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.

Topics

National Defence
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

Prince George—Peace River
B.C.

Conservative

Jay Hill Secretary of State and Chief Government Whip

moved:

That, in relation to its study on Canada's involvement in Afghanistan, 12 members of the Standing Committee on National Defence be authorized to travel to Kabul and Kandahar, Afghanistan and to Brussels, Belgium in the spring-summer of 2008, and that the necessary staff do accompany the committee.

National Defence
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Is that agreed?

National Defence
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

National Defence
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

(Motion agreed to)

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

Afghanistan
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

When we were debating this motion before oral question period, the hon. member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie had the floor. There are 10 minutes remaining.

The hon.member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie.

Afghanistan
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to continue my remarks in the debate on the government motion concerning the conflict in Afghanistan. Before we went to oral question period, which was quite heated today, to say the least, I was talking about some principles related to the government motion.

First, I said that I rose today in this House to reaffirm the Bloc's position that Canada's presence in Afghanistan should end in February 2009. We believe this is absolutely essential, and we cannot support the military approach of this government, which wants to continue this mission until 2011.

I reminded members that I have had the opportunity to rise a number of times in this House, as have my Bloc Québécois colleagues. I am thinking, for example, of the vote of May 17, 2006, calling on Parliament to extend the mission in Afghanistan by two years. In the first 10 minutes of my speech I presented the four questions I asked myself, and these questions are just as relevant before we proceed to the vote.

First, is Canada's involvement justified, realistic and useful? Second, what is the exact nature of Canada's commitment? Is it military or humanitarian? Third, are the people who are going to risk their lives appropriately equipped to succeed at the mission we want to give them? And finally, is there a specific strategy for this mission?

In May 2007, there were no answers to these four questions. We did not know what sort of mission the government had in mind. What mandate did it have in mind, and what mandate did it hope to obtain from this Parliament?

Today, in light of the Manley report, for example, it must be said that the government chose the military approach. I will read a passage from the Manley report that supports the Bloc Québécois position that the mission needs to be rebalanced. The passage, from page 28 of the Manley report, reads as follows:

It is essential to adjust funding and staffing imbalances between the heavy Canadian military commitment in Afghanistan and the comparatively lighter civilian commitment to reconstruction, development and governance.

It is clear that Canada must make a significant effort to rebalance this mission. In addition, the government must make a number of commitments by February 2009. First, it must notify its NATO allies immediately that Canada does not intend to extend this mission beyond February 2009. Second, the government must immediately table a withdrawal plan to make sure an orderly withdrawal takes place by the February 2009 deadline. A withdrawal plan is required immediately to make sure that happens.

Third, as I already mentioned, the mission must be rebalanced by 2009. As I said earlier, it is estimated that the Canadian mission in Afghanistan cost $7.718 million from 2001 to 2008. If we took a small portion of the money National Defence has invested in the mission and spent it on a humanitarian mission to aid development, Canada would quite likely meet its target of spending 0.7% of its GDP on development assistance by 2015. This is a promise that the Government of Canada has not yet kept. We therefore hope that Canada will reallocate some of its military spending to humanitarian projects in order to meet its international development assistance commitments.

Fourth, we must allow diplomacy a greater role. Diplomacy entails dialogue, discussion, talks, so that the resolution of international conflicts, such as those in Afghanistan or Iraq, is based on dialogue and discussion, and not primarily on a military approach, as proposed today by the Conservative and Liberal Parties.

Discussion and dialogue must be undertaken globally. Who with? Among others, countries such as Pakistan, which has long been a refuge for the Taliban. Pakistan is probably key to resolving the war in Afghanistan. Pashtun nationalists believe that there should be a buffer zone between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Many people travel between the two countries, particularly the Pashtun nationalists who would like this border area, this buffer zone, to be established.

Therefore, discussions must take place with Pakistan. We should remember that Afghanistan has never recognized the border shared with Pakistan. As I stated, Pakistan is probably key to resolving the Afghanistan conflict. It must be resolved by dialogue, discussion, and negotiation, not by a military approach as proposed by the current government with the support of the Liberal Party. We are very disappointed, on this side of the House, with the attitude of the two major parties—that claim to be national parties—which are advocating a military approach.

In addition, there should be diplomatic discussions with Iran, which remains, among other things, a country of transit for drug traffickers. Therefore, discussions must take place with Iran, all the while remembering that for many years—between 1980 and 2001—Iran accepted many Afghan refugees, who are not necessarily Taliban. Thus, Iran and Pakistan must take part in this diplomatic discussion and solution.

