House of Commons Hansard #104 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was training.

Topics

Opposition Motion—Mission in Afghanistan
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:15 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

Once again, Madam Speaker, the hon. member is trying to re-write history. The motion does talk about a military presence in Kandahar as one of the specifics, but after talking about that, it says that it is the opinion of the House, “that, consistent with this mandate, this extension of Canada's military presence in Afghanistan is approved by this House expressly on the condition that” and there are a whole series of conditions.

It talks specifically about a combat role in Kandahar, but it also talks about an extension of the military mission to 2011 and 2011 only. That is consistent with what the current Leader of the Opposition said at that time, “The Liberal Party is opposed to renewing the mission beyond 2011”. If he believed that at the time, there would have been a necessity for an amendment. There was not, because it was understood at the time that the military mission as a whole would end in 2011.

Opposition Motion—Mission in Afghanistan
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:15 p.m.

Bloc

Johanne Deschamps Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my speaking time with the member for Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher.

We would not be here today debating this motion if the government had kept its word. What this government is doing is showing its contempt for parliamentary democracy, as it has done so well since it came to power. According to the Prime Minister, a vote in Parliament is not necessary for extending the mission of the Canadian troops in Afghanistan. On this he is contradicting himself, because in the 2007 Speech from the Throne, this very Prime Minister said that “our Government has made clear to Canadians and our allies that any future military deployments must also be supported by a majority of parliamentarians.”

We, the Bloc Québécois members of this House, demand that a vote be held on this crucial question. The federal government absolutely must obtain authorization from Parliament before deploying troops abroad, because excluding parliamentarians, the people’s elected representatives, amounts to a denial of democratic principles.

With no debate and with no vote in the House, the Canadian government has decided to maintain a presence in Kabul consisting of 950 troops, who will have responsibility for training the Afghan security forces. The government wants to sound reassuring, by saying that the members of the Canadian Armed Forces who remain in Afghanistan will not take part in combat missions. But how can he claim to know the future and to be sure that the insurgents will draw a bright line between the peaceful role of the Canadian Armed Forces and the offensive troops?

The Conservatives are contradicting themselves. In early 2010, the Prime Minister and members of his government declared that Canada’s military mission in Afghanistan would end in 2011 and Canadian involvement would be limited to development, governance, humanitarian assistance and training police. But now, in spite of everything it said in the past, the government is changing its tune and deciding to maintain a military presence in Afghanistan without consulting the public or their elected representatives.

The strategy the Conservatives have discovered for getting out of this, at least for avoiding a vote, is the discovery of the century. They are inventing a new type of mission, a non-combat mission. What is a non-combat mission? I happen to believe that there are two types of missions: military missions and peacekeeping missions. The Conservatives have become experts in semantic game-playing, a bright idea for evading the rules of this House and for not calling a vote.

In addition, the Prime Minister and his Minister of Foreign Affairs are becoming even more confrontational with the opposition, contending that all Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan will be brought home by March 2014 at the latest. Once again, a promise they cannot keep and a commitment they cannot honour. They truly have no credibility and the public is not fooled.

The Liberal Party members are also complicit in the extension of the Canadian mission in Afghanistan. In 2006, when there was a vote on extending the mission, it was the votes of several Liberal members that made it possible for the mission to be extended until 2009. In 2008, the Conservatives introduced a motion, amended by the Liberals, to extend the mission to 2011. Once again, the Liberals lined up with the Conservatives. We can see that they have the same vision and the same philosophy.

Canada can bring a lot to the Afghan people. While the Bloc Québécois feels that Canada has done more than its share militarily and that other allied countries can perhaps take over its role, we believe that Canada can get involved at a number of other levels.

Canadian police officers are renowned the world over. The Bloc Québécois therefore recommends sending a contingent of up to 50 police officers to provide training to Afghan police. The presence of a trained, equipped, legitimate police force may help reduce the lack of security of the Afghan people.

According to all reports, there are major deficiencies in the Afghan prison system, as is clear from the issue of Afghan detainees abused in Afghan jails.

According to NATO:

To western standards, conditions of many detention/correction facilities vary from inadequate to extremely poor in some places.

