House of Commons Hansard #34 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was afghan.


International Conference on Afghanistan in The HagueGovernment Orders

7:35 p.m.


Deepak Obhrai Conservative Calgary East, AB

Madam Chair, as the motion stated in the House, the development of the key effort there is very important, to win the hearts of Afghans so that they can continue. However, to answer her questions, I just read a speech in which I stated where Canada has been contributing very heavily toward the development of these projects. Based on the independent panel that gave its original direction, we have identified that the Dahla dam for which Canada is contributing millions of dollars is a key element providing water to irrigation in the Kandahar district. Without irrigation, farmers will not succeed. That is the key signature project with which Canada is helping. As she said, we are hoping that will push the agriculture output in the region.

It is not only that. The second most important signature project for which Canada is contributing millions of dollars is the 50 schools that we have said we are going to build in the Kandahar province. We are on track to do all that.

Today in the Afghan committee, we heard from Mr. David Mulroney and the Minister of International Cooperation who were in Kandahar to visit the Dahla dam and saw the irrigation projects working.

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7:35 p.m.


Niki Ashton NDP Churchill, MB

Madam Chair, I approach this very important debate from numerous directions, including as a young Canadian. Most of the soldiers who have given the highest of sacrifices in this effort have been around my age. Certainly, as a result, my generation is very much affected. My generation of Canadians is also a generation that has grown up with the value of diplomacy and the commitment to development that we have learned in our education system and society. We have taken great pride in knowing that Canadians have been leaders in these areas.

So many people have devoted their lives to looking at conflicts and dealing with issues around our globe. They are talking about the emphasis on diplomacy and development, areas that Canada has led the way. Having heard their feedback and advice, it is disconcerting to the utmost degree that we are not seeing that commitment from the government. We are seeing a change from the way things have been done in the past. That is something that my generation of Canadians and Canadians of many generations are very concerned to see. I would be interested to hear the feedback in terms of that direction that we are pursuing.

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7:35 p.m.


Deepak Obhrai Conservative Calgary East, AB

Madam Chair, I gave a 10-minute speech here where I stated Canada's priority over there. To answer her question, she has alluded to our soldiers giving the highest sacrifice. However, I have just given a 10-minute speech alluding to the four priorities that Canada is pursuing as a result of the direction given by Parliament. It addresses the question that she has been asking.

Since I have a short period of time, I would tell her to revisit my speech in Hansard and she will know what direction Canada is going in. Very soon, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation will be giving their speeches, laying out where and what Canada is doing, both defence-wise and development-wise.

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7:35 p.m.


David McGuinty Liberal Ottawa South, ON

Good evening, Madam Chair, and good evening to my colleagues and Canadians who are watching this debate tonight.

I would like to begin by making it perfectly clear that it is a great privilege to participate in this debate. I have never personally served in our armed forces, nor had the privilege of wearing the uniform.

I would also like to remind all of my colleagues, Canadians and folks who are watching, that this is an issue that transcends all parties. It is certainly a non-partisan issue of the highest order.

The debate tonight touches obviously thousands of our troops and our civilians who are serving in Afghanistan, and thousands of our troops and their families who are stationed across this country and across the world.

In my own riding of Ottawa South, for example, Canadian Forces Base Uplands houses hundreds of families, many of whom are in active service. I have met with them on repeated occasions to thank them for their tremendous service in Canada and abroad. I would like to extend those thanks once again this evening.

I would like to extend as well a direct message to those soldiers who are serving overseas and to their families.

We are debating here tonight the approach to this mission, and to the upcoming discussions and negotiations in The Hague, which will bring to bear new approaches and improvements. In no way can this debate be interpreted as undermining our commitments and our confidence in the soldiers, and the family members of soldiers and civilians who are serving at this important time.

On the contrary, the question of debating here at home what we are fighting to facilitate in Afghanistan and around the world is of paramount importance. We are debating here at home, we are exercising here at home in this House of Commons, precisely that which we are trying to bring to bear in the Afghanistan situation: the right to vote, for example; the right to assemble and to debate, as we are doing here this evening; to challenge; and, as a member of the official opposition, to keep the government in check, the appropriate role of a good opposition.

Asking questions about the mission going forward does not constitute, in the unfortunate words of several cabinet ministers in past debates, demonstrating sympathy for the Taliban. On the contrary, this is about making sure that we are not undermining here at home through this debate process precisely the things we are fighting for in Afghanistan and around the world.

The debate this evening is also a question of sovereignty, our independence as a country, the independence of our forces, and the independence of our government and our people. Are we waiting for the United States? Are we taking instructions from Washington? Are we acting as independent actors on the international stage when it comes to the question of Afghanistan, and it is very reminiscent, for example, of the climate change debate, which is still raging in this place, where apparently we are waiting again for President Obama to make the first moves.

I am not convinced this is the way for Canada to exercise its sovereignty, nor show the highest respect for our soldiers who are indeed serving abroad.

Some time ago the Prime Minister said that our position, as indicated in the Afghanistan motion of March 2008, was that we would fight until the Taliban was effectively brought to heel, if not crushed. That has changed. Just recently, the Prime Minister, on national American television news, announced that in fact it was an unwinnable situation.

I do not fault the Prime Minister for changing his view. I may fault him for announcing it on prime time American television and not speaking to Canadians here in the House of Commons.

We were pleased, as the official opposition at the time, to effectively write the resolution, the motion that governs this mission until 2011.

It was not the government. It was the good work of our critic for foreign affairs and our leader who, together, worked to write a prescriptive document, a precise document, a circumscribed mission, a beginning, a middle, clarity.

We also wrote the oversight committee motion in this House of Commons to make sure that the government was following the good advice of Mr. Manley, who was asked to strike a high-level committee to review the Afghanistan situation and the mission there. That oversight committee motion was passed.

Unfortunately, in all this time, we have only had two meetings of the oversight committee, the most recent of which was this morning, to hear more about how well we are doing. This is not about undermining. Canadians have deep conviction that this is an important mission for our sovereign country.

Things have changed in other ways, as well. Not only has the Prime Minister changed his view, but this resolution was struck at the time of a Republican administration in the United States. What a difference an election has made in Washington. We have a “new” new normal now; that is, of course, the arrival of President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton, who are bringing a refreshing new start to conflict resolution and working together to bring about, ultimately, peace.

