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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

November 25th, 2010 / 10:10 a.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

moved:

That this House condemn the government’s decision to unilaterally extend the Canadian mission in Afghanistan to 2014, whereby it is breaking two promises it made to Canadians, one made on May 10, 2006, in this House and repeated in the 2007 Throne Speech, that any military deployment would be subject to a vote in Parliament, and another made on January 6, 2010, that the mission in Afghanistan would become a strictly civilian commitment after 2011, without any military presence beyond what would be needed to protect the embassy.

Mr. Speaker, I first want to thank the leader of the Bloc Québécois for allowing me to put forward this motion on behalf of our party. It is actually somewhat tragic that it has been left to the Bloc Québécois to debate the real issues regarding the mission in Afghanistan. These issues have been before us for a decade now. For some strange reason, the Bloc Québécois has had to step up and move a motion to force the House to debate and vote on this matter.

I intend to show that the Prime Minister and the Conservative Party have misled the House, among other things by breaking their word. I will give you very specific examples later. In my conclusion I will also be reaffirming that, for the third time in a row, the Bloc Québécois will object to the extension of the military mission in Afghanistan, for a number of reasons, one of which is that the burden is unevenly shared among NATO members.

Before I begin, I would like to describe briefly how I see an MP's job, for the benefit of those listening in. First of all, an MP is someone who is elected by the people, someone representing an electoral quotient, as it is called in political terms, of approximately 100,000 constituents. This is true for each member representing one of Canada's 308 electoral districts.

A candidate wages an election campaign. I have personally waged six campaigns, so I know what I am talking about. Running an election campaign is by no means easy because you are fighting opponents whose views differ from yours. The public ultimately decides who will represent them in the House of Commons. Members of the public choose their representatives. They do not have time to follow politics on a daily basis, so they place their trust in their elected official, not merely in the Prime Minister and his cabinet.

As the member forSaint-Jean, I am accountable to my constituents. When the next election is called, constituents will once again have to decide whether I have done a good job, listened to them, acted according to their wishes and stood up for them every day here in the House of Commons.

On election day, when the results come in, each of the 308 elected members of Parliament will become the legitimate official representative of their constituents. The familiar Latin expression Vox populi, vox Dei comes to mind, meaning that the voice of the people is the voice of God. The residents of the riding of Saint-Jean spoke in that godlike voice on election day, when they chose me as their MP. Each of the 308 members of the House of Commons also became legitimate representatives when they were elected.

So then we are here in the public arena, the House of Commons, the place where we discuss the issues, where we choose to have a democratic debate, with all the conflicting views such a debate may generate, and where we must not only debate the issues, but also vote on legislative measures. Voting is important, because a vote should represent the interests of our constituents—in the riding of Saint-Jean for me, and in the other members' ridings, for each of them. A vote can also reflect the sometimes opposing views of other members. Of course, the majority rules. Ultimately, then, the minority has to bow to the majority. In the House of Commons, we always have an opportunity to discuss issues, to try to bring an issue back into focus and to see things from a different perspective as time goes on. I think it is important to point that out.

Entering the House of Commons means accepting certain principles. In my case, I accept that the Prime Minister has certain powers and that he has a lot of power, but not all the power. That is something very different. At certain times, the Prime Minister has to share his views and his power with the rest of the House. I believe that the issue before us today is deserving of the House's consideration. As I said at the beginning of my remarks, it has been the Bloc Québécois that has put the spotlight back on this issue, not the Prime Minister, who uses all sorts of arguments to justify his decision, arguments that I will refute shortly.

I said earlier that the government had broken its promise. And I have here six quotes where the government very clearly stated that it did not intend to take the approach adopted in Lisbon. Here are some examples.

This is what the Prime Minister said in January 2010:

But we will not be undertaking any activities that require any kind of military presence, other than the odd guard guarding an embassy....so, it will become a strictly civilian mission.

It was clear that the military component of the mission would be ending.

Several months later, the Prime Minister stated:

Mr. Speaker, I have the same answer that I had last week, and it will be the same next week: Canada's military mission in Afghanistan will end in 2011, in accordance with a resolution adopted by Parliament. We plan on remaining involved in Afghanistan in terms of development, governance and humanitarian assistance. We invite the opposition to share its ideas on the future of this mission.

Again, the statement made it very clear that the military component of the mission would end.

On April 11, 2010, the Minister of National Defence had this to say about the training of the Afghan army:

After 2011, the military mission will end.... What we will do beyond that point in the area of training will predominantly be in the area of policing. And that is very much a key component part of security for Afghanistan.... Let's be clear, it's speculation at this point. We're talking over a year before Canada's military mission will end.

It is interesting to note that theMinister of Foreign Affairswas also opposed to a vote in the House:

We have made it clear that the military will not be in Afghanistan] post-2011 and in that regard there is no need to have a debate in the House.

It is fairly clear: the military mission was supposed to end. In December 2009, the Chief of the Defence Staff had this to say:

Military operations must end in July 2011, according to the motion passed by the House of Commons. When we say “military“, we mean all military personnel, including those assigned to the Provincial Reconstruction Team, those protecting our civilians and those involved in the training of Afghan forces. The plan is to bring all our military personnel home.

