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Last in Parliament September 2008, as NDP MP for Elmwood—Transcona (Manitoba)

Won his last election, in 2006, with 50.85% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Supply November 17th, 2005

Mr. Speaker, the only thing I am convinced of is that an NDP government would be better than this government.

With respect to the first nations and first ministers conference, even now we are trying to do the very thing that the Liberals say they are trying to do but are actually putting in danger. With the sequence of motions in the House, the postponement of the vote until Monday, and the subsequent non-confidence motion--assuming the Liberals do not come to their senses and respect the wish of Canadians that there not be a Christmas election--even then we are trying to have things happen in a way such that the first ministers and first nations conference will not be put in any kind of jeopardy.

We are doing our best. It is the government that is playing chicken with all of these things. I think the Liberals think this looks good on them, how the Prime Minister does not take orders from anybody, but of course that is the problem. The Liberals never take orders or suggestions or advice or recommendations on anything from anybody and that is why Canadians are fed up with them.

Supply November 17th, 2005

I am being heckled by the Tories, Mr. Speaker. I do not understand it, but it is all right, I feel better.

The Liberal who raised this point has a problem with time and space. There is a chronology here. We are creating the possibility here today of not having a Christmas election. That is the choice before the member today. Of course, if the Liberals were to do the right thing, they would say, “Fair enough. We want to get the first ministers and first nations conference over. We want to get these four or five pieces of legislation through. We want to get to the supplementary estimates. We want to go to the WTO and the Kyoto conference and everything else. So we are going to accept the NDP compromise”.

It is not just the NDP compromise anymore. It is a compromise that was reached because the Leader of the Opposition and the leader of the Bloc Québécois were willing to come together and see what could be done in the interests of all these things that the Liberals say they are interested in. But, no, oh no, says the hon. member. I am a little surprised by him. I guess he just cannot suppress this sort of partisan behaviour. Normally he is a thoughtful enough person, thoughtful enough that he would not try to stand up and defend the government on this because he does not defend the government on everything.

Instead we have this false choice being put before the Canadian people. If the government does not accept this motion today, if the Liberals vote this down next Monday when the vote takes place on this motion, they are the ones who will be precipitating a Christmas election. Those are the two choices: what is before us today or a Christmas election.

As for the idea of allowing the Prime Minister to simply do whatever he wants, even though he has the constitutional right to do that and I do not dispute that, we have constitutional rights to do all kinds of things in this country. But there is such a thing as consultation, respecting Parliament and trying to see what would be in the best interests of the country. I am sorry, but does the Constitution trump all those things? I think not.

Supply November 17th, 2005

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member has a problem--

Supply November 17th, 2005

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Winnipeg North.

Today is one of those days where Canadians could be forgiven for saying how difficult it is sometimes to discern the truth of what is going on in Parliament when we are treated to the kind of Orwellian doublespeak we have had from the government today with respect to our motion. It has been extremely amusing, but at a more profound level, sad to hear government members arguing against our motion on the basis that they want to do the very thing that our motion permits them to do. Now if that is not Orwellian doublespeak, I do not know what is.

The only options before this Parliament are either a non-confidence motion in the next little while which would make it impossible for the Liberals to do all the things they say they want to do, or an acceptance on their part of the compromise which is on the floor of the House of Commons now, which would make it possible for legislation to be passed. It would allow us to proceed to the Christmas break. It would allow us to have the supplementary estimates passed. It would allow the first ministers and first nations conference to be held without any distractions. It would allow the government to proceed to the Kyoto conference. It would allow the government to proceed to the WTO meetings in Hong Kong. It would allow for all of that without any parliamentary or electoral distraction.

All that is possible. All that is on the table here today in this motion, but have we had any substantive response to why that is such a bad idea? Instead, the government has been asking Canadians to believe that somehow by putting forward this proposal that would make all those things possible, it is we who are making those things impossible. If that does not take the cake, I do not know what does.

The only argument the government seems to have is that the Prime Minister made a promise at one point that he would call the election after the Gomery report. We already have the main Gomery report. We have the report that details the way in which the Liberal Party as an institution was found to be responsible for a great deal of corruption in Quebec. The second Gomery report is about what to do about that. But the Prime Minister said he made a promise. This is very interesting too, because I have never known the Prime Minister to be so attached to a promise in his life. Promise after promise, if we go back to the Liberal red book in 1993, which the Prime Minister helped author when he was on the other side of the House, we could spend all day articulating the promises that were made at that time which have not been kept. Yet this is the one promise that the Prime Minister will stand or fall on.

