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House of Commons Hansard #53 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was troops.

Topics

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12:55 p.m.

Conservative

Peter MacKay Conservative Central Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, unfortunately this member is a pessimist. I am a realist. He was not there. He did not see the young girl's face. He did not see the look in these people's eyes and their optimism for the future. However, he is right about one thing. A great deal needs to be done on the ground. That is clear. In Afghanistan, the situation is not very good. What he said is not what I conveyed to this House.

I am not suggesting for a minute that we have solved the problems, addressed the issues of poverty, of abject frailty and the injustices that still prevail. My attempt to present to this House some of my observations was simply an attempt to portray what I think is an improvement in the lives of children in particular. It was simply an attempt to say that we should take a moment to look at how far we have come in a relatively short time in transforming a country that was in absolute chaos. I wanted us to take a moment to reflect back on some of the things we have done right, while at the same time taking measure of what more needs to happen to see that this little girl does have a future to grow up.

Surely my friend would agree that bringing home soldiers and restricting the ability of aid workers and diplomats to continue in their efforts to build that country would be a travesty. Surely that would not lead to a better future for that little girl or any other child in Afghanistan.

My friend may be cynical and pessimistic but all I am here to say is that the progress that I have seen indicates to me that there is more progress to occur and that we have more to do, but for that child a difference was made. For others, I believe a difference will be made if we stay and continue to make these contributions and provide the basic security and necessities of life that we as Canadians enjoy and sometimes take for granted.

That is part of the debate I think that we will hear more of in the coming days.

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1 p.m.

NDP

Dawn Black NDP New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to the minister's address today. All Canadians want to see the lives of the Afghan people improve but it is a question of how we go about that.

I also listened to his short story from the book A Bed of Red Flowers: In Search of My Afghanistan. I have read the book. She also tells another story in that book, a story of when the Russians came and handed out things to students in Afghanistan. She talked about how they reacted to those gifts, such as school supplies and dresses from the Russian, and how they destroyed them after they were handed to them.

Will the battle group remain in Kandahar after 2009, and will the Canadian Forces no longer be involved in any form of combat after 2009?

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1 p.m.

Conservative

Peter MacKay Conservative Central Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, I think the motion speaks for itself as to the dates and to the intent, and that will be the will of the House.

However, I do not think the member took time to read the motion. She obviously did not read history because if she had she would know that the Russians invaded Afghanistan. They had no NATO backing and no UN mandate. They were not there at the invitation of the Afghanistan government. Surely the member is being delusional if she is trying to compare the occupation of Afghanistan by the Russians with the current effort by an international coalition with a UN mandate, NATO-led and with 60 countries there participating in development, now with a democratically elected government looking for assistance from Canada. Surely she is not suggesting, as the NDP seems to be, that sending minstrels and fruit-pickers to Afghanistan will improve that country.

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1 p.m.

Saint-Laurent—Cartierville Québec

Liberal

Stéphane Dion LiberalLeader of the Opposition

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to discuss the government's new motion on the future of Canada's involvement in Afghanistan.

The decision to send the men and women of the Canadian Forces into harm's way is one of the most important decisions that the government can make. It is not something to be taken lightly. It must be approached with extreme vigilance. It can never be viewed as an opportunity to take partisan advantage. Our troops should never be used as props in our domestic political landscape.

There are those who would argue that engaging in a debate such as this is potentially harmful as it may increase the danger for our troops and civilians on the ground, but in a democracy like Canada the debate on the military mission is normal and in fact unavoidable. We cannot allow our political process to be held hostage by those forces we oppose in Afghanistan who would deny ordinary Afghans the rights we hold so dear, like the right of holding a free debate.

We cannot send our troops to the other side of the world to help bring democracy and good governance to a country that has sadly lacked both for too long and then abandon those principles at home. We have a solemn duty in this House to do what we believe is best for the nation. We owe it to the men and women who serve in our military and to all the citizens of this great country to debate this issue fully, to challenge each other's position and to ensure that the government is truly making the right choice. No one should ever confuse a debate over the future of the mission with a debate over whether or not we support our troops.

Regardless of the opposition on Afghanistan, every member of the House of Commons supports our troops. For that reason, I would urge all hon. members to avoid the kind of insulting language that has too often dominated the political discourse over this issue. Those who would seek to extend the mission are not warmongers. Those who would seek to end the mission are obviously not Taliban sympathizers. We are all members of Parliament seeking to do what is right and the opinions of all parties should be vigorously scrutinized in the climate of mutual respect.

It is the conviction of the Liberal caucus that what Canada has been doing and what we continue to do in Afghanistan reflects the best traditions of our country. Canada proudly figures among the rare groups of countries, too rare, that have only ever sent their troops abroad to defend the universal values of freedom, democracy, human rights and the dignity of all people. This is something in which we should all take immense pride.

It is clear that the broad majority of the Afghan population wants us there not as never-ending occupying power, obviously not, but to help them get to a point where they can govern themselves effectively and provide security and freedom to their own country.

In order to succeed in our endeavour, we must make sure that NATO will work in this first mission outside of its traditional European base. This is why a year ago when I delivered one of my first major speeches as leader of the Liberal Party in Montreal on the topic of Afghanistan, I said that for Liberals it was critical that Canada respect its international obligations, and that we could not back away from a commitment that the Government of Canada had made, but for the NATO mission to succeed, I said that Canada could not be called upon to carry such a heavy burden for an indefinite period of time.

