House of Commons Hansard #117 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was chair.

Topics

Foreign Affairs and International Development
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I move that the third report of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development, presented on Monday, January 28, be concurred in.

I want to thank my colleague from British Columbia for seconding the motion.

The report was tabled in the House of Commons just after the new year. It was an interim report by the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development with regard to Afghanistan.

It is important to note that the motion just adopted will allow our committee's report to be tabled when it is finalized, hopefully within a couple of weeks. This is the interim report of the final report.

We have studied the issue of our country's involvement in Afghanistan for the better part of a year at the foreign affairs committee. My predecessor, the member for Halifax, brought forward a motion for a study on Afghanistan. Then the House was prorogued. I became the member on the committee for our party and put a motion forward to continue to work that had been done.

We then had the opportunity to table an interim report. It was important for the committee to bring forward the evidence we had heard from witnesses at committee before the Manley report ideally, but also before we had the motion in the House to extend the war in Afghanistan.

Recent reports from Afghanistan show that we have been unable to provide a sufficient foreign policy framework to deal with the complexities of the war in Afghanistan.

The motion to extend the war in Afghanistan, which passed in the House thanks to the government and the official opposition party, missed, and continues to be an empty space, how we could get out of this military and counter-insurgency war-making approach and move toward something that would bring peace to the people of Afghanistan.

At committee, and in the report tabled, it was clear from all the witnesses, in fact there was a consensus, from the military and the people working on peace and development to the voice of every day Afghans and others, that the situation in Afghanistan could not be won militarily. Everyone agreed with that.

It is strange in many ways that while there is consensus that on the one hand everyone believes there is not a military solution to the war in Afghanistan, the motion put forward by the government, with the help of the opposition Liberal Party, focused on military solutions.

The only concrete things in the motion are more troops, more helicopters and more drones. Everything else has been vapid and vague, nothing that will help move toward peace and development in Afghanistan. I say that more in sadness than in anger. Sadness, because Canadians and others in the global community would like to see Canada take a role in pushing peace and moving out of the counter-insurgency approach, this kind of one-size-fits-all military approach.

We heard from people who were well experienced in diplomacy. We heard from former diplomats and from advisers, and Seddiq Weera comes to mind, to the Afghan government about where we were at in the war in Afghanistan. It was absolutely clear that to continue this kind of approach from a military perspective would not make matters better. In fact, it would make matters worse, and further to that, it would matters worse in the long run.

Seddiq Weera provided an analysis that was important. Remember, he is an Afghan, presently advising the Afghan government. He said that if we were to view Afghanistan right now, we should view it through the lens of a civil war that had taken place.

If we go back to the period to when the Soviets left up until 9/11, there was still an ongoing civil war. Many of us we should understand that the way this war has been cast is it simply the Taliban versus the rest of the world. It is not the case on the ground.

Other than the Taliban, very different groupings are at play within Afghanistan such as other insurgents, warlords and regional powers. His point was that Canada had decided to lay hands on one group in the civil war over the other. He encouraged Canada to take a different role in this whole conflict, to push reconciliation and peace, to ensure that the approach we took would not be that one side was the right side and the other was not. That is very different from how the government and others see the war in Afghanistan.

Mr. Weera went on to say that to change things on the ground in Afghanistan, instead of only making solutions that were top down, we needed start at the bottom and go up. He gave a couple of things that he thought would be helpful.

Going to the ground level was one, whether it be in the south or other regions within Afghanistan, and building what he called peace capacity, in other words, how to get some of the issues solved. Some of these issues have to do with conflicts over water, resources, boundaries of farmland, et cetera. These issues go back beyond 1992 when the civil war raged after the Soviet Union left.

He believes this approach is the art of the possible. He believes these conflicts can be solved right now. They have nothing to do with the war as we see it our TVs, the conflict between the Taliban and NATO and OEF. We do not see that kind of diplomatic peace building approach from our government.

We heard testimony at committee from people like Mr. Weera who said that we should approach these. Why? Because these can be dealt with right now. There are prospects for peace, believe it or not, right now in Afghanistan.

I would simply also underline the importance of how we do development. As recent as last week, the government, and it was definitely a political decision, said that we would focus more of our development in the region of Kandahar, which is very troubling. We would go from 17% of our development dollars spent in Kandahar to 50%.

It is important to note that CIDA has had difficulty finding partners to do development in Kandahar because of the conflict. It is passing strange then, if we have had problems with development dollars in Kandahar, that the government would politically choose to take 50% of our development dollars and posit them in Kandahar. It underlines the point that Mr. Manley talked about in his report, and that is the issue of signature projects. Others have come before the foreign affairs committee and talked about that as well.

