

When we see this motion and we see the support coming from both the government side and the official opposition side, the answer obviously has to be no, we have not learned anything, because we seem to be bound and determined to repeat the same mistakes.

We know, and there is no dispute on this, that we went into this combat mission with our eyes firmly closed or our heads looking in the wrong direction. There is no other explanation. That was under a former administration, not the current one, although with the support of the official opposition at that time.

We, the country and this legislature, were told at that time that this was really following Canada's traditional role, a role, quite frankly, that Canada more than any other country in the world developed, starting back in Suez in the 1950s and for any number of times since then, a role of using our military personnel and our other resources as a nation to promote peace. That in fact has turned out to be a lie.

That is not what we started doing in Afghanistan and it is certainly not what we continued to do in 2003 and in 2005 as we ramped up our involvement. That involvement, we have to be very clear, has been grossly weighted to a military combat role. It is undisputed by everybody in this House that nine out of every ten dollars we are spending in Afghanistan are being spent on the military side--

Afghanistan
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

An hon. member

It might even be higher.

Afghanistan
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

It may in fact be higher, and all of our personnel are geared toward the combat role.

I want to say just as an aside that one of the troubling things, and one of the things that makes me angry, is that we hear from the Conservatives in particular that we have something to prove as a country. Again, have we learned nothing from our history?

We proved that at Vimy. We proved that in Italy in the second world war. We proved it on the beaches of Normandy in the second world war. We can go down the list. Canada and our military personnel have nothing to prove to the world and it is an insult to the reputation of our military personnel to hear those kinds of comments, to hear that we have something to prove. We do not.

I do not know what it is about Canadian people, but when it is necessary, we step up. I have never quite understood that and I have studied it a lot, but that in fact is the reality. But that is not the factual situation we are dealing with in Afghanistan.

Other than, arguably, the Boer War back in the late 1800s, Canada has never been involved in an imperialist action, in occupying another country. We might ask, what about the first world war, when we were in Europe? What about the second world war? The significant difference between those and even the Korean war is that the areas we were in during those wars were areas where the people who lived in those areas wanted us to be there. We were in fact liberators. We were not occupiers.

It is quite obvious from the resistance and the insurgents that we are battling in Kandahar and in the south of Afghanistan that this it is not the case in Afghanistan.

Let me go back to the naïveté. We hear members on both sides of the House who are in support of this motion saying that we have to stay there, that “we have to stay there because”, and then they go through all of the tragic realities of Afghanistan. What it says to me, again, is that they should listen to themselves, that they should listen to what they are saying and then go back and look at what was being said in those few months before the Americans pulled out of Vietnam, in those few months before the Russians were forced to pull out of Afghanistan.

They should look at the quotes, whether they were from our military leaders, political people at the time or people on the ground. Always what we heard was, “We are just about there, we are just about to win it, and we just need to escalate a little bit more, so give us this”. Of course we know that did not happen in those cases.

If we move beyond those more well-known conflicts, there were any number of other times, and I particularly urge people to look at the number of insurgencies that were fought from the second world war on. The same thing happened in almost every single one of them. There is a lot of documentation on this. This is not something I am making up. It is not just my own observations and opinion.

In the vast majority of insurgencies being combated, that combat has been unsuccessful, in way over 75% of them. We are approaching 90% that have been unsuccessfully combated by using conventional military methodology, the same methodology that this motion would compel us to follow for the next three years. It failed in almost 90% of the cases.

We might ask, what about the 10%? Is this one of those where we are going to be successful? The reality is that when one looks at all of the objective evidence, it in fact is getting worse in Afghanistan.

The greatest military force in the history of the world, in the form of the United States, and the greatest military alliance in the history of the world, in the form of NATO, have been fighting in Afghanistan for seven years now, longer than the second world war and much longer than the first world war. The situation is worse today than it was when the initial invasion of Afghanistan occurred seven years ago.

Afghanistan
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

An hon. member

That's ridiculous.

Afghanistan
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

We can hear the Conservative side saying that is ridiculous, and they are ridiculing me. But it is the truth. That is the reality today. It has been seven years, with the greatest military power in the history of the world, the greatest military alliance in the history of the world, and the situation from a military standpoint, from a security standpoint, is worse today than it was seven years ago.

There is a lot of naiveté. We hear mostly from the Conservatives in this debate, and we heard it again from the last speaker in response to a question, that our allies love us being there. Absolutely they love us being there because it is our soldiers who are dying, not theirs. They are dying at a much higher rate than American soldiers.

We went into this mission with our eyes closed. Our NATO allies did not. New Zealand, Australia, France, Germany, and I could go down the list of 20-odd countries in NATO, all refused to take on this combat mission. They knew what the consequences would be. To be blunt, and perhaps rude and undiplomatic, they were quite happy to let Canada go into Afghanistan. They encouraged us.