Certainly, I think that the resolution that was passed in March 2008 deserves much more than the passing reference only made several times tonight by government members. Our troops deserve better.

That motion, that resolution crafted by the official opposition and passed in March 2008, was very clear. It was also endorsed by the government. It called for a special envoy, not an eminent person's panel as the NDP would have Canadians believe but a single and experienced and influential special envoy. This individual would carry with him or her the charge of the Canadian people, the responsibility of this House of Commons, to ensure that the best outcomes could be had for Canadians, for Afghans and for people everywhere.

I do not think it is random that it took a prominent Liberal, in Mr. Manley, to bring the balance and the coherence to the mission which was lacking. I recall reading his report where he indicated clearly the government was not doing as well as it could be doing, should be doing, in informing Canadians on the status of the mission, how things were progressing, the challenges we were facing, in no way, once again, to undermine the mission, but to do precisely here in this chamber what our troops are fighting for, for the Afghanistan people there.

Other questions remain, questions like linkages to events, emerging events in parts of Pakistan where we know that in areas there are no governments, there is no rule of law. This is a tribal situation. There is a linkage between some of these areas and Taliban soldiers, Taliban supplies, Taliban foodstuffs, and so on and so forth. How do we reconcile this new and emerging challenge with the original mission mandate in our resolution of March 2008? Yet again, there are questions around new forms of conflict resolution, how might we improve so we can ultimately find peace.

Finally, I think there are many outstanding questions on our real work on the development side, particularly enhancing the rule of law, legal aid and court systems, prosecutors and defenders, the things we take for granted here that emerged over hundreds of years in Canada. How do we institutionally strengthen the government of Afghanistan, minimizing corruption, including enhancing accounting practices, and participating in the free economy and free market worldwide? These questions have to be addressed. We are looking forward to seeing more from the government as it approaches these negotiations in The Hague in a short while.

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7:45 p.m.


Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Madam Chair, I was interested in the comments of the member for Ottawa South in relation to Canada's efforts in assisting the development of governmental agencies. He talked about accounting practices and various other roles in assisting in the development of an opposition.

Those are things, no doubt, that are good things, but in the manner in which he presents them, it seems as if this is a justification for a military mission or role. Surely, if that could be a justification, we would be in many countries of the world where there are no democratic rights, no opposition, no democratically elected government and very little in the way of needed development.

How is it that this is so important in Afghanistan, where we are talking about finding a solution for a military war that is going on now? Can we say that these are part of the goals that our military mission encompasses?

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7:50 p.m.


David McGuinty Liberal Ottawa South, ON

Madam Chair, to answer my colleague directly, it was the Liberal government that dispatched our troops to Afghanistan in the first instance. When we did so, we were perfectly clear about the notion of the three Ds: defence, development and diplomacy.

In the 21st century, we have begun to understand that as we prosecute a war on Afghanistan territory, it is not to be prosecuted in isolation. It is fundamental to ensure that we have institutional strength there and that government officers understand how to run government departments, collect revenues, receive foreign aid and ensure it is coherent between bilateral and multilateral donors. We need to get some semblance of a free market up and off the ground to receive direct investment.

This is not to be taken in isolation. No one is trying to justify a war being prosecuted on Afghan soil by claiming that it is for institutional strengthening by itself. On the contrary, these three are intertwined. They are indispensable, each to the other. It is much more about helping to get that nation state on its feet.

However, I am proudest of all of the fact that while we were in government I worked very hard with our former CIDA minister, who is now a minister in the Ontario cabinet, to ensure that $5.2 million of Canadian support from CIDA was invested in the Afghan judicial system.

I spent many years of my life building capacity in developing countries like Afghanistan to ensure that they could come up to speed in the 21st century with the rest of the world and participate fulsomely and fully in the world. That is the process that we are trying to accomplish here.

I just do not understand, in anticipation of The Hague, where it is we are going, which is why we keep calling for a special envoy to be able to bring those three D approaches to this mission in Afghanistan.

International Conference on Afghanistan in The HagueGovernment Orders

7:50 p.m.

Edmonton Centre Alberta


Laurie Hawn ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Madam Chair, I appreciate the chance to take part in this debate tonight on the upcoming international conference on Afghanistan. From a National Defence perspective, the attention that this conference brings to Afghanistan is most welcome because Afghanistan is such an important foreign and defence priority.

Beyond my interest as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence, I have a deep personal interest in this debate as a proud Canadian, as a former member of the Canadian Forces and as someone who has been to Afghanistan several times to visit our troops, most recently last Christmas.

I want to use my time this evening to update the members of this House on the outstanding work the men and women of the Canadian Forces are doing as part of Canada's contribution to this United Nations mandated mission.

As we all know, Canada is one of 51 countries and international organizations participating in this NATO-led ISAF mission. The Canadian Forces' contribution is essential to this coordinated international effort. Our soldiers' work is a testament to our country's leadership role in the global effort to stabilize Afghanistan. This effort has not gone unnoticed. Canada has earned the esteem of the Afghan people, as well as that of its international partners and allies.

There are more than 2,800 men and women in harm's way serving with Joint Task Force Afghanistan. Task Force Kandahar, based at the airfield south of Kandahar City, is operating as part of ISAF's Regional Command South.

Task Force Kandahar includes: a headquarters; a battle group of about 1,000 soldiers who can conduct counter-insurgency and other security operations in Kandahar province; the military personnel of the provincial reconstruction team located at Camp Nathan Smith in downtown Kandahar; the soldiers and military police of the operational mentor and liaison team; tactical aviation units; and various support units.

The military personnel come from all three branches of the Canadian Forces and from across Canada.

Right now, the brave soldiers of the 3rd Battalion the Royal Canadian Regiment Battle Group are starting to return home to Petawawa, along with their comrades who are returning to Gagetown and to reserve units from across the country. They are being replaced by another battle group led by a regiment with an equally proud legacy, the 1st Battalion of the Royal 22nd Regiment, the Van Doos from Valcartier.