As a result, the Bloc Québécois is suggesting that the wardens of Afghan prisons receive support from Canadian assistant wardens. We are therefore recommending sending 50 civilians from the Canadian prison system.

Trust in the legal system is one of the bases of a lawful society. NATO revealed that:

The Afghans prize the system’s notion of “fairness” and prefer the use of the informal system, as the formal governmental system is perceived as highly corrupt.

To provide training for the Afghan legal system and to ensure that it functions properly, the Bloc Québécois proposes sending a delegation of Canadian legal experts who can help with the modernization of the legal system. The Bloc Québécois also believes that Canada must continue its official development assistance in Afghanistan and feels that the Minister of International Cooperation's announcement to reduce the ODA envelope by more than half from 2011 to 2014 is unacceptable.

As well, the Canadian government and CIDA must review the policy on development aid to Afghanistan. It must be better coordinated, more transparent and efficient. The ODA must also be restructured because, in the past seven years, 80% of international aid bypassed the Afghan government and was not strictly in line with this government's priorities.

We are here today to vote on a motion that condemns the government's decision to unilaterally extend the Canadian mission in Afghanistan until 2014. That is the Conservative way, and it has not changed since they came to power. Canada's foreign policy has shifted to the right, and we no longer hear about the 3D approach: development, defence and diplomacy. The government's three priorities now are security, prosperity and governance. The government dictates Canada's foreign policy in keeping with its economic and military priorities.

It allocates exorbitant amounts to defence and peanuts to development assistance. The Conservatives' diplomatic record is abysmal. It is no wonder this government lost its seat on the UN Security Council as a direct result of its foreign policy. But Canada enjoys a good reputation within NATO, which is understandable because NATO is a military alliance. Canada has invested heavily in military procurement for the past few years.

The Conservatives' militaristic policy is not in line with Quebeckers' values. The vast majority of Quebeckers are opposed to Canada's presence in Afghanistan.

According to a Harris/Decima poll conducted during the week of November 11, 59% of respondents in Quebec think Canada should bring all its troops home, and only 36% want the Canadian army to help train Afghan soldiers.

Clearly, the Conservative members from Quebec are out of touch with their constituents' concerns and are not standing up for their interests within this government.

I will close by inviting all the members of the House to vote for our motion, because any deployment of Canadian troops must by subject to a vote in the House of Commons.

Opposition Motion—Mission in Afghanistan
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

Calgary East
Alberta

Conservative

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

Madam Speaker, I listened with interest to both the Bloc and the NDP talk about development aid for Afghanistan. They do not seem to look at the whole of Canada's approach. They just pick on little niggly things and say that aid should go there and forget everything else.

Afghanistan is not a normal country. It has no security and it is run by one of the worst kinds of insurgents in the world, the Taliban. I am not really interested in the kind of development that Canada has been doing there.

I find it quite amazing that the Bloc and the NDP get up every time and say that we should remove the security portion out of it and just let things run by themselves and that we are very much welcomed over there. I have no idea who will provide that security.

To say that Canada should provide development assistance and everything and expect other countries to provide security for this is a very irresponsible attitude.

Talking and listening in Parliament, we are already debating this thing and there will be a vote after this in which the hon. member can express the voting right that she is talking about.

Opposition Motion—Mission in Afghanistan
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

Bloc

Johanne Deschamps Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for his comments, but I want to remind him what today's motion is about.

What we are criticizing is the fact that his government disregarded our parliamentary responsibilities. The Prime Minister committed and even promised the members of this House that there would be a vote if the mission in Afghanistan were to be extended or transformed. What we see now is that the government took advantage of our absence to announce that it was extending the mission in Afghanistan to 2014.

We were elected to represent the Canadian public. We are talking about taxpayers' money. This kind of decision is not legitimate unless Parliament is consulted. That is what we are demanding with this motion, that the House be consulted and that there be a vote on the Conservative government's decision.

Opposition Motion—Mission in Afghanistan
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

Bloc

Jean Dorion Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this motion on this Bloc Québécois opposition day. I would first like to read out the motion:

That this House condemn the government’s decision to unilaterally extend the Canadian mission in Afghanistan to 2014, whereby it is breaking two promises it made to Canadians, one made on May 10, 2006, in this House and repeated in the 2007 Throne Speech, that any military deployment would be subject to a vote in Parliament, and another made on January 6, 2010, that the mission in Afghanistan would become a strictly civilian commitment after 2011, without any military presence beyond what would be needed to protect the embassy.

