This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

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

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Liberal Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am sure that there are many who would like to be the sons of Lester Pearson, and I think that I can claim to be at least as much Mr. Pearson’s grandson as any other in this House.

We will not speak of his legacy, but I will say two things. First, I never thought that there could be an exclusively military, or even predominantly military, solution in Afghanistan. And I am certain that this is still not the case.

By the same token, there is violence and there are terrorists. This is a fact. I know no other words to describe the Taliban who would attack both civilian and military forces alike. The ability to respond to violence with some degree of force must be an option. I could quote the words of Lester Pearson in this regard, for that was also his point of view. Was there a military solution in Korea? No, there was not. Who was the Minister of External Affairs throughout the entire duration of the Korean War? It was Lester Pearson. Who was the architect of the UN's position that aggression must be resisted, and who thought that the attack against South Korea was a show of aggression and that the UN had an obligation to respond to ensure our collective security? Again, it was Lester Pearson.

There are many things that I could say about Mr. Pearson. He was one of the great minds behind the notion of collective security and the creation of the UN's ability to respond to genuine aggression by other nations.

The September 11 attacks were a watershed moment. The member understands that, I know. It was no one's conspiracy. It was an attack led by al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda has never denied responsibility for that terrible event. It is difficult to conceive of a response to an act of such violence that does not take into account the fact that the government—a Taliban-led government—gave safe haven and even support to al-Qaeda. That government could not be allowed to continue to govern. The meaning of the UN resolution was clear and—

Opposition Motion—Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The hon. member for Ottawa-Centre has the floor.

Opposition Motion—Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is always interesting to listen to my colleague from Toronto Centre. There was a lot of explanation in his speech about the position Liberals were taking as party. It is important to note that this view is not shared with everyone in his party. We witnessed that yesterday in committee when his colleague, the former leader of the party, suggested, after hearing evidence, the training was not necessarily the priority.

NATO, the Pentagon, et cetera, are saying they are going to meet the goal of training 171,500 troops next year, yet we have not met our goals on development to date, be it on teacher training at the schools and especially on diplomacy, an area about which he is very concerned. We have stated that an eminent persons group needs to get diplomacy moving, but according to the government, no money has been tagged for that.

Would the member explain how he can support this kind of position when it will come at such a high cost?

Opposition Motion—Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:40 a.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Liberal Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I do not think the argument about aid and diplomacy is over yet. I think there is a lot of room for persuasion in this Parliament. There is a lot of room for discussing with the government what else needs to be done and why it needs to be done.

The member asks if the glass half full or half empty or how terrible is the glass. I take the position that I do not have a theological or political objection to having soldiers doing training and education in Afghanistan, and I have never had an objection to it. It is part of our ongoing work. I do not think we should draw the line and say that the Afghans can have a nurse, or a doctor, or a policeman or a retired RCMP officer, but they cannot have one single soldier doing human rights work in the training of the Afghan army. That is a ridiculous proposition.

An equally ridiculous proposition is the one that all kinds of civilian work can be going on in Afghanistan without having the necessary security being provided to people. That is equal nonsense. It is a position that I cannot sustain or support.

Am I happy with the amount of the aid package? No. Am I happy with all the efforts that are being done on peace and diplomacy? No. However, that does not take away from the fact that I think it is important for us to have the flexibility to respond to the needs of Afghanistan and, yes, to the needs of our partners in NATO and in the United Nations.

Opposition Motion—Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, like the previous speaker, I want to acknowledge the announcement by the Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, my friend and former long-time law colleague, Danny Williams, on his decision to step down as premier. As most hon. members know, he has been a very strong force for the advancement of Newfoundland and Labrador. He is a very strong leader and has accomplished much in his seven years as the premier, and I will comment about that later.

A lot of Canadians are wondering why we are here on an opposition challenging the government's unilateral decision to extend the military mission in Afghanistan. It is because Canadians were promised a number of things by the government, starting when it sought to be in power in 2006 under the leadership of the current Prime Minister. The Conservatives promised that all foreign military engagements would be put to a vote in Parliament. That was said when they ran for office.

The second thing Canadians were promised was that we would no longer continue a military mission in Afghanistan after 2011. That was the vote of Parliament. We only have to go to the Prime Minister's words on this issue, which he gave in January and again in June when he said that the government could not have been more clear, that the military mission would end and all of our soldiers would be out of Afghanistan by the end of 2011.

Lest there be any doubt, the people in charge of the military said the same thing. The Chief of the Defence Staff, Walter Natynczyk, was at the defence committee on December 9, 2009. He was asked specific questions. He was there to tell us how the troops would be withdrawn and what the military would do. General Natynczyk talked about the motion of Parliament. There was some question about Kandahar versus the rest of Afghanistan, et cetera, which we are still hearing today as a way of trying to climb down from that motion, saying it was about a combat mission.

This is what he was asked by a member of the committee:

There is a difference between Kandahar and Afghanistan. Could you assure us that, in 2011, Canadian soldiers will be repatriated to Canada, and not just from Kandahar?

General Walter Natynczyk answered:

First, it is clear that the mission in Kandahar will end for all troops and, second, it is the end of the military mission in Afghanistan.

It was very clear from General Natynczyk and from the comments of the Prime Minister in January and June.

What do we have today? In the last two weeks the Prime Minister said that he did not really mean military engagements, that he meant combat engagements. The Conservatives are saying that the motion was about Kandahar not about Afghanistan. If some person in Parliament had said in 2008, when we voted on that motion, that it would amount to a permanent military mission in Afghanistan, he or she would have been laughed out of Parliament. That individual would have been told that he or she was imagining things and that we were talking about the extension of our military mission only to 2011.

How do we know that? If we go back to the comments that were made as early as 2006 and in 2008, it was very clear the Conservatives were talking about any mission involving Canadian troops.

It is not new for Parliament to want to have a say in what goes on with Canadian military interventions. The member for Toronto Centre started with a discussion about 1939 and talked about Great Britain. I want to go back to 1923 and Canada.