We are going down the path of signature projects at a time when we should be going the other way. Granted, there are important infrastructure projects to be done, but they need not be done under the guise of Canada delivering these projects to Afghans. They should be done by the Afghan people. Signature projects, as we have learned recent articles in the Globe and Mail, the Ottawa Citizen and other Canwest papers, will attract more trouble.

In fact, if we look at the issue of the pipeline, that has not been sufficiently debated in this House. I brought it up before. It is now getting some attention. That is the natural gas pipeline going from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan. It can become a security problem for all of us. It is these signature projects, the big projects, which I believe are the targets for people like the Taliban.

They are building targets. Why? The signature projects are being used by insurgents, by the Taliban, as targets of what they would call imperialism or intervention for their own propaganda. Of course I would disagree with the concept of what we trying to do, but the outcome is what we have to look at.

Instead of these big signature projects the government wants us to engage in, which become targets for the Taliban and others, we should be employing as many Afghans as we can, at their level, with the requisite technology that they have. We should not be hiring big contractors who basically suck money right out of Afghanistan, which goes to other capitals around the world. Make no mistake, that is exactly what is happening with a lot of our aid. That is what these signature projects do.

There are some models in Afghanistan presently. The national solidarity project, which we have funded to some extent, shows how decisions can be made at the local level, employ people at the local level and benefit people at the local level.

We heard this at committee. This evidence is in front of the committee. I was in Afghanistan recently and there was a clear message from the president right through to the regional counsellors that they did not want to see more contractors coming in to build big projects. What they wanted to see was a maximum number of Afghans being employed.

It is passing strange. We heard this from Afghans. We heard this evidence at committee. We heard from experts. The consensus is that we should be moving away from these large signature projects and moving into community based decision making, getting into development that leads to security, because when Afghans build it themselves, they own it. We have evidence that those projects are more secure. The Taliban will not go after those projects. Yet our government says, “No, we know better. We are going to move our aid, which was 17% dedicated to Kandahar, to 50%”. I cannot comprehend what the government is trying to achieve here, other than for its own purposes of trying to win the hearts and minds of Canadians as opposed to the hearts and minds of Afghans.

It was also brought forward at committee the importance of having a diplomatic part to our mission in Afghanistan. It troubles me to say this, having just returned from the region. The men and women who are charged with and responsible for the mission there, the military, are doing the best they can. They are working very hard. There are approximately 2,500 troops. However, what I did not see on the ground was a sufficient number of people who were involved in diplomacy and building the capacity for peace and reconstruction.

What I found interesting was what the government now calls the whole of government approach. It has moved from the three Ds and now we have the whole of government approach, and I am sure in a couple of weeks we will have new nomenclature to fit the needs of the political agenda. The whole of government approach was pitched as being the way to bring all partners together so that, being equal, they would have joint leadership. The power would be distributed among all and this would be a better model.

Like many things regarding theory and practice, in practice what I have found is that the team, as they call it, on the ground consists of DFAIT, of course, and yes, there is the military. There are CIDA folks there as well. Interestingly, there are also representatives from the U.S. state department. This is on the Canadian org charts that are handed out. U.S. state department officials are there. They are people from USAID who are there and people who are mentoring the police from the U.S.

I mention this because most Canadians are not aware of the fact that when we talk about the whole of government approach at committee, and the government uses that term, it is not the whole of Canadian government working with the Afghans. It is the whole of the integration of Americans and Canadians on the ground now in Kandahar. I was more than surprised to find out this was happening.

Further to that, the Americans have a separate parallel mission, which is their insurance that they are the ones running the show in the region of Kandahar. That is Operation Enduring Freedom. One wonders, if this is the UN sanctioned NATO mission that everyone likes to refer to, why at the same time is there a separate parallel mission going on by the United States? Why is Operation Enduring Freedom still going? Remember that Operation Enduring Freedom was supposed to be there initially, as is said in the American vernacular in a kind of cowboy rhetoric, get the bad guys and clear them out.

That was supposed to end as the UN ISAF forces moved in. It was supposed to fade away. I want to underline that this is not happening. I was surprised to see that not only is Operation Enduring Freedom still going strong as a separate American mission, separate from the United Nations ISAF, but they are actually integrated into some of the work that we are doing on the ground vis-à-vis financing the training of the police in Afghanistan to the tune of $8 billion. Again, I have no idea why our people are working with Operation Enduring Freedom programs and why Operation Enduring Freedom, which is a military mission, is responsible for training the police which has been hands down one of the biggest challenges in Afghanistan.

We see that this has morphed into something else. This is always trumpeted and underlined by the government as a UN sanctioned NATO ISAF mission, which in part it is, but the government forgets to tell us about the other part, which is the direction the American mission Operation Enduring Freedom is providing, not just on the military side, and again I find it surprising that it is not talked about, but on the training and funding of police. Why is that the case? Why are we doing that? It leads to the Americans not only funding the training of police, but also directing the mission.

