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House of Commons Hansard #150 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was afghanistan.

Topics

Canada's military mission in AfghanistanGovernment Orders

7:40 p.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Chair, I rise with pleasure to speak this evening on behalf of the Bloc Québécois on the subject of our forthcoming dispatch of troops to Afghanistan. I say forthcoming, for a large contingent will be going to Afghanistan in February. I am aware, nonetheless, that there are already people there on the ground.

To begin with, for the benefit of our listeners and those watching on television, it is worthwhile to give a very short history of the reasons for this situation. It is, I think, unnecessary to recall the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. The Americans very quickly identified the terrorists as well as the places where they had been trained. The eyes of the world turned to Osama bin Laden with his training camps in Afghanistan. The Taliban regime then in power encouraged this type of terrorism, harboured it and provided an oasis for terrorism.

The Americans decided to intervene with a coalition of people who decided to accompany them. Twenty-six days later, on October 7, the Americans entered Afghanistan. It took several months before the UN finally decided to support them by creating the ISAF following the signing of the protocol in Bonn. This was an international intervention force under American leadership, but with the authority of the UN.

There are several types of mission that I would like to consider. The current mission is a dangerous one. That is, moreover, why the Minister of National Defence has already begun to engage with public opinion. He has said that it is not a traditional peacekeeping mission and that there is a risk that soldiers will be lost in this undertaking.

I will call this a stabilization mission, which ultimately allows for all kinds of operations. I have here a description of the mission, which includes a full spectrum of operations. Not only will there by an attempt at reconstruction with the PRT, but they will also attempt to seize members of al Qaeda or high profile Taliban figures. These are likely to be highly dangerous missions. The entire range of operations is thus included in the current mission.

In regard to this commitment, we must see why we are there. I am taking excerpts from documents given to us by Brigadier General Ward. He came to tell the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs how both the mission and the commitment were seen. I think that it is important to read the mission statement. Ultimately, it is about helping the Afghans progress toward independence in terms of their security, stabilize their country, develop their government and build a better future for their children. This can take different forms, as I said. It can take aggressive forms, as in the pursuit of the Taliban who want to destabilize the country, but it can also take the form of reconstruction. The PRT is there to accomplish all parts of this mission.

I would like to speak about command. There is one thing that currently bothers us in the Bloc Québécois. As we speak, the zone in question is under American command. We are anxious for it to pass to NATO command. We hope that before the contingent is fully deployed, NATO will have taken over all operations in the region. For us there is a certain gradation in the type of command. I will explain.

We refused to join the Americans in Iraq in a coalition of the willing because it was not under UN control. The priority for the Bloc Québécois is certainly to be under UN control. This might not always be the case, but it is our first priority.

We can agree to being under NATO authority. That was already done in Kosovo. There may be conflicts, as in Rwanda, where we should have intervened. International law seems to be developing now in regard to the duty to protect. The Bloc Québécois is following this closely.

All of this is to say that we have an order of priorities in regard to command. The Bloc Québécois prefers the UN first and then NATO. We are very resistant to coalitions of the willing, such as is currently the case in Iraq.

I would like to turn now to the PRT concept. It is relatively new. People have said that there is a certain inconsistency when the armed forces arrive in a country and there is a lot going on. There is a war going on with shelling, attacks, infantry, air forces, navies, cruise missiles launched from ships, and so forth. These kinds of activities are inconsistent with our saying, at the same time, that we have come to reconstruct.

As a result, the international community expressed its concern with the creation of provincial reconstruction teams. This is important. There are a number of different models. The current difficulty is that there are no specific models or definitions. People are doing things, and we are trying to determine the best course of action here.

The American model, among others, may not be the one to follow. The Americans tend to shoot first and ask questions later. In fact, a few years ago, the coalition fired on a school, killing nine children and a number of adults. The next day, the PRT came in to rebuild. They shoot and kill a number of civilians and, the next day, they talk about development. It goes without saying that they were summarily asked to leave.

Currently, the NGOs tend to say that the British model may be the best. The armed forces have a very clear role. The local NGOs are responsible for reconstruction.

We will see what the Canadian model will be. For now, the Minister of Foreign Affairs is talking about the 3-D approach. I asked General Ward a question when he came. We believe that there is a problem. About 95% of the contingent about to leave for Kandahar are military personnel. The 3-D approach is a nice concept, but more emphasis needs to be put on development and diplomacy. I understand that Kandahar is a dangerous region, but there is a difference between that and saying that 95% of the contingent are military personnel. I think that the Minister of Foreign Affairs has not given this enough thought. It needs to be addressed.