As a final point, I would like to remind the House of a historic vote held on May 17, 2006. That is when we decided not to support extending the mission because the Canadian government refused to be transparent. It continues to demonstrate a flagrant lack of transparency. This Parliament must be respected and they must agree to share this information.

Another aspect of the motion has to do with prisoners and the fate of Afghan detainees. We would like to reiterate the importance of obeying international laws, the Convention against Torture, the Geneva Convention and the Canada-Afghan agreement. The President of Afghanistan, Mr. Karzai, has said in the past that his prisoners had been tortured. We all know that. So, what are we asking of this government? We are asking it to comply with the Geneva Convention, the Convention against Torture and the Canada-Afghan agreement.

In short, since I have only a few seconds left, we will vote against the government's motion, which has the support of the Liberal Party. We firmly believe that the government must take steps to withdraw our troops by February 2009 from this mission that is going nowhere, and it must place greater emphasis on international dialogue and discussion.

Afghanistan
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Massimo Pacetti Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with my good friend, the member for York South—Weston.

I am pleased to rise on this very important issue on the Afghanistan mission. I realize I am one of the last speakers on the motion. That being the case, most of what I have to say has probably already been stated and expressed in the debates we have heard up to now. Like the saying goes, they “save the best for last”, and that is the reason I am here.

The motion is filled with so many terms, variables and conditions that restating even just a few of them would have taken up most of the time allocated to me. Therefore, at this point I would like to discuss some of the reasons why I will be supporting the motion.

I have been a member of Parliament since 2002 and in that time I have seen crisis after crisis. It seems almost like clockwork that every few months or so some new issue comes out of the woodwork and we all act like it is the end of the world as we know it.

During my time, serving under a Liberal majority government, I remember debates surrounding the ratification of the Kyoto protocol, the Iraqi war, election financing, so on and so forth. Every time one of these issues came up, we heard blistering exaggeration from both sides of the chamber.

However, there we were, the Liberal Party taking the centrist position, the responsible position and the right position on all these issues. We were able to do this because we did not govern for ideology sake; we governed for Canadians.

Under a Liberal minority government, we continued our good work by reaching out to our political adversaries and getting things done to make the lives better for Canadians. In a minority situation, we were able to sign health care agreements with all 10 provinces that would strengthen the Canadian health care system and deliver an early childhood development and lifelong learning program for the entire country.

We made the 4Es, equalization, economy, education and environment, top priorities and we delivered for Canadians in all four categories. As for foreign policy, we were the Liberal Party that came up with the 3Ds, development, diplomacy and defence, which the present government is using and following.

We governed to get results for Canadians. We believe that a government is only as good as its actions, not its rhetoric.

We are now the official opposition, but our leadership philosophy has not changed. We show up for work every day and we do our best for this great country and its people.

However, this Parliament is run rather strangely by this minority Conservative government. In fact, it is dysfunctional, because this minority government is often threatening and is not very cooperative. I think Canadians deserve more.

The media have reported on this dysfunction and have been playing it up in recent months. Every three hours, or even every few minutes, they claim that an election could be called.

I raise this because the debate on renewing our mission in Afghanistan has been going on for three years. I think that the Liberal Party is the only major party that participated in the debate in a realistic fashion and without locking ourselves in an ideological bubble. I would tell the other parties that our troops deserve more from them.

Our party has extensively debated this issue, privately and publicly. During our recent leadership campaign, which ended in December 2006, a number of candidates took different positions on the mission in Afghanistan. Some held the same position, but took different angles.

The fact that some of our leadership candidates had the same positions but framed it differently caused confusion. The media, under pressure to meet deadlines, did not explain the subtle differences. In the end our members, the public and the opposition parties benefited from the hard work the Liberal Party put in on this policy and debates in which we engaged on this issue.

It is because we put in the work and had a tough debate that immediately after the Liberal Party leadership race, our leader was able to outline a clear and concise position on the Afghan mission.

Do not, however, mistake clarity for simplicity. Yes, our position is very clear, yet it is one fraught with complexities since the issue at hand is so complex. We have tweaked our position, of that there is no doubt, but that is because we constantly study the issue and listen to Canadians. We have listened to Canadians and they know our position has been consistent, thoughtful and realistic.

I met people in my riding, in Ottawa and across Canada during the finance committee's prebudget consultation tour. People told me that when they listened to the Liberal leader, he was the one who made the most sense out of all the others. That is what has set us apart from the other parties. We listen, we debate and we outline our policies clearly. We know at the end of the day, we have done right by the Canadian public.

