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House of Commons Hansard #136 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was troops.

Topics

Opposition motion—AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Steven Blaney Conservative Lévis—Bellechasse, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the remarks of the member for Saint-Jean, and found that it was only at the very end that he stated his position on the motion. I am also a member of the Standing Committee on National Defence, and he raised some interesting proposals, especially in terms of drugs. However, with the Bloc, we never know which way the wind is blowing. One debate, they are in favour; the next debate, they are against. At the end of his remarks, we learned that the Bloc intends to support this motion.

Yet, if this motion were adopted, would that not be clearly saying to the Taliban that they need only wait until the Canadians leave and after that it would be every man for himself? I was part of the mission in Southern Afghanistan that Mr. Bachand spoke about. The Afghans told us that if we left, they would have no more hope.

In the end, if this motion is adopted, are we not pushing the Afghan people into the arms of the Taliban terrorists?

Opposition motion—AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

I know that the hon. member for Lévis—Bellechasse is a new member of this House but he was present when I mentioned earlier that it is not permitted to name other members, or even yourself. Members must be identified by their riding.

The hon. member for Saint-Jean has the floor.

Opposition motion—AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Lévis—Bellechasse is forgiven. He is a fine fellow and I cannot hold a little mistake like that against him.

His question is valid, but we have another two years before us. The military operation will not end tomorrow morning. We will see what happens in 2009. For now, we support this motion because we have often tried to persuade the government that it is going in the wrong direction, that there has been an escalation of military activity and that everyone agrees that is not what we should be doing. Despite that, the signal that the government has been sending is that they are plowing ahead.

We have therefore decided that it is time to act. We are telling the public that it will end in February 2009 and we will withdraw from combat operations. That is what the motion says. It does not say that we will stop development and reconstruction. It does not say that we can not go elsewhere in Afghanistan. The motion before us leaves open many options, but in our view, it means an end to a strictly military approach.

I do not believe that this will have an effect on the Taliban because other avenues are proposed, such as international conferences or the presence of a senior UN representative. We want to resolve the problem in the most peaceful way possible instead of relying on a military solution.

Opposition motion—AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Colleen Beaumier Liberal Brampton West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like the member's opinion on what exactly Canadians have brought to the Afghan people. As far as I can see it is instability. Under the previous U.S. backed Taliban there may have been oppression, but people did not fear for their lives every single day because of suicide bombers.

I listened to the parliamentary secretary talk about the hospitals and schools that have been built. He has neglected to talk about the hospitals and schools that have been bombed by the Taliban.

According to the New York Times, it is the Netherlands that is building this trust. It is the Netherlands that is building the schools. It is the Netherlands that is building mosques and hospitals. The Netherlands is building up a relationship with the Afghan people.

I understand there is a necessity to suppress the terrorists. However, I believe that as Canadians it is our role to be there along with the Netherlands, not securing a pathway for an oil line to go through Afghanistan.

This war cannot be won with weapons. It can be won only through understanding.

I do not thump my religion much, but I do recall that we are supposed to turn our swords into ploughshares. If anyone thinks that is a mockery, then let us take it all or take none of it.

Opposition motion—AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I agree with much of what my colleague said. And I can prove it.

The members of the Standing Committee on National Defence went to southern Afghanistan, to Kandahar. For several days, I asked to see clinics and hospitals and schools. We were always told that for security reasons we could not leave the base. We had to rely on the journalists and our own heated protests to get out.

When we did get out, we were taken to the Afghan army training centre, which was very interesting, and the Afghan police training centre. But that is not what we wanted to see. We would have liked to see whether development was happening. Personally, I have doubts. We are always being told that it is wonderful, that everyone has gone back to school, but a lot of other groups are giving us information and telling us that this is not what is happening, that there are no schools. The girls who were in school a few years ago are now at home, because there may be Taliban who take a dim view of them going to school.

We therefore think that it is time to focus on development and reconstruction. As was said, we will finish the job, to meet our international commitments, in February 2009. Clearly, we will cease military combat in February 2009, and I hope that we will work on reconstruction and development.

