This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

House of Commons Hansard #66 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was troops.

Topics

AfghanistanGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to my colleague's comments. I have a couple of points to make and then a question.

First, it seems to me that the Liberal Party's position, which it held strenuously before, notwithstanding that it helped to extend this mission to 2009, was that there had to be a withdrawal from the combat mission. Now it has entirely flipped and flopped and caved to supporting what everyone knows is an extension of the combat mission.

Everything in the motion shows that. Having a special committee, I am sorry, does not guarantee a 3D approach. Money in the bank dedicated to the mission will. Therefore, the Liberal Party cannot hide behind words. There have to be actions. A thousand troops, more helicopters and drones do not add to the other two Ds that need help.

I want to ask the member if she would agree with the following. Canadians, for example, are led to believe the biggest urgency revealed by the Manley report is the need to muster another 1,000 troops. Meanwhile the Harper government takes no steps whatsoever to—

AfghanistanGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

The hon. member for Winnipeg South Centre.

AfghanistanGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Anita Neville Liberal Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure I heard the end of the hon. member's question. However, from my perspective and the perspective of many of my colleagues, the end of the combat mission as of 2009 is critical to the intent of the motion.

I am operating on good faith that the will of Parliament will be observed by the government of the day as we move forward in this role.

AfghanistanGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

Liberal

Raymond Simard Liberal Saint Boniface, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to this very complex issue, Afghanistan. I think most of us here visit our schools and speak to our students from time to time. Inevitably, I am asked the question whether Canada should be in Afghanistan. Unequivocally, my answer is yes. We have made the right decision to be there. I believe in multilateralism, as flawed as it may be. I believe in the UN and NATO. However, we need to maybe modify these structures somewhat as they are somewhat outdated.

It is important for some of the poorest countries in the world to know that there are organizations out there that can intervene on their behalf when they are stuck in very difficult situations. Canada is a very privileged nation. I tell the students this as well. We are G-7 country. We are privileged to be here. It would be very difficult for us to promote human rights at home but not do it in other countries where there are human rights abuses. It would be very easy for us to say that we are comfortable here, that nothing is happening and go on with our daily lives. However, as a responsible nation, as privileged nation, as one of the richest nations in the world, we need to intervene when the time comes.

I have already said this in the House. Probably the most difficult decision a member of Parliament has to make is whether we send our young men and women to war. In the case of Afghanistan, I am convinced it was a good cause. We joined our NATO allies in 2002. It was also a UN-mandated mission. I believe we are there for the right reasons, and two come to mind right now.

First, the Taliban regime was not only encouraging terrorists, it was helping train them. Some of my colleagues on the other side spoke about 9/11 and how it changed the world. I could not agree more. After 9/11 we realized that what was happening overseas, what was happening thousands of miles away, was having an impact on us. We realized that we had to act drastically to reduce the risks of this happening.

Second is the Taliban treatment of their people. Think of what Afghanis have been through over the last decades, with Russia being there and then the Taliban coming in. We have all seen pictures on TV of men throwing acid in women's faces if they are not wearing a veil or young school girls watching as their teacher's is being head cut off because he is teaching them. If they cannot count on a country like Canada to come in and defend their interests, on whom can they count?

Therefore, I believe that, in the first instance, we absolutely had a responsibility to be there.

One of my colleagues on the other side said that we should not question our decision to go there. We should always discuss and debate our role there. It is important for it not to become impersonal. As members of Parliament, this has to remain a personal thing for us. I think people in Afghanistan, our soldiers and our people working in the medical field expect us to continue discussing and debating this to see what changes should be made or if we should modify our position on things. I do not believe for a minute that we should be taking a position and saying that we are not going to modifying it, that we should not be discussing it and that we are supporting our troops and that is it. There has to be some flexibility.

It is easy when a conflict is happening thousands of miles away for it to become very impersonal. We see a clip on national TV for a few minutes and then we go on with our daily lives. As members of Parliament, we cannot let that happen. It has to be personal.

This does not mean for a second that we are not proud of our soldiers for the amazing work they do there. In fact, a young soldier in my riding did a six month stint in Afghanistan. I asked him to meet with me so he could tell me what he thought after his stint, what he had faced when he was there and whether he thought we made a difference there. Interestingly enough he told me that he had no intention of joining the military. It was not part of his plans. He decided after 9/11. It actually impressed upon him that he had a responsibility to get involved, which is interesting. Therefore, he went to Afghanistan for six months.

He told me they were making a substantial difference. He said that they would go into villages that had been raided by the Taliban and the people had left. They would secure the villages, bring in clinics, for instance, and people would come back. They were making a substantial difference. He was very proud of his role and very proud of Canada's role.

That is not to say there is not a dark side to any war. This young man's mother, whom I know very well, would get up in the morning and dread reading the paper in case she would see another young Canadian had lost his or her life. She said that her heart would skip a beat every time she opened a newspaper. We have to realize there is a personal impact to this as well.

The second personal impact is obviously the repercussions of post-traumatic stress disorder. I am sure most of us here have had young people come back from Afghanistan and speak to us. A few cases were absolutely devastating for them, obviously, and for me. These young people are 20 to 25 years old and their lives are essentially ruined. One person could not sleep at night for a year or two, no matter what medication he was given. He did not have access to a psychiatrist because there were not enough to deal with that type of post-traumatic stress. He tried to take on a few jobs, but had to quit because of the pressure and the panic. There are consequences. When we make these decisions, there are huge consequences for our young people. Although we support them wholeheartedly, I want people to know there is another side to this. We do not want to glorify war and we always want to avoid it at every cost.

