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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

AfghanistanGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Edmonton Centre Alberta

Conservative

Laurie Hawn ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to my colleague's speech and some of her answers. She talked about the values of Quebec and the values of Quebeckers. I believe that Quebeckers, like all Canadians, share the same values about human rights, women's rights and children's rights. Could she confirm that for me?

Does she not think that Quebeckers might be a little concerned if we left early, before the job was done, before those rights were firmly established, before the Afghan forces and the Afghan government were able to maintain those rights for women and children in Afghanistan? Would she not agree that that is what they deserve, much as the people in Quebec deserve them, much as everybody deserves them?

AfghanistanGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Bloc

Vivian Barbot Bloc Papineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, when talking about the values of Quebeckers we are not making any assumptions about the values of others or whether they are shared. We are not comparing the values of Quebeckers to those of others. We know that, in general, 70% of Canadians are in favour of withdrawing troops from Afghanistan. That does not change the issue.

It is important to understand that we, as Quebeckers or Canadians, must withdraw from the Afghanistan war zones where we have been fighting for three years. For most of this conflict, we have been front and centre in the most dangerous area—it bears repeating—whereas other countries have been coming in and doing what they are good at.

Historically, we have been recognized for our achievements in human rights and for our values of reconciliation and diplomacy. We should now be able to play this role fully and let others fight in the most dangerous areas. I will repeat, we have done that, we have fulfilled our obligation. We have been in Kandahar for three years and I believe that our soldiers should be elsewhere.

AfghanistanGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Durham Ontario

Conservative

Bev Oda ConservativeMinister of International Cooperation

Mr. Speaker, what effective work does the hon. member believe we could do in the area of human rights if we were not to be there? If the international community were not to be in Afghanistan, there would be a great backlash from the Taliban regarding any activity, any meetings, any conversations, any kind of promotion of human rights in Afghanistan. How does she think that human rights will be promoted in Afghanistan without the protection of Canada in the southern province?

AfghanistanGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Bloc

Vivian Barbot Bloc Papineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, the minister would have me believe that Canada is the only country concerned about human rights. Indeed, we must continue to defend and promote human rights. However, we do not want to be in the war zone. It is as simple as that. It is not a matter of jeopardizing the mission, but Canada has done its share and has played this role during most of the conflict.

Would it be possible to direct us more toward human rights, toward reconstruction, development and diplomacy? The mission has several chapters. From what we have heard, the war has received much more attention than the other chapters justifying Canada's presence.

For now we are asking for a rotation and for attention to other issues that have been sorely neglected since we first arrived in Afghanistan.

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3:40 p.m.

Conservative

Bev Oda Conservative Durham, ON

Mr. Speaker, as members know, Canada participates in humanitarian development work all around the world. We are doing that work in other conflict areas. We have situations where the conflict is so extreme that we have to depend on international partners to get basic human needs met there. I wonder if the member is suggesting that Canada only go to those countries where there is no threat or possibility of conflict.

Does she believe that Canada should only be present in Sudan as humanitarians, but should we then be participating in other countries?

As we have been told, many areas of the world need Canada's help and we are going to have to try to meet those needs in the best way possible.

Does she believe that we should only go to countries where it is safe and there is no danger? That is not necessarily where the greatest need is.

AfghanistanGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Bloc

Vivian Barbot Bloc Papineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, that question is a crude attempt at evading the issue.

The minister mentioned Sudan. Are we currently there? No, because all our resources are in Afghanistan making war. That is what I am talking about. We are not doing what we do best.

I will say again, we have engaged in war and we are still engaging in war in Afghanistan.

Let us not evade the issue by talking about every possible conflict imaginable to suggest that what I am saying is that Canada should only provide humanitarian aid. That is not what I am saying at all.

I am saying that in Afghanistan, we have focused enough on war. Now we should be working on other aspects of the mission that we have neglected so far.

AfghanistanGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Jack Layton NDP Toronto—Danforth, ON

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

I rise today to speak on behalf of the millions of Canadians who are opposed to three more years of combat for our brave armed forces, three more years of war, three more years of counter-insurgency that many recognize will not bring stability or security to that region.

Right here in Canada, some people think that debating our participation in this war is a sign of weakness. Nothing could be further from the truth.

We cannot encourage debate in Parliament and allow people freedom of expression only when they share our position. On the contrary, debating and listening to the opinions of others is what it means to live in a democratic society, the kind of society that we want for the people of Afghanistan and others around the world.

Holding such a debate does not mean we are weak; it means we are strong.

We owe it to the men and women in uniform serving in Afghanistan to take a long and hard look at this mission and decide whether it is working and whether it is the right thing to do.

There are two paths that Canada can follow in Afghanistan: the old path toward further war and the new path toward peace. This motion by the old parties would take us further down that well-worn path toward war. The Conservative-Liberal recommendation would see Canada help to carry forward George Bush's foreign policy long after he is gone. It is the wrong path.

Last year when the Liberals proposed to extend the mission until February 2009, New Democrats said that two more years of this war was two years too long. Now the Liberals and Conservatives are working together and they want to extend the mission until 2011, another three long years.

Canadian troops have been in Afghanistan now for six years, yet NATO is no closer to a military victory today than it was when it started.

The humanitarian situation in Afghanistan has not improved. On the contrary, it is deteriorating. There is even less security. The average Afghan citizen continues to live in extreme poverty. Violence against women is reaching epidemic proportions. In a recent report, 87% of the women interviewed said they had been abused. Corruption, crime and opium production are all on the rise.

We are far from having achieved our objectives. We are far from protecting the rights that we claim to defend. Furthermore, our soldiers who have courageously served in Afghanistan are not receiving the support they need to treat their injuries and post-traumatic stress when they return to Canada.