In 1923, Prime Minister Mackenzie King declared that only Parliament should ultimately decide on Canadian participation in foreign conflicts. He said:

It is for Parliament to decide whether or not we should participate in wars in different parts of the world, and it is neither right nor proper for any individual nor for any groups of individuals to take any step which in any way might limit the rights of Parliament in a matter which is of such great concern to all the people of our country.

That is how far back I can produce a definite statement about Parliament needing to have a say in this, and there have been many attempts over the years to increase that say. It happened in the 1980s and the 1990s where private members' bills were brought by members who now sit opposite.

The current Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities introduced a private member's bill that called for the necessity for Parliament to approve any peacekeeping mission under UN engagements of over 100 troops. He said that must be brought to Parliament.

Another Reform member of Parliament, Bob Mills, brought forward a similar private member's motion.

The Auditor General has spoken about the need for Parliament to have a say in matters involving foreign engagements and expenditure of these kinds of funds. So this is not new.

In fact, in 2005, there was an agreement among the Conservative Party of Canada, led by the current Prime Minister, the Bloc Québécois and the NDP to change the Standing Orders to allow for votes in Parliament specifically on military engagements abroad. None of this is very new, but in the execution this time we see the government breaking its promise.

Canadians expected Canadian troops to be out. The motion says we will get out. The understanding of it is that we will get out. Canadians want us to end our military engagement in Afghanistan.

The government says it is only a training mission. Let us go back in history. In 2006, the then minister of defence, who is the current government whip, said:

A two-year commitment will allow the additional time needed for Afghan security forces to become operationally effective.

He was saying two years were needed to help them become operationally effective. In other words, a training mission was what it was then.

The member for Toronto Centre made a terrifically eloquent speech back then. He was not in Parliament at the time, but I believe he was seeking the leadership of his party. He said that if he had a chance to vote, he would have voted against it.

In 2006, the extension for two years was supposedly for a short period of time, to allow a transition for Afghanistan itself. The current Prime Minister, when he presenting his motion to extend the war until 2009, said:

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

So we have been down this road before, starting in 2006 and then in 2008 when the mission was extended once again. In 2006, the mission was sold to Canadians as a short-term one that would allow the Kandaharis, the people of Afghanistan and its military to look after themselves. In 2006, we believed there was a better way. We thought Canadian resources should be directed to helping this then-failed state rebuild itself from the ashes of the civil wars of the 1990s and the disastrous rule of the Taliban.

New Democrats wanted to focus on nation-building. We believed that was the way that Canada should expand its resources. It was a serious situation in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, the largest player, the United States, which was attacked, after all, by al-Qaeda out of Afghanistan, explicitly rejected nation-building in Afghanistan as a foreign policy objective and instead turned its attention and resources to a war with Iraq, which amongst other things, of course, as we have seen, served to increase, not diminish, the strength of al-Qaeda in that region.

Who knows what a dedicated focus on Afghan nation-building, which we supported at the time and wanted Canada to focus on, serious international diplomatic and foreign policy efforts to engage the neighbourhood, in particular Pakistan, and to help them create a stable Afghanistan and create one out of the ashes, might have accomplished in the last 10 years? We do not know. However, we do know and we can be certain that the results would have been better than they are today.

In 2008, once again, when we were asked to extend the mission, the focus, the discussion and the quotations from members supporting this mission were all about training: we have to have training in Afghanistan; we want to train the Afghan army; we want to train those troops.

We have a whole series of quotes from the current leader of the Liberal Party in regard to this and his support for it because it was a training mission, all about putting the Afghan people in charge of their own affairs militarily and providing security.

In Afghanistan, that is what we have been engaged in, but has it been successful? The answer to date is “clearly not”.

We are opposed to the extension of this military mission in Afghanistan. We believe the expenditure of Canadian money and effort in Afghanistan militarily has been done and Canadians think it is a significant contribution to our NATO partners and to the people of Afghanistan on the military side.

What are we seeing now? We are seeing a unilateral decision by government to extend this mission militarily, at an admitted cost of $1.6 billion. At the same time, in terms of the nation-building that the member for Toronto Centre so eloquently talked about, I am shocked that he is not saying that we should take this money, this effort and these resources that are being expended on the military and use it for nation-building, because that is what is going to save the Afghan people. He might grumble, but he is not saying that. Instead, he is supporting the expenditure of five times as much on the military than on nation-building, which is so desperately required in Afghanistan.

However, I do not want to make a speech in the House without talking about what we have done and what we have accomplished. We do not want to take away, in any way, from what has been done by Canadian soldiers and civilians working and serving in Afghanistan.

I, like every parliamentarian who has gone to Afghanistan, have been extremely impressed with the dedication, commitment and professionalism of our troops, our support staff and our top-notch diplomatic personnel, who are doing a very good job, including the current ambassador, Mr. William Crosbie.

All Canadians owe them a debt of gratitude for their service and willingness to serve and to take the risks that they have taken and risk their lives and their future in doing so. We can all be proud of them as Canadians.

Sadly, too many Canadians, soldiers and their families have paid a huge price, including, of course, the 152 deaths that we have suffered, and we wish to honour their sacrifice.

The debate here today is about what Canada will do now, not necessarily what NATO will do. NATO has made a decision. It has a $1 billion per month budget for military training. But what should Canada do? What should we contribute? How should we honour the sacrifice that has been made?

We say that we should do something that is going to have lasting, permanent effect on the future of Afghanistan. We say, bring home our soldiers and make our contribution to Afghanistan in other ways.

What we have before us is a government that once again sells a training mission to Canadians, and sadly, cuts by more than half its aid and support for aid and development in Afghanistan. It says it will be $1.6 billion in terms of forces and $300 million for aid and assistance.

What is really needed in Afghanistan, of course, is aid and assistance to have a strong government that has the respect of the people. What do we have instead? We have in Afghanistan a government that the international transparency watch organization, in its corruption perception index, sees as tied for 176 out of 178 countries in the world for corruption. It is a government that is not respected by the people of Afghanistan and cannot have the respect without a significant amount of long-term work being done in that country.

