Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to participate in the debate.
Like all members, I learned just before coming into the House that Premier Williams of Newfoundland and Labrador has announced his retirement as the premier of that province.
Since the premier and I were both chosen to go to Oxford University on the same day at the same time from different provinces, I have always felt a very special kinship with him. I offer him the sincerest thanks of the Liberal Party of Canada and of Canadians everywhere for his service and, if I may say so, for the indomitable spirit and energy with which he has led the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador.
I want to assure members that I will get to the present very quickly, but in 1938 the most popular politician in the western world was Neville Chamberlain. Neville Chamberlain was the man who, after the Munich agreement, told the British public on a famous broadcast that there was absolutely no reason for people to go to war because of a dispute between two or three ethnic groups that were fighting in a country that was very far away and of which we knew almost nothing. I think I am almost quoting his words verbatim.
Seventeen months later, the Second World War broke out and, at that point, Mr. Chamberlain was no longer the most popular politician in the western world because, while he had told people what he thought they wanted to hear, in 1938 events very quickly overtook him and the world. I want to suggest to people that it is important for us to recall and reflect on that period of time as we try to understand the circumstances in which we find ourselves today.
As the foreign affairs critic for the Liberal Party, together with other members of Parliament, I have had an opportunity to visit Afghanistan on a number of occasions, both before I was an MP and after being elected to Parliament. I have had chances to visit the regions in Pakistan and in India. I had a lot of conversations with people about the challenges in the region.
I do not claim to have any monopoly of expertise or any monopoly of information. I am in the opposition and therefore do not have access to a lot of information that the government has. However, I do have certain instincts with respect to that situation that have always, I hope, been fuelled by information. I appreciated the comments made by both ministers today because they have added a little to the information that we have.
We are here today to discuss a motion by our friends in the Bloc Québécois. The Bloc Québécois and the New Democratic Party say that the Prime Minister has often said there would be no troops in Afghanistan after 2011. The Bloc Québécois quotes what General Hillier said two or three years ago, namely that it is impossible to provide training and development to troops without there being combat. I do not recall the date given by the hon. member for Saint-Jean. According to him, the decision by our Canadian government to accept a non-combat role in Afghanistan after 2011, with the presence of hundreds of Canadian troops providing training and development, shows that there is no democracy in Canada, that the government and the official opposition are allegedly dishonest, have no idea of what they are doing and are telling falsehoods to the population.
I can honestly say to my colleague from Saint-Jean, whom I know very well from having worked with him on two committees—as I shall continue to do—that I do not share his point of view. First of all, Canada has certain international obligations to the UN and to its NATO partners. I have often said in the House that it is a pity that the other NATO members have not taken their responsibilities toward Afghanistan more seriously. Our 2008 resolution clearly states that we are going to abandon the combat mission in Kandahar after 2011. It is natural that our friends in NATO should have wondered and are still wondering what we are going to do to keep up our assistance program in Afghanistan.
I have been asked whether NATO has exerted any pressure. I don’t know if it can be called pressure, but it is natural that our partners in NATO, including the United States, should ask us what we are prepared to do, while honouring the will of the House of Commons and the positions of the political parties of Canada.
I make no apology for saying that it is very clear what went on. A number of people, including this member and a number of other people, told the government that it should not exclude the possibility of a training mission if that fits in with the strategy that NATO and the United Nations are trying to establish in order to achieve the objective, which is very clearly set out and repeated again in the Lisbon statement this past weekend, and that is that we move from a position where it is NATO and other countries that are carrying the military load in Afghanistan to a point where it is the government of Afghanistan that takes on an ever-increasing degree of responsibility for the safety and security of its people.
That is the objective that the House should share. We should share the idea that the only long-term prospect is to make Afghanistan more capable of providing for the security and stability of its country to a point where all foreign troops can leave and all of us can get out and come home. As an alliance, how do we do that in a way that is effective and that respects the profound will of the House that our troops not be asked to engage in further combat post-2011?