It is clear that the path the Liberals and Conservatives have chosen, the path to war, is the wrong one. It is time to embrace the right one. It is time to build the path toward peace. The path to peace requires a political, not a military, approach. To carry out this vision, the key international body to be involved must be the United Nations, not NATO.

Unlike NATO, the UN's explicit mandate is to preserve and promote international peace and security. UN agencies, such as the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, UNICEF, the United Nations Development Programme and the Peacebuilding Commission, tasked with carrying out this mandate have a vital role to play in meeting the challenges of Afghanistan.

I believe that Canada should be leading the way on that path to peace. I believe we should be using the considerable skills and expertise of Canadians to bring the various actors in Afghanistan to the table. We should be working to put in place an effective disarmament program. We should be supporting women's rights groups, human rights organizations and emerging civil society groups that can help rebuild that country, which is exhausted from three decades of war. We should bring the various regional actors to the table because regional cooperation is essential to any successful peace strategy in Afghanistan.

We cannot trust the Conservatives and the Liberals to get off the path to war even in 2011. In May 2006 the Prime Minister said that if Parliament did not vote to extend the mission for two years and beyond, his government would “proceed with another year and if we need further efforts or a further mandate to go ahead, we will go so alone”. We cannot have confidence that the Prime Minister will bring home our troops in 2011, despite the wording of this motion.

In a debate last April the Leader of the Opposition said, “Canadians expect our mission in Kandahar to end in February 2009”. His party even moved a motion to make that the end date. But now the Liberals are teaming up with the Conservatives to extend the mission for another three years. They cannot be trusted to stick to the deadlines that they set, or their pledge to end counter-insurgency for that matter. In a press conference two weeks ago, the Leader of the Opposition said, and I am quoting, “military leaders should be left to make the decisions about what is combat and when it can happen”.

Despite what the Conservatives and Liberals say, this motion does nothing to end the counter-insurgency. Make no mistake about it, this is a motion to continue a war.

The experience of the last six years of engagement of NATO troops in Afghanistan has shown that a military approach will not lead to victory. Afghanistan could be a proud foreign policy achievement, but to make it so, we have to show leadership by choosing a path to peace and by using Canadian capacities internationally to urge other world leaders to join us in this new approach at the United Nations.

Afghanistan could become a lasting legacy of Canada's commitment to peace and reconstruction rather than a war with ever-changing timelines and no end in sight.

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3:50 p.m.

Central Nova Nova Scotia

Conservative

Peter MacKay ConservativeMinister of National Defence and Minister of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest and intent to the comments of the leader of the New Democratic Party. It would appear obvious to me and to others listening that he would advocate a position that promotes women's rights, protection, development and all of the good things that are currently happening in Afghanistan, but that this continue without the security perimeter that allows for the very work he espouses and allows for the expansion into areas of Afghanistan where people's lives are still at risk from attack from the Taliban should they come back.

What I am most troubled with this contradictory position is, does the leader of the NDP ever believe that the military have a role to protect and expand the type of development to which he and his party seem to cling so fervently? Does he ever believe that the military thus are enablers to allow for this to happen?

I would point to one historically significant fact and it is one that resonates far and wide, particularly here in Canada. It is the mission in Rwanda, where we know that half a million, and some estimates go as high as a million, people died because a UN commander at the time, General Dallaire, was prevented from doing what he felt was appropriate.

In reading the general's book and hearing him speak so passionately about this issue, he was in a position where it is almost on all fours with what the leader of the New Democratic Party is espousing, and that is having the military present but restricted from doing the very work which enables the type of development that he so passionately believes in. There is a disconnect of significant proportions in what the NDP leader has said and what he would actually hope to achieve in his position.

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3:55 p.m.

NDP

Jack Layton NDP Toronto—Danforth, ON

Mr. Speaker, far from there being a disconnect, what we are bringing to the House is the following proposition: that after six years of counter-insurgency warfare, which is the approach that has been taken by this government and by the previous government in Afghanistan and by NATO, we are facing conditions that are worsening on virtually every front and by virtually every measure.

That is not this particular member speaking. That actually emerges from any review of the facts, including the Manley report which came to exactly the same conclusions with regard to the facts.

Of course, there are circumstances where military intervention would be required, but we are saying here is that after six years and with the clear evidence before us that this approach is not working, it is time to set out on a course toward the achievement of peace and to use the institution built by the global community for exactly that purpose.

The NATO mandate is to be a regional defensive organization led by the generals of NATO, so the concept of peace-building, political solutions, negotiations, the fostering of aid and reconstruction, all of those complex tasks that have to be coordinated together, is not something that NATO has a mandate or a capability to do.

This is why we built the UN. Instead of having our Prime Minister on bended knee trying to convince NATO countries to contribute additional troops to the effort which is not working, he should be calling on global leaders to take a leadership role at the United Nations with Canada to set forth a plan that would engage the UN in all of its capacities toward the resolution of the crisis in Afghanistan because the current approach is simply not working by any measure.

AfghanistanGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Dawn Black NDP New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, since the last election we have had a number of debates in the House on Afghanistan, debates about the dramatic increase in the production of opium, increase in corruption, increase in suicide attacks, increase in IEDs, about the torture of detainees, and about the billions of dollars that Canadian taxpayers have been spending on this war. And above all, about the hundreds of brave Canadian soldiers who have lost their lives or been grievously injured.

Oxfam, the UN, and the Red Cross among others, all state that the situation in Afghanistan is getting much worse. In fact, the Afghanistan NGO safety office says that 2007 marked the beginning of the war, not the end of the war.