The third issue was addressed on W-FIVE last night. It was an astonishing show. It featured a medical unit in Afghanistan and showed the number of people who went through it. We hear about Canadians being injured, but it was literally kept busy 24 hours a day with people going through it. What we do not realize is that for every Canadian, or American or Dutch troop going in, 20 civilians are going into those clinics. Young boys and girls with unbelievable injuries are in those clinics. I am very pleased our Canadians are there to look after them. Some of these injuries are caused by our people, and that is the price of war. However, they pay a huge price.

For every mother in Canada who is worried about her son or daughter, there are mothers in Afghanistan who are worried about the same thing. It is important to mention that when we make these decisions here for things that happen 2,000 miles away, there are consequences and we have to be aware of that.

One of the frustrating things for me was the unwillingness of NATO to rotate other troops. We have been in Kandahar province since February 2002, arguably the most dangerous province in Afghanistan. We have lost more soldiers proportionately than the U.S. soldiers in Iraq. No one can say Canada has not done its share. It is not unreasonable for us to ask NATO at this point to rotate other troops into the tough areas. Some countries do not want to fight at night. Some do not want to send their troops to hotspots. Others will not send soldiers at all. Most of these decisions are made for political reasons at home and, frankly, it is a sad thing.

NATO's reputation is being questioned right now. We have to look at the whole mandate of NATO and how we should be looking at it in the future in terms of sharing. The countries in which we are intervening should know that we are going in as a united force, as a team, not only two or three out of twenty-six countries carrying the weight. This is a huge issue.

I am very pleased the mission is changing in 2009. I am pleased it is ending in 2011. Our focus will be on renewed security, reconstruction, development, governance. There is a lot at stake. In the end we have to not only hope, but we have to do everything in our power to make Afghanistan a better place for its citizens to live in the long term, because the short term costs are enormous.

AfghanistanGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Michael Chong Conservative Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the member opposite concerning the mission in Afghanistan.

As he might well know, the area in Afghanistan in which Canadian Forces are engaged is the Kandahar province area. It is an area that is at the northwest frontier of the South Asian continent. It is demarcated by the Durand Line, a line that was established over 100 years ago by the British and the Afghanis, demarcating the difference between what was then British India and Afghanistan.

What is also the case is that the Pashtun tribal area is divided up by this international border.

How does he propose to ensure that the nation state constructs of Afghanistan and Pakistan continue and will be able to assert their sovereignty over those areas? Are there other solutions that might be available to ensure that this nation state construct remains integral to that area, or does he believe that it may not be possible to ever do that, that there are too many difficulties in overcoming tribal conflicts in that cross-border area?

AfghanistanGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Raymond Simard Liberal Saint Boniface, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for the question and it is a very good question, actually.

When we enter places like Afghanistan, we have to understand the complexities. Sometimes it is something that the western world does not understand. We walk in and we think that we will be there for a few months, we will do our job and we will leave. But the tribal leader issue, the different communities, the warlords, and the poppies that are being grown, all impact what is going on over there.

I do think that we have been weak in terms of diplomacy. I do not think, in the end, that there is a military solution to this. I think that we have to work both angles.

Having said that, I am trying to think how we would negotiate with the Taliban. I am not sure that these people are open to compromise that much, so again it is a difficult situation, but in the end, I do not think any country can be there forever. At one point, there has to be an end game to this, and the only way that this can happen is if people sit down and talk. I do believe that there are solutions and that at one point people will want to stop the war.

Hopefully, when we leave there, we will have left it a better place than when we came in.

AfghanistanGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, let me take a quick second to apologize for not listening to you more carefully in your point of order.

I want to read into the record a critique that has been brought forward, and I would like to hear the hon. member's response. It is talking about the thousand more troops that have been focused on. The quote states: “Meanwhile the Harper government takes no steps whatsoever to address the real weaknesses: the misguided US--”.

AfghanistanGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

Order. The reason I interrupted the member the last time was because he kept referring to the Prime Minister by name and he has done it again.

The hon. member for Saint Boniface.

AfghanistanGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

Raymond Simard Liberal Saint Boniface, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure there was a question there.

The thousand troops issue is probably something that is very needed. I am not sure it is the answer. In the end, we are going to need NATO to revise its position and push some of its member countries to bring in a substantial number of troops into the Kandahar region. I would hope that it would do that very quickly so that Canada can get onto its role of development, governance building, and things that we are extremely good at.

I do think that we have done the heavy lifting on this and that NATO has a responsibility to bring other people in.

Ways and Means Motion No. 10--Speaker's RulingPoints of OrderGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I am now prepared to rule on the point of order raised by the hon. member for Pickering—Scarborough East on March 11 concerning the admissibility of the ways and means motion to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on February 26 and to enact provisions to preserve the fiscal plan set out in that budget for which the hon. Minister of Finance gave notice on that day.

I would like to thank the hon. member for Pickering—Scarborough East for initially bringing this matter to the attention of the House, as well as for his subsequent intervention, and I would also like to thank the hon. member for Markham—Unionville, the hon. government House leader, and the hon. House leader for the Bloc Québécois for their submissions.

The member for Pickering—Scarborough East, in raising the matter, claimed that Ways and Means Motion No. 10, standing on the order paper in the name of the Minister of Finance, seeks to have the House decide upon a matter which it had already voted on.