That is why I said that the mission could not continue in the same form after our current commitment expired in February 2009. At that time, a full year ago, we urged the government to notify NATO of this fact, so that NATO could begin the process of identifying additional troops who could rotate into Kandahar to replace the current role of the Canadian troops.

As a party, we gave the House the opportunity to support this position last April in an opposition day motion. Unfortunately, the government and the NDP rejected this proposal at that time and our motion was defeated. The government assured us that it was far too early to discuss such matters. It assured us that we did not need to debate the issue until 2008.

As a result of its mistake, a year has passed since that time and the government has done nothing to seriously engage NATO to replace our troops. So, a year later, we find ourselves no further ahead. That was last year and we now see the difficult position this delay has put us in. We must now scramble to find new troops for Kandahar.

Earlier this month the government put forward its first motion on the future of the mission post-February 2009. As I indicated at that time, I found it to be inconsistent with the position of the Liberal Party which is supported by a majority of Canadians. So, we took it upon ourselves as a party to produce an alternative motion.

In drafting our proposed motion we were guided by three simple principles that were lacking from the government's original motion. One, the mission must change. We must change the mission to one that is a mission dedicated to training, security and reconstruction. Two, the mission must end. We must have a clear end date to the mission, not a further review date that will lead us down the path of a never ending mission. Three, the mission must be about more than the military. There is no exclusively military solution to the conflict in Afghanistan, so our efforts should be balanced between defence, diplomacy and reconstruction.

Working with these three principles and a belief in the fact that Canadians deserve greater transparency and accountability when it comes to Afghanistan, we produced our amended motion.

I was pleased last week to see that the government has abandoned its flawed and lacking motion and largely adopted the language that the Liberal Party put forward. There are obviously some slight differences in the two motions. I will go through these differences over the course of my remarks today.

I agree with the Prime Minister and the defence minister that what we have now is neither a Conservative motion nor a Liberal motion. It is a Canadian motion. But for now, at least, we have a Conservative government that will implement this mission on the ground in Afghanistan.

The government must be accountable to the spirit and the letter of the motion. No matter what happens in this House, the decision to deploy troops and conduct the mission is the responsibility of the executive branch in our political system. It is the government that will ultimately be responsible to implement what is articulated in the motion.

That is why we have placed certain emphasis on the transparency and accountability in the motion we have before us. It will be incumbent upon the government to show the House and all Canadians that it is respecting both the spirit and the letter of the motion. Allow me now to review the motion that is before us today.

The mission must change. This motion is consistent with that position. The mission must change in February 2009 for two reasons.

First, we have to start focusing Canada's mission on actions that will enable the Afghan people and their government to ensure security and governance themselves in their country. If we simply continue to do the work for them, the situation will never change. That is why the Liberal Party is placing such great emphasis on the need for a shift toward the training of the Afghan national security forces.

Second, the mission must change because we cannot continue to ask of our troops that they carry such a heavy responsibility indefinitely. Come February 2009, our troops will have been involved for three years in one of the most demanding, and probably also the most dangerous, missions they have participated in since the Korean war. We cannot ask them, and NATO cannot expect us, to sustain much longer operations of this scope and magnitude.

This motion clearly stipulates that, after February 2009, Canada's mission in Kandahar should consist of training Afghan national security forces, providing security for reconstruction and development projects in Kandahar, and continuing Canada's responsibility for the Kandahar provincial reconstruction team. That is a shift from what our troops in Kandahar have been doing since the beginning of 2006.

We are no longer talking about a proactive counter-insurgency mission to seek out and destroy insurgents. We will not, however, tie the hands of our troops by telling them that they cannot take military action to defend themselves or those they are there to protect.

As I said, it is up to politicians to set the focus of military missions. That is a responsibility incumbent upon elected representatives of the people. While generals must refrain from imposing policies on elected representatives, we must refrain from micromanaging our generals.

Like the Liberal motion on which it was based, the motion brought before Parliament by the government makes the continuation of a Canadian military presence in Kandahar contingent on three broad conditions: a clear end date, additional troops, and new equipment. Allow me to expand on each of these conditions.

Why is it so important to have a clear end date for the mission? If we have a clear end date, we can develop a clear plan with realistic objectives and benchmarks. It is up to the government to determine these benchmarks and objectives and to clearly communicate them to our soldiers and to all Canadians. We are expecting the government to indicate, during this debate, what the benchmarks and objectives for training and development will be.

Furthermore, a clear end date will encourage our NATO allies and the Afghan government to prepare for our departure. If we are not clear about the end date of our mission, they will never prepare for our departure.

We are happy to learn that the government's new motion respects our request to establish a clear end date for Canada's mission in Kandahar. Although we called for the mission to end in February 2011 and for all of our soldiers to be out of Kandahar by July 2011, the government chose to have the mission end in July 2011 and to have all of our troops out of Kandahar by December 2011.

I think the government should explain during this debate why it chose later dates. We chose the start of 2011 as the end date for the mission because the benchmarks and timelines established by the Afghanistan Compact must be respected by the end of 2010.

We want to know why the government bothered to change the date we proposed and put it back to the middle of 2011. If the government has a reasonable and logical explanation, our party will not oppose this change.

