Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure to rise today to speak on an issue that is obviously so important to Canadians, but in particular to me given my family's history. I know that you in particular, Mr. Speaker, know some of that history. I would like to share it with the House, because I feel personally very fortunate that my family was able to come to Canada.
The country gave us a brand new start. As members know, in the early 1970s, shortly after I was born in East Africa, a radical dictator came to power. His name was Idi Amin. For a short time we lived under that incredible regime. Then we were kicked out. Luckily, we were able to come to Canada with our lives and what we could carry. I do not remember much, being just a baby, of course, but my family recounts the story of how we had to go through absolute hell and how we lost everything that we could ever have imagined.
Three generations of an institution in that country, our families and businesses, were ripped away from us overnight. That sort of damage can never be repaired unless one has the aid of others to help fix a radical situation such as the one that had developed under the dictator named Idi Amin. At the time, there was a lot of debate as to what should happen in the international community. Should we be involved? Should we throw the dictator out?
Luckily, Canada opened its arms to my family, to me and to others who came as refugees to Canada. We were able to have a brand new start. It took the intervention of a few African countries close to Uganda, which were able to throw out that dictator and try to help get Ugandans and their families back on the right track after a terrible reign of about six to eight years under Idi Amin.
His reign turned that whole country backward. It was supposedly the jewel of Africa, but it was turned backward and unfortunately became one of the poorer countries in Africa. Everything that was built there by a number of families who got along well and worked hard was turned overnight into an area that is still not quite back on its feet.
I was very lucky that I was able to travel with the Prime Minister recently to the heads of the Commonwealth meeting in Uganda and see some of the progress that Canada is involved with there on the ground. I saw some of the help that we are involved with providing through CIDA and other NGOs. I saw that slowly but surely the stability there is bringing better economic times and people are hopeful about the future. Again, Canada has been a beacon of hope for many in that region.
The reason I wanted to share that story briefly with the House is that I see many similarities with what the people of Afghanistan are faced with. Of course, many of them have known only war. If we think about the last 30 years of Afghanistan's history, we will realize that it has been fighting to stay alive. It has been battling different elements that have put many people's lives through incredible hardship. Yet the spirit of the Afghan people continues to live on and to say that they can have a better place, a strong economy and a free democracy, something that especially in the recent past has been so important to them.
When I speak about the historic visit last week, it really hit me when we returned home. As my colleague from Blackstrap mentioned, it was incredible to hear the stories from the delegation of Afghan women parliamentarians who were here.
To remind the House, in the values that we are fighting for in Afghanistan with the Afghan people in the process of capacity building and helping to improve their quality of life, there are three key things that I think are often forgotten when we debate whether we should remain in Afghanistan in the future or remove ourselves. Those things are defence, diplomacy and development, the 3Ds, and they are all equally important.
When I look back to my family's history and at what has happened in Uganda, all these things had to happen to continue to turn Uganda around. It continues to happen today. The work that I mentioned is still happening.
Rome was not built in a day. If we were to look at what has happened in the last number of years and what Canada and its coalition partners have contributed in Afghanistan, we would not recognize Afghanistan as it was under the Taliban. In only six years, things have changed drastically since the coalition efforts in Afghanistan.
Members do not have to take just my word for it. Again, the women who here last week told incredible stories about the things that have changed. The fact is that they can now go out in public. They can participate in shaping the country and their governance structures, yet they still do not live completely without fear.
This story in particular is amazing. Someone I became very fond of when she was here, for her passion and for dedicating her whole lifetime to trying to improve the plight of her people, was Safia Sediqi, one of the lead parliamentarians. She told us that some of them have bounties on their heads. The Taliban know about the work they have been doing and have bounties on their heads. She said that the women have to travel with security and are always afraid about the condition of their families while they are doing their work.
We get up every day and many of us walk to work here. We are free to do so. We can come and go as we please. Let us imagine these women having a bounty on their heads just because they are fighting for rights for themselves and their people. It is just unimaginable. Not only that, when we were taking pictures with the delegation, they had to ensure that they were dressed in the appropriate way, that their scarves were covering them properly, because if the Taliban saw these pictures, again they would be targeted for potential “extermination”. One of them used that term.
It is incredible to think about the types of things these women are facing and the courage they have. And what was their message while they were here? It was clear. They thanked Canada profusely for our leadership in that part of the world.
They thanked Canada for the fact that over the last number of years we have been involved in bringing security and involved in bringing what is needed in order for Afghans to get their lives back on track, things such as development aid in allowing girls to go to school and allowing education and school systems to be set up, and also the infrastructure, due to a significant amount of work that our troops have been involved with, as have NGOs that are on the ground building infrastructure.
All of these things, they said, would not be possible, and they would not even be able to serve as members of parliament, if it were not for the leadership of Canada, other NATO countries and the UN in particular, in regard to taking the leadership to say that all of the world should be interested in helping this wayward state get back on track.
When they spoke to our caucus last week, I do not think there was a dry eye in the place when we heard that message. We heard it so articulately. They asked us not to leave them now. If we were to leave them now, they said, everything would be lost. Not only that, they would be suffering in ways that we could only imagine. That is what they told us. From their stories, I could just see what they were talking about, because it is just something we take for granted here.
In particular, however, it gave me an incredible new sense of hope in thinking about what we can continue to do. Canada's history as a nation has been one of coming to people's aid and bringing hope for democracy and freedom. This is a perfect example of that history in today's reality in some parts of the world, where there are still incredible amounts of conflict. My friend from Blackstrap spoke about the pluralistic society that we are so lucky to have in Canada.
As well, I think about the progress that has happened in Afghanistan in a short period of time. About 15 years ago, my family, along with others, sponsored a number of Afghan refugees who came to Canada. Obviously they were fleeing the regime of the Taliban. Many of them worked with our family. Many of them live all across this country.
Fifteen to twenty years later, they are established. They are proud to be Canadians. Some of them have done extremely well. They have businesses for themselves. Some have partnerships and some still work with my family back in Edmonton.
However, many of them were in tears with me when they saw the leadership that Canada was taking in their home country. For many of them, it is the first time that they have actually gone back to Afghanistan to help in the capacity building. They have told me that never in their lifetimes would they have imagined that Afghanistan would change the conditions that they had to flee when they left under the Taliban.
They never imagined that they would be able to go back to their home country. They closed the chapter when they came to Canada. They just wished for the best and prayed that maybe things would change. Now when they speak to me, they say that if it were not for Canada and its leadership, they would not ever be able to go back to their country, as they can now, and give to it what Canada gave to us here: the experience, the knowledge and the ability, while they are still connected and still Canadian citizens, to be able to work with our soldiers, our men and women on the ground there, and to give Afghanistan, their country, brand new hope and excitement for the future.
I think this has become abundantly clear to Canadians since we have had this debate. I would like to remind everyone that, through the leadership of our ministers involved and our Prime Minister, this has been an open process, a transparent process to be able to bring Canadians together to speak about the work that we are doing and support our men and women in the field in Afghanistan in the tough work they do.
I am happy to see that this motion will pass on Thursday night so we can continue to give hope to people in Afghanistan and that region of the world, because that is going to be so important as we move forward.