House of Commons Hansard #54 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was development.


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10:20 a.m.


Dan McTeague Liberal Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Mr. Speaker, with the greatest respect to the member, and I know the work that he has done on behalf of our armed forces, it took the opposition, this member and our critics to force the government to acknowledge after several weeks that wounded soldiers were having their pay docked simply for being wounded.

We had the embarrassing spectacle of a father who had to come here, cap in hand, and ask to please be paid for extra funeral expenses. It took the national media to expose these things and to expose the shortcomings in the department. I do not mean to be critical of the member, but let us look at how long it took to get these things resolved. It was not done as quickly as he has suggested. It took dragging and screaming. It took getting the former defence minister to acknowledge it.

The hon. member also talked about the issue of the Middle East and our position in the world. He sits right beside the Minister of Foreign Affairs who understands full well, and who should understand full well, the importance of diplomacy, the importance of how to deal with a people who have been oppressed and betrayed.

We are not just talking about Afghanistan. We were so concerned about Afghanistan many years ago but we simply forgot. At the end of my comments, as I think the member will recall, I said that Afghanistan was virtually abandoned by the world. We made promises that when Afghanistan got rid of the Russians we would invest and build the country's economy. Successive presidents and the UN made these comments, these commitments and undertakings. The moment the Russians left, so did our commitment.

I am saying for the hon. member from Edmonton, the parliamentary secretary, that we cannot confine what we are doing in Afghanistan to doing it in complete isolation and indifference to the rest of the Middle East. It is extremely important to recognize what has happened in Palestine and what continues to happen in Iraq. It is extremely important to recognize what we did over the past 10 or 15 years and how the people in Iraq felt when half a million of their children starved. It was not Canada's doing, but we have to acknowledge why we are in Afghanistan and what the response was. We also have to engage Pakistan. There is a number of countries, of course, and we are hoping for greater promise there.

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10:20 a.m.


Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, the member is the expert in Parliament on how Canadians are treated overseas. I would like to ask him if he wants to go into any more detail on how they are treated in Afghanistan or on any other urgent issues we have that are related to this right now.

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10:25 a.m.


Dan McTeague Liberal Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Mr. Speaker, that is a very good question from the hon. member for Yukon. I am glad to see that the motion does in fact cover the issue of detainees. It covers a substantial number of questions, but for Canadians who are in fact lost in other nations, clearly there are a number of questions that need to be raised, and for Canadians who find themselves in difficulty with respect to Afghanistan in particular.

One would hope that in days to come in the building and sustaining of civil government the Karzai government will do plenty to ensure there is a sense that it will be able to acquire this kind of vigilance and legal enforcement of laws as well as the protection of its own citizens and the observance of human rights.

I could go on at great length with respect to Canadians abroad. I will leave that to the minister, but my experience has always suggested that Canada has a very active foreign service. It had leadership, although I am not sure that leadership is there now even though the government has the financial and legislative wherewithal to act. It is time for Canadians to recognize that what we are doing in Afghanistan also has a very important reflection on what we do internationally, especially in the Middle East.

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10:25 a.m.

Beauce Québec


Maxime Bernier ConservativeMinister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.

I am very pleased to have this opportunity to address the House today concerning the future of our mission in Afghanistan. Our party is as proud of Canada's mission in Afghanistan today as we have been since the day the former Liberal government decided to send troops there in 2002.

We believed at the time, as we do today, that the nature of the conflict justified the mission, a mission rooted in Canada's foreign policy and defence traditions. The men and women in uniform who are serving in Afghanistan have repeatedly proven that they are well trained, disciplined and, above all, courageous. They keep our diplomats and our humanitarian aid specialists safe, and they are essential to the reconstruction of Afghanistan. I will elaborate on that later with a concrete example.

We should be proud—very proud—of our contribution and our achievements in Afghanistan. Our government would not suggest that Canada remain there if we were not convinced that our efforts are contributing to progress and that our goals are achievable.

As Minister of Foreign Affairs, I had the opportunity to visit Afghanistan, where I saw first-hand the real progress we are making.

We have all heard it many times before, but it needs to be repeated again. There can be no development without security.

There are international efforts in Afghanistan. As a result, Afghanistan has been able to begin to rebuild itself. We are helping with security. We are helping to create a vital economic environment for the reconstruction.

I would like to provide the House with one example of this. It involves a heroic non-profit organization called the Turquoise Mountain Foundation.

When I was in Afghanistan, I had the pleasure of personally inspecting the foundation's work. The foundation is helping to regenerate the historic commercial centre of Kabul. The foundation is helping this area become once again a bustling place of commerce. It is providing basic services and saving historic buildings as well as constructing a new bazaar and galleries for traditional craft businesses.

The efforts of our Canadian Forces and others to create security in Afghanistan are helping the foundation's work. The foundation's work would be much more difficult, perhaps even impossible, without the presence of our military.

Canada is pursuing an integrated approach in Afghanistan. We draw on the skills and the resources of departments across government. This includes foreign affairs, defence, CIDA, the RCMP, justice and Correctional Service Canada. By doing so, we can maximize our capacity and our impact on the ground for the Afghan people.

Our approach recognizes the interrelated nature of governance, security, and economic and social development. These various Canadian government departments work together to pursue a shared goal. The goal is very simple. It is to pursue development in all of these areas simultaneously.

Our government has made clear our intention to move forward on the future of Canada's mission.

On the question of extending the mission, I am pleased to observe that common ground has started to emerge. This is thanks in many ways to the Manley panel's recommendations. It has paved the way for the bipartisan parliamentary consensus that appears to be emerging.

Just a few days ago our government issued a revised motion on the future of the Afghanistan mission. This revised motion incorporates large elements of the Liberal response to our original motion. The revised motion embraces an even wider expanse of common ground than before. It acknowledges what is required for Canada's mission to succeed in Afghanistan.