That vote took place on March 5, 2008, when Bill C-253, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (deductibility of RESP contributions) was adopted at third reading. To this issue, the member for Markham—Unionville has added the contention that Ways and Means Motion No. 10, by including provisions related to Bill C-253, seeks to implement a measure that does not flow from the most recent budget, thus, he alleges, enlarging the usual parameters of budget implementation ways and means motions.

He further contended that this was a backdoor attempt to circumvent the rights of private members as provided for in the rules governing this category of business.

For the sake of clarity, I should state that sections 45 to 48 of Ways and Means Motion No. 10 are the subject of this point of order. They are conditional amendments that seek to amend or repeal the amendments to the Income Tax Act contained in Bill C-253 should the latter receive royal assent. The stated objective of these ways and means measures is, to quote the Minister of Finance at page 3971 of the Debates, “--to protect Canada's fiscal framework”.

The government House leader asserted that the broad scope of Ways and Means Motion No. 10, and the wide range of taxation and fiscal measures it seeks to implement are clear evidence that the motion is fundamentally a different matter than was Bill C-253, and therefore, that it should be allowed to proceed.

In support of his arguments a number of procedural authorities were cited, some of which I will return to later in this ruling.

Let me first deal with the argument that the inclusion of provisions regarding Bill C-253 in Ways and Means Motion No. 10 does not respect our conventions regarding the content of such motions.

The Chair wishes to remind the House that the budget speech and bills based on ways and means motions tabled at a later date are not necessarily linked. House of Commons Procedure and Practice states at page 748:

While a Budget is normally followed by the introduction of Ways and Means bills, such bills do not have to be preceded by a Budget presentation. Generally, taxation legislation can be introduced at any time during a session; the only prerequisite being prior concurrence in a Ways and Means motion.

At page 759, Marleau and Montpetit goes on to state:

The adoption of a Ways and Means motion stands as an order of the House either to bring in a bill or bills based on the provisions of that motion or to propose an amendment or amendments to a bill then before the House.

That text footnotes examples from 1971, 1973, and 1997. Furthermore, in the case before us, it must be noted that the title of Ways and Means Motion No. 10 states clearly that it not only implements certain provisions of the February 26, 2008 budget, but that it also aims to:

--enact provisions to preserve the fiscal plan set out in that budget.

On this point, namely the objection that the motion includes provisions that were not contained in the budget, the Chair must conclude that Ways and Means Motion No. 10 is not procedurally flawed.

Let us now turn to the argument that the decision of the House to adopt Bill C-253 at third reading must stand since the House cannot be asked to pronounce itself again in the same session on the same subject.

The Chair wishes to remind hon. members that while a part of Ways and Means Motion No. 10 touches on Bill C-253, the question that the House will actually be asked to vote on today, assuming it is called today, is not the same as the question it agreed to on March 5, 2008, when it adopted the bill at third reading.

In this regard the Chair has found a number of examples where a bill repeals sections of an act already amended by another bill adopted by the House in the same session.

For example, in the first session of the 38th Parliament, Bill C-18, An Act to amend the Telefilm Canada Act and another Act, and Bill C-43, An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on February 23, 2005, both proposed to amend subsection 85(1) of the Financial Administration Act.

In addition, there are also examples of bills proceeding concurrently even though some of their provisions are dependent upon one another.

As mentioned by the government House leader, Mr. Speaker Lamoureux ruled on February 24, 1971, on such a situation at page 3712 of the Debates. He stated:

There is, therefore, in my view, nothing procedurally wrong in having before the House at the same time concurrent or related bills which might be in contradiction with one another either because of the terms of the proposed legislation itself or in relation to proposed amendments.

This is further supported by the 23rd edition of Erskine May at page 580, which affirms that:

There is no rule against the amendment or the repeal of an act of the same session.

Most compelling are the rulings of Mr. Speaker Fraser from June 8, 1988, and I refer to the Debates at pages 16252 to 16258, and on November 28, 1991, pages 5513 to 5514, both of which were quoted by the government House leader. These rulings clearly support the view that the progress of any bill flowing from Ways and Means Motion No. 10 rests with the House.

As Mr. Speaker Fraser put it on November 28, 1991:

The legislative process affords ample opportunity for amending proposed legislation during the detailed clause by clause study in committee and again at the report stage in the House.

Insofar as this process affects private members' business as a category of business or indeed the rights of individual members to propose initiatives, I must point out that it is not the Speaker but the House which ultimately decides such matters.

For the reasons stated above, the Chair finds that Ways and Means Motion No. 10, as tabled by the Minister of Finance, may proceed in its current form.

Once again, I would like to thank the hon. member for Pickering—Scarborough East for having raised this matter.

The House resumed consideration of the motion, and of the amendment.

AfghanistanGovernment Orders

11:50 a.m.

Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo B.C.

Conservative

Betty Hinton ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Veterans Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke.

I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak to our mission in Afghanistan. Our government believes that the Afghan mission is important. It is important to the people of that country and it is important to Canadians. It is especially important to the Canadian sons and daughters who are on the ground there, our military, our diplomats and the civilian aid workers who are all trying to rebuild the lives and livelihoods of the Afghan people.

Last week, Mr. Speaker, you introduced six women seated in that gallery. Those women were parliamentarians in the fledgling Afghan government. Seven short years ago those same women could not have left their homes without burkas or unaccompanied by a male relative. Seven years ago they could not walk to the corner by themselves or access medical care. Now they are free to travel halfway around the world to sit in the gallery of the Canadian Parliament with their faces bare.

