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House of Commons Hansard #104 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was training.

Topics

Opposition Motion--Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Calgary East Alberta

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and to the Minister of International Cooperation

Mr. Speaker, all morning there has been a debate. The government has laid out very clearly and we have argued on many of the points that the Bloc has mentioned. But of course the Bloc members do not want to listen to that. Since this morning I have been listening. One theme is coming from the Bloc and the NDP members who oppose this motion. Number one, that there is no debate in the House and, number two, that there is going to be no vote in the House.

I do not understand. What do they think is happening right now? Right now, we are debating the mission. It does not matter if they use the opposition day to bring that forward. But we are debating that matter. The Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of National Defence, the Liberal critics and the Bloc's own critics have all laid down their positions. So, we are debating this matter. I do not know why they keep saying we are not debating the matter.

Second, they say they want to have a vote in the House, that it is democracy. There will be a vote in the house on this motion they put forward. Next week there will be a vote on this motion. Then they will listen and they will understand what the majority of parliamentarians have said. They are saying it is the majority that should be speaking. So, the majority will be speaking.

My question for the member is: Will he accept the results of the vote on this motion next week, which will be the majority speaking?

Opposition Motion--Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Bouchard Bloc Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his question.

The answer is yes. We in the Bloc Québécois listen to the people, unlike that party over there, which does not. The people of Quebec do not support the military mission in Afghanistan and want the mission to end.

Canada has invested a great deal in this mission and has suffered significant loss of life. Canada's military efforts are over. Canada must begin a civilian, humanitarian mission to really help the Afghan people.

Opposition Motion--Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

NDP

John Rafferty NDP Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is interesting. Right near the end of his speech it sounded to me as if the member was voicing the concerns of people right across this country. That is, when will it end or will it ever end? Is there any possibility?

I have a couple of quotes that I would like the member to comment on if he would.

The first is what the Prime Minister said when presenting his motion to extend the war until 2009:

This mission extension, if the motion is passed, will cover the period from February 2007 to 2009 when we expect a transition of power in Afghanistan itself.

Then a bit later, on February 13, 2008, the Liberal Party's position was very clear when it said, “We say there is no military solution in Afghanistan”.

I would like the hon. member to comment, perhaps, on those two quotes and to further talk about whether he thinks it will ever end.

Opposition Motion--Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Bouchard Bloc Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his question.

The people of Quebec and Canada are concerned about this military mission and do not support it. The Conservative government uses expressions like “training the Afghan army” to cover everything. All the experts agree that those who train soldiers must go to the front. And going to the front means that resources are lost, soldiers are lost and lives are lost.

The Prime Minister made a commitment in the 2006 election campaign, saying that Parliament should vote on it, and he made other commitments later on. Unfortunately, the Conservative government and the Prime Minister have failed to honour those commitments.

Opposition Motion--Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Edmonton Centre Alberta

Conservative

Laurie Hawn ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to contribute to this important debate on the evolving Canadian Forces mission in Afghanistan, and I will be sharing my time with the member for Saint Boniface.

The motion put forward today is flawed and incorrect. The next chapter of the Canadian Forces engagement in Afghanistan will be a non-combat mission. It is a mission that builds the capacity of the Afghan government to fend for itself in the future.

Similar types of missions have been carried out by the Canadian Forces elsewhere in the world and are the prerogative of the executive branch of our system of government, long enshrined in both practice and convention.

For almost 10 years now, our military has been involved in one of the most complex and dangerous mission in decades. Our Canadian Forces have been working around the clock in some of the most unforgiving conditions on the planet. They have faced a ruthless enemy. It is an enemy who has respected few of the values that we, as Canadians, hold dear and that we profess, as a nation, to foster and promote in other nations less fortunate than ours.

We have persevered to achieve basic rights for women and children and all Afghans to live without threat of bombs and intimidation and to live under the rule of law. This should not be forgotten in this debate.

While on their mission, they have lost 152 of their brave comrades and have seen countless others sustain both mental and physical injuries. But, undaunted, they have persevered in their mission.

They will leave an enduring legacy of hope in a country that was in shambles just a decade ago. This is a significant accomplishment, one that all Canadians should be extremely proud of.