The government and the official opposition agree on two important points. First, we agree that Canada should continue the military mission until 2011; and second, we should leave operational decisions to our commanders on the ground in Afghanistan.

We all know that without security there can be no aid or development, not today, and not for some time in the future. Without aid and development there can be no security in the future. We know that security is the prerequisite for development.

This is a Canadian position. Our position is clear, well thought out, and neither Conservative nor Liberal, but truly Canadian. We believe that a majority of the people elected to represent Canadians will support this position. We believe that a majority of members of Parliament should support it.

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10:30 a.m.


Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the remarks made by the Minister of Foreign Affairs and I am a little surprised about this position.

The Bloc's position, which it has reiterated a number of times, is that Canada should withdraw from combat missions in Afghanistan in February 2009, as NATO had said.

Now we see that they want to push the end of the mission much further, to 2011. How will the government explain that to the public?

I will restate our position. We had a week to visit our ridings, and the hon. minister probably paid a visit to his riding as well. The majority of Quebeckers are telling us that we have no reason to be there, and that we should not still be there.

How will we explain that not only do we no longer have a reason to be there, but also that we are staying until 2011? This is what people do not understand. But it is the position we will have to defend if the government motion is supported by this House.

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10:35 a.m.


Maxime Bernier Conservative Beauce, QC

Mr. Speaker, Quebeckers, like all Canadians, are very proud of this mission. They support this government's efforts and especially those of the Canadian army to establish security in Afghanistan.

That said, we will certainly have to provide more training for the Afghan national police and the national army, so that Afghans can take control of their own destiny and establish security for their own people.

I think that Quebeckers, like all Canadians, understand that. We will focus on training the Afghan army and police force to ensure that when we leave the country in 2011, our work will be done and Afghans will be able to take charge of their own security.

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10:35 a.m.


Rick Casson Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, the minister has, I know, been to Afghanistan, as I have, and he has seen the dedication of the people on the ground, our men and women in uniform, of course, and others over there as well who are working on governance and redevelopment issues.

In his ability and opportunity to travel around the world and meet with other world leaders, I wonder if he could comment on how Canada has been perceived in the world now that we have taken a robust approach on not only this issue but on a wide spectrum of issues.

It is my belief that Canada has been seen in a far more favourable light as far as stepping to the plate when needed. I would like to hear his comments on some of the discussions he has had as he has travelled around the world.

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10:35 a.m.


Maxime Bernier Conservative Beauce, QC

Mr. Speaker, I can assure the House that our efforts in Afghanistan are very well received. The international community understands that we are in Kandahar, one of the most dangerous provinces of the country, and what we are doing.

It also knows about the Manley panel and all its recommendations. It understands that Canada needs to have more coordination with the international community. We have a challenge and we will answer it.

The international community understands that we need some help and that we need a partnership in Afghanistan. I hope the international community will answer and give us more troops, approximately 1,000 soldiers.

So, the work that we have done is really appreciated by the international community because we are a country that told the international community that we are going to be in Kandahar. We are going to do the job and that is what we are doing. And that is what we want to continue to do until 2011, but we need more troops. We need to have a partnership in the south. I am optimistic that in the near future we will find a partner for us in Kandahar.

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10:35 a.m.

Simcoe—Grey Ontario


Helena Guergis ConservativeSecretary of State (Foreign Affairs and International Trade) (Sport)

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to participate in such an important debate.

As my colleague the hon. Minister of Foreign Affairs just noted, our government believes Canada should live up to its commitment to the people of Afghanistan. That is why we have revised the motion we introduced in the House on February 8. The revised motion represents an effort to achieve bipartisan consensus on the future of the mission in this chamber. It acknowledges what is required for Canada's mission to succeed.

There can be no doubt that there is some fundamental common ground between the government and the official opposition. The revised motion stakes out a clear and principled position. This is a Canadian position rather than just a Conservative position or a Liberal position. As a Canadian position, it is one that can be supported by a majority of the elected representatives of the Canadian people.

This is visible particularly when it comes to the idea that the mission should continue until 2011. We also see common ground on the notion that operational decisions should be left to the Canadian commanders on the ground in Afghanistan. On this side of the House, we believe this is a reasonable compromise. We believe this addresses the important questions Canadians have about the future of the mission.

The choice is simple: either we strengthen the military mission in Afghanistan or we abandon the commitment we have made to the people of Afghanistan and our international allies.

It is up to parliamentarians to vote on what Canada's future role in Afghanistan should be. Again, as my colleague has noted, this is not an easy decision for parliamentarians to make, but a decision that must be made at this time.

Make no mistake, our engagement in Afghanistan is an example of international cooperation at its finest. I know because I have been in Afghanistan. Canadians can take great pride in what their fellow citizens are accomplishing in Afghanistan.

Our soldiers, diplomats, development workers and advisers are making a difference in the lives of thousands of Afghans in Kandahar and across the country. I have seen this firsthand, particularly when it comes to the rights and freedoms of the Afghan women.

I want to talk in more than just abstract terms today. As I said, I have visited Afghanistan. I can therefore illustrate the argument for why we must respect our commitments with reference to my personal experiences.

Much of my focus when I was in Afghanistan was on women and children. I wanted to hear firsthand some of the successes and if things had actually changed for women and children in Afghanistan.

I must say that I was overwhelmed by the personal stories that so many women shared with me. I was overwhelmed by the emotion and appreciation that they had for Canada and the international community.

There is someone by the name of Sally Armstrong, who I understand is one of the people the Manley panel interviewed when it was coming up with its recommendations. I believe she used to be an editor for Chatelaine magazine or some other publication.

She sent out a column across the entire country that talked about the women in Afghanistan. It talked about what was wrong and how they needed the support of the international community. Within days, Sally Armstrong received over 8,000 emails from women in Canada. They were asking for the international community and Canada to step up and help these women somehow, some way, saying we could not continue to allow this to go on.