Moreover, we hope that if the House adopts this motion, the government will inform NATO immediately and formally of the firm end date of our mission in Kandahar. We do not want to find ourselves in a situation in 2011 where NATO is surprised to learn that our mission is ending. We must not make the same mistake twice.

We are concerned that the government omitted the word “immediately” from the part of the motion that asks the government to notify NATO of the date when our mission will end. Our NATO allies and the Afghan government will need this clarity and transparency when the NATO heads of state meet shortly in Bucharest. We do not have the right to conceal things from our allies. At that meeting, Canada will ask NATO for additional assistance. We must therefore be very clear about the length of our commitment.

Now, the issue of additional troops. The Liberal motion called for additional NATO troops to be sent to Kandahar. We did this because we believe it is important for another NATO nation to rotate into Kandahar to take over some of Canada's current responsibilities.

It is not reasonable to say that the focus of the mission will change to one of training and reconstruction if there is no one else to take over our previous offensive military responsibilities. Calling for a NATO rotation, which allows for a sharing of the burden, is appropriate and responsible.

As a matter of fact, rotation is a concept upon which the entire ISAF mission in Afghanistan has been based since NATO assumed responsibility of the mission in 2003. NATO's overall mission in Afghanistan will only be successful if all members respect the principle of rotation and take on a relatively equal share of the burden.

The government's motion calls for a battle group of 1,000 NATO troops to rotate into Kandahar by February 2009. We call on the government to ensure that this is a true rotation, one where Canada is able to shed some of its current responsibilities so it can engage in new ones.

Obviously, the government's wording in this section is different from what we called for in our motion, and we have two very specific questions that will need answers over the course of this debate.

First, why 1,000 troops? We have all read the report of the Prime Minister's Afghanistan plan, and we know that it recommends 1,000 troops, but we on this side of the House have never understood where this number comes from. Is there a justification for this number, or is it simply a number chosen because that is all that we think we can get?

The Liberal motion called for sufficient troops. We need to understand why the government thinks 1,000 is sufficient. Even one of Canada's own senior military commanders in the region has suggested that at least 5,000 troops are needed.

The second question about the rotation process is, how long is the government prepared to wait before it determines whether or not this condition has been met? The government needs to be clear on this point.

We cannot wait until January 31, 2009 to say whether or not NATO has come through with the requisite troops. The government needs to set a date and say that if these troops are not committed by this date, Canada will not commit to a military presence in Kandahar beyond February 2009.

Let me speak about additional equipment. We obviously agree with the current motion's insistence on new helicopters and UAVs. The government must be forthright with the Canadian people and explain exactly how much this will cost.

In addition, the government must explain how it intends to have this equipment available before February 2009 as it called for in the motion. Again, we cannot wait until the last possible minute to confirm that we have this necessary equipment.

The mission must be about more than the military. We must all understand that there is no exclusive military solution to the conflict in Afghanistan. I am reminded of what President Karzai said when he addressed Parliament in September 2006:

We will not succeed in eliminating terrorism unless we seek and fight the source of terrorism wherever it might be and dry its roots. Our strategy of fighting terrorism in Afghanistan has so far been mainly focused on addressing the symptoms of terrorism, that is, on killing terrorists who come from across our borders.

This strategy is bound to fail unless we move beyond the military operations in Afghanistan and to address terrorism's political ideological and financial basis.

That is why our motion placed a greater emphasis on stronger and more disciplined diplomatic efforts and a better balance with respect to reconstruction and development efforts, issues that the government's original motion virtually ignored.

I am very pleased to see that almost all of the Liberal proposals on this matter have been accepted in the government's motion.

Like the Liberal motion, upon which it is based, the new motion states:

--that Canada's contribution to the reconstruction and development of Afghanistan should:

(a) be revamped and increased to strike a better balance between our military efforts and our development efforts in Afghanistan;

(b) focus on our traditional strengths as a nation, particularly through the development of sound judicial and correctional systems and strong political institutions on the ground in Afghanistan and the pursuit of a greater role for Canada in addressing the chronic fresh water shortages in the country;

(c) address the crippling issue of the narco-economy that consistently undermines progress in Afghanistan, through the pursuit of solutions that do not further alienate the goodwill of the local population;

(d) be held to a greater level of accountability and scrutiny so that the Canadian people can be sure that our development contributions are being spent effectively in Afghanistan;--

The amendments also call for a stronger, more disciplined diplomatic position on Afghanistan and the other players in the region.

The government did not consider our idea of appointing a Canadian special envoy whose dual role would be to ensure greater coherence in Canadian diplomatic initiatives in the region and press for greater coordination amongst our partners in the UN in the pursuit of common diplomatic goals in the region.

Instead, the government said it would be generally in favour of appointing a special envoy. We assume that the government is referring to the much-debated plan to appoint a UN special envoy to the region. We have nothing against this, but we would like to know why the government rejected the idea of a Canadian special envoy to the region.

Regardless of the final decision on Afghanistan, one thing is certain: the government must be much more transparent and honest about the situation and progress in the field. Canadians have the right to know this vital information. To be successful, the mission must be based on the principle of democracy, and transparency and accountability are crucial to any democratic action.

The motion we introduced called on the government to be more transparent and to report better on the conduct and status of the mission. It contained specific proposals to that end.

