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House of Commons Hansard #141 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was troops.

Topics

National Day of MourningRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Jonquière—Alma Québec

Conservative

Jean-Pierre Blackburn ConservativeMinister of Labour and Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec

Mr. Speaker, I would like to talk about the importance of April 28, which has been declared a National Day of Mourning. Each year, on that day, we remember the workers who have been killed or injured on the job or who suffer from occupational diseases.

Last year, I was among the families and co-workers honouring the people who had died as a result of workplace accidents. We gathered on that day of mourning to remember. One event particularly touched me and made me more aware of the importance of such a day. As I was giving my speech, I saw, in the crowd in front of me, a woman tenderly holding a photograph. When I finished speaking, I felt the need to go over and talk to her. After a short, emotional conversation, the woman handed me the photograph she was holding. It was a photograph of her son, a young man barely 20 years old, who had died in his workplace. I saw the enduring pain in the woman's eyes. It is impossible not to be affected by this sort of encounter. That woman gave me a better understanding of the impact an accidental death has on the victim's family and workplace.

A safe and healthy workplace is a productive workplace that benefits the workers, the employers and the economy. As Minister of Labour, I often talk about healthy workplaces that are free of racism, sexual harassment and psychological harassment. When a workplace is safe and healthy, society benefits: employees are happier and, consequently, more productive. The employer also benefits, and our economy and the workplace are better off.

I believe that the National Day of Mourning is a day for remembrance. It gives us an opportunity to express our condolences and sympathy for the victims, their families, their friends and their co-workers, and to remember that we still have a lot of work to do on workplace health and safety.

I have some statistics. In 2005, 1,097 Canadians died of work-related causes and another 337,930 work-related injuries and illnesses were reported. On January 25, I met with the ministers of labour from the provinces and territories in Fredericton to look at this issue, particularly how it relates to young people who have work accidents, and in some cases fatal ones. We noticed that more young people are having these types of accidents because they are receiving a little less training. There is perhaps also a little less awareness. The ministers of labour committed to promoting this issue and ensuring that it is talked about in schools, so that young people are aware of the importance of what they do, and so they realize that health and safety is important to them, to their colleagues, to their families, and to everyone.

I believe that the best way to honour the memory of those who have lost their lives is to work together to improve health and safety in all workplaces, thereby reducing injury, illness and death in Canada.

I would also like to take this one step further. Who is responsible for workplace safety? The minister brings in legislation, of course. We are doing everything we can to eliminate such incidents in the workplace. Of course, employers and union leaders are also responsible for workplace safety, but there is more to it than that. Every one of us is responsible for safety every day. At home or at work, when we see something dangerous, we must stop and take action. We must not pass it by and tell ourselves that it is not serious and that someone else will take care of it. No. Each one of us is responsible for informing the person in charge that something dangerous is happening.

In our society, both groups and individuals are responsible for taking action.

I would like to give one of my favourite examples about safety in the home. Almost everyone has climbed up on a chair to change a light bulb with no thought to the consequences of a fall. What would be the consequences for our wives, our children, and ourselves? What if we had to take time off work? We must be aware of the risks every day and take personal responsibility in our everyday lives.

On this day of reflection and commemoration, I would like to invite you to join me in working to promote safe and healthy workplaces.

National Day of MourningRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the Liberal Party and my leader, I want to join with the minister in commemorating the National Day of Mourning.

Today we pay tribute to and honour workers throughout Canada, particularly those workers who have suffered injury, illness or have died as a result of their workplace.

Every day, Canadians go to work in order to make a living for themselves and for their families. Sadly, though, on average, three workers each day die in Canada and many more are injured. Just this week we learned of two Chinese workers who came to Canada to make a better life for themselves and their families and, in the midst of their work, they died tragically as a result of a workplace accident.

Whether they be workers in the oil patch, the police, firefighters, highway workers or people fishing, farming, mining, and so many other ways to make a living, we are reminded today of the danger so many of our workers face in the workplace.