We have a great deal of respect for the Geneva convention. Everyone remembers seeing the three JTF2 prisoners exit the plane and be handed over to the Americans. We are not saying that the Americans are tyrants, but I do not think that, when it comes to treating prisoners, they get a passing grade. We need only think of all the scandals at Guantanamo or in Iraqi prisons. Just recently, we learned that the CIA had almost secret prisons in Eastern Europe. What are they doing to these prisoners? This is one of our concerns.

In a fight against a tyrannical regime, the people captured must not be submitted to the same treatment. A decision has to be made at the outset on the treatment given prisoners. It is a very important point for the Canadian Forces going to Kandahar. What do they do if they arrest Taliban or al-Qaeda fighters?

We have clearly supported and will continue to support the intervention in Afghanistan, because we approve of the mission, as I said earlier. We want this country to return to democracy. It has not really enjoyed democracy, it has to be said, but it is changing. In a context of instability, it is not possible to think of setting up a democratic society. So we think the Canadian contribution is good.

As for what awaits the prisoners, we call on our government to define the legal status of the opponents. How will we consider the people we capture? Will we bring them before our own justice system, keep them prisoner in our prisons or hand them over to another country? Handing them over could be a secondary recourse. However, we would want to be sure the Geneva convention would be honoured. Otherwise, we cannot allow a Canadian envoy to capture people and then turn them over to the Americans, only to discover later in the news that they have been taken to an unknown location and tortured.

We can ask that of the government. We can also point out the importance of setting certain limits on reconstruction and of determining our course of action. The minister has to add a fourth dimension to his three d s, that of the NGOs. We have to have agreements with them. Their job is to help people. It is not just the job of the Canadian army with its notions of defence, diplomacy and development. Let us agree with the NGOs as well and ensure the collective contribution of all these people in ensuring that the work done by the PRT in Kandahar is the best in Afghanistan.

Canada's military mission in AfghanistanGovernment Orders

7:50 p.m.

Toronto Centre Ontario

Liberal

Bill Graham LiberalMinister of National Defence

Mr. Chair, I have three comments.

First, concerning the ISAF coalition, I can assure the hon. member that our goal is a humanitarian one. Our operations are within the coalition now, but the purpose of our presence, along with our British and other colleagues, is precisely to transfer authority to ISAF before our mission is over.

I will come back to the comments made by other hon. members on geopolitics and related issues, and what we are doing about it. This is a very important aspect for us and for the Afghan government, which wants the international community to be present in its country, not a group of countries like a coalition. Mr. Karzai himself has said this.

Second, our presence in Afghanistan is a good thing for us, in order to regularize our status as members of the international community as a whole, particularly since this is a NATO mission under UN authorization. As for the PRT, I agree with the hon. member that there is at present an imbalance between the presence of troops and the development assistance they have to provide. I visited the PRT recently, and I hope the hon. member and others will have the opportunity to do likewise. If so, they will see, as I did, that the people living there want stability and they want it now. They want assistance. They realize, however, that there will be no assistance until there is stability. At the moment, the focus is on stability, but we are also working on assistance and good governance.

Third, for the question from our colleague concerning prisoners. This is not a formal presentation, but I would like to share with the House the new policy I am trying to draft in conjunction with the Afghan government. We are in Afghanistan working for the good of the people and their government. We are not there to serve our own interests.

When I was over there, I attempted to reach an agreement with the Government of Afghanistan on the transfer of prisoners to the Afghan government, with guarantees of supervision by both the Red Cross and the Afghan human rights commission itself, in order to guarantee the status of these prisoners. We are in the process of negotiating this and I hope the agreement will be concluded before our troops are sent in for more extensive duties.

Canada's military mission in AfghanistanGovernment Orders

7:55 p.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Chair, I am pleased to hear that, like us, the minister would like to see this coalition not just under U.S. command, but under NATO command as well. In my opinion, it is important that the international community address the problem. When a nation intervenes practically alone, or with a limited coalition of people that take international jurisprudence into their own hands, this often causes many problems. With NATO, we have democratic parameters to address these problems. We all know the NATO structure where 27 ambassadors discuss using consensus to make a decision. I believe that if NATO can truly take control and command over Kandahar, we will be reassured.

As for the PRT, the minister said he understood our point of view. He knows that there is currently need for greater stability. We agree. However, we believe that 95% for military and 5% for development and diplomacy is not enough. Diplomacy must not be forgotten. We must negotiate this with the mayors and warlords. We need these diplomats and not just armed forces for establishing this type of parameter. It is true that the climate is currently so unstable that we need more armed forces. However, do we need 95%? That is what in fact needs to be debated.