We were extremely surprised to hear rumours that between 950 and 1,000 soldiers would remain stationed in Afghanistan. Despite all the statements made over the past year, the opposite is occurring. That is why we are saying that the Prime Minister and the Conservative government have broken their word. Hence the debate that we are having here today.

The Bloc Québécois stresses once again that the authority to deploy troops is extremely important and the Prime Minister must share this authority with the House of Commons. The Bloc and I have stated on numerous occasions that we take issue with the type of mission the government wishes to undertake. We do not have any issues with members of the military, who are following orders issued by the civil authorities.

I have stood alongside the military on numerous occasions. I went to Bosnia with the Royal 22nd Regiment, and I have been to Afghanistan three times. So, once again, I can say loud and clear that the armed forces are doing an exceptional job. They are not to blame. We object to the type of mission and to the manner in which operations are being conducted in Afghanistan under this government. That is why we need to force a debate on this issue today.

As the critic, it is my job not only to assess the mission, but also to review budgets and to determine whether it is time to declare war or peace. And that responsibility is shared by all the members of my party. That responsibility must be shared by Parliament and on every member of the House.

We have repeatedly criticized the fact that the government has reversed its policy. It has procured a tremendous amount of military equipment. We are not necessarily opposed to that, but we would have preferred that it be done in a much more structured way. This government is leading the country down a very militaristic path, which, by the way, began under the previous Liberal government. Today, there are hardly any peacekeeping missions left to speak of.

The purchase of strategic and tactical aircraft, armoured vehicles and other military equipment must be done with a specific purpose in mind. Why are we buying all this equipment?

The government set out the Canada first defence strategy, but the policy did not come from the Department of Foreign Affairs. The government should have put forward a foreign affairs policy outlining what Canada wants to achieve. There is only one department behind the strategy, the Department of National Defence, which is involved in foreign affairs. The government needs to state what the future objectives of the Canadian Forces are, and then it could buy equipment to achieve those objectives.

In terms of the process I just described, the government, unfortunately, did things backwards. It began by buying the equipment, and it plans to use that equipment in Afghanistan or elsewhere; it does not really know where. It has not established a clear foreign affairs policy. We are in a policy vacuum, and we are in serious trouble. Now that it has spent $50 billion or $60 billion on military equipment, will the government try to get its money's worth by coming up with a policy that makes use of that equipment? It should have done that first.

The Bloc Québécois is opposed to the mission as such. For some time now, delegations have been sent to speak to NATO authorities, and I was one of the first people to speak out about this. NATO should be sharing the burden of the military mission in Afghanistan. I have been to Afghanistan three times. I have been to the north, where I met up with German troops, and I can tell you that not much is happening there.

The problem is in the south. That is where Canadians are currently deployed, and where they have been positioned for several years now. We have often asked NATO authorities if there is some way to have the burden shared more equally, since we are paying a heavy toll, not just in human lives, but financially as well, to maintain a theatre of operations like the one in Kandahar, which is on the other side of the world. Equipment must be transported and housed and so forth. The costs are astronomical, and some are beginning to say that the final price tag for this mission will be $20 billion.

Where Canadian troops are positioned in Afghanistan is important. They are in Taliban territory. They are suffering the greatest number of losses per capita. We are losing this conflict, which is escalating significantly, according to NATO and UN reports. For that reason, the Bloc Québécois feels that Canadian Forces have done enough. It is now time for someone else to take over. We could continue with a mission that ensures a police, development or diplomatic presence, aspects that are often overlooked. But we are hearing much more talk about the military component than about anything else.

The government maintains that our military will be behind the lines training soldiers. I saw what that entails when I travelled to Afghanistan. There is more involved in training soldiers. It is more than merely showing them how a safety catch works. It is quite a bit more complicated than that. Theory courses are not enough. Practical courses must be given as well. I have had my doubts ever since I heard that our military would be stationed in Kabul and would not be in the theatre of operations. And who confirmed my suspicions last week? None other than General Rick Hillier, the former Chief of the Defence Staff, who had this to say about training soldiers without going into combat:

You can come up with all kinds of schemes to hide away in camp and train people for the Afghan army, but they lack credibility. If you try to help train and develop the Afghan army...you are going to be in combat.

When you train troops, the first step is to show them how to hold and shoot a weapon, and how to get in basic position. Then it is just like hockey practice. Everything is easy in practice, but it is a different story when you play a real game. In a few years, we will find out that mentors coached troops in the theatre of operations. Movements and strategies need to be corrected in the heat of battle. If you are not there, you do not know what is happening. The general himself said that training would fall short if mentors did not accompany their students into the theatre of operations. So that is where things stand with training.

For the third time, when we vote on Tuesday, the Bloc Québécois will oppose the type of mission being put forward. We have examined the issue from every angle. In the past, it seemed that we did not have an exit strategy and that training was not happening fast enough. Now the training process has been sped up. We are going to vote for a third time because we have responsibilities to fulfill. My Liberal friends disappointed me the last time. For a year, prior to the most recent extension, I heard them say that the mission had lasted long enough. I very clearly remember them using the same arguments that I am today, especially with respect to the importance of rotation within NATO so the burden does not always fall on the same countries. Much to my surprise, they ultimately decided to back the Conservatives in extending the mission.

Today, we no longer want to extend the mission. That has been the long-held view. The government is contradicting what it has been saying for a year. No doubt it has come under pressure, but that does not justify a sudden about-face.