In fact, that government is held in so much disrespect and disdain by the Canadian government that we had the Prime Minister in Lisbon saying that we will not dispense a dime to the Government of Afghanistan unless we are convinced the money will be spent in the way it is intended to be spent.

We had that confirmed yesterday by the officials from the Afghanistan task force, saying in regard to aid money that none of this $100 million over three years, which is grossly inadequate to do a significant job, will go to the Government of Afghanistan.

The irony of this is a bit shocking. We are saying that we do not trust that government with a dime of our money but we are prepared to give them an army. We are prepared to train and develop a force of up to 300,000 combined police and security officers and hand it over to that government that we do not trust with a dime of our money. That is what we are saying.

The irony of that should not be lost on the Canadian public, because that is what the government is saying.

The only long-term solution for Afghanistan has to be in the desire, will and ability of the people to have some control of their own affairs, at the local level through the kind of work that we have been doing and support for women. We have women's organizations in Afghanistan that are in desperate need of money and support for projects. We have had very successful programs, such as the national solidarity program, which has been effectively delivering programs and projects to communities, decided by them at local shuras as to what the leadership and the communities want and delivering those programs to the people. They are extremely successful programs, the kinds of things that give people confidence in their future and make them want to have control over their own country.

Support for literacy programs, education and rural electrification are the kinds of things that will help that country become more literate. We are doing things in education and I think all Canadians should be proud of that.

But why are we cutting our aid support in half? If we are only able to contribute the amount of money that is being offered, why are we not putting it all into something that will have long-term nation-building support?

I am talking Canada now. There are lots of other members in NATO and I am not talking about NATO's goals. I am talking about what Canadians want and should contribute to the people of Afghanistan in the coming years.

It should not be a one-, two- or three-year commitment. We should recognize that if we want to make the full commitment to the Afghan people based on our years of effort and sacrifice on the military side, which we have done and which Canadians expected from the motion to be over, we should honour that sacrifice and commitment by making a long-term commitment to the people of Afghanistan to help them build the nation that they have to build themselves. They are the ones who have to build that nation and they are the ones who are going to be in charge.

There are a lot of things we could say about Afghanistan. We have had President Karzai telling the Americans that they should be confined to bases and they should not do this and should not do that and the negotiations with the Taliban. All of that will go on and happen regardless of what Canada says or does.

However, I cannot help but remark on the irony of suggesting that we do not trust the Afghan government with a dime of our money but we are going to give them a fully trained army and let them take over when we get out in 2014. I do not think that is right.

I cannot help but remark on the irony of suggesting that we do not trust the government with a dime of our money, but we are going to give it a fully trained army and let it take over when we get out in 2014. I do not think that is right.

Opposition Motion—Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

Central Nova Nova Scotia

Conservative

Peter MacKay ConservativeMinister of National Defence

Madam Speaker, I congratulate my friend for his insight and remarks.

The member being a proud Newfoundlander and Labradorian, I will take a brief moment to comment on the departure of Premier Williams who clearly will leave an enormous legacy in his province. He is someone who very passionately and very prominently led his province for many years.

I find myself almost a bit frightened by agreeing with so much of what my colleague has just said. While my friend from Toronto Centre made similar remarks, I am even more heartened by his breaking, perhaps, the ideological bondage of his former party and setting out quite clearly that much of the development, reconstruction and progress that we have seen in Afghanistan cannot happen and cannot be sustained in the long term without an adequate security presence and forces on the ground.

That is very much the transformation that has occurred in the mission. We are now focusing on the training so that we will not lose ground, so we will not see Afghanistan tumble back the way it has in previous times, the way another country, without putting too fine a point on it, such as Haiti for different reasons also fell back when the international community cast its gaze away from its troubles and tribulations.

How does the member divorce the essential ingredient of security from the continuation and perpetration of further progress in education, the vaccination of children, the furtherance of governance, democracy building, economy building, all of that absolutely critically important progress, the very essence of the mission, having to have those things occur under the umbrella of security?

This is a spectrum of development that will take years. I think the Prime Minister, the foreign affairs minister and others in the House would clearly see that this is a mission that will require attention beyond the military participation, well beyond 2014.

How does the member separate somehow the progress that has been made and the protection of the gains that we have made from the continued participation in some military training?

Opposition Motion—Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Madam Speaker, I thank the minister for his comments about my friend and former law partner and colleague, Danny Williams. He has done a tremendous job for Newfoundland and Labrador.

On the point that the minister made, I would ask him in return, how can he and his government divorce themselves from the promise to end the mission in 2011 and to bring military engagements to the House of Commons?

On the substance of the point, we are talking about what Canada will do in the next three to ten years in Afghanistan. What we are saying is what Canada should do. Instead of spending five times as much on military as is spent on aid, as is being proposed by the government, or I should say decided by the government, because it has decided that it is going to impose it regardless of the will of Parliament and without bringing it to a vote, and instead of cutting our aid support in half, we should be multiplying that three times and trying to accomplish those goals as Canada's contribution, not as NATO. NATO is doing what it is doing.

I am talking about what Canada and Canadians should be doing to honour the sacrifice that has been made by our soldiers and their families and by this country. That is something I think Canadians would want to see happen.

Opposition Motion—Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, I think what my colleague from St. John's East was displaying is that there is a lot of space required for substantive debate and we are just not having that. I am glad we are doing it today.

The defence minister said that it is great we are debating this and that we are going to have a vote. I wish that vote had come from the government, as that was its pledge.

I want to touch on some of the comments that my colleague, our party's defence critic, made around the priorities for the people of Afghanistan. I think that gets forgotten here.

We can talk about troop numbers and we can talk about how many are going to be trained. I mentioned that NATO and the Pentagon had already said that they were going to train the troops on schedule, before we got in the game, before the government broke its promise. What we have not been able to achieve, which the government loves to talk about, is the training of teachers and the building of schools. We have slid even on those numbers. It would seem to me, if we are concerned about supporting the people of Afghanistan in terms of aid development and we want to further stability in the region, that is where we would put our investments.

Why does the member think that the government chose to put all of its eggs into the military and not into investing in diplomacy and aid? In fact, by its own reporting, that is where it is not up to scratch. We are up to scratch in terms of military training according to NATO and the Pentagon, so why the choice for the military over diplomacy and aid?