It is not a promise to the Canadian people. It is part of the Liberal strategy to have the election in a context where Parliament has not been sitting for a couple of months, when the Liberal Party will be able to campaign with the aid of the public purse, fly around the country and make all kinds of announcements without any accountability in Parliament. More time will have passed between the first Gomery report that indicts the Liberal Party and election day, and more time will have passed between the second Gomery report. It is pretty transparent. This is actually the only transparent thing the Liberal Party has ever done, but the Liberals are trying very hard to make it opaque, to make it non-transparent, to make it not obvious what they are up to.

It could have been otherwise. Obviously my Conservative colleagues have been anxious for a long time to have an election. They are quite open about that. They tried to bring this Parliament to an end on May 19. They would have had a non-confidence motion by now if things had been configured the way they wanted them to be configured in order to put forward a non-confidence motion.

But what have the New Democrats been up to in this House? First of all, we have tried to make this Parliament work. We have a history that stretches beyond this particular Parliament of trying to make minority Parliaments work. That is what we did in the spring when we went to the government and said that if it wanted to amend its budget in such a way as to meet what we think are the legitimate needs of the Canadian people as we understand them, we were prepared to keep this Parliament alive and to make more work possible. Because we think that frankly this is what Canadians want us to do and I think we have been vindicated in that. I do not think any of us, or very few of us indeed, have the impression that Canadians are wandering around regretting that there was not an election in the spring.

So we come to this fall. Conservatives are still wanting to bring the government down and New Democrats, day after day in this House, are asking the government what it is going to do on ethics, whether it is going to accept our ethics package or the Conservative ethics package or its own ethics package. New Democrats are asking whether the Liberals are going to do something to clean up the cronyism and the corruption that is so rampant in the political culture of entitlement that they themselves have created.

We have had no answers, just self-congratulation, breast-beating and the usual parliamentary junk when we ask these questions.

We even had a process on electoral reform. If members recall, this was critical to us in the last election. We had hoped that out of this minority Parliament some form of electoral reform would happen. There was a process with which the hon. member for Ottawa Centre was very involved. In the end, what happened? The Liberals killed it. It is not going any farther.

The Liberals see everything through such partisan glasses that they will not even consider proportional representation, but I ask them to just think about what a different kind of Parliament it would be if, for instance, we had proportional representation in Quebec. We would not have to worry about the first past the post system sending us nothing but separatists in the next election. If the federalists had 45% or 50% of the vote in Quebec, we would have 45% or 50% federalist MPs from Quebec. Would that not be an improvement? Would we not have a different kind of Parliament? Not for the Liberals, though, no, sorry, they are still holding out hope that they can rule the country with 37% of the vote.

We have put forward some other proposals. We asked the Liberals why they would not do something on health care. We put a proposal to them to try to stop the growing privatization of our health care system. We have people on the record supporting what we were asking for, people like Roy Romanow, the head of the royal commission on health care, thus validating what we were asking the Liberals for. Did they agree? No.

At some point it became untenable for us. We do not mind keeping a Parliament working if it is working, but we could no longer countenance keeping a Parliament working and supporting and expressing confidence in a government that so clearly did not deserve it.

But we also knew that Canadians did not want a Christmas election and we also knew that there were some things happening on the floor of the House of Commons here in terms of legislation already on the order paper having to do with relief for energy costs, protecting wages in the event of bankruptcy and a couple of other things. So we said, “All right, let us try again to make things work”.

Instead of having to choose between a non-confidence motion here and now and the Prime Minister's plan, we said, let us bring forward this motion in which Parliament will express an opinion about when the next election should be held, that it should be called in January for mid-February, and then all the things that the Liberals want to do can happen. The only thing they cannot do is campaign in January when no one else can campaign and do that on the public purse.

This is not a non-confidence motion. It is not non-confidence lite. It is not unconstitutional. It is not unparliamentary. The Prime Minister himself legitimized the notion of saying when the next election will be held when he himself said that he would call the election at a certain date.

All we are saying is that Parliament is entitled to an opinion, just like the Prime Minister is, about when that next election will take place. Parliament is going to express that opinion. Parliament will say to the Prime Minister, “Have the election called in early January for mid-February”.

The Prime Minister will have to decide whether he wants to reject the will of Parliament, to repudiate the will of Parliament, and at the same time and in so doing make impossible all the things his members today say they want done. At the same time, the Prime Minister will reject the will of Parliament and show that all his talk about the democratic deficit and making this place more democratic is a complete fraud.

Canada's military mission in Afghanistan November 15th, 2005

Mr. Chair, I have nothing to quarrel with what the hon. member said, except he said one thing that the minister said earlier as well. He referred to failed and failing states in respect of Canadian foreign defence policy.

