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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

4:30 p.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

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.

Opposition Motion--Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Bruce Stanton Conservative Simcoe North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Joliette for his speech today, but I disagree.

I wonder if the member does not quite understand the distinction between the two deployments. It is very clear. He mentioned in his own comments that this deployment, which t will take us from 2011 to 2014, will concern itself with governance, and training, in my view, is what will add a dimension of capacity for the Afghan government, for the Afghan security forces in particular.

Would he not agree that that falls directly in line with the mandate that we have discussed quite openly in this House and talked about over the last several years, that this mission from 2011 to 2014 falls exactly in line with that commitment?

Opposition Motion--Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, once again, all the facts show that this is not a civilian mission and that it is still a military mission. I remind members once again of the comments made by the former chief of staff of the Canadian Forces, Rick Hillier. I will read it in English, so maybe it will be better understood:

If you try to help train and develop the Afghan army...you are going to be in combat.

He said that on November 15, 2010. I am not the only one; General Rick Hillier agrees that it is not possible to train the Afghan military without having our Canadian troops involved in combat in some way.

I remind members that Canada has the fourth-highest number of troops deployed in Afghanistan and has the third-highest number of fatalities. There have been 152 Canadian soldiers and two civilians killed in Afghanistan. I think that Canada and Quebec have paid their price. It is now up to other NATO allies to ensure effective security and up to us to now work on training the police and providing development assistance to Afghans. That is not withdrawing. It is a real humanitarian mission, a civilian mission.

Opposition Motion--Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I commend the Bloc for its choice of a subject matter for today's motion.

Canada has now spent $18 billion and counting and yet there is no one out there saying that we are actually winning this war. It is pushing a decade now that we have been in there. The United States recently has been flooding the country with a surge of troops because what it was doing before was not achieving results.

The real mystery in this whole debate is not so much what the government is doing, because we expect inconsistencies from it, but it is the Liberals. The Liberals have three apparent leaders. Just yesterday, the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, the former leader of the Liberal Party, said that the Afghans do not need training, that they defeated the Soviet Union in the 1980s, that they know quite well how to fight wars and that they do not need military training. The member for Toronto Centre got together with the government to negotiate some secret deal here to prolong this training without even telling the Liberal caucus about it.

I wonder whether the government will eventually come clean and let us know what is happening and what is going on with the Liberals and their secret agreement with the government to prolong this action.

Opposition Motion--Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Bloc

Pierre Paquette Bloc Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for his question. He is right. There are different lines of thinking within the Liberal Party. I would say their foreign affairs critic seems to be the hawk in the group, despite the fact that the leader of the Liberal Party supported the war in Iraq. We saw where that got us.

The former leader of the Liberal Party, the hon. member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, said something yesterday that makes a lot of sense to me when he said that an army that defeated the Russians does not need additional training. The Afghans managed to do what most others have not been able to do since the second world war.

I have a hard time understanding the Liberals. I think most of the Liberal Party brass have always been in favour of Canada's military involvement in Afghanistan. In that sense, it is deplorable to constantly have contradictory speeches.

Opposition Motion--Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to debate the motion before us with regard to the extension of the Afghan mission.

As of Saturday, November 27, 2010, NATO will have been in Afghanistan longer than the Soviet Union had been in its military excursion into Afghanistan. This is a sober reminder of the need to change direction and to change, in effect, what we have been doing in Afghanistan. Sadly, instead of changing the direction of the mission in Afghanistan, the government has decided, along with the support of the opposition Liberals, to continue in the same direction.

We must make no mistake that when we hear from the government that this is honouring the previous motions that we would have withdrawn all of our military by 2011, it in fact is not. Not only is the government breaking its promise to Canadians and Parliament by extending the military mission in Afghanistan, but, instead of changing directions, I believe we are furthering the muck that is the situation in Afghanistan right now. I will explain that.