Opposition Motion—Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Madam Speaker, it is very difficult to understand that choice, frankly.

As a Canadian who has spent a lot of time in the last while trying to understand what the government does from day to day, I have been appalled by the failure of the Canadian government to act in a responsible and proactive way internationally, and that the fallback position is to do what NATO wants or do what the pressure point is.

Until June of this year, and even until two weeks ago, the commitment was that we would be out of there, that we would focus on human rights and humanitarian aid. We were rejoicing in our party, frankly. We thought that this was good. We were looking forward to a debate about how we could best accomplish that goal and how many resources we could convince the government to devote to it. We were avidly looking forward to that debate in the Afghanistan committee, but in the blink of an eye, the government unilaterally decided that it was going to extend the military mission and that it was going to commit up to 1,000 personnel.

The Parliamentary Budget Officer said in 2008 that it could cost as much as $3 billion for a three year mission. The government is saying it will cost half of that. We will see. Instead the government is saying it is going to cut our aid budget from what was $227 million in 2008-09 down to $100 million a year for three years.

It is astounding. I cannot account for it and I have not heard an explanation from the government as to why it changed its course, why it dropped the aid and instead decided to focus on a military mission. I am saddened by it, frankly, as a Canadian.

Opposition Motion—Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.

Saint Boniface Manitoba

Conservative

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

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the comments made by my colleague. However, I feel it necessary to correct the record, and I would like to ask the member a question with regard to the correction of the record.

I would like to read what the resolution in fact was before the House of Commons, because for whatever reason, my colleague has it all wrong. The resolution actually states, “the Government of Canada notify NATO that Canada will end its presence in Kandahar”, not in Afghanistan, as has been repeated many times by my colleague. I repeat that the resolution indicates that the presence of Canada will end in Kandahar, not in Afghanistan as he has repeated numerous times. It states:

...that the Government of Canada, together with our allies...[will] set firm targets and timelines for the training, equipping and paying of the Afghan National Army...

I would like to give my colleague an opportunity to apologize for misleading the House and for misleading Canadians about the resolution. I would like his response.

Opposition Motion—Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Once again, Madam Speaker, the hon. member is trying to re-write history. The motion does talk about a military presence in Kandahar as one of the specifics, but after talking about that, it says that it is the opinion of the House, “that, consistent with this mandate, this extension of Canada's military presence in Afghanistan is approved by this House expressly on the condition that” and there are a whole series of conditions.

It talks specifically about a combat role in Kandahar, but it also talks about an extension of the military mission to 2011 and 2011 only. That is consistent with what the current Leader of the Opposition said at that time, “The Liberal Party is opposed to renewing the mission beyond 2011”. If he believed that at the time, there would have been a necessity for an amendment. There was not, because it was understood at the time that the military mission as a whole would end in 2011.

Opposition Motion—Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Bloc

Johanne Deschamps Bloc Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my speaking time with the member for Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher.

We would not be here today debating this motion if the government had kept its word. What this government is doing is showing its contempt for parliamentary democracy, as it has done so well since it came to power. According to the Prime Minister, a vote in Parliament is not necessary for extending the mission of the Canadian troops in Afghanistan. On this he is contradicting himself, because in the 2007 Speech from the Throne, this very Prime Minister said that “our Government has made clear to Canadians and our allies that any future military deployments must also be supported by a majority of parliamentarians.”

We, the Bloc Québécois members of this House, demand that a vote be held on this crucial question. The federal government absolutely must obtain authorization from Parliament before deploying troops abroad, because excluding parliamentarians, the people’s elected representatives, amounts to a denial of democratic principles.

With no debate and with no vote in the House, the Canadian government has decided to maintain a presence in Kabul consisting of 950 troops, who will have responsibility for training the Afghan security forces. The government wants to sound reassuring, by saying that the members of the Canadian Armed Forces who remain in Afghanistan will not take part in combat missions. But how can he claim to know the future and to be sure that the insurgents will draw a bright line between the peaceful role of the Canadian Armed Forces and the offensive troops?

The Conservatives are contradicting themselves. In early 2010, the Prime Minister and members of his government declared that Canada’s military mission in Afghanistan would end in 2011 and Canadian involvement would be limited to development, governance, humanitarian assistance and training police. But now, in spite of everything it said in the past, the government is changing its tune and deciding to maintain a military presence in Afghanistan without consulting the public or their elected representatives.

The strategy the Conservatives have discovered for getting out of this, at least for avoiding a vote, is the discovery of the century. They are inventing a new type of mission, a non-combat mission. What is a non-combat mission? I happen to believe that there are two types of missions: military missions and peacekeeping missions. The Conservatives have become experts in semantic game-playing, a bright idea for evading the rules of this House and for not calling a vote.

In addition, the Prime Minister and his Minister of Foreign Affairs are becoming even more confrontational with the opposition, contending that all Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan will be brought home by March 2014 at the latest. Once again, a promise they cannot keep and a commitment they cannot honour. They truly have no credibility and the public is not fooled.

The Liberal Party members are also complicit in the extension of the Canadian mission in Afghanistan. In 2006, when there was a vote on extending the mission, it was the votes of several Liberal members that made it possible for the mission to be extended until 2009. In 2008, the Conservatives introduced a motion, amended by the Liberals, to extend the mission to 2011. Once again, the Liberals lined up with the Conservatives. We can see that they have the same vision and the same philosophy.

Canada can bring a lot to the Afghan people. While the Bloc Québécois feels that Canada has done more than its share militarily and that other allied countries can perhaps take over its role, we believe that Canada can get involved at a number of other levels.

Canadian police officers are renowned the world over. The Bloc Québécois therefore recommends sending a contingent of up to 50 police officers to provide training to Afghan police. The presence of a trained, equipped, legitimate police force may help reduce the lack of security of the Afghan people.

According to all reports, there are major deficiencies in the Afghan prison system, as is clear from the issue of Afghan detainees abused in Afghan jails.

