Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to have this opportunity to speak to this very important motion. In a way, this is a historic occasion for the House of Commons as it debates a mission to determine whether it should be extended or not, and above all, whether it should be modified.
About a year ago, I attended a discussion on the Afghanistan mission, which was being held across the street at the Pearson Peacekeeping Centre. On the panel were representatives from the Canadian military, the RCMP and the Canadian Red Cross and they all made good points.
What was interesting to me, and I hope my friend from Sault Ste. Marie will take notice, was when a member from the Red Cross, who, I think, was a senior Canadian Red Cross officer who had worked in Afghanistan, said that development work could not be done until security was established and was being maintained and that the non-governmental organizations did not have a peaceful place where they could do development. I think we need to take that into consideration when we consider this motion and we look at what is the best response, the best way to approach it.
I am the first one to thank the hon. John Manley and his colleagues for the report they wrote because it began a lot of very useful debate. In my riding there is no one common position nor, I would say, one favoured position. I am hearing a lot of different views from a lot of people. Some believe we should immediately cease operations and some suggest that we should see it through until the end.
I held two forums a few weeks ago in my riding and used the Manley report as a basis for discussion. I heard from the people in the riding, took their questions and answered as best I could to guide my opinion and guide my actions in Parliament. From that, within our caucus we had a very difficult and prolonged debate on the question of Afghanistan and what should be the Canadian position or the Liberal Party position. I am very pleased with what we came out with. Our leader put forward the amendments to the original Conservative motion. I think those amendments satisfied, in a responsible way, the concerns that I heard from the people in my riding. Again, not all people will be happy.
I want to tell members of the House that I am absolutely insulted when supporters of the mission point to people who do not support the mission and call on them to support the troops. Supporting the troops and supporting the decisions of government are two completely different things.
One can disagree with one's political masters and be supporting the troops. I was part of the cabinet that originally sent our troops into that region post-9/11. Canadians have a right to disagree with the decision that I made, but they are, and I see it from one end of the country to the other, fully supportive of our men and women in uniform who are serving abroad.
This all started, we we all remember, with 9/11. It is important to remind ourselves of how we got ourselves into this position and how we came to have Canadians on the ground in Afghanistan. One of our NATO partners was attacked on 9/11.
Canada is a huge country with a small population. We will never be able to defend our own security alone. We will always depend on alliances, such as NATO, the United Nations, Norad, all the international bodies that we work with, to promote security and provide for our defence. For me, NATO is the best example. It has worked very well since the second world war. It faces some challenges but it has worked very well.
One of our NATO allies was attacked with the bombing of the towers, the attack on the Pentagon and the other plane that was lost which was supposed to be going to Washington also. They were attacked by a group of terrorists who were given safe haven by a nation state in Afghanistan. The Taliban provided support to al-Qaeda operating out of its country and it refused to turn over al-Qaeda after the attack. It continued to defend al-Qaeda and the Americans, therefore, chose to attack that state.
To me, there was no decision and no choice, We are a member of NATO and the creed of NATO is that if one nation is attacked we are all attacked and we respond. So we went into Afghanistan.
Members may remember that around the same time not too long ago we were having the same sort of debate as to whether we would go to Iraq. Neither I nor the House supported going to Iraq. Some members in the House would have gone but, based on the same judgment, the same evaluation and the information provided, we did not go. I think the member for Sault Ste. Marie raised a lot of points that needed to be considered before going into an armed conflict.
However, we are in Afghanistan and we have destabilized the Taliban government. We are now in the position where, if we were to leave, we would create a void, not just us but NATO, and all those people we helped and who helped us and who cooperated with us would be left unprotected. I believe there would be a slaughter there and heads would literally roll.
Therefore, for me, to immediately leave Afghanistan is not a question. I think that is the NDP position and I cannot support that.
I felt that the Conservative position in the original motion put forward was also stupid on many levels, the first being that it had no change in the mission and we could not foresee an end. There was no way to measure the goal as to where we were going.
However, the most stupid part of the motion was that the Minister of Defence told the House that he was looking for people to replace us. He said that he was calling on NATO for some assistance in the region but, at the same time, there was a non-confidence motion in the House on continuing the mission. That was not putting a lot of pressure on our allies within NATO because they knew that if he lost the motion they did not have to worry too much about it because there would be an election anyway in Canada, and if he won the motion, then we would be staying there. So that did not work.
We put forward an amendment to the motion, which I thought was responsible, and the government changed its motion in accordance to the amendment put forward by our leader.
At the end of the day, we have the NDP that would cut and run out of Afghanistan and the Conservatives who would cut and paste from our motion. The cut and paste works for me.
The amendment does a couple of the essential things that we wanted. It tells Canadians when our troops will be out of Kandahar and it gives us an end date. It also changes the mission. Those things need to work together. We cannot leave Afghanistan until we have established some security that will permit the treaty approach to work. We will then have additional development and better diplomacy.
The motion mentions that included in that security is the improvement of their armed forces, their police, their justice system and their corrections system so they can have some elements of democracy. We cannot expect that in two, three or ten years they will have a system that will parallel ours or that will be equal to ours. Our system is a lot better than it was 50 years ago but in 50 years Canadians will think we were Neanderthals because they will have improved the institutions of democracy some more. I have confidence in that. It will be the job of these pages, as they go forward, to make those improvements.