I think that Sally Armstrong and other women like her are incredible. They make incredible contributions and are a voice for the Afghan women. They raise the issues and make Canadian women aware of what we can do and how we can help. I am pleased with her work and look forward to the opportunity to meet with her.

As I said, when I was in Afghanistan, I made it my mission to sit down with as many women as I possibly could so I could hear stories firsthand. One of the women I met with, and I talk about her often, is Rona Terin, who is an advocate for women's issues in Kandahar. When I met her, only three months before that her predecessor had been murdered and she stepped into this position. She is an incredibly brave woman. I have great admiration for her.

She stepped into this position to advocate for women and she talked to me about what it was like under the Taliban before the international community stepped in and how things are definitely improving.

She told me that her 13-year-old little girl was going to school for the first time. She explained that women were locked up so much that when they would give birth, their bones would break because they could not get outside to get sunlight and the vitamin D that women need to keep their bones strong. She told me things were changing, and how much she appreciated Canada and wanted me to take that message back.

I also had the opportunity to meet with a number of female parliamentarians. It is important to note that there are more female parliamentarians in Afghanistan than there are in Canada. That speaks very loudly to some of the success we have seen in Afghanistan, which has to be recognized and acknowledged. They asked to come to Canada. They want to sit down with other female parliamentarians to gain some of our advice, and that will be happen soon. They want to talk to us about what Canada has done for them.

Other women I met were recipients of microfinance. Canadians can be very proud knowing that Canada is the leading donor to microfinance in Afghanistan. Many women travelled seven and eight hours to visit me, and not by car. It was on foot. They wanted to talk to me about what Canada had done for them and how much it meant to them that we stay.

All the women were widowed because of the Taliban. Each of them had seven or eight children. They received loans equivalent to $100 Canadian dollars a year to open small businesses such as a bakery. The bakeries in Afghanistan are not something we would see on a main street in Canada. They are operated out of their homes. They buy ovens and put them in their mud homes. People pay pennies to go into the homes to use those ovens. They bake bread and sell it at the market. By doing that, they can care for their families and pay off their loans. All the loans have been 100% paid back, which is significant.

Thousands of women are able to feed their children now because of microfinance, because of the help from the international community and because of the security on the ground. If they do not have security, they cannot get these loans. The Taliban will not allow them to work, or have a business or care for their children. The Taliban does not care if they have seven or eight kids who they cannot feed.

One women told me how she had four girls and four boys. She had to put the girls in the orphanage. However, because of microfinance and because her business was so successful, she was able to retrieve her four girls from the orphanage. She received another $100 Canadian loan, expanded her business, hired another woman, and the two of them work together.

These are just some of the success stories. So often in the House the debate is about the negative. Every member in the House has a responsibility to talk about the success just as much as the negative in Afghanistan. It is a responsibility. We should honour those who put their lives on the line. We should honour those who have lost their lives for what they believed in and for the successes in Afghanistan.

Some members in the House completely ignore, for their own political reasons, the success in Afghanistan. It does not look like Canada and it never will. However, the success has been enormous and the women have been very clear with their message. They do not want us to go. Their message is full of thanks. They do not want us to turn our backs on them now or all will be lost.

Canada will not turn its back on the people of Afghanistan. It will not turn its back on the women and children. We will stay. We will live up to our international commitment and our commitment to the people of Afghanistan. We will see success, even more than I have talked about.

I look forward to the opportunity to continue telling Canadians and my colleagues in the House about the success I have seen. I look forward to another opportunity to go back to Afghanistan, whenever that may be, so I can see these women again and even more women who are now in successful positions and are able to care for their children.

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10:45 a.m.

Langley B.C.


Mark Warawa ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, the Secretary of State's comments reminded me of a town hall meeting I held on Afghanistan. A young woman, who was one of the panellists, spoke of similar things.

The Secretary of State shared with us how the women asked Canada not to leave until the job was done. What would happen if Canada did leave? Members of the Bloc and NDP say that Canada should leave right away. If we did leave, what would happen to the women and the freedoms they now experience? What would happen to the little girls who are able to go to school?

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10:45 a.m.


Helena Guergis Conservative Simcoe—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is difficult to think about what would happen if security pulled out of Kandahar. The fact is there would be mass murder. The Taliban would return and would put everything back to the way it was. To do that, they would need a pretty heavy hand, and that would be mass murder. The women know this and they do not want that to happen.

There were times in Afghanistan when other areas were not as secure as they are now. We did not give up on them. We stayed and saw success. We cannot give up on Kandahar either. It is important. We have to stay and finish the job we started. We have a responsibility to do that.

It will take a long time to do this. It is not something that will happen overnight. When we went in this time, we decided we would not only build the buildings, or do everything for the people, or buy them this or that, or set everything up, walk away and then wonder why they could not continue to manage. They are doing it for themselves.

When I met Rona Tareen, the Afghan national police needed blankets. She mobilized the women in Kandahar and they made the 5,000 blankets. It did not happen overnight, but they did it. They took ownership of it and they were very proud of their accomplishments.

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10:50 a.m.


Ron Cannan Conservative Kelowna—Lake Country, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to expand a little on my colleague's experiences. She mentioned meeting with some of the ladies in parliament and the micro loans. Those are great success stories.

I have been speaking with some ladies in my riding who have recently returned. In particular, I spoke with an ICU nurse who told me about the incredible first-hand experiences she had encountered. People volunteer their time to give freedom, democracy, the rule of law and respect for the freedoms we take for granted.

One specific young lady, 11-year-old Alaina Podmorow, is the founder of “Little Women 4 Little Women in Afghanistan”. We are excited that she will be here next week to share with members of Parliament the success of a group of young girls in grades five to seven who raise funds for educators in Afghanistan.