More specifically, the Liberal amendment recommended that quarterly reports on the mission's progress be tabled in Parliament and suggested that the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of International Cooperation and the Minister of National Defence be asked to meet regularly with a special parliamentary committee on Afghanistan. The Liberal government adopted a similar approach in the context of the NATO mission in Kosovo and I think most parliamentarians found this to be a very positive move.

We are thrilled to see that the government included these ideas in the motion, along with our proposal that challenges the abusive practice of claiming national security reasons to deprive Canadians of legitimate information.

Lastly, the motion we presented addressed the issue of transferring Afghan detainees.

The opposition parties are quite right to be concerned about this serious matter because, in our opinion, this is a fundamental issue of human rights and dignity, the very values for which Canada is fighting in Afghanistan.

In our motion, we asked that the current suspension of the transfer of Afghan detainees be maintained. In order to solve the problem, we called on the government to pursue a NATO-wide solution instead of trying to fight on its own. Moreover—and perhaps most importantly—we asked for greater openness and transparency in general on this matter.

The government articulated the last two points in wording very similar to ours, but it changed our wording on the first point. Unlike our proposal, it does not mention maintaining the suspension of the transfer of detainees. The government prefers to say that it will allow the transfer of detainees only when it is believed that such transfers will be done in accordance with Canada's international obligations.

For us, that means maintaining the suspension of transfers. At this time, there is too much evidence that Canada cannot transfer detainees without neglecting its international obligation to defend and promote human rights.

The government now has an opportunity to demonstrate that it is committed to transparency on this matter from now on. All it has to do is confirm today in the House that the suspension of transfers is being maintained and that the government will notify the House immediately of any changes to this policy.

To conclude, I applaud the government on the reasonable steps it has taken to find the common ground between our two positions. We are pleased to see that the government has accepted the fundamental principles the Liberal Party has been guided by: a change of the mission; an end to the mission; a greater commitment to development and diplomacy; and greater transparency and accountability by the government.

Today I have laid out the principles behind the motion. As we move forward, we call on the government to adhere to the new standards of transparency and accountability laid out in the motion to demonstrate that the government has respected these principles.

We will be listening attentively over the course of the debate to how the government responds to the questions that I have raised over the course of this speech. If the government provides us with reasonable responses to our questions and indicates that it is committed to the letter and spirit of the motion, then the official opposition will support the motion.

The Liberal Party has been at the forefront of this debate for the past year. We have been the party that has been putting forward detailed proposals about the future of the mission, first in my speech last February, then in our opposition day motion in the House last April, then in our submission to the independent panel last December, and most recently in our proposed motion earlier this month.

We have been engaged in a constructive dialogue with Canadians on this issue. This has led us to a position that we believe is supported by a majority of Canadians. We welcome the shift that the government has made to join us in this position, and we welcome all of the parties to this national debate of which we have been part for over a year.

The Liberal Party believes that the successful future for Afghanistan is in our national best interest. We believe that our efforts there have reflected the values and principles in which Canadians believe: freedom, democracy, equality, security, and the respect of fundamental human rights. The Liberal Party believes that these values are worth pursuing. We believe that our efforts in Afghanistan, supported with a clear UN mandate, can be successful.

Canadian efforts to date have come at a great cost. As a nation, we have mourned every casualty that we have suffered. We must honour those sacrifices by ensuring that we are defining the right mission going forward. Let us all pledge to be guided over the course of this debate to do what is best for Canada and what is best for Afghanistan. Let us always keep in mind the efforts and sacrifices of the men and women in the Canadian Forces, our diplomatic and development officers, and all Canadians who have been active in Afghanistan.

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1:35 p.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened closely to the speech of the Leader of the Opposition and I heard him lament the fact that we have lost a year. Perhaps he could explain to me why then, in 2007, he wanted the mission in Afghanistan to end in February 2009. I clearly heard the Leader of the Opposition say that throughout 2007. I also clearly heard his national defence critic, the hon. member for Bourassa, standing on the barricades, waving the banner, “End of mission: 2009”. That is the issue before us today. We are not talking about embellishing the mission; we are talking about ending it.

I also heard the Leader of the Opposition tell us that the soldiers could continue the military operations of chasing, persecuting and killing the Taliban and that the generals will call the shots, not Parliament. It seems to me that the Leader of the Opposition is completely contradicting everything he maintained throughout 2007.

I would like the Leader of the Opposition to explain this flip flop.

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1:35 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, that is not at all the case. The Liberal Party, the Liberal position, demanded that the counter-insurgency mission end in February 2009, but never said that the mission had to end in February 2009. We still have responsibilities. There is a provincial reconstruction team under Canadian protection. That will not end in February 2009.

We want the mission to change and to focus much more on security, development and training Afghan troops. We believe that there should be a firm end date of February 2011 and that the government should provide clear objectives on what can be accomplished by February 2011. Therefore, we are being consistent.

The problem is that the government did not approach NATO in 2007 to ensure that troops would be rotated and enable us to concentrate on training, reconstruction and security. It is very late in doing so. The Prime Minister is on the phone trying to obtain these troops at all costs and at the very last minute. The government is responsible for this delay, not the official opposition. The NDP is also responsible for the delay because it did not agree to vote in favour of the resolution in this House.