According to NATO:

To western standards, conditions of many detention/correction facilities vary from inadequate to extremely poor in some places.

As a result, the Bloc Québécois is suggesting that the wardens of Afghan prisons receive support from Canadian assistant wardens. We are therefore recommending sending 50 civilians from the Canadian prison system.

Trust in the legal system is one of the bases of a lawful society. NATO revealed that:

The Afghans prize the system’s notion of “fairness” and prefer the use of the informal system, as the formal governmental system is perceived as highly corrupt.

To provide training for the Afghan legal system and to ensure that it functions properly, the Bloc Québécois proposes sending a delegation of Canadian legal experts who can help with the modernization of the legal system. The Bloc Québécois also believes that Canada must continue its official development assistance in Afghanistan and feels that the Minister of International Cooperation's announcement to reduce the ODA envelope by more than half from 2011 to 2014 is unacceptable.

As well, the Canadian government and CIDA must review the policy on development aid to Afghanistan. It must be better coordinated, more transparent and efficient. The ODA must also be restructured because, in the past seven years, 80% of international aid bypassed the Afghan government and was not strictly in line with this government's priorities.

We are here today to vote on a motion that condemns the government's decision to unilaterally extend the Canadian mission in Afghanistan until 2014. That is the Conservative way, and it has not changed since they came to power. Canada's foreign policy has shifted to the right, and we no longer hear about the 3D approach: development, defence and diplomacy. The government's three priorities now are security, prosperity and governance. The government dictates Canada's foreign policy in keeping with its economic and military priorities.

It allocates exorbitant amounts to defence and peanuts to development assistance. The Conservatives' diplomatic record is abysmal. It is no wonder this government lost its seat on the UN Security Council as a direct result of its foreign policy. But Canada enjoys a good reputation within NATO, which is understandable because NATO is a military alliance. Canada has invested heavily in military procurement for the past few years.

The Conservatives' militaristic policy is not in line with Quebeckers' values. The vast majority of Quebeckers are opposed to Canada's presence in Afghanistan.

According to a Harris/Decima poll conducted during the week of November 11, 59% of respondents in Quebec think Canada should bring all its troops home, and only 36% want the Canadian army to help train Afghan soldiers.

Clearly, the Conservative members from Quebec are out of touch with their constituents' concerns and are not standing up for their interests within this government.

I will close by inviting all the members of the House to vote for our motion, because any deployment of Canadian troops must by subject to a vote in the House of Commons.

Opposition Motion—Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Calgary East Alberta

Conservative

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

Madam Speaker, I listened with interest to both the Bloc and the NDP talk about development aid for Afghanistan. They do not seem to look at the whole of Canada's approach. They just pick on little niggly things and say that aid should go there and forget everything else.

Afghanistan is not a normal country. It has no security and it is run by one of the worst kinds of insurgents in the world, the Taliban. I am not really interested in the kind of development that Canada has been doing there.

I find it quite amazing that the Bloc and the NDP get up every time and say that we should remove the security portion out of it and just let things run by themselves and that we are very much welcomed over there. I have no idea who will provide that security.

To say that Canada should provide development assistance and everything and expect other countries to provide security for this is a very irresponsible attitude.

Talking and listening in Parliament, we are already debating this thing and there will be a vote after this in which the hon. member can express the voting right that she is talking about.

Opposition Motion—Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Bloc

Johanne Deschamps Bloc Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for his comments, but I want to remind him what today's motion is about.

What we are criticizing is the fact that his government disregarded our parliamentary responsibilities. The Prime Minister committed and even promised the members of this House that there would be a vote if the mission in Afghanistan were to be extended or transformed. What we see now is that the government took advantage of our absence to announce that it was extending the mission in Afghanistan to 2014.

We were elected to represent the Canadian public. We are talking about taxpayers' money. This kind of decision is not legitimate unless Parliament is consulted. That is what we are demanding with this motion, that the House be consulted and that there be a vote on the Conservative government's decision.

Opposition Motion—Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Bloc

Jean Dorion Bloc Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this motion on this Bloc Québécois opposition day. I would first like to read out the motion:

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.

On this issue, the Bloc Québécois cannot support the government, its policies or its decisions. That explains why we oppose extending the Canadian mission.

The Conservative government wants us to be involved in a never-ending war on terror. This is no longer the aftermath of September 11. We have moved on. The government seems to think that the world can conquer terrorism simply by using force and that the best way to respond to what happened on September 11 is by using weapons. It is mistaken.

The best way to put an end to terrorism in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the world is first to give hope to those who have none. This has been the Bloc Québécois position for years and it is the only position that reflects Quebec's values and interests.

The Bloc Québécois is of the opinion that, militarily, Canada has done its share and that its role can be taken over by our allies. Although we do not agree with the form the mission has taken, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the military men and women who have taken part in the mission and pay tribute to the memory of those who have lost their lives there. We honour the sacrifice, the ultimate sacrifice, that they have made.

With respect to the Conservatives' plan to extend the military mission, the government is straying, in my view, from what its role should be. It should be participating in the reconstruction by providing financial and humanitarian support to recognized NGOs on the ground, not by providing a military presence now masquerading as a training mission that is a complete sham.

According to the Prime Minister, the mission is being extended solely in order to train Afghan soldiers. But the former chief of the defence staff, General Rick Hillier, stated that it is impossible to train soldiers without following up in the field, meaning in conflict situations. So it seems clear that the so-called “new” mission in Afghanistan will not be humanitarian in nature, as the Prime Minister would have us believe. Instead, it will be military in nature, with Canadian soldiers having to go into combat zones in order to do their work.

The government is trying to justify keeping Canadian troops in Afghanistan by claiming that they will not be involved in combat. The example of France shows that it is impossible to conduct training without becoming involved in combat missions. France has lost about fifty soldiers, a good number of them while training the Afghan army.

What is more, at the very recent NATO summit, the Prime Minister had the audacity to promise not to extend the mission in Afghanistan past 2014. But on January 6, 2010, he stated publicly that there would be no military presence in Afghanistan after 2011 beyond what would be needed to protect the Canadian embassy.