I happen to think that what has been proposed is not perfect. I have some questions about it and some issues with it that I want to discuss, but, for my part, it is not a credible position for the Government of Canada to take to say that after 10 years we will not allow a single military personnel to stay behind in Afghanistan to do the job that still clearly has to be done and which we recognize has to be done. What kind of a reliable, sensible or thoughtful partner of NATO or of the United Nations would we be if we said no, that we cannot conceivably think of even doing that?
Everyone knows there is a training need. The Minister of National Defence has described it. There are lots of opportunities and ways in which we can help to train and educate. Now, is that the only thing we need to do? Not at all. I continue to say to the government, and will continue to do so, that Canada needs to be as clear a diplomatic and political partner in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, in the reconciliation with Pakistan and in the internal reconciliation that needs to take place in Afghanistan and in Pakistan as we have been a strong military player in the fighting in Afghanistan.
As the Prime Minister and many others have said, there is no military solution. As the Secretary General of the United Nations said in his press conference last week, there is no exclusively military solution to the conflict in Afghanistan. It requires far more than that. I happen to believe it requires more on the political side, on the diplomatic side, than the government has yet been prepared to do.
I want to clarify a rumour that has been spreading around the Internet and even today on the Internet. I want to make it clear that this is not a job application on my part in any way, shape or form. I have not been offered work nor would I accept work from the government. I am not interested in doing it. That is not what I am talking about. I am talking about putting the best of our diplomatic skills at work for Canada to ensure we are as effective a force for peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan and Pakistan and between those two countries as we have been on the battlefield and as we have been in the field of development.
Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the whole world. It is a country that has been through 30 years of civil war. It is a country whose infrastructure has been destroyed. It is a country where whole generations have never been to school and never received any education. It is a country that has a narco-economy, of which we are all familiar, where the narcotics economy is equal to at least half of the total GDP of the country. It is a country that is a dangerous and violent place.
I heard my colleague from Saint-Jean clearly say that he has been to the funerals. Frankly, we have all been. It is tragic, terrible and horrendous to see, not only the loss of life but the loss of limb and the deep trauma that comes with battle and with fighting.
One thing we have to understand about the world we are in today is that Afghanistan is not the only place we face conflicts or are going to face them. I do not say this as somebody who relishes conflict. I do not say this as someone who in the slightest bit celebrates war or thinks that somehow war is a great or cleansing experience for countries to go through. There have been many politicians over the generations who have had such strange ideas, but I am not one of those people.
We do have to understand that, in this kind of violent world in which we live, there are corners of extremism that have been allowed to fester and there are states that are not able to effectively control their jurisdictions. The world is getting smaller, where people can get on planes and move, where ideas can move across the Internet, hateful ideas, ideas that continue to advocate the genocide of a people, ideas that continue to advocate the genocide and the elimination of an entire state, the state of Israel.
These are the events and these are the times. This is the moment in which we are living. It is a dangerous and risky peace.
The hon. member for Saint-Jean has spoken of peacekeeping missions. But do any such peacekeeping missions exist where there is no conflict? One cannot talk about keeping the peace in Somalia or eastern Congo when wars there have wiped out 6 million people. Such is the reality of our world.
This is not easy. We are all politicians and we know what people think about this issue. They are telling us that enough is enough, that our troops have been there long enough and it is time to bring them back to Canada. Like my colleagues, I have been elected to the House. I am familiar with the people’s opinion. But what poses a problem, in my view, is that I see a world where Canada has no choice but to get involved, eliminate the sources of violence in the world, eliminate the potential for a great many deaths and, indeed, eliminate the possibility of consequences even worse than those that now exist.
I am not one of those people who says we were simply there in Afghanistan to kill the bad guys. I am not one of those who thinks there was ever a military solution.
I find it ironic that, for the longest time, I was described as un-Canadian by some members opposite because I advocated very strongly for the need for us to be engaged in the process of trying to create a basis for peace and the resolution of conflict alongside the military presence.