I would invite the hon. members to take a step back and take the time to appreciate what our men and women in uniform have accomplished in Afghanistan so far, and why it is important.

This is an opportunity to reflect briefly on all the good things the Canadian Forces have done and to better understand the crucial gains they have made through their perseverance and sacrifices.

The Canadian Forces arrived in Afghanistan shortly after 9/11 to a country that was ruled by a despicable regime that harboured the worst of terrorist groups whose murderous agenda manifested itself not only on September 11 but in London, Madrid, Bali and the Philippines, and as we see daily, it continues to plant fear among us.

The Canadian Forces' initial contributions to operations in Afghanistan were critical in driving the Taliban out of its former strongholds. However, the removal of the Taliban signalled the beginning of a larger, much more complex mission.

After 30 years of war and suffering under the scourge of despotic regimes, Afghanistan was a devastated country, one that could not even provide the most basic of services to its citizens.

The international community could not leave Afghanistan in this condition and risk seeing it revert back to a safe haven for terrorist groups. Canada and our allies understood that this would require a long-term commitment. The International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, was set up to help the people of Afghanistan rebuild their nation. The Canadian Forces launched Operation Athena in 2003 to support ISAF and help provide a safe and secure environment in Kabul.

This proved to be critical for the formation of a loya jirga and the development and ratification of a new Afghan constitution. Shortly thereafter, in October 2004, Canadian troops helped ensure the safe conduct of Afghanistan's first democratic election, and 80% of eligible voters participated in these elections, a reflection of the Afghan people's yearning for a voice in their own affairs.

This was a remarkable achievement. Despite the threats and risks inherent in Afghanistan, our men and women in uniform contributed to the crucial first steps in rebuilding Afghanistan's state institutions. In the following years, NATO took command of ISAF, which extended its operations beyond Kabul. The Canadian Forces moved south and established Task Force Kandahar in what was at the time one of the most dangerous areas in Afghanistan, and we were responsible for the entire region. It was the traditional heartland of the Taliban, and the Taliban was showing signs of resurgence.

Our men and women in uniform faced roadside bombs, suicide attacks and ambushes, but they rose to the challenge. With fewer than 3,000 troops, and a battle group of approximately 1,000 soldiers, the Canadian Forces held their ground in Kandahar. Our men and women in uniform prevented the Taliban from retaking its former stronghold and contributed to increasing stability in a dangerous and volatile area.

Since arriving in Kandahar, the Canadian Forces have also been involved in a wide spectrum of activities, including non-combat operations. Our provincial reconstruction team, in particular, has played a decisive role in strengthening the Afghan government 's authority and ability to govern the region.

Our men and women in uniform have assisted with the delivery of essential resources, such as water and humanitarian aid. They have also helped upgrade the security of key government offices and installations, making it safer for dedicated Afghan officials to build a better future.

They have provided the technical expertise required to build and repair roads, schools, irrigation canals and other key public infrastructure.

Our men and women in uniform have engaged local leaders to build trust across the region and to reinforce nascent institutions.

Above all, the Canadian Forces, in partnership with the Afghan national security forces they have trained and mentored, have provided the necessary security environment for provincial reconstruction team civilians, international organizations and NGOs to pursue a broad range of development and economic initiatives.

Just recently, they helped complete the construction of seven new schools, bringing the total number of schools in the region to 26. Work is continuing on the remaining 24 schools, as per one of Canada's three signature projects. As Samantha Nutt of War Child Canada reminds us, only seven years ago no girls and not many children had the chance to go to school.

They have also inoculated more than 7.2 million children against polio.

Our men and women in uniform have also helped remove mines from 574 square kilometres of land, which have been released back to the Afghan people, and have contributed to the demobilization of former combatants by collecting light arms and securing heavy weapons.

As we approach 2011, the results of the Canadian Forces' efforts in Kandahar are becoming clearer. There has been a significant improvement in the region's security environment. On many occasions, Kandaharis have indicated they consider themselves to be safer in their communities today. This perception of improving security has been crucial in the development and stabilization of Afghanistan.