I made my first speech on Afghanistan on April 10, 2006, during the take note debate on the war. At that time, I expressed my sense of loss of the 11 Canadians who had lost their lives thus far. Today, less than two years later, the total number of soldiers lost is 78, as well as one Canadian diplomat. Hundreds more have suffered, suffered permanent disabling injuries and even more have been psychologically damaged.

Then there are the costs to their families, the mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, the girlfriends and boyfriends and above all, the children, who see the people they hold so dear return, if not in coffins, often with shattered bodies, minds and souls.

Today, as we debate this motion, it is of absolute importance that we remember the human costs of extending this mission. How many more young Canadians will die as a result of the political ideology of the Conservative Party and the political cowardice of the Liberals? How many more bereaved mothers, fathers, wives and husbands will be created? How many more children will grow up without their fathers?

If this motion is adopted, four more rotations of soldiers will serve combat duty in Kandahar. The government has not volunteered who exactly will be sent into harm's way and why would it because to do so would be to make plain exactly who will pay the price with their lives, with their bodies and with their minds based on the motion that we are debating today.

However, I have the information concerning the deployments that are planned for the months and years ahead. The Royal Canadian Regiment, made up mostly of soldiers from London and Petawawa, Ontario and Gagetown, New Brunswick, will leave for Kandahar this August.

The 2 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group based in Petawawa was sent to Fort Bliss, Texas last month as part of their training and will join the Royal Canadian Regiment in Kandahar. If we were to defeat the motion today, they would be the last Canadian soldiers to face death and injury in southern Afghanistan.

We are debating today rotations four, five and six into Afghanistan, those that will be approved by the Liberals and Conservatives when we vote on this motion. Those soldiers will begin training shortly and they will be in Kandahar starting February 2009. Starting February 2009, the Royal 22e Régiment, the Van Doos of Quebec, will go back into the Kandahar battle group.

From February to August 2009, more brave Quebeckers will be wounded or killed. More families will be devastated. After that, the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, made up of thousands of soldiers from western Canada, will be redeployed in August 2009. More brave soldiers from Edmonton and Winnipeg may be killed or injured. More western Canadian families may be destined to care for broken bodies and broken minds.

In February 2010 the Royal Canadian Regiment will be sent back to Kandahar yet again to continue fighting and perhaps to continue dying. How many more? How many more?

Then in July 2010 the Van Doos will be sent to Kandahar for their third rotation. That is correct, today we are debating whether to send Quebec troops into combat not once more, but twice more.

How, I wonder, will the mothers, fathers, wives and husbands of these soldiers react to this devastating news? And what, again, of the children? We are in fact debating their future today.

I urge both the Conservative and Liberal members to listen. We are contemplating sending soldiers on multiple tours barely 12 months apart. We are asking their families, friends and communities to carry the heaviest of burdens and to do so again, and again, and again. Because of a narrow Conservative viewpoint and Liberal political cowardice, the House will be voting to ask all of these brave, noble, hard-working Canadians to go through hell for three more years.

On April 19 of last year, I asked the House, “How many more casualties must we suffer before the government comes to its senses?” At that time, I was a bit optimistic, because of growing public alarm and the minority government situation, that we would not be debating the continuation of war much longer.

A majority of Liberals, including their leader, voted to end the combat mission by February 2009. However now, to avoid an election, the Liberals are endorsing this war for another three years. We have indeed seen a regression in the House.

Some members have not paid attention to what is happening to those who return from combat. We have all seen the coffins. I have seen the broken bodies and psychological costs paid by those lucky enough to return alive. I have met and cried with mothers. As a mother of three sons, two of whom are police officers, I have some small appreciation of the hell those mothers go through, even if their sons and daughters escape injury.

No one has explained to me why it is necessary to continue combat until 2011 against a foe that we can neither identify nor eliminate. No one in the House can explain to me why Canada's overwhelming role in Afghanistan must be that of combat and war, when every political figure in the region says negotiation is necessary.

No one can explain to me why, despite the claims of the government, every other indication suggests that the security situation in Kandahar is growing worse, that the mission is failing, that we are sending our young women and men on a folly: a futile mission that will achieve nothing but more broken lives.

The only answer is more of the same. By the end of 2011 Canada will have suffered death and injuries in Afghanistan for nearly 10 years.

I implore all members present not to be scared by the threats made by the Prime Minister. We can find a way to help the people of Afghanistan that goes beyond combat, beyond search and destroy. Canada must be part of a political solution to Afghanistan's problems. We must seek the path of peace, not the path of never-ending war.

Those here who vote in favour of this motion will have to explain why they have opted for more war, when peace and negotiation was an option to follow. I would ask them to do as I have: to go to the funerals of soldiers who have died and meet with those who have survived.

I am asking every member of Parliament to talk to Canadians about this war. Millions of ordinary Canadians are opposed to this counter-insurgency mission. The majority of Canadians know instinctively it is wrong and it is simply not working.

I do not trust the government to conduct this war and I do not trust the Prime Minister to find peace. I am not ready to commit thousands more Canadian soldiers and their families to the horrors of a war without end.

The heaviest responsibility of any federal politician is when she or he votes on whether to send soldiers into harm's way. That is why, with a heavy heart, I will be voting no.

Therefore, I move the following amendment to the motion:

That the motion be amended by

A: Deleting all the words from “Whereas” to “goals in the region”, and replace them with:

That this House calls upon the government to begin preparations for the safe withdrawal of Canadian soldiers from the combat mission in Afghanistan with no further mission extensions,

That in the opinion of this House, the government should engage in a robust, diplomatic process to prepare the groundwork for a political solution, under explicit UN direction and authority, engaging both regional and local stakeholders, and ensuring the full respect for international human rights and humanitarian law,

That in the opinion of this House, the government should maintain the current suspension on the transfer of Afghan detainees to Afghan authorities until substantial reforms of the prison system are undertaken,

That in the opinion of this House, the government should provide effective and transparent development assistance under civilian direction consistent with the Afghanistan Compact.

