Madam Speaker, I want to thank the critic for national defence for his passionate comments about the members of the Canadian Armed Forces and what they do for us. One thing we can always agree upon, not just the members of this House but all Canadians, is the great work that our men and women do for us on a 24-7 basis around the world.
It is my privilege to rise in support of the motion tabled by the Prime Minister. Last week, our government presented a detailed plan to broaden, enhance, and redefine our contribution to the fight against ISIL.
Today, I would like to speak to the House about the military elements of that plan. Before I begin, however, I would like to remind the House of the evolution of this mission and to explain the context that necessitated this new approach.
When Canada's military mission began in the fall of 2014, it was in response to an emerging and immediate crisis. The situation in Iraq and Syria was grim. ISIL was advancing rapidly and claiming territory. It was taking charge of abandoned military equipment for its own use. It had the momentum.
Since then, the reality on the ground has changed. ISIL has lost territory. It has lost the freedom of movement. It is forced to move by night in small numbers or under cover of the civilian population. Its leadership has been targeted. Its morale is in decline. As a result, the Iraqi military is able to conduct offensive operations and reclaim territory, most recently in Ramadi.
ISIL remains a danger, but the situation on the ground is much different from 18 months ago. ISIL is losing momentum. Against that backdrop, our mission partners, the U.S. chief among them, have been reviewing the coalition efforts and reconsidering the best way forward.
At a national level, we too have an obligation to look toward the next phase of the armed conflict, not simply because we faced an expiration date on March 31 and not simply because we had a new mandate for Canadians, but because the realities of the mission demanded it.
With that in mind, shortly after taking office this government began a deliberate and comprehensive review process. We knew we needed to undertake a thorough analysis of the evolving situation on the ground. We needed to consider our desired impact and the tools at our disposal. We needed to devise a comprehensive, long-term strategy for Canada that was in lockstep with our partners.
To support that process, I personally travelled to the region twice. I consulted with allies and partners, and I listened to our troops on the ground. In fact, I met with military commanders, front-line troops, and regional leaders, including Iraq's minister of defence. I spoke with U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter. I spoke with Brett McGurk, the U.S. special presidential envoy for the global coalition to counter ISIL. I met with Michael Fallon, the U.K. Secretary of State for Defence.
At the same time, I worked closely with the Chief of the Defence Staff and senior officials here at home to gain a better understanding of the skills and assets available within the Canadian Armed Forces and across the Government of Canada.
My cabinet colleagues undertook a similar process, and together we brought informed advice and frank analysis to the cabinet table. Together, we were able to identify a meaningful contribution for Canada, which is synchronized across government and responds to the shifting needs of the coalition effort.
We have recognized that security, diplomacy, humanitarian assistance, and development will all play a major role in this endeavour.
ISIL is not a singular threat that we can just carve out and dispose of. It is dangerously interwoven with internal political instabilities and broader regional dynamics. It is a parasite that thrives off the discord, poverty, and hardship that plagues the region.
For that reason, the military elements of Canada's new approach are now more clearly situated within a broader, whole-of-government plan. This integrated approach will help deal with the immediate needs of the people of Iraq and Syria, while also establishing the the conditions for long-term stability in the region.
For the military line of effort, we recognize that it is ultimately the people of Iraq who will be responsible for stabilizing their country.
We need to enable them to defeat ISIL, though, and we have the expertise to help bolster their capabilities and prepare them for that fight. Going forward, this is where we will be focusing much of our effort. As we announced last week, we will triple our commitment to the train, advise, and assist mission in northern Iraq.
At the same time, we are going to significantly increase our intelligence capability. There is a complex interplay of forces that underlies the conflict environment in Iraq and Syria. We need to have a clearer picture of how all the pieces fit together, and we need to better anticipate the impact of our actions. Our enhanced intelligence contribution will be invaluable in this regard.
In addition to our training and intelligence activities, our Polaris air refueller and Aurora surveillance aircraft will continue to serve as critical enablers for the coalition effort.
We will also be offering ministerial liaison teams to the government of Iraq and additional capacity-building efforts in Jordan and Lebanon in close partnership with Global Affairs Canada.