That is the situation we find ourselves in. We are not here just to criticize, but also to put forward proposals. We proposed a motion that the government accepted for the most part and, on this basis, we will have a debate that I hope will be as fruitful as possible for Canada, Afghanistan and NATO.

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1:40 p.m.

NDP

Dawn Black NDP New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to the Leader of the Opposition as he gave his comments. I also heard the question from my Bloc Québécois colleague.

I would simply take issue with the Leader of the Opposition saying that the government has not asked for help in southern Afghanistan. I think the government has pleaded over and over again for assistance in southern Afghanistan. It is simply that other NATO countries are not willing and do not have the support of their people to go to the south.

I congratulate the leader of the Liberal Party on his flexibility today in turning this motion around. I want to ask him two specific questions.

My first question is, does this motion prevent a future government from adopting a new motion supporting a further extension past 2011?

My second question is, does this motion preclude combat concurrent with the position that the Leader of the Opposition was advocating only a couple of short weeks ago? I have a quote by the Leader of the Opposition who said, “the combat mission in Kandahar must end by February 2009”.

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1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, to answer the hon. member's first question, she knows very well that Parliament is free to debate what Parliament wants. A government in the future may request new military missions for Canada anywhere in the world.

We have a motion before us which says that Canada's military presence in Kandahar will end in July 2011, and it is on this basis that the issue will be debated.

We only say that once it is accepted by Parliament, assuming that is the case, NATO and the government of Afghanistan should be notified right away. This would allow them to prepare for the rotation.

The motion that is facing us clearly says that the new mission will be about construction, security, development and training. This is clearly what we must focus on.

We will not tell our military how to implement the mission, but it is our role as representatives of the Canadian people to define the mission. This is the definition that we have advocated for over the last year. It is the one that we support.

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1:40 p.m.

Bloc

Vivian Barbot Bloc Papineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the Leader of the Opposition what he means by rotation. He is basing his argument on the fact that there is a major change in the mission. However, earlier, we heard the Minister of National Defence give us a rather convoluted definition of what he means by rotation, which seems more like a strengthening of the mission.

Will the Leader of the Opposition talk about this so that we know exactly what it means? It seems to be a pivotal aspect of his argument.

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1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her question.

It is very important to understand that in order for Canadian troops to concentrate on the three objectives cited in the motion, other troops must be sent to Afghanistan to look after the other aspects of the mission.

The rotation will allow Canada to concentrate on the tasks of security, development and training Afghan forces. Clear objectives, or benchmarks, must be established. That would be the role of Canadian troops. Therefore, the other troops must be responsible for other aspects of the mission, particularly counter-insurgency operations. That is what is required, that is what the motion sets out and that is what we must debate. Without these other troops, we will obviously not be able to change the mission.

The government is saying that 1,000 troops should be enough. We wonder why 1,000 and how that figure was chosen, given that other military personnel say that 5,000 troops are needed.

Those are some of the terms for our debate here in this House.

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1:45 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I listened with intent to the hon. opposition leader's speech and I thank him for the fact that regardless of what side of view we take on the Afghan mission, every member of the House and all Canadians support their troops and their families.

The Auditor General came out with her report the other day and the surgeon general of DND said that over 27% of regular forces coming back have a mental or physical injury. One was not done for the reserve forces, so the thinking is that one-third, one out of every three troops coming back from Afghanistan, are suffering from mental or physical problems. The reality is that the previous government failed to recognize this and put programs in place to help them and their families and the current government is being woefully inadequate on it as well.

We have heard the stories of the children of Petawawa who were not getting help and it took the media and an ombudsman report to get it done. We hear the stories today in The Hill Times of the many veterans who are suffering PTSD concerns and trying to get help from the government and from the previous government. We all support the troops but that support when they come home seems to drop off dramatically.

What programs would the hon. member and the Liberal Party like the Conservative Party to put in place to ensure that when these troops come back the only questions they will be asked is whether they served and how can we help them? That is what Parliament should be doing for those brave men and women when they come home from Afghanistan or anywhere else in the world.

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1:45 p.m.

Liberal

Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Mr. Speaker, that is a very valid point. The government should enhance the new veterans charter programs that the previous Liberal government enacted.

It is very true that we are demanding a lot from our troops. If I am not wrong, the new contingent will be shaped by something like 25% of reservists. This is a big concern for the official opposition and, I understand, for the hon. member, which is why we are saying to the government that we cannot continue beyond February 2009 unless the mission changes and unless we receive the rotation process from NATO. We have asked the government why 1,000 troops when so many experts have said that we need many more than that.

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1:45 p.m.

Bloc

Vivian Barbot Bloc Papineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, on February 15, the minority Conservative government put forward a motion that included the Liberal Party's amendments. Despite the fact that the Prime Minister has made it a matter of confidence, the motion does not change the Bloc Québécois' position. We have said it before, and we will say it again: we are ready for an election on this issue.

This Conservative motion would extend the Canadian mission in Kandahar to December 2011. Canada has been in Kandahar since 2006. We think that by the time the mission's current deadline arrives in February 2009, Canada will have done its part. The Liberals and the Conservatives share the same basic position on this issue. Both parties want Canada to stay in Kandahar until 2011.