I can remember having debates with some of our allies' ambassadors. They said that Canada should stay there; Canada should ramp up; Canada should do more. When I asked them if they were going to do that, if they were going to lift the caveats, if they were going to send their soldiers into the real combat zones, often there would be no answer because of embarrassment, or they would indicate that was not their government's policy.

I want to go down a list of just how naive we were. I accuse some of our military leadership in this regard as well. It is not just our political leadership.

When we sent our soldiers into Afghanistan they were not wearing the right uniforms. They did not have the proper communications equipment. I do not want to say anything bad about our people on the ground because they have done an absolutely amazing job given the circumstances that we, as political leaders, put them in. We did not give them the communications equipment they required and at times they could not even communicate with our allies in the field. The LAVs that we initially gave them were clearly insufficient for the circumstances.

We, the military leadership and the political leadership, had not done any analysis of what we would be faced with there. We ramped up and moved in our tanks, and if this motion passes, we will be moving in helicopters, and frankly, the next thing will be fighter jets. I do not know what will be moved in after that. Will we move in more soldiers? We saw how successful that was with the Russians. Estimates indicate that if it is soldiers that are needed, we may need as many as 400,000 soldiers. Canada has roughly 50,000 to 60,000 in total at best, at any given time, and hardly any of them are engaged in the combat mission.

Where is the leadership? Is the government prepared to continue? We have lost 80 soldiers. How many more have to die? Can anybody in this House seriously and honestly in good conscience and good faith say that by 2011 it will be any different? In that period of time, how many more soldiers are we going to lose? I do not believe that anybody can honestly stand in this House and say that, and those who do are deceiving themselves.

Over the past seven years the situation has deteriorated. It has become worse and there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that in the next three years it will get any better.

We hear that we are doing things better for the people of Afghanistan. It is not true. It can be put as simply as that. It is not true. There are food shortages. There is an increase in the drug trade. There has been no significant improvement in the quality of life for the vast majority of people in that country.

There is a central government that arguably controls Kabul, maybe. The suicide bombings have increased there in the last few months. The number of deaths has increased in Kabul in the last few months. At best the central government is controlling no more than 10% of the country, and that is the government Canada is supporting. In the rest of the country, especially in the south, there is no control of anyone, including ourselves. In the east there is hardly any control. The north is controlled by factions, militias and warlords who continue to perpetuate the situation that was there before we went in.

Later today we have to vote on this motion. I have seen absolutely no evidence that would make me conclude that the decision should be an affirmative one on this motion. The NDP has set out the terms of a safe withdrawal of our troops with our continued involvement in Afghanistan. We are not going away. There is Canada's involvement both at the diplomatic level and in the aid area to assist at this point. This is where our strengths are. We believe in assisting in getting some peaceful resolution.

Naiveté is what is always thrown at the NDP. The reality is that we look at what has occurred. There has been a large number of deaths--and I am not speaking of Canadian deaths at this point, although those are tragic enough--I am talking about the thousands and thousands of deaths in Afghanistan as a result of the chaos. Will that continue to some degree? We know that some of it will.

It is my firm belief that if the resolution that is contained in the amendment proposed by the NDP is followed, the consequences will be less severe. There is no question that there will be consequences. The consequences that will flow from our continued involvement in the combat mission and our continued involvement in a course of conduct that leads us nowhere other than to greater chaos will be more deaths and greater destruction in Afghanistan. Therefore, it seems to me that the path set out by the NDP is clear and one which I would urge all members of this House to follow.

Afghanistan
Government Orders

11:05 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

Questions and comments. I might ask members to notice that there are many members rising to ask questions of the member for Windsor—Tecumseh. Hopefully the questions and comments can be brief and we can get as many people in as possible.

The hon. member for Nanaimo—Alberni.

Afghanistan
Government Orders

11:05 a.m.

Conservative

James Lunney Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to the member for Windsor—Tecumseh. He said at the beginning that he was almost angry about having to participate in the debate. He called the position of the Conservative Party and the position of the Liberals who have come to a measure of consensus about extending the mission naive. He went all the way back to Alexander the Great. Maybe the member who calls us naive might recognize that the world is different from what it was then.

The member had the audacity to call our Canadian Forces occupiers in Afghanistan. Has the member forgotten that we are there at the invitation of the legitimate government of Afghanistan? We are part of a UN mandated mission that is NATO supported and delivered by a coalition of about 30 nations. How dare he call our forces occupiers.

