Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to speak in this House again in support of our continuing engagement in Libya. I also have enormous pleasure in rising in this House to add my voice to those paying tribute to our fighting Canadian Forces, to the men and women in uniform of our Royal Canadian Air Force and Royal Canadian Navy who remain in action off the coast of Libya and in the skies above Libya.
This operation was already well underway when I joined the defence team in May. Even as our last general election was taking place, Canada had stepped up in response to the cries of the Libyan people under attack by their own government and under a mandate from the United Nations Security Council.
We quickly coordinated our military effort with the international community and thanks to the Canadian Forces' ability to deploy quickly, Canada was well placed to actively participate in protecting Libyan civilians.
When NATO took command of the international mission on March 31, the Canadian Forces were already well engaged. We heard some of that history reprised in the debate already today. We were active in the evacuation of Canadian nationals in February. HMCS Charlottetown had left port for theatre as early as March 2. Canada has been and continues to be at the forefront of the international effort to bring a peaceful and more stable Libya into being.
Thanks to the brave contribution of Canadian sailors and air personnel, Canada has played and continues to play a significant role in the NATO mission. We have contributed significantly with 6% of all sorties flown, 9% of strike sorties, and 7% of the air-to-air refueling sorties. A story that remains under-acknowledged in our media and in our debates is the story of maritime surveillance where two Canadian aircraft have played a role out of all proportion with our size delivering absolutely essential information intelligence about the deployment of Gadhafi forces on the ground to all of our allies and contributing mightily to the success of this mission.
HMCS Charlottetown contributed to ensuring the navigability of the waters to make sure that humanitarian aid could reach the people in need. It participated in the imposition of a weapons embargo and a no-fly zone. In this way, it helped in protecting the Libyan people, especially in the Misrata port region, and weakening an oppressive regime that was attacking its own people.
While performing its duties, as many members of the House will already know, the frigate was fired upon on two occasions by forces loyal to Colonel Gadhafi. This was the first time a Canadian vessel has been fired upon since the Korean war. In spite of this level of threat, our men and women in uniform successfully accomplished their important mission. They have paved the way for a democratic transition that we are now witnessing in Libya.
We have achieved much with our allies and partners in only six months. Today, the will of the Libyan people is being fulfilled. Colonel Gadhafi has been ousted from power and has gone into hiding. His ability to wage war has been reduced. The Libyan people are beginning to build a future under the guidance of their new government, the national transitional council.
Through the effective enforcement of the UN mandate we have save countless lives. We are helping Libyans rebuild normal lives and take the future into their own hands. For the first time in 42 years the Libyan people are out from under the yoke of a tyrannical despot. This is the dawn of a new day for Libya.
The decision of the House to support the Canadian armed forces military mission in March and June was the right thing to do, and I am pleased to hear many members of the House acknowledging the depth, the richness of briefings we have all received or had access to over those six months. There were briefings in the committee on national defence, the committee on foreign affairs, as well as informal briefings of opposition leaders and members.
Even since our last briefing at the national defence committee last week, we have seen progress on the ground. The region of Sabha, which had been still under the control of pro-Gadhafi forces, came under the control of the new government, releasing a population from those bonds in which they had been held, opening them to the humanitarian assistance that is now flowing into Libya and making it possible for the new government to start delivering services.
We should be justifiably proud of these very concrete results that our men and women in uniform, and our civilian officials, operating with United Nations agencies, operating in NATO, operating with NGOs, have managed to accomplish.
While there is cause to be cautiously optimistic, we must temper our enthusiasm and resist the urge to hastily declare victory and go home. Yes, Gadhafi and his forces are wounded and on the run, but as evidence found, there is ongoing fighting in around the towns of Bani Walid and Sirte. He and his loyalists still pose a grave threat to the population of Libya. A share of the population in those central areas and the areas south of them may amount to 15% of Libya, but we cannot abandon those still in danger. That is why we must extend our military contribution and continue to work with our allies to ensure civilians in Libya are protected.
Simply put, there is still work to do. Even as the threat of Gadhafi passes, we must be mindful of the challenges ahead. It is up to the people of Libya to decide their future. We should be encouraged by the national transitional council's road map for transition, that it has begun to create a new Libya based on democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and reconciliation, values that we took with us in joining this mission and in agreeing to do so much under United Nations authorization.
Nevertheless, during these critical first days, we must remain engaged and offer our help to Libya, which is rebuilding and entering a new phase. Just as it was our moral duty to intervene in Libya when its people were being killed by an autocratic tyrant, it is essential that we continue to offer our support and participate in building the foundations of a new Libya and that we reinforce the significant freedoms that were gained as a result of Canada's efforts.
The challenges will remain numerous. The new government has to undertake immense tasks, restoring public security, establishing the rule of law, co-ordinating humanitarian assistance. It has to begin national reconciliation.
For all of these reasons, we cannot abandon Libya now. We must remain engaged. We must remain engaged until Libyans have a civilian government that is able to protect them itself.
Our military and diplomatic efforts, as the minister said during his speech, remain essential to achieving this goal.
There are still several campaigns under way, not only on a military one, a humanitarian one, a diplomatic one, and they are linked, as we have seen in places like Zabul. Without military progress, there will not be humanitarian relief. Basic needs of a vulnerable population will not be met.
In closing, let me simply remind the House that the reasons to stand against the Gadhafi regime, which brought us all together in two previous votes behind resolutions of this House, have not changed. It is simply not acceptable to assume that eroding defensive positions around Sirte and Bani Walid will just melt away, without a continuing effort on the part of NATO allies, non-NATO allies, and Canadian Forces. That is simply not true.
Nor is it possible to claim that Canada's civilian effort has lagged behind its military effort. It is simply not true. When the member for Toronto Centre tells us that $10.6 million in humanitarian and other forms of relief is not enough, that releasing over $2 billion, far more than any other country, to the Libyan government to help it deliver basic services is not enough, that the instrumental role of Canada within the friends of Libya group has not been enough, that re-opening our embassy among the first countries to do so is not enough, we part company with him on those points, even while appreciating the support of some members of the opposition for this resolution.
I want to thank the House for its support, for the brave men and women of the Canadian Forces. As the Minister of National Defence said, we cannot afford to leave Libya now. The gains, while substantial, are still fragile. The stakes are simply too high.
I encourage all members to support the extension of our mission in Libya.