As we reflect, though, it is important that we act. We need to work together to ensure that all Canadians are able to go to work in conditions that are safe and healthy.

On behalf of my party, I wish to extend our deepest sympathies to all the families who have been affected by death or injury in the workplace. Their sacrifice and that of their families must serve as a lesson to us all.

National Day of MourningRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Bloc

Carole Lavallée Bloc Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to take a moment to emphasize the importance of the day of mourning to be observed this Saturday, April 28. This day has been set aside to remember all workers who have been killed or injured on the job, or are suffering from an occupational illness—just one day to remind us that we must increase our efforts in the area of workplace safety.

Despite the actions taken thus far, there are still too many accidents and deaths every year. In 2005, in Quebec alone, some 223 deaths and over 121,000 accidents in the workplace were reported to Quebec's occupational health and safety commission. Prevention continues to be the best tool to reverse those statistics, but that must not diminish the reality of the human tragedies that occur on a daily basis and that touch us all at some point in our lives.

More work needs to be done to improve workplace designs and conditions, in order to ensure that workers are less exposed to possible dangers. The slightest effort is sometimes all it takes to save a life.

This Saturday, we will remember all workers who have been killed or injured on the job, or are suffering from an occupational illness. Let us use this commemoration as an opportunity to reflect on the best way to do something about this and then let us take action.

National Day of MourningRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I stand today on behalf of New Democrats and our leader to honour our sisters and brothers who have lost their lives or suffered injury and illness in the workplace. We stand in solidarity on National Day of Mourning recognized on April 28.

Every day, three working Canadians lose their lives on the job. The Canadian Labour Congress, provincial labour federations and labour councils across Canada have fought hard to bring attention to these issues and the thousands of workers who suffer because of lax safety standards and because efficiency is put above workers' safety and workers' lives.

The CLC first marked the event in 1984 and since then it has grown into a worldwide event observed in over 100 countries.

Approximately one million workplace injuries a year occur in Canada, every seven seconds each working day. Deaths from workplace injury average nearly 1,000 a year. In Canada, one worker is killed every two hours each working day. Deaths from workplace diseases go largely unrecorded and uncompensated. They likely exceed deaths from workplace injuries.

Despite this, many governments are weakening health and safety rules and their enforcement. Back to work legislation and the defeat of anti-replacement worker legislation are examples of how governments are chipping away at workers' rights.

Sadly, last week we learned that a railway worker was killed on the job. Just yesterday, two workers were killed and four others were injured on an oil sands construction site in northern Alberta, all of whom were foreign workers from China. We need to ask why the government is expanding the foreign worker program without real safeguards to prevent exploitation and ensure compliance with working standards.

We can and we must meet the goal of safer and healthier workplaces. Governments and businesses must start chipping away at labour rights. Laws protecting workers' rights must be stronger and they must be enforced.

Workers' rights are human rights and, in respect and honour of the lives lost and the families affected by death, injury and illness in the workplace, the NDP commits today to renew its fight for safe and healthy working conditions for all Canadians. We call on the government to commit to the same.

Canadian Wheat BoardPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Rod Bruinooge Conservative Winnipeg South, MB

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36, I would like to present a petition to the House from my constituents in Winnipeg South in relation to the Canadian Wheat Board.

Summer Career Placements ProgramPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Bloc

Jean-Yves Laforest Bloc Saint-Maurice—Champlain, QC

Mr. Speaker, here today, I would like to present three petitions concerning the cuts made to the summer career placements program.

The citizens of my riding have rallied to present 800 signatures. They are objecting to the changes made by the Conservative government. This is why I am presenting these petitions here today.

Visitor VisasPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I have three petitions to table requesting that the visa requirements pertaining to people from Poland coming to Canada be lifted.

The petitioners point out that currently people from Poland are limited in their ability to visit Canada on a quick basis because of the requirements. They point out that there is a double standard, that in fact Poland does not require Canadians to have visas to get into Poland. They would like to see this requirement lifted.