The Bloc's political position is in line with what Quebeckers want. According to recent polls, 78% of Quebeckers object to the new mission that the government wants to launch. Voters keep up with the news. Like us, they have been hearing for a year now that the military component would come to an end. We are not just talking about the combat aspect, because our military presence also includes training. We were all under the impression that there would probably be only one soldier left, the military attaché at the embassy in Kabul. But that is not what is happening now.

We all have to face the consequences of our actions when we decide to go to war. For several years, the focus has increasingly been on the combat mission instead of the peacekeeping mission. We should perhaps return to our peacekeeping missions. That would be more in line with what the public wants. We look at how things have evolved, and this needs to stop at some point. We think that it should have stopped a long time ago. Every time that the government makes these militaristic proposals, we should object and refuse to extend the mission.

According to my notes, I have attended the funerals of five soldiers. That is a direct consequence of the actions taken by the House of Commons. When we go to war there are consequences for everyone. It is unacceptable to have to stand beside the grave of a young soldier who was only 22, 23 or 25 years old. To date, 152 soldiers, one diplomat, one journalist and two humanitarian aid workers have been killed. That is a lot and does not include the thousands of wounded soldiers. We think that is enough.

We have spent $20 billion, lost 152 soldiers and seen several hundred wounded. The sacrifice has become too great. We have suffered too much. We think that other NATO countries should provide assistance and that we should focus on a civilian approach with police officers, on the jail system and prison guards, on the justice system and so on.

It is time for our troops to come home.

Opposition Motion—Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:30 a.m.

Calgary East Alberta

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member has been to Afghanistan many times. He was with me when we visited Afghanistan. He is talking about the tragic consequences of losing people; soldiers and diplomats.

Yes, we have lost people. It is tragic, but that is the responsibility that Canada has undertaken under NATO. We are a responsible nation, a small nation, and our military has stood very strong. We can all, including the hon. member, be proud of what the military has done and what they are doing in Afghanistan, and that includes our diplomatic mission.

The fact of the matter is that we cannot pick and choose what is going to happen. It is a whole of government of Canada approach to diplomacy, to development, as well as to providing security.

For all the sacrifices Canadians have made, it is but natural that we leave that country to the Afghanis. We have always said that Afghanistan is for Afghanis, but it is our responsibility to ensure that we leave them with a trained force that they can take over themselves. We cannot leave them with a half-done job. We are the best trainers and we can teach them what we have learned.

That is why I am surprised that the Bloc is not willing to support this. They should be supporting and be proud of the Canadian military for the training mission they are doing. That is a great legacy that we leave behind for Afghanistan.

Opposition Motion—Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, we are definitely proud of what the Canadian Forces have done and what they likely will be doing. I see how things are progressing and I can see that the Conservatives and Liberals are once again planning to get into bed together.

However, my point still stands. Canada went to the worst region of the country, in the Taliban stronghold, during the first conflict in Afghanistan and we left troops there. There have been many discussions about rotations at NATO as well as at the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, where the 28 countries are represented by parliamentarians, but the response has always been negative. That means that, in terms of Afghanistan's regions, troops are stationed in the north and east, where there are very few problems, and the others are left to carry all of the weight.

And that is why we are saying that enough is enough; it is time to bring the troops home.

Opposition Motion—Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate my colleague on his superb speech. I agree with much of what he has said in the House this morning.

I want to go back to the wording of the motion that is before us today. The motion actually says:

That this House condemn the government's decision to unilaterally extend the Canadian mission in Afghanistan to 2014...

It almost makes it seem that if the issue had come before a vote in this House that the member might have been okay with the extension of the mission.

I want to give the hon. member an opportunity to clarify whether he, like all of us in the NDP, believes that this extension is wrong, period, and that we should be bringing our troops home regardless of whether or not there is a vote in this House.

Opposition Motion—Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I agree with my colleague. If she would like me to make it perfectly clear, I will reiterate that we are against extending the mission in Afghanistan, particularly the military aspect.

We have nothing against continuing the humanitarian or diplomatic aspects, but the military mission needs to end, as we have said before. This is not the first time we have said it; this will be the third time in a row that the Bloc Québécois has repeated that it is against the military mission in Afghanistan.

This needs to be clear-cut and specific: the Bloc is going to object. Vote or not, we would have objected. When the Lisbon proposal was made public, we criticized it and said that we did not agree with it.

Opposition Motion—Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Bloc

Guy André Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague from Saint-Jean on his excellent speech on the motion we moved here today.

I would like to ask him a question about something he mentioned in his speech regarding the Prime Minister's commitment to end this mission in 2011 and the fact that he is now reneging on that promise. That was just one of the many speeches the hon. member for Saint-Jean has made in this House.

What worries me about what my colleague said is that people are becoming more and more cynical about politics. They are becoming increasingly suspicious of political posturing. They no longer believe in their elected officials. This is a perfect example of manipulation: first the Prime Minister promises to end the mission and says the House will have to vote on extending the mission, but then, with the support of the Liberals and his party, he goes ahead and extends the mission anyway.

I wonder what my colleague's thoughts are on this.