Opposition motion—AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, the insurgency, the security problems and the conflict in Afghanistan are all getting worse and the lives of regular Afghans are not improving.

We know that Afghan women are still subject to arbitrary imprisonment, rape, torture and forced marriage. This is why in August last year the NDP asked that the present mission end. Instead of destruction there should be construction. Instead of search and kill there should be mediation to bring insurgents into reconciliation.

Canadians should be assisting in empowering the local organizations and government instead of top down solutions. Rather than relying on old Soviet landmines for protection, Canadians should be removing the landmines. Instead of spending $2.5 billion so far on combat, Canada should be spending it on development aid.

Now is the time to end the combat mission and change it to a peace mission. Surely the hon. member is not going to join the Conservatives and the Liberals in voting to continue this losing war for two more years, especially when Quebec men and women will be sent to Kandahar this summer and will be in harm's way.

Opposition motion—AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, that is a good question. I do not think anyone in this House will be surprised if I say that I believe in a sovereign Quebec. I always try to put myself in the situation of a sovereign Quebec. What would we do in this situation?

When we make a commitment to the international community and that commitment is to expire on a specific date, then it is somewhat difficult to tell that community that we have changed our mind and we no longer want to be there.

I therefore agree to a large extent with what my colleague is saying, but I also agree that we should honour our commitments to NATO and the international community and that we should therefore complete the military mandate in February 2009.

Opposition motion—AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.

Conservative

Rick Casson Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, I too am on the defence committee as the chair. We were in Afghanistan at the end of January and we were briefed by a number of people, General Richards being one. His comments about the contribution of Canada to that mission were exemplary. There were no bounds to his praise for our troops. It was quite refreshing to hear.

There were two people we met who really impressed me. The first was a soldier who disarms improvised explosive devices. He was quite an impressive young man. The other one was a warrant officer who sits down with the shura councils. When we talk about winning the hearts and minds of Afghanistan civilians, that is where we need to start. That is where emphasis needs to be placed and we are doing that.

I would like a comment from the member opposite about the efforts we are putting into dealing with shura councils.

Opposition motion—AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, the chair of the Standing Committee on National Defence has brought up a valuable initiative.

If we devoted our energy to being more diplomatic, to consulting the jirga groups, the elders, the women's groups, to try to understand and propose projects that they will embrace, we would be on the right track. Unfortunately, we keep on hearing that for months, this is not what has been happening. There are military operations like Medusa and Baaz Tsuka. There should be more operations like the ones the Minister of National Defence has proposed. That has not been done, and that is why we support this motion today.

Opposition motion—AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Jack Layton NDP Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for New Westminster—Coquitlam.

The NDP supports our troops. The NDP joins with all members of Parliament and all Canadians in expressing our condolences for the lives lost, including the tragic loss of life yesterday. We extend our condolences, wishes and prayers to the families and comrades of those who have fallen.

Our young men and women are losing their lives in a mission that is both failing and futile. How many more lives are we going to lose before the parties in this place come to their senses?

The NDP opposes this motion. Why? Because it prolongs a George Bush style combat mission in Afghanistan. The Liberals and their flip-flopping leader do not seem to understand the critical issues that are facing this country in this situation. A year ago the Liberals voted both for and against the motion to extend the mission. The now deputy leader of the Liberal Party voted for and the now defence critic voted against. Today with this motion the Liberals are endorsing the two year extension of the mission and the Prime Minister's game plan for Afghanistan.

By contrast, a year ago the NDP opposed the proposed extension of the mission. Had the Liberals listened to the NDP at the time, we would be following a path of reconstruction, aid and redevelopment now, not the current path of counter-insurgency and combat. The Liberals now claim to agree with the NDP that the current mission is wrong, and if they do agree, then why wait two years to begin the withdrawal of our soldiers?

The record is clear. The Liberals took us into this mission when it was called Operation Enduring Freedom and was directed directly from the White House. They never consulted with Canadians; they never consulted with Parliament.

The things wrong with this mission will continue to be wrong for the next two years and it will only get worse: a seek and kill counter-insurgency; imbalance between military and humanitarian aid spending; deteriorating humanitarian conditions. Why continue to prolong this flawed mission?