How much credibility does he have in setting this new 2014 deadline when, in so doing, he is going back on his promise to withdraw the troops in 2011? Who can believe him?

After having extended Canada’s military mission in Afghanistan four years beyond the original deadline, the Prime Minister is now forcing his decision to continue it beyond 2011 on the House by sending about 1,000 troops until 2014. The Conservative government also deliberately announced this arbitrary decision, made hurriedly and on the sly, during the parliamentary recess and therefore without any debate or vote in the House of Commons.

The Prime Minister broke his promise not to extend the military mission in Afghanistan, and in so doing, he lost all further credibility. In May 2006, the Prime Minister repeated the promise his government made during the election campaign to hold a vote on any further deployment of troops overseas. The Prime Minister should have kept this promise at the very least by holding a debate and a vote in the House on the extension of the mission in Afghanistan beyond 2011. That is why the Bloc Québécois wanted to have this debate today on an opposition day.

There is no way that an agreement made behind closed doors between the Conservatives and Liberals on the extension of the military mission in Afghanistan can substitute for a free and democratic debate. A real debate is needed to ensure that the Afghan mission is really a civilian commitment.

Since this mission started, the Bloc Québécois has been the only party advancing a consistent, responsible position. The Bloc stated that it was in favour of withdrawing our soldiers at the end of the mission and it was consistent enough to vote for the Liberal motion in 2007 that would have ended the mission in 2009, in contrast to the NDP, which supported the extension of the mission under false pretences.

This shows that the Bloc Québécois continues to represent Quebeckers and their values in Ottawa. Quebec does not want any more of this military mission. Quebec is against it, and most of all, Quebec wants the Premier Minister to reverse his anti-democratic decision and put an end to the military mission in favour of a civilian, humanitarian mission, as he promised he would do in January 2010.

I therefore encourage all members of the House to support our motion.

Opposition Motion—Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Edmonton Centre Alberta

Conservative

Laurie Hawn ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Madam Speaker, I listened with interest to my colleague's speech and I would like to ask him a couple of quick questions.

First, he talked about restoring hope. Is bringing education to seven million children restoring hope? Is bringing 7.2 million polio inoculations to children and having 70% of Afghans covered by health care restoring hope? Is it running water? Is it repairing the Dahla Dam to provide electricity and irrigation for Afghan's agricultural economy? Is that restoring hope? I think it is.

He talks about training and he confuses, either because he may not be aware or he does not want to be aware, the difference between operational mentoring training with the army outside the wire and basic training inside the wire where, for the past four years, NATO has been conducting that type of training without a single loss, as Canada will.

Opposition Motion—Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Bloc

Jean Dorion Bloc Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher, QC

Madam Speaker, we would indeed like to see Canada's presence in Afghanistan be more along the lines of the commitments made at some point by the Prime Minister to support the restructuring of civil effort in Afghanistan. This is why we are asking that the NGOs on the ground continue to be provided with financial support and expertise by the Canadian government. We do not agree with the military nature of this mission to be extended supposedly to train the Afghan army.

Opposition Motion—Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, on Transparency International's 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index, Afghanistan ties for 176th place out of 178 countries. Just yesterday somebody called my office asking that very question, why we would be supporting a government that rates so high in corruption.

We have spent $18 billion already on this effort that has produced very questionable results. So I would like to ask the member if he would expand upon that whole issue, on whether or not we should be looking at what we are really doing there, supporting a corrupt government. There are two American military officials, just in the last few days, evidently questioning the same point.

Why would we possibly be supporting putting money into developing an army for a government that rates so high on the corruption index?

Opposition Motion—Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

Bloc

Jean Dorion Bloc Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher, QC

Indeed, Madam Speaker, I think that we are seeing history repeat itself because, in previous wars, support was provided to corrupt local regimes which, at the end of the day, did not support in any real way our action. Instead, we in the Bloc Québécois advocate providing support to the non-governmental organizations on the ground, which are truly looking out for the interests of the Afghan people, as opposed to filling the coffers of a corrupt regime which will no doubt end up collapsing on its own.

Opposition Motion—Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

Calgary East Alberta

Conservative

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

Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Kootenay—Columbia.

As we are discussing the future of Canada's engagement in Afghanistan, I believe it is also important to reflect upon what we have achieved through this engagement until now.

Afghanistan is not the place that it once was. As the foreign affairs committee saw this past summer, it is a nation of people with incredible will, courage and resilience. When Canada first became involved in Afghanistan, it had been under the rule of the Taliban, one of the world's most repressive and regressive regimes. Poverty, illiteracy and oppression characterized life for all Afghans and the country had become a safe haven for international terrorists.

This was the situation that existed nearly 10 years ago and it is the starting point from which the accomplishments of Canada and its partners must be assessed. In such circumstances, progress takes time and setbacks are to be expected. Nevertheless, progress is being made and Canada has succeeded in making a difference in the lives of the Afghans. Our government feels strongly that we must continue to build on what we have achieved so far and maintain our commitment to Afghanistan.

This is something we owe to the thousands of remarkable Canadian men and women who have risked their lives, including the 152 members of the Canadian Forces, a diplomat, 2 NGO humanitarian aid workers and journalists who have made the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan.

The objective of Canadians was to help Afghans improve their own security, development and governance, both in Kandahar province and in Afghanistan as a whole. No one felt that achieving this objective would be free of obstacles and challenges, but that did not discourage the brave men and women, military and civilians, Canadians and Afghans who give the best of themselves to this noble goal, to provide measurable improvements to the lives of Afghan citizens.

Thanks to their hard work, very significant progress has been achieved with regard to our six priorities and three signature projects. This progress is compiled every quarter in the government's report to Parliament on Canada's engagement in Afghanistan. For each of our six priorities and three signature projects, benchmarks and progress indicators have been established. This gives Parliament and the Canadian public a very clear picture of our achievements to date and of what is left to accomplish in order to achieve our objectives.

No other country reports on established benchmarks like we do. Through quarterly reporting, our government ensures an exceptional level of accountability and transparency.