As parliamentarians in Canada, we all face certain challenges but having our lives threatened constantly is not one of them. These female Afghan parliamentarians deal with this threat on a daily basis.

In this, our 39th Parliament, 21% of the members are women. In Afghanistan, women account for 25% of parliament. They have no budget for a constituency office and must perform their duties, one on one, over vast areas of terrain under dangerous conditions.

What makes these women leave the relative safety of their homes to take on this very dangerous task? According to them, it is quite simple. They have an inner knowledge that their daring stand for democracy will ultimately have a positive effect on their lives and the lives of their children.

Canadian parliamentarians stood and applauded the bravery of these women and their achievements. I, therefore, see no reason why any member would choose not to continue to stand for them as they continue to rebuild their country into a place that is governed by a democratically elected Parliament, the rule of law, human rights and freedom.

Their victory will not happen overnight, but we knew that going in, and our Canadian Forces on the ground knew that going in.

We in this Parliament have a clear choice. We can be part of the solution or we can be part of the problem. Ten reservists from my riding made their decision themselves when they left a short time ago for a tour of duty in Afghanistan. They are going to do their part. Five Rocky Mountain Rangers have already been there for a tour of duty and, thankfully, returned safety.

I have spoken to them and I have heard the stories of their many successes, which add up to progress being made for the Afghan people. They have no regrets. They are the creators of change.

In January of this year, an American aid worker and her driver were abducted in Kandahar. Cyd Mizell had worked in the area for six years on educational projects and women's development. To date, she and her driver have not been found. In a show of support, 500 Afghan women gathered to protest the kidnapping. They called on officials, elders and ordinary citizens to work for her release. These women could not have dared to rally seven years ago. Canadians made it possible.

Just last week, Afghans celebrated International Women's Day. Hundreds of women marched for peace in Kandahar, the hotbed of Taliban insurgents. In the north, women held public meetings in the provincial capitals on giving women voices, with the provincial governors, women's councils, local police, judges and religious leaders participating. These meetings would not have been allowed to take place seven years ago. Canadians made it possible.

None of this progress would have been made without the security of the NATO troops provided to the Afghan people.

There are members of the House who would have our troops pulled out of Afghanistan immediately. Those members undermine the positive work that is going on in Afghanistan. Their propaganda is an insult to today's military and to the men and women who have served in areas of conflict during the history of our nation.

Canadians have never cut and run when the going got tough. We have a tradition of coming to the aid of those in need, whether it is in a peacekeeping capacity or in a peace-making capacity, and we do it well.

As the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Veterans Affairs, I have had many opportunities to attend special remembrance ceremonies, both here and abroad. I have also witnessed the increased awareness of our military history among the younger generation. There is an earned pride that comes with the awareness and an appreciation for the sacrifices made in the name of oppressed people around the world.

Today, one only has to see the overpasses on the Highway of Heroes jammed with saluting, flag-waving Canadians for a member of our military who has paid the ultimate price and has returned home for burial. It is truly remarkable.

Canadians are gaining a renewed pride in our military men and women who, for too long, were underfunded and ignored by the government. Members of the military are now getting the recognition they so richly deserve and, I must say, some are quite surprised by it.

When we walk up to any man or woman in uniform and thank them for all they do for us, their first reaction is a quizzical look, then a big smile and a bit of embarrassment. Our military do not serve for praise. They are proud to wear their uniform and serve their country.

I have not been to Afghanistan but I am aware of the many successes, such as the mortality rate for newborns declining 22% because the number of skilled childbirth workers has almost quadrupled since 2001. Access to basic medical services has increased to 83%, up from 9% in 2004.

I recognize that there are close to six million children, a full one-third girls, now enrolled in school compared to only 700,000 exclusively male children in 2001. I am aware of the wonderful opportunities, through the Canadian micro-finance plan, that allows women to run their own small businesses to support their families.

However, there is no more compelling evidence for me that the failing Afghan state is on the road to recovery than the sight of those six women sitting in the gallery. They are putting their lives on the line for their country and they deserve no less than our full support.

Our world will be a better place with a free and democratic Afghanistan.

AfghanistanGovernment Orders

Noon

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I attempted earlier to read into the record a quote in the Policy Options magazine but I did not do it in the right manner, so I will keep that in mind.

The quote simply states that the present “government--”, as opposed to the nomenclature I gave it earlier:

--takes no steps whatsoever to address the real weaknesses: the misguided US command and control effort; chaos and corruption in the Western-sponsored Karzai regime;....

The reason I read that for comment is because it is a quote, not from a New Democrat, but from someone who actually ran for the Conservative Party, and the member will probably know him, Arthur Kent. His point was that what is being proposed in this motion, with the Liberal Party supporting the government, is 1,000 more troops.

Whose command and control will those troops be under? If it is, as we believe, American troops, we should also know that they will not be under the command and control of any other country. What will happen to the command structure of the 1,000 troops, which we will get and I think everyone knows that, if they come from the United States? Will they be under American command and control? What will happen in that scenario?

AfghanistanGovernment Orders

Noon

Conservative

Betty Hinton Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have a number of things I would like to say but I will control myself.

Canadian soldiers will be under RC South, which is Canadian held. We will be looking after and directing our own soldiers.