They have recently contributed to the success of the election of Afghanistan's Wolesi Jirga, the lower house of parliament. On polling day, 90% of planned polling stations were open across the country. This remarkable achievement has drawn heavily from the Canadian Forces' contribution. It also highlights the fundamental role that security and stability play in determining the course of Afghanistan and providing basic services and an effective governance system.

The government and our allies and partners in ISAF recognize this reality. That is why we have put considerable effort into training and monitoring the ANSF. The Afghan national security forces have made tremendous strides over the past few years, but that work is nowhere near complete.

The Canadian Forces possess considerable training expertise and capability. Our efforts in that regard have been recognized by the Afghan government and our ISAF partners. We are, simply put, very good at that. Our NATO allies know this and have indicated how pleased they are with our decision to remain in Afghanistan in a training role until 2014.

The deployment of 950 military trainers and support staff to the NATO training mission marks the beginning of a new chapter. It will build on our previous efforts to train and expand the Afghan national security force, and it will play a critical role in ensuring the successful implementation of the transition process that will enable Afghanistan to assume responsibility for its own security beyond 2014. In doing so, this training mission will help ensure that the gains achieved for Afghans through the Canadian Forces' valour and sacrifices are not jeopardized.

Our men and women in uniform have contributed to concrete, tangible and indisputable improvements in the lives of the Afghan people. Security and living conditions in Kandahar have improved significantly since 2006. Afghanistan is a stronger, healthier nation than it was when the first Canadian Forces arrived there nearly a decade ago.

I have been there six times in the last four years, and I can say from first-hand experience that this is true. We have heard it from people at every level in Afghanistan and it is a fact. I believe, as I am sure many of my colleagues in the House believe, that we cannot afford to compromise our gains. Our men and women in uniform have shown the highest levels of dedication and Parliament should feel the highest levels of dedication to them.

We must build on our legacy of hope that they have built through their commitment. The non-combat training mission is the best way forward. It will help our nation achieve the goals that our men and women in uniform have selflessly worked toward for the past several years: a stable and prosperous Afghanistan, a more secure world and a safer Canada.

Opposition Motion--Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, one of the things I found completely shocking is that while putting our troops in harm's way, who have done an extraordinary job, the government has not backed up its efforts by a diplomatic initiative that is crucial.

I want to ask the hon. member this. Where is the regional domestic strategy to flip elements with respect to the insurgency? This is absolutely crucial to enable us to deal with the challenge. Where is the regional working group that has to get India and Pakistan on the same page if we are going to quash this insurgency? Lastly, where are the efforts to get aid on the ground where it is needed?

The surgeons I met at the Mirwais hospital in Kandahar city do not even have the ability to provide for general surgical capabilities. They cannot even do general anesthesia. They are doing general surgery under local anesthesia. This is cruel and inhumane.

I would like the member to please respond to these questions, which are crucial to the success of the mission.

Opposition Motion--Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Laurie Hawn Conservative Edmonton Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member is quite right. There are many things in Afghanistan that need a lot of work, and we are working on those things. However, remember that we are not there alone. We are there with dozens of other allies, many of whom have expertise in those areas. We are leaving Kandahar because that was a condition of the resolution passed in 2008. We are abiding by that.

We are continuing to work in those areas, along with our allies and the Afghans. Canada has been asked to perform a particular mission and we are going to carry it out.

I would like to touch on something that was brought up. The member opposite stated that Afghans do not need training because if they were good enough to beat the Russians, why are they not good enough now? We—

Opposition Motion--Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

Order. The member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca is rising on a point of order.

Opposition Motion--Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to give the member an opportunity to retract his statement. He is making comments that are completely untrue in terms of comments I made that the Afghans do not need training. That is completely untrue.

Opposition Motion--Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Conservative

Laurie Hawn Conservative Edmonton Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, I did not mean that hon. member; it is the one who sits close to him over there. I cannot use his name, but the member from Quebec who is a previous leader of the Liberal Party made comments that the Afghans do not need training. It is not this member.

However, simply put, we are not training the Afghans to be an insurgency. We are training the Afghans to become a professional army, from top to bottom, to deal with an insurgency. There is a complete difference and the member opposite, not the member who just spoke but his former leader, completely misunderstands that situation.

Opposition Motion--Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask a question of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence.