The committee report showed from witnesses the need for Canada to change direction. It showed the need for Canada to abandon this military imposed solution, which is no solution at all. It showed that Canada needs to reclaim its voice. Instead of just carrying alongside Operation Enduring Freedom and saying, “Yes sir, three bags full, sir”, we need to ensure that we have an independent foreign policy that will actually provide stability. This is not about bringing democracy to Afghanistan. Any day of the week we get a different answer from the government about why we are there. Sometimes it is that we are bringing democracy to Afghanistan, or education to women and girls. Every day it is a new thing. It is about providing stability.

What we need to see from the government is an acknowledgement of what others have already said and that is to change direction, embrace the notion of peace building and for goodness' sake, get on our own feet with our own independent foreign policy.

Foreign Affairs and International Development
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

1:15 p.m.

NDP

Thomas Mulcair Outremont, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask my knowledgeable colleague to further explain the fact that there are two military operations going on at the same time. The one we often talk about is run by NATO and the UN. In addition, in the aftermath of September 11, the Americans launched Operation Enduring Freedom.

Could he explain what problems this causes for a country like Canada, which has a proud history of peacekeeping throughout the world? How did we get involved in something where the Americans are carrying out what they call “search and destroy” missions? Have Canadian soldiers been sent on the same missions? We are not going to see that on our public television. The only way Canadians found out what was going on was when French television crews filmed the Canadian army doing it.

I would like my colleague to explain some of the problems this causes, not only for Canada's image, but also for any real possibility of working towards overall peace in Afghanistan.

Foreign Affairs and International Development
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

1:15 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will tell my colleague from Outremont that what Canadians do not realize is that on the ground, beyond the spin and the flow charts the government provides us, the evidence is that we have a parallel mission of Operation Enduring Freedom in funding, training and continuing with its approach, which is to search and kill. This is important to underline.

I asked a question of President Karzai when we met with him just over a week ago. I asked him if he was concerned with the tactics of the Americans vis-à-vis their air strikes and what they are doing to villages, be it in Kandahar or throughout the country. Colleagues from the Conservative Party, the Bloc Québécois and the Liberal Party were present. Unequivocally, he said, absolutely, what they are doing is creating more harm. That was said by the president of Afghanistan. He was imploring us to have the Americans to change their method.

His hands are tied because in Operation Enduring Freedom the Americans are off doing their own thing without any oversight. We know they answer to the commander in chief and we know about his success in foreign affairs. He has done just a great job in Iraq and is pursuing the same kinds of procedure, process and tactics in Afghanistan.

Let us make no mistake about it. The effects of the American tactics are affecting what we are doing there. The equation is much more complicated than what the government is providing. It is important for Canadians to know that.

I know that our men and women would prefer to pursue an independent Canadian strategy rather than have this parallel effect, this spillover or Doppler effect, that is happening in Afghanistan. I think Canadians need to know that.

The government has to be more truthful about it. When Canadians find out, I think they will be even less supportive than they already are of this mission in Afghanistan.

Foreign Affairs and International Development
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

1:20 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I had the great honour to be raised by my grandmother, who grew up in the Hawkhill slums in Dundee, Scotland. Again and again, my grandmother used to tell me the stories of the British army coming in and taking her cousins, her neighbours and every boy in her neighbourhood. She said they all went to the Somme and never came home again. From day one, she said, “If anybody tells you to rally around the flag and ask no questions, that is the time to start asking them”.

I raise that story because I was in the House the night of the debate on Afghanistan. We asked simple questions, such as, “Where are the allies?” The Conservative government called us 21st century Neville Chamberlains. They chanted slogans like “boots on the ground”. They said that they did not “cut and run”.

With the member for Central Nova coming from Nova Scotia, which has a good maritime tradition, I thought he would understand the meaning of the term “cut and run”. People cut and run when their ship is anchored and they are in a storm. They have to cut the anchor and run before the wind. Otherwise, they run onto the rocks. Therefore, a captain who says he will not cut and run is a captain who is not fit for command, because he is running his crew straight onto the rocks.

When we were asking simple questions about Operation Enduring Freedom, we were hearing “we don't cut and run”, which obviously means the government was running into a very bad situation but was too bullheaded to turn around. When we ask questions, which is part of our job as opposition members, we are denounced and shouted down as being unpatriotic and not willing to rally around the flag.

We asked those questions. We asked where the allies were. Six months later, the government asked, “Where are the allies?” We asked questions about Operation Enduring Freedom, its search and destroy mission and how it is destabilizing the reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan. The government said we were all friends of the Taliban.

Now we are seeing it. When the member spoke with the president of Afghanistan and asked him about the search and destroy mission, the president shared the same concerns we have. Why is it, does the member think, that the Conservative government continues to move in such a wrong-headed direction, one that is actually sending the ship straight toward the rocks?