Could my hon. colleague share a little about some of the students, specifically the girls who are now able to go to school because our men and women have worked with the UN sanction mission to provide some peace and stability in their country?

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10:50 a.m.


Helena Guergis Conservative Simcoe—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, I had an opportunity to visit a school, Aschiana School, in Afghanistan, a school that Canada supports. I met with so many students, so many young girls, who are all in school for the very first time. They are all around the age of 13. I brought them some soccer balls so they could play. I spent a couple of hours there. They took me through all their different classes. They do not only have culture and arts classes, although I was incredibly moved and impressed by their talent. They are incredible artists. It is very important that we work to foster that as well.

I also had an opportunity to meet with some young boys, who are at that vulnerable stage and could have been picked up by the Taliban. They are being trained in trades to become plumbers and electricians. They are showing everyone in the school. They are teaching them how to do all these things, and this has never happened before.

Afghanistan has been faced with 30 years of violence and tyranny. Anything that was built was torn down. People could not read and the illiteracy rate was astounding. They are learning how to read now. They are learning how to do things and to care for themselves. Canadians can be very proud in knowing that this success is going on.

I want to applaud the students who my colleague just mentioned. It is fantastic that we see this going in Canada. We are trying to make a connection, students to students, with the young girls in Afghanistan to the young girls in Canada. Going forward, a very positive relationship is being built.

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10:50 a.m.


Bernard Patry Liberal Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Davenport.

Our constituents expect a great deal from us, their elected representatives, when it comes to the practical implications of the debate we are engaging in today in this House.

Steps have been taken in recent days to meet those expectations, and we have legitimate cause to be pleased, because the decision to send our armed forces into a combat zone is certainly one of the most difficult decisions to make, and it must be made wisely and not for partisan, vote-seeking reasons.

What Canadians expect from their country and their government is an approach that is realistic as to our means and our influence, an approach that not only meets our commitments to our international partners, but is truly effective in the field.

In short, we must take action that is sensible, clear-headed, effective and focused primarily on helping the people of a country in disarray, with the sanction of the United Nations and under the authority of NATO.

The top priority of the Liberal team and its leader, the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, is to ensure that the Afghan people are never abandoned. More than ever, we must provide the Afghan people with tangible evidence of our solidarity. To that end, the mission must be clarified, the mission must end and NATO must provide other military personnel, so that a rotation system can be put in place.

It is high time to change our approach, to make adjustments and clarifications, and that is why we in the official opposition are saying again today that we will act resolutely and in keeping with our values, our means and our interests.

Serious analysis of the situation in the field clearly showed that the nature of the mission in Afghanistan could no longer remain the same. We therefore felt it was important to demand that certain major conditions be met to justify our continued military presence in Kandahar until February 2011.

The first condition was that the Conservative government accept the idea that Canada's involvement in Afghanistan must extend beyond military action. The importance of development and diplomacy, which was missing from the government's initial motion, has now been added, to the satisfaction of our party, which had called for this in its own motion.

We also included the requirement that NATO formally guarantee the rotation of troops in Kandahar. Sharing responsibilities with our international partners is essential to the redeployment of our armed forces in order to allow them to maximize their contribution with respect to why Canadians agreed to our presence in Afghanistan in the first place.

I am talking about one of the primary intentions of our mission, which is training the Afghan armed forces and rebuilding the country on a solid and democratic foundation. To accomplish this, our country first has to inform NATO, without delay, that Canada's military presence in Kandahar will end on February 1, 2011, and that the withdrawal of our troops will formally begin effective that date and will be completed no later than July 1, 2011.

It is no longer a question of getting stuck in an endless conflict with no end date, which is what the Conservative Party is advocating. Informing NATO is merely the first step. Effective February 2009, in less than a year, Canada's mission will have to focus on tasks that are concrete and of the highest importance in terms of our real capacity to contribute to improving the situation on the ground.

First, we must ensure that adequate training is provided to the Afghan security forces, because Afghanistan has to take charge of its own security. As far as training is concerned, our country has real expertise and it is high time to put that expertise to use. Furthermore, it is just as important to ensure that reconstruction and development projects in Kandahar are completely safe for those working on them and for the end users.

Our armed forces are up to the task. It is just a matter of Canada making the commitment. Nonetheless, it is also crucial, from the outset, to state clearly and in no uncertain terms that our mission in Kandahar will end for good in February 2011.

Why that date? Because in January 2006, at the London conference on Afghanistan, the Canadian government signed the Afghanistan compact, which established benchmarks and a schedule until the end of 2010, for improving security, governance and the social and economic development of Afghanistan.

The Canadian government signed that agreement and we must respect that signature as part of our international obligations.

That is why the amendments put forward by the official opposition are a logical and consistent continuation of Canadian policy in Afghanistan.

As things stand now, there is no sign at all of the diplomatic and development aspects of the mission. It must be changed, therefore, to put the emphasis on stronger, more determined diplomatic initiatives and on a genuine rebalancing of our efforts in the direction of reconstruction and development.

Another thing that the Liberal Party made a priority was the need for real transparency. We are truly pleased, therefore, to see the Conservative government abandon its previous stance of visceral hostility toward the very idea of accountability to Canadians.

It was high time because Canadians want to know—and have every right to know—what the real state of our mission in Afghanistan is and how that mission is being conducted. The very purpose of the amendments put forward by the Liberal Party was to fill the serious gaps the government had left in this regard.

Even though Canada must play its part within NATO—and is doing so admirably thanks to our soldiers on this mission—it is not a great military power. What it has is a strong tradition of diplomacy and development.

In addition, we have managed to resolve once and for all the thorny issue of the transfers of Afghan detainees in view of the unacceptable circumstances in which this was occurring—circumstances that were undermining Canada’s credibility and moral authority. The government has changed its position on this issue as well and we can all be happy about that.