They call upon Parliament to ensure that it does everything it can to increase family vacations, tourism and cultural exchanges, as well as trade missions between Canada and Poland.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

I wish to inform the House that because of the ministerial statement, government orders will be extended by 12 minutes.

Ministers' Responses Regarding AfghanistanPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, this morning I gave the appropriate notice to the Speaker with regard to a matter of a question of a breach of privilege in relation to the whole matter of Afghanistan and more specifically with regard to Afghan detainees.

There can be no question about the confusion of the House in this matter. I believe there appears to be some indication that the misinformation to the House may have been deliberate and in fact has breached my privileges and those of other members of Parliament.

I refer you, Mr. Speaker, to Marleau and Montpetit at page 66, in which it refers to the issues of privilege and contempt. It states:

Any disregard of or attack on the rights, powers and immunities of the House and its Members, either by an outside person or body, or by a Member of the House, is referred to as a “breach of privilege” and is punishable by the House. There are, however, other affronts against the dignity and authority of Parliament which may not fall within one of the specifically defined privileges. Thus, the House also claims the right to punish, as a contempt, any action which, though not a breach of a specific privilege, tends to obstruct or impede the House in the performance of its functions;....

I also had an opportunity to look at Erskine May, at page 144, which repeats much the same information and guide for members. It does say, though, that “the Members or its officers” must be free “from improper obstruction or...interference with the performance of their respective functions”.

There can be no question about the issue of Afghanistan, the recent deaths of nine of our soldiers and the allegations with regard to the torture, coercive interrogation and in fact execution of Canadian prisoners turned over to Afghan authorities. Yesterday in question period there were 23 questions posed in the House with regard to this matter.

The Prime Minister answered 10 of those questions, the Minister of Foreign Affairs answered 11 of those questions, and the Minister of National Defence, who is the principal responsible for this matter, answered only two questions. In fact, I noted in Hansard--I will not quote it, but members and the Chair can certainly look at the responses given--it was basically deny, deny, deny from all those who provided answers to the questions of parliamentarians.

When Parliament is told that all is well, there is no cause for concern and there is no evidence of problems with detainees, members of Parliament must take that at its face. We operate here on the premise of the presumption of honesty. That involves not only what is said, but it also must, I argue, relate to what is not said.

Mr. Speaker, you will know that within an hour of the end of question period the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs had before it the Minister of National Defence. I was not there. I did observe on news reports, but it is also reported in a print publication, and I would like to read into the record what transpired. The article states:

The Minister of National Defence yesterday announced Canada had struck a new deal to monitor Afghan detainees, but the existence of the arrangement appeared to catch the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Chief of the Defence staff [Mr. Hillier] by surprise.

It goes on to say:

[The defence minister] made what appeared to be an improvised announcement of the new detainee-monitoring deal after intense questioning at the Commons foreign affairs committee.

It states that he said at committee:

Within the last few days we have basically made an arrangement with the government in the Kandahar province so that we can have access to our detainees. So henceforth, our military, but it can be anybody, can have access to our detainees.

This is not information that was disclosed to Parliament during direct questioning in question period just an hour before.

In fact, the Prime Minister, in answering 10 questions, and the foreign affairs minister, in answering 11 questions, made no mention and gave no indication, but simply continued to deny that the allegations were true and that there was any problem.

I believe that the House, I as a member of Parliament and all members of Parliament in fact have had their privileges breached. When questions are asked directly of the government on matters of national importance to all Canadians, Parliament is entitled to receive information directly.

What should happen?

Not only did the minister make some detailed disclosures within committee, but then after the committee meeting when he was chased down the halls and was cornered in an elevator, he gave another account of details with regard to this apparent deal.

There is a contradiction. There is an apparent cover-up. It may, in fact, as far as I can see, involve dishonesty. It may involve contempt. It may involve incompetence. It also may be all three.