Opposition Motion—Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

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

The government has indeed lost all credibility in this file over the past year. The statements were so explicit and precise that it was considered a done deal. Even the Minister of Foreign Affairs said that the military attaché in Kabul would be the only one to stay on. Now this is going even further, because when he was in Lisbon, there was talk about the fact that the mission might be extended beyond 2014. I very clearly remember the Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs saying that it would end in 2014. That is exactly what they had said a few years ago. At the time, they were talking about a troop withdrawal in 2011, but that is no longer the case. Thus, they have lost all credibility.

We in the Bloc Québécois, however, have always remained consistent. When we say something is bad, it is bad. At that is what we said: that we do not want the military mission to continue after 2011.

Opposition Motion—Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

Conservative

Jim Abbott Conservative Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, I must express my sincere regret at the position the member in particular has taken, having been a party in the delegation to Afghanistan in May. He was there. He saw the faces of the people. He saw the faces of the Afghanis and the Canadians who were serving the Afghanis. I say shame on him for the position he has taken.

He has talked about the fact that Canada should be involved in peacekeeping missions. How would he keep the peace? Would he keep the peace by sending in more foreign troops or would he keep the peace by training the Afghani troops so that they can look after their own affairs? We are equipping the people of Afghanistan to look after themselves.

The member should be condemned for having brought forward this motion in the first place.

Opposition Motion—Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, shame on him because, in this place, there is freedom of expression. We are not contradicting ourselves. We have said three times that we do not want an extension. We are far from contradicting ourselves and, furthermore, we represent the people of Quebec who have told us that they are against it.

I hope he will not again dredge up the argument that if we oppose the government, then we support the Taliban. That is not how a democracy works. It is not true that we will all be singing the same tune. It is not true that we will all be saying the same thing. It is not true that just because the government presents a position we will be in favour of it. We have the right to disagree in this Parliament and that is parliamentary democracy.

Opposition Motion—Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, this is just a quick question based on the exchange.

We know that the government broke its promise. We know that the government was supported by the Liberals to break its promise. The question is: What are we getting in return? What we are getting in return is a cut of $200 million to the civilian mission and, instead, we will get $1.5 billion in terms of the military extension. Does the member think that is a good investment and it will make a difference?

Opposition Motion—Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question. However, I would say to him that we have known for a long time that the mission is not balanced. We have been saying for years that the military mission has been receiving ten times more than development and diplomacy initiatives. That has not changed. Humanitarian aid will be reduced, but the military mission will receive an additional $500 million to $700 million per year over the next three years. There is still an imbalance, and this is another reason why we object to extending this mission.

Opposition Motion—Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:40 a.m.

Pontiac Québec

Conservative

Lawrence Cannon ConservativeMinister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague, the hon. Minister of National Defence.

By the time the Canadian Forces complete their combat mission in Kandahar in 2011, Canada will have been involved in Afghanistan for a decade—the longest military combat engagement in Canadian history.

From the beginning, the dedication shown by the Canadian Forces and Canadian civilians, and the considerable efforts they continue to make today, have shaped our nation’s understanding of sacrifice and service. We should not forget why we went to Afghanistan in the first place.

Canada is in Afghanistan for one very clear reason: Canada's national security. We went to Afghanistan following the attack on the United States on September 11, 2001, when 2,976 people from 77 countries were killed, including 24 Canadians.

Under the Taliban regime, Afghanistan had become a safe haven for international terrorists, providing al-Qaeda with an ideal stronghold from which to organize a series of international terrorist attacks.

The events of September 11 made it terrifyingly clear that we were all vulnerable and that innocent citizens anywhere could and would be targeted by this new breed of international terrorists. Borders no longer mattered. We had a responsibility as a global citizen. Thanks to the international community’s efforts and Canada’s sacrifices in Kandahar, Afghanistan is no longer a safe haven for terrorists. And the Taliban are no longer controlling the lives of the Afghan people, denying them fundamental freedoms and rights.

Canada is in Afghanistan as part of a UN-mandated, NATO-led mission with over 60 other nations and international organizations at the request of the democratically elected Afghan government. Let us also remember that Canada's ultimate goal is to leave Afghanistan to Afghans, as a country that is better governed, more peaceful and more secure. We are helping to create the necessary conditions that allow Afghans themselves to achieve a political solution to the conflict.

Canada has made a tremendous contribution. The ultimate sacrifice was made by 152 members of our Canadian Forces, one diplomat, one journalist and two NGO aid workers, working to keep us safe, to defend our values and to help Afghanistan emerge as a more secure and peaceful society. We must honour the legacy of those brave men and women and continue building on what we have achieved and learned in Afghanistan. We do this because our work in Afghanistan is not yet complete.

We have been one of NATO's top six force contributors to the military mission. We have contributed nearly $2 billion in development assistance, making us one of the top bilateral donors. Canadian Forces have been deployed in Kandahar province, one of the most dangerous places on earth, for five years. Home of the Taliban, the province lies at the heart of the conflict in Afghanistan.

Through the courageous efforts of our armed forces, the terrorist threat has been contained, allowing Afghans the security to live and to breathe. We must build on what we have learned in Kandahar to continue the training necessary to solidify our gains and sustain our investment. We still have work to do.

Security in Afghanistan is not yet sustainable, nor are the gains we made irreversible. This is why we must stay.

We have always understood that Afghanistan could not rise up out of the ashes of 30 years of conflict and civil strife through military force alone.