Not a day goes by when I do not think about these exceptional people and the fine work that they are doing, as well as those who support them day to day. It is hard work and it is work that fills them with pride and sometimes it also fills them with sorrow, but it is critical work. Because they are making such an essential contribution to Canada's whole of government approach in Afghanistan, I want to personally ensure that their achievements are put on the record as a part of this evening's debate.

Tonight, we are hearing about how the Canadian mission has evolved from one focused mainly on security, to one increasingly concentrating on governance and development.

Last spring, this government announced six priorities for Canada's efforts in Afghanistan: building and training the Afghan National Security Forces; providing humanitarian assistance; supporting the Afghan government in providing jobs, education and essential services; enhancing border security through Afghanistan-Pakistan dialogue; helping build national institutions and support democratic processes; and facilitating Afghan-led reconciliation efforts across the country.

The emphasis on governance and development does not, in any way, diminish the importance of the Canadian Forces' contribution.

The soldiers who so proudly wear the Canadian flag on their shoulders are absolutely critical to ensuring the security that is essential to reconstruction and development activities, and to carrying out more conventional security operations. But they are also working hard to help the Afghan National Security Forces.

Afghanistan's long-term stability ultimately depends on the Afghan people. That is why we have to help them acquire the tools they need, including the ability to look after their own security.

The Canadian Forces are making ongoing progress in their efforts to help improve the Afghan National Army's ability to carry out operations and maintain a strong security atmosphere.

When the Canadian Forces launched operation Medusa three years ago, the Afghan army had next to no members to help ensure security in the Kandahar region.

Today, however, the Afghan National Army has over 80,000 members.

In Kandahar, the Canadian Forces are training and mentoring five battalions, or Kandaks, and a brigade headquarters. The brigade headquarters is capable now of planning, executing and sustaining near autonomous operations with little ISAF assistance, and ANA troops are leading their own operations in the field. The Canadian Forces are working extremely well with the ANA troops to counter the insurgency.

Canadian military and civilian police officers are also mentoring the Afghan National Police, or ANP, the second element of the Afghanistan National Security Forces.

A professional police force is key to fostering stability, to making people in communities feel more secure and to enhancing the rule of law in Afghanistan. Canada has set aside almost $100 million to provide training, mentoring and equipment for the Afghan National Army and Police, to building up administrative and logistical support, and toward creating and maintaining the justice and correctional systems.

Our government has supported this international mission fully from the start. Since 2001, the Canadian Forces mission in Afghanistan has had to adapt to rapidly changing conditions and unexpected demands. Beyond helping provide Afghans with the tools they need, we are also committed to providing our forces with the critical tools they need to operate effectively in a dangerous environment: from C-17 strategic lift aircraft to rapidly transport military personnel and equipment to the theatre of operations, to Leopard II tanks, to new unmanned aerial vehicles to support our military's intelligence gathering capability, and Chinook helicopters to enhance our transport capabilities in theatre.

The Chinooks are also escorted by Canadian Air Force Griffon helicopters, another new addition to our capabilities in theatre. Our Chinooks recently provided critical support to operations, one of which saw 2,000 Canadian, U.S. and Afghan troops working together to disrupt insurgent activities in districts of the Kandahar region. Thanks to newly deployed air capability, our men and women in uniform were able to quickly extend their reach, hitting the enemy ahead of their traditional offensive season. We interfered with the insurgents' ability to plan and coordinate operations in the near term.

Weapons, ammunition and components for improvised explosive devices were seized. It is estimated that up to 50 of these explosive devices were prevented from threatening our troops, Canadian civilian personnel and Afghans. This is just one step in helping to create the security environment essential to Afghan reconstruction and development.

When I was there for Christmas, we had the opportunity to visit with hundreds of Canadian troops and I can tell the House that the morale we saw was absolutely exceptional. The determination and dedication to the mission was absolutely exceptional. We should all be extremely proud of what they have done. We had a chance to visit the new air wing and a chance to fly on the Chinooks. They are incredibly proud of that new capability and I can say that the soldiers on the ground are incredibly grateful to have that capability with them as well.

It was raised a few minutes ago by some members across the way that things are no better for women now than they were under the Taliban. That is patently untrue. Under the Taliban, there were not approximately 500,000 women starting businesses with microloans, a lot of that money coming from Canada. There were certainly no women in the Afghan parliament because there was no Afghan parliament. It has not been easy but to say that women are no better off now than they were under the Taliban is completely misleading and false.

Children are another group of citizens in Afghanistan who are much better off now. Tough as it may be, they are much better off now than they ever were under the Taliban.

As we all know, the Canadian Forces' mission in Kandahar will end in 2011. Parliament has been very clear about that. Between now and then, our soldiers will continue to work closely with the Afghan National Security Forces. Our goal is to enable the Government of Afghanistan to take increasing responsibility for its own security. Our soldiers have a tough job to do, and our government is working hard to keep them safe and to make their work as easy as possible.

As Canadians, we need to keep the hard work of our men and women of the Canadian Forces in mind. We need to remember that Canadians in uniform who are far from home are working on our behalf, keeping us safe, keeping Afghans safe and keeping the world safe. We especially need to remember the families and friends of these people of whom we ask so much and who do so much for us as we participate in this evening's debate.

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8 p.m.


David McGuinty Liberal Ottawa South, ON

Madam Chair, I have watched and listened carefully to all the government speeches this evening in this important debate and one cannot help but be struck by the core of the message, which is, yes, we are making progress. I do not think we would deny that on this side of the House.

However, we are more worried about what appears to be an absence of leadership on behalf of this country. We hear that all appears to be the same and that nothing can really be improved here. I think Canadians can be forgiven for being confused. Just a year ago, the Prime Minister was using unfortunate language saying that we would never cut and run, to more recently saying that we cannot win.

The resolution was passed a year ago. Another huge change was the difference in tone, approach and, I would argue, sophistication coming from a democratic administration in Washington under President Obama.

As Canada moves to The Hague for these meetings, could the parliamentary secretary tells us what are we bringing to the table as a sovereign nation that is different from the resolution crafted by the official opposition a year and some months ago? Are we talking now more thoroughly about conflict resolution systems? What are we seeking to achieve as an outcome at The Hague? We know the 2011 timeline. Parliament has ratified the resolution. Where is the Canadian leadership as we move now to deal with changed circumstances at home, where the Prime Minister has announced that we cannot win, to the arrival of President Obama and changes there?