We Liberals believe that principles are important but we are not dogmatic or doctrinaire and know when to be flexible. We are proving this once again today through our open-minded attitude to the changes in the government motion.

Taking a constructive approach, we urged the government to seriously consider the ways in which the Liberal positions were compatible with its own, over and above purely partisan considerations.

As of today, there is reason to hope that the House will finally be able to develop a manifestly Canadian policy toward Afghanistan which will give us an effective role there that is consistent with the expectations of our fellow citizens.

We should continue, therefore, to take a positive, constructive approach so that the people of Afghanistan ultimately get as much out of our presence as possible and the international community is finally able to see the light at the end of the tunnel in an issue that is really of major concern.

Canada can and should play a full role and I am confident we have the ability to succeed.

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11 a.m.

Calgary East Alberta


Deepak Obhrai ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, the member is on the foreign affairs committee with me. He is a former vice-chair. I have been working with him on the foreign affairs committee for a long time and I respect his judgment on the foreign affairs committee.

However, I have some questions for him in light of what his associate foreign affairs critic said yesterday in this House in reference to the study the foreign affairs committee is doing on Afghanistan.

As part of the whole study on Afghanistan, it is important to listen to all voices so that the committee can get all the facts and figures and make the right judgment. One of the key elements of that is the bipartisan panel headed by Mr. Manley. That panel was mandated to take a comprehensive and unbiased look at the mission and come back with recommendations, which we now see the government has adopted in this resolution, and now we find enough common ground with the Liberal Party.

When we in the committee asked for the Manley panel to come in front of the committee, the Liberals refused. Why they refused, I do not know. It came to me to ask them why they were afraid of the Manley panel, why they would not listen to the Manley panel.

We have put forward a request that the Manley commission come before the committee. I have submitted those names as witnesses. I hope that at committee the Liberal Party will agree to have the members of the Manley commission come before the committee so we can listen to them. They are free to ask any questions.

What I fail to understand is that yesterday the member's associate foreign affairs critic said that the Manley commission members should have talked to us beforehand. Why would they talk to us? We are not the experts on Afghanistan. We are studying the issue on Afghanistan. Why would they come beforehand and listen to the committee? It should have been the other way around. I am extremely amazed that the Liberal position is that the Manley commission should have listened to us before going out. We are not the experts. In fact, we listen to the experts.

Perhaps he could explain what his associate foreign affairs critic said yesterday.

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11 a.m.


Bernard Patry Liberal Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my hon. colleague who, like me, sits on the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development.

I just want to tell the hon. member one thing. Requesting that members of the Manley panel appear before the committee is a decision of the whole committee, and not just a decision of the Liberal Party of Canada.

After reading the panel's suggestions, they are very close to those of the Liberal Party. There would have been no use at that time just to ask them questions. Today we are very close to having an association between the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party on this issue because we know we are going. We have principles. They talk about rotation. They about the role of CIDA within Afghanistan. Right now, CIDA is totally absent. In Kandahar, the region where our forces are, CIDA will tell us that it has 355 members over there, but 335 of them are from the armed forces, which leaves 20, and of those 20, there are some members of the RCMP. That is why we are not doing anything in that region.

We could ask the minister or someone from CIDA to answer the question and tell us how many there are, but they tell us nothing. For me, there is no problem. The problem right now is what will we be focusing on with our mission in Afghanistan. This is what we are doing for the moment.

We want to be sure that the government will follow this motion in the sense that we will not stay after 2011. I think Canada is doing its share. Canada is not a military power in the world, but we are working to try to re-establish the development over there. We should do some development in the Kandahar region.

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11:05 a.m.


Mario Silva Liberal Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, as we debate Canada's mission in Afghanistan, we should recognize our profound responsibility to fully and thoroughly consider the sacrifices already made, the nature of our work in that country, and the reality of the situation in that troubled region of the world.

We all recognize the work of the men and women of the Canadian Forces who each day put their lives on the line in the service of our country. They do so with valour and courage and we as a nation owe them a great debt. We are even more so indebted to those who have lost their lives in service to this country and to us as a people.

Around the world there are numerous conflicts that rob the young of their precious lives, cause immeasurable human suffering, and deny to humanity the most cherished of our blessings, peace.

Conflict is not new, nor is it any less senseless than it has ever been. There is an old expression that war is hell. Few who have experienced the reality of war, civilians or soldiers, would, I imagine, disagree.

Debates like the one we are undertaking today on the nature of conflict have been ongoing for as long as the scourge of conflict has characterized the nature of human existence.

One of our country's most prolific and profound writers, Margaret Atwood, once said, “War is what happens when language fails”. I agree with Ms. Atwood's statement. When language fails and armed conflict takes its place, it is fair to say that the language then used is force and violence. It is the most horrific and disheartening of all human endeavours.

Instead of the language of conflict, we should always strive to use the language of diplomacy, transparency and security. There is no greater means to avoid conflicts than to work toward these objectives.

Fundamental to the discussions of all conflicts is the question, is it just?

Saints Augustine and Thomas Aquinas have long been credited with deep and transcending philosophical discussions on the nature of a just war. Their work is, generally speaking, characterized by probing questions on war, which we would do well to consider: Does it punish those who have done wrong? Is it undertaken by duly constituted authorities? Is there right intention? Is there a probability of success? No war should be undertaken if it is futile. Is it truly the last resort? Is there distinction between combatants and non-combatants? Is it proportional to the wrong done? Minimal force should be used to achieve success. Although posed hundreds of years ago, these are fundamental questions, among others, that we should consider as we debate the mission in Afghanistan.

Indeed, “The Responsibility to Protect” doctrine as enunciated by the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty poses similar questions as those asked by Augustine and Aquinas so long ago.

Fundamental to the concept of a just conflict is the question of probability of success. First and foremost, if we are to ask this question, we must first know what success looks like in Afghanistan.