And B:

By deleting all of the words following: “to ensure that Canadians are being provided with ample information on the conduct and the progress of the mission”.

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4:05 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

The Chair was in possession of an advanced copy of the motion and the motion is in order.

Questions and comments, the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence.

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4:10 p.m.

Edmonton Centre Alberta

Conservative

Laurie Hawn ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to my colleague's speech.

Members of her party constantly go on about taking NATO out and putting the UN in. Who the heck do they think ISAP, the 39 allies there and the 60 members who signed the Afghanistan Compact, is if not representatives of the United Nations? Have they forgotten we are there under a United Nations mandate? Have they forgotten we are there at the express request of the democratically elected government of Afghanistan?

I have a quote from Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, in which they put such great stock, and it is a body in which we should be able to put stock. He said:

Our collective success depends on the continuing presence of the International Security Assistance Force, commanded by NATO and helping local governments in nearly every province to maintain security and carry out reconstruction projects.

Does she disagree with the Secretary-General of the United Nations?

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4:10 p.m.

NDP

Dawn Black NDP New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, the whole situation in Afghanistan is incredibly complex. I thought the parliamentary secretary understood that. Maybe I am not correct on that.

The fact is many parts to the United Nations are perfectly suited to work in Afghanistan. The UN High Commission on Human Rights is not involved in a major way. UNICEF, which works with children, is not involved in a major way now. The UN development program should be involved. Most of all, the UN has a Peacebuilding Commission, headed by a Canadian, the newest body in the United Nations, that is perfectly suited to foster the kinds of negotiations that would lead Afghanistan into a secure and peaceful future for the people.

All the reports, the UN report, have said IEDs are up, poppy production is up, corruption is up, security is down. Sarah Chayes was interviewed on television this past week. She has been working in Afghanistan in Kandahar since the fall of the Taliban. She said that when the Taliban first fell, she could drive her car from Kandahar to Kabul in safety, albeit along a dirt road. Now that road is paved from Kandahar to Kabul, she cannot drive on it because that part of the country is too unsafe to allow her to do so.

We have not progressed there. It is time we took a different tack and looked at ways to effectively help the people of southern Afghanistan.

AfghanistanGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Durham Ontario

Conservative

Bev Oda ConservativeMinister of International Cooperation

Mr. Speaker, I too have been listening carefully. The member is right. It is a very complex situation. I think one of the complexities is to understand that the tactics used by the insurgents and the Taliban are evolving. They are more sophisticated. They are using other means, in fact to the extreme of using disabled children to carry those bombs.

I also heard about an incident that occurred shortly after the Taliban were ousted. There was a school for girls and the insurgents waited until dismissal time, when the girls left building. As soon as they were outside, the Taliban machine-gunned those girls down. Since we have taken security forces into Afghanistan, this kind of thing has been prevented more and more. Is the member suggesting that we pull the Canadian soldiers out of Kandahar so this kind of action can resume?

Does the member know IEDs are being laid at night? Our Canadian soldiers know about those IEDs. They know about the Taliban gathering around villages. Should our forces not to do anything about it and wait until the development workers, the aid workers, the Afghan women and children are on their way to school or to the market and let them be blown up? Should our Canadian soldiers, who are willing to do this and who are very courageously in Afghanistan, go in there to remove those IEDs and put their lives at risk?

Canadians know why we are there. We are there for the right reasons. We are there to do a job. Is she suggesting that we allow this violence to continue?

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4:15 p.m.

NDP

Dawn Black NDP New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, the very sad and tragic fact is all these things continue right now, while Canadian soldiers have lost their lives, or have been terribly injured or have come home with post traumatic stress disorder and with acquired brain injury.

IEDs are up. The poppy production is up. It is the highest in the world. It supplies most of the world's opium and illegal heroin. Suicide attacks are up. All of that is growing.

No one likes to see people hurt in Afghanistan. No one wants to see women or children injured in Afghanistan. That is a given. All of us deplore those kinds of actions. I am not talking about that.

I am talking about finding an effective and meaningful way to stop that kind of action. What we are doing right now is not stopping it. It is growing and getting worse. Every independent analyst that comes out, the UN, the Red Cross, Oxfam, indicate that women are less secure now in Afghanistan than they were after the fall of the Taliban.

That is a tragedy. It is very sad. This is not the fault of the men and women of the Canadian Forces. It is the fault of a misguided mission that has very little chance of success. This is what we are talking about today.

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4:15 p.m.

Durham Ontario

Conservative

Bev Oda ConservativeMinister of International Cooperation

Mr. Speaker, few topics are higher on the public agenda today than Canada's role in Afghanistan and our government welcomes all debate on Canada's mission. As my colleague, the Minister of National Defence, has pointed out, Canada's mission means working alongside our NATO allies and Afghan security and military forces.

Canada is in Afghanistan to stabilize a country after years of chaos, oppression and violence. Today insurgents are terrorizing the people with horrendous acts that have no bounds or limitations. As part of the United Nations international effort, on the invitation of a democratically elected government, Canada's military, development and aid workers are working to bring hope and a brighter future to this ravaged country.

Therefore, today I am pleased to contribute to the debate on the motion before the House, but the debate should also include the development and humanitarian aspects of the mission. It is the development side of the mission that will bring hope and confidence back to the Afghan people.

It means being able to return to one's homeland and not having to flee as refugees into a neighbouring country. It means protection for all under the law. It means being able to feed their families and protect their children from exploitation. It means learning to read and write. It means health and access to medical services. It means spending an afternoon going to the stadium to see a soccer game, not witnessing executions. It means celebrating and preserving a rich culture and history that spans thousands of years. That is what bringing humanitarian aid and development means to the Afghan people.