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8:05 p.m.


Laurie Hawn Conservative Edmonton Centre, AB

Madam Chair, I will offer perhaps a dose of reality. I think my hon. colleague will find that American foreign policy will change very little, from the realities of the previous administration to the realities of this administration, because the realities of the world have not changed.

When the hon. member talks about what Canada will bring to the meeting in The Hague, what we will bring is the leadership we have shown in Afghanistan, the leadership we have shown in being one of the members of the Afghanistan Compact, and the leadership we have shown among the Allies in ISAF. We will bring the respect of the United Nations and the respect certainly of the ISAF coalition, the 40-odd countries that are there. Canada has played a very leading role in all areas, including militarily.

My colleague was right that it was the Liberals who sent Canada there in the first place, frankly under-equipped. We have taken on that cause. They are now one of the best equipped forces over there. They have done tremendous work, not just in combat with the Taliban but in terms of development, in terms of helping the fledgling Afghan government to get more mature, to do simple things like run meetings. We have contributed tremendously to the progress so far.

We are under no illusions that there is not a lot of progress or a lot of work to be done. The simple fact is that we have never said this mission was winnable by military means alone. It has always been a transition.

We talk about the three Ds. To be honest and to be fair, diplomacy may well be the most important of those three Ds. However, we cannot do the other two Ds, diplomacy and development, without defence. It is just not possible, and I think my hon. colleague agrees with that.

We are bringing seven-odd years of a very strong track record of a lot of progress, and admittedly a lot of challenges. It has not all been straight-line progress for sure. We are bringing all that to the table. We are acknowledged as leaders in Afghanistan. We are acknowledged as leaders in that whole mission, and that is the credibility and respect that we will be bringing to the table.

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8:05 p.m.


Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Madam Chair, I thank the parliamentary secretary for his intervention. Notwithstanding his comments about some of the things that have recently happened in Afghanistan and the importance of the men and women who are there on our behalf, he would also acknowledge that the situation has deteriorated, be it for those who are serving, and we have seen the consequences of that, or in terms of the civilian toll.

The civilian toll is up again in 2008. Security is down. Corruption is up.

He knows that our Prime Minister has acknowledged publicly on American airwaves that this is not a conflict that can be won militarily, notwithstanding his suggestion that the Conservatives have always stated that. Certainly if that were the case, I do not think that was the perception of most Canadians.

I mentioned in my own comments that thankfully the rhetoric has toned down when people put forward other ideas.

I am honestly trying to get from the parliamentary secretary his own view and the government's view. In light of the fact that we are going to The Hague to engage with other partners, is he saying that it is steady as she goes, that we do not really have anything new to offer?

If that is the case, fine. That is a straightforward position. It would be a surprising one and an unfortunate one for most Canadians, but is he saying basically that we will just stick to our knitting, things are fine, Canada has done everything well, and when we go to The Hague we will just tell everyone what a great job we are doing, so do what Canada is doing and we will get out of this conflict? Is that his position, or is there something else that we will hear from Canada in The Hague on Tuesday?

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8:05 p.m.


Laurie Hawn Conservative Edmonton Centre, AB

Madam Chair, that is not what I said at all. I said the mission has evolved and the mission continues to evolve. Every mission, every conflict evolves, and we will go along with that evolution.

We will be there at The Hague with our partners. We will be offering guidance. We will be offering our experience, which is considerable in all the areas we talked about, the three Ds, if we want to call them that.

We have a lot of experience to offer. We have a lot of guidance and leadership to offer. We also have ears to listen to our allies, which we have been doing all along.

This is not just Canada but 60 nations in the Afghanistan Compact. There are 40-odd countries on the ground in Afghanistan, and many more countries around the world are interested in what is going on there.

No, we will go there and we will play the role we have always played, which is to work in collaboration and cooperation with all of our allies on all fronts. We will be a strong partner in the progress and the evolution of this mission towards a successful conclusion. Successful means, in our case, leaving Afghanistan better than we found it, leaving them with a better grasp of their own security, and leaving them with a brighter future than they had under the Taliban.

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8:10 p.m.


Brian Storseth Conservative Westlock—St. Paul, AB

Madam Chair, I am proud to have the opportunity tonight to take part and ask a question in this debate. I know the hon. parliamentary secretary well. He has served with our Canadian Forces. It is indeed a pleasure to serve in the House of Commons with him.

I am also proud to represent two great military bases in our country, Edmonton Garrison and 4 Wing Cold Lake, which have sent men and women to Afghanistan.

In representing them, I am able to discuss the mission in Afghanistan with these brave men and women on a weekly basis. One of the things I often hear from them is how they have changed lives in Afghanistan, and in doing that, have helped change the country.

This is a story that I do not think we hear enough, and I would like the parliamentary secretary to elaborate on the fact that when people talk about development and some of the development dollars, it is often our military that is doing this great work.

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8:10 p.m.


Laurie Hawn Conservative Edmonton Centre, AB

Madam Chair, I appreciate the question from my hon. colleague and the great work he does in the defence communities in Cold Lake and Edmonton, as well as his other duties in the House.

We hear a lot about the three Ds, and we hear a lot about the impression people have that the military is only out there tracking down the Taliban, fighting, shooting guns and killing people. It is absolutely untrue. I have been there when they delivered aid, something as simple as packages of school books, and so on, to children in Afghanistan. The look on those kids' faces is absolutely incredible. They clutch those school bags like they are the most important possessions in their lives, which in fact they are.

That is just one microcosm of the kinds of things that go on there. Canadian soldiers are out there providing aid in the Afghan villages, providing medical aid, providing clinics and inoculating Afghan children against polio.

About 85% of the people who are treated in the Role 3 hospital in Kandahar are not military at all. They are Afghan civilians who would not get that kind of treatment if Canada were not there. That is not something that people often talk about in the media and I am not sure why.