From the outset of our engagement in Afghanistan, we have pursued a whole of government strategy, complementing our military engagement with civilian efforts to build governance and security structures in Afghanistan and to support development in that country. Canada's contribution has focused on helping to rebuild government services, the national army, the national police, education, health care and respect for human rights.

We have worked in partnership with the Afghan government to strengthen the Afghan national army's capacity to conduct operations and sustain a more secure environment and increase the Afghan national police ability to promote law and order in the province of Kandahar.

We helped built the Afghan government's institutional capacity to deliver core services and promote economic growth, enhancing the confidence of Kandaharis in their government.

We provided humanitarian assistance to vulnerable people, including refugees, returnees and internally displaced persons.

We enhanced border security, with facilitation of bilateral dialogue between officials from Pakistan and Afghanistan.

We advanced Afghanistan's capacity for democratic governance by contributing to effective, accountable public institutions and electoral process.

We supported Afghan-led efforts towards political reconciliation.

Canada's approach recognizes that Afghanistan cannot create the conditions for sustainable peace through military means alone.

When we first arrived in Afghanistan, the education system was crippled and girls’ schools were closed. Today an estimated 6 million children are now in school, one-third of them girls—the highest enrolment rate in the country’s history. Canada continues to build, expand and repair schools in Kandahar province, having completed work on 26 schools thus far.

Under Taliban rule, human rights and women’s rights were non-existent. Today, those rights are enshrined within the country’s constitution. Canada has fought for the establishment and protection of those human rights in Afghanistan including the rights of women and children. The promotion and protection of human rights, including women’s rights, is a core element of Canada’s engagement in Afghanistan.

Canada is actively supporting Afghan justice sector reform, with a view to strengthening capacity and promoting human rights. Canada provides ongoing support to the Government of Afghanistan and Afghan organizations to build their capacity to ensure that laws respect the Afghan constitution and the country’s international human rights obligations.

Canada supports the Afghan Ministry of Justice’s human rights support unit through a $1.3 million contribution. The unit will help Afghan governance bodies to incorporate and internalize human rights in their legislation, policies and respective areas of responsibility.

While these gains are remarkable, without our help they remain fragile.

I reiterate that our work in Afghanistan is not yet complete. Decades of conflict left Afghanistan and Pakistan deeply distrustful of each other. Canada has worked to help strengthen those relations by bringing Afghan and Pakistani border officials together, often for the first time through the Dubai process.

Long-term peace can only come about through dialogue and mutual understanding. Well-managed borders are instrumental for long-term economic development, as well as for long-term stability and security.

As one of Canada's priorities, we have played a central role in helping Afghanistan generate customs revenue and battle corruption in customs sectors.

Canada remains committed and has always said that we would remain engaged after 2011. We are respecting the parliamentary motion and we will build on what we have learned through the outstanding work of Canada in Kandahar.

The key to a stable and more secure future in Afghanistan is its ability to provide for its own security. Security is the foundation for progress. This is why the government has decided that it will provide Canadian Forces personnel to the NATO training mission in Afghanistan to continue training the Afghan national security forces over the next three years. We will provide 950 military trainers and support personnel.

We will also focus on four themes: we will invest in the future of Afghan children and youth, notably through education and health; we will work to advance security, the rule of law and human rights; we will promote good regional relations, which are key to the future of Afghanistan, through active diplomacy; and we will continue to provide humanitarian assistance.

Our commitment to the Afghan people is clear and unwavering. We are working harder than ever with Afghans, and closer together as an international community, to create the conditions for a more prosperous, better governed and more secure Afghanistan.

Opposition Motion—Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:50 a.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to know the opinion of the Minister of Foreign Affairs on the statement he made here in March 2010, which reads:

We have made it clear that the military will not be [in Afghanistan] post-2011 and in that regard there is no need to have a debate in the House

Can the Minister of Foreign Affairs tell me what has happened since March 2010 to make him do a complete 180? I think that the debate we are having right now is very civilized and polite.

Was the reason for this drastic about-face pressure from our NATO allies, particularly the Americans?

Does the minister agree that this is the statement he made in March? If so, then why is he now changing direction?

Opposition Motion—Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Conservative

Lawrence Cannon Conservative Pontiac, QC

Mr. Speaker, the direction that Canada is now taking with its action plan is clearly based not only on recognition, but also on the government's very formal promise to end the combat mission. In this regard, we are respecting the motion adopted in the House of Commons in March 2008.

Consequently, there is no contradiction in what I said regarding the action that the government has taken. As I said in my speech, needs clearly exist—assistance and development needs, as well as training needs.

Our commitment to send 950 Canadian soldiers to carry out these training tasks is therefore in keeping with and a consequence of our previous statement, in other words, these soldiers are not being sent there as combatants, but as trainers. Thus, I think that our actions are completely consistent with the decision that was made and with the commitment we and other NATO countries made to the international community.

Opposition Motion—Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the minister to comment on the statement of the Prime Minister on June 4, in which he said:

We are working according to the parliamentary resolution that was adopted in 2008 by which Canada’s military mission will end and will transition to a civilian and development mission at the end of 2011

He prefaced that by saying:

I think we’ve been very clear.

It is very clear from that statement that the military mission, not the combat mission, would end in 2011. That is what Canadians believed and now we are reinventing the past. I want the minister to acknowledge that he is reinventing the past, because Canadians were told that the military mission would end.