I would like to focus today on the development part of the mission. We should have an informed debate. It should be based on facts and not on disinformation. It should take into account the difficult environment in Afghanistan, especially in Kandahar.

This is not a typical Canadian aid mission. The Afghan people have seen conflict and turmoil for over three decades. They have seen their schools and universities closed, hospitals destroyed, houses bombed and families in crisis. They have seen their property and businesses taken away. They have seen their family members seized, beaten and killed outside of any legal system, and they have lived under a rule where human life has little value.

Canada is in Afghanistan helping to rebuild one of the most impoverished countries in the world, a country that only a few years ago was controlled by one of the most oppressive regimes of modern times. We are there to restore freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. We are there to help rebuild institutions, relieve suffering and hardship and reduce poverty.

Conditions for delivering assistance are far from ideal but this is no reason for us to abandon the Afghan people. In fact, it is more reason why Canada's presence is needed and will be needed for many years to come.

Laying the foundations for lasting peace and stability takes great effort and commitment. Despite the challenges we face in Afghanistan, it is important not to lose sight of the real and measurable difference being made in the lives of millions of Afghans. Experience has taught us that sustainable results are best achieved when local populations take the lead and are part of the process and assume ownership. As such, our work, led by the Afghan government, is focused on initiatives that promote community ownership and accountability.

The national solidarity program is Afghanistan's flagship program for community development. To date, with Canada's support, remarkable results have been achieved, with more than 16,500 completed community projects, including the construction of wells, roads, bridges and irrigation canals, projects that make a difference.

Canada is also the principal donor to the Microfinance Investment Support Facility for Afghanistan, or MISFA. It provides small loans and financial services to more than 400,000 clients, over two-thirds of them women. That is nearly half a million people now able to increase their incomes, rebuild their lives and support their families. We know that it is making a difference.

Working with the Afghan government, through the Afghanistan reconstruction trust fund, CIDA contributes to salary payments for civil servants, including teachers. Let me assure members that this fund is structured with the necessary checks and balances to ensure that the money goes to those it is intended to go to.

I am proud that Canada is the leading contributor to the education quality improvement project, Afghanistan's largest education initiative. This project is building schools, enhancing school management capacity and training teachers, with an emphasis on promoting increased opportunities for girls. Today, an unprecedented number of boys and girls are attending school, a difference I was heartened to witness firsthand when I visited the country.

Through one project, 4,000 schools are being established and 9,000 teachers are being trained.

Another project, with the Aga Khan Foundation, will focus on early childhood education, improve teacher training for women, provide distance education and improve school facilities. This project alone will benefit more than 100,000 girls and 4,600 teachers in close to 360 Afghan schools.

With projects and results like those, Canada is truly making a difference. It is an undisputed fact that increasing access to education for young Afghan children is crucial for the future of that country.

Another area of focus has been in the health care sector. Only with healthy minds and bodies will Afghanistan be able to rebuild its communities and its country. Today, more than 80% of the population now has access to basic medical services, compared to less than 10% in 2002.

There is a substantial drop in infant mortality. There are fewer infants dying in Afghanistan every year. More than seven million children will be immunized against polio, a crippling disease no longer seen in Canada. We can actually see a future when polio can also be eradicated in Afghanistan.

Those are real results, results that are making a difference today and will mean a stronger future tomorrow.

During my trip to Afghanistan, I also saw that Canada was working, not only with the Afghan government, but also with 60 other allied nations and committed international and Canadian partners. These partners are among the most highly experienced, reputable and accountable organizations in the world. For example, our support to the world food program helped deliver food aid to more than six million Afghans last year, including more than 400,000 in Kandahar province. I recently announced additional support to help feed up to 2.5 million more people now facing food shortages as a result of rising food prices.

It is with UNICEF and the World Health Organization that the children are being vaccinated against polio and, of those seven million, there are approximately 350,000 in Kandahar province. Our support for measles and tetanus vaccinations has reached more than 200,000 children and 175,000 women of child bearing age in the south.

CIDA also supports women's centres that provide basic services, such as literacy training, health and legal aid services and a refuge where they can feel safe and supported. We recognize that our efforts to improve the lives of Afghan women is critical. Literacy training for women means improved nutrition and health care for their children and families.

Access to human rights and a justice system will reverse a regime under which women had no rights, a regime that meant no legal protection, no human rights, no freedom of mobility outside of the home, no access to education, no right to vote or participate in a democratic process and no rights to property or employment.

However, as the lives of the Afghan people in meeting their basic needs improve, our most important work is our support in building their institutions. We are helping to rebuild and strengthen the institutions of government. For example, supported by CIDA, the International Development Law Organization has trained more than 70 prosecutors in financial and juvenile crime, and more than 200 judges in civil, criminal and commercial law.

We are supporting the strengthening of human rights, including the new Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, which promotes human rights and monitors and investigates violations.

As we move forward, we are mindful that it is good governance that holds the key to the long term viability of Afghanistan but there is still a long way to go.

As Afghan President Karzai has said, “A democratic nation is not built overnight”. The years ahead will mark the heavy lifting period. It will be the period in which sustainable Afghan institutions and its public sector must develop the capacity to deliver services to all of its citizens and take full ownership of their country.

Canada is working closely, not only with the government of Afghanistan, but also with other allied nations and experienced development partners. However, whether CIDA's assistance flows through national programs or through NGOs, this government must ensure that our Canadian dollars are being spent effectively and accountability.