I agree with my colleague that those are the kinds of stories that need to get out. That is the rest of the story. I want Canadians to form an opinion on the mission in Afghanistan, but I want them to form it with all of the information, not just the vision of flag-covered coffins coming home to Trenton. That is a very tragic and real part of the story, but the other real part includes the women who have jobs and attend Parliament, the children who go to school and now have health care. Now 80% of Afghans have basic health care, compared to 10% about five years ago.

There are countless stories like that, and Canadians need to be aware of them.

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8:10 p.m.


Johanne Deschamps Bloc Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Madam Chair, next Tuesday, March 31, the International Conference on Afghanistan will take place in The Hague, bringing together the foreign ministers of the various countries involved in the security and reconstruction operations in Afghanistan. It is expected that the discussions will focus on the future of the mission and the election scheduled for August. The Bloc Québécois is glad that this meeting is being held, but circumspect about the decisions that will come out of it.

For more than two years, the Bloc has been asking the Conservative government to hold an international conference on Afghanistan. We feel that such a conference should look at reconstruction efforts, international development assistance, the problem of poppy cultivation and the issue of security in Afghanistan. Such a conference should involve Afghanistan's neighbours, including Pakistan, Iran, Iraq and China.

The Conservative government has always refused to hold such an international conference, despite repeated requests from the Bloc Québécois. But since U. S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton suggested that such a conference be held, the Minister of Foreign Affairs has said he is very much in favour of such a meeting. It is pathetic to see how the minister jumps at suggestions from foreign countries, but dismisses suggestions from the elected members of this Parliament.

Does the Minister of Foreign Affairs plan to take the lead at this conference and remember that Canada, as the fourth-largest contributor of troops, should use its political weight in the decision-making process on the future of the international mission in Afghanistan? Can we hope that Quebeckers' and Canadians' foreign affairs representative will raise the issues crucial to the success of the mission: respecting human rights, directing humanitarian aid to the most vulnerable people and strengthening institutions and the democratic process?

Security in Afghanistan is vital to restoring peace, as is holding transparent, democratic elections. According to the latest UN data, the security situation has deteriorated considerably in 2009, despite the reinforcement of international and Afghan forces. In an interview with La Presse, Brigadier General Denis Thompson of the Canadian Forces stated:

—the sense of security has plummeted among the people of Kandahar in recent months. The surveys we have conducted show that people's sense of security dropped from 55% to 30% during my term. Clearly, that is a failure.

Furthermore, the area under Taliban control continues to grow, and the areas considered difficult in 2007 have since fallen under Taliban governance. The Bloc Québécois insists that the current Canadian mission in Afghanistan not be extended beyond 2011. The Canadian government must respect the will of Parliament and withdraw the Canadian Forces from all combat zones, particularly the Kandahar region.

However, it would be irresponsible to continue the international mission in the same way without changing it or accepting any criticism. The Manley report echoed the Bloc Québécois' argument. That report criticizes the military approach taken by the Conservatives and confirms what the Bloc has always said about rebalancing the mission. The report states:

It is essential to adjust funding and staffing imbalances between the heavy Canadian military commitment in Afghanistan and the comparatively lighter civilian commitment to reconstruction, development ...

As the Canadian Prime Minister also said during the American president's visit, Canada will continue making even greater strides in terms of economic development. The Manley report also states that the Afghan insurgency cannot be defeated by military force alone. The former foreign affairs minister repeatedly recommends using a diplomatic approach with Afghanistan’s neighbours in order to include them in development.

Does the Canadian government plan to use this meeting as an opportunity to promote a diplomatic approach, knowing that the porous border between Afghanistan and Pakistan continues to be one of the main problems?

The Taliban controls the tribal zones in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province, which borders the two countries. We must increase diplomatic pressure on the Pakistani government. That country's involvement is indispensable if we want to achieve our objectives. The truth is, we have not made much progress to date. Even American President Barack Obama said that greater emphasis must be placed on diplomacy and development in Afghanistan in order to defeat the insurrection.

The Conservative government drapes itself in the values of democracy and humanitarian action when promoting the Canadian military operation in Afghanistan. The minister himself has insisted, on many occasions, here in this House, that the Canadian mission was not just military, but that its purpose was also to strengthen political authority and the idea of democracy in that country. Unfortunately, the reality on the ground is quite different. If the Conservative government is so wrapped up in the values of democracy and security, what does it have to say to Mr. Michel Lambert, executive director and co-founder of Alternatives in Montreal, who recently stated that phase 1 of the program to develop democracy and civil society will come to an end next Tuesday, March 31; that phase 2 of the program has not yet received the nod from CIDA; and that, even worse, a number of CIDA officials have clearly admitted that the social and democratic aspects were not a priority for the Conservative government in Afghanistan?

It is also essential that we place development assistance at the top of the Government of Canada's priorities. Afghanistan is one of the main recipients of Canadian development assistance. Canada can do more by considerably increasing its development assistance envelope.

Does the Minister of Foreign Affairs plan on introducing this matter at the conference in The Hague and making it a priority for his government?

In his report, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon revealed that the status of Afghan women remains one of the most deplorable in the world. Women in public life have faced an escalation of threats and discrimination. You will recall the senior female officer, the most visible in the Afghan police force, who was assassinated in Kandahar in September 2008. Women who aspire to senior positions in that country are still taking a serious risk. A large percentage of women and children continue to suffer physical and sexual violence. The proportion of girls who go to school has declined over the past two years and women's participation in the labour force decreased from 26% to 22% in 2007.

Afghans will go to the polls in August 2009. Is the Canadian government considering sending Canadian observers for this election?

In closing, since 2007, the Bloc Québécois has been asking the government to rebalance the mission because the military path alone will not lead to victory. When we made this request, the Conservative government accused us of being on the terrorists' side. Now, in 2009, the government has admitted that military operations alone will not result in victory. If the Prime Minister had listened to our suggestions to rebalance the mission from the start, perhaps we would not be at this point today.

International Conference on Afghanistan in The HagueGovernment Orders

March 26th, 2009 / 8:20 p.m.

Kootenay—Columbia B.C.


Jim Abbott ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation

Mr. Chair, I would like to take this opportunity to thank my hon. colleagues for their reports on the current situation in Afghanistan. I would also like to thank the opposition members for their concern about the future of the mission and the lives of our brave men and women.