Considering that most Quebeckers want Canada to end its mission in February 2009, it is clear that only the Bloc Québécois represents Quebeckers' will and their values. The Liberal and Conservative parties are completely out of touch with Quebec's reality. The position these parties share is convoluted and rife with contradiction. Just a few weeks ago, the Liberals were fighting tooth and nail to ensure that Canada would withdraw from combat zones at the end of the current mission in February 2009, but now they are ready to extend the mission until 2011. They simply changed their minds. How inconsistent!

The government House leader claims that he wants an open and transparent debate, but we have reason to doubt that. Since coming to power, the Conservatives have maintained a culture of secrecy. Moreover, despite their claim that this motion is not a partisan matter, they have turned it into a confidence vote. The government has turned the Afghanistan issue into an ideological debate with only two possible options: one can be either for or against the stated position.

As far as the substance of the motion is concerned, we think Canada must focus more on reconstruction and military training. That has always been the position of the Bloc Québécois, who would like to see this process begin immediately and continue until the end of the mission in February 2009.

We should add that the government has still not set a date to vote on this motion. We are calling for a clear commitment to have this vote before the NATO summit in Bucharest, which is to begin on April 2, 2008.

Let us remember that this is not the first time Parliament is debating the mission in Afghanistan and its February 2009 deadline.

Let us recap. The war in Afghanistan was authorized by the UN from the outset after the tragic events of September 11, 2001. At first, it was an operation— Operation Enduring Freedom—whereby the United States exercised its right to legitimate defence after receiving proper permission from the UN. The purpose of the operation was to push the Northern Alliance, which was fighting the Taliban regime, toward the capital. The goal was to weaken the Taliban, who had been recognized by the UN as a threat to international peace and security.

Defeating the Taliban regime was relatively easy; achieving peace and rebuilding a viable Afghan state is a far more demanding task. The fundamental objective of the international coalition and the United Nations is to reconstruct the economy, the democracy and a viable Afghan state enabling Afghans to take control of their country and their development.

Canada has been on mission in the Kandahar region since October 2005. In February 2006, it assumed command from the United States of the regional command south in Kandahar. Canada was responsible for the Enduring Freedom operations conducted by the coalition in southern Afghanistan until November 2006. At that time, Canada also committed to keeping most of its troops there until February 2007.

In May 2006, the Conservative government asked the House to support extending the Afghan mission by another two years, effective 2007.

The House agreed to this extension. At that point, the mission was to end in February 2009. In July 2006, NATO officially took over command in southern Afghanistan. The Canadian Forces left Operation Enduring Freedom to join the International Security Assistance Force. The situation in southern Afghanistan proved to be much tougher than originally thought. NATO troops, and particularly Canadian troops, have faced organized and ferocious resistance from the Taliban. It was at that point that the number of deaths of Quebeckers and Canadians started rising at an alarming rate, going from eight deaths between 2001 and 2005, to 70 deaths between 2006 and 2008. For a country of about 30 million people, we can consider that we have done our part.

In fact, Canada has deployed the fourth-largest number of troops in Afghanistan, and has suffered the third-highest number of deaths. Canada has paid a high human price to maintain security in Kandahar. The country has not lost so many lives since the Korean War. Add to that the financial cost of the mission. According to figures published in the report on National Defence's plans and priorities, the cost of Canadian operations in Afghanistan was over $7.7 billion for the period from 2001 to 2008.

If it ended the combat mission in February 2009, Canada would have some financial flexibility to invest in development assistance in Afghanistan. Furthermore, if we consider that NATO's mission in Kandahar is an international mission and that 38 countries currently have a military presence in Afghanistan, we can say without shame that Canada has carried out an important and dangerous mission in Afghanistan for over three years, and that the time has come for others to take over in that region.

Even though we want Canada to withdraw from Kandahar at the end of its mission, we do not think that the entire NATO mission should end. That is why we have always advocated handing the reins over to other NATO countries to replace the Canadian contingent in Kandahar. The federal government should notify NATO member countries now that our mission will end in February 2009. Complete withdrawal from Afghanistan, as recommended by the NDP, would be irresponsible toward the Afghan people, their government and our allies, who are counting on our participation until 2009. We need to create a new balance by then. That is why for some time now, the Bloc Québécois has supported focusing on increasing development and diplomacy in Afghanistan. To avoid losing the support of the Afghan people, Canada must make development assistance a priority right away. This is urgent.

In the wake of over 20 years of war, devastation reigns in Afghanistan. There is next to no civil infrastructure or economic growth. Everything needs to be reconstructed. It is therefore not surprising that Afghanistan is considered one of the poorest countries in the world. Let us not forget that this is what brought the international community and the Afghan government together for the London Conference on Afghanistan in 2006, where participants adopted the Afghanistan compact. Participants also set a number of goals and a five-year timeline to bring about improvements in three crucial areas—one: security; two: governance, rule of law and human rights; and three: social and economic development in Afghanistan.

To achieve the London goals, we need the support of the Afghan people as we work to ensure their security and, most importantly, improve their daily living conditions.

Concerted action by the international community is required for successful development in Afghanistan. To convince our allies to do more, Canada must lead by example and increase aid immediately. Funding must be increased in order to provide humanitarian aid in the short term and commit to the construction of roads, wells, basic infrastructures, and so on.

