Mr. Speaker, it is with a heavy heart that I take part in this debate on the Canadian Forces combat mission in Iraq, and with a sense of urgency to offer a different take on this from that of my Conservative colleagues, whose approach I do not share.
The debate is vigorous because once again the Conservative government is trying to present things in a far too simplistic or binary way, coupled with a flagrant lack of relevant information. This insults the intelligence of partners and citizens who would like to understand the issues and the context, instead of getting broad strokes of Conservative rhetoric.
In the government's eyes, there are good guys and bad guys, allies with whom we must join in solidarity, meaning only one thing: contribute to the air strikes.
The question is: of the 60 countries that make up this international alliance, are those who have chosen to intervene other than militarily, such as Italy or Norway, lesser allies?
The government's position rests mainly on argument (iii) of the motion moved by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, which says:
That this House accept that, unless confronted with strong and direct force, the threat ISIL poses to international peace and security, including to Canadian communities, will continue to grow;
Are we to understand that deploying a strong and direct force means sending six CF-18s?
One does not need to be a five-star general to understand that air strikes are not a guarantee of success and that a strong and direct force requires a strong army backed by an air force.
Thank heavens the government has not taken us down that path yet, but I am afraid that is in the cards for the future because it is not very likely that the situation will be resolved six months from now. A number of analysts even go so far as to say that the air strikes may be completely counterproductive.
Just look at the recent air strikes in Kobani, which, in addition to being inaccurate, have prompted the exodus of hundreds of new refugees and momentarily dispersed Islamic State militants into the city, transforming the conflict into urban guerrilla warfare that is hard to combat from the air. Once the bombing stops, the forces regroup and move on to their next objective.
It is difficult to argue that there is a simple solution to a complex problem. It is an illusion to try and make people believe that aerial bombings are the solution to a conflict that pits the world against this Islamic terrorist group. Things get even trickier when it comes to clearly defining the objectives of the Canadian mission, where our troops will be based, who will lead them, what criteria will be used to measure our progress and how we will measure our success or the obligation to extend our mission beyond the planned timeframe. All of those questions remain unanswered by the very people who are trying to convince us that Canada needs to be engaged in a military mission.
The conflict we are facing today is the result of just such an approach, where, under false pretenses, the United States invaded Iraq and dismantled it. The country the Americans left behind needed to be reorganized. In addition to numerous tensions, there was no balance of power, and the governance structure was in disarray.
It should also be said that this combat mission is in no way justified by a UN or NATO mandate. Here again, the government is flirting with disinformation by insinuating that our involvement is connected to UN resolution 2178. However, that resolution addresses the need to prevent nationals of member states from leaving their country to join the jihadist ranks. It has nothing to do with any international strike force.
Does that mean that we should do nothing and that Canada should remain unmoved by these atrocities? Of course not.
In fact, the hon. member for Ottawa Centre went to Iraq just weeks ago and, upon his return, briefed us on what he witnessed and the requests that were made. There were two requests, and they are perfectly in line with the amendment proposed by the leader of the NDP and the hon. member for Outremont in his speech yesterday.
The NDP is not saying that Canada should sit idly by and do nothing. On the contrary, we are saying that our humanitarian aid should be increased dramatically.
For instance, we are asking the government to increase humanitarian aid activities in areas where they could have an immediate impact and save lives every day, starting today.
We also want to offer Canada's assistance in investigating and prosecuting war crimes. We also want Canada to provide support to the many victims of sexual abuse.
All of these measures do not preclude our support for military involvement, which, we believe, should focus on transporting weapons for a period of up to three months, as this will allow local stakeholders to act effectively on the ground. After all, they know the area so much better than we do, including its geographic, ethnic and demographic makeup. When it comes to saving lives, that is how our efforts could be most effective most quickly.
Of course, we were all horrified by those terrible images showing the beheading of journalists and humanitarian workers. However, since there is not scale or gradation I could apply to such horrors, our reflection should transcend the disgust generated by these atrocities and our action must respond to all of the horrible situations caused by this conflict.
Although I commend the $28 million Canada has promised, we must recognize that that is not very much. The UN has asked for over $300 million for the short term, so is $28 million enough of a contribution from Canada? To answer that question, unfortunately, I have only a number of other questions that also remain unanswered.
For instance, we could ask ourselves why it is that our government cannot give us a figure regarding the cost of our military involvement, so that we can assess our humanitarian aid as compared to our military support in terms of services on the ground to local populations dealing with all kinds of atrocities.
Are we responding to a request from our American allies, or did Canada offer to take part in these air strikes? Has Canada turned into a nation of war, or does the spirt of the peacekeepers remain somewhere within our walls? Why are we taking part in such a large mission against the Islamic State terrorist group when so little effort was put into fighting Boko Haram or preventing the crisis in the Congo or minimizing its consequences?
For now, let us concentrate on the motion currently before the House. Needless to say, unless the government recognizes the appropriateness of the amendment proposed by the Leader of the Opposition, the member for Outremont, I will be forced to vote against the government motion.
In doing so, I will be consistent with my beliefs and those that many of my constituents shared with me when I met them in my riding or in comments on social media. If the government were to reconsider its position following this debate, I could reconsider mine too, but there would be many more questions in need of answers.
In closing, I cannot help but note the strange coincidence that, on Friday, just as the Prime Minister was moving his motion, the 30th International Poetry Festival was getting under way back home in Trois-Rivières. All day, the words of our national poet, Gilles Vigneault, kept coming back to me.
Our poet said: “Violence is a lack of vocabulary.”
Unfortunately, what I see in this motion is a preference for weapons at the expense of dialogue, diplomacy and assistance even though these are the only ways to establish long-term security and good governance in a region that is experiencing tremendous turbulence.