I personally would like to convey my deep appreciation for our troops who sacrifice to help people in need half a world away. This willingness to step up to the plate and answer the call of service for Canada is something of which we can all be proud.

Unfortunately we are still facing a formidable enemy in Afghanistan. When Canadian lives are lost, we mourn them, we honour them, and we move forward in their name. The good work we are doing in Afghanistan and the results we are achieving are proof of this.

We have already heard from the Minister of Foreign Affairs and my colleagues the parliamentary secretaries for national defence and foreign affairs. As part of our whole of government approach, it is crucial that national defence, foreign affairs and the Canadian International Development Agency continue to work together. This collaboration helps enable development and reconstruction in the hope of a better future for Afghans and a safer world for Canadians.

CIDA has set out six clear priorities by which we can also assess the work that we are doing in Afghanistan. We are focused on achieving results on three signature projects. One of Canada's six priorities for moving forward on Afghanistan is to help strengthen the Afghan government's ability to provide basic services, such as jobs, education, and water services to the residents of Kandahar province.

In achieving this goal, we are moving ahead on each of our three signature projects: the rehabilitation of the Dahla dam, working toward the eradication of polio, and building or repairing 50 schools in Kandahar province.

The minister was in Afghanistan in January. I am proud to say that during her visit, she launched the implementation phase of the Dahla dam project along with our Afghan partners. Canadians can also be proud that in an international competition, two engineering firms, SNC-Lavalin and Hydrosult, won the contract to spearhead the work on the Dahla dam.

In line with our goal inevitably to leave Afghanistan to the Afghans, with this project we are also creating jobs for the Afghans. In fact, with the necessary preliminary infrastructure work, such as access roads and bridges, local Afghans are already at work with our commitment. We will create up to 10,000 new jobs in the future. Barriers to employment and other economic opportunities remain a challenge. We are addressing the root causes of such barriers.

Afghanistan has some of the lowest educational levels in the world. It is estimated that half of all Afghan children do not go to school, but we are working to change this. We are making much progress on the education signature project to build and repair 50 schools in the key districts in Kandahar. Although serious security challenges remain, 22 schools are now under construction.

Adult literacy and vocational training programs are also continuing. In fact, in January, almost 11,000 students, most of them female, graduated from a 10 month literacy training course held in Kandahar. Vocational training courses continue for 470 students, and we are also planning for the long term. Canada will train up to 3,000 teachers and that will ensure more children can go to school long into the future. Canadian efforts, by focusing on education, are changing the reality on the ground for Afghan boys and girls, giving the future generations opportunities unimaginable only seven years ago.

All Canadians do their part. I am so proud to mention a young girl, Alaina Podmorrow, who was honoured by my minister last month for founding Little Women 4 Little Women, a not-for-profit organization here in Canada that raises money to pay for teachers' salaries in Afghanistan. This girl caught the vision of only $750 a year paying for a woman teacher teaching girls and she acted on it.

The third signature project I would like to highlight is our polio eradication project. Afghanistan is one of only four countries in the world where polio remains endemic. As part of the polio eradication signature project, Canada has supported three polio vaccination campaigns. I can report that 7.1 million children have been vaccinated in the last three months, including 370,000 who reside in Kandahar. That is an amazing number.

On the economic front, we are making a difference. In Kandahar province, 126 new micro-finance loans were made in this quarter, and a new investment in a micro-finance co-operative was established. More than 1,000 small and medium size businesses are now operating in Kandahar city.

The security situation, especially as it relates to progress on development and reconstruction, is part of the reason that security has to continue and to be strengthened so that our aid workers can get the job done. That is why we are also working with the Afghan police helping to build their capacity so when our troops are no longer in Afghanistan, our important development work can continue. I note that just last week we renewed this commitment with 50 new RCMP officers who will go to Afghanistan.

The work of the international community is greatly valued by Afghanistan. The work of Canadians especially brings hope to the people of Afghanistan. On the Dahla dam, we are not only bringing Canadian expertise to Afghanistan to remove an economic bottleneck, we are also creating jobs for Afghans.

On supporting Afghan education, we are currently the lead donor to the national education program. We are supporting the government of Afghanistan in its rollout of its national education strategy in Kandahar.

On the elimination of polio, Canada is the largest single international donor in this area, and in this quarter alone, as I said, we administered over seven million vaccinations.

While serious challenges do remain, encouraging signs also persist. From the strong support at the community level for the Dahla dam rehabilitation project to the co-operation between our troops and the Afghan police, we are moving in the right direction.

As we look ahead, our work on all these priorities will continue. Our ultimate goal remains the same: to leave Afghanistan to the Afghans in a country that is better governed, more peaceful and more secure.

International Conference on Afghanistan in The HagueGovernment Orders

8:30 p.m.


Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Chair, I appreciate the parliamentary secretary's contribution tonight.

When we look at the case of Afghanistan, clearly the problems did not begin just in 2001. The problems were around before that. He mentioned the health concerns and the contributions of the world in the past to deal with some of those issues, like polio, where a lot of progress has been made. In fact, progress has been made in areas under Taliban control.

I want to refer to the UN reports about the success in fighting polio in the past. The 1999 report underlines various things such as the concerns for human rights, conflict, what should be done about opium and the progress of women. On the progress of fighting polio, 3.5 million children of the age of five and under have been treated, and that is good. We have made progress in these areas and we continue to do that.

I am underlining this because these attempts have been made before. The result in the end was not stability. The result was that we still had a problem in the country. When I refer to the 1999 report, all the progress that had been made was been lost because the world community did not stay engaged to ensure stability.

Therefore, notwithstanding our lauding of our projects, at the end of the day, and he intimated this at the end of his comments, it matters not that Canada can do good work right now. More important, it matters that the work remains. To do that, does the my colleague not believe that Canada should go to the next step and provide that diplomatic muscle to ensure stability?

When it goes to The Hague on Tuesday, what will Canada do to ensure that the good work done to date, the good work done in the past and the work contemplated for the future will remain so we will not find ourselves 10 years from now talking about trying to rebuild and help the people of Afghanistan yet again?

International Conference on Afghanistan in The HagueGovernment Orders

8:30 p.m.