In regard to his new policy, I am glad to hear it. The minister told us that he was close to reaching an agreement with the Afghans. However, I would just like to emphasize something to him. If he manages to reach an agreement which ensures that the Afghans comply with the Geneva Convention, we will support him because this is important. However, the Afghans must not be used as intermediaries between prisoners taken by Canadian troops and prisoners taken by American troops. We would not want to see the Afghan government or the Canadian government saying it would hand the prisoners over to the Afghans, and then the Afghans saying that ,now that it had them, it would hand them over to the Americans. Then they would be intermediaries.

We must be above all reproach. The prisoners have to know this, regardless of where they are sent. The Geneva Convention must be respected. If it is not, Canada must consider having its own prisons and its own justice for prisoners in Afghan territory.

Canada's military mission in AfghanistanGovernment Orders

7:55 p.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Chair, I am following up on the dialogue between my colleague from the Bloc and the minister having to do with the possibility of an arrangement between the Canadian Forces and the Afghan government for the turning over of people detained by Canadian Forces to the Afghan government.

I want to bring to the attention of my Bloc colleague the words in article 3 of the torture convention, which decrees:

No State party shall expel, return...or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.

Apparently last week at the UN General Assembly the UN special rapporteur on torture singled out Canada and five other countries for violating human rights conventions by deporting terrorist suspects to other countries where they may have been tortured.

There is a very real danger, as I think my colleague pointed out, that if the detainees who are turned over by Canada to the Afghan government are subsequently turned over to the Americans, we may be in violation of article 3 of the torture convention. The UN committee on torture has stated that the term “another State” in article 3 of the torture convention encompasses any additional country to which a prisoner might subsequently be transferred.

I am indirectly saying this to the minister, but inviting the comment of the member from the Bloc. Would he not agree with me that it is not enough for us to simply have an arrangement with the Afghan government, but that one has to have real assurances that the Afghan government is not just an intermediary for ultimately turning prisoners over to the U.S., which, frankly, everyone is worried has crossed the line when it comes to torturing suspects?

Canada's military mission in AfghanistanGovernment Orders

8 p.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Chair, I am pleased to see that my friend from the NDP shares my concern. If the minister wants to turn prisoners over to the Afghan government, he must ensure that the Geneva Convention is upheld. I would not want the Afghan government feeling free to decide where to send prisoners that the Canadian government had turned over to it and deciding to turn them over to the Americans.

We have the evidence. The Americans' record is tainted by what they have done. We will probably not see any torture in the United States, but there will be at Guantanamo. They will say that this does not happen in their country, just elsewhere. We know what the Americans are basically up to. They want to transfer these people to other countries where torture is used. The Americans will be informed, and then when questions are raised about what happened, they will say that it did not happen in the United States but in Bulgaria or Cuba.

I am asking the minister to cooperate on this. If he concludes an agreement with the Afghans, I would like him to inform Parliament. We must ensure that if prisoners are transferred to the Afghan government, the Geneva Conventions apply in full. If he does this, he will have the support of all the parties in the House.

Canada's military mission in AfghanistanGovernment Orders

8 p.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

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.

Canada's military mission in AfghanistanGovernment Orders

8:10 p.m.

Toronto Centre Ontario

Liberal

Bill Graham LiberalMinister of National Defence

Mr. Chair, there were two very important points raised by my hon. colleague, and I will make some comments. He might wish to speak to them as well.

The first is the nature of the role of what we are asking our troops to do in the southern part of Afghanistan. It is clear that it is not a peacekeeping mission of the Cyprus type or some of the traditional types with which members of the House would be familiar. However General Dallaire, now Senator Dallaire, and others who comment on these matters would say that everybody has agreed, particularly as a result of Rwanda, that we must have a capacity today in peacekeeping to recognize that there are situations where we must have much more robust rules of engagement than in a traditional situation and where we have to bring stability to the area if ultimately there will be peace and stability so the society can develop.

I would put the Kandahar mission in that latter category. We cannot go there without being properly prepared, as the hon. member from Carleton has pointed out. We have to be prepared to fight in those circumstances and be properly prepared for that, and I will speak to that in my speech.

On the detainee matter, I would like to totally associate myself with the observations from the member for Elmwood--Transcona and my colleague from Saint-Jean when they point out that the treatment of detainees is becoming an issue which goes to the credibility of how we are actually engaging in these forms of operation.

I want to remind the members of the House that Canada is a signatory to the International Criminal Court convention. We signed it specifically because we are determined that international law will be furthered by our operations, not hindered by them. Our troops are instructed and accompanied by lawyers from the department who ensure that international law is observed in their missions.

It is for that purpose that when I was in Afghanistan last, I raised with President Karzai the model of a Danish agreement that the Afghan government has signed, which the members can have a look at. It deals with turning detainees over to the Afghanistan government.