Does the member recognize that Canada has paid a price to make a difference? This government did not choose Kandahar. The previous Liberal government chose Kandahar. It was a difficult assignment because the south is vulnerable. That is the main access route that the insurgents like to use. Canada has taken on a tough assignment. We have lost troops in the course of providing security. There is almost no combat going on currently, thank goodness, because of the great and valiant effort of our security forces. The recent deaths are almost all due to IEDs or suicide bombers. There has been a tremendous difference there.

Does the member not recognize the tremendous difference? Would he have us pull out of Kandahar and go to another region where it might be safe? We have paid a tremendous price to establish relationships with security officials in Kandahar, with the police, in training courts and judges. We know the terrain in Kandahar better than any other nation. Our troops have paid the price to gain that knowledge and to gain the trust of the local people. Is he willing to throw aside all the sacrifices--

Afghanistan
Government Orders

11:05 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker Bill Blaikie

The hon. member for Windsor—Tecumseh.

Afghanistan
Government Orders

11:05 a.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, the world has changed since Alexander the Great. I do not think the Conservative government has seen that. It believes still that the traditional combat role is the methodology to deal with this insurgency.

I will move forward a bit in history and mention the second world war. When our troops went into Italy, they actually had some pretty poor leadership and they had been given very little resources. They were not fighting the Italian population, but the German forces. The Canadian Forces were able to develop techniques at the captain and major rank on down. They dealt with the situation, which was a unique one at the time in terms of the way the Germans were defending. We were able to do that. We dealt with a new set of circumstances. We did not do what we are doing in Afghanistan, which is using the same kind of combat military approach that does not work when we are dealing with that kind of insurgency.

With regard to the hon. member's question about occupation, the key here is how do the people in the Kandahar region see us? They see us as occupiers.

Afghanistan
Government Orders

11:10 a.m.

Liberal

Michael Ignatieff Etobicoke—Lakeshore, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member for Windsor—Tecumseh will know the high regard in which we hold him, so I rise only because I was surprised by some of the things he had to say, since I always associate his contributions in committee and in the House with wisdom.

I did want to put one simple question to him. His party keeps saying we are not going to abandon Afghanistan and the Afghan people. I was in Afghanistan three weeks ago. What would the hon. member say to the Afghan people, particularly the women I met, who said to a woman, and the men to a man, “Do not abandon us. Maintain a security presence. We will not last five minutes if you leave us. The Taliban will take over”.

I do not like the facts we face in Afghanistan any more than the hon. member does, but I do want a policy in Canada that meets the test of fidelity to the people to whom we have given our word.

I ask the hon. member in all seriousness how he can stand in the House and maintain that he wants to keep faith with the Afghan people and the people who want us to stay by withdrawing the security component on which their very lives depend? Can he stand in this House and explain what he would say to the Afghan women who said to me, “Do not abandon us. Maintain a security presence in Kandahar”?

Afghanistan
Government Orders

11:10 a.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

It is a conundrum, Mr. Speaker. The more appropriate question would be, is it going to make any difference if we stay? Will it make any difference if we stay there? That is the question. Has it up to this point? The answer is obviously no, it has not.

Every independent analysis of what is going on in Afghanistan is that the situation is deteriorating. We could go through every single independent analysis. There is not one that says it is getting better. Are we going to see those same people who are asking for us to provide that security?

Let me go on a different tangent. Both the U.K. and the Americans have to be heavily criticized for their very direct refusal to engage in negotiations, to force negotiations. When some have been attempted, they have been very limited, very weak in their support, but that is the route we have to go.

We have said very clearly, it is right there in the wording of our motion, that we take our troops out safely. That will take some time. We recognize that.

It is very clear that if we continue the combat mission, it will not do anything to provide additional security. It will simply escalate the fighting. It will escalate the number of deaths.

Afghanistan
Government Orders

11:10 a.m.

Edmonton Centre
Alberta

Conservative

Laurie Hawn Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, I do have great personal respect for the hon. member. As the other member mentioned, he generally has words of wisdom. However, I would like to pick up on a couple of things that he said.

He cited great names in Canadian and military history, Vimy, Italy, and Normandy, and said that we had done the right thing in the past. Yes, we have, but now he seems to be suggesting that we should stop doing the right thing today simply because we have done the right thing in the past. That is pretty illogical.

Canada is the kind of country that continues to do the right thing because it is simply the right thing to do and that is who we are.

He expresses surprise that Canadians always step up when it is necessary. Again, I find it a little bit odd that he would be surprised when the people of Canada step up when it is necessary to do so. That, again, is who we are.

Given the NDP's history and approach to world affairs, I am not surprised that he would be surprised at that. That makes the point of why the NDP differs so greatly in its approach to world affairs than the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party of Canada, both of whom have led Canada through periods of conflict very successfully with allies for the right reasons and accomplished the right things.

I have two quick questions for the hon. member.