In Afghanistan, CIDA strives for results with an approach that responds to the very real risks of working in a fragile state and in an area of conflict. Monitoring, reporting and evaluation are applied at three levels: first, at the country level through a joint coordination and monitoring board, the board assesses development progress against concrete benchmarks in the Afghanistan compact; second, at the program level, detailed monitoring and assessment of progress being made measures that collectively we are achieving the intended results; and finally, at the project level, CIDA employs feasibility and risk assessments, contractual agreements that include established reporting requirements, site monitoring visits and audits. In addition, CIDA approves annual work plans from its partners and received progress and financial reports.

Working with trusted partners, such as the World Bank and UNICEF, CIDA is also able to leverage the accountability and oversight mechanisms of these well-established organizations.

However, there have been those who have criticized our development activity in Afghanistan and we take those criticisms seriously. To be sure, Afghanistan is a challenging environment so we are constantly working to improve and achieve better coordination and to focus on maximizing results. To this end, we introduced the Kandahar local initiative program, a quick impact program that means we can respond swiftly to fluctuating needs on the ground.

To achieve greater flexibility and responsiveness, we have doubled CIDA's presence in the field in the past year and will continue increasing our numbers in Afghanistan. We have moved decisions on staff movement within Afghanistan to the field. I will increase the level of project responsibility and authority in the field and we have a new Canadian envoy in Afghanistan to coordinate our Canadian efforts.

Taken together, those steps are examples of how we continuously strive to meet the unique challenges faced in Afghanistan.

There are other recommendations regarding CIDA's work in Afghanistan that will also be improved. We will ensure regular reports are available to Canadians of the progress being made. We will seek opportunities to enhance recognition of Canada's presence in its development work and we will continue to work toward increasing donor coordination among our partner countries, aid agencies and NGOs to achieve better effectiveness.

However, let us not forget the results we have already achieved: some six million children in school, access to basic health care for more than 83% of Afghans, cut tuberculosis deaths in half, reduced child mortality rates by almost a quarter and a 55% decline in the number of landmine victims with over 520,000 mines destroyed and more than a billion square metres of land cleared.

We are achieving results. We are making a difference. As our work proceeds, we must ensure that the Afghan people can strengthen their belief in themselves and their government to deliver good governance, the rule of law, and basic human rights. They must see a brighter future for their families and communities.

For these results to be sustainable, we must stay the course.

That being said, nobody is denying that we face tremendous obstacles. As has been noted, there can be no development without security. There will be no development and aid workers in the field without security. To quote the Manley report, “security is an essential condition of good governance and lasting development”.

The environment in which we are operating is one of the most volatile and demanding our Canadian aid and development workers have ever had to face. As responsible members of the international community, we cannot simply turn our backs on the people of Afghanistan. I therefore encourage all members of Parliament to support the government motion.

I remind the House that when the going gets tough, the tough get going, and when it is the right thing to do, Canadians are tough. Historically they have shown that they do not run. They stay to face the battle.

I know that the members of the military we honoured in the past year at Vimy Ridge and Dieppe did not enter the battles, put on their uniforms and go out to fight that day knowing that it was going to be easy, yet they went. That is why our aid and development workers are in Afghanistan. That is why our military is there: to ensure protection and security so that we can improve the lives of all Afghans today for tomorrow.

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4:35 p.m.

NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the minister for her contribution to this debate, which all in the House are taking very seriously today. It is my hope, in fact, that all points of view will be respected and that the tendency to heckle and shout down those opposed to the government's position will end.

I want to begin by saying to the minister that I certainly share the best wishes of our caucus for all of the troops who have gone or are going to Afghanistan. In fact, I want to pay special tribute to some 800 Manitoba soldiers who are leaving or have left for Afghanistan, and I want to say that all of us are thinking about their safety, wishing them well and praying for their safe return. That is why, for example, the NDP supports the yellow ribbon campaign in Manitoba, which is a symbol of the thoughts and the prayers of Manitoba folks that go with these soldiers on their journey.

I want to say, then, that no one in the House has a monopoly on human compassion. No one in the House has a monopoly over what it means to be tough. We have very strong positions on this issue. I am proud of the position taken by my leader and my caucus.

I want to seek assurances from the minister that she understands that this debate may take different turns and twists in terms of positions around the combat role--or not--in Afghanistan. I would like to hear from her and all of her colleagues that no one on their side questions the compassion of any one of us, even if we stand and assert that there should not be a combat role in Afghanistan on the part of Canadian troops. That is one question.

Let me also raise one more issue that has to do with the motion before us, which the Liberals appear to be supporting. I have heard no one in the debate to date give any assurances that in fact this motion is ironclad in any sense of the word. What is to prevent anyone in the future from opening up this agreement and supporting a further extension past 2011? We have been through these deadlines too many times. I think it is time to be straightforward, clear and up front with the people of Canada.

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4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Bev Oda Conservative Durham, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate my colleague's comments. Certainly I believe that not one of us would be in this House if we did not have compassion, if we did not believe in human rights, and if we did not believe that we all share a quality of life in Canada that more people in this world should be so privileged to have.

No one has a monopoly, and I do not dispute that, but what I say is that when we are in government we must understand what our principles and values are but we also must assess the reality. The reality is that the circumstances in Afghanistan are circumstances never before faced in this world on the global front. We have a degree of insurgency. We have tactics being used. We have open victimization of civilians, of children, of schoolchildren.

This is why we believe that we have to base our assessment of the situation on reality. We have to assess it through those who are working day after day on the ground, those who can assess the security available for development to happen. More importantly, we have to base it on those who can assess the safety with which children can continue to go to school and women can continue to go to market on their own and continue to take jobs. We have to assess on the ground the safety and security by which supplies will go along roads to build those schools and to take the food aid to those villages that require food aid.

That is why we work together with the Canadian military, our development workers, the international partners, and the UNICEFs, the agencies of the United Nations who are there working with us in Kandahar. They are dependent on the assessment, the protection and the security that our military is providing right now.