We are in Afghanistan. We are trying to build up Afghanistan for Afghans and for their society. I cannot speak to all the details, but I can assure members that this agreement would ensure that capital punishment could not be used, that the International Red Cross would have access to prisoners to ensure that international conventions were being observed, both customary international law and conventional law, and I would hope to build in a supervisory role for the Afghan human rights commission as well.

That is the attempt. This is a negotiation that is going on, but I will keep members of the House advised as to the progress of these negotiations because I consider them important for the reasons the other members have raised.

Canada's military mission in AfghanistanGovernment Orders

8:15 p.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

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 AfghanistanGovernment Orders

8:20 p.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Chair, I appreciate the opportunity to participate in the discussion this evening and I really appreciate the comments of my colleague, the member for Elmwood—Transcona. He has raised a number of the things that I have heard about from my constituents with regard to Canada's participation in Afghanistan.

In particular, I have heard from constituents about what happens to prisoners who are taken by Canadian Forces members in Afghanistan and that whole concern about whether they are eventually being turned over to Americans in the context of the secret prisons that we have recently heard about, but also in the context of the kind of behaviour the Americans undertook in Abu Ghraib and at Guantanamo Bay. That is of major concern to the people in Burnaby--Douglas who contacted me about this.

I was a little disconcerted, as was my colleague, to hear the minister's response to that concern. It seems to me that there is something that is good, that there are negotiations under way and it is good that some of these issues may be addressed, but in the meantime, what happens concerning the whole point about whether Afghanistan is indeed turning these folks over to a third country or to the United States?

I would like to ask the member for Elmwood--Transcona about his comment concerning the militarization of development work. I think he made a very important point. I wonder if he might speak a little more about the kinds of concerns that NGOs have had around that, as I think this is another departure from the kind of work that Canadians expect of Canadian organizations and the Canadian Forces and really is part of the whole departure from our traditional peacekeeping role that he was talking about in his remarks.

Canada's military mission in AfghanistanGovernment Orders

November 15th, 2005 / 8:20 p.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

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 AfghanistanGovernment Orders

8:25 p.m.

Toronto Centre Ontario

Liberal

Bill Graham LiberalMinister of National Defence

Mr. Chair, it is an honour for me to be able to participate with my colleagues in this debate this evening on what I believe to be one of the most important foreign operations the Canadian Forces has undertaken in many years, which is obviously our mission to Afghanistan. I hope that I have been able to address some of the earlier questions on other issues in my previous remarks. I look forward to answering questions when I finish my formal remarks.

Several months ago the government published its new defence and international policy statements. These statements were not academic exercises. Rather, they were informed by recent global history and born of experience, particularly the international experience of the Canadian Forces over the past 15 years in places as diverse and challenging as Somalia, the Balkans, Haiti and Afghanistan.

The one unifying feature running through these very different places is that none of these states were able to provide an acceptable level of security for their citizens or fulfill their international obligations. They were or are failed or failing states.

As a result of this experience, both the defence and international policy statements identify the concept of failed and failing states as an organizing principle for Canada's future military operations.

We must address these fragile states not only because of the geopolitical instability they generate as breeding grounds for international crime and terrorism, and I think of New York, London and Madrid, as was evoked by my colleague, the member from Carleton, but also because the suffering and denial of human rights they represent challenge basic Canadian values.

Dealing with situations in failed or failing states is not simply about waging war over there. Rather, it requires a sophisticated set of skills and instruments, including combat capabilities, diplomatic skills and a willingness to help others rebuild their institutions in a way that is culturally sensitive to their local needs.

These are attributes the Canadian Forces have in spades, largely due to the combination of our military's vast experience in peacekeeping operations around the world since the 1950s, the enviable war fighting history of the Canadian military, and our recent experience in complex places like the Balkans.

Few militaries, I would posit, have our range of history and experience. This in turn has instilled in our military culture and our people a rich array of skills and attributes. Our men and women in uniform embody Canadian values of tolerance and respect, combined with a steely determination to defend our rights, and I might say also a respect for international law.

These values are the result of our history as a bilingual and multicultural nation that has over the years become one of the world's most successful models of embracing cultural differences among one of the world's most diverse populations.

I need not remind this House of the long and unfortunate history of war and misrule that has characterized Afghanistan's recent history culminating in the rule of the Taliban and their support for all al-Qaeda and their attack on New York.

That is why we were there as early as 2002, in Kandahar, in a combat mission to deal with international terrorism. It is why we pressed for NATO to take over ISAF and then subsequently provided some 2,000 troops to a mission led by General Rick Hillier, today the Chief of the Defence Staff.