It is not responsible to prolong this mission. This is not a demonstration of leadership. It is a lack of respect for the women and men in uniform. These men and these women in the armed forces are putting their lives in danger daily in Afghanistan. They deserve to know that the members are thinking seriously about the mission in which they are engaged.

Our troops need to feel confident about the mission. They need to know that military deployments will take place at the right time and for the right reasons. They also need to know that military strategy will be reviewed and reconsidered if it is not the right one for getting the job done.

When a party comes to the conclusion that a mission is wrong, then it cannot in good conscience tell our soldiers to continue in that mission for another two years. It must bring the troops home at the first opportunity.

It is important to support our troops in every way to ensure that the mission is appropriate, that there is decent pay, that there is support throughout their lives as we have done with our veterans first motion.

The NDP position on the combat mission in Afghanistan is very clear. It is a Bush style counter-insurgency mission not leading to lasting peace and better living conditions. It is unbalanced and overwhelmingly focused on aggressive counter-insurgency. The humanitarian situation is simply not improving and the effort cannot be won militarily.

Canada must demonstrate leadership and try to find practical solutions.

The safe and resolute withdrawal of our troops, in consultation with our allies, is now necessary. At the same time, we must now make a concentrated effort to develop a new approach as to the role of Canada in Afghanistan.

That begins by opening up a dialogue with the countries that are committed to helping the people of Afghanistan. We must work together in order to establish peace, development and justice.

Our approach must respect and involve the organizations, groups and governments at the local level in Afghanistan.

Canada must draw on its experience to ensure the diplomacy, aid and reconstruction that Canadians and Quebeckers want to see in Afghanistan. This should begin with a ceasefire as soon as possible.

Showing leadership in Afghanistan means working for peace negotiations. Chris Alexander, Canada's former ambassador to Afghanistan and now a leading UN official in Afghanistan, said that the absence of a peace deal in Afghanistan is fuelling the conflict. Gordon Smith, former senior Canadian diplomat and head of the Centre for Global Studies at the University of Victoria, called on the international community to undertake serious efforts at inclusive and comprehensive peace negotiations. This is what Canada must be doing, but as long as we are engaged in the offence in the south, this will not be possible.

In an effort to try to find common ground, let me propose the following amendment to determine whether or not the House would be willing to take the appropriate actions. The amendment would read as follows: “That the motion be amended by deleting the words after 'operations in southern Afghanistan' in the preamble and replacing them with the following: 'This House call on the government to begin now to withdraw Canadian Forces in a safe and secure manner from the counter-insurgency mission in Afghanistan and call upon the government to notify NATO of this decision immediately'”.

Opposition motion—AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

Before I recognize the hon. member for Wellington--Halton Hills, I will ask that we suspend for moment.

The hon. member for Toronto—Danforth has proposed an amendment. I do not know whether he has received the consent of the mover of the original motion. I am going to take the amendment under advisement for the moment and report back to the House later.

Questions and comments, the hon. member for Wellington--Halton Hills.

Opposition motion—AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.

Conservative

Michael Chong Conservative Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will not be supporting this motion before the House.

I was listening to the member for Toronto—Danforth give his opinion on the motion before the House. While the New Democrats may disagree with this mission and how this mission is being executed and they may wish to propose new approaches to the mission in Afghanistan, there is no doubt about what the approach should not be, and that is for the proposed unilateral withdrawal of our troops from Afghanistan.

The Canadian military needs to be in Afghanistan because we have national interests to be served there. If we were to withdraw our troops completely from Afghanistan, if the Dutch, the Americans, the British, and all the other multinational forces over there were to completely withdraw from Afghanistan, tomorrow the Karzai government would fall. The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan would cease to exist, the government would fall and the Taliban would be back in power tomorrow. That would be the consequence of a unilateral withdrawal of our troops from Afghanistan.

Let me remind everyone why we are there. We are there because prior to 2001 the Taliban government acted as a breeding ground for all sorts of radical elements that later launched attacks on targets throughout economies and societies in North America and Europe. That is the reason we are there.

A complete withdrawal is not good foreign policy and not something that we should be supporting in this House.