With all the debate and study in which we have engaged, the Afghan motion has become extremely detailed. We hope we have provided the government with enough direction that it will have no choice but to listen to us. I hope the Conservatives are willing and able to abide by the spirit and intention of the motion.

I will be the first to admit that some of the issues will never be brought to a unanimous consensus, but the other parties in the chamber have treated the debate in an unacceptable manner. They have played politics, advanced extreme positions and oversimplified this issue, all in the hopes of stumbling upon that ever elusive sound bite that will get them more votes.

They are aware of the fact that two sides exist on this issue, but they do not understand why the two sides exist. The Liberal Party, however, gets it. We get it because we are known for sincere debate in the spirit of openness that leads to understanding, if not consensus. When we debate, we listen and respect, because debate is equal parts, teaching and learning. Whereas the other parties wait for their leader to tell them what to think. I look across the aisle and I have never seen so many whipped MPs in one room.

In the interest of full disclosure, I want to point out that I have never been to Afghanistan, but of the people who have been there and to whom I have spoken, no two people have given me the same impression or views.

It is like when we go on vacation. As soon as we arrive in a new town, and this is common, human error, our first impression is how we determine whether that country is appealing or not. If we arrive by plane, we look at the cleanliness of the airport, and that is our first impression. If we drive into a new town and head directly downtown where there are office buildings, we get a different impression of the town than if we were to drive directly to a residential area.

Unfortunately, the extreme parties in the House, as I refer to them, have made the same mistake as so many commercial travellers have made. They made up their minds before they knew the whole story about the place about which they were talking. They have made it so easy that the question for them is simply, “Do we leave or do we stay and fight?”

It is not that easy. Nothing important ever is. The government members want to stay and fight. Do we have a choice? They have totally massacred Canada's reputation on the world scene in the last two years by refusing to live up to our international commitments or to stand up for Canadian interests. Truthfully, we do not have much of a choice but to stay, in part, because of this.

The Conservatives pulled us out of Kyoto. They have given in to the U.S. on softwood lumber. They have made Canada look more and more like a country where one man speaks for everyone. What is worse is that one man has no vision and does not share the moderate nature of the people of our country.

The other parties want to pull out of Afghanistan without as much as a goodbye. Theirs is a simple game of arithmetic. When the polls show decreased support for the war, they clamour for a pullout: really original.

Both positions are the easy way out and require no deep analysis. Afghan President Hamid Karzai, when he spoke to Parliament last year, made perhaps the best argument for Canada to stay in Afghanistan. He simply said “Canada is making a difference”.

Whether the PMO vetted this part of his speech is another matter, but I believe in what he said. Afghanistan is better off today than it was before Canada decided to lend a helping hand. We must stay for the moment. We must stay because there is still work to be done. We must stay because we made a commitment to do so. We must stay because the government has made no serious effort to persuade our NATO allies to do their fair share and rotate into Kandahar.

Mostly, we must stay because if we do not all we have done will be destroyed. It is so difficult to build something good and so easy to destroy that very same thing. We have built something good in Afghanistan and we owe it to our troops, to the people of Afghanistan and to ourselves to ensure that what we have built does not fall.

Afghanistan
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to the member's statements. One of the commitments this government has is to improve the lives of Afghan people, especially the women and children there.

As I have mentioned before in the House, last week we had the privilege of speaking to some women parliamentarians from Afghanistan. We also had the privilege to look into their eyes and to hear their stories. They were pleading with us to stay the course, to stand with them as they had the security that was necessary to continue on with the development and reconstruction in Afghanistan.

In addition, we know many organizations are doing micro-credit work in Afghanistan. MEDA, the Mennonite Economic Development Associates, has done incredible work providing women with small loans to start small businesses.

Could the member comment on the impact it would have on women and children in Afghanistan if we were to suddenly leave at this point?

Afghanistan
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Massimo Pacetti Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I think anyone with a good conscience would not want to simply pick up and leave.

As I have said, some of the parties in this place want to leave and not even say goodbye. This is unconscionable to anyone who has invested any time, anyone who has spoken to anyone from Afghanistan or has dealt with the issue, even spent a few minutes reading the report from Mr. Manley.

I am relying more on the member across the way to ensure that his government sticks to its commitment and follows the motion. This is a complex motion of about five or six pages. It is very clear, though, that the military mission should consist of three items, and I will only use the main words: training, providing security and the continuation of Canada's responsibility to the Kandahar provincial reconstruction team.