Furthermore, it is well known that, generally speaking, international aid and reconstruction efforts are poorly coordinated. The secretary general of NATO stated: “We need a better international coordination structure for Afghanistan. We must provide the security and do the reconstruction but we must also do the politics.” His comments echo those of the UN secretary general.

Without stronger leadership from the Afghan government, greater donor coherence, and in particular, better cooperation among military and civil organizations from the international community in Afghanistan, as well as a strong commitment from neighbouring countries, many of the gains made since the Bonn Conference in terms of security, reinforced institutions and development could be lost or reversed.

In January 2007, inspired by what was done in Bosnia and Kosovo, the Bloc Québécois proposed the appointment of a senior UN official with real, considerable power to better coordinate all international aid in cooperation with the Afghan government. This senior representative would also act as the link between NATO and the reconstruction teams in order to direct aid to where it is needed most. We were pleased to hear the Minister of Foreign Affairs say he was in favour of such an appointment in his speech to the UN General Assembly on October 2, 2007—

AfghanistanGovernment Orders

2 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. member, but it is now time for statements by members. The hon. member will have eight minutes left when debate resumes.

Simonds Elementary SchoolStatements By Members

2 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Warawa Conservative Langley, BC

Mr. Speaker, in my riding of Langley, students at Simonds Elementary School composed some lyrics and music to celebrate our beautiful community. I would like to share one of the songs about Langley, written by Ms. Rogers' and Ms. Lewis' grades 1 and 2 classes.

The Salmon, Nicomekl, and the Fraser River
Flow through our community
We have parks and we have playgrounds
Where you can come and play with me.
We've got bike trails; we've got hike trails,
We can ride our horses to.
If you come and live in Langley
We'll share all these things with you

These bright young students capture the welcoming spirit of Langley. I would like to congratulate Simonds Elementary School and all its students for their fine display of talent. I also invite everyone to visit beautiful Langley this year and help us celebrate the 150th birthday of British Columbia.

CurlingStatements By Members

2 p.m.

Liberal

Raymond Simard Liberal Saint Boniface, MB

Mr. Speaker, Manitoba's curling supremacy is once more bolstered by yesterday's results at the Scottie's Tournament of Hearts held in Regina.

The Jennifer Jones foursome, which hails from the St. Vital Curling Club in my riding of Saint Boniface, demonstrated why they are the best female curlers in the world.

Joining Ms. Jones on the podium are third Cathy Overton-Clapham, second Jill Officer and lead Dawn Askin. They played brilliantly and emerged victoriously from a classic on-ice battle of wits to win their second Canadian curling championship.

Jennifer and her teammates will take advantage of that strong momentum when they compete in the world championship in Vernon, British Columbia, next month.

With yesterday's triumph comes not only an automatic return to the 2009 Scottie's as team Canada, but it also guarantees the foursome a much coveted berth in the Canadian Olympic trials to take place in October 2009.

I would ask all my colleagues in the House to congratulate Ms. Jones and her teammates on this extraordinary accomplishment and join me in wishing them the best of luck representing Canada in next month's world championships in Vernon, B.C.

Old Age Security ActStatements By Members

2 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Carrier Bloc Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, on December 5, I had the honour to introduce Bill C-490, An Act to amend the Old Age Security Act. This bill provides for full retroactive payment of amounts owed to thousands of seniors, a $110 increase in the monthly guaranteed income supplement and payment of a deceased person's benefits to that person's spouse or common-law partner for six months. It also provides for automatic registration of people who are eligible for the guaranteed income supplement.

People who are or should be receiving the guaranteed income supplement are among the most vulnerable in our society. These people are living below the poverty line and quite often do not have the means to defend their rights.

I ask my colleagues in all parties to support this initiative in order to improve the lives of our seniors.

Radio-CanadaStatements By Members

2 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, Radio-Canada plays a vital role in the cultural life of francophones in northern Ontario, but it has forgotten that it is required to support local voices. Its new plan will cut service in the Timmins area. This reorganization means that only one journalist will be available to cover our large area.

We have many communities without private French-language radio stations or newspapers. Radio-Canada is the only voice they have. Service in this area must continue and expand. The people of Cochrane, Kapuskasing and Timmins have the right to listen to broadcasts on Radio-Canada. They hear a great deal about Montreal and Toronto.

I am opposed to this plan. Northern francophones deserve better service. Radio-Canada should remember that northern Ontario is part of francophone Canada.

Fruit FarmersStatements By Members

2 p.m.

Conservative

Dean Allison Conservative Niagara West—Glanbrook, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise to highlight our government's record supporting grape growers and the tender fruit farmers in my riding of Niagara West—Glanbrook and across this country.

Since 2006, our government has delivered millions of dollars in relief from excise tax for grape and wine producers.

Last year, our government provided $45 million in new funding for fruit farmers to help them eradicate the deadly plum pox virus from their orchards.

Grape and tree fruit farmers also benefit from our $15 million federal investment in research happening at our revitalized Vineland Research Centre.

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to announce, on behalf of the Minister of Agriculture, $23 million to help farmers transition to new fruit varieties so they can remain competitive in the global market.

I campaigned on federal support for our local grape and tender fruit producers during the last election and I am proud to stand by our government's record on delivering results for my riding and for this country.

Ontario Senior Achievement AwardStatements By Members

February 25th, 2008 / 2:05 p.m.