I believe it is important to emphasize how much of our accomplishments are in areas that many Canadians take for granted such as access to basic services, to education and health care. Building schools or providing polio vaccines may not sound like the most groundbreaking achievements to the average citizen of a developed country like Canada, but for an Afghan child, it may make the difference between a life of poverty and a life of opportunity, or even between life itself and death. This is what I hope my fellow parliamentarians and my fellow Canadians keep in mind when they reflect upon Canada's contribution in Afghanistan.

Now let me speak about some of our accomplishments in further detail.

Recognizing that Afghans need to build their own capacity to ensure their own security, Canada has worked tirelessly to enable the Afghanistan National Security Forces in Kandahar to sustain a more secure environment and promised law and order. To this end, we are training, mentoring and equipping the Afghan national army and the police, building capacity in administration and logistics support and carrying out complementary initiatives in justice and correctional systems.

With the rule of law comes the ability for citizens to defend and exercise their fundamental rights. Promoting and protecting human rights, including women's rights, is a core element of Canada's engagement in Afghanistan. Canada consistently raises human rights issue such as freedom of expression, free speech, gender equality and freedom of media with the government of Afghanistan. We also provide support to build Afghan capacity to ensure that laws are in accordance with its constitution and its international human right obligations and to enable justice sector reform

While we acknowledge that this is a long-term process, we have seen substantial improvements in this area since the beginning of our engagement in the country. For instance, women, who had virtually no rights merely 10 years ago, now represent over a quarter of the Afghan parliamentarians and are taking a more active part in the country's political and economic development.

Perhaps more important is girls now represent a third of school children, compared with none in 2001, ensuring a better life and better opportunities for future generations.

Canada is also fully conscious of the importance of regional dynamics and the need for increased regional co-operation in order to help Afghanistan become a more stable and prosperous country.

With this in mind, since November 2007, Canada has facilitated a series of workshops to enhance mutual understanding and confidence between Pakistani and Afghani officials, which will allow them to undertake targeted joint border management projects.

This effort, known as the Dubai process, brings together border officials to promote co-operation with regard to customs, movement of people, counter narcotics and law enforcement. The most recent Dubai process meetings held in April, July and November were very highly productive.

These are just a few examples of progress.

To Afghans, Canadian accomplishments are more than just numbers and quarterly reports. For many Afghans, this partnership with Canada and the progress we have achieved together means real opportunities, as well as hope for a better future.

We can be proud of what we have achieved, but we must remain aware that our work is not complete. As history has proven time and time again, Canadians do not shy away from challenges. Nor do we back down when faced with difficulties. We must continue to look at the bigger picture and maintain our commitment to the people of Afghanistan.

After all, with all of our experience, through blood and hard work, and the admiration and handicraft of the Afghan, it is the best legacy we can leave behind. The Bloc motion fails to recognize that.

Opposition Motion—Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Bloc

Guy André Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Thank you, Madam Speaker, for recognizing me.

These past few years, the people of Quebec and Canada has been unable to understand why the government had turned a blind eye to the whole matter of the torture of detainees in Afghanistan. The government even prorogued Parliament because of that matter which has shocked the Canadian public as a whole.

Now the government wants to avoid putting the future of the mission in Afghanistan to a vote in this House. I would like to ask the parliamentary secretary this: when will this government start showing more transparency and more respect for the democratic will of all members of this House, who represent all the people of Quebec and Canada in this place? When will it show more transparency and a stronger sense of democracy?

Opposition Motion—Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai Conservative Calgary East, AB

Madam Speaker, I alluded to that in my speech. The government has been transparent. It has given quarterly reports. It has had a mandated mission. We are doing exactly what the 2008 motion set out. For the member to say that this is undemocratic is absolutely wrong.

Today we are speaking to that party's motion. Next week, when we vote on this motion, he will find out what the will of the majority of members will be. Let us wait for the vote on the Bloc motion.

Opposition Motion—Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, I am surprised he would suggest that this is in any way transparent. Just a couple of weeks ago the government said that the military mission was done. In fact, at committee yesterday, we heard from Rear Admiral Davidson, who is on the Afghan task force. He said, “we received government direction last week about the change and so we're now in the process of consulting with our allies, in terms of exactly where and in what capacity we can contribute towards”.

We are talking about the mission in Afghanistan. Who was consulted? That is what I want to know from the parliamentary secretary. Clearly the minister of defence was entirely out of the loop. I know he is getting some lines from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence right now. Hopefully they are better than the numbers he gave us at committee, which were wrong. However, clearly no one was in the loop on this.

If our Afghan task force members did not know, and I assume the minister of defence did not know, who actually made this decision and how will it benefit the mission in Afghanistan and, more important, the people of Afghanistan?

Opposition Motion—Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai Conservative Calgary East, AB

Madam Speaker, the member occasionally comes in front of the Afghanistan committee to see what is happening, but his colleague, who is a prominent member of that committee, and ourselves have travelled to Afghanistan. We have seen the mission at hand and we have seen what steps have taken place to improve what has happened. The Prime Minister attended the Lisbon NATO conference. Every country is now looking at how we can improve our mission in Afghanistan.

It is a natural evolutionary process. I do not understand what seems to be the problem. We are going from 2,500 troops to 950 troops. This is a training mission. What is wrong with a training mission? It is the best legacy we can leave for the Afghan people. I fail to understand why the member cannot support that legacy.

Opposition Motion—Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

November 25th, 2010 / 12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Jim Abbott Conservative Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Madam Speaker, it gives me great and tremendous pleasure to be a part of this debate today, having had the unique opportunity of being able to go to Afghanistan last June. I participated in a seven-day mission to Kandahar and Kabul as a member of the House of Commons Special Committee on Afghanistan.

The purpose of the trip was to effectively observe the situation facing our troops and aid workers in Afghanistan. Before the trip I had government briefings on the situation, but the media was definitely one of the largest sources of my information on Afghanistan.

A few days after returning, I was at a social event where MPs, senators and the national news media were mingling, and as I walked by some reporters, one of them asked me about my impressions from the trip. I told him, first, I was blown away with the complete enthusiastic dedication of the Canadian soldiers, aid workers and diplomats in Afghanistan. Their selfless commitment is overwhelming. They know what they are doing and they know why they are doing it. Every day they spend in Afghanistan, they are risking their next breath, yet they persevere.

