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.