When I stood to speak to this issue in 2006, in 2008 and in other interventions, I, along with my party, said that it was time to change directions and put a different emphasis on the mission in Afghanistan. We, like others, did not believe that the war in Afghanistan would be solved militarily speaking. We said that time and time again. In 2006, the government, aided and abetted by the Liberal opposition, extended the war but told us not to worry because by 2009 it would be done.

We have heard time and time again from both members of the Liberal Party and the government that this is different because we are training troops. If we look back to the debates and the motions, training of the troops was embedded in both of those debates and in both of those motions. We saw that again in 2008 and in the extension to 2011.

Here we are again debating the extension of the war in Afghanistan, the extension of our government sending our men and women to continue to be in harm's way, and saying to them yet again that this will be the end as of 2014. Why would anyone believe the government or anyone else in this Parliament who said that will be the final date?

It is clear how this decision was made. It was exactly the same situation as in 2005 when we ended up in Kandahar. We all remember what happened there. We did not have a plan to get to Kandahar. We did not have sufficient equipment. We did not have a plan as to what were our goals and we did not have an exit plan. We are there yet again. We know that as of two weeks ago the Prime Minister said to Canadians and to Parliament that was it, that the military mission was done. We would leave a couple of guards in front of the embassy but that was it. He cannot walk away from those words without being held accountable, and that is what we are doing today.

What has happened is very clear. He did not consult government within, which was clear at yesterday's Afghan committee. The officials who were working for two years in an entirely civilian mission, which we supported and which would have had development, diplomacy and transitional justice funded, were cut loose. I do not even think the Minister of National Defence was consulted on this. I have watched very carefully how this has rolled out and the Minister of National Defence was clearly out of the loop. I think he would have wanted to have seen a little more probing into this.

It is clear that Canadians have a government that is simply sleepwalking into yet another conundrum, as we initially saw when we walked into Kandahar back in 2005-06.

That is sad because clearly the war in Afghanistan is a war where things are deteriorating on the ground. We have the insistence of the government to put a focus on military training. Let us go over the numbers. According to the Pentagon and to NATO, we will have trained 171,500 troops as of next spring. We have already surpassed the goals that NATO had to train troops for this year.

I should not have to tell anyone in the House that that has not been the case when we look at other goals. When we look at the focus of ending the war, the focus that should be on diplomacy, where is the regional approach from the government? It talks about border exchanges in Pakistan. This is a war that affects the whole neighbourhood. We need a regional approach, yes with Pakistan but also with all countries in the neighbourhood. That is where Canada should be focused and that is where we should be putting our resources.

Sadly, as of last week, we have a government that walked away from that approach. It should simply look at the numbers that we now have in front of us: initially $550 million for a civilian-only mission.

Mr. Speaker, I should have said at the beginning that I will be splitting my time with the member for Thunder Bay—Rainy River.

We have gone from investing $550 million for a civilian-only mission to $100 million a year for we do not even know what yet. When we ask the government how much it will spend on diplomacy, it cannot give us an answer. We know we are cutting severely. We know the number is $1.6 billion for military, which is after, as I have already mentioned, we have met the goals for the military training.

Why did we decide that we would forgo the civilian mission, which our public servants had been working on for two years to focus on aid, development and transitional justice, particularly important for women and human rights protection? Why did we abandon that in favour a huge investment of $1.6 billion for military training where we have already met our goals?

I will tell the House what many people think is the reason. It is that we decided that it was more important that we satisfy NATO's desires than the Afghan people's desires. It is evidently clear after the Lisbon conference. If we look at the Lisbon document before we went, we had said that while Canada's military mission will end in 2011, Canada will continue to have a development and diplomatic relationship with Afghanistan through the Canadian embassy in Kabul.

Guess what? This document that went to Lisbon was actually a false promise. We knew when we flew to Lisbon that we had no intention of backing that up. The difference is that we forgot to tell Canadians and Parliament that was what we were going to do. For that, Canadians are angry. Even those who might support this mission, they were angry because we had a Prime Minister for the last couple of years who said, of military mission, that all the military would return and we would focus on a civilian mission.