We did not hear that the government was interested in doing this until a couple of weeks ago. We hope the government members are able to influence the government in maintaining its commitment in the motion. The rhetoric we heard prior to this talk was all about combat. We want to ensure that this mission is not about combat.

Afghanistan
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Alan Tonks York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to rise today in the House on the issue of Canada's continued role in Afghanistan.

For the better of six and a half years Canada has carried a very heavy burden. Our military presence in Afghanistan has evoked emotions of pride and frustration, of honour and sadness. It is a difficult issue, a multi-faceted mission and one that I will support in the restructured form.

Since the fall of 2001, I have believed that Canada should play a significant role in the reconstruction of Afghanistan and that Canada, working with our allies in NATO under the United Nations mandate, should remain in Afghanistan after February 2009. At that time, Canada's combat role should cease and concentrate on humanitarian and infrastructure projects with troops carrying out our traditional role of securing peace.

I am happy to support the motion, as amended, with the following three important tenets that have been taken from the Liberal motions.

The Government of Canada must immediately notify NATO that Canada will end its combat role in Kandahar region in February 2009. After an additional two years of training Afghan troops and police and performing reconstruction projects, Canada's military presence in Kandahar will end entirely as of July 2011.

Also, NATO must secure troops to rotate into Kandahar to allow Canadian military personnel to be deployed pursuant to the mission priorities of training and reconstruction and the government must secure medium helicopter lift and high performance, unmanned aerial vehicles to support our peacekeeping and reconstruction efforts.

The government has agreed to accept these reasonable amendments to their strategic plan for the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan. This amended plan for Afghanistan is in the best interests of both the Canadian and Afghani people. There has been much rhetoric in the House and an elevated level in our media about supporting our troops. Our troops need support, yes, but they also need a clear vote of confidence and direction from the decision makers here in the House.

Support means an end to vacillation and mixed signals. We on the Liberal side of the House have been clear for over a year now. The government must notify our allies within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization that Canada will conclude its combat role in Kandahar region next year.

The government now seems to agree that after two additional years of training the Afghan police and performing reconstruction, Canada's military presence in Kandahar region should end. Canadian troops have courageously carried out the Canada, NATO, UN mandate and have sacrificed casualties that are disproportionate to even our NATO allies.

We parliamentarians and our constituents have supported our troops throughout the entire mission. Now we must lend our support to a re-energized effort toward peace building, reconstruction and the protection of a just society in Afghanistan. However, our support cannot end there.

I am pleased to note that the government has also accepted the Liberal recommendation to supply our troops with helicopters capable of what is called in military jargon, medium lift capabilities. These aerial military units, which are essential to our mission in Afghanistan, are frankly long overdue. Also encouraging is the government's commitment to supply our troops with unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones.

Any time we are able to provide our military with the option of risking a piece of technology rather than a Canadian soldier, we should take and make the most of that opportunity.

As we are all aware, when we speak of supporting our troops it means more than a flag on the lapel or a speech on Remembrance Day. We must keep our troops and their best interests in our minds every day. We must be certain that our financial, technical and tactical support is equal to the heart and heroism they demonstrate each and every day.

By voting in favour of this amended motion on Afghanistan, members of the House are supporting our troops by making it clear that at the conclusion of our current mission in Kandahar region, Canadian Forces should return to their traditional role of securing the peace in Afghanistan while our allies provide at least 1,000 more troops with clear orders to engage the Taliban in Kandahar region.

Canada's military has kept its word, performed admirably and exceeded expectations on the international stage. During this effort our nation has sacrificed a disproportionate number of lives. In one year it will be time for the Canadian Forces to be relieved from the front lines so that they may continue bettering the basics on the Afghani home front.

In the intervening year before us, Canadian soldiers will aid the Afghan government in the disbandment of illegally armed groups that were formed pre-democracy and continue to pose a threat. When combat operations cease, Canada's continued presence in Afghanistan will remain essential if we ever hope to assist the Afghan people in attaining the type of civil society we often take for granted here at home.

If nations as fortunate as ours do not undertake some responsibility to protect those who have fallen victim to ruthless regimes such as the Taliban, then I believe we are neglecting the values that our country has stridently upheld since the end of the second world war.

I am immensely proud to be a member of the party of Lester B. Pearson. As he did, I believe Canada must be the forerunner in the pursuit and protection of peace. In Afghanistan, where running water is an everyday uncertainty, where the threat of violence accompanies all activities, President Karzai and his people have valiantly placed a dignified and compelling call for help. It is a call we must not ignore.