I have a question for the member. He just made a statement, which I did not understand, so maybe he can help me. How does his party stand against freedom for women, against democracy, against the rule of law, against the strong and historic Canadian embassies and all the things we have done as a country to make the world a better place in which to live?

I do not understand why NDP members do not understand what it is we are doing. We are making a tremendous difference. We are doing what Canadian people have done for centuries. We are making a difference for oppressed people.

I deal with veterans on a day by day basis. I am very proud of what they have managed to accomplish. They should be proud of themselves, and they are, but they are very humble. They were just doing their duty. The Canadian Forces are doing what our forces have been doing for years.

I simply cannot understand the member's comments.

AfghanistanGovernment Orders

Noon

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, although I did not get an answer to my question, I will answer the member's question.

I am the son of a veteran. Both of my grandfathers are World War I veterans and my father is a veteran of World War II. I understand Canadian service. It is about how we make a difference, not whether or not we will make a difference.

My question back for the hon. member has to do with how we make the difference. Canada is supporting a corrupt regime. I met with the six Afghan members of parliament. I also know of another Afghan member of parliament, the only elected member representing a constituency, who was thrown out of parliament because she objected to the corruption in parliament. That is the government that Canada is supporting.

There is no question that the Taliban are bad guys but at one time we supported them in their fight against the Soviets.

The question is not whether or not we are against one group. The question is how we can best make a difference in Afghanistan and--

AfghanistanGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The hon. parliamentary secretary has less than a minute left.

AfghanistanGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

Betty Hinton Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Mr. Speaker, we are in this Parliament and we have different groups representing all Canadians. We have a group whose sole purpose in the House of Commons is to separate from Canada. We have another group that is most definitely socialist in nature. However, as a group, we manage very nicely to get along.

For the member to suggest that a new fledgling government will be perfect, when he sits in a House that is far from perfect, makes no sense at all to me.

AfghanistanGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

Cheryl Gallant Conservative Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to be here today to speak to the motion on Canada's role in Afghanistan. I am glad to see that the government and the official opposition have reached an agreement on Canada's mission in Afghanistan. This motion is neither a Conservative nor a Liberal motion; it is a Canadian motion that is consistent with our history and our values.

During the first world war, Conservative Robert Borden was in power. Historians witnessed the birth of Canada as a nation in the hell of trench warfare.

Some thirty years later, Mackenzie King, a Liberal, led our country through the second world war.

We fought alongside our American and British allies and played a role in the success of one of the biggest land invasions in history.

I sit on the national defence and had the privilege of asking Brigadier General Atkinson about the intelligence gathering abilities of the Taliban. I think too many in the House assume that the Taliban are a ragtag band of primeval warriors, and it is easy to think that because their values are so primitive.

However Brigadier General Atkinson answered thoughtfully. He stated that when a story is printed the Ottawa Citizen today, no matter what it is, it is being read. If it is on the BBC news or from somewhere else, they have it.

We should all ponder that statement when we debate in the House. It is not the statements of the general are anything new either. I think we can all remember that notable phrase from World War II that “loose lips sink ships” and it is not much different from that.

While I certainly understand that the modern media and communications has made issues like this vastly more complicated, all members should take time to examine the consciences. What we say in these halls might as well be said on the streets of Kandahar.

At the conclusion of this debate, we will show the Taliban and other radical groups how disputes should be settled, by a democratic debate and then a vote. However, after this vote, I would ask that all members remember the soldiers on the ground and support them in their task.

Providing helpful, strategic or tactical criticism is one thing, but all too often the farcical cries of question period are now proffered as legitimate advice on war and conflict.

The House should also know that it is not just generals expressing concern, but good-hearted journalists, like Christie Blatchford of the Globe and Mail. It is not often I quote journalists, but her column was particularly instructive. Speaking to her Afghan translator, who had recent communications with village friends in the countryside, she stated:

Truth is, it is quite believable that the Taliban would target Canadians if they sense that it is a useful time to inflict casualties.

Afghanistan may be a country reduced to rubble...but that doesn't translate to a primitive enemy...

I would like all members to remember these warnings, not as forcing silence but of asking wisdom of our spoken words.

We have made great strides in Afghanistan in the relatively short time that we have been there. Many members have spoken about this amazing progress, particularly for women. While it is far from perfect, it is far and away amazing progress in the last six years.

Consider the scenes we witnessed in the 1990s, a shaking and visibly fearful woman under a burqa, bending over in a soccer stadium while her barbaric executioner shoots her in the head. These are not visions from medieval Europe, but realities from just a short time ago in Afghanistan.

Then let us consider the pleasure that we had in the House just a short time ago as Afghan women parliamentarians sat in our galleries. Many of us went and visited with them and then thanked them for their bravery.

Just this past weekend, 1,000 women gathered in Kandahar to celebrate International Women's Day. This is from CP reporter Stephanie Levitz:

Since 2001 and the fall of the Taliban, women are slowly rising back up through the ranks of Afghan society. They sit in government, run hospitals and have regained the right to an education.

“This year is better than last year and the year before last year,” said Dr. Farishta Bwar, who works in the department of public health. “Every day the women's life becomes a little better.”

If these women can be brave, the least members can do in this place is stand with them. Unfortunately, some in the House would rather steep in their wilful denial of reality and their reckless ideology than embrace actual women with greater challenges.

I raise these issues not out of partisan wrangling, but out of genuine concern for the men and women. It seems from the debate thus far that the opposition and the government have come to an agreement that our troops will be in Kandahar till 2011. They will still be in danger and their families will still miss them terribly.