The only assessment we can come up with after that is that we have a government that turned its back. not only on Canadians, on Parliament and on its word, but, at the end of the day, on the Afghan people.

When we look back to this day where we debated what the choices were, let it be clear that the choices that we had in front of us were ignored by the government because the government decided to continue with more of the same at a time when we needed to change directions and support a civilian mission.

I regret that this is the case. I regret that we will not have had a more fulsome debate. I regret that we will not have had a vote that the government would have been bound to. On Tuesday, when we vote, we will not have all members in the House voting their conscience. What we will have are two parties deciding to take an issue and throw it off the table. That is sad indeed.

Opposition Motion--Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Bloc

Luc Malo Bloc Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Mr. Speaker, despite the fact that the Prime Minister said many times that Canadian soldiers would be leaving Afghanistan in 2011, the Conservative government has made an agreement with the Liberals behind closed doors to maintain a military presence in Afghanistan beyond that deadline.

That is what is at the heart of this debate. Neither party believes that a debate, a vote in this House is necessary. This is another example of the fact that the Liberals and the Conservatives, despite being two distinct parties, share the same vision, which offends Quebeckers' values.

What does the hon. member think about this attitude of the Liberals and the Conservatives?

Opposition Motion--Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, it underlines what we have seen on this issue before.

I thought we were going to change the channel on this. Until a couple of weeks ago, I thought that the government was going to honour its word. I thought that the government was going to come forward with the plan that I have right here in my hand, a civilian-only mission without military involvement that would have put the emphasis on diplomacy, development, transitional justice, and human rights support.

Instead, what we have is a deal that has been done between those two parties to take that focus off the table, and put the focus on military training when it is not needed. That is a sad, sad, sad day for Canada, but most important, it is unfortunate for the people of Afghanistan.

Opposition Motion--Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.

Calgary East Alberta

Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, I do agree with the member that it is a sad, sad, sad day for Canada when members of that party get up and consistently oppose everything.

Let us not forget it was that party that opposed the 2008 parliamentary resolution that was passed in this House. Every time there is something, members of that party will vote against it and say no. Then they pick up these things and ask how we can do development when there is no security. Only he knows.

Let me also say that the member shows up once in a while at the Special Committee on the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan. He does not talk to the other members who know exactly how the mission is being run, how the mission is going, not that member. The member will stand here and say that members of his party want a civilian mission and all these other things.

Did the member not listen to our speeches? We are saying that with the extension we will be doing exactly what he is talking about: diplomacy, development, everything. Also, there is the important element of building the state and security services. Yet the member's party will not recognize that.

That is why it is a sad day for Canada. That party is totally out of touch with what Canadians want.

Opposition Motion--Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Paul Dewar NDP Ottawa Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, that was a very measured question, indeed.

[W]e will not be undertaking any activities that require any kind of military presence, other than the odd guard guarding an embassy. We will not be undertaking any kind of activity that requires a significant military force protection, so it will become a strictly civilian mission.

Who said that? It was the Prime Minister. I do not think I have to say anything else.

What I will say, though, with regard to that is that we did have $550 million going to Treasury Board for a civilian-only mission. I have been saying for years that we would support that. We would have supported that. The only problem was that the government broke its promise and walked away from that commitment.

As to my attendance at the Afghan committee, I have been there more than the parliamentary secretary has, so I need not take advice from him. I actually pay attention when I am there.

At the last committee meeting, we heard interventions from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence. He said that I was wrong, that the government is not cutting down to $100 million a year, aid and development in Afghanistan post-2011, that there is going to be $300 million and it is going to be in Kandahar.

Guess what? The member has already apologized to me, because he did not even have his numbers right and yet he had the audacity to intervene and try to correct me.

Maybe he could talk to his colleague, the parliamentary secretary, and maybe he could get his Coles notes up to date, because clearly they are out of date and so is he.