Opposition Motion—Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Conservative

Lawrence Cannon Conservative Pontiac, QC

Mr. Speaker, indeed we have respected to the letter the motion that was adopted here in March 2008. We have indicated that we will put an end to our combat mission in Kandahar. That is exactly what we are doing.

We are now looking at centring our help, our aid, our development, as well as our training mission, in Kabul where indeed we have asked and we have been asked by our allies to be able to provide a number of trainers. This is something that the Canadian Forces do extremely well. In the course of the next three years, our Canadian commitment will be in terms of training the Afghan national army to be able to meet its objectives, but also in terms of development.

I have spoken of four themes that we are going to be focusing on. We are going to be focusing on health, on education and on regional diplomacy. Those are things that our colleagues, members of ISAF, members of NATO, and indeed members of the United Nations, all wish us to do because we want to leave that country in a more sustainable fashion and a more sustainable manner.

Opposition Motion—Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Central Nova Nova Scotia

Conservative

Peter MacKay ConservativeMinister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak in this important debate with respect to Canada's military mission in Afghanistan.

As we all know, the Canadian Forces have been a fundamental part of Canada's whole of government approach to the mission in Afghanistan to help Afghans build stronger institutions and a stable environment in their country. This is a monumental undertaking, to be clear, given the history and the complexity of that country.

Our men and women in uniform, along with their civilian counterparts, have done an outstanding job and incredible work in Afghanistan. Their steadfast dedication to the mission and to the Afghan people is making a real difference. In fact, it came at quite a price. My colleague, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, has referenced the fact that 152 Canadian Forces were lost, civilian lives as well, and many have suffered grievous physical and psychological injury. That solid understanding is very important to keep in the context of what our country has brought to this mission.

I have made a dozen or more visits in the past number of years and I can say that the security situation is in fact improving. Tangible evidence is there, evidence which should be a great source of pride for Canadians.

All of this improvement in Afghanistan, and in particular around Kandahar, has been the result of these brave men and women in uniform and their civilian partners putting their all into improving the situation for Afghans, and in fact for the international community at large.

In five of the last seven years we have been in Kandahar province, which has been described aptly as the heartland of the Taliban and the most difficult terrain to capture and keep. The accomplishments are many and the commitment unwavering. The Canadian Forces, with their international partners, prevented the region from falling back into the hands of the Taliban. They built roads and dug wells in wadis. They enabled education, vaccination, much of the very tangible condition for commerce to flourish in the future, micro finance in particular as a highlight for women in that country. All of this is done under the umbrella and the sometimes very difficult to maintain protective yet impenetrable perimeter of safety provided by the Canadian Forces and ISAF.

They are helping to bring about stability and a sense of normalcy to the people long held hostage by tyranny and violence. Human rights and quality of life are very much improving and are attributable to those efforts.

Thanks to the soldiers' professionalism and hard work, Kandahar can now envision a more peaceful and prosperous future than it could just a few short years ago.

In keeping with the 2008 parliamentary motion, the government has decided that there will be no combat role for our military in Kandahar past July 2011. Canada and Canadians are proud of the way the Canadian Forces have assumed their share of the burden in this difficult region.

And starting in July 2011, our NATO and Afghan partners will assume responsibility for security in Kandahar, building on the exceptional work accomplished by the men and women of our military.

The government still believes, however, that there is an important role for the Canadian Forces to play in Afghanistan.

That role will reinforce the successes achieved so far by our military in training and mentoring the Afghan National Army.

Since the adoption of the Afghanistan Compact and the extension of the ISAF mission to all of Afghanistan, training the Afghan national security forces has been a key objective of the international mission. ISAF participating nations along with the Afghan government understood from the beginning that any mission success would not be sustainable unless the Afghans themselves could assume responsibility for their country's own security.

They established important targets with a view to growing and enhancing the Afghan national security forces, both army and police. The Canadian Forces have already been at the forefront of the training and mentoring provided to the Afghan national security forces over the last few years.

Among other important accomplishments, Canadians are clearly very good at training. It is the approach, attitude and engagement which Canadians naturally bring to this task. Yes, combat skills are transferable. This has been one of the core objectives of our military and one of the six priorities identified for the Canadian mission two years ago.

Over the course of my visits there, I have had the opportunity to witness some of the great work members of our military have been doing in support of the development of the Afghan national security forces. Their professionalism, dedication and personal hands-on approach is nothing short of spectacular. The way in which they have done this has earned the admiration and respect of our Afghan and international partners.

Just last month, for instance, the Minister of Veterans Affairs and I visited the junior officer staff course in Kabul, a key component of Canada's efforts to enhance the professionalism of the Afghan national army. We also toured the site where a new Canadian-funded facility is being built to house the course.

We went to Camp Nathan Smith where our provincial reconstruction team provides essential training to the members of the Afghan police, corrections services, border guards and judicial system. The efforts of our whole of government team to lead Afghans to build stronger institutions and more effective governance mechanisms are quite remarkable.

Just four years ago the Canadian Forces were working with only a few hundred Afghan army personnel in Kandahar. When, for example, our military launched Operation Medusa in 2006 led by General Fraser, one of the most significant and galvanizing firefights in the entire mission aimed at disrupting insurgents in Kandahar, the Afghan army had only basic skills and its involvement in the operation was limited.