It is my view that we need to have this matter fully aired and that Parliament should be advised of what was the truth. Parliament was not given the full information. It was deny, deny, deny, when in fact the Prime Minister must have known. The foreign affairs minister must have known. The Chief of the Defence Staff must have known.

But it seems, Mr. Speaker, that the Minister of National Defence is alleging that he is the only one who knew of this deal. He said it was several days ago. I take him at his word. If it was several days ago, he has had the opportunity all week to make that representation to Parliament to allay the fears of Canadians and to represent the best interests of the Canadian military.

Mr. Speaker, if you find a prima facie case of breach of privilege, I am prepared to make the necessary motion.

Ministers' Responses Regarding AfghanistanPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

The government may wish to respond now, or if it did not have notice of the motion it may wish to respond at another time. The Chair is prepared to reserve judgment. It is up to the government.

Ministers' Responses Regarding AfghanistanPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker, for recognizing me in response to my hon. colleague. I would make a couple of points.

Number one, we will be making a response to the hon. member's contention of breach of privilege, but I would suggest it is unfortunate that the hon. member did not give adequate notice so we could have had the appropriate ministers on hand to respond today.

However, I also want to point out to the House and to anyone who may be watching that in response to the hon. member's allegations that the Prime Minister answered 10 questions, the Minister of Foreign Affairs answered 11 questions, and the Minister of National Defence answered only two out of the 23 questions posed by the official opposition, the report in question was a report issued to the Department of Foreign Affairs. So it is only appropriate that the minister responsible for foreign affairs take the majority of the questions.

The member is trying to imply by his line of questioning that the Minister of National Defence should have been the one standing up and fielding these questions when in fact the very report he is alluding to was a report given to the Department of Foreign Affairs.

I would suggest that what we have here, quite frankly, is the hon. member playing petty politics with an issue far too important to the lives of our Canadian troops and to the lives of Canadians in general to play this type of partisan politics game in this House.

We will be responding in due course, but I would suggest to the member opposite that the next time he tries to promote his own partisan politics on an issue of such importance, he do so in a manner that is a little more respectful.

Ministers' Responses Regarding AfghanistanPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, in brief, I wish to join this debate to support the member for Mississauga South. The Bloc Québécois also has the impression that parliamentary privilege has been breached by the attitude of the Minister of National Defence, who could not have been in the dark about what was happening in Afghan prisons. A report prepared by senior officials at Foreign Affairs and International Trade has been available since 2006. Therefore, it is a question either of incompetence—and in my opinion, of breach of parliamentary privilege—or of hiding the truth. The latter seems more plausible to me.

This morning in Le Devoir, a journalist spoke of the collective duplicity of the government. For example, after the Bloc Québécois asked 40 questions on what happened to Afghan detainees, we were given the impossible answer that it was all rumours and allegations, even though this report actually does exist.

The proof that the government and the Minister of National Defence acknowledge that we were right to ask these questions is that we were told yesterday that a verbal agreement with the Afghan authorities on the treatment of Afghan detainees was made between 3 and 4 o'clock.

Therefore I am also joining the debate and saying that the Minister of National Defence breached parliamentary privilege and therefore I am asking the Speaker to call him to order.

Ministers' Responses Regarding AfghanistanPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

NDP

Jack Layton NDP Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, the NDP supports the position that the privileges of the House have indeed been challenged by the behaviour of the minister.

The situation with respect to the transfer of detainees has now turned into a circus. We must call on the government to deal with this situation.

When we have a situation where questions are asked on a specific topic in the House of Commons and only two or three hours later, down the hall in a committee room, we have a minister giving information that is clearly contrary to what happened in the House, every Canadian and every parliamentarian needs to be asking what is going on.

We support the challenge put before the government to respond. We believe that the privileges of not only the House, but of Canadians, are being violated here. We support the call for such a ruling.

Ministers' Responses Regarding AfghanistanPrivilegeRoutine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

The government has given notice of its intention to respond at a later date. In any event, the Chair would have taken the question of privilege under advisement and come back with a ruling later, so that is what we will do.