Opposition motion—AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

Noon

NDP

Jack Layton NDP Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do not doubt the sincerity of the member's comments.

The consequences of the current approach that the Canadian government is taking, along with the Americans, is to increase support for the Taliban. Where we see reduced support for the Taliban is where the Taliban is being made increasingly irrelevant because of an approach that focuses on a completely different strategy: building support, building the country and building democratic institutions. Other nations, who want like Canadians to assist the people of Afghanistan and the government of Afghanistan, are adopting these different approaches with far more success.

Unfortunately, with the strategy Canada is using now, we cannot effectively participate in that alternative path. Worse, we cannot use our own inherent and globally recognized skills at peacemaking, at developing negotiation and mediation, and at bringing sides together, because we are so heavily involved on one particular side in the conflict.

Opposition motion—AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

Noon

Conservative

Patrick Brown Conservative Barrie, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member for Toronto—Danforth mentioned Chris Alexander, and I think we should share all of Chris Alexander's comments. Before the House standing committee Mr. Alexander said:

--Afghanistan would be plunged back into civil war [if Canada chose to cut and run]. The investment and achievements of the past five years--institutional achievements, electoral achievements, development achievements--would go up in smoke, almost certainly. NATO would fail in its top mission, and the credibility of NATO would be critically damaged. The United Nations would fail in one of its principal missions in the world, and its credibility would be damaged, with all attendant consequences for the future ability of the United Nations to influence affairs in the world.

If the member for Toronto—Danforth would like to reference Chris Alexander, he should heed his advice.

I would suggest that if we did cut and run in Afghanistan, we would be turning the clock back on the many incredible achievements that have been made there, whether it is the 10 million people who voted, the 2,500 villages that have had electricity, or the 190,000 landmines that have been decommissioned. Certainly, we should listen to the people that we quote.

Opposition motion—AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

Noon

NDP

Jack Layton NDP Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member has chosen to quote that famous phrase “cut and run”, the accusation thrown at anyone who would challenge the politics of George Bush. In fact, it is a label that is constantly applied to those who believe that an approach based on the building of peace negotiations and with less of a military focus would be the best path to follow. I just do not subscribe to that view.

Opposition motion—AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

Noon

NDP

Dawn Black NDP New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, I too would like to express my condolences and sympathies and those of my party to family and friends of the soldier who lost his life yesterday in Afghanistan, and to the 53 other soldiers and their families whose lives have been lost and also one Canadian diplomat.

As I prepared this morning for this debate today I re-read the comments that I made last May 17 when the House was considering the extension of this flawed mission in Kandahar. The New Democratic Party voted against the extension of that mission.

I said then that any time we put the lives of Canadians in harm's way, we have a duty to determine clearly a number of points and those were: is this mission really necessary; is it a mission that can succeed, has it a good chance of success; and are we doing everything possible to ensure the safety and the well-being of our soldiers?

I speak again today as the defence critic of the New Democratic Party but also as a mother of three sons, as a grandmother and as a Canadian citizen. Two of my sons put themselves at risk every day in our country as police officers in one of Canada's largest cities. I understand the pride and I also understand the unease and the fear that family members feel when the government puts our Canadian soldiers into harm's way.

These people are performing the duties that we as a government and a country have asked them to perform. The concerns I raised then about the misguided counterinsurgency mission are even more valid today. Neither the previous Liberal government which took us into this mission under Operation Enduring Freedom, nor the Conservative government which has extended the counterinsurgency mission have done their due diligence.

All Canadians have a right to expect that before our soldiers are sent on a dangerous mission that due diligence has taken place, that we understand the situation clearly in which we are placing them.

The situation in Afghanistan is incredibly complex. The threats go far beyond the Taliban. The forces of the warlords who are still in control of militias in Afghanistan, the criminal elements there, the porous border with Pakistan, the fact that insurgents can go back and forth across the border with impunity, the criminal elements involved in the poppy production in Afghanistan, all contribute to the negative security environment.

The Canadian Forces are stretched now. Soldiers are now serving up to nine month rotations and multiple tours in Afghanistan. When the Minister of National Defence assumed his responsibilities last year, he was briefed that the Canadian Forces then had the capacity to deploy a second land taskforce of 1,200 personnel. Now the minister says there is no such capacity.