On this issue, the Bloc Québécois cannot support the government, its policies or its decisions. That explains why we oppose extending the Canadian mission.

The Conservative government wants us to be involved in a never-ending war on terror. This is no longer the aftermath of September 11. We have moved on. The government seems to think that the world can conquer terrorism simply by using force and that the best way to respond to what happened on September 11 is by using weapons. It is mistaken.

The best way to put an end to terrorism in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the world is first to give hope to those who have none. This has been the Bloc Québécois position for years and it is the only position that reflects Quebec's values and interests.

The Bloc Québécois is of the opinion that, militarily, Canada has done its share and that its role can be taken over by our allies. Although we do not agree with the form the mission has taken, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the military men and women who have taken part in the mission and pay tribute to the memory of those who have lost their lives there. We honour the sacrifice, the ultimate sacrifice, that they have made.

With respect to the Conservatives' plan to extend the military mission, the government is straying, in my view, from what its role should be. It should be participating in the reconstruction by providing financial and humanitarian support to recognized NGOs on the ground, not by providing a military presence now masquerading as a training mission that is a complete sham.

According to the Prime Minister, the mission is being extended solely in order to train Afghan soldiers. But the former chief of the defence staff, General Rick Hillier, stated that it is impossible to train soldiers without following up in the field, meaning in conflict situations. So it seems clear that the so-called “new” mission in Afghanistan will not be humanitarian in nature, as the Prime Minister would have us believe. Instead, it will be military in nature, with Canadian soldiers having to go into combat zones in order to do their work.

The government is trying to justify keeping Canadian troops in Afghanistan by claiming that they will not be involved in combat. The example of France shows that it is impossible to conduct training without becoming involved in combat missions. France has lost about fifty soldiers, a good number of them while training the Afghan army.

What is more, at the very recent NATO summit, the Prime Minister had the audacity to promise not to extend the mission in Afghanistan past 2014. But on January 6, 2010, he stated publicly that there would be no military presence in Afghanistan after 2011 beyond what would be needed to protect the Canadian embassy.

How much credibility does he have in setting this new 2014 deadline when, in so doing, he is going back on his promise to withdraw the troops in 2011? Who can believe him?

After having extended Canada’s military mission in Afghanistan four years beyond the original deadline, the Prime Minister is now forcing his decision to continue it beyond 2011 on the House by sending about 1,000 troops until 2014. The Conservative government also deliberately announced this arbitrary decision, made hurriedly and on the sly, during the parliamentary recess and therefore without any debate or vote in the House of Commons.

The Prime Minister broke his promise not to extend the military mission in Afghanistan, and in so doing, he lost all further credibility. In May 2006, the Prime Minister repeated the promise his government made during the election campaign to hold a vote on any further deployment of troops overseas. The Prime Minister should have kept this promise at the very least by holding a debate and a vote in the House on the extension of the mission in Afghanistan beyond 2011. That is why the Bloc Québécois wanted to have this debate today on an opposition day.

There is no way that an agreement made behind closed doors between the Conservatives and Liberals on the extension of the military mission in Afghanistan can substitute for a free and democratic debate. A real debate is needed to ensure that the Afghan mission is really a civilian commitment.

Since this mission started, the Bloc Québécois has been the only party advancing a consistent, responsible position. The Bloc stated that it was in favour of withdrawing our soldiers at the end of the mission and it was consistent enough to vote for the Liberal motion in 2007 that would have ended the mission in 2009, in contrast to the NDP, which supported the extension of the mission under false pretences.

This shows that the Bloc Québécois continues to represent Quebeckers and their values in Ottawa. Quebec does not want any more of this military mission. Quebec is against it, and most of all, Quebec wants the Premier Minister to reverse his anti-democratic decision and put an end to the military mission in favour of a civilian, humanitarian mission, as he promised he would do in January 2010.

I therefore encourage all members of the House to support our motion.