As far as the motion is concerned, we have a motion before this House and, as I said, we welcome all debate and all viewpoints. But as I said in my conclusion, I urge all members to vote in favour of the motion before them now.

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4:40 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I have a couple of questions and a comment for the hon. member.

We have heard that the Auditor General of Canada issued a report of public accounts which indicated that 27% of regular forces members coming back from Afghanistan are either physically or mentally injured and that the government is woefully ill-prepared to handle their needs and the needs of their families. It did not address the topic of re-service, so the estimate from the Surgeon General herself was in fact that it could be as high as one out of every three who are coming back with a physical or mental disability. Again, we are not prepared to handle them. Although we are doing our best at this time, I guess it is woefully inadequate in terms of assisting them.

My question is for the minister. We know that soldiers are coming back with challenges and difficulties for them and their families. I can only assume that foreign aid workers who come back must have some of the same challenges through either physical or mental anxieties. What is the government doing to assist those civilian workers who are coming back to Canada after what they witnessed in Afghanistan? What is the government doing to assist them and their families in reintegrating into Canadian society?

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4:45 p.m.

Conservative

Bev Oda Conservative Durham, ON

Mr. Speaker, let me say I am almost breathless that this member would be asking these questions. He is asking what kind of support we give to our military, yet the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore, who has a base in his riding, has done nothing to provide service and support to the Canadian military. In fact, at every opportunity he voted against increased support and services, those very services that he is now asking for. He voted against providing the resources so that those services could be provided to the military, to those people who are serving on that base right within his riding. Shame.

We provide the resources needed for the Canadian civilian workers who are returning and I can say that when the services are needed they are provided. The returning civilians with whom I have spoken feel very rewarded under the circumstances they faced when they were in Afghanistan, and I must also say that the civilians in Afghanistan are equal to our military in their heroism and their commitment to serving.

When they come back, they say that they want to go back because they can see the difference in the eyes of the children. They can see the difference in the gratitude of the mothers who say that their babies are better. They can see the difference when the mother can come back to the family with a few more dollars in her hands to feed her family.

We make sure that we provide the resources. We vote so that those resources will be made available. I ask that member to tell us what he has done to support the military.

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4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Michael Ignatieff Liberal Etobicoke—Lakeshore, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Richmond Hill.

I would like to begin by making a few brief remarks, if it is possible, about the NDP amendment that was offered in debate this afternoon.

I have two questions to ask the members of the NDP about their amendment. The first clause calls for “the safe withdrawal of Canadian soldiers from the combat mission”. The second clause calls for engaging the UN “in a robust diplomatic process”.

I am curious to know what members of the NDP would actually say to the Afghans. How would they explain the withdrawal of the Canadian Forces who are protecting them? What would they say to the Afghan women who depend on the Canadian Forces for security? How can the NDP go to the UN and pretend that the UN can initiate a diplomatic initiative in the absence of all security?

I make these points simply to point out that there are times when a party makes proposals in the House of Commons which render them unfit to govern. This, in my judgment, was one such occasion.

On Friday, the Chief of the Defence Staff challenged everyone in this House to provide clarity on the purpose of the mission in Afghanistan after 2009. It is a challenge that I am happy to accept.

It is up to parliamentarians to decide the objective of our mission, and it is up to our military to decide how to do it. Our party does not try to tell military commanders how to do their job.

Our party accepts that politicians should not tie the hands of our troops in the field, but we insist that elected leaders define the strategic goal that our country should pursue and seek to attain in Afghanistan.

Our party’s position is very clear. Three principles are set forth in our motion: the mission must change; the mission must end in 2011; and the mission must be accountable to Parliament and Canadians.

As for each of these points in turn, the government has now accepted our position that the mission must end in 2011. I welcome this sign of progress from the other side.

I think the government members agree, as we do, that there is a very clear and important reason for a deadline. Until the Afghan authorities clearly understand that there are fixed limits to Canada's engagement, the Afghans will lack clear incentives to step up their commitment to their own security.

Canada must maintain its solidarity with the Afghan people. Our party believes that profoundly, but solidarity is not a blank cheque. Solidarity is a relationship. That relationship should change over time. We gradually stand back and we help them to stand up. That, it seems to me in a nutshell, is what we want to achieve between 2009 and 2011.

If we concentrate on training the Afghan army and police forces, we will be able to withdraw in 2011. We will be able by then to end the military mission and undertake a new mission to help the Afghans rebuild their country.

Therefore, after 2011, we can envisage continuing engagement with Afghanistan but not in a military role.

The government also agreed to the second point, which was that the management of the mission must become more transparent and accountable. It agreed to create a special parliamentary committee on Afghanistan. It agreed to revise its information policy, especially in regard to the transfer and handling of detainees. We will hold the government to these promises.

I come now to the crux of the matter. There does remain a crucial ambiguity in the government's position on the fundamental question, which is: What is the overall purpose of the mission after 2009?

The government's resolution, which closely mirrors the language of the Liberal amendment, says that the military mission in Kandahar will consist of: (a) training the Afghan national security forces; (b) providing security for reconstruction and development in Kandahar; and (c) continuation of the Kandahar PRT.

Let us drill down here and get a little more clear. Canada is already training Afghan forces. It is already training and providing security for reconstruction and development, and it is already sustaining the PRT.

Our party believes that these three points should be the sole purpose of our efforts in Kandahar over the remaining years of the mission. Other aspects of our current mission should be assigned to another NATO battle contingent, which will rotate in by February 2009.

Our party agrees that there is a military participation component to the training of Afghan forces. However, these joint military operations must be related to a comprehensive strategy for reconstruction and development so that real progress can be made in regard to the security and quality of life of the people of Afghanistan. After all, they are the ones we are there to protect.