As we speak, close to 400 Canadian Forces personnel are now engaged in instructing, training and mentoring members of the Afghan national security forces and providing support services. They are mentoring an ANA brigade, or kandak, of 4,500 troops that is actively engaged in planning, conducting and holding ground in Kandahar in the operation.

Today the Afghan army is fielding approximately 10,500 personnel as part of Operation Hamkari in an Afghan-led initiative designed to improve security and strengthen governance, enable economic development and build trust in Kandahar province.

This means that in four years Canadian Forces moved from waging combat operations with the ANA on the sideline to supporting broader Afghan government and military operations where combat is not the main focus. They have in fact stepped up and stepped forward in that role. This is impressive in such a short period of time. It clearly illustrates the fundamental requirement for our capable, confident Afghan national security force. The more we do, the safer Afghanistan becomes and the better the world is.

Across Afghanistan, our allies and partners in ISAF have put considerable efforts toward the goal of empowering the Afghan national security forces. At the NATO summit in 2009, the alliance confirmed the creation of the NATO training mission in Afghanistan, where Major General Stu Beare is playing an important leadership role on behalf of our country. This mission's objective is to coordinate international efforts to train the Afghan army and police, and increase coherence and effectiveness across the board.

ISAF's focus on training the Afghan national security forces is delivering significant results. Over the course of the last 12 months alone, Afghan forces, the army and police have grown by 70,600 in number. The ANA now stands at 134,000 and is on track to meet the expansion targets of 171,000 troops by October of next year, up from a troop force of about 17,000 in 2001. It has increased tenfold.

NATO allies and partners, including Canada, have helped mentor and train about 50,000 Afghan security forces, shoulder to shoulder.

As we speak, we are seeing remarkable achievements. We maintain that we must continue to do this for the Afghans themselves and for the security of Canadians as well. In spite of great strides by the Afghan national security forces, we still have challenges there. The Afghan army needs to strengthen its institutional capability in key decisions on how deploy resources and to reinforce the military culture. We need to increase the capacity to support operations by building logistics and engineer capabilities.

These are a few examples of what we need to do to continue and yet the next phase of the Canadian Forces mission is clearly focused exclusively now on supporting ISAF's capacity building for the Afghan forces with up to 950 trainers and support staff to be deployed at facilities centred near Kabul.

This mission becomes an opportunity to see Canada's legacy continue and remain well rooted in the important sacrifice and commitment that has been demonstrated throughout.

Finally, it will help build a solid foundation for Afghan institutions and governance including those key security forces, well led, well trained and well equipped. This is what will be the essential ingredient for a safe and democratic future for Afghans, giving them the skills to do what we have done for them.

As long as this world spins, there will always be a need and requests for Canadian soldiers to deploy. We are very proud of what they have done across the board and we will support them as they move on to their new role in Afghanistan.

Opposition Motion—Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:05 a.m.

Bloc

Guy André Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the speech of the Minister of National Defence. I do not agree with his position, but it is important to have a debate here in the House, and that is why the Bloc Québécois introduced this motion.

I would like the minister to comment on a part of the Conservatives' election platform in 2006. The platform said that the Conservative government would make Parliament responsible for oversight over the conduct of Canadian foreign policy and the commitment of the Canadian Forces to foreign operations. But what is happening? We can see that the government is going ahead with the mission in Afghanistan until 2014. So the government has taken different positions, as the Prime Minister did in the past. We are witnessing a democratic deficit with this position, which is contradictory to the position taken in the 2006 election campaign.

I would also like to hear his comments on General Hillier's statement on the mission in Afghanistan. He said that, when training police and the army, there is no way around a more aggressive military combat mission. I would like to hear what the Minister of National Defence has to say about that.

Opposition Motion—Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Peter MacKay Conservative Central Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate the hon. member for his contribution to the debate. It is an example of participation, showing the importance of an opportunity like this to continue the debate on the mission in Afghanistan.

This is a perfect example of what soldiers have done for generations in allowing countries like ours to have respectful disagreements, where we can hear one another across the aisle and disagree sometimes passionately.

With respect to the gap, the gap is not one in democracy. The gap is one in understanding, I would respectfully say to my friend opposite.

Yes, there is a change in the mission, but the change is consistent with the parliamentary motion. The change is very consistent with the ongoing discussions that we have had at committee, here in the House of Commons, in previous debates, and in the ability to be scrutinized by the media and members opposite.

We are very fortunate to live in a country like Canada where, rather than take up arms, we can have very adamant, strident positions held that are diametrically opposed and yet we have the opportunity to come before the House of Commons and the Canadian people and put those statements forward, take those positions.

This is very much in keeping with what we hope to establish in a country like Afghanistan.

Opposition Motion—Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I hope we are able to accomplish a little more transparency in Afghanistan. Clearly, the government is not giving the Afghans a very good model. We were promised there would be a vote. It is gone. We were promised that all the details would be put before the House and that we would understand what we were going to be deciding on when we passed at least the budget. We do not have that. In fact, we do not even have ministers who know the numbers at this point.

My question is very specific. What we do know is that both the Pentagon and NATO have said they are going to meet their targets of training troops. We know that. It was initially 134,000, then 160,000 and 171,500 by next year. That will be done.