The government needs to clearly show Canadians that the Canadian Forces can respond to any needs that may happen domestically here in Canada while this mission is draining our capacity.

The 2010 Olympics will be in Vancouver soon. There are security needs there. The minister has been briefed on those as well for the Canadian Forces. We could have floods at any time in Canada where the men and women of the Canadian Forces are needed to help at home and with ice storms in Quebec as we have seen before.

We have seen a very real escalation of this counterinsurgency mission in Afghanistan in the past year. The government has purchased 100 new tanks. Contingency plans are in place for sending CF-18s. We have seen plans by National Defence for rotations until 2011. Over and over again I have pleaded with the government to address the inadequacy of the detainee transfer agreement with Afghanistan.

I have asked the minister and the Prime Minister over and over again to correct it, and over and over again the minister has denied that there is any problem with the detainee transfer agreement. Now, what are we faced with? Four separate investigations about detainee transfers and still the government refuses to amend this agreement. It still maintains there is nothing wrong with it, even though the minister had to stand in the House and apologize to Canadians for misleading them about the role of the International Red Cross in that agreement.

One of the main problems is that no criteria for success has ever been laid out by the previous Liberal government or by the Conservative government for what would be deemed to be success in Afghanistan. The reality is that young Canadian soldiers are being killed and wounded with greater and greater frequency in a combat mission that is both failing and futile.

How many more casualties must we suffer before the government comes to its senses? The number of insurgents killed or the number of foreign soldiers deployed are not signs of progress. Progress can only be measured by tangible results for the people of Afghanistan: the delivery of clean water, electricity, peace and security, and improvements in the quality of life of Afghans, not more uncertainty, not more tanks rolling down the hills of Afghanistan.

That is why the leader of the NDP has proposed an amendment that would begin the withdrawal of Canadians from this counterinsurgency mission as soon as possible. We need to look at a new approach and we need to look at that new approach immediately. We need practical solutions, so that Canada can take a leadership role in working for peace in Afghanistan.

We need to work in collaboration with other countries in the world to bring development, to bring justice to Afghanistan. We must use our background and skills. We have an incredibly well trained and educated military in Canada. We must use those skills and our background as Canadians to bring diplomacy and peace negotiations that would ensure lasting security and peace for the people of Afghanistan.

This is the only smart way to proceed. Every time we go out and the ISAF mission goes out and kills another young Afghan, we create more sympathy for the Taliban and more insurgents coming forward.

I said earlier that I have considered this motion as a member of Parliament, as a Canadian citizen, as a mother and as a grandmother. I want to remind everyone in the House that we are talking about the lives of real people. We are talking about Canadian lives and we are talking about Afghan lives. This counterinsurgency mission is not a mission that I can support or that my party can support. We will be voting in opposition to this motion.

Opposition motion—AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Before we go on to questions and comments, it is my duty to inform hon. members that an amendment to an opposition motion may be moved only with the consent of the sponsor of the motion or, if he or she is not present, consent may be given or denied by the House leader, deputy House leader, the whip or the deputy whip of the sponsor's party.

The amendment is in order, so we will have to seek consent from either the mover of the motion or the whip of the party. I see the chief opposition whip rising.

Opposition motion—AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Karen Redman Liberal Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I find it very interesting that the leader of the NDP would propose this without even walking around or indeed, giving us a heads up that he was going to do this. We will not support this amendment.

Opposition motion—AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Since there is no consent, the amendment cannot be moved at this time pursuant to Standing Order 85.

We now go to questions and comments.

The hon. member for Lévis—Bellechasse.

Opposition motion—AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Blaney Conservative Lévis—Bellechasse, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to the presentation by the member from British Columbia with whom I sit on the Standing Committee on National Defence. I have a question for her.

According to a report by Human Rights Watch, there have been 48 attacks by insurgents in Afghanistan. In her speech, the member talked to us about her fondness for our military, and she also spoke to us as a mother and a grandmother.