Opposition Motion--Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

John Rafferty NDP Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am a little reluctant to stand. I was enjoying the back and forth between the members. I hope there will be time for questions for me.

I am happy to rise on this occasion to talk about this issue. I listened to my hon. colleague's speech and he is absolutely right. If I end up repeating some of the things he said, it is because they are important.

Before I start reading some quotes and talking about aid, et cetera in Afghanistan, I would like to remind Canadians that if they are not fully engaged in this issue, they might care about the economics of it. As of Christmas this year, taxpayers will have spent $18 billion. With the extension the Liberals and Conservatives are talking about, it will cost another $2.1 billion, give or take. It may even be more than that. If they are not too worried about the whole concept of Afghanistan, perhaps people listening or watching are concerned about the actual cost to taxpayers.

One thing that has been very clear throughout the day is the concern in the House and across Canada as to when this mission will end. It is not clear. I have a couple of quotes that I would like to share with the House.

In 2006, when the Prime Minister presented his motion to extend the war until 2009, he stated:

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.

I bring forward this particular comment because it seems to me that people who think this mission will never end perhaps have some good grounds to think that way.

On May 29, 2006, the Liberal critic for foreign affairs was talking about the Prime Minister's decision to extend our presence in Afghanistan at that time and stated, “If I had been in the House, I would have voted against it”.

Opposition Motion--Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Where was he?

Opposition Motion--Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

John Rafferty NDP Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

I don't know where he was.

On February 13, 2008, to get a little more current, the Liberal Party's position on Afghanistan was clear. The leader of the Liberal Party stated, “We say there is no military solution in Afghanistan”. That was in 2008. If Canadians are concerned and members in this place are concerned, it is with good reason. When will it end?

My hon. colleague was kind enough to point out that very shortly the NATO forces will have been in Afghanistan longer than the Russians were. The Russians knew it would never end and they got out.

I have a couple of rhetorical questions which do not require answers. Perhaps if there is time, we could get an answer or two.

While Canada's military role has been extended for three more years, possibly more, who knows, our aid commitments have been abandoned. That is important to note. They have not been abandoned entirely, to be fair, but they have been cut by more than half, from around $205 million to about $100 million.

We know that the Liberal leadership has recommended the three-year extension of the military role, even though the caucus members were not consulted on the issue. Perhaps I could get an answer from one of the Liberal members later. Was it the Liberal leader's idea to also cut aid to Afghanistan? Was that part of the deal?

We know the member for Toronto Centre was fully briefed on the details of the military extension when he and the Liberal leader were putting on a show in the House and asking the government things to which they already had the answers. Why did he not raise any objection about the deep cuts to Canada's aid budget in Afghanistan?

With whom does the Liberal caucus agree? Does it agree with the Liberal Party leader who said in 2008, “The Liberal Party is opposed to renewing the mission beyond 2011”, or does it agree with the Liberal Party leader now?

I think those are all legitimate questions. Not to leave the Conservatives out, I have a couple of questions for them also.

The Prime Minister came to office after campaigning on accountability, promising to bring decisions on military engagements to Parliament and a vote. Time and time again the Prime Minister has assured this House and Canadians that our soldiers would be out of Afghanistan by 2011. Of course, these promises, these principles, are completely out the window.

Why is the government breaking its promise to bring our soldiers home in 2011? Why is it breaking its promise on such a serious and important matter and not bringing it to a vote?

Among all the promises we have heard this week, and promises we have always heard, the most devastating for Afghans was the Conservatives' cutting of development commitments to the people of Kandahar. The Conservatives promised to build 50 schools, but only 19 have been built. They promised to train 3,000 teachers, but we have not even reached half that target. Many of those schools are schools for girls. That was a definite commitment the Conservatives made.

What else are we talking about when we talk about cutting aid? It is not just about schools or training teachers, it is about agriculture, political reform, judicial reform, a number of things. I wonder if the Conservatives could explain to the people of Canada why they broke their word. Perhaps more importantly, why did the Conservatives break their word to the people of Afghanistan?