What we want to know is why the government cannot even tell us how much it is going to spend in the areas of the civilian mission. We were going to spend $550 million up until two weeks ago when the government decided to can that and not even tell people at the Afghan task force.

What we need to know is where that money is going to be spent for diplomacy. We could not get that information from people at the committee yesterday. I wonder if the minister would know. All we have been told is it is $100 million and the government will figure it out eventually. Where is the money for diplomacy going to be spent?

Opposition Motion—Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.

Conservative

Peter MacKay Conservative Central Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, there is money for diplomacy, for development, for reconstruction and, of course, for the continuation of the training mission.

For the member opposite to suggest that there is an opportunity to vote is utter nonsense. It is betrayed by the fact that we will have a vote on this motion. We have had votes previously, obviously on the deployment of the military, but this is not a situation where members of the Canadian Forces will be in combat. That is what was delineated. That is the line in the sand, so to speak. That was an executive decision taken by the government. However, even with that backdrop, even with that historical context, our Prime Minister and our government decided they would have a vote with respect to the combat mission.

Let us be clear that the majority of the House supports the continuation of the mission. That is democratic and it is inclusive. I thank the member opposite, the critic for the Liberal Party, with respect to this particular issue where we have the consensus of the House to continue with the training, with democracy building, with reconstruction and with development. The member may not like that fact but there it is for all to see.

Opposition Motion—Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Liberal Toronto Centre, ON

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.

Opposition Motion—Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:30 a.m.

Central Nova Nova Scotia

Conservative

Peter MacKay ConservativeMinister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate my friend for a very eloquent and insightful speech on the history not just of the mission but in fact of numerous conflicts in which, as he so rightly put it, partnerships indeed trumped partisanship.

I want to very sincerely give my friend the opportunity to perhaps, in that same spirit, expand on his references to how Canada can continue to build greater capacity on the diplomatic side, on some of the ongoing development and reconstruction that we have undertaken, knowing full well that this is very much about creating the conditions and enabling all of those important things to happen under the umbrella of security.

While training will continue to play a central role in keeping that fragile status of stability, how does the member propose that we as a government, as a country with a very engaged public service, civilian and military, continue to create that atmosphere?

Given the very complex nature, the tribal nature, the dangerous neighbourhood that is Afghanistan, how does the member, in a concrete way, propose that we make greater effort in the area of diplomacy and capacity-building for the Afghanistan government, which faces huge challenges, honestly, of corruption and inadequacy in many departments?

What would the member propose, in a concrete way, that the government do in that vein?

Opposition Motion—Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Liberal Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I must confess that is the first time a member of the government has ever asked me that question. I am somewhat taken aback but I will try to answer.

The first thing I would do in terms of the machinery of government at home is that I would not have three or four different task forces on Afghanistan and Pakistan. I would have one. I would insist that CIDA, the Department of National Defence, DFAIT and PCO all work together, that they bring their work together into one major task force.

I would have that task force headed up by a senior ambassador. I would make that ambassador responsible for the task force. I would make that ambassador responsible for coordinating our work in Afghanistan and in Pakistan.

Although I know that there may be some noses out of joint as a result of that, I think it is important that it be done.

We have to have a maximum political, aid and military presence, frankly, that matches that same work that is being done by our NATO allies. We cannot lose ground because we have stopped doing combat. We have to make sure our presence is still assured there.

I am sure the minister will share my perspective. I think the key political problem is that we are not going to find a solution in Afghanistan until we do far more to reconcile issues between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

I have not had a single meeting in Afghanistan or Pakistan where the other party was not essentially held responsible for much of the underlying difficulties in the conflict. I think we have to come to terms with that far more than we have.

I think we have to be very careful that in changing the presence in Kandahar the way we are, which I think is right in terms of where we need to focus our attention anew, we do not lose the continuity of our aid commitment.

I think there are a lot of aid projects that we have started, and we have to make sure we complete what we set out to do. We have to make sure we have sufficient funds to do something that continues to be significant in Afghanistan and that the funds do not simply get dribbled away in a lot of projects that do not end up adding up to a very substantial presence.

I certainly hope that the House committee, although we have had our differences, will be able to get back and look at this question. I think it is very important for members to continue to have access to Afghanistan and visit the country. We have had great difficulty doing that. I think the more often we are able to do that, the more effective our advice will be to the government as we go forward.

Opposition Motion—Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for his excellent presentation. There may be many issues we disagree on, but I have always greatly admired how he articulates his thoughts, as well as the passion and emotion with which he delivers his speeches. I also consider him as a friend at committee, and I would respectfully submit to him that it might happen from time to time that we cannot agree on things. This is happening in a democratic arena, and I am happy that it takes place here.

Rick Hillier's statement was made two weeks ago, one day before the government's position was made public. According to him, providing training without accompanying trainees on the theatre of operations is almost impossible.

Does my colleague think that every effort has been made to try to develop a plan of action designed to deal with the fundamental issue of Afghanistan as it is now?

What we are seeing, which is something we found disappointing on the part of the Liberal Party at the time, is the constant introduction of the military aspect. The solution is always to sent more troops. In that sense, I personally feel that we are departing from Mr. Pearson's liberal philosophy of looking for solutions other than military. Since 2007, and still today, we can see that the solution applied is primarily a military one.

I want to know if it is not somewhat of a problem to depart from the philosophy of the peacekeepers and that of Mr. Pearson.