We will increase our medical presence to support Canadian and coalition personnel and to offer mentoring support to the Iraqi security forces.
In addition to these ongoing elements, we also intend to deploy a small helicopter detachment with air crew and support personnel. This will provide safe and reliable transport for our troops and also for our material and equipment.
Overall, we will increase the number of deployed personnel to approximately 830 people. Please keep in mind that this is a dangerous armed conflict and this mission carries inherent risk to our men and women in uniform. This mission will be riskier than air operations, but at this point in the campaign these new lines of activity are essential to future success and the defeat of ISIS. Our people will be in close proximity to the dangers inherent in the region. There may be times when they will have to defend themselves, their coalition partners, or the forces they are mentoring.
As the Chief of the Defence Staff emphasized last week, we will do everything in our power to keep our personnel safe. We are adding specialized capabilities to mitigate the risk to our personnel. In particular, they will benefit from the enhanced situational awareness that will come from our bolstered intelligence capabilities. They will be closely supported by our medical personnel.
Also, as a former soldier, I can tell the House that those on the ground are well aware of the risks associated with military operations and they will take their own necessary precautions. I know from personal experience in combat that the Canadian Armed Forces are highly trained and experienced men and women who know how to operate effectively in a conflict environment. Ultimately, this is what they train for, to accomplish their mission and to make a difference, and in this case, to contribute to the defeat of ISIL.
Last week I was in Brussels and I met with our coalition partners. I had a frank and open discussion with many key allies, most notably Secretary Carter of the U.S.
I also met with the Iraqi defence minister, as well as ministers from France, Germany, Italy, Turkey, New Zealand, and Poland. I was able to present to them in person the details of Canada's new approach.
There are more than 60 countries working together in this fight, and I can say without hesitation that they have welcomed Canada's new contributions.
Last week Secretary Carter proposed a new way forward in the mission against ISIL. He asked coalition members to step up their contributions as we enter the next phase of the fight. He talked about refocusing and accelerating our collective efforts.
Through the course of the coalition discussions in Brussels, two pressing requirements came to the fore. The coalition needs increased intelligence assets and more training and assistance for local security forces. I am proud to say that Canada's new approach has landed right on target. In fact, a Pentagon spokesperson said, “The Canadian announcement is the kind of response the secretary has been looking for from coalition members as [we]...push to accelerate the campaign against ISIL”.
The coalition commander, Lieutenant General Sean MacFarland, came to me personally and described our mission—moving forward with our capabilities that we are bringing to the fore—as forward-looking.
A U.S. military spokesperson for the coalition has characterized Canada's contribution as “extraordinarily helpful”.
From the coalition perspective, there is sufficient air power to continue pressing ISIL positions and to hamper their movements.
We now need to intensify our work with local partners to build real, long-term security solutions for the region. As the Prime Minister has said, we must take action in a way that will affect durable results on the ground.
Canada remains steadfast in its commitment to the fight against ISIL. We recognize the shifting landscape in theatre. We heard the views of our partners and allies. We undertook a deliberate and thoughtful review process to make sure Canada's contribution remains at the heart of the coalition campaign.
Canada's new approach is coherent and comprehensive. It leverages some of Canada's core strengths. It reflects Canada's interests and values and meets the critical needs of the coalition effort.
In closing, I would like to echo the Prime Minister in acknowledging the tremendous service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform. I want to express my sincere gratitude to those who have served, are serving, and will serve on Operation Impact. In particular, I would like to commend members of the Royal Canadian Air Force including our CF-18 pilots and members of the air crew and support personnel who have done an outstanding job for Canada and conducted their final mission as part of Operation Impact on Monday.
Let us also remember that we have men and women deployed around the world, in the Ukraine, the Mediterranean, the Sinai, and elsewhere. Some 1,400 Canadian Armed Forces personnel are currently deployed on operations abroad. It is thanks to their efforts and those of their predecessors that we are able to gather like this, as democratic representatives, to have a frank and open debate about Canada's role in the world. We, as parliamentarians and as Canadians, owe them and their families a tremendous debt of gratitude.