Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in this extremely important debate. If the government had kept its promise, it would have taken the initiative to hold this debate. The Bloc Québécois is giving members the opportunity to express their views about an extremely serious issue: whether or not Canada should send or keep troops in combat zones abroad.
For the benefit of those who are watching, I would like to read the motion again:
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.
To us, this is matter of principle. There should have been a debate in the House. Moreover, I would like to remind people that the Prime Minister repeatedly promised to hold debates. The Conservative Party's 2006 election platform stated that if Canada took part in foreign military operations,
A Conservative government will:...
Make Parliament responsible for exercising oversight over the conduct of Canadian foreign policy and the commitment of Canadian Forces to foreign operations.
In 2006, after coming to power, the Prime Minister repeated his election promise that Parliament would be consulted when troops were deployed abroad. In response to a question from the Bloc Québécois leader, the member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie, the Prime Minister said:
Mr. Speaker, the leader of the Bloc knows, as everyone knows, that during the federal election campaign we committed ourselves to holding votes on new commitments.
Of course, he was referring to extending the mission in Afghanistan. Later, in the 2007 throne speech, the Conservative government repeated this promise:
The Canadian Forces mission in Afghanistan has been approved by Parliament until February 2009, and our Government has made clear to Canadians and our allies that any future military deployments must also be supported by a majority of parliamentarians. In the coming session, members will be asked to vote on the future of the Canadian mission in Afghanistan.
That is what was done. I would remind the House that the Bloc Québécois voted against extending the mission beyond February 2009. The mission had already been extended from 2007 to 2009. In the end, it was because of an agreement reached between the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party, as is the case right now, that Canadian troops had to stay in Afghanistan.
The Prime Minister, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of National Defence, and the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons are all using the pretext that it will not be a combat mission. It is quite clear that they are being contradicted by all officers who have gone there or are on the ground. The government plans to keep 950 Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan to, in theory, train the Afghan army.
We think that 950 soldiers is a lot to give training. As someone else said, it would take a lot of classrooms to use all 950 soldiers. I would love to believe that some of them would be taking care of supplies, maintenance and so on, but most of them would still be soldiers. So that number is very high. If 50, 75 or even 100 Canadian soldiers stayed to give training, that would be plausible, but 950 soldiers, which is only a little less than Canada's current presence in Afghanistan, is hardly believable.
It is completely understandable that the Bloc Québécois thinks the Conservatives are trying to spin this and play with words so that the House does not have to vote. They are saying it is not a combat mission or military mission, but rather a training mission.
I would like to quote the former Canadian chief of defence staff, Rick Hillier, who said:
He gave an interview to CBC News on November 15, 2010, not so long ago, about the debate we are discussing today.
General Hillier said that training and developing the Afghan army necessarily meant going into combat.
He was very clear. France's experience also shows that it is impossible to believe that the training will be strictly theoretical and conducted in a classroom or in completely secure areas, and that it will not endanger the lives of Canadian soldiers.
They played with words; the military mission will continue. The 5 to 1 ratio of military expenditures in Afghanistan to development aid is proof that this is a military mission going forward. The government is spending $5 on the combat aspect of the mission for every dollar spent on co-operation with the Afghan people or aid programs. That is a huge gap. And I am referring not to the current mission, but to the one beyond 2011.
It is clear that we will be continuing our military mission. It had been decided that the troops would withdraw in July 2011. Therefore, this is a new commitment. Had the government, the Prime Minister and the Conservative Party kept their promises, we would not be here discussing it as they would have withdrawn the troops. That is what they promised to do.
I have some interesting things to say about that, and we could speculate about why the Prime Minister and the government decided to go back on their word concerning the military presence in Afghanistan. I have a hypothesis that I would like to share with my colleagues. I believe that they always wanted to stay longer than 2011, but that they pretended to go along with Canadians and Quebeckers, who for the most part, we should remember, were opposed to the mission. That is evident from all the polls. Between 70% and 75% of Quebeckers are opposed to this military mission in Afghanistan.
I will quote the Prime Minister, whose statement is referred to in our motion. In January 2010, he clearly said that, except for a military presence solely to protect the embassy, it would be a purely civilian mission.
Apparently the embassy requires significant protection. It seems to me that 950 members of the forces to protect the Canadian embassy is a bit disproportionate.
In March 2010, he gave this answer in the House:
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.
That is very clear.
There was also General Natynczyk, and I want to finish on this point because it shows how much they manipulated words to make a mockery of democracy. The general said that military operations had to cease in July 2011, as stipulated in the motion adopted by the House of Commons. He said that for them, military personnel means all military personnel. That includes the soldiers who are part of provincial reconstruction team, soldiers protecting civilians and those training the armed forces. He intended to bring all of the soldiers home.
The top general said that, and it completely contradicts what the parliamentary secretary said earlier in terms of safety. He revealed, perhaps naively, that it is a combat mission and their intention is to see to it that Canadian soldiers find themselves in life-threatening areas.