I continued, though. I said that, second, the coverage of Afghanistan by our national news media has been at best inadequate. All Canadians should be proud of our contribution to the world by our Afghan commitments. We should be overwhelmingly, enthusiastically thankful to those who are serving. Instead, we are timid. The news editing mentality of “it bleeds, it leads” is not good enough for these situations because it is overly simplistic and breeds fear.

Regrettably, the news coverage, or lack of it, on Afghanistan has actually distorted the impressions that most Canadians have, or many Canadians anyway. Canadian media coverage of Afghanistan for 10 years has been the equivalent of covering news in Canada and Canadian events by having three reporters driving around in a Vancouver police cruiser on Vancouver's east side. What would that coverage tell Canadians about Canadians' aspiration or the beauty of our land or our potential? This parallel is appropriate, because news organizations from Canada have had an average of three people in Kandahar, driving around in LAVs or confined to the air base.

Let me tell the House what I saw and how it was very, very moving for me personally. I saw Canadian soldiers, diplomats and people involved in development activity who made my heart want to burst with pride over what we as Canadians were doing for the people in Afghanistan and that part of the world. Take the example of education. Canada has had 26 schools rehabilitated or reconstructed, with another 24 under construction or contracted to be reconstructed. There have been 23,000 Afghan adults completing a 10-month literacy program and 5,900 completing vocational training programs.

These investments are building the future of Afghanistan. Thanks in part to the funding of the international community and the hard work of Afghans themselves, there are now more than 158,000 teachers in Afghanistan, which is up from only 21,000 in 2002.

More than six million Afghans are now getting the education required to help lift their country out of poverty. One-third of these students are girls, compared to none in 2002. These investments will need to be continued over the coming years; therefore the government has already signalled its intention to make the education of Afghan children, especially girls, a thematic priority until 2014.

Regarding health, in 2000, believe it or not, only 9% of the population was within two hours' walking distance of primary health care services. Now 66% are within two hours' walking of primary health care. More than 1,450 health care workers, including doctors, nurses, midwives and community health workers, have received training.

We have also seen reductions in the infant mortality rate, thanks to increased access to health care services and improved quality of and access to emergency obstetric care in southern Afghanistan.

The Canadian signature project to eradicate polio in Afghanistan with investments through the polio eradication initiative has enhanced successes. Canada is currently the largest international donor toward these efforts in Afghanistan.

To date, Afghanistan's estimated 7.8 million children continue to receive vaccinations through multiple vaccination campaigns across the country carried out through the year. While there have been difficulties in accessing populations in order to deliver the vaccinations, the disease has been largely contained to the south.

Persisting insecurity challenges are still there, but despite this, the polio team has devised innovative approaches to extend the reach of immunization efforts. Improving the health of Afghanistan's children underlines the importance of our continued engagement in Afghanistan. We will not waver in this commitment.

Building on this commitment, our response to the G8 Muskoka initiative on maternal, newborn and child health, through which we will provide $30 million annually to help address critical gaps in the Afghan health sector, will build upon our investments of the past.

In general terms, thanks in part to Canadian investment, the World Food Programme provided 275,000 tonnes of food to more than nine million Afghans in 2009 alone. Also in 2009, the Government of Canada provided $20 million in response to the UN-led humanitarian action plan.

Just as crucial for the future of Afghanistan is our commitment to help build the confidence of Kandaharis in their own government in Kandahar. In 2008, the Government of Canada set out specific objectives to help the Kandahar government increase access to basic services and jobs.

The Afghan government has often highlighted the necessity for rural development programming in its country, Afghans' access to economic opportunity. A key goal there for the Government of Canada was to help reinvigorate Kandahar's agro-economy with the rehabilitation of the Dahla Dam, a signature project of this government at $50 million. Its irrigation system serves as a central building block to Afghans' future.

Once identified as the bread basket of Afghanistan, Kandahar's ability to produce food and crops remains severely weakened by years of conflict and continuous drought. Afghanistan has one of the lowest levels per capita of food ability in the world, due in part to the destruction of these agriculture systems in the Arghandab Valley and across Kandahar.

Kandaharis rely on these agricultural systems not only for sustenance but also for their livelihoods. The destruction of this agricultural system has led to reduced employment opportunities in the agricultural sector, on which 80% of local farmers and labourers are dependent.

Today, thanks to Canada's support and the hard work of Afghans, over 137,000 cubic metres of silt and debris have been removed from the irrigation system's canals. The resulting increased water flow has helped an additional 5,300 hectares of land benefit from improved irrigation. To date, the construction work associated with the canal rehabilitation has helped provide approximately 2,000 jobs to Kandaharis. The additional economic opportunity that Kandaharis will have upon completion of the work on the irrigation system will provide for local populations in the province for future generations to come.

However these are just statistics until we take a look at the face of the Canadians in Afghanistan who are delivering these services. They are making a commitment of their lives on a day-to-day, minute-to-minute basis, which is why I was so overwhelmed when I met them. The honour that the Afghan people give to Canadians who are there to serve is the deep, overwhelming respect they have for the Canadians and for their contributions and connections, person to person, man to man, woman to woman.

Canada's contribution of trainers, which is what we are discussing today, is to give Afghanistan the ability to keep peace. Canada is moving to a peacekeeping mission. I asked the Bloc member this morning if he wanted foreign troops to keep the peace in Afghanistan or whether we should be training the Afghan army to do the job themselves.

Our government is honouring the commitment of all those who have sacrificed already. I call upon the special committee on Afghanistan to step up and work more constructively to define Canada's contribution for this untold story. Because we have been honoured with that level of respect by the Afghan people, we are in a strategically unique position among citizens of the world to be able to deliver training to these people.

For me, it was an extreme privilege to shake hands with the dedicated Canadians working so diligently, contributing so much, in our armed forces, RCMP, correctional services, CIDA, DFAIT and civilian agencies. To them, I can only say that I thank them.