Mr. Speaker, it is indeed an honour to speak today on this very important motion and the amendment proposed by the Leader of the Opposition.
One of the honoured roles I have is defence critic. I am extremely passionate about our Canadian Armed Forces. In the previous Parliament I was both chair of the defence committee and later, parliamentary secretary to the minister of national defence.
I understand the incredible risk that our military services, either in the regular or reserved forces, are willing to undertake to protect Canada. Everything that we hold dear in here, our democracy, our freedom of speech, our rights and liberties, are only possible because of the incredible sacrifices made by members of the Canadian Armed Forces and the veterans who came before them.
I want to pay tribute to every member who is currently serving in the Canadian Armed Forces, whether they are in the Royal Canadian Navy, the Royal Canadian Air Force, the Canadian army, in reserves or regular forces. I thank them for keeping us safe. We do not even realize the incredible efforts they take 24/7 to keep us safe in Canada.
They are the eyes of Canada on the world. They are standing on the wall to keep evil out and they are always prepared to go where no one else will go. They run toward danger. Their commitment is something each and every one of us in here should pay great respect for and thank them profusely.
I have been in contact with many veterans over the last couple of weeks and months, as the mission against ISIS was starting to change and with the idea of withdrawing our CF-18s. Families of current serving members are concerned about their sons and daughters, their husbands and wives. They want to ensure they have the protection they are entitled to when we are putting them in harm's way.
Our previous government brought a whole-of-government approach in dealing with ISIS that was well respected by our allies. We were part of the combat mission with our CF-18s and our air task force stationed out of Kuwait. It involved our Polaris refuel aircraft and two Auroras doing reconnaissance, finding targets, painting targets, and ensuring that we degraded ISIS.
It is because of that expertise and work, and risk that Canada was taken seriously to sit at the table to make decisions on the combat mission. Our special operations forces members who are serving with the Kurdish Peshmerga in an advise and assist role, providing training, and command and control, have done great work.
The accumulation of those two efforts really showed itself in December when ISIS mounted one of the largest attacks that the coalition had witnessed. They overran Kurdish Peshmerga positions between Mosul and Erbil and were able to break the line. Our Canadian special operations forces, along with the Kurdish Peshmerga, were able to push back, call in air strikes from Canadian CF-18s, and retake the ground. That is extremely commendable.
The Conservative government also provided humanitarian relief, over half of it going to Syrian refugees and displaced people, providing food, water, shelter, clothing, medical attention, and schooling opportunities that were not there, for hundreds of thousands of people. There was $1 billion spent in the region and over half of that went to Syria.
We expanded the diplomatic corps, trying to engage more with our allies to find solutions in the region, and ultimately hope for a political resolution to the civil war within Syria. However, what we are dealing with, with ISIS, will not be dealt with through diplomacy. We know that.
The Prime Minister, in his comments, said that the most lethal weapon to barbarism is not hatred but reason. I do not think anyone here expects the Prime Minister to actually sit down with the leader of ISIS, such as al-Baghdadi, and try to reason with the man. We know that with every hostage ISIS terrorists have taken, we have tried to reason with them, but the hostages have ultimately, brutally died at their hands, burning in cages, crucified, or beheaded on camera for the world to see.
We can never lose sight that we are not dealing with reasonable people. However, we are not going after them in hatred either. We are exercising the responsibility to protect, which all members in this House agree with. It is a United Nation principle that we have the responsibility to protect the most vulnerable.
We know that ISIS is targeting religious and ethnic minorities: Shias, Christians, Yezidis, Kurds, Turkmen, and numerous others, just because they do not share its twisted ideology. We know that ISIS has gone after Sunnis who refused to recognize its attempt to form a caliphate. ISIS has called them apostates and has executed, persecuted and ostracized them.
The only way we are going to stop ISIS, because it is an evil, is to destroy it. If we are going to bring a whole-of-government approach with diplomacy, humanitarian aid, training, and institution building, then we have to have combat.
Canada has always lifted its fair share. We have always punched above our weight. We have a reputation around the world for being there for the most vulnerable and for stepping in to stop atrocities. Therefore, it behooves me to understand why we would now step back.
Why would we retreat from a combat mission that our soldiers, air crew, and sailors are so well-trained for? Yes, they can do peacekeeping, and yes they do peacemaking, but first and foremost they are warriors. We have trained them to fight.
I can tell members that everybody I have talked to in the Canadian Armed Forces, regardless of their discipline, understands this fundamental more than anything else: the defence of our country, the defence of our society, and protecting the most vulnerable.
Canada has always acted as an ally, as a partner in a coalition. We have never gone out single-handedly to try and change the geopolitics in any part of the world. It is because of our strong relationship with our allies that we need to be more engaged.
We have not heard a single good reason from the government, from the Prime Minister, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, or the Minister of National Defence, on why we have to stop bombing. The jets are already there, the resources are in place, the costs are accounted for, and the impact has been significant.
We are the fifth largest contributor to air strikes. We actually fly more than our fair share of the sorties. About 10% of the sorties are actually flown by Canadian jets. We need to keep those things in mind as we look at the reports coming out on how ISIS is being degraded, how it is now on the run, and how just in the last four to six weeks it has had to start cutting back on how much it is paying its staff, terrorists, and fighters that are fighting our guys.