Liberal

Lloyd St. Amand Liberal Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise to pay tribute to Dr. Henry Hedges, recipient of an Ontario Senior Achievement Award which recognizes seniors who have made significant contributions to their communities through voluntary or professional activities.

By any gauge, Dr. Hedges has contributed very significantly to his community. He is an accomplished author, professor, horticulturalist, environmentalist and an advocate for people with special needs.

Well before the terms became fashionable and used rather indiscriminately, Dr. Hedges was and continues to be visionary, innovative and progressive. He is a person of very considerable accomplishments but is a man of modesty, humility and obvious dignity.

How appropriate it is that this very fine man be awarded the province's highest recognition for seniors. There is truly nobody more deserving than Hank Hedges.

Marianne van Silfhout GalleryStatements By Members

2:05 p.m.

Conservative

Gord Brown Conservative Leeds—Grenville, ON

Mr. Speaker, last week I announced, on behalf of the hon. Minister of Canadian Heritage and the Government of Canada, a $100,000 contribution in support of the St. Lawrence College Brockville campus in my riding of Leeds--Grenville for the new Marianne van Silfhout Gallery.

I want to thank the college and its president, Chris Whitaker, for the excellent work in developing this gallery. I also want to congratulate the City of Brockville on its first public art gallery.

By allowing emerging, developing and professional visual artists to share their works with the public, the gallery will play an important role in the community.

For more than 35 years, the Brockville campus has offered part time fine arts programs and, just last year, the college launched its first full time fine arts program.

The gallery offers a place for the work of the region's professional artists, emerging talents and students, as well as travelling exhibitions.

A great number of people donated their time and energy to ensure the success of this wonderful initiative. I would like to thank them all for this fine addition to the community.

United Nations Literacy DecadeStatements By Members

2:05 p.m.

Bloc

Christian Ouellet Bloc Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, throughout the world we are celebrating the United Nations Literacy Decade. In Quebec, one million people between 16 and 65, or one in five adults, has very low literacy skills.

In 2006, the Conservative government made $5 million in cuts to literacy program funding in Quebec. Last month, the Conservatives stuck to the cuts.

Agencies committed to promoting and recruiting illiterate people are currently on life support. Ad hoc agreements do not allow for long term strategy development.

The Conservatives are insensitive to the demands of the Fondation québécoise pour l'alphabétisation. It is high time they adopted a long term vision if we are to celebrate the United Nations Literacy Decade.

HeroismStatements By Members

2:05 p.m.

Conservative

Joy Smith Conservative Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Speaker, on February 5, a terrible tragedy was averted in my riding of Kildonan--St. Paul due to the heroic actions of an off duty Winnipeg firefighter.

One of my constituents, 23-year-old Lisa Klassen, was driving to work when her vehicle swerved onto a buildup of ice on a highway bridge and plunged over the railing to the Red River 15 metres below.

Having witnessed this accident, Mr. Dale Kasper, who is also a constituent and a volunteer with the East St. Paul Fire Department, quickly scrambled down the riverbank and onto the ice, risking his own life as he entered the frigid water to help Ms. Klassen. After pulling her from the submerged vehicle, he performed CPR until rescue authorities arrived.

I would like to take this opportunity to commend Mr. Kasper for the brave and heroic actions he took on February 5 to rescue Lisa Klassen. By risking his well-being for the life of another, I believe he truly represents the essence of courage that Canadians have become known for.

DarfurStatements By Members

2:10 p.m.

Liberal

Susan Kadis Liberal Thornhill, ON

Mr. Speaker, last week I was honoured to participate in a STAND event, Students Taking Action Now! Darfur, at Westmount Collegiate Institute in my riding of Thornhill where students and teachers came together to help support the people of Darfur.

The students raised money by sponsoring their favourite teacher in a dance contest and used this opportunity to raise awareness of the crisis and to help support the men, women and children affected by the genocide in Darfur.

I would like to commend, first and foremost, Kayla Simms, Adam Schwartz, the members of STAND and the teaching staff at Westmount Collegiate for organizing this important, successful event.

I have received many letters from Westmount Collegiate students who are concerned about the atrocities taking place in Darfur, urging the Government of Canada to take needed action, more action.

It is very heartening to see Thornhill youth actively reaching out, determined to help those in dire need. I hope this inspirational work will help motivate all of us to do more for the people of Darfur.

Tackling Violent Crime ActStatements By Members

2:10 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, the tackling violent crime act has been in the Senate for 89 days and it has still not passed. The time for filibustering, stall tactics and delay by the Liberal dominated Senate must end and end now. Shame on the Liberals.

The message is clear. It is time to pass the tackling violent crime act and to pass it now. Those who are victims of crime want it passed. Why not the Liberals? Those who want to see the age of sexual consent raised from 14 years to 16 years want it passed. Why not the Liberals? Those who want to protect their children from sexual exploitation by dangerous offenders want it passed. Indeed, Canadians want it passed, yet the Liberals walked out of the House and abandoned not only the House, but parents, young children, those abused by dangerous offenders and all Canadians.

It is not a time for sitting on one's hands or walking out on Canadians. It is time for the leader of the official opposition to show some fortitude. Enough of the stall tactics. It is time to instruct the Senate to pass Bill C-2 and to pass it now.