Mr. Speaker, the Bloc Québécois and I would also like to extend our condolences to all the families of the soldiers who died on Afghan soil.
I want to start as well by getting one thing out of the way for the Bloc Québécois. I must admit that we are totally fed up with being told every time we ask a question about the mandate of the mission that we do not support the mission or do not support the troops in the field. This is a totally Bush approach, so named because President Bush always says that whoever is not with him is against him.
I would like to remind my Conservative colleagues that this is a parliament. A parliament does not express a single point of view. The government is entitled to its point of view, but the opposition is too. The Liberals are entitled to their point of view, just as the Bloc Québécois and the NDP are. We are elected by people who send us here to represent them. It is only natural that we will not always have the same approach or look at issues from the same angle. The opposition and the Bloc Québécois are tired of hearing certain things. Every time we question the government, every time we introduce a motion or a bill that is not in line with government policy, they tell us that we do not support the troops. That is simply not true. We should show respect for all points of view in the House, try as much as possible to reach a consensus, and then decide the issue on a vote. That is what democracy is all about.
So we are a little fed up with constantly being told that we do not support the troops. We support them, and even with the motion before us today, we will continue to support them. I would like to remind the government, though, that in politics it is the civilian authorities who decide what a country’s armed forces will do. When that is not how it works, it is simply because it is not a democracy any more. The day we have 308 Conservative members here, we will be living in a dictatorship. It is not very hard to figure out and I hope things never come to that. That is why parliaments are responsible for dealing with these issues and why they are made up the way they are with a government and an opposition. We should respect the points of view expressed by all the parties in this Parliament.
I would like to quickly review a little history. First, people are wondering how it is that we have Canadian soldiers on Afghan soil. We have to recall the entire situation. This is important, because we need to keep repeating how this came about. It is not complicated; it came about in response to the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. The American government reacted very strongly and the UN also reacted. The next day, or the day after, the UN declared that the American government had the right to defend itself. Also the next day, NATO, which is a military and political alliance, invoked , for the first time, Article Five of its constitution declaring an attack on one member to be an attack on them all.
From that point onward, the Liberal government of the day and the Bloc Québécois said that it was entirely legitimate, and most importantly legal, internationally, to send soldiers there. That is how it started, under American command, with Operation Enduring Freedom. People went to Afghanistan to oust the Taliban from power, to ensure that this could never happen again. There were in fact a lot of terrorist training camps, and that question had to be settled once and for all. Canada, like many other countries, said that we had to support the Americans there. We have no problem with this, unlike with what is happening in Iraq. We had a UN mandate and a NATO mandate, and so it was entirely legitimate for us to go there.
Operation Enduring Freedom began and the Americans decided that they had to stabilize the capital first, and so they stabilized Kabul. We helped them do that. We had troops there. As well, NATO was getting more and more involved. There were discussions among all of the allies, and everyone seemed to be saying that NATO should be the organization in charge of the entire operation. That is what started to happen. As soon as Kabul was stabilized, NATO began to take control, and after that it was decided to move backward around the compass, in terms of the cardinal points. To explain, the NATO forces started by stabilizing the north, and then NATO took control.
The west was stabilized, and then NATO took control. The south was stabilized, and then NATO took control. On July 1 of last year, NATO took total control of Afghanistan. Certainly the Americans are still there, but a sort of division of labour has occurred. However, everyone agrees that it is NATO that now holds the mandate. We are currently participating in a NATO operation. That is why Canadian troops are on Afghan soil.
As for what has been going on in Kandahar since we have been there, there is a problem. A military operation has its limits, and the Conservative government has failed to understand this. It has placed too much emphasis on the military operation.
People say that the logic is simplistic when we talk about the 3D approach—the government's official policy: defence, diplomacy and development—and when we say we have 2,500 soldiers in the ground in Afghanistan.
For development, we have six people looking after CIDA's development projects. I do not want to hear anyone say this is false, because we were there and we were told this when I asked the question of how many people on the ground were assigned to CIDA and development programs.