I have a list here of what the Taliban require of women and impose on them: they cannot work outside the home or study at university; they are stoned for extramarital relations. The list includes 30 criteria.

How does she see the future of Afghanistan without the support of the United Nations, NATO and Canada? Also, what does she think of the 200 attacks against schools in 2006?

Right now, the Canadian presence in Afghanistan is keeping schools open so that the Afghan people, Afghan boys and girls, can get an education.

I would like to hear the comments of the member from British Columbia about this.

Opposition motion—AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

NDP

Dawn Black NDP New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague is right, we travelled together to Kandahar and we were at the Kandahar airfield where we had the opportunity to meet and have discussions with the men and women of the Canadian Forces.

I remember one soldier who was part of the group that did the supply lines. He talked to me and said that he was anxious to get home. When I first met him, I did not think he would talk to me because he had an appearance about him of being kind of tough and standoffish. However, as he began to talk he had a real impact on me when he said that he just wanted to go home. He said that he had seen and done things in Afghanistan that he never thought possible and that he just wanted to go home.

In saying that, I am not insinuating that the men and women who are serving in Afghanistan do not take their work and their duty seriously. I want to make the distinction that it is the government that chooses where it sends the Canadian Forces and that the Canadian Forces go where they are sent willingly. However, the impact that man had on me and the depth of his feelings I carry with me today.

In terms of the kinds of success that we would all like to see, and I acknowledge that the government also wants to see success, it is in exactly the way that the member is talking about. Our belief is that we can come to that success in a different way. Away from this counter-insurgency mission and away from the search and destroy kind of focus of this mission is the way to go in building a lasting peace in Afghanistan.

Opposition motion—AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Chong Conservative Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I said before, while hon. members in the New Democratic Party may disagree with the nature of the mission, with the operational details, with the nature of Operation Archer and with the details of how things are getting executed in the field in Afghanistan, there is no doubt what their response should not be. It should not be for the complete withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, which is what the NDP has proposed and what the Leader of the Opposition proposed in November last year, although with the caveat that he would consult with other members of NATO.

The withdrawal of our troops in Afghanistan is not what should happen. If that were to happen, if the Dutch, the British, the Americans, the Germans, all members in the multinational force, were to completely withdraw their troops from Afghanistan, as proposed by the New Democratic Party, the Karzai government would collapse tomorrow, the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan would collapse tomorrow and in its place we would have a government that would not be favourable to Canada's interests, a government much like the Taliban that was in there prior to 2001, a government that would act as a safe harbour for radical elements that would later come back to attack targets throughout the world and attack innocent civilians. That is why the proposal that is in front of the House and the proposal of the New Democratic Party should not be entertained.

Opposition motion—AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

NDP

Dawn Black NDP New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, the New Democratic Party is totally capable of articulating our own policy. The member has it wrong. We have said that we should withdraw from this counter-insurgency mission. We have never said that we would abandon the people of Afghanistan in any way, shape or form. In fact, we think there are better ways to do things in Afghanistan to build real peace and real security for the people of Afghanistan.

I would just quote a comment made by Winston Churchill many years ago. When we talk about diplomacy and the need for diplomacy, Winston Churchill said, “To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war”.

Opposition motion—AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Sukh Dhaliwal Liberal Newton—North Delta, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Churchill.

I would like to first offer my sincere condolences to the family of the young soldier we lost on Wednesday. Our hearts and our prayers go out to them as they go out to all the families of the young men and women whose lives have been lost in the long struggle.

It has not been a quiet year since the government voted to extend our commitment in Afghanistan. It was a vote that, as we all know, the government did not see as important enough to debate to its full extent because at that time no one had any illusions on what the vote was really about. It was meant as a cheap, partisan ploy, a way to suggest to Canadians that the Liberal Party was somehow soft on the Taliban, on terrorism and on a whole range of challenges to freedom and democracy in the world.

It was not long after that vote that I was at a ceremony back in Surrey and had the chance to discuss the vote with some of my constituents. I mention this ceremony because it has a very special significance in light of the vote that day. This was a ceremony for remembrance markers on the graves of our veterans, veterans who, for one reason or another, went unrecognized in death, unrecognized for the great battles they fought for our great country. There are literally thousands of such soldiers, Canadian heroes who still lay unrecognized in cemeteries across this country.