I thank hon. members for their interventions. We will proceed now to orders of the day.

Opposition Motion—AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Jack Layton NDP Toronto—Danforth, ON

moved:

Whereas,

(1) all Members of this House, whatever their disagreements about the mission in Afghanistan, support the courageous men and women of the Canadian Forces;

(2) the government has admitted that the situation in Afghanistan can not be won militarily;

(3) the current counter-insurgency mission is not the right mission for Canada;

(4) the government has neither defined what ‘victory’ would be, nor developed an exit strategy from this counter-insurgency mission;

therefore this House condemns this government and calls for it to immediately notify NATO of our intention to begin withdrawing Canadian Forces now in a safe and secure manner from the counter-insurgency mission in Afghanistan; and calls for Canada to focus its efforts to assist the people of Afghanistan on a diplomatic solution, and re-double its commitment to reconstruction and development.

He said: Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for New Westminster—Coquitlam.

As I begin, I want to express once again our condolences for those soldiers and personnel who have lost their lives, Canadian and from other countries, and also for the countless citizens of Afghanistan who have lost their lives as well.

Today the NDP has presented a motion to the House calling for the immediate, safe and secure withdrawal of our troops from the counter-insurgency mission in Afghanistan and to refocus our efforts to assist the people of Afghanistan on development and reconstruction and on creating a pathway to peace.

We are doing so because our current combat mission in Afghanistan is wrong, and two years more of participating in the wrong mission is two years too long. It means countless more lives lost.

Last week I rose in this House to oppose the Liberal motion which confirmed the Conservative extension of two more years. A year ago the Liberals opposed the extension of the mission to 2009, but today they have changed their minds. Their motion endorsed the Conservative plan. That is why the NDP opposed that motion.

I said at the time that 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.

In our opinion, two more years spent on the wrong mission in Afghanistan is two years too many. We strongly believe that our troops have to be able to trust their Parliament. They have to trust that Parliament will authorize their deployment at the right time for the right reasons.

Our soldiers have to trust that Parliament will reconsider its military strategy when it is not the right tool to get the job done. Our party takes that trust very seriously. We feel that the current mission is wrong and we have been consistent in calling for withdrawal. We have done so on several occasions and today we are formally doing so in the House.

Things wrong with the mission will continue to get worse. It is a seek and kill counter-insurgency. It is fundamentally imbalanced between military, humanitarian and development spending, and there is a deteriorating human rights situation and an escalation of the war.

Why continue to prolong this flawed mission when it is clear that more Afghan civilians will suffer and more insurgents will be recruited?

The NDP position on the combat mission in Afghanistan is clear. Bush-style counter-insurgency missions such as this can actually prevent Afghan citizens from reaching a lasting peace and alleviating the desperate poverty of the country.

It is unbalanced and overwhelmingly focused on an aggressive counter-insurgency mission, and of course the humanitarian situation, as we are all hearing back, is not improving with the situation of the growing numbers of refugees, just as one example.

Both the Liberals and the Conservatives have admitted that the conflict in Afghanistan will not be won militarily, yet they think our soldiers should continue to fight for two more years. They know the strategy is failing, yet they refuse to withdraw our troops now. That is not a responsible position and it does not show the respect that we owe to our men and women in uniform.

It is time to begin to work to settle this conflict diplomatically and redouble our commitment to reconstruction and development. That is going to require peace negotiations supported by the international community.

The secure 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 to Canada's role 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 to establish peace, development and justice. Our approach must respect and involve the organizations, groups and local governments in Afghanistan.

Canada must draw on its experience to provide 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 with our European allies in NATO and our allies from other countries to convince the Americans to end their poppy eradication campaign and stop supporting Pakistan's position on the Taliban.

Showing leadership in Afghanistan means taking concrete steps toward peace negotiations, something we cannot effectively do while we wage war.

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 fueling the conflict. Gordon Smith, former senior Canadian diplomat and head of 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 is being called for by the NDP.