Now that I am saying we still have a job to do to train as well as do the peace and reconciliation and do the development, all of a sudden now people say, “Oh, the Liberals are suddenly going along with the Conservatives”.
That is not how I see things. I must confess that is not how I see it. I see it as the duty of a member of Parliament from time to time to speak his mind to his colleagues and to members opposite. It is our duty to try to understand the fact that, when we look at how we are going to deal with the situation involving not only the security of Afghanistan but the safety and security of Canadians and the safety and security of people all over the world, we have an obligation not simply to see this as a matter of partisan interest but to see this as a question of national interest.
There have been many commentators from the left and from the right over the last 10 days who have said, “The Liberal Party has made a colossal political mistake”, because we have allowed a tactical advantage to members from other parties to come along our side and to take all those of our supporters who perhaps have concerns about what has been going on in Afghanistan and would like things to change more quickly.
I want to simply say to those people and to all those reporters who have made those comments, and to all those who still harbour those thoughts, that this is not about partisan advantage. We do not start talking about Afghanistan by saying that we want to do a tranche count of the electorate, that we want to see how we can cut up the electorate so we can appeal to this portion over that portion.
That is not how I saw World War II. That is not how I have seen Korea. That is not how I have seen any conflict in which we were engaged as a country. I have had issues with the government's trying to suggest from time to time that, because we are concerned about the way in which things have happened or the way things have been conducted or have not been done, somehow we are unpatriotic in expressing those concerns.
Just as I do not accept that criticism, I do not accept for a moment the notion that somehow this is a great issue on which to divide the Canadian people and on which to try to say how can we reap partisan advantage from the challenge we face.
The combat mission is coming to an end. Let us get a grip here. We are not talking about a combat mission. We are talking about Canadians withdrawing from fighting. Do not think for a moment that all of our NATO allies are thrilled with that proposition, because they are not.
We then said we would participate in training; we will participate in colleges, staff colleges and building up the capacity. Yes we need to do more on the aid side.
I say to my colleague from Ottawa Centre: Am I satisfied with the aid package coming forward from the government? No, I am not. Do I think it is generous enough? No, I do not. Do I see huge health care needs and huge education needs and huge needs to deal with the governance crisis, and do I think what the government has put forward is adequate? No, I do not.
However that is not a basis upon which I am prepared to say that I do not support having a number of troops left behind in Kabul to do the training that is required, under the conditions that have clearly been set out and established by the parliamentary resolution, which if I may say so, this party had a hand in crafting.
Why would we not have a hand in crafting it? This mission goes beyond partisanship.
I was with my colleagues from the Conservative Party, from the Bloc and from the New Democratic Party, and my good friend from St. John's East. We saw together what we saw in Afghanistan in June. We saw the way in which Canadian troops worked. We saw the way in which Canadian civilians worked. We saw the way in which the Afghan army responded. We were all at the same meetings. We received the same briefings.
None of us could have come away from that experience and said that it looked as though it was going to be wrapped up in 2011. What was the expression we heard about the Taliban? “You've got the watches; we've got the time.”
The terrorists do not have a timetable. The terrorists do not have resolutions that say this is what has to happen and this is the day we have to do this and we have to do that.
The terrorists have a different objective, and we need to understand that as a House. Canadians have to come to terms with the need for this continuing engagement; they have to come to terms with the need for us to stay involved and stay engaged, not at the expense of our own people, not at the expense of our democratic traditions and not at the expense of how we do business as a country, but as partners.
I will always remember the Afghan colonel who said to us at a meeting that Canadians are different, that Canadians are not imperialists and are not there as occupiers; Canadians are there as partners.
Our role in partnership is changing. It should change. It is time for it to change. I was a strong advocate for that change, publicly and privately, and I am frankly proud that I was able to be. I continue to believe that Canada's role in partnership and in leadership in Afghanistan is ultimately going to do us far better as a country than any of the alternatives that have been proposed by some of my colleagues in the House.