In spite of all the rhetoric we heard today, the Prime Minister did make a promise, a sincere commitment, to allow parliamentarians to vote on these sorts of issues. That is important for people to remember as we carry on.

Moving on to aid, the $205 million in aid is down to approximately $100 million. We have not met our other commitments. The Minister of International Cooperation has been very clear. Everyone is going to be behind the wire I guess. I do not know what that means for aid commitments. Are we abandoning them?

The deep cut in aid is a serious issue. I am having trouble understanding the math. There is $100 million left to be spent on aid. It has been more than cut in half. We have a signature project, the Dahla Dam that everybody has heard of, but it is far from finished. I assume some money will go to that signature project. Half of Canada's aid, which is more than now is committed over the next three years, now goes to Kandahar. I am not sure what is going to happen to that. How is that going to be spread out across the country?

Aid is reduced by half and there are still some signature projects which the reconstruction team is working on, not to mention the eradication of polio.

Polio is still a problem. Having worked and lived overseas for a number of years in Africa, I understand the problems with that. We did not expect the polio situation to be finished by 2009. It is probably close to 97% or 98% done, but how can we get it done 100%? We will still have to spend money on that. That is the second--

Opposition Motion--Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Order, please. I will have to stop the member there. His time has expired for his speech.

We have enough time to have one question or comment. The hon. member for Crowfoot.

Opposition Motion--Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

Kevin Sorenson Conservative Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, I certainly enjoyed the debate today. I have had the privilege of serving as chair of the special committee on Afghanistan. I want to personally thank our government for taking a responsible approach to the withdrawal from Afghanistan. I say “responsible” because of what it will do for Afghanistan.

First, allowing Afghans to secure their own country means that the Afghan forces will be able to not only secure their country, but will also allow much of the development that Canada wants to be involved in to go ahead. It allows the building of roads, hospitals and schools to continue.

What we have done is a responsible approach because of what it allows us to do within NATO. NATO has made this request and we have taken the responsible way of an eventual withdrawal from Afghanistan.

I do not believe the Soviet Union pulled out in the 1980s in a responsible way. It left nothing there when its troops went home. In fact, I would perhaps go a step further and say that not many of the other countries were very responsible at the time either. They did not, in a good effort, step up and help build that country.

How would the member have it? Would it be let us just go home? He knows the development cannot continue in that country if we do not have the security to do it. Does he want to piggyback on all the other countries?

Opposition Motion--Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.

NDP

John Rafferty NDP Thunder Bay—Rainy River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the question from my colleague. He is a great chair. I have had the opportunity to be in committee with him.

Let me answer this way. It is not that we are against the aid given to Afghanistan. I personally have a problem right now with two things. One is the cutting of the aid in half. That is disastrous. Second, he says that the security has to be there. The government has promised it will be behind the wire and that is where the security will be.

Opposition Motion--Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

It being 5:13 p.m., pursuant to order made earlier today, all questions necessary to dispose of the opposition motion are deemed put and a recorded division deemed requested and deferred until Tuesday, November 30, at the expiry of the time provided for government orders.

Opposition Motion--Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Wallace Conservative Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I think if you were to seek it, you would find unanimous consent to see the clock at 5:30 p.m.

Opposition Motion--Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

Is that agreed?

Opposition Motion--Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Opposition Motion--Mission in AfghanistanBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

First Nations Financial Transparency ActPrivate Members' Business

November 25th, 2010 / 5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Kelly Block Conservative Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

moved that Bill C-575, An Act respecting the accountability and enhanced financial transparency of elected officials of First Nations communities, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-575, First Nations Financial Transparency Act.

Why have I introduced the bill? The answer is simple. I believe all elected officials of first nations communities must not only say that they are accountable in terms of their salaries and reimbursement of expenses, they must also take steps to show they are accountable and absolutely transparent when it comes to their earnings as elected representatives.

