Mr. Speaker, thank you for the opportunity to engage in the debate on an issue that is of great importance to Canadians.
It has been said that this may be the most important debate that is taking place during the 39th Parliament. Why is that so? This debate is not about criminal justice in Canada. It is not about our economy. It is about Canada's place in the world and whether we will stand up and defend those Canadian values of freedom, democracy and human rights, not only at home but around the world.
Before I proceed, I want to pay a special tribute to the fine men and women serving our country overseas. Whether they are serving in the military, providing development assistance or strengthening the Afghan economy, they are making all Canadians proud of their accomplishments. The dedication and courage shown by them is an example of how to succeed under very trying circumstances. Their deeds have started to build a legacy that now needs to be strengthened even more.
Every day members of our armed forces put their lives on the line. In fact, my city of Abbotsford has experienced loss. Master Corporal Colin Bason died in Afghanistan serving our country, serving our community and, by all accounts, he understood the mission in Afghanistan and supported it. He believed in that mission and was prepared to lay down his life for that mission.
It has been said that this is a Canadian mission, and that is true, but it is also a mission that is sponsored by the United Nations. We have gone to Afghanistan under the auspices of NATO. This is not a Liberal or a Conservative mission, although it was the previous Liberal government that sent our troops to Afghanistan, that actually moved them from Kabul to Kandahar and put them in harm's way without imposing any conditions on that, not even a condition on rotation.
Today we have to re-examine that mission and ask, are we still doing the job we were sent to do? To do that we asked the hon. John Manley and a group of other distinguished Canadians to come together to investigate our role in Afghanistan to determine what successes are there, where the challenges are still great, and to provide a report.
That panel provided a report that we now commonly know as the Manley report. That report strongly supported continuing our mission in Afghanistan with a number of conditions.
We as a government have generally accepted those recommendations that were contained in the report. A number of those conditions were that we provide our troops with better equipment to make sure that they are better equipped to do the job they are supposed to do there, that they are better protected against the risks that are inherent in Afghanistan. We are also committed to making sure that they have more human resources; in other words, more military personnel to provide them with the support that they need.
We have also told them that we would like to have an end date for this mission, that we are working toward 2011 to make sure that the Afghan army is equipped to do the job itself; in other words, to provide the very security that it needs to rebuild the country into a vibrant democracy.
There has been much consideration given to whether this should be a peacekeeping mission or some other kind of mission. I want to remind the members of the House that before we could ever keep the peace, we have to make the peace.
Our focus in Afghanistan is to build a lasting peace for Afghans so that they can build their fledgling democracy, so that they can enjoy some of those fundamental human rights that all of us as Canadians take for granted, and that sometimes requires the use of force.
To suggest that Canada's history has always been one of peacekeeping misunderstands our history. We have to look back to world wars one and two, to the Korean conflict, to see that when required, Canadians stood for what was right and were prepared to make the sacrifices to make our world a better place to live, to defend democracy, to defend freedom around the world.
What are our successes there? I do not have an unlimited amount of time to regale the House with the successes we have had in Afghanistan. However, it has been repeated many times before in the House that today six million children in Afghanistan attend school. Six years ago there were 650,000 and none of them were girls. Today some two million girls attend school in Afghanistan. For democracy to flourish we need a strong education system even in Afghanistan.
We have improved basic health care dramatically for the Afghans. We have built thousands of miles of roads. We have actually encouraged the Afghans to start their own small businesses. In fact, the micro-loan program that our government sponsors through CIDA and through other Canadian NGOs has been a remarkable success. It is my understanding that there are some 350,000 new businesses that have been started up in Afghanistan.
I want to take note of one organization. It is the Mennonite Economic Development Associates, called MEDA. It is a Canadian NGO that is actually providing micro-finance loans to the Afghans so that they can start their own businesses. For example, a mother can purchase a small commercial oven and start baking, providing not only for her family but goods to sell in the open market, so that she can support her family and also grow the economy.
These are Canadian organizations that are doing this great work in Afghanistan, but they cannot do it without having the security that our armed forces provide. Let us make no mistake about it. Without security, the rebuilding, the reconstruction, even the diplomacy could not work in Afghanistan.
Therefore, I am proud of the role Canada is playing. It is not only our armed forces. It is all the NGOs who are sacrificing and risking their lives there to make it a better place for the Afghans to live in.
I think we also have to remember that there are some 20 million Afghans who have thrown their lot in with our international community. As the House knows, Afghanistan now has a democratically elected president. He and his government have asked us to remain in Afghanistan because the alternative is unthinkable. To leave the Afghans without any security and just give the country back to the Taliban would be a mess. What a disaster that would be.
I hear talk from the NDP and the Bloc saying that we need to get our troops out of there. Yet, these very parties are the ones who claim to represent women. They claim to represent children, the marginalized, the poor and the disabled. However, if we withdraw our troops from Afghanistan, what will Afghans be left with? They will be living in fear of the Taliban.
Make no mistake about it. If the Taliban return to Afghanistan, it will be an international chaotic situation. Have we not learned our lessons from Rwanda? We need to provide the Afghans with the resources necessary to provide for their own security.
I am very encouraged by the position that our government has taken and the courage that our government and the Prime Minister have shown in stepping up to the plate and saying that we will not abandon Afghanistan.
The security created by our military presence in that region provides the needed protection to do the work that is required of us to make sure that Afghanistan has a bright future, to make sure the children there can look to us and count on us and to say, “We have depended on you. We have thrown in our lot with you. We have trusted you to complete the job at hand”.
Today we are debating that particular mission. I encourage all members of the House to take seriously not only those Canadians who have already given their lives in defence of human values around the world but to take into consideration the risk that we impose on Afghanistan women, men, children, the disabled and the marginalized if we abandon them in this their time of need.