Opposition Motion—Mission in Afghanistan
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

Edmonton Centre
Alberta

Conservative

Laurie Hawn Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Madam Speaker, I listened with interest to my colleague's speech and I would like to ask him a couple of quick questions.

First, he talked about restoring hope. Is bringing education to seven million children restoring hope? Is bringing 7.2 million polio inoculations to children and having 70% of Afghans covered by health care restoring hope? Is it running water? Is it repairing the Dahla Dam to provide electricity and irrigation for Afghan's agricultural economy? Is that restoring hope? I think it is.

He talks about training and he confuses, either because he may not be aware or he does not want to be aware, the difference between operational mentoring training with the army outside the wire and basic training inside the wire where, for the past four years, NATO has been conducting that type of training without a single loss, as Canada will.

Opposition Motion—Mission in Afghanistan
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

Bloc

Jean Dorion Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher, QC

Madam Speaker, we would indeed like to see Canada's presence in Afghanistan be more along the lines of the commitments made at some point by the Prime Minister to support the restructuring of civil effort in Afghanistan. This is why we are asking that the NGOs on the ground continue to be provided with financial support and expertise by the Canadian government. We do not agree with the military nature of this mission to be extended supposedly to train the Afghan army.

Opposition Motion—Mission in Afghanistan
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, on Transparency International's 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index, Afghanistan ties for 176th place out of 178 countries. Just yesterday somebody called my office asking that very question, why we would be supporting a government that rates so high in corruption.

We have spent $18 billion already on this effort that has produced very questionable results. So I would like to ask the member if he would expand upon that whole issue, on whether or not we should be looking at what we are really doing there, supporting a corrupt government. There are two American military officials, just in the last few days, evidently questioning the same point.

Why would we possibly be supporting putting money into developing an army for a government that rates so high on the corruption index?

Opposition Motion—Mission in Afghanistan
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

Bloc

Jean Dorion Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher, QC

Indeed, Madam Speaker, I think that we are seeing history repeat itself because, in previous wars, support was provided to corrupt local regimes which, at the end of the day, did not support in any real way our action. Instead, we in the Bloc Québécois advocate providing support to the non-governmental organizations on the ground, which are truly looking out for the interests of the Afghan people, as opposed to filling the coffers of a corrupt regime which will no doubt end up collapsing on its own.

Opposition Motion—Mission in Afghanistan
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

Calgary East
Alberta

Conservative

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

Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Kootenay—Columbia.

As we are discussing the future of Canada's engagement in Afghanistan, I believe it is also important to reflect upon what we have achieved through this engagement until now.

Afghanistan is not the place that it once was. As the foreign affairs committee saw this past summer, it is a nation of people with incredible will, courage and resilience. When Canada first became involved in Afghanistan, it had been under the rule of the Taliban, one of the world's most repressive and regressive regimes. Poverty, illiteracy and oppression characterized life for all Afghans and the country had become a safe haven for international terrorists.

This was the situation that existed nearly 10 years ago and it is the starting point from which the accomplishments of Canada and its partners must be assessed. In such circumstances, progress takes time and setbacks are to be expected. Nevertheless, progress is being made and Canada has succeeded in making a difference in the lives of the Afghans. Our government feels strongly that we must continue to build on what we have achieved so far and maintain our commitment to Afghanistan.

This is something we owe to the thousands of remarkable Canadian men and women who have risked their lives, including the 152 members of the Canadian Forces, a diplomat, 2 NGO humanitarian aid workers and journalists who have made the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan.

The objective of Canadians was to help Afghans improve their own security, development and governance, both in Kandahar province and in Afghanistan as a whole. No one felt that achieving this objective would be free of obstacles and challenges, but that did not discourage the brave men and women, military and civilians, Canadians and Afghans who give the best of themselves to this noble goal, to provide measurable improvements to the lives of Afghan citizens.

Thanks to their hard work, very significant progress has been achieved with regard to our six priorities and three signature projects. This progress is compiled every quarter in the government's report to Parliament on Canada's engagement in Afghanistan. For each of our six priorities and three signature projects, benchmarks and progress indicators have been established. This gives Parliament and the Canadian public a very clear picture of our achievements to date and of what is left to accomplish in order to achieve our objectives.