Canadian Forces Base Petawawa is located in my riding. One of my favourite constituency week activities is visiting the base, the soldiers and families of these brave women and men. These families have something to say. A child of a soldier who has served in Afghanistan wrote a wonderful speech, part of which bears reading into the record. This is what he had to say, not just of his dad who is undoubtedly a hero, but of the mother, a hero in his life. He said:

When people think of heroes what often comes to their mind is some fictional character like Batman or Superman. For me the person who first came to my mind was my Dad. He's a soldier and he's on his fifth deployment this time trying to make a better life for the people in Afghanistan.

But thinking more about heroes, I realize that a hero often has a “silent hero” behind him or her. The only way my Dad can be a hero and do what he does is to have a great person supporting him here in Canada. That made me think of the heroes behind the heroes, like my Mom.

She has stood behind my Dad's decisions to go on deployments and to move along with him when we were posted yet another time. She had to resign her jobs numerous times and give up her family and friends from the time she dated my Dad. Every move brought her new challenges, new environments and new adjustments to her life and career.

She keeps and has kept our family going while our Dad is gone on a deployment or an exercise. Although I miss my Dad when he's gone, my Mom makes sure our life just continues as if he were there.

In all this debate let us not forget the thousands of moms and dads who are also making a sacrifice, who sacrifice their children, their wives and husbands for the calling that we ask of them. Let us choose our words wisely for their sake, for all our sakes.

One of my constituents also expressed some important points on why we are in Afghanistan. He wrote in his letter:

Should we be there? It's a difficult question to answer. There are so many reasons to say, “yes”: Protecting the rights of women; promoting democracy; stopping the drug trade; promoting education and helping their country develop, so they can be a strong nation and learn to solve their own problems, fighting tyranny and intolerance, everything that Canada stands for. The answer is, yes. We should be in Afghanistan and take a closer look.

I am glad, as a member of the House, that the government and the official opposition have reached consensus on this issue. It sends a clear message to our troops and to Canadians of our intentions. It also sends a clear message to the Taliban that our wills cannot be shaken by their shadowy and cowardly acts.

There are so many successes in Afghanistan, whether it is the girls going to schools, the medical advances or the economic progress being made. I urge all members not to throw this away by a premature withdrawal.

With more troops, helicopters and UAVs, our troops will show even greater progress in the years to come. I, for certain, am looking forward to hearing their stories of success.

AfghanistanGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

NDP

Tony Martin NDP Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments from the member. This is a really important debate in the House and has implications across our land and around the world. It is important that all of us get up and, in a respectful manner in which she presented her case, be heard and be responded to with respect in questions and comments from others and those who might disagree.

Does the member understand, in her support of this new arrangement between the Liberals and the Conservatives, that the Liberals expect that the mission will change and change dramatically and radically? They have asked the question of the government as to where the number of 1,000 troops came from? What was the supporting documentation to come to a decision that 1,000 troops were needed? She talked about more troops, more artillery and more everything being needed to actually win this war. How will she deal with the aftermath of this resolution when it becomes obviously clear that the Liberals have quite a different understanding of the motion?

AfghanistanGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

Cheryl Gallant Conservative Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Mr. Speaker, as has been said in the House, the question of where 1,000 troops comes from is referenced in the Manley report. I am well aware of what different people think on this subject. However, as many hours as we have debated this, and it is coming to a conclusion and hopefully a vote, it would have been instructive for the Manley panel to have been invited to the defence committee, upon which I sit.

A motion was put forth so intricate questions, like the question the member asked me, could be directed specifically to the eminent members on the panel Mr. Manley led. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, the opposition did not want to hear the answers to these questions and did not want the greater public to have a better understanding of what the eminent Canadians appointed to the Manley panel did while they were away.

AfghanistanGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to my colleague's remarks and she asked us to carefully measure our words in this debate. She certainly has set the tone in that regard.

Many of us last week had the privilege of meeting a number of female parliamentarians from Afghanistan. They stood with us and requested that we not abandon them in this mission of providing the security that allowed the reconstruction and redevelopment to occur.

Would my colleague comment on the difference it would make if we were to abandon these women at this time and on the huge difference we have made for women and girls in Afghanistan?

AfghanistanGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

Cheryl Gallant Conservative Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Mr. Speaker, in listening to the women parliamentarians from Afghanistan, it put into perspective the minor issues we have to deal with involving safety and privacy issues as a parliamentarian. To be a parliamentarian, these women not only put their lives at stake, but the lives of their families and children as well.

The day prior to the day I met with those ladies we had another casualty in Afghanistan. The Governor General was there and they asked her if they could stand with her on the tarmac in Trenton when the body of the soldier was repatriated. Every time we lose a soldier, it pains them as well. They know these soldiers have given up their lives so they and their children can lead a better life. This really spoke to the appreciation that Afghan people have for our sacrifices in wanting to be there to comfort the family whose loved one was returning home.

AfghanistanGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

NDP

Tony Martin NDP Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Mr. Speaker, I take the responsibility we have with great seriousness. In my view it is unfortunate the debate has not happened in a more fulsome way across the country.

This government initiative is of fundamental importance to all of us. Nothing the government does is more serious than sending our armed forces into another country. In light of that, it is important that we have this debate, but we also have to find some way to reach out to the broader society and allow Canadians the opportunity to have their say. People want to engage in debate on this issue because they are concerned. They are on both sides of this issue. We need to be respectful of and open to the possibility of their coming forward to put their thoughts on the table for us to consider.

