That a special committee, consisting of 12 members, be appointed to consider the Canadian mission in Afghanistan as referred to in the motion adopted by the House on March 13, 2008 (Government Business No. 5); that the committee have all of the powers of a Standing Committee as provided in the Standing Orders; and that the members to serve on the said committee be appointed by the Whip of each party depositing with the Clerk of the House a list of his or her party’s members of the committee, providing that each party shall have the same number of members on the committee as it now has on the standing committees and provided that the said lists shall be deposited with the Clerk no later than April 10, 2008.
Mr. Speaker, with the consent of the House, I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Richmond Hill.
I cannot help but note, Mr. Speaker, as you take your seat, and members in the House should know this, but the person who is now occupying the Speaker's chair was at one-time my seatmate many years ago and it was a wonderful experience. I fear I may have driven you out of the House, Mr. Speaker, but I want you to know, sir, that my recognition of your great talents, your oratory and your commitment to the people of Winnipeg remains outstanding. I want to continue to express those thoughts, whatever way partisanship may have taken us over the last while.
The purpose of this motion is to set up a committee, which was called for by the motion that was passed by the House a few weeks ago.
It is rather extraordinary that the official opposition is having to use one of its opposition days in order to get the House to do its business. It says something about the government that we have today to actually implement the motion that was agreed to by the House. It has been left to us to put forward this motion because the government has simply sat on its hands.
The current government ran on transparency and accountability. There is no issue upon which transparency and accountability are more important than our efforts in our mission in Afghanistan.
Just last week we heard the tragic news of the passing of yet another soldier in the line of duty. This is a war among the people in Afghanistan which has taken over 80 Canadian lives, in which many other soldiers have been killed from other NATO countries and in which literally thousands of Afghan citizens have lost their lives.
It is, without question, the most sweeping commitment that Canada has made to an international military struggle since the Korean War. It is an effort that has taxed all of our commitments in terms of the military, the political, the diplomatic and the aid mission that we have in Afghanistan.
It was clear to us that if there was ever an issue on which we would have expected the government to want to be transparent and accountable, it was the mission in Afghanistan.
Instead, I regret to say that we have not had the kind of leadership from the government with respect to the mission in informing and advising the Canadian people on what is going on.
I borrow the words of General Sir Rupert Smith when he described this war, as others, as a different kind of war, as a war among the people, increasingly the kind of struggle in which Canada and other countries will be engaged over the next while.
These are difficult conflicts. They are difficult to participate in and often difficult to see the resolution of. Experts from around the world have been talking about the struggle in Afghanistan in ways that tell us that the easy solutions are simply not there, that we cannot simply go on rhetoric, that we cannot simply go on saying that we support the troops or not. We need to have an understanding of the difficulties and challenges that are facing, not only our troops but our aid workers and our diplomats.
It is our view in the Liberal Party that the House itself must take much greater control and much greater interest in what is taking place in Afghanistan on a detailed basis. We need to hear from a range of experts on an ongoing basis in terms of what is happening. We need to tell Canadians what the challenges facing this mission are and how we will succeed.
We need benchmarks to tell us how we are doing. We need to share this information with the people of Canada and we need to recognize that without their support, their knowledge and their participation this will be increasingly difficult for us to sustain. That is the purpose of our motion.
I know there have been some discussions with the government with respect to some proposals for effecting some changes to the motion, which the member for Richmond Hill will be referring to, t but in terms of the substance of the mission, I want to refer to a few short issues that need to be addressed.
The first issue is that this is a different kind of struggle. It is a war among the people and it requires a different set of strategies and a different set of skills than the ones we have at present.
The second issue is that the border with Pakistan is open, and there are some very important insurgent bases not in Afghanistan, but in Pakistan. This requires a different response from the government and NATO. We have no choice; this is not like any other war. There are major differences that we must understand and discuss.
The third issue is that Afghanistan now has a narco-economy that is increasingly reliant on the sale of opium. It is estimated that more than 50% of Afghanistan's economy is dependent on an illegal industry. The drug industry leads to violence and corruption, and allows a special class that is very close with Afghanistan's political leaders to get richer. This is a huge problem for us. But this situation has not really been discussed in the House, and we have not had a frank discussion with Canadians.
Finally, we need to recognize that this is not simply a military struggle like others. As Mr. Manley has said, there will not be a simple military solution to this challenge that we face in Afghanistan.
Ultimately, our objective is stability. Our objective is to create sufficient stability and capacity in the government of Afghanistan that it can take full responsibility for its own security.
What we face is a situation where right now we are not fully aware of all the circumstances that would lead us to say that this is the progress we are making toward that stability and these are the benchmarks that we are reaching.
I will close where I started by saying simply this. It is, to put it mildly, a little unusual for an official opposition to come back to the House and say to the government that this is what it said it would do and this is why it is important.
I can recall watching the Prime Minister on television, together with millions of Canadians, talk extensively about transparency and accountability. I must say that I am not impressed with how the government has responded to the need for that very transparency and accountability in the House.
We see committees that are not able to work. We see a government that resists, at every step of the way, any form of inquiry into issues that are clearly matters of public importance. We see a government that is simply not prepared to take its responsibilities in an open, frank and fully democratic manner with respect to the work of the House of Commons.
Nothing is more important for Canada than this mission. These are our men and women who are putting their lives at risk. Nothing is more significant for this country at this moment than what we are trying to do in Afghanistan. We should be setting the test in the House for how well and how effectively we can cooperate. We need to find information and share it, which can lead to a better and a more successful mission than we have seen so far.
That is our objective and that is what we are striving to do, which is why the Liberal Party has taken an opposition day today to do just that. We should do no less for the women and men who have sacrificed their lives and those who are now facing the great challenges and difficulties on the line in Afghanistan.
We need to do our job and, frankly, the government needs to give the House the means to do the job. I hope very much that if the motion passes we will begin to get the kind of information, the kind of accountability and the kind of transparency that Canadians want in the management of a mission of this kind.