One of the things I discussed when I held those forums was whether this was a discussion for Parliament. As a take note debate for informing government, I think we would all agree it is. Some, myself being maybe the last Neanderthal in that respect, do not believe that sending soldiers into war is a decision of Parliament. The government must make those decisions. However, there can be discussions and it can be informed by Parliament but, at the end of the day, I do not see a member in the House who has the information required to decide if this mission can be successful, what it takes for that mission or how long it should be.
The government cannot tell me, and it should not tell me, all the secret information that is available to the Chief of Defence Staff, to the Minister of Defence, to the Prime Minister and to the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Telling me would indicate to our enemies how the information gets to us. It would put our allies and our troops at risk and would not help but hinder us. However, I am one of the few who thinks that way. Even at those forums I made the suggestion that such an important decision should be put forward in a referendum, that it should be the most direct of democracies and that a lot of the information for those who wish to be informed can be informed.
We had good discussions. We did not have 100% agreement in any area but people brought those ideas forward and defended them quite well.
As I mentioned previously, I was uncomfortable with the original position of my party and, before we introduced the amendment, we had a lot of suggestions.
One of the things that is important is that we are not telling the military how to do its operation. We tell them the objective and the goal and the Chief of Defence Staff and his subordinates do what they need to do to carry it out.
We wanted to go to more of a security mission rather than a search and destroy but what do we need to do to provide security to a region? If it means doing some sorties and taking out the threat wherever it may exist, that is a decision for the military, not for politicians.
Our decision as politicians should be setting the goal of the mission. The Chief of Defence Staff should tell us what he needs to do it, whether the objective that we have given him is possible, whether it can be achieved, yes or no, and, if it can, what they need to do it. We then come to a decision as to whether we can provide what is needed.
That being said, the rest of it is out of the hands of politicians.
What is important, and it is mentioned in the motion, is transparency, which is part of Manley's report and part of our amendment. Canadians, through its institutions, need to be aware of how the mission is proceeding, not the secret elements, but they do need to know. That is part of the Manley report and part of the motion and we are hoping that it will be respected.
If we look at the newspapers today, we will see that on the question of detainees, commissions need to be set up that will cost $2 million to get the information that the government could readily hand over but is refusing. We see that in Le Devoir and the Globe and Mail and it is unacceptable. The government must take that transparency element responsibly.
One of the things that needs to be considered when the Chief of Defence Staff does a mission like this, or the government, is the ability of the Taliban and al-Qaeda to resupply. We need to know who is supplying them and whether we can we cut those areas off. We also need to know what we need from the other countries that are helping us, the other countries in the region. We also need to know our diplomatic role. Maybe we need to increase our diplomatic role in that region and, hopefully, we will see that flow through. That was also talked about in the Manley report.
Other elements that often come when we have a mission of this importance is the management of the mission, and that is an area in which government does have a role. We need to ensure that we are administering our operations in an area like that in a responsible manner.
I do not have all the answers and I do not know what we need, but I remember a while back reading in the paper that we needed tanks over there. I still have difficulty understanding that because we are not facing tanks or artillery. We are facing arms, but we are facing mostly terrorism-type arms. However, we sent tanks over and then decided we needed to rent a bunch of second-hand tanks from European countries because they were necessary for Afghanistan. That was a very expensive procurement project. I read later on that those tanks would not be available during the mission. Some of them would be repaired rather quickly but it would still be two or three years before we would get them.
Those are questions that can be better handled by the parliamentary committee. In true transparency, those questions can be brought forward and we can be advised on them. Maybe there are legitimate answers, but it seems unreasonable that we are in a position like that.
We also have the question of the cost. I read in the paper this week, as we would all have, that we were $1 billion over budget on the Afghan effort. The difficult discussion for me is not on the money. The difficult discussion is on whether or not we send our troops into battle.
If we decide to send the troops into battle, I hope the questions I posed as to whether we can achieve our mission and whether we have what is necessary to do the mission will have been properly answered. And, if we do make the commitment, we must supply our troops with whatever they need, at whatever cost.
However, it is the responsibility of the government to tell Canadians as it comes along. We can be surprised by $10 million but we should not be surprised by $1 billion. We need to know the ongoing cost, whether we have prepared and budgeted for it and what we will need to do in the future to sustain these activities.
They will not get cheaper by 2011 and 2012. Do we have the resources? I saw the budgets lately. As a result of the choices made by the two previous governments and by the Minister of Finance, the fiscal latitude within the budget is very slim. We are getting near a deficit. Do we have the ability to finance this further? Do we have the ability to finance supplies? Can this lead us toward a deficit?
Another question was raised about the 1,000 troops. Where did that number come from? Is it exactly 1,000? I do not have confidence that 1,000 troops are enough, but I understand from the report that this is the minimum requirement. Where are we with that?
We have been asking the government for over a year to advise NATO that the end of our term was coming up and that it should be making arrangements for our replacement. The government completely refused. It has now brought forward a motion indicating that we will remain there, in some capacity, for the next two years.
We still do not know what country is going to provide those troops in Kandahar. The newspapers indicate that France is willing to send more people, but I understand they will be sent to eastern Afghanistan where it already has some assets rather than the Kandahar region.
Good management requires transparency. The government cannot bring these matters to the House half-heartedly. The government has placed this motion before the House, so that the House can take responsibility for extending the mission, but it has not given us any information. At least we have a reasonable time for debate. The first time the government did this, we had three hours of debate.