In my few minutes today I am going to bring to the table some thoughts on this subject from some of the faith groups in Canada. They have taken great pains to gather information, to do research, to put together positions, and write letters to the powers that be on the important subject of our engagement in the lives of the people of Afghanistan.

There are a number of questions that need to be addressed, and they will be addressed ultimately by all of us as we stand to vote this afternoon.

Is the war winnable? If so, at what cost to Canadians, at what cost to the Canadian armed forces, and most important, at what cost to the people of Afghanistan? Is there a higher moral and ethical value that we need to consider than simply the logistics of executing a war in order to win that war? Is there a higher moral and ethical value that we need to consider if we want to be helpful in that area of the world that has been wracked with difficulty for such a long period of time?

Ultimately then, having considered those questions which I put forward with respect and humility to my colleagues, will this resolution that we are debating today get us there? Will it set us on a path to something which would be a win for everybody concerned? Will it respect the higher values and moral and ethical considerations of many around the world who look at war from a different perspective after having fought world wars and other wars of great consequence and great devastation and destruction?

The first question I will address is, is the war winnable? That is questionable at best and it is certainly not winnable without more troops and artillery as was outlined so clearly in the Manley report.

The story of the Afghan people is not dissimilar to stories in other parts of the world where outside forces try to impose new cultural mores or a new set of values. People will resist and defend with their lives what they treasure most, their land and their freedom.

I only have to look at my own story and the story of the Irish people to understand to some degree what is at play in Afghanistan. The war in Ireland could not be won no matter how many British soldiers were sent in. A resolution and a cease to hostilities was only possible with the Good Friday agreement, a negotiated agreement that involved sitting down with the IRA. As my colleague from Outremont related the other night, Canada played a significant and central role in that effort because we were trusted and because we were seen to be non-aligned.

Two nights ago, the member for British Columbia Southern Interior shared brilliantly the recent experience of the failed Russian invasion of Afghanistan. The Russians used the same tactics as ourselves and yet, after engaging over 100,000 troops, they had to leave not having achieved any of their goals, however noble, and interestingly not unlike our own.

Manley outlines the many signs of failure in Afghanistan. Our leader, the member for Toronto—Danforth, spoke about them in his opening remarks in this debate. The Associated Press reported 5,000 lives lost in Afghanistan in 2007 alone, 27 of them Canadian soldiers, but that number has now gone up to 31, and thousands of Afghan soldiers, women and children.

History and our experience today should tell us that under the present circumstances this war cannot be won. Even Manley tells us we will need at least another thousand troops. The Liberals asked a good question here in this House. How was that number arrived at? Will that be enough? Will we need more after we discover that a thousand just is not enough? And when do we stop?

I now take us into a broader discussion of the moral and ethical values which need to be considered as we look at this resolution and the further engagement of Canada in this insurgency. In its communiqué of January 24, 2008, the Canadian Council of Churches referred to its letter of June 25, 2007 to the Prime Minister, in which it emphasized three points:

1) the primary goal of Canadian engagement in Afghanistan must be the pursuit of peace for the people of Afghanistan rather than forwarding the war on terror;

2) a political solution for reconciliation among the people of Afghanistan must be found using all available diplomatic means, including engaging civil society and religious networks; and

3) the efforts of Canadian Forces must be directed to the protection of lives and the preservation of civilian infrastructure.

In a statement in February of this year, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops said:

The people of Afghanistan want peace. We hope this conviction will be central to the deliberations by the Parliament of Canada. Political and electoral considerations must take second place when it is a question of human lives and a people's future. We would invite the members of Parliament to put aside any predetermined stances, recognizing that the truth will involve concerted efforts. Diverse points of view need to be welcomed as contributions toward developing a detailed and constructive action plan, with peace as the ultimate goal.

Over the centuries, the Catholic Church has developed a rich and wise social teaching that can help inform the present discussion. I wish to suggest three points that flow from this teaching:

1. "It is hardly possible to imagine that in an atomic era, war could be used as an instrument of justice." Peace negotiations, carried out in good faith and involving all the parties concerned - this approach needs special consideration.

2. A clear distinction must be made between military operations and humanitarian aid. In particular, "humanitarian aid must reach the civilian population and must never be used to influence those receiving it." Otherwise, one endangers the lives of numerous civilians as well as those humanitarian workers who become targets for the insurgents.

3. The human dignity of Canadian soldiers must be safeguarded. Their moral integrity is brought into question when international law is not respected, especially when the troubling issue is the torture of enemy combatants. Furthermore, the personal well-being of Canadian soldiers and their families must be ensured.

In August 2007 a number of Christian leaders wrote in a letter to the Prime Minister:

We share with you and all Canadians of good will the desire for peace and stability in Afghanistan. As churches, we are committed to protecting human life, promoting human dignity, working for justice, practicing forgiveness, and building peace and reconciliation. These commitments are part of our vision of living out the Good News of God in Jesus Christ.

They ask a number of important questions. For example, under the rubric “Reconciliation”:

How can Canada support reconciliation within Afghanistan?...How can Canada support negotiations leading to peace in Afghanistan?...How can Canada foster greater respect for human rights in Afghanistan?...How can Canada support Afghanistan, a fragile state, and promote human rights?...How can Canada best support reconstruction and development in Afghanistan?...How can the Canadian Forces best be deployed in Afghanistan to advance the safety and well being of people wherever they are threatened?...