No other country reports on established benchmarks like we do. Through quarterly reporting, our government ensures an exceptional level of accountability and transparency.

I believe it is important to emphasize how much of our accomplishments are in areas that many Canadians take for granted such as access to basic services, to education and health care. Building schools or providing polio vaccines may not sound like the most groundbreaking achievements to the average citizen of a developed country like Canada, but for an Afghan child, it may make the difference between a life of poverty and a life of opportunity, or even between life itself and death. This is what I hope my fellow parliamentarians and my fellow Canadians keep in mind when they reflect upon Canada's contribution in Afghanistan.

Now let me speak about some of our accomplishments in further detail.

Recognizing that Afghans need to build their own capacity to ensure their own security, Canada has worked tirelessly to enable the Afghanistan National Security Forces in Kandahar to sustain a more secure environment and promised law and order. To this end, we are training, mentoring and equipping the Afghan national army and the police, building capacity in administration and logistics support and carrying out complementary initiatives in justice and correctional systems.

With the rule of law comes the ability for citizens to defend and exercise their fundamental rights. Promoting and protecting human rights, including women's rights, is a core element of Canada's engagement in Afghanistan. Canada consistently raises human rights issue such as freedom of expression, free speech, gender equality and freedom of media with the government of Afghanistan. We also provide support to build Afghan capacity to ensure that laws are in accordance with its constitution and its international human right obligations and to enable justice sector reform

While we acknowledge that this is a long-term process, we have seen substantial improvements in this area since the beginning of our engagement in the country. For instance, women, who had virtually no rights merely 10 years ago, now represent over a quarter of the Afghan parliamentarians and are taking a more active part in the country's political and economic development.

Perhaps more important is girls now represent a third of school children, compared with none in 2001, ensuring a better life and better opportunities for future generations.

Canada is also fully conscious of the importance of regional dynamics and the need for increased regional co-operation in order to help Afghanistan become a more stable and prosperous country.

With this in mind, since November 2007, Canada has facilitated a series of workshops to enhance mutual understanding and confidence between Pakistani and Afghani officials, which will allow them to undertake targeted joint border management projects.

This effort, known as the Dubai process, brings together border officials to promote co-operation with regard to customs, movement of people, counter narcotics and law enforcement. The most recent Dubai process meetings held in April, July and November were very highly productive.

These are just a few examples of progress.

To Afghans, Canadian accomplishments are more than just numbers and quarterly reports. For many Afghans, this partnership with Canada and the progress we have achieved together means real opportunities, as well as hope for a better future.

We can be proud of what we have achieved, but we must remain aware that our work is not complete. As history has proven time and time again, Canadians do not shy away from challenges. Nor do we back down when faced with difficulties. We must continue to look at the bigger picture and maintain our commitment to the people of Afghanistan.

After all, with all of our experience, through blood and hard work, and the admiration and handicraft of the Afghan, it is the best legacy we can leave behind. The Bloc motion fails to recognize that.

Opposition Motion—Mission in Afghanistan
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

Bloc

Guy André Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Thank you, Madam Speaker, for recognizing me.

These past few years, the people of Quebec and Canada has been unable to understand why the government had turned a blind eye to the whole matter of the torture of detainees in Afghanistan. The government even prorogued Parliament because of that matter which has shocked the Canadian public as a whole.

Now the government wants to avoid putting the future of the mission in Afghanistan to a vote in this House. I would like to ask the parliamentary secretary this: when will this government start showing more transparency and more respect for the democratic will of all members of this House, who represent all the people of Quebec and Canada in this place? When will it show more transparency and a stronger sense of democracy?

Opposition Motion—Mission in Afghanistan
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai Calgary East, AB

Madam Speaker, I alluded to that in my speech. The government has been transparent. It has given quarterly reports. It has had a mandated mission. We are doing exactly what the 2008 motion set out. For the member to say that this is undemocratic is absolutely wrong.

Today we are speaking to that party's motion. Next week, when we vote on this motion, he will find out what the will of the majority of members will be. Let us wait for the vote on the Bloc motion.