As noted by the Leader of the Opposition yesterday, the success of our mission in Afghanistan requires a change in approach based on three main points: the mission must change toward training, security and reconstruction; the mission must have an end date, not just another date for review; and the mission must be about more than just a military operation. Likewise, we must have a real sharing of the burden which is only attainable through meaningful rotation with other NATO allies.

A fundamental question is this: Is success in Afghanistan measured by the creation of a viable state that functions with stability, justice and compassion? If this is our definition, and it would certainly appear to be a reasonable one, then a great deal of work lies ahead and it is far in excess of simply acting militarily between now and the end of our mission.

Afghanistan is a very troubled nation. Even prior to 2001, that nation was the subject of some 38 different United Nations General Assembly resolutions on varied subjects. During the period of British rule there were no fewer than three Anglo-Afghan wars ending in 1919.

Despite being governed by monarchs until 1973, Afghanistan was continually destabilized by civil war and foreign invasions. From 1973 this instability continued, including the invasion of Afghanistan by the former Soviet Union in the 1980s.

The point is that Afghanistan is a nation with a long history of protracted conflicts, instability and both internal and external efforts to establish order and various systems of government.

In today's Afghanistan, we have a deeply entrenched and seemingly unrelenting illegal narcotics trade that defies any and all changes launched against it. This activity generates between $1 billion and $3 billion in revenue each year for those who participate in poppy cultivation and the distribution of narcotics in and from Afghanistan. It is clear that much of the military activities that confront us in Afghanistan is likely funded by revenue from these sources. There seems to be no end in sight to this revenue source and we are, therefore, likely to see increased activity and, consequently, greater funds available to those who fight and challenge us in Afghanistan.

We are also witness to cross border support for the militants who operate in that country. Recent political developments in Pakistan are more likely to complicate efforts to confront this challenge than they are to resolve them any time soon.

The length of our nation's military commitment was to conclude in 2007, then 2009 and now, as proposed, in 2011. We certainly need to be clear to both the government of Afghanistan and to our allies that our mission will in fact end definitely in 2011.

It is interesting to note that just last year the New Democratic Party voted against the official opposition and with the Conservative government when we proposed an end date of 2009 for the military mission in Afghanistan.

Once again, we must be clear that if we are to extend the mission to 2011, with a change in our role from 2009 to 2011, that all parties are clear on our new mandate in Afghanistan.

I would remind the House that in December 2001, the United Nations passed resolution 1386 that authorized the creation of the international security assistance force for Afghanistan which was to end its mission in six months. We all know, of course, that this did not happen.

It is also important to note that, despite resolutions passed in the House, our system of government establishes that our forces are directly accountable to the executive branch of the government, not directly to Parliament.

Afghanistan is a nation of almost 32 million people but it has over 90 political parties and these are only the parties approved by the Afghanistan ministry of justice. Others that are not recognized are excluded from this list. With this political reality, is it realistic to imagine a scenario where we can envision a functional and stable state in Afghanistan in the foreseeable future?

We recognize that current assessments of the situation in Afghanistan are made in the context of pledges from nations across the world of $24 billion in aid to this country. However, the prospect of peace and stability in Afghanistan remains elusive. The political realities of Afghanistan also cloud the nature of the mission there for all nations participating to this point.

As noted previously, a successful military undertaking requires fundamentally a definition of what constitutes success. The reality is quite simply that the mission in Afghanistan has not been clearly defined. Success has not been enunciated in terms that are measurable.

It is for all those reasons that I believe we as a country need to accept the true realities of Afghanistan. We need to understand that, like the seemingly endless list of conflicts from the past, military solutions alone have never succeeded in solving the problems of Afghanistan or even the broader challenges of that region of the world.

Canadians have always been willing to make the sacrifices necessary to promote freedom and justice throughout the world. However, let us not embark on such undertakings that, as noted in the concepts of Saints Augustine and Aquinas, have no reasonable prospect of success.

Afghanistan needs the world's help. We do not dispute that. However, the nature of that assistance needs to form the foundation of our debate.

We owe it to our courageous men and women who serve in places like Afghanistan to ensure that the task at hand is just, that it is achievable and that we are not committing them to a battle far in excess of what can be reasonably expected of us as a country.

We ought to ponder these questions today as we reflect on our mission in Afghanistan, consult our conscience and, hopefully, strive to seek new ways of achieving our goal as human beings, as nations and as fellow inhabitants of this planet.

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11:15 a.m.

Edmonton Centre Alberta


Laurie Hawn ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, I must say that the hon. member and the rest of the Liberal Party might be in danger of breaking their arms patting themselves on the back for forcing us to do things that in fact we have been doing pretty much all along. However, we are pleased to find common ground with the Liberals on this issue because it is important to Canadians and, frankly, the rest of the world.

Under the previous Liberal government's leadership of the mission, which was not just a military mission, contrary to what others have said, and this government's leadership of the mission, which is not just a military mission, contrary to what others have said, a lot of other work is going on. I would like my hon. friend's comments on the good work being done by the strategic advisory team Afghanistan and how he sees its contribution to the non-military side of developing governance and diplomacy.

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11:15 a.m.


Mario Silva Liberal Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, before I get to the question, it is important for me to emphasize once again that I have some serious concerns about this mission. We should have stuck to our principle of rotation from day one. It was a commitment we made with NATO and we should have made NATO live up to that commitment.

The other thing that is extremely important, which I think has been emphasized not just by myself and other colleagues but by the panel that was put forward by the government, is that the government has done a terrible job explaining to Canadians what the hell we are doing in there and what exactly our mission is in Afghanistan. A better communication strategy is needed.

However, when we look at what type of leadership is needed for this mission, it is not just a question of communication, which I think is extremely important, but it is to have a mission in place that is achieving all our goals. Our goals cannot just be military because military alone will not solve this particular problem in Afghanistan. Afghanistan needs infrastructural assistance and aid.