In saying the mission will change, the Prime Minister claims it will no longer be dangerous because it will involve the training of troops—still a military mission, all the same—and this training will be provided in secure locations, in schools and so forth. Former General Hillier has said that it is impossible to train troops for combat without taking part in any combat.

Will the hon. member admit that the French have been assuming this responsibility since 2007 and they have suffered several casualties?

Opposition Motion--Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Conservative

Laurie Hawn Conservative Edmonton Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to answer that question again. We have covered that before. The type of training the French were doing when they suffered those losses is called operational mentoring and liaison training. That is the kind of training the Canadian Forces have been doing up to this point. In 2011, we will no longer do that training. I cannot speak for the French; I do not know what they are doing.

We will no longer be doing that training. It is absolutely false to say that to train somebody for combat we have to be in combat with them. There is a whole range of basic training that needs to happen, just the same as we train in Gagetown and other places to give basic training to our soldiers, sailors, airmen and airwomen. That is the kind of training we are talking about. It is behind the wire. They do not wear personal protective gear. NATO forces have not lost anybody in four years of that kind of training.

Afghanistan is a dangerous country, there is no question, but the kind of training we are doing is very basic. It is not training with the Afghan army in combat. That is just not true and the opposition should stop saying that.

Opposition Motion--Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Saint Boniface Manitoba

Conservative

Shelly Glover ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Mr. Speaker, Canadians have made enormous sacrifices and Canada will honour their remarkable contribution by building on our accomplishments in Afghanistan.

We will be doing what so many of them came to believe was our best reason for being there: making life better for ordinary people, especially women and children. Their valour, their sacrifice and their remarkable achievements will inspire and guide us as we open this chapter of Canada's engagement and begin to transition out of Afghanistan.

I would like to take this opportunity to give more information on Canada's development and humanitarian assistance role in Afghanistan for the period of 2011 to 2014.

I would also like to take a few minutes to remind the House of why Canada's participation in this international effort is so important.

As announced by the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, International Cooperation, and National Defence on November 16, Canada is building on its strengths and accomplishments over the past years and is committed to helping build a more secure, stable and self-reliant Afghanistan. Canada will continue to play an important role in promoting a better future for all Afghans.

What does this mean in terms of our engagement, development and humanitarian assistance? Many of our 2011 benchmarks have been achieved and some of them have been surpassed.

Canada has also achieved great progress on our three signature projects of building 50 schools in key districts of Kandahar, rehabilitating the Dahla Dam and its irrigation system, and eradicating polio.

Building on these successes, as well as on the needs of the people of Afghanistan, Canada is committing approximately $300 million from 2011 to 2014 for development and humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan.

Within this overall engagement, CIDA will focus on: health, especially of mothers, newborns and children; education; humanitarian assistance; and advancing human rights. On maternal, newborn and child health, it should be noted that Canada will target women in all of its development work in Afghanistan.

For example, as part of the G8 Muskoka initiative, support will be provided to enable the Government of Afghanistan to provide improved nutrition, immunization and the training of health professionals. These investments will help to improve the health of women in one of the world's poorest regions and reduce the number of maternal, newborn and under-five child deaths in Afghanistan.

On education, children and youth are Afghanistan's greatest resource. Canada will continue to invest in their future, building on our significant investment in Afghanistan's education and health systems. To get real change in Afghanistan, we have to nurture a whole generation with new ideas. The kids are the key.

Canada will also continue to play a leadership role in supporting the Afghan national education strategy. This means that Canada will help the Government of Afghanistan improve access to primary and secondary schooling so that more children can go to school, especially girls and young women.

This will also serve to increase the quality of primary education through teacher training and will help foster a safe and secure learning environment. Canada will work closely with the Afghan ministry of education to build its capacity to manage the national education system effectively and accountably.

On health, building on the successes from the past years, Canada will continue to be a leading donor to polio eradication in Afghanistan through its investments in the global polio eradication initiative.

Today, 66% of the Afghan population has access to primary health care services within two hours' walking distance of their homes. That is up from 9% in the year 2000.

