Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in the House today to a very important motion on a very complex issue, a motion discussing a region of tremendous instability.
I am speaking late in the debate and many of the comments will have been made by others before, but it is important that I be on the record and that I speak to the motion.
The motion, which is a lengthy one, reflects the complexity of the situation in Afghanistan as we know it today, its past histories and, most important, its future course.
In speaking to the motion, I need to comment that it reflects the concerns of many in the Liberal caucus and I am pleased that the government has, in putting forth the motion, agreed in theory to many of the positions put forward by the leader of the Liberal Party.
Mr. Speaker, I am splitting my time with my colleague from St. Boniface.
In speaking to the motion, my questions relate more to the implementation of the real intent of the motion and the need for me to have some questions answered. Will Canada's involvement, as we move forward, truly reflect the words and spirit of this very important motion? Having said that, it will be up to Parliament to hold the government accountable.
Before proceeding, I want to acknowledge the contribution of the many women and men of the Canadian Forces and their families. The forces of today continue the history and traditions of those who fought and died, not only in the two great wars but in many conflict zones throughout the world. We have a responsibility to them, to support them in every way we know how, to honour them and to provide informed and responsible leadership and policy direction to those in the field and to their leadership.
As the Leader of the Opposition said when he spoke in the House:
No one should ever confuse a debate over the future of the mission with a debate over whether or not we support our troops.
Just a few weeks ago in Winnipeg, I had the opportunity to attend a dinner for the Military Family Resource Centre. I want to reiterate here the importance of the support that we must give to the families. They are families who have a member of their family involved in a very stressful occupation that is under constant public scrutiny. The services this resource centre in Winnipeg provides are far-reaching with a broad scope of activities, and the work it does is beyond measure.
Canada's participation in Afghanistan was very much part of a broader coalition response to 9/11 and the Taliban's refusal to turn over al-Qaeda. It is sufficient to say that the circumstances of Canada's participation in Afghanistan today are very different from when we first engaged there. I would suggest that the criteria by which we measure success are very different today from that time.
While there appears to be some modest success or modest gains, the conditions in many parts of the country are no better and some are much worse. Therefore, if we acknowledge that the circumstances of Canada's engagement are quite different, we have little ground for believing that this engagement can end soon or successfully, for we have heard many times from military and political leaders that it will be many years before success, as it is define, will be achieved in Afghanistan.
Mr. Manley, in his report, qualified his report at the end when he indicated that even if all the conditions of his recommendations are met, they will carry “a reasonable probability of success”.
What this motion says is that Canada will not be there for generations or in perpetuity and that the responsibility for the heavy lifting in this NATO-led mission must be more fairly reapportioned.
As many have commented before me, the motion is one that is committed to change, to a firm end date and to being more than just about military or defence. It is about a balance, a real true balance with diplomacy and development. The motion speaks clearly to this fact.
The heavy military burdens that Canada has absorbed must come to an end by February 2009. I expect that when the government representatives meet in Europe in early April, it must be made clear that Canada is not looking for reinforcements but replacements. It is not a question of helping Canada, as I have heard many leaders of other NATO countries speak to, but one of taking over the lead in the combat role so that Canadians take over a more prominent role in providing training for Afghans to foster their capacity for army and police responsibilities and security for reconstruction.
I expect the current government to emphasize that the Canadian role in the new mission following February 2009 will not be a proactive counter-insurgency mission and that the lead in that role will fall to others. This rotation is based on the expectation of rotation within the mission in Afghanistan since NATO took responsibility in 2003.
For me, support for the motion is based on the clear understanding of commitment by the government, which, I might add,wasted a year of possible negotiation and discussion, that a real rotation will take place.
I have a further question. Why are we talking about a contingent of 1,000 NATO troops for rotation? Will 1,000 troops be a replacement? The Manley commission identified 1,000 more troops to help Canada but I do not understand why it is 1,000. How many are really needed for a replacement?
The Liberals called for sufficient troops and we need clarity as to what that means and we need assurances that the government is acting in good faith. As I said earlier, this is not an engagement in perpetuity. A clear end date is required for planning and preparation for a departure.
I also need to know why the government has chosen to end the mission in July 2011, with a full withdrawal by December 2011. What is the magic of that date? The Liberal proposal of a withdrawal date of February 2011 was chosen because of the timeline laid out in the Afghan compact. I need a rationale as to why the dates have been set as they have been in the motion.
We need a real commitment to a balanced Canadian mission in Afghanistan. We know that to date development activities have been subjugated to the defence activities. The main objectives of the Afghan mission have never been absolutely clarified. The stability and security of the country will only come through the stability and capacity of the institutions of the country.
We know that the role of CIDA has been virtually ineffective, with small isolated successes, but that there has been no CIDA strategy since 2003. At best, its activities have been ad hoc and its successes have been limited. Some reports have even indicated that $1.6 billion have been wasted in the efforts there.
Diplomatic efforts have never been visible. At the beginning of his report, Mr. Manley said:
Both the reality and the perception of corruption in the Government of Afghanistan must be rooted out. They are undermining not only the hope for an Afghan solution but also support for the Western forces sacrificing their lives to help secure the situation.
Diplomatic efforts need to be enhanced. We cannot have further excuses from the Afghan government as to why reforms are not taking place.
How have detainees been treated? Just yesterday we learned of the Military Police Complaints Commission's concerns over the Canadian government's handling of detainees. We need transparency and assurances.
I am hopeful but skeptical about the government's true commitment to the real intent of the motion: a changed mission, a clear end date and a rebalanced mission. Canadians across the country share both the hope and, regretfully, the uncertainty of the reality of the commitment. Canadians deserve to know that their questions will be answers and that the government of the day will honour the intent of the motion and the will of the House will be followed.