ISAF has been, and continues to be, instrumental in providing the stability and security the Afghan government needs to extend its authority throughout the country. It was crucial to the successful and relatively peaceful presidential elections of last year.

And when we recently watched parliamentary and provincial elections we had the gratifying sight of Afghans, particularly women, defying threats of violence and intimidation, going to the polls in record numbers.

Despite these signs of hope and progress, Afghanistan could probably still be accurately described as a fragile state. Extremist insurgents continue to roam some parts of the country in an effort to regain their previous authority, terrorize the population and destabilize the government. Its economy is overwhelmingly dependent on the international narcotics trade and the country is therefore highly vulnerable to organized crime.

Afghanistan then, colleagues, is at a critical juncture today. Progress has been substantial, but the ongoing commitment of the international community is required if it is to become a peaceful, stable and prosperous country. Without a solid, long term, multifaceted international commitment, it could revert to a failed state or even become an narco-state. That is not in Canada's interest or indeed, in the interest of any state.

That is why we have decided, with our NATO allies, to increase Canada's military commitment to Afghanistan over the next several months. In fact, by early next year, our military presence and role in Afghanistan will be greater and more varied than it has been to date, notwithstanding significant contributions over the past three years.

Just last month the Canadian Forces returned to Kandahar and established a provincial reconstruction team, a PRT, comprised of about 250 Canadian Forces members as well as officials from CIDA, the RCMP and Foreign Affairs.

This was described to some extent by my colleague the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Members will know that the PRT concept is to assist the Afghan authorities in providing governance and security, as well as delivering basic services to citizens. The PRT concept corresponds with the thrust of our defence and international policy statements and represents a practical example of our 3-D approach put into action.

I would not accept that it represents a militarization of aid. It is precisely the instrument that makes giving aid in an unstable area possible. Without it, there would be no aid available to those people.

Canada chose to deploy a provincial reconstruction team to Kandahar, because we have been there before. We know the region well. It is also one of the provinces most in need of security and rebuilding. Kandahar is a big challenge for the international community and for Canada. But we know we can make a real difference there, given our past experience and expertise.

In February, the Canadian Forces will also be deploying into Kandahar a brigade headquarters of about 350 persons that will command the multinational force there for nine months. At the same time, we will be deploying a task force of about 1,000 troops into Kandahar for one year, a period of time that might respond to the concern of our colleague from Carleton—Mississippi Mills.

As an essential complement to the reconstruction efforts of our PRT, this force will provide much needed security in the region and perform the same role currently performed by our elite special forces unit.

Finally, we are providing a strategic advisory team of approximately 15 civilian and military planners and support staff to advise the Afghan government on defence and national security issues for a year. Their job is to enable the Afghan government to run their own affairs, our raison d'être for being there.

A month ago I had the privilege of visiting our troops in Afghanistan for the second time. This recent trip brought home to me the human dimension of what we are accomplishing there.

In Kabul, I heard firsthand from President Karzai, from the foreign minister and from other officials, just how much they appreciate not only the stability and security our troops are bringing to their country but, of equal importance, how our troops work naturally with the local population in a way that inspires confidence and makes us partners in securing their country.

In Kandahar, the local governor and tribal elders I met told me how much they like working with our PRT, how Colonel Bowes and his troops understand their needs for schools, hospitals and roads, and how the troops are working with them to rebuild this infrastructure.

Our troops themselves rightly take pride in what they are doing in Afghanistan. This point has been brought home to me many times as I travel across the country and hear from Canadian Afghanis, as well as our own troops.

I want to leave my colleagues with the statement that this mission to Afghanistan is consistent with Canada's new international defence policies. In fact, it is the most significant, tangible expression of these policies in action. It is, as other members have pointed out, a complex, challenging and dangerous environment and mission as the part we are going to in Afghanistan is the most unstable and dangerous in the country. Indeed, that is why we have been asked to go there with our other partners, and that is why we are going there.

Members can be assured our troops are exceptionally well-trained, equipped and led for this mission. They are confident in their ability to accomplish this task with all the professional qualities that have marked their previous endeavours.

As I conclude, I want to share with members and ask them to think about the faces of those men and women of the Canadian Forces, the ones we have seen going off to Afghanistan from Edmonton or those who we can see in Kabul or Kandahar if we travel there. They are the faces of Canada, open, generous, sensitive to the culture and needs of their faraway destination, willing to take risks and determined to use their considerable skills to bring stability to the lives of people living in very hard conditions.

We Canadians, who have the privilege of living in one of the most blessed countries on earth, should take pride in sharing in the dream of Afghanis that their country will be rebuilt and in our very real contribution to this realization.

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8:35 p.m.

