Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to participate in this historic debate, a debate about something as fundamental as whether or not Canada should be involved on a combat basis in Afghanistan. I am glad we are having a debate. I may not agree with the Conservatives' position or the Liberals' position, but I am cognizant of the fact that this is a historic moment, something we had sought to achieve for many years with respect to the Liberal government when it was in power.
When the Liberal government first made its decision to send troops to Afghanistan, did we have a vote in this place? No. When it made decisions to send more troops into Kandahar, did we have a vote in this place? No. It took constant pressure before we even had a take note debate.
I thank the Conservatives, on behalf of Canadians, for allowing the views of Canadians to be heard through their representatives on something as fundamental as Canada's involvement in a war.
This issue goes to the heart of who we are as Canadians. It shows that in fact there are many different views that have to be respected. There is not one voice in this country demanding that we simply salute the government, send off our troops and say everything is fine. We are a critical nation. We are a nation that gets to the root of problems and we look for alternative solutions. We are also a nation that has a long historic tradition of peace building, peacemaking and peacekeeping.
Canadians are really concerned about what is at stake today. What is the government up to with respect to this motion before the House? Why are we extending the mission to 2011? Why are we not looking at alternatives that would in fact bring true peace to the region and would deal with some of the root causes of conflict, discontent and deprivation in the region?
I want to mention at the very outset that just because we are in opposition to the position taken by the Conservatives and the Liberals, it does not mean that we do not support our troops.
I want to make it very clear first of all that I regret the kind of heckling we have heard through some of this debate. I am glad that no one is heckling me right now and I hope no one does for the next 10 minutes. I was disturbed to hear the kind of heckling and the suggestion that New Democrats do not support our troops and somehow that we were less than Canadian and had less than strong Canadian values.
We bring our critical analysis to this issue and we have very good reasons for our position, but that does not mean we do not support our troops. We do.
In fact we stood in Manitoba as some 800 troops based in Shilo, Manitoba got ready to go into the battlefields of Kandahar. Just one month ago we saw 70 soldiers, mainly from Manitoba, leave Shilo and head for Kandahar. There are another 650 or 700 troops ready to leave Manitoba who have prepared for this day and who are off to Kandahar.
We worry about their future. We worry about the kind of risks they are putting their own lives through. We worry about the families who are left behind and the anxiety and fears they go through every single day. We support our troops and recognize that they have made a decision to take on this career and to be faithful to their country as their oath implies.
Let it not be said that we have any less commitment to our troops. In fact, all of us in the New Democratic Party and everywhere in the House have gone to events to support our troops. We have signed the yellow ribbons, have sent messages of support, have prayed with the families, and have mourned the loss of loved ones. We are there every step of the way, just as we are there for our veterans and the members of our legions right across the country.
This does not mean we support our veterans any less than anyone else in this place. This does not mean we are not there remembering our past and the valour of the soldiers who came before.
In fact I want the House to know that if it were not for my father entering World War II and putting his own life on the line, I would not be here today. I have a very valiant father. He took part in World War II, as a member of the Governor General's Horse Guards. He came up through Italy into Holland and there he met my mother during the liberation of Holland. As a result, I am here and so are five other kids. We are very grateful for the valour of my father and others like him.
That does not mean that my father, a veteran today, and other veterans like him and members in legions everywhere are not questioning the role of Canada in Kandahar, the role of Canada in Afghanistan. Everybody everywhere is questioning the policy and wondering whether or not it makes sense.
There are people on all sides of the issue. There is not a one-dimensional, homogeneous response to the situation. This is about people actually using their wisdom and experience and questioning what makes sense. They are saying that given what we know about Afghanistan and Kandahar, it does not make sense for Canada to be in Afghanistan, and it makes absolutely no sense for Canada to be there until 2011.
My goodness, we know of the dangers every day. We are now up to 80 deaths of Canadian soldiers from this conflict in Afghanistan. That is an incredibly high toll. How many more will die? How many more will suffer injuries or face disabilities? Hundreds and hundreds of soldiers are coming back to this country with very significant disabilities, suffering post-traumatic stress disorder, physical disabilities, mental disabilities.
We are creating a huge problem. I know the government says that it is trying hard to respond to those needs, but we are not able to address the full range of needs of soldiers who are coming back with disabilities, injuries and problems from their participation in Afghanistan.
Of course there are veterans and legion members are asking questions about the government's positions. The government tries to rationalize its position on the war, but it will not even care for the veterans and veterans' wives in this country. We dealt with this in the House recently. We heard that in the budget the government was going to supposedly fix the veterans independence program. What did it do? It opened the door just a crack so a few more widows could get coverage, but it left a whole range of widows without access to the veterans independence program.
Joyce Carter will not mince words when it comes to the promise of the government and how it could not even keep the promise it made in the last election to ensure that all veterans and veterans' widows would be able to access the VIP. A meagre little step was taken in the budget to try to camouflage the issue and pretend that the government is doing something. People expected some genuine response.
Every single day we are dealing with the outcome of the war in Afghanistan and problems which are not being addressed by the government. Look at what we dealt with yesterday on the whole question of transparency around the costs to Canadians. The government cannot even be forthcoming to Canadians about how much the war is actually costing. It would not verify the information received through a freedom of information request that the cost overrun for our involvement in Afghanistan this year alone is close to $1 billion. We are approaching $10 billion as an overall budget for our participation in Afghanistan.
That is a lot of money, especially when we consider the priorities, needs and demands of people in this nation. There are people living in third world conditions on reserves. The Conservative government, like the Liberal government before it, could not even find a way to support children who are now turning to suicide and suffering severe mental health problems.
I am certainly saddened today that the Liberals have decided to cave in and to lose sight of what is at stake here. I am saddened that they are going along with this motion from the Conservatives. I wish the Liberals had been true to their principles and true to their stated beliefs from the past number of years, at least as I understood them, although there is some confusion and grey area around Liberal decision making these days.
What we need in this whole situation where we do not dismiss the problems in Afghanistan is, quite simply, a new approach. I ask members to look at the amendment we proposed. It is a constructive amendment. Members will be able to vote on it. People will see the vote tonight. It is an amendment that says let us look for a more responsible, reasonable approach to the situation in Afghanistan.
We say that there are two paths to choose from. We can choose going on with prolonging the war, or we can choose to build a path toward peace. For the NDP, it is a choice between war and peace.