Mr. Speaker, today we are here in Parliament, the cradle of democracy, to debate a motion on the future of Canada's mission in Afghanistan that I have tabled in the House on behalf of the official opposition and as Liberal national defence critic. It is important to highlight the motion's first “whereas”.
We are a government in waiting and in a strong position. Given that we were responsible for initiating this mission, we can speak with credibility about it. In no way is anyone on either side of this House calling into question the exceptional work of our courageous men and women. Unfortunately, we have now lost 54 soldiers. Our thoughts and prayers are with them. We must salute the courage of all of our troops.
I will be leading off the debate today, and I have the honour of sharing my time with the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville.
I have to explain the context of this motion. As I said, we initiated this mission—first in Kabul and then in Kandahar—and we are the only party that is in a position to take power after the next election. We would like to believe what the Prime Minister told us. He said that Parliament should consider what the future of this mission is to be after February 2009. The problem is that we do not believe this government and that we have an extremely weak Minister of National Defence who screws up on a daily basis. People who watch the news on television get the impression that he changes his mind as fast as he changes his shirt. In light of those contradictions, I think that our troops, their families and all Canadians have the right to know what is going on.
Our party is giving its unconditional support to this mission until February 2009. We know that our men and women are doing outstanding work. However, we think that greater emphasis should be put on development, that we have a diplomatic role to play and that if we take a piecemeal approach, as the government is doing, the mission is doomed to failure.
Originally, in the context of mission we took on, we wanted to take what is known as the 3D approach: development, diplomacy and defence. That would have helped us.
However, it is important that Canadians know what to expect, that they understand that this is an international mission and that we are working very closely with the NATO forces. Backed by a Security Council resolution, we decided to participate, in order to help the Afghan people see the light at the end of the tunnel. This is important. However, we do not believe this government. We are extremely concerned about how this government is behaving with respect to the mission in Afghanistan. Hiram Johnson, Governor of California in the early 20th century, had something interesting to say on this. He said:
“The first casualty when war comes is the truth”. We are bothered with the way the government is acting right now, the way that it is promoting the mission itself and the way it is making all those big announcements to buy equipment. It is buying equipment and spending billions of dollars for equipment that we are supposed to need for the mission. However, when we realize what is going on through the delivery date, the equipment will only be ready after February 2009. If we are supporting a mission and we want to provide that equipment, why do we bother to spend billions of dollars without any white paper, without any plan?
We are saying that because we are going to Afghanistan, we need tanks, helicopters and some other equipment but when we look at the delivery date, it seems the helicopters will be ready in 2010. It seems that those tanks, besides the ones that we are leasing, will be ready by the end of 2008.
We believe the mission is important and we believe our men and women should have the equipment they need. As a matter of fact, even General Hillier at that time, when we put forward that mission, was pretty clear. He said, “We have the best equipment and the government in place is providing us with what we need”. That was the Liberal government at that time. Therefore, we will need to find some other reason why we want to spend all that money on equipment.
We were announcing, as members will remember, in the restructuring plan to provide more equipment for the troops but we were doing it in a way where the process was a bit more transparent. We did not have a minister of national defence who was a former arms dealer. We did not have a minister of national defence who was a lobbyist promoting that equipment and who was in charge of the requirement to have that equipment for the troops.
Justice must be seen to be done. There can be no conflict of interest, or apparent conflict of interest.
The current problem is that the Minister of National Defence is so ineffectual that even the press is beginning to wonder how long he will remain the Minister of National Defence.
All the while, there is a mission going on in Afghanistan. Men and women are fighting for democracy, to free and support the Afghan people. However, we do not know exactly where we stand. Every time we turn on the television, listen to the radio or read the newspaper, we are given the impression that we could stay in Afghanistan for another 10 or 15 years. It also seems that, on any given day, we are told one thing one moment, and the exact opposite a moment later.
What we need in this file is clarity. We need a responsible government to send clear messages to international institutions. The Liberal Party of Canada supports a multilateral approach. Unlike the Prime Minister, who would have liked to see Canadians in Iraq, we decided to go to Afghanistan because of a Security Council resolution.
We worked with our NATO allies and took a multilateral approach. It was the international communities as a whole that decided that we had to settle the situation in Afghanistan. It corresponded to important Canadian values. In light of that, obviously it was essential to take part in the war. And we went ahead. Remember that our colleague—the former acting leader, member for Toronto, Minister of Defence and exceptional Minster of Foreign Affairs—made announcements at the time.
Other colleagues of ours also worked towards this end. It was always extremely respectful. We had the advantage of being clear; we gave a cut-off date. We said that it was not a Canadian mission, but that we would take part in it.
There are so many contradictions. The current Minister of National Defence is a burden, because of his gaffes. He now says that we will need tanks. Not only does that add to the lack of clarity, but puts us on an extremely slippery field.
As for using tanks against guerilla warfare, most of the experts say that not only does it lead to stalemates and to escalation of the violence, but it is not necessary. Even the German army exchanged the caterpillar tracks on its tanks for wheels because it knows that, in order to protect the troops and play a development role, you do not arrive in villages with tanks, saying, “Welcome, I’m here, we love you”. We knew that the LAV3s we had at the time, the armoured vehicles, were enough to protect our troops. We have to wonder: What do they want tanks for?
I know that my speaking time is limited, but it is important to mention that the goal of this mission is important. Although essential, this mission should also have a cut-off date. We will still be there as far as development and diplomacy are concerned. We can also play an advisory role, as we have always done. It is important to say that we do not want to end up in a situation like Bush in Iraq.
As far as tanks are concerned, General Hillier himself said:
“It was an albatross around our army's neck. Now that we are spending almost a billion dollars for those tanks, it is unnecessary”.
Next week, I will be in Brussels. I will be accompanying the Minister of Foreign Affairs to a NATO forum. We will be talking about all these issues. However, I hope that the House will make the decision that reflects the wishes of the Canadian people, that is, to support the mission but to put an end to in it February 2009. I ask the House to vote in favour of this motion.