Conservative

Gordon O'Connor Conservative Carleton—Lanark, ON

Madam Chair, I appreciated the comments from the minister. They raise two questions for me, and they might be intertwined.

Listening to his words, I am not certain whether we have an open-ended commitment or whether we have a commitment where we are going to have a headquarters there for 9 months and a battle group there for 12 months, and then are we going to pull it out and close down the commitment? The extent of the commitment is not clear to me.

The second question is perhaps related and perhaps not. It is my understanding that the French and German NATO partners have basically refused to get involved in counter-insurgency and that this could affect the rotation. This could affect the command relationship in the Kandahar area. Will this have any effect on the extent of our commitment?

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8:35 p.m.

Liberal

Bill Graham Liberal Toronto Centre, ON

Madam Chair, I thank the member for two extremely important questions which follow very much along the lines of his earlier comments about an understanding of what is the nature of the commitment.

As I said in my speech, the commitment for the 350 leadership group brigade headquarters is for nine months. The commitment for our troops, the 1,000 that are being deployed, is for a year. Members will know that our commitment in Kabul was for a period of time. Others then replaced us. We will go in, work with our NATO allies, discuss with them who is going to replace us, and how we will not obviously extend ourselves to the point where we are over-extended and create an operational tempo for our troops. We are now working our way through from a very serious operational tempo, so that we will be able to maintain that deadline.

What I would not be able to say to the House is that we would not know if in another year or some other time, depending if we were not to continue in Afghanistan, whether or not we would go back to Afghanistan to aid in the multinational efforts to bring Afghanistan to full peace and security. We know there is one important timeline we are facing. President Karzai's term will be up in three years. We will have a very good idea at that point just how successful the international community has been in Afghanistan and of course we are not going to irresponsibly place our troops. It is very clear that the present commitment is nine months and a year.

I think that addresses the hon. member's concern in that respect, recognizing the multinational nature of these troop rotations, which brings me to his second point and again a very good one. At the last NATO meeting I attended France particularly expressed a distinct concern about the difference between the nature of the operation in the southern part of Afghanistan and ISAF's mission. Our present determination is to work with the other NATO members, so we will end up being double-hatted, as I said earlier, during the course of our mission and that ISAF will eventually, when the British move in, take over complete control of this mission.

This is a matter that is still being discussed at the NATO council. I would not suggest that there is 100% agreement on it, but I can certainly assure hon. members that there is a movement in that direction. The Spanish minister was here recently and we had this discussion. There is certainly a movement in that direction.

Is there concern about the nature of the mission in the southern part of Afghanistan? The answer is yes, but, as I said in my speech, that is in many ways why the Canadian troops have been asked to ensure that we bolster what is a very important dimension of what we have to achieve in Afghanistan.

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8:40 p.m.

Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca B.C.

Liberal

Keith Martin LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Madam Chair, there have been some questions at least from the public that need to be clarified in terms of the investment that the Government of Canada has made in our armed forces.

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8:40 p.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

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.

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8:40 p.m.

The Assistant Deputy Chair

I am not sure that is a point of order but, in my defence, I recognized someone from the opposition and then someone from the other side, who stood up before the member for Elmwood—Transcona did.

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8:40 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Madam Chair, on the same point of order, you have not changed anything because this debate was proceeding in this way. When the member spoke, the first question was given to this side of the House and the second question was given to one of his own party members. If I wanted to speak, I would have stood now when my colleague did to speak. Under normal circumstances, it happened just a few minutes ago, it would be our turn next and I would be happy to ask a question.

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8:40 p.m.

The Assistant Deputy Chair

I recognized the parliamentary secretary who stood. The rules seem to keep changing as we go along. The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence.

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8:40 p.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Madam Chair, the question is quite simple actually and it is in the interest of the public. A lot of people want to know what new investments have taken place in the military and our armed forces. They would also like to know in what context Canada is functioning with respect to other countries in the region of Kandahar.

Would the Minister of National Defence inform the public of the new investments the Canadian government has made in our armed forces that are very germane to this important mission in Kandahar and the context in which Canada is working with its allies?

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8:40 p.m.

Liberal

Bill Graham Liberal Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Chair, it is clear from the last budget that we have made a serious commitment to reinvesting in our armed forces. The $13.5 billion promised in the last budget was the largest single commitment to our forces in some 20 years.

I am working very closely with the Chief of the Defence Staff, the military establishment and the civilians in our department to ensure we can flow through the equipment to our forces as quickly as possible to enable them to do their job.

We will, in fact, following along the lines of the question by the hon. member from Carleton about equipment, be acquiring some special equipment for this Afghan mission.

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8:45 p.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

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.