Jim Abbott Conservative Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Chair, the hon. member is correct that there were problems and have been continuous problems since 2001. He noted the advancements we made on polio, going back six to eight years ago. He also made note of the fact that in 1999 there were human rights issues and conflicts with women.

I am encouraged about the continued progress. I was very proud two years ago to stand with seven or eight of the women who came to Canada from Afghanistan as legislators, people who would be equivalent to members of the House of Commons. I am sure he would agree that there has been some excellent forward motion on that issue.

If the member and I have a difference of opinion, it might be on the fact that I see it more as the Afghan society, as with Canadian and all societies, being a living organism. We can move forward but we have to secure our position as we do that. We have to be careful that we are feeding that forward motion. There is always a problem that, as he put it, all could be lost.

What would happen if the world were to back away from Afghanistan at this point? We only need to look at Afghanistan 10 years ago to see the answer to the question. Afghanistan became a breeding place for terrorists and that came to our side of the Atlantic. The fact is that would happen again if we backed away.

The hon. member has asked a very valuable question. What is Canada doing now, and what can it do into the future? I believe the most important thing Canada as a nation can do, not only for the people of Afghanistan but for the world and especially the people of Canada, is to ensure we train, equip, motivate and give tools to the people of Afghanistan so they can stand on their own feet and do not continue to be subjected to the kind of demagoguery within the Taliban. We want the people of Afghanistan to have their own army and police force so they can stand on their own.

It is the reason that Canada, through CIDA and the RCMP, has equipped people in the police force in Haiti. There is a mirror image of what Canada is attempting to do in Afghanistan.

There are also the issues of jails and enforcement. We are ensuring that we will not fall back and Afghans will be fully equipped so they can live lives of their choosing.

International Conference on Afghanistan in The HagueGovernment Orders

8:35 p.m.


Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Mr. Chair, I am pleased to have an opportunity to join in this debate.

I am very glad to see that there is a debate tonight, what is called in our Parliament a “take note debate”. In other words, there will not be a vote on the matter but, because it is a matter of such great importance, Parliament sees fit to debate the matter and hear the views of all members who wish to participate on a matter of great national importance.

I congratulate the member for Ottawa Centre for bringing this matter to the House and thank the government for recognizing its importance and concurring in the need for a debate of this nature.

As we all know, the war in Afghanistan has cost Canadians very dearly. One hundred and sixteen Canadians have lost their lives in this conflict. We all share in the sorrow and the searing loss that their families have endured while doing their duty on behalf of their country. We all commend them for taking on this task on our behalf and doing their duty as asked of them by the government.

That does not mean that there are not differing views on what the mission in Afghanistan should be but it should not be the occasion for demagoguery, as I heard mentioned a little while ago. It should be the occasion for mature debate about the options that are available to us.

We have reached a very significant watershed in this country in this debate over the last few months. Indeed, throughout the world there has come to be a recognition that another way has to be found to see peace and prosperity in Afghanistan. It is important that we not miss this opportunity and that, therefore, we ought to use every means that we can to support the peace process.

I do not want to get into a debate or insult one side or the other about the suggestions that we have brought forward. The notion of an envoy, for example, has been brought forward. It is in the resolution that was passed by the House of Commons in March of last year. The Americans have an envoy, Mr. Holbrooke. So, an envoy is something that could be considered.

The UN conference itself, of course, is the bringing together of nations that are interested and that have played a role in trying to support the Afghan people and bring about a resolution. That is important, too.

As has been said here, the importance of having leaders of states and delegates of the United Nations participate is extremely important. There will not be a solution to the Afghanistan problem without leaders of states being involved, and that must include countries like Pakistan. There can be no peace in Afghanistan without the participation of Pakistan but that will take an effort of diplomacy, international co-operation and international persuasion, if I may use that term.

However, we do see some change in the climate and in the attitude toward Afghanistan and a more balanced approach, and we welcome that change. As my colleague from Churchill mentioned earlier, we do want to see Canada play a role that it prides itself in and that it tells its children and young people to be proud of, that Canada can play a significant role for peace in our world. We have done so in the past and may we continue forever to do so.

The suggestions that have been made by the member for Ottawa South and by our leader in a recent article in the National Post are ones that try to encourage the peace process by whatever means that could be helpful.

We do know that, despite progress, the situation in Afghanistan is in fact getting worse. We recognize now that it is militarily unlikely, if not impossible, to defeat the insurgents. Unfortunately, this type of military activity in fact breeds more recruits to the other side. It happened in Vietnam and it is happening in Afghanistan today. This is why there is a need now for the international community, be it the surge of the United States or other efforts, to increase the number of troops before we go further down the wrong path before we can find a solution.

The suggestion of having eminent persons involved is one piece of the puzzle. None of this is all or nothing. I do not think we should stand here tonight and tear apart other people's ideas to move toward peace in Afghanistan and to develop a peace process that can have contributions not just from the diplomatic community and leaders of states but also from people who have knowledge of and respect for the multitude of people in Afghanistan itself.

It is not just helping the government of Afghanistan in a top down way to be more competent in managing the country, better accounting I think we heard it called earlier tonight. It is a laudable goal to have a better society. It was Robert Gates in the states who said that we are not going to build a democratic Valhalla in Afghanistan. It is just not realistic. We are talking about institutions that have taken our country and others hundreds and hundreds of years to develop. Let us face it, we are dealing with a country that is undeveloped by definition. It is backward, one might say, if we think that we are the pinnacle of progress.

There is an enormously high degree of illiteracy. It is a country with a population of 22 million people, 14 million of whom are under the age of 18, with a life expectancy of 43. Only 23% of the people have access to safe drinking water and 12% to sanitation. There is a very long way to go and it may take decades and decades of development assistance, even under the most peaceful of circumstances, to bring that country forward to the level where more and more people have access to education, schools and safe water.

There is a very long way to go on the development side, but it cannot be done while fighting insurgents who are encouraged to join this force because of the nature of the war going on around them. We have to find a way.

The question is about Canada's next step. Suggestions have been made about an eminent persons group and I will not repeat them. My colleague, the member for Ottawa Centre, has spent a lot of time thinking about these things and working on ideas. We in the NDP do not invent all these ideas, as has been said. We do not claim pride of ownership, but I think we bring to the debate something very important.