Foreign Affairs and International Development
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

1:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

I hope the hon. member for Ottawa Centre can give a short reply so members from other parties can ask questions.

Foreign Affairs and International Development
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

1:20 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will do my best, as always.

I also thank my colleague from Timmins for clarifying for members of the Commons, particularly on the government side, the history of the term “cut and run” and what it means.

The problem here is, which was in the Manley report, that the report stated, “For whatever reason--”, which, I think, was a deliberate choice of words, “--we ended up in Kandahar”.

I think that was instructive because the previous government had no clue as to what we would do when we got there. We still have problems in understanding what we are doing there.

Therefore, what do we do? We fall back on the people who are already there. I can predict that we will see more of this influence. This will not be a NATO mission any more. This will wholeheartedly become an American-led mission. We see that and we see it in very direct ways.

Foreign Affairs and International Development
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I simply want to point out that I appreciated hearing my colleague from Timmins—James Bay recount the wisdom that his grandmother shared with him.

I too would like to begin my comment and then my question by saying that my father volunteered to go to the second world war in 1939. He stayed for the whole term and ended up coming home in late 1945.

The second world war had the country seized for what seemed like an eternity but in actual fact was six years. We have been in Afghanistan longer than my father was away in the second world war, a war that engaged the entire world and almost levelled Europe.

We need to ask ourselves the same questions that we began asking in 2001-02, which I remember well. The questions we were putting to the government about our engaged in Afghanistan were: How how long will we be there; what is the end strategy and what is the yardstick by which we will measure progress? Those seemed like reasonable and simple questions. If the government were asking us to engage in an open war, then it would seem reasonable that it could at least answer those three questions clearly.

Could the member share with me at this point in time, seven years later, whether we any closer to answers on those three basic questions?

Foreign Affairs and International Development
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, no, we do not have any clarity on that. All we have is the government being supported by the opposition to carry this on until 2011.

We talk about the commitment of the second world war, in which my father served and both of my grandfathers served in the first world war. They served with honour.

The problem the government has is that it does not really know why we are there and it does not have a plan about where we are going, which is deeply disturbing because Conservatives have been in government for a couple of years and the previous government had its turn.

The questions are still the same: What is it that we are trying to achieve there, how long will we be there and what is the measure of success? That has been elusive for the government. Canadians are losing trust in the government because it cannot answer those basic questions that I think every Canadians, particularly those who serve in the military, need to know.

Foreign Affairs and International Development
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

1:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

Resuming debate. The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs has the floor for 20 minutes, including 2 minutes today.

Foreign Affairs and International Development
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Thomas Mulcair Outremont, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I was clearly standing before the parliamentary secretary. You noticed, yet you still gave him the floor.

I would like to know under which Standing Order you made that decision.

Foreign Affairs and International Development
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

1:25 p.m.

Conservative

Foreign Affairs and International Development
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

1:25 p.m.

Calgary East
Alberta

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and to the Minister of International Cooperation

Mr. Speaker, the member asked what Canadians need to know and I would like to tell the House what Canadians need to know. Aside from this absolutely idiotic nonsense, I want to ask him this question. Why is he abusing the privileges of the Parliament of Canada?

I will explain what I am talking about. The report that the member is talking about is a preliminary report that was done by the foreign affairs committee and tabled in January. From January until the day before yesterday, we had a final report. That member was a part of the report, which has 37 recommendations that will be tabled here.

With regard to all this nonsense that the member is talking about, he had ample opportunity in that report which will be tabled and will be the final report. Why did he not put all those recommendations in that final report? That report will be tabled here, which is the right place and the right way to do it as a parliamentarian. He is abusing his privileges because he wants to talk about his rhetoric that he did not say when the whole committee made its recommendations.

If he has a problem, like all his colleagues, why did they not put that in the minority report that will be tabled in two weeks time in the House. Why is the member and his colleagues abusing the time we have in this Parliament where we could be debating more important issues, like the carbon tax or something like that which is relevant here.

The member had the opportunity. He had the floor but refused to do anything and now he is abusing his privileges with the absolute nonsense that he is talking about.

The second factor is that the Parliament of Canada has spoken--

Foreign Affairs and International Development
Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

I would like to remind the hon. parliamentary secretary that the Speaker is standing and that is a good time for him to sit.

It is my duty to interrupt the proceedings on the motion at this moment. Accordingly, the debate on the motion will be rescheduled for another sitting at which time there will still be 18 and a half minutes left for the hon. parliamentary secretary.

In reponse to the point of order raised by the hon. member for Outremont, I recognized the parliamentary secretary instead of the hon. member because it was his turn to speak.

It being 1:31 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Early Learning and Child Care Act
Private Members' Business

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Victoria is not present to move the order as announced in today's notice paper. Accordingly, the bill will be dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.