Those salaries are one of the reasons that the ISIS team has held together. However, because oil supplies have now been cut off, it does not have a way to get its oil to the black market. Infrastructure has been degraded, supply lines to bring in guns, ammunition, arms, and food has really been disrupted. Therefore, ISIS does not have the capability to continue its prolonged war, other than living off of its own genocidal views.
Now that we have it on the run, this is the time to hit it even harder. We keep saying that it is going to take boots on the ground. The Conservatives understand that. That is why we first put in our special operations forces to train the Kurdish peshmerga, a reliable ally with boots on the ground that are prepared not only to hold the line for the Kurdistan regional government in northern Iraq, but to push back and retake cities that have been lost to ISIS. There is a major offensive coming this spring. We want to ensure that we can take Mosul, and that is where the special operations forces come into play.
Yes, the Conservatives support the increased training mission to enable more boots on the ground. We are doing that in concert with other allies, like the British and the Americans. Ultimately, the street fighting will be done on the ground, but we still have to maintain the air support to protect our troops first and foremost, as we witnessed in December.
The rules of engagement are something that I do not think all of us always appreciate or understand, but the one thing we have to look at is how the coalition air force operates. Every country always maintains within its rules of engagement the responsibility of protection of its own troops. If ISIS decided to mount a large counteroffensive against numerous fighting positions for whatever reason and thought it could retake territory, if our troops got into trouble, our CF-18s would be there to provide air cover.
We know what happens when other air crews are sometimes in the region. The minister talks a lot about mistakes of the past. He has been to Afghanistan on numerous occasions as a soldier, as a commander, as a leader, and has witnessed some of the mistakes. I would like to remind the House about 2002 when a U.S. F-15 air force jet dropped a 500-pound bomb on Canadians, mistaking them for the Taliban. That resulted in the deaths of four Canadian soldiers and another eight were seriously injured.
In 2006, Canadian troops were in camp burning garbage and the pilot of a U.S. A-10 Warthog army jet was disoriented due to the time of day and opened guns on the Canadians, killing one Canadian soldier. We can never diminish the importance of having direct communication between Canadian jets and Canadian troops on the ground. Our troops are not principal combatants, but we have already witnessed them coming under fire on numerous occasions. For that reason alone, our troops deserve close air protection.
We are tripling the number of trainers to 220. General Vance has said that is increasing the risk. Therefore, it becomes even more important that we maintain our six CF-18s in the fight.
If we look at this motion and the announcement, details are still lacking. After the announcement, it came to bear that we were bringing in some Griffon helicopters. We are still not sure if they are armed up or unarmed. Are they there for close combat support, or are they there to transport, to evacuate in case the need arises for medical assistance and lifting to hospitals? Are they there to ensure we can move people around without being exposed to improvised explosive devices along roadways? A lesson learned in Afghanistan was when so many of our troops were injured or killed because of roadside bombs. We need to know exactly what that squadron of Griffon helicopters will be doing.
We talk about the intelligence gathering, which we welcome. We talk about the increased medical training, which Canada has a great reputation of doing. I should make a point of this. What the mission is doing now, what Canada is doing in Iraq, is very similar to what we are also doing in Ukraine. It is strictly a training mission. It is training principal combatants on how to engage with the enemy, providing command and control, advise, and assist. It is not a combat mission in the traditional sense anymore.
The rules of engagement for our troops on the ground are the same as if they were peacekeepers. If they were sitting in Bosnia and they are fired upon, they have every right to protect themselves. The arms that they carry are very much for that specific purpose, self-defence.
We still need to really look at the entire mission. That is why, if we look at our reputation on the world stage, it has diminished. We are not sitting at the main table anymore, making the decisions on where our troops will be stationed, how we bring the offensive back against ISIS, and ultimately crushing the enemy.
We hear what the Liberals feel has been congratulations for a job well done. Everybody who is here understands that there is the discussion that happens in public, the niceties, the civilities expressed between friends and allies, as I always have as a parliamentary secretary. However, there are others who know better. I have heard comments from people in the state department in the U.S. and the department of defence, and they are not happy that we are not carrying our load on the combat mission.
Matthew Fisher, a senior foreign correspondent characterized it this way. He said that to think that our friends or allies were happy about our pulling out our CF-18s was hogwash.
Retired Major General David Fraser said, “If we don't have our fighter jets, we are not going to have much of a voice....We won't get much recognition. Strategically, at the political level, we are going to lose here.” He went on to say that we would not win this campaign with only air strikes, but we certainly would not without them.
Canada has a role. We have some of the best pilots in the world. The CF-18s have been upgraded. They have the best technological equipment. There are only a few countries that can do what CF-18 jets can do in targeting, reducing, and eliminating. We are not even aware of any CF-18 bomber strikes having any civilian casualties associated with them. They have always gone at the target, destroying infrastructure, fighting positions, training grounds and weapon caches.
I want to close with this. I know the Liberals really listen to some of their patriarchs of the party. John Manley, whom many people in here have a lot of respect for, said it this way, “As I've said before, if you want to sit at the table and when the waiter arrives with the bill, you excuse yourself to go to the washroom, we've been doing just that in trading in our Pearsonian reputation rather than fulfilling Pearsonian vision”.
I ask the government to rethink its overall mission and leave the CF-18s in the fight. Again, I want to thank every member of the Canadian Armed Forces, particularly those like our special operations forces and our air task force members, including our CF-18 pilots. I wish them all the best. They are in our thoughts and prayers. Godspeed.