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8:45 p.m.

Liberal

Bill Graham Liberal Toronto Centre, ON

Madam Chair, I appreciate the hon. member's comments about the conduct of our troops but I have to say that it is not only in respect of how they relate to local populations that is appreciated. I had a NATO general tell me when I was there that they were appreciated by other NATO forces because they quite often step up and go the extra mile, take on missions and are willing to work in a way that inspires others to be as actively engaged as they are. I think we can take enormous pride in that.

Again, I come back to what members of the House have said about the treatment of detainees as being an important part of the credibility of our mission. I promise the House that I will be working with the Afghan government to provide as great a guarantee as we possibly can in that respect.

The hon. member can consult the Danish agreement. I did not have it before so I could not give him a specific answer to his question. However I will be giving him a copy and he will be able to look at it. It does provide in article 6 that in the event of any transfer, Danish forces would be notified, and that is the way that matter has been dealt with in that agreement.

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8:45 p.m.

Conservative

Dave MacKenzie Conservative Oxford, ON

Madam Chair, I am honoured to take part in this debate regarding our Canadian Forces operation in Afghanistan but first let me say that this side of the House, and I am sure that side of the House, have the utmost faith, respect and trust in our young men and women who are going to Afghanistan. All of us understand the fears and concerns that family and friends have for our people who are there and those who are going. I think that is without question.

I would like to reinforce many of the comments made by my colleague from Carleton—Mississippi Mills with respect to terrorism. I would like to make it very clear that my party opposes any use of terrorism in the world. Terrorism threatens the very values a society such as ours is built on. All forms of terrorism must be confronted and defeated whenever and wherever possible because it is in Canada's national interest to make the world a safer place.

Terrorism is a very real threat in this country. We should never dismiss the war on terror as something that only affects our neighbours in the United States. Terrorists have reached out and attacked the innocent in London, Madrid and Bali. Canada is often named as a target country by terrorist leaders and there is little doubt that we too shall come under attack some day in the future.

However there has been poor communication about this venture. We as Canadians must accept the fact that we are on the terrorist list of targeted countries and we must also accept our global responsibility to do what we can to defeat terrorism. Canada has a role to play to make the world a safer place and, above all, to keep Canadians safe.

The Prime Minister has chosen to commit our Canadian Forces to take a lead role in the restoration of Afghanistan in the U.S. lead Operation Enduring Freedom. What is disturbing to me is that while our forces readily accept any challenge, the government has not brought this decision before the House for debate. Instead, the government prefers to make announcements outside the chamber and avoid serious examination by members of Parliament.

Given the seriousness of this mission, Canadians should have been afforded an opportunity to hear from the Prime Minister in this very chamber as to what our objectives and exit strategies were with respect to operations in Afghanistan.

Late this summer, while the House of Commons was adjourned, the government announced that Canada's role in Afghanistan would be expanding and troops would be moved into the dangerous Kandahar region. While the Minister of National Defence has made speeches in a variety of public forums about the new commitment, he has never made a statement or debated the issue in Parliament until this evening. He has never explained why we are abandoning our role in Kabul and why we have taken on a larger and more aggressive role in Kandahar.

Today, Senator Colin Kenny, the Liberal chair of the Senate defence committee, is quoted as saying:

There hasn't been a national debate about this. I don't see the kind of national commitment that says, 'Yes, this is worth sending our guys over there—that this is worth our neighbour's kid dying over there.

I don't think they [the government] have made their case to the public for that.

In July of this year, Major-General Andrew Leslie said, “Afghanistan is a 20 year venture”. This is the only known timeline discussed for this mission. I understand tonight what the minister said with respect to it being a one-year commitment but until tonight Major-General Leslie's comment was the only one we had in the public domain. Another example of how we must learn details of this mission from sources outside this chamber.

Taken at face value, 20 years is an incredible length of time for our Canadian Forces to be committed over there given their other responsibilities. This will involve a severe taxing on our already exhausted forces and it will also bring casualties and cost an enormous amount of money.

Moreover, if in fact we are there for the next 20 years, how will Canada respond to other hotspots in the world? One has to ask whether the mandate is achievable and enforceable. Do we have adequate and properly equipped forces? How do we measure progress in this mission? Do we have a clear exit strategy? Will our mission in Afghanistan have an effect on how we are perceived in the world?

Many Canadians would assume that we are going to Afghanistan to keep the peace as we have done in so many other corners of the world but peace has not been achieved in Afghanistan.

We are moving from being a peacekeeping force to a peacemaking force and with that comes some very different realities.