While I would certainly agree that we have a role with respect to failed and failing states, I am not sure the initial intervention in Afghanistan fits that model. It may have been a state that we did not like. It may have been a state that was sponsoring terrorism. In fact, it was a state that was known to be creating a safe haven for al-Qaeda et cetera.

I think the government is deliberately mixing categories here. If we looked at any definition of what a failed or failing state was, Afghanistan under the Taliban did not qualify. The Taliban controlled the country. They may have had a theocratic regime that we found objectionable with respect to its treatment of women and all kinds of things, but it was not a failed or failing state in the strictest sense of the word.

It is one thing to have a policy on wanting to help failed or failing states. It is another thing to have a policy on Afghanistan. I find it a little confusing. I am not sure if it is a deliberate confusion or whether it is just an urge on the part of the government to fit everything that it is doing into a certain model whether it fits or not.

I would like to register my own objection and that of others. We heard some testimony before the foreign affairs committee recently in Winnipeg. I forget who said it, but essentially it was the same thing. It is one thing to have a policy that addresses failed or failing states, but let us not kid ourselves that Afghanistan fell into that category. Afghanistan may have fallen into another category with which we wanted to deal, but there is room there for different categories.

Canada's military mission in Afghanistan November 15th, 2005

Madam Chair, I first want to second the words of admiration that the Minister or National Defence expressed for the work that Canadian troops do in Afghanistan and have done in many other difficult situations, such as in the former Yugoslavia and many other missions that they have been sent on.

It is precisely because Canadians do such good work and it is precisely because the Canadians do their work differently that it is so important that the government pay attention to anything that might threaten the differences that other people see between the way Canadians do things and the way other forces do things.

I remember when we raised in the defence committee the question about camouflage and the controversy about the Canadian soldiers when they first arrived in Afghanistan and the fact that they had different camouflage than the Americans. This was supposed to be a terrible thing and it was raised in the House as if the world were coming to an end. When I asked the officer who was before the committee what he thought of it, he said that he thought it was a good thing. When I asked why, he said, “I don't want to go into any detail, but let's put it this way. The fact that the Canadians were able to be distinguished from others in the same theatre was not a bad thing”. Members can read between the lines.

What is important is that the world and the people of the various countries where Canadian Forces operate have come to expect that Canadians do things differently and they do it with the tolerance and the respect for the local cultures and the importance that they attach to the building of schools, the health care system and all those sorts of things.

We have had some exceptions to that rule but, by and large, that is the Canadian reputation and it is that reputation that we want to preserve, which is why I ask these questions in the House of the minister with respect to how we handle those who are detained by Canadian Forces and what conditions we put on those we hand them over to.

Just in that respect, the minister had another chance to say whether, in that Danish model to which he referred, there were any conditions with respect to the Afghan government not handing over prisoners to the Americans. However he did not take the opportunity when he was on his feet to say whether or not that was part of the Danish model and perhaps he could do that now.

Canada's military mission in Afghanistan November 15th, 2005

Madam Chair, I rise on a point of order. I do not know what kind of parliamentary debate it is when the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence has priority in asking questions of the Minister of National Defence before members of the opposition. I find that to be ludicrous and I wanted to register my objection to your recognition of him before you recognize people on this side of the House.

Canada's military mission in Afghanistan November 15th, 2005

First of all, Mr. Chair, on the militarization of development aid, this is a real concern within the NGO community. It is not limited to just their critique of the DART, which we received. It is related not just to how much more efficacious they think their own capacity is and the feeling that the money would be better spent by enabling them rather than having the military do certain things, but it also, as I indicated before, has to do with their concern about how being subsumed into a military environment affects their neutrality and their ability to do the kinds of things they traditionally do.

I heard that this morning. I was at the breakfast, and so were you, Mr. Chair, with the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, which was laying out its operation Micah, which is part of its global partnership to defeat global poverty. I was sitting at the table with someone from World Vision, who was expressing a concern about the way the role of NGOs was being affected by the role of the military in certain situations.

This is something that is certainly shared widely. It is not just something that we find on the left, for instance, unless one would want to make the very unusual allegation that the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada is on the left wing of the Canadian political spectrum. This concern is a widely shared anxiety within the NGO community.

Secondly, I want to address the concern about the extent to which in Afghanistan we see a model of Canadian military involvement outside of Canada that is very different from what Canadians have come to affectionately associate Canada with, that being the traditional peacekeeping model.