Canada delivered nearly 28 million polio vaccinations to seven million kids. Infant mortality has been reduced since the year 2000 through projects such as Canada's maternal and child health program, which is improving the availability and the quality of emergency obstetric care in 37 health facilities and four provincial hospitals in southern Afghanistan.

Our renewed engagement builds on Canada's experience and investments in Afghanistan. As mentioned earlier, in order to address the dreadful health and nutritional status of Afghan women, which was among the worst in the world, Canada will also support effective and accountable assistance to enable the Government of Afghanistan to improve maternal and child health.

On humanitarian assistance, we should not forget that more than seven million Afghans are still affected by food insecurity, conflict and natural disasters. This situation is a significant obstacle to reducing poverty. As part of its countrywide strategy, Canada will continue to provide humanitarian assistance to vulnerable people in Afghanistan. This will aim to increase the food security of vulnerable populations such as refugees, internally displaced persons, refugees who have returned to the country and other civilians affected by conflict.

We will also assist in the provision of non-food items such as emergency clean water and sanitation facilities, basic health services, temporary shelter and essential items such as clothing, bedding and other basic household needs to vulnerable populations.

Since Afghanistan remains one of the most heavily mined countries in the world, Canada will continue to support Afghanistan's national mine action effort in order to eradicate land mines and provide mine-risk education and training to local populations. This will allow Afghans to live in a safer environment and to use this cleared land for livestock and harvest.

In conclusion, while much has been accomplished, much remains to be done. Canada will be at the forefront of international efforts to support Afghans in building a country that is better governed, more stable, secure and prosperous. Afghanistan, like Canada, is a country of great plurality and diversity. We must continue to support its people in overcoming the challenges that nature and history have put before them.

I make one last comment. One of my partners as a police officer was Raymond Arnal. Raymond Arnal is the father of a soldier we lost. His son was Corporal James Arnal, who was 25 years of age. He lost his life making a severe sacrifice, but he believed in what he was doing in Afghanistan. I stand here today to honour Corporal James Arnal and to remember that he would never want us to turn our backs on what he was trying to accomplish in Afghanistan. I push the members of this House to support Corporal James Arnal's wishes, to help Afghanistan to become a more secure and prosperous country.

Opposition Motion--Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development about what the mission will be like once it has changed.

We all know that it is currently a combat mission. The Prime Minister said that it will not be a military mission, but in actual fact it will be because we will be training soldiers.

Everybody here is concerned about training or building civilian infrastructure. This is a subject with which the parliamentary secretary is very familiar.

How many Canadians will spend their time training the police, for example? How many Canadians will help Afghanistan develop its legal system? How many people on this mission will help develop the prison system? These are all questions that need answers.

How many people will help Afghanistan develop its public service? Its public service has disintegrated. Those are my questions for the parliamentary secretary.

Opposition Motion--Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Shelly Glover Conservative Saint Boniface, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for his question.

First, I would like to correct some of what he said in asking his question. When the Prime Minister speaks about this mission, he never talks about a combat mission. It is the opposition parties that continually talk about a combat mission. On this side, we are clear, the government often says it, and I hope they are listening: this will be a training mission and there will not be any combat at all in the training to be provided after 2011.

Regarding the number of people who will be there to provide training, the government has said that about 1,000 people will share training duties in the various areas mentioned by my colleague.

Opposition Motion--Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle NDP Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, we know the Liberal leader opened the door to the extension of the military mission in June. We know the foreign affairs minister then started to negotiate with the Liberals. Will the government now come clean on those negotiations? How many phone calls took place? How many meetings occurred? What else is in this Conservative-Liberal coalition that keeps our troops in harm's way for three more years?

Opposition Motion--Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Shelly Glover Conservative Saint Boniface, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am somewhat saddened by the question from my colleague. As I have said, we are talking about sacrifices our military men and women have made and this is not something we should be politicizing.

This is not about coalition. This is not about politics. This is not about whether that member of the House gets a sound bite. This is about sacrifices that our men and women have made. Canadians have lost their lives in combat to ensure that country has a secure and protected environment, that Afghans have the same kinds of rights that we enjoy in Canada.

I will not abandon those soldiers who lost their lives and who fought so valiantly. I will not dishonour their memory by answering a political question like that during this kind of a debate.