Indeed, this standard is the very definition of political transparency, not just saying we are clear and open, but plainly showing the people we are elected to represent that we are clear and open. Many first nations elected officials already meet this standard. Those officials who do not meet this standard must be required to reach it. They must be required to ensure that all members of first nations communities and all Canadians can easily access detailed information about the salaries and reimbursement of expenses of first nations and elected officials.

How exactly would Bill C-575 enhance the transparency of first nations elected officials? The answer is clear and straightforward. Bill C-575 would require first nations that receive funds from the federal government in the form of grants, contributions and allowances to publish annually the salaries and expenses these communities pay to their chiefs and councillors.

How would the bill compel first nations to meet this requirement? Bill C-575 would require that the annual audited financial statements of each first nation include a schedule of remuneration. As its name indicates, this schedule would provide detailed information on the salaries and reimbursement of expenses paid by a first nation to its chiefs and councillors.

The bill would further require first nations to make their schedule of remuneration publicly available within 120 days after March 31 in each calendar year. After that time, the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development would have full legal authority to make it public on the INAC website.

That is Bill C-575.

Why am I convinced that this proposed legislation is worthy of support? There are four reasons: transparency, accountability, consistency and practicality. Let me go through those reasons one by one.

First, the bill is a logical step forward in improving the transparency of first nations governments. First nations councils must now provide Indian and Northern Affairs Canada with annual audited financial statements. This requirement is an essential part of funding agreements reached between the federal government and individual first nations communities. First nations prepare these financial statements in accordance with the principles of the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants and have these statements verified by an independent auditor who is a member in good standing of an accredited provincial association of auditors.

Bill C-575 is simply a commonsense extension of that already sensible requirement. Indeed, many first nations have already taken the steps outlined in the bill. They have posted on their website financial information that covers all assets and expenditures of the first nation, including money spent on the salaries and reimbursements of expenses of chiefs and councillors. In fact, several first nations go to great lengths to make this information available to community members. They display it on their community websites. They feature it in householder mailings. They post it in band offices.

Chiefs and councillors from these first nations recognize the value in ensuring government operations and the actions and decisions of elected officials are clearly visible to all. These leaders recognize that their citizens share a fundamental right to know how their money is being spent. Unfortunately, not all first nations reach this standard.

Current practice is uneven. Some first nations make available information on spending and reimbursement of expenses only on request. In fact, members of first nations communities often ask officials of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada to provide them with this vital information. Government officials can and do. However, the the Privacy Act and recent court decisions mean that government officials can only supply aggregate amounts of spending and reimbursement of expenses, no details and to the requesters only.

Do we really believe this is the best way for members of first nations communities to access financial information for their elected officials?

Even more troubling, we have all heard reports of some first nations governments that refused members access to financial information. Detailed financial information for the salaries and reimbursement of expenses paid to first nations chiefs and councillors should be and must be readily accessible to members of all first nations communities. It should be, it must be and under Bill C-575, if passed, it will be.

This bill is directed at disclosure of remuneration and expenses for elected officials in first nations governments, chiefs and councillors only. It does not apply to unelected officials of first nations governments. At the same time, first nations will retain full responsibility for determining the salaries and other forms of compensation for their chiefs and councillors. Nothing in this bill will change that.

By requiring first nations governments to disclose detailed information on the salaries and reimbursement of expenses of chiefs and councillors, the bill would also make these elected officials more accountable to the members they serve. It would give first nations members the vital information they need to make wise, informed decisions about their communities. Indeed, knowing how much their elected representatives make in salary and reimbursement of expenses goes to the very heart of political accountability, which is the second reason for supporting the bill.

Accountability is a fundamental principle of Canadian political life that we all know to be true. This fundamental principle of accountability is the basis of laws that legislatures across Canada have passed to clearly spell out how much elected officials and even senior executives in governments earn each year. On top of that, governments across the country have established methods to fully disclose the amount and the nature of expenses being reimbursed to elected and unelected officials of government. We in the House abide by those rules.