I would refer members to an article called “Canadian Forces international operations: 2001-2005” in the most recent Ploughshares Monitor , which is a magazine put out by Project Ploughshares. I do not have the time to go into it, but this article lays out rather clearly the extent to which the role of the Canadian Forces in UN led and UN mandated operations has decreased substantially, while the role of the Canadian Forces in other military operations, either NATO led or U.S led or other coalitions of the willing, has increased. To me, to some degree this has all gone on under the radar of Canadian political awareness.

Wherever we go we still hear people talking about Canada's peacekeeping role as if this is what we are doing in the world. We are not. In part we are not doing it because we do not have the resources to do it anymore. One of the reasons why we do not have the resources is that what resources we do have and what resources we are planning to have are being planned for our continued and increased participation in these other kinds of operations.

Canada's military mission in Afghanistan November 15th, 2005

Mr. Chair, I am happy to hear the minister acknowledge that what we have in Afghanistan is not a traditional peacekeeping operation, although I do not think that anyone really thought it was. It is just that the government has not been as fulsome in its acknowledgement of that as it might be.

I think there was an attempt to do so by acknowledging that there might be casualties and that there was more likelihood of casualties with the move from Kabul to Kandahar, but there has been a kind of morphing of the government position with respect to peacekeeping that I do not think has always been fully explained.

For instance, the 5,000 new troops initially were supposed to be for peacekeeping. It is clear now that those 5,000 new troops are going to be recruited and trained to help us fulfill our commitment in Afghanistan, which frankly seems to be rather open-ended, and they are not going to be available for traditional UN peacekeeping. I think that is a change in government policy and expectation that has not been fully explained to Canadians.

I think there are a lot of Canadians out there who still think this increase in the armed forces is so that we can get back to the situation we once were in, where we were a much more significant contributor to UN peacekeeping operations or peace support missions than we are now.

I found it very interesting that when the minister talked about the Danish agreement as a model he did not say there was anything in the Danish agreement about guarantees that prisoners turned over to the Afghan government would not be subsequently turned over to some other government.

I was waiting. I thought, okay, he went down the list of things that were in this Danish agreement that we should be happy about, and I was waiting for the minister to say, pursuant to the discussion we just had, that the key thing is that there is a guarantee they will not be turned over to the Americans. Yet the minister did not say that. I find that disappointing because clearly that is the concern that was expressed on the floor here. That would be my response to the minister.

Canada's military mission in Afghanistan November 15th, 2005

Mr. Chair, I am grateful that the House has this opportunity to exchange views on the new situation for Canadian Forces in Afghanistan because it is indeed a new situation and deserves some parliamentary discussion.

What we are debating tonight is the fact that Canada has undertaken a change from its previous role in Afghanistan and is in the process of establishing what is called the provincial reconstruction team, henceforth known as PRT, in southern Afghanistan, the city of Kandahar, which involves moving the concentration of our forces from Kabul, the capital city of Afghanistan, to the southern city of Kandahar.

This raises a number of issues. The minister knows that this will involve more active force protection and counter-insurgency activity on the part of Canadian Forces. Our understanding is that some 1,000 plus soldiers will be deployed by February, not including members of the elite JTF2. This is a change too. I hope I will have some time to say more about this later.

There is a perception in the country that this is somehow in keeping with our traditional sort of peacekeeping role, at least our post second world war, post Korea role in world of peacekeeping. In fact, what we are doing in Afghanistan is quite different than that. I do not think the government has been fully upfront with Canadians about the difference in the rules of engagement and the difference in the situation to which Canadian troops are being sent, not only in Kabul but particularly now in Afghanistan.

This is certainly not peacekeeping. It might be called peace building, but it is more like war fighting. It is more like fighting the Taliban and al-Qaeda and trying to maintain that state which has been established in the wake of the U.S. overthrow of the Taliban regime through the military activities of a coalition of the willing, of which Canada was a part. I do not think we have paid sufficient attention to the departure or the significance of the change in the role of the Canadian military that our activity in Afghanistan represents.

There also are some questions within the NGO community about the PRT itself and the extent to which humanitarian operations in that area have been placed in a very odd position, where they are subsumed to a military structure. NGOs have some concern about the militarization of development. We heard some testimony to this effect in the defence committee not so long ago. This is not just true there. They also expressed some concerns about the DART in that regard.

NGOs are very sensitive to the role they play in any given situation. They have to be seen as neutral. They cannot be seen as an extension of any one particular side in a dispute. In the three block war, to the extent that they are being subsumed on the development side, they are very concerned about what this means for the security of their own employees and for the effectiveness of their mandate.

