Mr. Speaker, first of all, I would like to say that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for La Pointe-de-l'Île
In this type of debate, I always start with some warnings. The current Conservative government has a strong tendency to say that if we do not share the same opinion, it is because we do not support the troops. This is completely false. I want to explain once again, as I did last week, the importance of this type of debate. The armed forces in democratic countries are under the authority of the government. Any decisions about the future of armed forces therefore rest with civil authorities and democratic parliaments. And in democratic parliaments, not all the members of a party are always on the same side.
I think that all components of each of these parliaments should be respected, and the Parliament of Canada is no exception. We must respect the fact that in this Parliament there are four political parties, whose members are elected democratically. No one in this House has special status. We were all elected by constituents who have a point of view, a philosophy, and who are asking us to represent that point of view and philosophy in Parliament, a most appropriate place. When beginning my remarks, I always say that we must not condemn individuals or parties for not supporting our troops, because we are the ones who determine the future of the Canadian Forces, in Afghanistan and in other international theatres of operation. I thought it was important to say that right off the bat.
That being said, I have a lot of friends in the New Democratic Party and in all of the parties. Even so, sometimes, we have to tell them nicely that we do not agree with them. That is what I will try to do today, even though I like some aspects of the motion. What I just mentioned is part of the motion. Despite our disagreements, all members of this House share the same goal: we are trying to run a country in a way that respects our international commitments, freedom of speech and democracy.
The Bloc Québécois cannot support the NDP motion. We must make a logical choice because we have adopted specific policy positions throughout this debate. Initially, we supported the mission, and soldiers were sent. Then, when the Conservative government came to power, it held a very limited and brief debate that resulted in extending the mission. We asked questions about issues such as the exit strategy, the kind of equipment our soldiers would have, and how rotations would work. We asked a lot of questions that the current Minister of National Defence himself had asked when he was a member of the official opposition. We received no answers.
I would therefore like to remind those listening to us today that the Bloc Québécois did not support the extension of the mission. Subsequently, as events ensued, it became clear that the mission's mandate had to be changed. My Bloc colleagues and I all agree that the mission must be rebalanced. This can no longer be only a military mission. The development and reconstruction aspects are now, in our opinion, even more important than the military aspect. I am not saying that the military aspect does not have its place. However, based on current trends, we see increased militarization. This is why, last week, we supported the Liberal Party motion to terminate combat operations in February 2009. We believe that it remains important to keep our soldiers there. However, we would like to see the mission rebalanced as soon as possible.
At this time, the problem with the NDP motion is its rashness. In fact, the motion calls for the immediate withdrawal of the troops. Having twice gone to Afghanistan, I can assure this House that it is no small undertaking to get all the equipment and all the troops over there. It truly is not something that can be changed overnight. As a result, we cannot say that we are simply throwing in the towel and leaving. I am referring not just to transportation logistics, but also to how this would be perceived internationally.
For instance, after signing a contract to pay back a mortgage every month or to make monthly car payments, if an individual decided to stop paying, he or she would have to face the consequences. The same is true when it comes to international agreements. When a country makes a commitment to its allies to do something until a certain date, that country cannot later say that something came up and that it cannot continue. To do so would be to lose credibility.
This also gives people the perception of defeat and running away. If we leave without notice, before schedule, our Taliban adversaries, or other adversaries such as al-Qaeda, would claim victory. We would be giving up and that would be our defeat. We are not in favour of rushing this.
Now, as far as pulling out in February 2009 is concerned, I want to remind the House that NATO and the 10 other countries working with us there represent an alliance. People have to share the effort as much as possible.
The first time I went to Afghanistan I was very surprised to see that the Germans, in northern Afghanistan, had to return to camp at 8 p.m., when I know that is not the case for Canadians in the south, in Kandahar.
There is a price to pay depending on the geographic location in Afghanistan. Canada is currently paying a heavy price, and not just financially—that is the other problem.
There are many discussions at NATO. I spend a lot of time there. I attend 3 or 4 meetings a year. There is a joint financing problem at NATO. In other words, people who go to Afghanistan under the auspices of NATO pay their share. They pay for exactly what they have to pay for, such as the movement of troops, equipment and materiel. This means that when they are in a combat zone, such as Kandahar, the bill is much higher than if they were in a zone where absolutely nothing is happening. I do not want to diminish the work of the others. However, I just want to say that the financial cost and human cost should not always be shouldered by the same people.
This is what I am trying to get across to my colleagues: by advising our NATO allies of our departure in the next two years, they will have enough time to determine who will replace the Canadians.
I am not saying that all the Canadians in Kandahar will pack their bags and leave. We do not know that yet. Development and reconstruction continue to be important to us. However, it should not be just Canadians who bear the financial price and the loss of life. It is not always up to Canadians to take on the entire task. This is a very important matter that we would like to debate on a regular basis.
After speaking about the rebalancing, I may also talk about the issue of detainees. The government has decided to remain in Afghanistan until February 2009. We support terminating combat operations as of that date. However, in the meantime, we will ask for a rebalancing of the mission in terms of development and reconstruction.
The figures speak for themselves: $1.8 billion has been spent on military operations to date and $300 million invested in reconstruction and development. That is clearly not enough. There is an imbalance in terms of the financial effort. Still, we are doing better than the average calculated for the area. Unless I am mistaken, for every $1 spent on development and reconstruction $9 is spent on military operations, but Canada's ratio is $1 spent on development and reconstruction for every $6 spent on the military.
We are not yet satisfied with these figures. We believe that a better balance is required. Everyone, including NATO generals, has said so. This battle cannot be won by military force alone. If we continue along these lines, we will end up losing the battle.
That is why the Bloc Québécois does not want an early departure. It wants to give the mission a chance during the next two years. In the meantime, we must work hard on an ongoing basis to rebalance this mission.
That is the Bloc Québécois position more or less. Obviously, I must say to my NDP friends that we cannot support their motion today.