Canada will be sending nearly 1,500 troops to take part in this operation and 250 of them will be taking part in provincial reconstruction teams. I must add that provincial reconstruction teams seem to have a different context depending on who is talking about them. We have talked tonight about different models, American models, British models and perhaps a Canadian model, but Canadians need to understand that this is not building houses for Habitat for Humanity. This is a totally different domain that we are going into. These PRTs bring a promise of adding security to the region and will take a leadership role in rebuilding roads, schools and hospitals in Afghanistan.

As we stand here in this chamber this evening, our troops are halfway across the world and are facing hostile danger in that wartorn country. For the PRTs to achieve any real progress they must first instill security. To do so, we must be offensive and that means our troops will seek out and destroy the enemy. This will not be an easy task. Afghanistan is known as Russia's Vietnam. It is an old and complex country of tribal warlords and lawlessness driven by the opium drug trade.

Many of the terrorists who took part in the 9/11 attacks in the United States were trained in terrorist compounds in Afghanistan while it was under Taliban rule. The Taliban also gave save haven to Osama bin Laden and ran a ruthless, oppressive regime during its tenure. It is the Taliban that we now seek. Its insurgency continues to destabilize the southern regions around Kandahar.

Just this past year, Canada's new foreign policy was revealed and poorly received by many critics. To complement that, the Minister of National Defence tabled the results of his defence policy review with the arrival of the new Chief of the Defence Staff. By hastily committing our forces to Afghanistan without a clear plan, our generals are left to scramble a fighting force together in a very short period of time.

With that in mind, it is very clear that the Liberals once again have created a crisis within our Canadian Forces. It has been well documented that the cupboards have been bare for over a decade. The Liberal government sidestepped or completely ignored cries for help from our forces. It ignored the demands for more military spending from our allies in NATO and the United Nations. Instead of enhancing the capabilities, the Liberals deprived them of new money and resources.

Last winter in budget 2005 it had finally caught up to them. The Liberals made bold statements of giant cash infusions into our forces.

However the devil is in the details as is the case for most of what the government has produced over the last 13 years. Some $12 billion have been promised over the next five years but in reality only $7 billion is new money. Of that increase in military spending, only $1.1 billion will go to the Canadian Forces in the first two years. That is barely enough to maintain what we already have. The rest of the cash, some $6 billion, is promised in years three, four and five. A lofty goal made by that party.

In recent days, as we prepare to engage hostile forces in Afghanistan, the Minister of National Defence has been floating the concept of sole source contracting, a measure that is used to sidestep normal procurement practices to expedite the delivery of essential equipment to our troops who are already in theatre. This is clearly an admission of poor planning and neglect by the Liberal government.

The Minister of National Defence is desperately trying to purchase heavy artillery, fixed wing and heavy airlift capabilities, as well as armour protection for our vehicles. Instead of going through a competitive bid process, we are now subjecting ourselves to potentially substandard equipment because it is readily available for delivery. With the corrupt record of the government, one must consider that sole source contracting also opens the doors to abuse because of a lack of financial controls.

In conclusion, let me very clear. Canada has always risen to the occasion with its allies to combat evil in the world. The Conservative Party believes our presence in Afghanistan makes sense and is very much essential to our national interests. Taking an active role in Afghanistan also fulfills our duty and responsibility in the global community's war on terror. By pursuing terrorists to the best of our ability, we are making a significant contribution to winning the war on terror.

However, the government has handicapped our Canadian Forces through devastating budget cuts since 1993. It has left our troops in a vulnerable state with inadequate equipment, poor planning and duty fatigue.

A Conservative government would never put the Canadian Forces in the position it is in today. My party will continue to support the Canadian Forces on any of its missions, including this one.

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8:55 p.m.

Yukon Yukon

Liberal

Larry Bagnell LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources

Madam Chair, I would like to ask the member about sole sourcing.

Sometimes we may err when we generalize too much. The member may remember when the procurement experts told us that sometimes sole sourcing is a more effective method when there are no other producers of a particular item. For instance, if we have a sham competition when there is only one producer, that producer will know it has made the only bid and it may bid really high.

Would the member agree with some of the experts that there are certain conditions where it makes more sense, and in fact a lower price could actually be negotiated on sole sourcing, when there may be only one valid producer of a particular item the military needs?

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9 p.m.

Conservative

Dave MacKenzie Conservative Oxford, ON

Madam Chair, we have heard that comment on sole sourcing from industry sources.

The sole sourcing that I understand the government is talking about is in the context of it being an emergency and the product has to be purchased and there is only one supplier of the product. What we are talking about with respect to this sole sourcing is that we have let our military resources dwindle to such a point that we have committed it to an action where it needs equipment but we do not have the time to go through the normal tendering and evaluation process. We are simply taking what we can get because it is available.