Parliamentarians have a responsibility to our soldiers and to the citizens of this country to do the right thing in Afghanistan. It is time to withdraw our troops from the counter-insurgency mission, focus our efforts on a diplomatic solution and regain Canada's strength and credibility rather than squandering it in a failing and futile mission.

Opposition Motion—AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Prince George—Peace River B.C.

Conservative

Jay Hill ConservativeSecretary of State and Chief Government Whip

Mr. Speaker, I do not know where to begin. I know many people want to ask this particular member a question. I will try to keep my remarks short.

The member says that the mission is failing. I wonder if he could enlighten the House on what expertise he might have in military matters and specifically how he is able to judge the success or failure of a military mission?

When I was in Afghanistan and had the privilege to interact with our front line troops at Christmastime, certainly they believed that they were achieving some great successes. Yet this particular member would say that the mission is failing. I wonder what he bases that upon?

I want to quote from the actual motion and if we are to immediately begin withdrawing Canadian Forces now from the “counter-insurgency mission” which is the motion before the House today, I would ask who is to take our place? What negotiations have gone on if we are going to immediately pull out and which of our allies is going to take our place? Who is going to hold the line, as it were?

A person does not have to be overly bright to understand that all of our allies, and especially the Afghan national army, are under tremendous pressure. The Afghan army has been taking countless more casualties than even we are.

Is the situation tragic? Yes, of course it is. I do not believe that the mission is failing and neither do our troops that are on the ground there. Our troops believe in the mission. They believe that they can accomplish the goals that have been set for them and that they set for themselves.

I would ask the hon. member, on what does he base his assessment that the mission is failing?

Opposition Motion—AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Jack Layton NDP Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, clearly the hon. member and myself disagree. There are many authoritative reports that have been produced that speak to the failure of this mission. The reports speak to the fact that there is no end in sight. A mission with no end in sight cannot exactly be described as a success.

There has been an increase in the number of refugees reported having to seek shelter and food. Increasing numbers of children have been driven out of their communities and now are unable to receive medical attention when they are ill. There are growing numbers of casualties, both on the side of the soldiers involved, the military personnel, and much larger numbers of citizens being killed.

I think these are measures of a failing mission and there are many others. That is why we think it is time for Canada to take the lead in recognizing that there needs to be a new approach. I think it would send a very powerful signal if we were to do so. It would put Canada back on track as a country that has a role to play in the world, which is quite unique in terms of being able to bring sides together and work toward a ceasefire, peace negotiations. This is what Canadians do best. Frankly, we are losing that ability by prosecuting this mission in the way that we are doing so now.

Opposition Motion—AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

Simcoe—Grey Ontario

Conservative

Helena Guergis ConservativeSecretary of State (Foreign Affairs and International Trade) (Sport)

Mr. Speaker, I often hear from the NDP members that they believe that this is the wrong mission for Canada. I was hoping that the leader of the NDP could explain to me why that is so. We have 60 countries that developed a five-year plan for Afghanistan. There are 37 countries on the ground in Afghanistan implementing this plan and 192 countries endorsed this plan at the UN General Assembly. Why is it that the entire international community believes that Afghanistan is the right mission? For some reason the NDP thinks it is not. That party is the only that does not think it is the right mission.

I had an opportunity to go to Afghanistan. I focused there on women and children. I went there and spoke with them, and asked them what it was like under the Taliban and what changes they have experienced.

I spoke with one particular person, a politician, who has just given birth to her first little boy. She has a $500,000 bounty on her head simply because she is a woman and fighting for women's rights in Afghanistan. I wonder could this hon. member look her in the face when she says to him “Please don't go. Don't turn your back on us now because all will be lost”. What would he say to her?

Opposition Motion—AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

NDP

Jack Layton NDP Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, the NDP brought a woman parliamentarian from Afghanistan to speak to our national convention while we were debating exactly what should be happening in Afghanistan. So, we do not actually need to take a lesson from the secretary of state, with all due respect, in this regard.