For diplomacy and Foreign Affairs, we have six people as well.
I do not think I am exaggerating when I say that this mission is very unbalanced. Everything that is happening proves this to be true.
Consider the escalating military involvement. The minister said we would not be sending tanks over there. But then what happened? And it is not just tanks. More purchases are being justified every day. We have now bought $21 billion worth of military equipment. These purchases are often justified by saying that it is for Afghanistan.
Consider the C-17 strategic lift aircraft. My colleagues have already talked about this. Before now, it cost about $50 million or $100 million to lease them. Now, they are costing us $3.4 billion, and on top of that, the economic spinoffs were poorly orchestrated. Once again, Quebec has been victimized in terms of these contracts. Clearly, the military is ramping up.
First, we sent tanks. Then, oddly enough, after a meeting in Quebec City with the military personnel responsible for southern Afghanistan, including the Dutch, the minister stated that we would lease equipment from our German friends and buy it from our Dutch friends. The deal was probably made at that meeting. These discussions must have taken place in Quebec City. All of a sudden, the tanks are arriving, with a $650 million price tag. All that taxpayers in Canada and Quebec have to do is pay the bill. There is no doubt that the military is ramping up.
The Pakistan issue is also a problem. When they say the situation has deteriorated, that means they are having problems catching the Taliban. As soon as things heat up, they take refuge in the Pakistan oasis. I call it that because when their fighters are tired out, the border is so porous that they can get into Pakistan easily. Neither the NATO troops nor the Canadian troops can follow them into Pakistani territory because that country is an ally in this war. Nevertheless, intentionally or otherwise, NATO troops have a very hard time controlling the border. Pakistan is therefore a huge problem.
Furthermore, we have seen no progress regarding poppy cultivation. This is a fundamental problem in Afghanistan. We have been hearing for months that this issue needs to be resolved. The government, however, prefers to bombard us with the importance of military force to drive out the Taliban. Meanwhile, the Taliban encourages poppy cultivation. They use it to fuel and finance their activities. Once again, a misunderstanding by Canada and its allies on this matter suggests eradication or aerial spraying of chemicals to destroy the crops.
Then what? What do we say to the peasant who earns his meagre income from that? For it is not the peasant—the one who grows it—who profits most from it. It is the middleman who comes afterwards. So what do we say to that peasant? That we are sorry, but this afternoon, our dozens of tractors in his field are going to put an end to his poppies?
People have begun saying that, if we wanted to drive them into the arms of the Taliban, there was no better way to do it. The Taliban tell the people they are willing to protect them and pay them for their crops. This problem must be resolved, especially since it also causes corruption and finances the Taliban regime. The best way to solve it is definitely not eradication. We should instead be trying to find ways to use this crop to legitimately supply the pharmaceutical industry, for instance. The Senlis Council released an excellent study on this topic.
On the other hand, having attended NATO meetings, I know that there is a great deal of discussion between NATO and the European Union to determine whether, if a peasant's poppy field is replanted with potatoes or tomatoes, part of the crop can be sold on the European market. These are discussions between NATO and the European Union. That makes sense because if you replace poppies with tomatoes you may not be able to sell them because of the small domestic market, lack of money or the fact that it just is not profitable. If you sell five tomatoes at the market whereas you wish to sell five cases, it is impossible to get ahead financially. However, if the European Union and NATO become involved and share a part of their domestic markets, it can work.
There is also the matter of the caveats, or the rules of engagement. There have been significant problems in this regard among our allies. Canada has no caveats. Canadian troops patrol 24 hours a day and carry out all kinds of operations. To my great surprise, when I went to Faizabad in northern Afghanistan at the invitation of NATO, the German troops said to me, “Mr. Bachand, it is 8 o'clock, we must return to camp”. I asked why we had to return to camp at 8. They replied that their parliament had given the order to return to camp at 8 o'clock.
Mr. Speaker, you will indicate how much time I have left as I do not wish to see you become impatient.