Opposition Motion—Mission in Afghanistan
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar Ottawa Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, I am surprised he would suggest that this is in any way transparent. Just a couple of weeks ago the government said that the military mission was done. In fact, at committee yesterday, we heard from Rear Admiral Davidson, who is on the Afghan task force. He said, “we received government direction last week about the change and so we're now in the process of consulting with our allies, in terms of exactly where and in what capacity we can contribute towards”.

We are talking about the mission in Afghanistan. Who was consulted? That is what I want to know from the parliamentary secretary. Clearly the minister of defence was entirely out of the loop. I know he is getting some lines from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence right now. Hopefully they are better than the numbers he gave us at committee, which were wrong. However, clearly no one was in the loop on this.

If our Afghan task force members did not know, and I assume the minister of defence did not know, who actually made this decision and how will it benefit the mission in Afghanistan and, more important, the people of Afghanistan?

Opposition Motion—Mission in Afghanistan
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai Calgary East, AB

Madam Speaker, the member occasionally comes in front of the Afghanistan committee to see what is happening, but his colleague, who is a prominent member of that committee, and ourselves have travelled to Afghanistan. We have seen the mission at hand and we have seen what steps have taken place to improve what has happened. The Prime Minister attended the Lisbon NATO conference. Every country is now looking at how we can improve our mission in Afghanistan.

It is a natural evolutionary process. I do not understand what seems to be the problem. We are going from 2,500 troops to 950 troops. This is a training mission. What is wrong with a training mission? It is the best legacy we can leave for the Afghan people. I fail to understand why the member cannot support that legacy.

Opposition Motion—Mission in Afghanistan
Business of Supply
Government Orders

November 25th, 2010 / 12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Jim Abbott Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Madam Speaker, it gives me great and tremendous pleasure to be a part of this debate today, having had the unique opportunity of being able to go to Afghanistan last June. I participated in a seven-day mission to Kandahar and Kabul as a member of the House of Commons Special Committee on Afghanistan.

The purpose of the trip was to effectively observe the situation facing our troops and aid workers in Afghanistan. Before the trip I had government briefings on the situation, but the media was definitely one of the largest sources of my information on Afghanistan.

A few days after returning, I was at a social event where MPs, senators and the national news media were mingling, and as I walked by some reporters, one of them asked me about my impressions from the trip. I told him, first, I was blown away with the complete enthusiastic dedication of the Canadian soldiers, aid workers and diplomats in Afghanistan. Their selfless commitment is overwhelming. They know what they are doing and they know why they are doing it. Every day they spend in Afghanistan, they are risking their next breath, yet they persevere.

I continued, though. I said that, second, the coverage of Afghanistan by our national news media has been at best inadequate. All Canadians should be proud of our contribution to the world by our Afghan commitments. We should be overwhelmingly, enthusiastically thankful to those who are serving. Instead, we are timid. The news editing mentality of “it bleeds, it leads” is not good enough for these situations because it is overly simplistic and breeds fear.

Regrettably, the news coverage, or lack of it, on Afghanistan has actually distorted the impressions that most Canadians have, or many Canadians anyway. Canadian media coverage of Afghanistan for 10 years has been the equivalent of covering news in Canada and Canadian events by having three reporters driving around in a Vancouver police cruiser on Vancouver's east side. What would that coverage tell Canadians about Canadians' aspiration or the beauty of our land or our potential? This parallel is appropriate, because news organizations from Canada have had an average of three people in Kandahar, driving around in LAVs or confined to the air base.

Let me tell the House what I saw and how it was very, very moving for me personally. I saw Canadian soldiers, diplomats and people involved in development activity who made my heart want to burst with pride over what we as Canadians were doing for the people in Afghanistan and that part of the world. Take the example of education. Canada has had 26 schools rehabilitated or reconstructed, with another 24 under construction or contracted to be reconstructed. There have been 23,000 Afghan adults completing a 10-month literacy program and 5,900 completing vocational training programs.

These investments are building the future of Afghanistan. Thanks in part to the funding of the international community and the hard work of Afghans themselves, there are now more than 158,000 teachers in Afghanistan, which is up from only 21,000 in 2002.

More than six million Afghans are now getting the education required to help lift their country out of poverty. One-third of these students are girls, compared to none in 2002. These investments will need to be continued over the coming years; therefore the government has already signalled its intention to make the education of Afghan children, especially girls, a thematic priority until 2014.

