Mr. Speaker, I want to start by expressing my respect for our Canadian soldiers who risk their lives every day on the many missions carried out around the world.
I am pleased to speak today to this government motion to extend the military mission in Iraq. I think that as parliamentarians, we should always ask ourselves what role our country should play in the world in response to conflict and threats. We also have a duty to ask ourselves whether we have the resources to serve our ambitions and, most importantly, whether we are acting in our own best interests or in the best interests of others.
Since this Conservative government was elected in 2006, it has actively worked to redefine Canada as a military country. Is that truly the role we should play in the world, when we have just over 35 million people?
In the recent past, Canadians were known around the world as a country of peacekeepers and peacemakers. Our country was also known for its humanitarian assistance. At the UN, Canada even championed development by calling for an overall contribution equivalent to 0.7% of the GNP of the richest countries in the global fight against poverty.
There are currently only about 300 Canadian peacekeepers left on missions around the world. In 2013, CIDA was absorbed by Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada. Canada's image has been changing bit by bit. When I participated in foreign missions, most of the elected representatives and ministers I met in those countries, particularly in the Middle East, asked me what was going on with Canada. This rebranding of who Canadians are in the eyes of the world must stop.
Here is another question: the Prime Minister wants to get involved in conflicts, but do we have the means to go to war? Do we have the means to fulfill the Prime Minister's ambitions? This March, Canada's remaining troops are coming back from Afghanistan. How much did the mission in Afghanistan cost us? That is a good question. In 2008, the Parliamentary Budget Officer, Kevin Page, predicted that the mission would cost $18.1 billion. When I hear that number, I think of everything we could have done with $18 billion. That is incredible. He also said it would take years to get final numbers on what Afghanistan cost us.
According to the Parliamentary Budget Officer's very recent analysis in the report of February 17, 2015, entitled “Cost Estimate of Operation IMPACT in Iraq”, which deals with the Prime Minister's first six-month mission, the estimated incremental cost of Operation IMPACT ranges between a high of $166.4 million and a low of $128.8 million. That is for six months, and furthermore, the Parliamentary Budget Officer did not have all the figures.
Accordingly, the estimated incremental cost of Operation IMPACT for a 12-month mission, which is what the Prime Minister wants, since the motion calls for extending the mission until March 30, 2016, ranges between a high of $351.2 million and a low of $242.7 million. That is on top of the more than $166.4 million the first six-month mission cost us. It is worth noting that the full costs for Canada’s most recent overseas mission, which was Operation Mobile in Libya, were almost six times the reported incremental costs for the mission.
The actual cost is always greater than the estimated cost. The government can certainly tell us that it will cost x dollars, but we can expect there to be a gap, if not an abyss, between the actual cost and the estimated cost.
According to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, for the government to be able to wage its wars, it would have to inject funds into defence or simply reduce its military ambitions. However, that does not fit with its ideology.
All these billions of dollars that the government wasted on useless and ineffective military missions could have been invested in humanitarian aid. Yes, it handed out a few crumbs, we can all agree on that, but it could have given more because those activities work in the long term. It also could have helped lift the local populations out of poverty and injustice. That is what Canada is good at.
Instead of all those nice things, this government chooses to go to war. It wants to be the champion of fighting terrorism, but for now, unfortunately, the people are just being lulled by the government into believing that it is working for their security. It wants to create a sense of security, but this is not security. The government is creating bogus laws to distract people and have them believe that it is protecting them.
If this government invested just 10% of all the billions of dollars it is investing in the war to help prevent violent extremism, a lot fewer young people would leave Canada to join Jihadist groups in Iraq, Syria or even Somalia.
Moreover, whose interests are we defending on these missions? Is it truly the interests of Canadians? Canada belongs to a coalition led by the United States, but what is the goal of the United States, which is in negotiations with Iran?
Last Wednesday, the American-led coalition launched air strikes to officially help the Iraqi forces recapture Tikrit from Daesh. I urge my colleagues to use “Daesh” instead of “Islamic State” because it is not an Islamic state. It is a terrorist group known as Daesh.
The international community knows that the Iraqi offensive in Tikrit, which started on March 2, involves soldiers and police officers, but also paramilitary groups, including the notorious popular mobilization forces, groups essentially made up of Shia militias backed by Iran. The Iranians have provided artillery and advice to these Shia militias.
However, there is an Iranian general, Ghasem Soleimani, on the ground leading the Quds, a unit of the Iranian revolutionary guard. If Canada participates, will the Iranians be our allies?
There are also questions about some coalition allies with respect to porous borders, the acquisition of weapons by Daesh, the sale of oil to Daesh and stolen archeological artifacts.
Members will also recall the al-Nusra jihadists, who have ties to al-Qaeda and who allegedly crossed the Turkish border to attack the Syrian city of Kessab, which has a majority Armenian population, as well as the city of Maaloula, a Christian city.
There is also the issue of the Kurds, not to mention the war in Yemen.
My major question is this: are we going to get involved in these conflicts between the Shia and Sunni Muslims or are we going to help them to sit down at the same table and come to an agreement?
These are very complex conflicts. It is important to have a clear foreign policy to guide our national defence policy, but what is our foreign policy—