I know that CIDA and other strategic advisory teams that are in place are doing a great job but more emphasis needs to be put on those particular fields. I would encourage that government member to do whatever he can on his side to ensure that, if the mandate is to extend, it cannot be done under the same provisions that we have at the moment. It needs to change. It needs to be broadened. There needs to be broader emphasis on aid and development for that region and an end to the conflict by 2009.

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11:15 a.m.


Omar Alghabra Liberal Mississauga—Erindale, ON

Mr. Speaker, in his closing remarks, my hon. colleague talked about our responsibility as parliamentarians toward our soldiers.

There is no doubt that when Parliament discusses a military deployment this is a very serious decision that parliamentarians need to discuss and engage in. There is also no doubt that there are various points of view and passionate opinions about this issue.

However, I would like to hear the member's comments on the fact that there are accusations from some members of this House that any kind of debate is aid or comfort to the enemy and that it is not helping the actual objectives of the mission. I found it extremely shocking that while parliamentarians have a responsibility, not only to our soldiers but to Canadians and to the rest of the world, to debate this matter extensively and exhaustively, some members make accusations that any kind of motivation behind this debate is aiding and comforting our enemy, when I think the purpose is exactly the opposite.

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11:20 a.m.


Mario Silva Liberal Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Mississauga—Erindale for the wonderful work he has been doing, not just on this file but on several other files.

My hon. colleague is absolutely correct. The government has made terrible accusations about the patriotism of members when they question this mission, which is quite appalling.

We, as members of Parliament, are all proud of our men and women in uniform. I think we all understand that we have a role to play in the world, that being one of constructive engagement, of peace builders and of peacemakers.

Our mission in Afghanistan was approved under international law by the UN. In fact, there is a resolution backing our mission and our presence there.

However, we have a burden as well that needs to be understood. When we engage in these particular actions in Afghanistan, it must be constructive and our goal must be for long term peace and development for that country.

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11:20 a.m.

Prince George—Peace River B.C.


Jay Hill ConservativeSecretary of State and Chief Government Whip

Mr. Speaker, I would like to indicate to the Chair that I will be splitting my time today with my colleague from Calgary East.

As I rise to speak to this important motion on Canada's future role in Afghanistan, I must first point out how much I value this opportunity to participate in this particular debate. I believe that my own colleagues, along with many of those across the chamber floor and certainly my constituents in Prince George—Peace River, know full well the significance I place upon this particular issue.

I have been passionate about this mission since the first Canadian troops were deployed to the troubled nation of Afghanistan many years ago now. However, as my knowledge has grown about the mission, about the Canadian soldiers who have served there and about the hope and the assistance it provides to the Afghan people themselves, I am more reassured than ever before that Canada has a moral obligation to participate in this mission. It is not only for the sake of the people of Afghanistan and for those living throughout the Middle East, but for the sake of Canadians and everything we have ever stood for in terms of peace and freedom.

Over the next few minutes I will describe my own personal experiences and observations from my visit to Afghanistan in December 2006. I want to relay the sentiments that were conveyed to me by our Canadians soldiers and their families back here. I want to illustrate that the grieving families of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice are still committed to the mission.

These are not armchair observers in the debate surrounding this mission. They are involved in the most deeply personal way possible. I am heartened that members of the official opposition have also chosen to listen to the advice of these individuals. However, I am puzzled that members of the NDP and the Bloc Québécois steadfastly choose to disregard those who truly matter in this debate.

It is perhaps due to their lack of understanding about the needs of the Afghan people, of the true evil nature of the Taliban, of Canada's military history and of the nature of peacekeeping. For their benefit, I would like to clear up many of these myths and misconceptions.

First, this is a United Nations mandated mission. We have heard that time and time again and yet people would like to frame this debate and frame the mission as though it somehow is not. We hear from people who compare this mission to the Russian invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. We heard our Minister of National Defence, when he led off the debate yesterday, refute this very clearly and yet these myths and misconceptions about our mission there still prevail.

Likewise, this is not a peacekeeping mission. We hear from people who suggest that somehow we have allowed this mission to devolve into more of a combat mission and yet people do not describe what that exactly means. They do not reveal that in the last year there has not been one Canadian soldier who has died from actual combat, engaging with the enemy in a shooting war, and yet this myth prevails as well.

However, this is not a peacekeeping mission and it has never been a peacekeeping mission as such. It is important for Canadians remember that peacekeeping missions were where the UN would send blue helmets, to use the common phrase, to intervene between two warring sovereign nations. That was usually the sense of a peacekeeping mission.

Canada has done that type of role many times in the past and with much success but Afghanistan is not a peacekeeping mission because there is no peace to keep yet. I think it is important that we remember that.

The Afghan people and their democratically elected government enthusiastically endorse our presence there. I am reminded of the fact that not too long ago, somewhere around December of last year, Peter Mansbridge revealed a new poll and, in his opening remarks that night on The National, he said that Canadians would be shocked by this poll.

I was watching television and I thought “oh my God, is it true? They polled the Afghan people and they don't want Canada there”. No. The media was shocked because the poll revealed exactly the opposite. It revealed what we had been saying and what Canadian soldiers knew, which is that the Afghan people want us and need us there. They need us to complete the mission.

I want to speak briefly because time is of the essence and 10 minutes goes so quickly. Most of us could talk for hours on this topic.

I have had many unique experiences in my lifetime. I have had many extremely moving and unique experiences in the 15 years that I have been privileged to represent the people of northeastern British Columbia in this chamber, and in my duties across the nation and around the world.

Many of those experiences have increased my pride in being a Canadian, but I have never ever been more proud to be Canadian than when I was in Afghanistan at Christmas in 2006, never, and I will explain why.