I am proud to say that two of my constituents, Mr. Andy Block and RCMP Constable Marc Searle, brought this situation to the public's attention. I believe it brought home to us all the incredible sacrifices of the generations before us. It also brought home the incredible sacrifices of our soldiers in Afghanistan today. It made it quite clear to all of us that the defence of democracy, of the freedoms we enjoy and affirm every day in this country, is a very serious thing, indeed it is a matter of life and death.

The trust that our citizens put in us as legislators to decide upon commitments such as Afghanistan is a trust based upon the belief that we will not take shortcuts for partisan purposes.

When speaking to my constituents that day and when speaking to them since that vote, I have had a chance to explain why I voted no to this mission. The government would have us believe that Liberals do not care for freedom the way it does. It would have us believe that Liberals such as myself think that our soldiers fighting in Afghanistan is a bad thing and that we are naive enough to think democratic institutions can come before our soldiers fighting for safer schools, for running water and for safe streets.

Of course we know that, above all, we must fight the very people who do not want us to put in schools, running water and the reliable infrastructure of functioning communities. This is obvious, but here is the point. It is easy to decide to go to a country like this but it is not easy to know how and when to get out, which is why we must start with the idea of three parts of a plan for engagement. Defence, development and diplomacy have their own benchmarks. Each is a component that requires its own strategy and its own timeline. None can be viewed in isolation.

We have spent a long time inside and outside this House talking about the defence component. We have talked dollars and sometimes we have talked cents but we have not devoted a fraction of the time to talk about what we are doing with the development and diplomacy in Afghanistan. The point is that we need to talk about what our measurable targets are for a functioning democracy.

We are committed and I am glad we are committed to the Afghani people and the reconstruction of their society. We need to hold an emerging democracy to the same standard as we hold our own.

As with so many of the battles we enter into that soon become wars, we need to determine those standards of development and democracy. We need to determine how they can be met with the least bloodshed. Once those standards are reached, we can get out of the way and let a government, a democracy flourish on its own.

The Afghanistan mission has changed in both its structure and its purpose. It has lost that crucial balance between diplomacy, development and defence. What is worse, the government has refused to commit to an exit strategy or even indicate an end date.

The Minister of National Defence has even said that the Canadian Forces could be in Afghanistan for as long as 15 years, hindering Canada's ability to undertake peacekeeping missions elsewhere in the world, such as Darfur or Haiti.

This is already one of the longest military commitments in Canadian history. It has lasted longer than the Boer War, World War I, World War II, the Suez crisis and the Korean War. In each of those wars and incidents we found resolutions through treaty or unconditional surrender.

Afghanistan is different. What we are witnessing is an insurgency that is partially being driven by Taliban terrorists but also by those who view NATO troops as foreign occupiers. The more tanks we send, the greater the perception that this is indeed the case.

We need to review the current mission. We need to put more of a focus on training the Afghan National Army and additional provincial reconstruction teams.

We must also hold parliamentary hearings in which the Conservative government fully participates so that Canadians, through their parliamentarians, can receive vital information about the mission and assess its goals.

It is only through training the Afghan army, equipping the Afghan bureaucracy with the knowledge and tools to create accountable governments and by investing in basic infrastructure that we will achieve the kind of results that will move Afghanistan forward.

All of those approaches have been given little air time by the government. Perhaps it does not see partisan gains in the real debate.

Opposition motion—AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Dawn Black NDP New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened very carefully to the comments of my colleague from British Columbia this afternoon. I am very interested in finding some kind of consensus around these issues in the House of Commons. It would be great if Canada could speak with one voice on this issue.

I am curious as to why the Liberals would be bringing forward an opposition day motion today to support the counter-insurgency mission for two years. It is only the last couple of months that this mission has been under the initiative of the Conservative government and this two year extension is the initiative of the Conservative government.

Why would the Liberals now be in support of continuing the mission until 2009 when, I believe, they voted against the extension when we had this debate in the House? I am confused on what the position actually is of the Liberal Party of Canada.