Finally, and we have already spent some time on this, Canadian involvement with U.S. forces and in Operation Enduring Freedom means that Canada could be complicit in any torture that occurs and any use of banned weapons by the U.S. forces, and this is the worry that has been expressed here tonight.

I already have raised the issue of anti-personnel mines and there may be other instances where Americans have used weapons that we have signed conventions against. I am thinking of the use of white phosphorous. It was not used in Afghanistan, but I think there is some evidence that Americans have used it perhaps in the attack on Fallujah, which, granted, is different than Afghanistan. We are in this increasingly integrated, interoperable relationship with a country that continues to violate conventions to which we are signatories. It seems to me that the government should be more concerned about this than it is.

When I asked a question in the House not so long ago, the minister of defence was not here. His parliamentary secretary stood up. I raised the question in the context of these black sites that had been recently revealed, where Americans were allegedly sending detainees to be tortured. All got was a very simplistic and naive answer from the parliamentary secretary. He said that they were turned over to the Americans, that the government trusted them, that the Red Cross kept an eye on these things and that everything was just fine.

Frankly, I do not think that cuts it. I would hope the minister would express more concern than his parliamentary secretary did in that context.

I think the minister has received a letter. Perhaps he has not seen it yet. I received a copy of it. It is a letter from a Mr. Melville Johnston, a professor emeritus at Ryerson University. I will quote from the letter. He says:

The Human Rights Watch has condemned the use of “torture shuttles” (airline flights to transfer prisoners to various countries that used to be under the influence and/or control of the former Soviet Union). The European Union and the International Committee of the Red Cross have called for investigations into the so-called “black sites”. Moreover, the Human Rights Commission of the Council of Europe has stated that it finds these sites “very worrying”.

Mr. Johnston goes on to say:

As a Canadian citizen, I am ashamed that my Government would in any way participate in or contribute to the illegal treatment of prisoners held by the US authorities.

I think Mr. Johnston speaks for a lot of Canadians when he expresses these kinds of concerns. We have to be very concerned that in the post-September 11, 2001 environment we do not suddenly undo all the work Canadians did for decades in establishing international law and new conventions trying to make the world a more civilized place. We cannot throw that overboard because we happen to be allies of the Americans in a war against terrorism.

Further to that, I want to go back to something I was talking about earlier with respect to the treatment of detainees. I will again refer to a speech that was given yesterday by Michael Byers who is UBC professor of international law and author of a new book War Law . He delivered the F.C. Cronkite lecture in the College of Law at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon yesterday. In that address he says the following, and I quote at some length:

In January 2002, Canadian soldiers captured suspected Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan and handed them over to U.S. forces. The transfers took place despite the fact that U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had publicly refused to convene the “status determination tribunals” required by the Third Geneva Convention of 1949, to investigate whether individuals captured on the battlefield are prisoners of war. Canada, by choosing to hand the detainees over, also violated the Third Geneva Convention. The transfers did not, however, violate Canada's obligations under the 1984 Torture Convention, since there was no reason to believe that U.S. forces would mistreat the detainees.

Professor Byers goes on:

Today, we know better. Photographs, news reports and official investigations into abuses at Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq, Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba indicate that, at best, the U.S. military has failed to educate its soldiers about human rights and international humanitarian law. At worst, the revelations suggest a policy of law-breaking that extends all the way up the chain of command, to the Secretary of Defence and perhaps the commander-in-chief himself.

The denial of access to legal counsel, the removal of detainees from occupied Iraq (in blatant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention), and leaked legal opinions that seek to justify torture provide additional cause for concern.

I will end my quoting of Professor Byers at that point.

Canadians may be concerned with the role of our forces in Afghanistan. I think we would find more of a consensus with respect to the concern that Canadian soldiers, by turning over people that they detain to Americans in this environment, are in violation of agreements that we have signed and in violation of the values that Canadians like to think our government holds.

We are in a context not just in respect of the turning over of detainees in Afghanistan, but also with respect to some issues here at home that make us wonder whether we have a government any more that is committed to these long-standing Canadian values. It is not just in respect of the turning over of detainees in Afghanistan. It also is with respect to some issues here at home that make us wonder whether we have a government that is committed to these long-standing Canadian values.

It is not just the turning over of detainees in Afghanistan to Americans for possible torture or forms of imprisonment that violate the Geneva Convention. We also have the case of suspects in Canada such as Maher Arar and others who ended up being turned over to the Americans and who in turn were turned over to the Syrians, with Canada not seeming to care at the time about that.

We have a growing sense of unease about whether in our eagerness, which may well be justified, to combat terrorism we are sacrificing a Canadian tradition with respect to international law that we will rue being exposed to erosion in this way.