Separate from combat operations, our troops in Afghanistan remain at the forefront of landmine removal. This mission is designed to stop the mounting number of children who have lost limbs due to the carelessness of armies who fought before they were even born. Canadian soldiers are building and protecting schools so that young girls can study, in many cases for the very first time. Our troops and Canadian Forces personnel are fostering nascent industries and economic alternatives for farmers who are otherwise trapped in the illegal manufacture of narcotics.

In addition, Canada is working with the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan as it works to create and re-establish many of the important civil institutions that were lost under the Taliban. One such initiative is the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission which investigates and monitors abuses of human rights and recommends corrective actions to the government.

Canada and the UNAMA are helping the Afghan people to develop their own capacity to protect and promote human rights. Canada must continue to work with the United Nations, NATO and the international community to help Afghanistan become a stable, democratic and self-sustaining state.

Our involvement is helping to provide the security and stability necessary to ensure a systematic reconstruction of the country. We cannot retreat just as the Afghan people finally begin to see the reconstruction of their economic, political and judicial institutions.

Canada must continue to support such peace, prosperity and security projects. These types of initiatives can continue independently from a combat mission. In reality, to be completely successful, they must.

Lester B. Pearson once stood in this place and referred to Canadian diplomacy as “history in action”. He understood that the most difficult decisions were of the greatest importance. He knew that our nation would be judged not by how we thought of ourselves, as we are apt to do, but how other nations perceived our actions.

History is what becomes of decisions requiring great courage. Those decisions made by past generations of Canadians ensured that Canada is well judged by history. As Lester Pearson said when Canada was faced with another humanitarian challenge, “we must offer only our best effort and seize the day”.

Our best efforts can be harnessed into the reconstruction of Afghanistan. It is a noble challenge, one that Canadian troops will meet with a unique resolve that is respected around the world. They will seize the day and the Afghani people and the world will be better for it.

Afghanistan
Government Orders

4 p.m.

Conservative

Daryl Kramp Prince Edward—Hastings, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in this debate and will be speaking shortly on this matter. I would like to commend my colleague across the floor for his steadfast support not only for the mission but for our men and women in uniform. It has been unwavering as long as I have been a member here. Although the hon. member's support of this mission has never failed, I have watched his leader and other members of his party vacillate, where a yes or a no in many cases was a peut-être, a maybe.

This is from a party that originally put our country in Afghanistan, and, I might note, without a vote coming before the House of the people. However, now it has and let us take a look at the future, not the past, because darts and bullets can fly all over the place, but it is most important that we work together for the future.

I am delighted that for the extension to 2009, and this further extension to 2011, the governing party has the will and the courage, and the consent of the House, to bring this forward for a full debate. I would ask the hon. member whether he welcomes this debate and whether he feels it is fruitful.

Afghanistan
Government Orders

4 p.m.

Liberal

Alan Tonks York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I said on CPAC when we were discussing this a few weeks ago with the parties represented at the table, I welcome the debate, the House welcomes the debate and the country welcomes the debate.

The debate can be a unifying force. It can be one in which we articulate in this House the concerns that have been raised by our constituents, and far be it from me to ever shy away from that opportunity. That is why we are elected and I thank the member for the opportunity to reply in that respect.

Another thing I would like to say is that it was not as clear then as it is now, as events have unfolded. I talked about the courageous disposition of so many Afghani people, and this is what is demonstrated to our troops. They are moved by this. I said earlier on, with respect to the national solidarity movement, that great initiatives have been taken and there has been a great deal of accomplishment. This is something that should give us encouragement to go ahead and to continue to show to the world that democracy is--

Afghanistan
Government Orders

4 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Andrew Scheer

Questions and comments, the hon. member for Kitchener—Conestoga.

Afghanistan
Government Orders

4 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I too listened with interest to the member's speech as it related to the combat mission and other aspects of the mission which he maintains we should strengthen, and certainly I do not think he has any disagreement on this.

For the record, in terms of security, as he pointed out, there is demining activity. The Government of Canada contributed $8.8 million for demining activities in February 2007. In December 2007 we announced a further $80 million for those kinds of initiatives. As it relates to governance and rule of law, we announced $20 million for the law and order trust fund to help Afghans take control of their security situation. As it relates to community development, there is $50 million for the national solidarity program for community development councils.

We could go on. On infrastructure, we have built 1,200 wells and 80 reservoirs so far. As it relates to women, we have contributed $14.5 million toward girls' primary education, and so on. I could go on and talk about microfinance projects, which we have financed.

Does the member not feel that this kind of initiative is a good, solid base on which to build further development and reconstruction initiatives?