Opposition Motion--Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Brian Storseth Conservative Westlock—St. Paul, AB

Mr. Speaker, as always, the member is a very fair speaker. I thank the member for talking about what an honour it is to serve with members such as the member for Edmonton Centre and the member for Crowfoot who chaired the Afghan committee. They both went to Afghanistan. They both understand the mission. The both believe in the mission.

As a member of Parliament who has two military bases in my riding, this is very important. The men and women of the Canadian Forces are not just my friends and neighbours, they are people I see on the streets every day.

Could the member explain how important training the Afghan national army is to the overall mission over the last 10 years and the belief our soldiers have for that commitment to stay in Afghanistan to continue on the memory and the dedication from the Canadian Forces?

Opposition Motion--Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Shelly Glover Conservative Saint Boniface, MB

Mr. Speaker, I know how invested the member is in this issue. Training is essential. I know our men and women in the armed forces want to impart the knowledge they have on the Afghanistan military. They believe that is the key to fighting terrorism. That is the key to providing the kids of Afghanistan with a future. That is the key to hope and opportunity in the country.

I believe very strongly in the military training of our Canadian forces and the quality and excellence of that training. I am proud to say it is the best training available and the Afghanistan military will receive the absolute best from our Canadian armed forces.

Opposition Motion--Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for British Columbia Southern Interior, Rail Transportation; the hon. member for Don Valley West, National Defence.

Opposition Motion--Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I invite my colleague to stay a little longer—I know she is busy—because I will be sharing my opinion on the statement she made earlier. I think we should have a discussion on the matter in order to ensure mutual understanding of the issues.

I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Joliette on this issue. We are blaming the government for preventing Parliament from voting on extending or at least defining the mission in Afghanistan. I am making this clarification because a parliamentary secretary indicated earlier that today's debate is on the conduct of the mission.

Today's debate is not on the conduct of the mission because that decision has already been made by the Prime Minister. He even announced it to NATO. The government has broken its promises and denied Parliament the ability to vote on extending the mission in Afghanistan.

The reason I wanted our colleague, the parliamentary secretary, to stay is that in my opinion, there is a distinction to be made between a combat mission carried out by soldiers and a military mission for combat training. It is still a military mission. Soldiers will be doing military work to train colleagues, soldiers, people who perform the same tasks they do in another country, but it is still a military mission. Now we need to know what mandate they will be given. That is where the mandate differs and we need to understand each other. We thought the commitment made was for a civilian mission.

I asked our colleague a number of different questions earlier to find out how many civilians from various disciplines will be assigned to the mission. We still do not know of any civilians who will be participating in this mission. When a police officer is trained—and I think my colleague is in a good position to talk about this because that is her profession—theoretical and practical training is provided. Practical training is not provided in a classroom. It is done outside the classroom.

That is why the French military, which took on this responsibility in 2007, has had some loss of life, although not as much as in combat, of course. However, the French have lost some personnel because they have had to expose themselves to danger, by travelling on the roads, for example. We also know that where the operations are taking place now, there are more deaths from mines than from bullets. Most of our military personnel who have died were killed when they drove over mines.

Just because the French were giving training, that does not mean they were no longer engaged in military activity. They were still engaged in military activity, and that is what is going to happen. That is what we are going to ask of our 9,500 soldiers who will be on the ground by 2014.

I know that some members are sensitive and are prepared to try to discuss the situation. Others who are a bit fanatical—although that is probably not the right word to use—do not want to hear any more about it. I know that some Conservative members also want to be reasonable about our future contribution. Should it be a strictly military contribution? We do not think so. Canada and Quebec have done enough in this regard. Our soldiers have gone to the front from the start, and especially since 2005.

The time has come to do what we do so well: a civilian mission. That is why the Bloc Québécois takes the following position.

As a participant in the London and Kabul conferences, Canada must ensure that Afghanistan makes the transition, in as peaceful and safe a way as possible, to full control by the Afghan government. We know how to do that. Canada invented peacekeeping, and we have a great deal of peacekeeping expertise that we are losing because we are putting most of our forces in combat roles.