We understand that the training of the Afghan forces does require combined military operations in the OMLT formation and other formations but we believe profoundly that must be related to a comprehensive strategy of development and reconstruction. We believe the mission must focus on training.

The point is that we cannot be there forever. It is not our country. It is their country and our job is to help them train and develop the capacity to defend themselves. We must focus our efforts to get them ready for 2011. There is work to do but we can achieve it if we focus on this goal.

I want to emphasize the notion of focus. With the troops at our disposal, we cannot do everything. The Liberal suggestion, at its heart, is to focus on training to get the Afghan army and police ready for the job of defending their own country. That should be the focus of the mission.

On my recent visit to Afghanistan, I visited Afghan security forces who were training side by side with Canadians in forward operating bases in the Zare and Panjwai areas. The Afghan officers with whom I spoke were clear that they were ready to fight and defend their own country but that they needed two more years of training. We should provide this but on a strict timetable that would leave the Afghans in no doubt that the time was coming when they would need to have exclusive responsibility for their own defence.

The question of questions in this debate is whether the government understands its revised motion in the same letter and spirit that we proposed most of the wording for. The question is whether it understands the words in the same sense that we do. If we do not have this understanding, the Canadian consensus that both sides seek will be elusive.

We envisage a changed mission focusing on training and reconstruction. If the government accepts that the mission must take on this new focus, a Canadian consensus on Afghanistan is possible. The clarity, to return to where I began, that our generals are rightly seeking and that our citizens want, will issue forth in the united will of this Parliament.

If the government does not accept a clear focus on training and reconstruction, if it believes it can sneak past Parliament a motion that continues the existing mission and continues the status quo, I am afraid it will have difficulty securing the Canadian consensus that this party is seeking.

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February 25th, 2008 / 4:55 p.m.

Conservative

Myron Thompson Conservative Wild Rose, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to mention something and maybe the hon. member could respond.

On my way back to Ottawa this past weekend, I visited with my son who was in Afghanistan for over a year. I told him I was coming here back to this debate and asked him what he thought. He said, “Dad, just remind them that Afghans deserve freedom, freedom that we've taken for granted they deserve to have for the first time in their lives and that we all have a role to play in getting that done”.

We have our troops over there and we all support them. I am not talking about a difference of opinion, whether the troops should be brought home, as the NDP would indicate. We talk about reconstruction and building but Is it not true that part of the big mission is to do what we can to provide freedom in that far away land? If we establish freedom in more and more lands as we go along over the years, we will, sooner or later, get closer and closer to achieving peace. Sometimes it is very costly.

I come from the United States. I immigrated here 40 years ago. The one thing I learned all through school was the cost of the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, World War I and World War II to maintain the freedoms in other countries so that we could continue to enjoy the freedom we have in our own. We must maintain and do everything we can so that every community, church, school and activity in the country has a commitment to work toward freedom and to maintain it. One of the best ways to do that, of course, is to be fully behind our troops in everything that they do.

I do not quite understand why the NDP and the Bloc are objecting to this because they have the freedom to come here and pursue their wishes. The Bloc wants to separate, and it has the freedom to do that, but where else could that be done? I also recognize that the NDP has the freedom to express its views today, and I will never condemn them for that, but I do not agree with them one bit.

Freedom does not come cheap but does the member not believe that freedom is one of the main objectives of this mission, yes or no?

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5 p.m.

Liberal

Michael Ignatieff Liberal Etobicoke—Lakeshore, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member for Wild Rose is one of the members whose departure from the House I shall regret. I thank him for his contribution to the public service of his province and country. I also want to say very directly that I thank his son for his service to his country in Afghanistan.

I take his point about freedom and I would accept it entirely. We are there to enable young women to have the freedom to go to school and to provide the security that makes freedom possible. The only thing I would add to the remarks of the member for Wild Rose is that with freedom comes responsibility. I think the burden of what we in Canada have to do is to ensure that responsibility for security is shared with the Afghan authorities and police. We need to train them so they can exercise the responsibility for defending their own freedom.

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5 p.m.

Central Nova Nova Scotia

Conservative

Peter MacKay ConservativeMinister of National Defence and Minister of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague opposite for his participation and his significant contributions to this debate.

However, he should and would know that the mission began under a previous government, of which, granted, he was not a member. Therefore, when he speaks of matters being snuck by Parliament, I would remind him that the previous mission began without this type of substantive debate, without a mandate from Parliament, so to speak.

He spoke of the need for clarity of words and of purpose, of which I certainly agree. That direct line must be communicated to our soldiers. Their very existence depends on it and on the actions they take in the field.

However, would the member not agree that the important signal that is sent from Parliament is in fact contained in the motion? We can quibble about words and talk about interpretations but I think the substantive message is clear, that soldiers, and I heard him say it, and their leadership must use that discretion in the field, which sometimes, and I know he will agree, does include the use of lethal force. That is contained as part of this mission. Does he agree with that interpretation?

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5 p.m.

Liberal

Michael Ignatieff Liberal Etobicoke—Lakeshore, ON

Mr. Speaker, the hon. Minister of National Defence and I share a common objective of clarity. I acknowledge and recognize the fact that the government has brought this to the floor of the House of Commons for a serious debate.

It is infinitely superior, if I may say so, to very truncated debate we had in 2006. I think we have made progress. I salute him for that.

I also acknowledge, as I said very clearly in my statement, that combined military operations by the Afghan army and police with Canadian Forces will involve the use of lethal force. I also made it clear that we understand that the last thing a responsible member of Parliament wants to do is to direct soldiers as to the use of lethal force.

However, I want to come back finally to the point that it is about focus. It is about where we put the focus of our effort between 2009 and 2011 and we are saying make the focus on training.