Mr. Speaker, I am certainly pleased to participate in this debate. As the son of a World War II veteran, I learned very early the importance of the military and the sacrifices that our men and women make on the battlefield.
I am also pleased to see the Minister of National Defence here because I had the opportunity to go to Afghanistan with him when he was Minister of Foreign Affairs in April 2006. We saw firsthand the training of our soldiers, the people doing reconstruction, the need for medium lift helicopters, and the fact that we had to be transported by American Chinooks from place to place. That certainly had a great impact on me.
I thanked the minister at that time because we had the opportunity to see what a lot of Canadians did not see: men and women on the front line prepared to put their lives on the line for this country, for freedom, and to ensure the Afghan people had the benefits they did not have that Canadians took for granted. That was very important.
Not long after our return, the motion came from the government to extend the mission until February 2009. That was the government motion. I am now pleased to see that the government, in responding to the official opposition's proposal, has come a long way in embracing what we have said.
It is important to emphasize that we have said the mission must change. It must end and it must be more than military. There is no question that rotation is now being spoken about by the government. That is critical because when Canadian troops went to Kandahar originally in 2002, they rotated out after six months. When they went to Kabul, they rotated out and the Turks came in. Why? Because this is a NATO-led mission.
This is not an issue that some have described in the past about cutting and running. This is a NATO-led mission. Over 35 countries are involved. Many have covenants on their participation, but Canada has always stepped up to the plate. However, this is not solely a Canadian mission. Therefore, it is unrealistic to expect that Canadians should be going back for third and fourth tours of duty.
Obviously, in the proposal to respond to the government, Liberals wanted to have a number of things clearly spelled out. One, of course, was an end date. I will be looking forward to hearing from the government as to why it chose the end of 2011.
The Liberals had said our troops should be completely out by July 2011. It is too bad that this debate had not occurred over a year ago because this side of the House has been pushing for over a year to in fact find out when the government would notify NATO. We are pleased that it has finally said it will notify NATO and that our mission will end in 2011.
We are pleased that the government has also embraced the Liberal position with regard to training, which is currently being done. However, more training is necessary not only for the Afghan military but for the police because once an area is cleared, it is the Afghan police, which are woefully undertrained and underpaid at the moment, who need the reinforcement. Canadians can do the job but the heavy lifting part we talk about needs to be done in terms of rotation by others.
The government has said it wants 1,000 more troops. I would like to find where in the Manley report or the government report dealing with Afghanistan it is 1,000. Why is it not 2,000 or 5,000 in terms of this mission to support our troops and also the medium lift helicopters which I spoke of before? It is absolutely critical.
When I visited in April 2006, the troops told me that Canadians were the best equipped army on the ground, that the previous government had supplied them with the best equipment possible, except that they needed helicopters. That is something which the government at this date is trying to find. If we do not get those two key elements, obviously we cannot support them.
The mission must change in terms not being just military. We have on this side of the House argued for a long time that ultimately a military solution is not going to be possible in Afghanistan.
We know that because the defence department, in a 3D mission evaluating Soviet participation in Afghanistan in the 1980s, said in one of its conclusions that ultimately it must be an issue of reconciliation, that a military solution was not possible and therefore diplomatic efforts must be undertaken. This party has argued for diplomacy for a long time with allies in the region and obviously a special envoy.
Again, it is too bad that the government has waited so long to respond to this, but the reality is we have been arguing this and our leader spoke of this in February 2007. Had some members paid attention at that time, we certainly had articulated that, but again, sometimes it is better late than never.
It is too bad, when we are dealing with this situation, that the government did not responded much sooner. A diplomatic solution is absolutely key, and obviously reconciliation.
We talk about the issues of detainees, and one of the things that we believe and are trying to support is a better judicial and prison system over there. Again, is that not about Canadian values?
We are talking to the government. We do not want it to be like the Taliban. We want to make sure that we have a process dealing with law, to make sure the people are fairly tried, that the conditions which they are in are not overcramped, and that they are certainly not in a situation that we could not tolerate. We have asked for NATO-wide standards. We see that in the resolution and again we appreciate the fact that the government has embraced that.
It does not matter what side of the issue one is on, we all support our men and women in the field. Again, we have heard sometimes language in this House which really is not appropriate. We want to say, whether it is the New Democratic Party or the Bloc or the government, that we all support our troops. We may come at it from different positions from time to time, but nobody has a monopoly on it.
Clearly, I see the need for coordination and transparency. We have argued for a long time that Canadians need to know the facts. The trouble, unfortunately, with a lot of issues in the federal government is that we are dealing with silos. People are not talking to each other, the military with foreign affairs and foreign affairs with CIDA. Therefore cross-departmental discussions need to take place. They are absolutely critical.
There is a need for clarity and therefore, having a special committee to get updates regularly from the government, from all of those departments involved, is absolutely critical. Parliamentarians ultimately have to make decisions and they have to be based on available facts. Again, we have argued this for a long time.
I know I may get a question from the other side, saying that we had our chance to have the Manley people come and talk about this before the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development and the Standing Committee on National Defence. That was after the fact.
I raised the point, in the foreign affairs committee, that we should have them beforehand, before they wrote their report, so we could give parliamentary input into what they were saying. However, the government probably did not want to do that because it was not sure what it was going to say.
After the fact, when the Conservatives embraced it, they said that we needed to have them come. We had already read the Manley report. We want to have a genuine discussion, and again it is too bad that the government has waited until the eleventh hour to do this.
It is not practical at this point to suggest that we want to change the mission in a way which recognizes rotation, which recognizes that training is absolutely critical, and that others must step up to the plate.
If in fact we have not been able to get the necessary requirements to this date, I am not sure what the government is doing to ensure that by the time it goes to Bucharest, if in fact this resolution passes, that it will in fact have the ability. When is it going to make a firm decision? Is it going to make the decision on January 31, 2009, or is it going to say, when it goes to Bucharest and no one has stepped up to the plate, that we cannot continue?
The mission cannot be business as usual. If anyone out there thinks that this party supports business as usual, the answer is no. Obviously, the government does not support business as usual or it would not embrace what is basically 95% of the language of what we put together.
It is nice that the Conservatives have finally come on board, but again, in seeking all party support, it would be helpful if they would listen for a change. Often they are very good at catcalls, but they are not very good at listening. In this business, listening is sometimes better.