All citizens of first nations have a right to know how much their chiefs and councillors are being paid. It is also knowledge that should encourage an atmosphere of greater trust and openness between band councils and members and among community members as a whole. It is knowledge that helps eliminate controversy over compensation and focuses the public discussion where it really belongs, on fundamental quality of life issues such as housing, health care and education.

All Canadians, not just members of first nations communities, should be able to access detailed information on how much first nations chiefs and councillors are being paid. Some first nations leaders are reported to have said that they are not accountable to the taxpayers of Canada, that they are representatives of first nations citizens, not Canadian citizens.

That view is very short-sighted. Canadians support first nations' aspirations and goals. Canadians appreciate the benefits of accountability and transparency and understand its power in helping to create strong, prosperous, self-sufficient first nations communities and transform the lives of members of these communities. By making first nations leaders more accountable to the men and women of Canada, Bill C-575 would strengthen Canadians' support for first nations governments and assist to demystify certain general, unfavourable preconceptions about first nations.

That leads me to the third reason I introduced Bill C-575. This bill will bring greater consistency to reporting requirements of first nations governments. As I mentioned earlier, current practice is uneven. Some first nations go to great lengths to make available information on spending and reimbursement of expenses. Other communities make available this information only on request, while some refuse members access to financial information altogether.

Why should consistency be such an important characteristic of the operations of first nations governments? Consistent practices and procedures help keep first nations governments transparent and accountable and help make the services that governments provide more reliable and effective.

That is why chiefs, councillors, auditors, financial officers and other key officials from first nations governments across Canada meet together and work hard to share best practices and bring greater consistency, and through consistency, greater transparency, accountability and effectiveness to their operations.

Bill C-575 brings a consistent approach to disclosing the salaries and reimbursement of expenses of elected officials and enshrines that approach in Canadian law.

The fourth and final reason that Bill C-575 should have the support of the House is the bill's practicality.

Some first nations chiefs are reported to have said that the bill is impractical as it will increase the reporting burden on first nations governments. That simply is not true. First nations governments are already required to provide to Indian and Northern Affairs Canada a schedule that includes the money paid for salaries and expenses of chiefs and councillors. Bill C-575 will require first nations to disclose this schedule, which they already submit to the department. So there is no increase in reporting.

Another concern raised by some first nations chiefs is that modestly paid leaders are being wrongly tainted by a few who garner outsized incomes relative to the small population of their community. That may be so, but the best way to deal with this perception is not by burying our heads in the sand, but through transparency, accountability, consistency and practicality.

The best way to dispel this perception is in fact Bill C-575, a bill that brings all these elements to bear on this important matter, a bill that is worthy of the House's support.

I urge all hon. members of the House to support Bill C-575.

First Nations Financial Transparency ActPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

Earl Dreeshen Conservative Red Deer, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar for the great work that she has done. I was honoured to be able to second the bill as well.

As a member of the aboriginal affairs and northern development committee I have been honoured to meet some great people who have been involved as aboriginal financial leaders. Certainly one of the things they have talked about and believe is that transparency is a key to ensuring the success of their communities.

I wonder if perhaps the member could share with us her thoughts and tell us why first nations should publicly disclose remuneration and expenses of their elected chiefs and councils.

First Nations Financial Transparency ActPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

Kelly Block Conservative Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the support that my colleague has committed for the bill.

Accountable, transparent governments are the foundation of democracies. While many first nations already demonstrate these qualities by disclosing their salaries and expenses to community members, some do not, as I said earlier.

Bill C-575 will require disclosure of elected officials' remuneration in a similar manner to that required by municipal, provincial and federal governments. This is not an invasion of privacy but rather a demonstration of transparent government accountable to the public.

This government is taking steps to bring first nations councils to a similar level of public disclosure as exists in other jurisdictions.

First Nations Financial Transparency ActPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for introducing Bill C-575.

I would be interested in knowing, in her development of the bill, the groups and people she consulted with and which of those groups actually supported the development of the bill.