What can the eminent persons that we have suggested do to help? They have the context and previous experience that could open new avenues of dialogue with the key constituents and affected parties in Afghanistan. They can establish a basis for more formal talks. This is what is important. We need formal talks. There will have to be direct negotiations.

The group would have many advantages by broadening the scope of diplomacy and including more external actors. It would ensure the scope of engagement includes the people of Afghanistan themselves, not just the international players, because at the end of the day it is the people of Afghanistan who have the biggest stake in the peace and prosperity of their country. We need to have the women of Afghanistan involved and civil society representatives, not just the warring factions or those who happen to lead the Taliban these days or the warlords or others who have a stake on the ground.

It would maximize the engagement with the moderate elements of the insurgency, including those who are fighting with Taliban not for ideological reasons but for food and money to support their families. We need targeted engagement critical to isolating the small percentage of extremist ideologues among the insurgents. These were some proposals in an article by the NDP leader in last week's National Post.

These are important elements that need to be brought into this peace process and we have promoted that idea as one that would help and would engage us down this difficult path to achieving peace in Afghanistan because that is what we need to have. We need to have it happen quickly.

I know my time is up and I hope I can add some more in the questions and comments, but it appears my 10 minute section is up right now.

International Conference on Afghanistan in The HagueGovernment Orders

8:45 p.m.

Calgary East Alberta


Deepak Obhrai ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Chair, I want to make sure that people understand that when the NDP keeps talking about peace it is giving the wrong impression that peace can topple the insurgents. If we look at the history of what is happening there, groups such as the Taliban have very extreme views. They were responsible for killing the former prime minister of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto.

Today Pakistan has a democratic government. We keep saying there is some kind of unified force of other insurgents that we can talk to, however, even yesterday those who wanted to bring peace in the northwest Pakistan regions have committed suicide bombings and are killing anyone who advocates peace because it is not in their interests to have peace.

So we must be extremely careful when we talk about peace because we do not want to give the impression that every Taliban out there is willing to come to the table and talk about peace. Yes, there have been reconciliation efforts. Yes, there are ongoing reconciliation efforts and it would be good, but we would still find hardcore Taliban who will not give on human rights. They have an extreme ideology and are not interested in peace because that is not what they want. So let us be very, very careful.

Regarding the eminent persons that the NDP keeps talking about, we have to be very careful that the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon and all these people who are working collectively, do not start creating centres where our diplomatic efforts get dissipated. That is only one of the issues. We need to be extremely careful when putting forward ideas that we do not dilute the situation there. I want to make that very clear, so that those who are listening understand that we do have a very complex situation and it is not as easy as the NDP wants to project.

International Conference on Afghanistan in The HagueGovernment Orders

8:50 p.m.


Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Mr. Chair, I do not want the parliamentary secretary to mistake our position either. We recognize that there are extremists who will never come to the table and never seek peace, just as now, although there is peace in Northern Ireland after a long struggle, there are still extremists who in the last two weeks have killed people with a bomb. That is going to happen. We are never, ever going to eliminate that.

However, there are unfortunately growing elements who are working with and fighting with the Taliban now who have no interest whatsoever in the extremist ideology that breeds the kind of violence the member is talking about. Who are the elements who can be part of the peace process? I think the eminent persons are the group who, in addition to the diplomatic efforts and under the auspices of the UN, would be able to help that process by building some support that would lead to a formal process.

We are not being naive about this at all. We know we are never going to get rid of all extremists, but we need to isolate them to the point that those who are not part of that group are able to be part of the peace process.

International Conference on Afghanistan in The HagueGovernment Orders

8:50 p.m.


Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Chair, I want to clarify for the parliamentary secretary what was stated by my colleague regarding our position. As he said, it is not the NDP position; it is something we brought to this debate. After all, that is what our jobs are. We would have people who had already done this work talk to people in the neighbourhood who understand and who would be looking to the better interests of Afghanistan and not to undermine peace and stability. As I mentioned in my speech, it is people like Mr. Brahimi who could do that. He knows that Bonn was coordinated by Mr. Brahimi. Is he saying that he does not think Mr. Brahimi is a good person to do the job? I do not think so. Does he think that this would not be under the auspices of the UN? I do not think so.

I want to clarify for him that our position is to advance this idea. It is an idea that has been advanced by others. He has heard it at committee. We do not have to subscribe to just having a Canadian envoy. We believe there are enough envoys in Kabul right now. What we do need is a Canadian idea to bring to the table, as my colleague from Newfoundland has said, to advance the prospect of peace and diplomacy and continue the Canadian tradition of diplomacy.

Our role here is to convince the government to make sure we have something to bring to the table in The Hague. What we are bringing to the table is the idea of more diplomacy under the auspices of the UN to advance the cause of peace in Afghanistan.

International Conference on Afghanistan in The HagueGovernment Orders

8:50 p.m.


Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Mr. Chair, we do have something to bring to the table. In fact there is a person who happens to be a Canadian who has a great deal of experience in this field, who can provide understanding and who has a contribution to make.

It is in furthering the tradition of Canada playing a leading role in diplomatic efforts at peace worldwide that we made this suggestion, because it is something that would bring about a greater opportunity for peace. We should not miss this chance. With the new administration in Washington, it can go two ways. We could conceivably take the wrong path by seeing the United States increase its troops which could increase the counterinsurgency to the extent that is happening now. Part of why we are going downhill is that more people are coming out, because of what are regarded as the negative aspects in Afghanistan. A force from outside the country, either an enemy force or an occupying force or just merely foreigners are not readily welcome in Afghanistan. Initially the Americans were welcomed to drive the Taliban out, but the increasing activity over the last number of years has started to turn sour with a lot of people and the Taliban are rising as a result of that.

International Conference on Afghanistan in The HagueGovernment Orders

8:55 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Andrew Scheer

There being no further members rising, pursuant to order made Wednesday, March 25, under the provisions of Standing Order 53.1, the committee will rise and I will leave the chair.

(Government Business No. 2 reported)

International Conference on Afghanistan in The HagueGovernment Orders

8:55 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

It being 8:56 p.m., this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24.

(The House adjourned at 8:56 p.m.)