What is interesting is that the secretary of state did not mention that the vast majority of countries that are working in Afghanistan on trying to improve the situation, and we support those kinds of efforts, are not responding to a call, including from our government, to become involved in the aggressive counter-insurgency war in the south. It is very interesting to note that the secretary of state herself did not lay out the full story here.

The fact is most countries do believe that the approach being taken in the counter-insurgency effort is wrong and these other countries have chosen to take a different route. We believe that Canada should be engaging with them to find out how we can assist in that effort rather than follow the current direction, which was of course established by the Bush administration.

Opposition Motion—AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

NDP

Dawn Black NDP New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, I stand here again today as a mother, as a grandmother and as someone who has visited Afghanistan with the defence committee of the House of Commons where I had the opportunity to speak with many of the Canadians who are serving in Kandahar province.

I was very impressed with the calibre, the determination and the commitment of the men and women we have sent to Kandahar to participate in this mission.

I remember one man in particular who was part of the supply route in Kandahar and was taking supplies out to the forward operating bases. He spoke to me of his time in the Canadian Forces and of his other missions. He had served in many missions for Canada. He told me that this was his second tour in Afghanistan. He said that he had seen and done things in Afghanistan this time that he never thought imaginable. He told me that he just wanted to go home. That had an incredible impact on me, as did the conversations I had with other men and women at the airfield in Kandahar.

I also stand here as a parliamentarian to echo the concerns and the opposition of millions of Canadians who see this war as a real blight on our country.

Tragically, 54 Canadian soldiers and a Canadian diplomat have been killed in this war and all Canadians share in the grief of their families and send them our condolences.

Violent incidents in January 2007 were more than double those of January 2006. Fifteen thousand families have been displaced in the south due to the military operations there. IDP camps are full. Not enough food and aid is getting through to these people. They live in miserable conditions in these IDP camps.

The criteria for success has never been defined by either the Liberal government that took us into this counter-insurgency mission nor the Conservative government. This mission should never be measured by the number of insurgents killed, nor should the number of foreign soldiers deployed there be seen as signs of progress.

Success would be tangible improvements in the quality of life for Afghan people, such as clean water, medical facilities, electricity and a safe and secure environment.

The war is getting worse. The government clearly does not want Canadians to see that but it is getting worse. With the strategy that counter-insurgency warfare against insurgents who will always know the terrain better than we will, whose recruitment strategies are strengthened by our war against them and who have a safe haven in a neighbouring country, it is not surprising that this mission is failing.

Afghans, Canadians, mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers are dying in a senseless war. The men and women in this House must remember each casualty in war is someone's sister, someone's brother, someone's son, someone's daughter and someone's lover.

The government and the Minister of National Defence admit that the war in Afghanistan cannot be solved militarily but they continue along on this misguided mission, fighting it with air strikes and guns. As they stick to this futile path with what might only be described as ideological blindness, it is our soldiers and the Afghan people who suffer.

Why have the Conservatives refused to budge from this futile strategy? I asked that question nearly a year ago when we had the debate on the extension of the mission. Is it simply because they do not have the imagination or the wherewithal to devise a better approach?

What makes me most angry and what strikes me as being the most tragic part of this is that there are countless opportunities to do this differently and to play a constructive rather than a destructive role in Afghanistan.

Over a year ago I called upon the government to address the inadequacy of the prisoner transfer agreement with Afghanistan. It was my first question in the House the first day Parliament sat. I demanded an end to the flawed practice of handing prisoners over to authorities who we knew, in all likelihood, would torture and abuse them.

The allegations that are coming forward now, allegations that prisoners transferred by Canadian soldiers to Afghan authorities were tortured and abused, could have been avoided. This is a shame on our country, it is a shame on our government and it is a shame on the Minister of National Defence.