It was such a great privilege for me to travel to that country during the Christmas holiday. When one thinks of Christmastime, one thinks of wanting to spend it with one's own children, family and friends, but I chose to go there with two of my colleagues and a delegation of other Canadians, entertainers and the Chief of Defence Staff. The two colleagues who had the privilege of going with me at the time were my colleague from Edmonton Centre and the current Minister of the Environment.

As we travelled throughout the war-torn region and visited the forward operating bases, the FOBs as they are known, the troops would come up to us and say, “You guys must have drawn the short straw to have to come over here and see us at Christmastime”. They appreciated it, but they were puzzled by it.

My two colleagues and I had to repeatedly reassure them that we were there because we were privileged to be there. We had to lobby for months to go there to show our support and express our appreciation on behalf of our constituents and all Canadians.

The thrill of sharing a coffee at the Tim Hortons in Kandahar base is a small thing, but it was very deeply gratifying as an individual and a Canadian to be in the presence of these fantastic young men and women, and to help serve them Christmas dinner in one of the forward operating bases. They were not griping or complaining, but revealed to us it was their first hot meal in days and we were there to help serve them and express our appreciation.

It was gut wrenching for us to think that some of these terrific young Canadians might not be coming back alive and yet they were so committed. They know why they are there. They see the reasons why they are there every day and remain committed to the mission.

I am privileged and pleased to have three young Canadian adult children. As a parent, I cannot imagine a worse fear than losing a child. But, likewise, if I try to put myself in the position of the Afghan parents, the men and women with children, I cannot imagine anything worse than not being able to offer one's children hope of a better future.

Think about it. I know you are a parent yourself, Mr. Speaker. Can you imagine going through life and not being able to offer hope for a better future for your children?

That is what we bring. That is what our young men and women in uniform are bringing. That is what our provincial reconstruction teams are bringing. That is what our diplomats are bringing. That is what the aid workers are bringing to the people of Afghanistan.

We cannot abandon them, as some parties and individuals in the House would like to believe. We cannot abandon them and there can be no support for the Afghan people without security. We have heard that time and time again during this debate. I think the majority of Canadians understand that.

I want to quickly talk about one other issue just to drive home the message of why we are there. My wife and I were involved in assisting the Afghan ambassador to Canada and his wife, Omar and Khorshied Samad, in planning a shawl sale to try to support some of the families, women and children in Afghanistan. I remember being out for dinner one evening in Ottawa with the Samads when the ambassador received a telephone call and I could see he was upset. I asked him, because I am a nosy person, what the particular issue was.

He relayed to me that he had received a message that there had just been another tragedy in his country. It was only two this time. Two young girls, young children, were walking home from school. A motorcycle went by ridden by two Afghans with a machine gun. The two young girls were murdered on the roadside while walking home from school. What was their crime? Their crime was that they wanted an education. They wanted hope for the future. Imagine that, two young children, two young girls, walking home.

To me, the discussion that night very clearly exemplified why we are there. I have told this story across our land in the days, weeks and months since. Whenever I tell the story, it very clearly tells Canadians why we are there and why we must remain there.

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11:30 a.m.


Marc Lemay Bloc Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to see these debates held more often in this House. In fact, they are not so much debates, as they are explanations of the various positions taken on all sides of the House, particularly the position that we in Bloc Québécois have taken and will take regarding Canada's mission in Afghanistan. The Bloc's position is very clear: we believe we should withdraw our troops in 2009.

That said, I respectfully listened to what my colleague across the floor had to say. I had a chance to read up on the matter. Indeed, in a debate like this one, I think it is extremely important to carefully read papers and books on Afghanistan before taking a stance.

I urge my hon. colleague across the floor, as well as all members of this House, to read a certain book that has been published, one that is neutral, since I did not write it. It was written by Michael Barry. I read the French version, Le royaume de l'insolence: l'Afghanistan, 1504-2001, but the original English version, from Cambridge University Press, is titled A History of Modern Afghanistan. This extremely interesting book charts the history of Afghanistan from 1504 to 2001. They are said to be an unconquered people made up of various tribes that have been fighting for the past 400 years.

What makes us think that, between now and 2011, our tiny contribution will stop the fighting there?

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11:35 a.m.


Jay Hill Conservative Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from the Bloc for his question and reference to the lessons of history, but I would go beyond that and note the old saying: “Those who don't know history are destined to repeat it”.

The member points out that Afghanistan has a long and tragic history. We are well aware of that and all Canadians are, and we do not have to read an encyclopedia to do it, but what is he really saying? Is he saying that these little children that I personally met and my colleagues have talked about are destined for a future with no hope? Is that what he is saying because that is what I think he is saying. He is saying it is not worth the sacrifice of our young men and women. It is not worth the dollars and cents we are investing over there. It is not worth the effort. It is not worth the commitment.

I have always had a problem with the Bloc's position which is that we can somehow set an arbitrary date and say we are going to pull out in 2009 or 2011. I understand we have come to an agreement with the Liberal Party, so that hopefully we can get majority support in this chamber to extend the mission to 2011. But how is it that we can just decide as the NDP has decided that this is enough, that we are going to leave these people, and we are going to allow the Taliban to retrench because that is surely what will happen. We heard many people speak about this in this debate as well.

Try to forecast into the future as to what would happen if the Taliban returned. What would happen to those girls who are going to school? What would happen to the teachers who dare to teach girls? We know what would happen. They would be murdered by this regime because it is not within its beliefs.

I say we have to study the lessons of history, but we also have to study how continuously the world has failed Afghanistan. That is the lesson from history that we should be taking into account. We would want to ensure, on behalf of the sacrifice we have already made there, that the sacrifice is not in vain and ensure we never abandon the people of Afghanistan again because it is not only in their best interests but to repeal a base and to ensure there is no longer a base for worldwide terrorism in Afghanistan--

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11:35 a.m.