Our actions should focus on three main areas: providing training support for Afghan police and helping to set up judicial, prison and administrative systems; reviewing and maintaining official development assistance; and reconciliation and integration. Like the other countries on the ground in Afghanistan, we will continue to maintain a presence, but without accomplishing anything other than what we have achieved to date. We get the feeling that we are not accomplishing anything because the government itself is corrupt. There is general agreement on that.

A military presence is incompatible with the humanitarian mission. For that reason, we believe that police training must be modelled after the training provided in democratic states. In Afghanistan, police forces are accustomed to assuming part of the role usually reserved for the courts. For example, police officers may serve as arbitrators in settling family disputes. A family may be asked to make restitution for the harm done to another family. They may even give their own child to the other family to make amends or restitution for the harm done. That still happens. We have to change this way of thinking. We believe that sending 50 or so police trainers to Afghanistan will be of greater assistance than what we are currently doing with weapons.

We must also focus on establishing a modern judicial system, which is clearly lacking. We have some great legal scholars teaching in our universities. Some are retired and available. We believe that an elite team should be trained in order to establish and maintain a judicial system worthy of that name and so that the police officers we will be training can take people who may have broken the law to court.

This also applies to the prison system. As we know, torture takes place in the prisons. We must also send a team to help them set up a real public service, which will run the components I just mentioned, particularly the judicial system, and stabilize the country. Above all, this will give the Afghan people confidence in their own government.

Opposition Motion--Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Calgary East Alberta

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and to the Minister of International Cooperation

Mr. Speaker, as I listen to this debate, more and more of it is now being focused on development assistance. The hon. member has rightly pointed out that Afghanistan needs a lot of assistance in public service and, as my Liberal colleague said, health care, et cetera.

We need to understand, as I said in my speech, what Afghanistan was 10 years ago and what Afghanistan is today. The Taliban had destroyed everything and now, slowly but surely, with the help of the international community, all of these efforts are now coming together to create a viable state.

A viable state takes time, money and effort, but one cannot forget the fact that security is the key element. If we close our eyes to security, the Taliban will come back and, if the Taliban comes back, everything we have built and every soldier that Canada and the national community have lost will have been for nothing and we will be back to square one.

I do not understand why the Bloc would not see the development of security forces as another aspect of creating a viable state. It is important to do that. The Bloc members are very good at saying that we should build something this year, but they forget who will provide the security. Building a security force is another element of creating a state.

Opposition Motion--Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question, which forces us to think about the system over there, which is based on the law of the strongest or, to be more exact, on the best armed.

Children learn to fight each other at a young age. But it seems that our involvement there only perpetuates this system. Instead, we should be gradually putting a system in place with key pillars that will lead this country towards democracy. These are the pillars that I mentioned earlier. They need courts, places where people will see that the justice in a real justice system is constructive and contributes to the betterment of society. That is what we are talking about today.

We have two completely different ideas about how our mission over there should look.

Opposition Motion--Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Keith Martin Liberal Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Mr. Speaker, we all agree that training the security forces is crucially important but there are some fundamental issues that have not been dealt with.

Within the Afghan national army, there is a very unnatural situation. The leadership in the ANA is actually made up of non-Pashtun leaders for the most part for a Pashtun-dominated army. This is a completely unstable situation. We need rectify that situation by ensuring the leadership is more representative of the tribal makeup of the country.

While the military aspect is crucially important in the scale-up of the training, we need to have an on-the-ground diplomatic mission in order to hive off elements of what is a complex insurgency made up of different groups with different motivations. There is no plan for this.

Does the member not think that in order to support our troops the government needs to work with Afghans and other groups to develop this on-the-ground diplomatic initiative to hive off elements of the insurgency?

Opposition Motion--Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Bloc

Yves Lessard Bloc Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Liberal member is absolutely right.

Where we go from here must absolutely be up to the Afghan people. So they need the means to take charge. If our role continues to be a combat one, if we continue to attack on the front lines, we will never be able to accomplish that. Some countries are prepared to continue that work. We have already done our part, especially since Canada was very clear with its allies. We said that we would withdraw in 2011. That was clear. We have always agreed that we would be present, but with civilian missions.

My colleague is absolutely right. This civilian mission must give the Afghan people the means to take charge through democratic institutions and institutions for survival, particularly in terms of health and education.