Regarding health, in 2000, believe it or not, only 9% of the population was within two hours' walking distance of primary health care services. Now 66% are within two hours' walking of primary health care. More than 1,450 health care workers, including doctors, nurses, midwives and community health workers, have received training.

We have also seen reductions in the infant mortality rate, thanks to increased access to health care services and improved quality of and access to emergency obstetric care in southern Afghanistan.

The Canadian signature project to eradicate polio in Afghanistan with investments through the polio eradication initiative has enhanced successes. Canada is currently the largest international donor toward these efforts in Afghanistan.

To date, Afghanistan's estimated 7.8 million children continue to receive vaccinations through multiple vaccination campaigns across the country carried out through the year. While there have been difficulties in accessing populations in order to deliver the vaccinations, the disease has been largely contained to the south.

Persisting insecurity challenges are still there, but despite this, the polio team has devised innovative approaches to extend the reach of immunization efforts. Improving the health of Afghanistan's children underlines the importance of our continued engagement in Afghanistan. We will not waver in this commitment.

Building on this commitment, our response to the G8 Muskoka initiative on maternal, newborn and child health, through which we will provide $30 million annually to help address critical gaps in the Afghan health sector, will build upon our investments of the past.

In general terms, thanks in part to Canadian investment, the World Food Programme provided 275,000 tonnes of food to more than nine million Afghans in 2009 alone. Also in 2009, the Government of Canada provided $20 million in response to the UN-led humanitarian action plan.

Just as crucial for the future of Afghanistan is our commitment to help build the confidence of Kandaharis in their own government in Kandahar. In 2008, the Government of Canada set out specific objectives to help the Kandahar government increase access to basic services and jobs.

The Afghan government has often highlighted the necessity for rural development programming in its country, Afghans' access to economic opportunity. A key goal there for the Government of Canada was to help reinvigorate Kandahar's agro-economy with the rehabilitation of the Dahla Dam, a signature project of this government at $50 million. Its irrigation system serves as a central building block to Afghans' future.

Once identified as the bread basket of Afghanistan, Kandahar's ability to produce food and crops remains severely weakened by years of conflict and continuous drought. Afghanistan has one of the lowest levels per capita of food ability in the world, due in part to the destruction of these agriculture systems in the Arghandab Valley and across Kandahar.

Kandaharis rely on these agricultural systems not only for sustenance but also for their livelihoods. The destruction of this agricultural system has led to reduced employment opportunities in the agricultural sector, on which 80% of local farmers and labourers are dependent.

Today, thanks to Canada's support and the hard work of Afghans, over 137,000 cubic metres of silt and debris have been removed from the irrigation system's canals. The resulting increased water flow has helped an additional 5,300 hectares of land benefit from improved irrigation. To date, the construction work associated with the canal rehabilitation has helped provide approximately 2,000 jobs to Kandaharis. The additional economic opportunity that Kandaharis will have upon completion of the work on the irrigation system will provide for local populations in the province for future generations to come.

However these are just statistics until we take a look at the face of the Canadians in Afghanistan who are delivering these services. They are making a commitment of their lives on a day-to-day, minute-to-minute basis, which is why I was so overwhelmed when I met them. The honour that the Afghan people give to Canadians who are there to serve is the deep, overwhelming respect they have for the Canadians and for their contributions and connections, person to person, man to man, woman to woman.

Canada's contribution of trainers, which is what we are discussing today, is to give Afghanistan the ability to keep peace. Canada is moving to a peacekeeping mission. I asked the Bloc member this morning if he wanted foreign troops to keep the peace in Afghanistan or whether we should be training the Afghan army to do the job themselves.

Our government is honouring the commitment of all those who have sacrificed already. I call upon the special committee on Afghanistan to step up and work more constructively to define Canada's contribution for this untold story. Because we have been honoured with that level of respect by the Afghan people, we are in a strategically unique position among citizens of the world to be able to deliver training to these people.

For me, it was an extreme privilege to shake hands with the dedicated Canadians working so diligently, contributing so much, in our armed forces, RCMP, correctional services, CIDA, DFAIT and civilian agencies. To them, I can only say that I thank them.