The government and the minister have misled the House about the transfer of Afghan detainees with a callous disregard for their responsibilities for human rights and human dignity. Many experts have told the government that it is a violation of international law. I have heard them tell the minister that in committee. It signals a break with the entire history of Canada's foreign policy.

We are now in a state of more confusion after the minister's appearance at the foreign affairs committee last night. The Minister of National Defence now says that he has yet another new arrangement with Afghan authorities. However, the Minister of Foreign Affairs knows nothing about it and the chief of defence staff said that it was news to him. He did not know anything about it either. Those are the very people who are responsible for implementing such arrangements. There is massive confusion and disorganization and the left hand of the government does not seem to know what the right hand is doing.

Canada has always been at the forefront of international human rights issues and, sadly, Canada's reputation has now been tarnished by the inaction of the government. It has known of the inadequacy of the prisoner transfer agreement for over a year and failed to take any action until it was front page news day after day in The Globe and Mail.

We have now purchased over 100 tanks but rather than ratcheting up our offensive by sending tanks and more fighters, we could be doing what we do best as a country. We could be finding creative solutions to bringing peace and security to Afghanistan. Political, not military, problems are at the heart of the Afghan conflict. All experts acknowledge this. There is, therefore, an urgent need for high level peace negotiations to end the violence in Afghanistan.

Canada could take leadership to ensure international support for peace negotiations. Canada invented peacekeeping and peacemaking and yet in Afghanistan we have invested virtually no effort toward exploring, supporting or fostering efforts toward peace.

I am opposed to this mission precisely because it is failing to protect the women and men of the Canadian Forces and the Afghans. I also oppose it because it is not and will not be good for anyone and air strikes from NATO will not bring peace to Afghanistan.

The Liberals put forward a motion to continue this misguided mission unchanged until 2009. If the mission is wrong, then we need to begin to end it now. The NDP motion affirms what seems to be clear only to New Democrats in the House of Commons. This war will not be resolved militarily and Canada must, therefore, change course and begin that change now.

Opposition Motion—AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia Manitoba

Conservative

Steven Fletcher ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, the position the NDP is presenting, the immediate withdrawal of our troops in Afghanistan, seems to go directly against what the president of Afghanistan said. He had very complimentary things to say about our men and women when he came to Parliament less than a year ago. The United Nations and NATO are supporting the mission. The NDP's position suggests, in a very direct way, that we disregard our UN and NATO obligations.

I wonder what will happen to the people of Afghanistan, particularly the women and children who are clearly abused and have had their human rights violated profoundly. Without the protection of western forces, including the Canadian Forces, those abuses will continue. It seems morally abhorrent that the NDP would suggest a withdrawal of this nature without a plan. It is very disappointing that such a debate could even happen when our troops are fighting for Canadian values throughout the world, including Afghanistan.

I would like the member to respond.

Opposition Motion—AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

NDP

Dawn Black NDP New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, I need to clarify something because I guess the member did not hear what I said in my remarks.

New Democrats in no way advocate abandoning the people of Afghanistan. We have never said that. Canada does have a role to play and we want to ensure that Canada plays an effective role in Afghanistan, one that really does lead to a peaceful solution for the people of Afghanistan.

The security environment in Afghanistan is far more complex than any of the government members seem to understand. There is the issue of the border with Pakistan where insurgents move back and forth at will and are able to flee into that country and come back and begin their attacks again. There is the whole issue of the narcotics trade and the criminal elements that are involved in that, which is a security threat. There is the whole issue of the warlords from the north and the independent militias that still operate in Afghanistan.

There is the issue of corruption, which is a security threat. We know that elements in the national police service and the intelligence service are corrupt. We know that people pay bribes to get their get out of jail card. There are many issues.

The last point the member made was that he thought it was disrespectful to our troops for us to be debating this issue. What could be more important in a democratic society than to debate sending our soldiers in harm's way? It is the most critical issue we should be debating in this House. We are talking about being in Afghanistan to help develop democratic institutions. To even suggest that it is wrong to have a democratic discussion in the House of Commons is offensive.