Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to respond to the Prime Minister's statement.
We have learned a lot over the six months that have passed since the government decided to participate in the war in Iraq.
Last fall, the Prime Minister stood in this House and told Parliament that Canadian troops were not accompanying the Iraqi forces into combat. In the weeks and months that followed, a very different story emerged. We now know that our 30-day non-combat advise and assist effort became a six-month-long engagement, and then evolved into one in which Canadian troops were active on the front lines, regularly engaging in direct combat.
We learned of the tragic death of Sergeant Andrew Joseph Doiron, who was killed in the line of duty. That was the first death of a member of the Canadian Forces in this war.
I know that I speak on behalf of all members of the House when I say that we will continue to pay tribute to Sergeant Doiron and his courage. Our thoughts remain with his loved ones.
That tragic loss of life should also serve as an important reminder. At the end of every decision to enter combat stands a brave Canadian in harm's way, because they have the courage to serve and because we made the decision to send them to war.
The men and women who serve in our military are well-trained professionals, deeply committed to their country and very good at what they do. We in the Liberal Party have never been opposed to employing the lethal force of which they are capable when it clearly serves Canada's national interest to do so. We will never be.
However, in every case, that national interest must be clearly and rationally articulated. The mission designed to uphold that interest must have transparent objectives and a responsible plan to achieve them.
The government has been steadily drawing Canada deeper into a combat role in Iraq. It now wants to expand that war into Syria. Further, it has done all this without clearly articulating the mission's objectives. As a result, neither members of this House nor Canadians have any way to know when or whether we have achieved those objectives.
The Conservatives have no exit strategy beyond an illusory end date set for next March. Involvement in direct combat in this war does not serve Canada's interests, nor will it provide a constructive solution to the catastrophic humanitarian crisis in this region. Now the Prime Minister seeks to deepen our involvement and expand it into the Syrian civil war.
Last fall, because the Prime Minister failed to offer a clear and responsible plan, one that limited our participation to a true non-combat role and better reflected the broad scope of Canada's capabilities, we said that we would not support his motion to go to war in Iraq.
The four core principles we articulated in October still stand today: one, Canada has a role to play in confronting humanitarian crises in the world; two, when a government considers deploying our men and women in uniform, there must be a clear mission and a clear role for Canada; three, the case for deploying our forces must be made openly and transparently, based on clear, reliable, dispassionately presented facts; and four, Canada's role must reflect the broad scope of Canadian capabilities and how best we can help.
In the fall, we expressed grave concern that the Prime Minister intended to involve Canada in a longer, deeper combat engagement than he was leading the House to believe at the time. Today, with the government's motion, we know those concerns were well-founded.
We will not support the government's decision to deepen this combat mission and expand it into Syria.
Canadians need to know what the Prime Minister is getting them into. The United Nations is telling us that, after four years of all-out war, over 11 million Syrians—over half the population—have been driven from their homes. Syrians are fleeing their country by the millions, and this exodus of refugees is causing a terrible crisis. In five years of combat, over 210,000 Syrians have been killed, including over 10,000 children.
Canadians need to know that this is happening in Syria, but they also need to know who is largely responsible. The Syrian people have, for years, been oppressed and terrorized by their own government under the rule of Bashar al-Assad. This is a man who has used chemical weapons on his own citizens and whose regime is responsible for torturing and killing many more innocent people than even ISIL.
We cannot support a mission that could very well consolidate Assad's power in Syria.
Beyond our concerns about dubious alliances, the government's desire to expand Canada's presence into Syria represents a worrying trend. We can call it evolution or escalation or mission creep. Whatever term is preferred, the pattern is the same.
First we discovered that our role included ground combat operations, despite the Prime Minister's assurances to the contrary. Now we are being asked to expand our involvement into Syria. It is hard to believe the proposed timeline, given the public musings of the ministers of defence and foreign affairs. Indeed, the Minister of Foreign Affairs explicitly compared this war to Afghanistan, stating that we are in this for the longer term. In Afghanistan, the longer term meant a decade.
I am more sad about this than angry. However, how can we trust a government that so openly misled Canadians? This government is proposing that the Canadian Forces participate in a vague combat mission with no clear end point, and we cannot support that.
One thing is clear: Canada has a role to play in the campaign against ISIL. That role must serve our national interests. The one being proposed today by the Prime Minister does not meet that test.
The Liberal Party that I represent knows that Canadians want to respond to the horrors that the Islamic State is inflicting on people in the region. Canadians are appalled at the Islamic State's ruthlessness and the terror it is spreading, and rightly so. We understand that feeling and we share it. However, we also know that in a situation as complex and volatile as the one the international community is facing in Syria and Iraq, we cannot let our outrage interfere with our judgment.
Canada has an obvious interest in training Iraqi troops in order to fight and eliminate the Islamic State, but it is not in our interest to keep getting more deeply involved in such a combat mission. We can and we should provide that training far from the front lines.
Along with our allies and through the auspices of the United Nations, Canada should provide more help through a well-funded and well-planned humanitarian aid effort. The refugee crisis alone threatens the region's security, overwhelming countries from Lebanon to Turkey, from Syria itself to Jordan. Here at home, we should significantly expand our refugee targets and give more victims of war the opportunity to start a new life in Canada.
These calamities are in urgent need of a constructive, coordinated international effort, both through the United Nations and beyond it. It is the kind of effort that ought to be Canada's calling card in the global community. We will have much more to say about this in the days and months ahead.
While all three parties have different views on what our role should be, let there be no doubt that we all offer our resolute and wholehearted support to the brave men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces.
Today the government is asking for the House to support deepening Canada's involvement in the war in Iraq and to expand that involvement into a combat mission in Syria. The Liberal Party will not support the government's motion.