These are the very questions that we in this caucus, in this little corner of the House, are asking in this very important debate on our engagement in Afghanistan. These leaders of many of the major church groups in our country went on to say:

We believe that The Canadian Forces should focus on enhancing protection of vulnerable Afghans rather than on aggressive engagement with insurgents in areas where the local population is suspicious or alienated from the central government. Such a shift in The Canadian Forces’ operational mandate would be an important consideration in the ongoing public dialogue regarding Canada’s role in Afghanistan.

These are words and thoughts which all of us should consider seriously and very thoughtfully as we make up our minds as to how long we are going to prolong this engagement and how that engagement is going to unfold in the next few years as we put our resources and efforts toward it.

The Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, an organization that does aid work in the third world, had this to say in its paper of October 23, 2006:

1. We are in favour of a prosperous and secure Afghanistan for all, a country where Afghan men and women can live in dignity and enjoy a clear and active participation in the country's social, economic and political life.

It puts forward a number of positions, but I will share with the House two or three of the ones that fit with my thoughts and the presentation here today. That organization said:

3. We ask that responsibility for foreign military operations in Afghanistan be turned over to the United Nations as soon as possible, and that NATO be relieved of this responsibility. It is essential that all military operations avoid being or being seen as a western occupation of the country. All NATO countries (with the exception of Turkey) are western nations.

The organization also stated:

8. We ask that the all party intra-Afghan dialogue, involving both those within and those that have left the country, be re-established. The dialogue must be frank, open, and without fear of retaliation. All parties must have the ability to express their perspectives and grievances and, in doing so, contribute to building a new national consensus.

Those are the thoughtful comments of many of our esteemed church leaders who have spent years thinking about this issue and talking with their colleagues, their communities and others across this country. As we consider where they feel from a moral and ethical perspective we should be going, the question we need to consider as we move toward the vote on this resolution tonight is, can the results of this resolution, based on the Manley report, take us to another place based on the values outlined by many of our faith communities?

Will a recommitment to the insurgency for another three years or more after 2009 lead to peace ultimately, and peace is what all of us want, or will more troops get us there? Really, when we boil it down, that is what is being asked for by the Manley report. It says that we cannot win the war under the present circumstances and with the present engagement, but that if we add more troops and more artillery, we can win somewhere, somehow, down the way. We do not know when and we do not know how much it will take.

All we know, as was ably presented to us the other night by our colleague from British Columbia, is that the Russians, after laying out all the same reasons that we are now laying out for our engagement in Afghanistan, and after having brought in 100,000 troops, had to concede defeat and leave.

As for that report, I do not think so, personally, and that is why I am standing here today to make this thoughtful and serious presentation to all members in the House. There were many intelligent and cogent arguments made by my colleagues and others over the last few days to suggest that they agree as well: this resolution will not get us to that place of peace and freedom that the Afghan people so desperately want.

I will leave my thoughts with members. I will add a couple of ideas more, which members might ruminate on and think about during the few hours before the vote takes place, a couple of conditions that are laid out by those who do this kind of work of looking at what the conditions for a just war in our world today might be.

They say that a just war must be an effort of “last resort”. They say, “For resort to war to be justified, all peaceful alternatives must have been exhausted”. That is what we are asking for here as New Democrats: that all peaceful alternatives be exhausted in this exercise, this effort and this work that we do in Afghanistan.

There are a few other conditions that I think are important. Members might want to take some time to look at them. They are readily available on the Internet, which is where I found them.

The article goes on to say that there has to be some high degree of “probability of success”. The authors say, “This is a difficult criterion to apply, but its purpose is to prevent irrational resort to force or hopeless resistance when the outcome of either will clearly be disproportionate or futile”.

AfghanistanGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to my colleague's comments. He certainly gave us a lot of good food for thought. He mentioned that he has heard from a number of different church groups and faith groups. I, too, have heard from many of them. In fact, as a person of faith, I come from a group that has a rich history of many great peacekeeping and peacemaking initiatives.

Personally, I have struggled as well with what the appropriate response is. I certainly wish that we did not need a military presence. For that matter, many times I wish we did not need a police force. Perhaps in a perfect world, we would not need a military or a police force.

The problem is that in this situation we are dealing with a sector of society that does not share the values of freedom we enjoy here in Canada. As for myself, I have had to come to the conclusion that I cannot stand idly by when innocent women, children and those from other vulnerable groups are raped, abused and murdered. I cannot stand idly by when I have the means to do something.

How would the member respond to the female parliamentarians who visited us last week and pleaded with us not to abandon them but to stand with them in their efforts to provide the security that is necessary for the reconstruction and redevelopment to occur?

AfghanistanGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

NDP

Tony Martin NDP Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the member's thoughtful question. I appreciate his faith roots. I agree that the faith community out there is as divided as we are in here in terms of where we should go on this question. That is why it is so important to have this debate and to hear, thoughtfully and respectfully, each other's point of view, so that when we move forward we do it after having taken the time.

I do not think, though, having heard the member's question, that it is helpful to in any way demonize the other side. It never is where war is concerned. It is never helpful to make the other side seem worse than it actually is. It inflames the actual combat itself, and in the end everyone gets hurt and we do not end at a place of peace and freedom, which is what I called for in my speech today.

I suggest that the people of Afghanistan, just like the people of Ireland, where I come from and where I lived for a number of years, believe, understand and appreciate freedom. They know what freedom is about and they want it desperately, just as desperately as we do.