Mr. Jack Harris (St. John's East, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, like the previous speaker, I want to acknowledge the announcement by the Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, my friend and former long-time law colleague, Danny Williams, on his decision to step down as premier. As most hon. members know, he has been a very strong force for the advancement of Newfoundland and Labrador. He is a very strong leader and has accomplished much in his seven years as the premier, and I will comment about that later.
A lot of Canadians are wondering why we are here on an opposition challenging the government's unilateral decision to extend the military mission in Afghanistan. It is because Canadians were promised a number of things by the government, starting when it sought to be in power in 2006 under the leadership of the current Prime Minister. The Conservatives promised that all foreign military engagements would be put to a vote in Parliament. That was said when they ran for office.
The second thing Canadians were promised was that we would no longer continue a military mission in Afghanistan after 2011. That was the vote of Parliament. We only have to go to the Prime Minister's words on this issue, which he gave in January and again in June when he said that the government could not have been more clear, that the military mission would end and all of our soldiers would be out of Afghanistan by the end of 2011.
Lest there be any doubt, the people in charge of the military said the same thing. The Chief of the Defence Staff, Walter Natynczyk, was at the defence committee on December 9, 2009. He was asked specific questions. He was there to tell us how the troops would be withdrawn and what the military would do. General Natynczyk talked about the motion of Parliament. There was some question about Kandahar versus the rest of Afghanistan, et cetera, which we are still hearing today as a way of trying to climb down from that motion, saying it was about a combat mission.
This is what he was asked by a member of the committee:
There is a difference between Kandahar and Afghanistan. Could you assure us that, in 2011, Canadian soldiers will be repatriated to Canada, and not just from Kandahar?
General Walter Natynczyk answered:
First, it is clear that the mission in Kandahar will end for all troops and, second, it is the end of the military mission in Afghanistan.
It was very clear from General Natynczyk and from the comments of the Prime Minister in January and June.
What do we have today? In the last two weeks the Prime Minister said that he did not really mean military engagements, that he meant combat engagements. The Conservatives are saying that the motion was about Kandahar not about Afghanistan. If some person in Parliament had said in 2008, when we voted on that motion, that it would amount to a permanent military mission in Afghanistan, he or she would have been laughed out of Parliament. That individual would have been told that he or she was imagining things and that we were talking about the extension of our military mission only to 2011.
How do we know that? If we go back to the comments that were made as early as 2006 and in 2008, it was very clear the Conservatives were talking about any mission involving Canadian troops.
It is not new for Parliament to want to have a say in what goes on with Canadian military interventions. The member for Toronto Centre started with a discussion about 1939 and talked about Great Britain. I want to go back to 1923 and Canada.
In 1923, Prime Minister Mackenzie King declared that only Parliament should ultimately decide on Canadian participation in foreign conflicts. He said:
It is for Parliament to decide whether or not we should participate in wars in different parts of the world, and it is neither right nor proper for any individual nor for any groups of individuals to take any step which in any way might limit the rights of Parliament in a matter which is of such great concern to all the people of our country.
That is how far back I can produce a definite statement about Parliament needing to have a say in this, and there have been many attempts over the years to increase that say. It happened in the 1980s and the 1990s where private members' bills were brought by members who now sit opposite.
The current Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities introduced a private member's bill that called for the necessity for Parliament to approve any peacekeeping mission under UN engagements of over 100 troops. He said that must be brought to Parliament.
Another Reform member of Parliament, Bob Mills, brought forward a similar private member's motion.
The Auditor General has spoken about the need for Parliament to have a say in matters involving foreign engagements and expenditure of these kinds of funds. So this is not new.
In fact, in 2005, there was an agreement among the Conservative Party of Canada, led by the current Prime Minister, the Bloc Québécois and the NDP to change the Standing Orders to allow for votes in Parliament specifically on military engagements abroad. None of this is very new, but in the execution this time we see the government breaking its promise.
Canadians expected Canadian troops to be out. The motion says we will get out. The understanding of it is that we will get out. Canadians want us to end our military engagement in Afghanistan.
The government says it is only a training mission. Let us go back in history. In 2006, the then minister of defence, who is the current government whip, said:
A two-year commitment will allow the additional time needed for Afghan security forces to become operationally effective.
He was saying two years were needed to help them become operationally effective. In other words, a training mission was what it was then.
The member for Toronto Centre made a terrifically eloquent speech back then. He was not in Parliament at the time, but I believe he was seeking the leadership of his party. He said that if he had a chance to vote, he would have voted against it.
In 2006, the extension for two years was supposedly for a short period of time, to allow a transition for Afghanistan itself. The current Prime Minister, when he presenting his motion to extend the war until 2009, said:
This mission extension, if the motion is passed, will cover the period from February 2007 to 2009 when we expect a transition of power in Afghanistan itself.
So we have been down this road before, starting in 2006 and then in 2008 when the mission was extended once again. In 2006, the mission was sold to Canadians as a short-term one that would allow the Kandaharis, the people of Afghanistan and its military to look after themselves. In 2006, we believed there was a better way. We thought Canadian resources should be directed to helping this then-failed state rebuild itself from the ashes of the civil wars of the 1990s and the disastrous rule of the Taliban.
New Democrats wanted to focus on nation-building. We believed that was the way that Canada should expand its resources. It was a serious situation in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, the largest player, the United States, which was attacked, after all, by al-Qaeda out of Afghanistan, explicitly rejected nation-building in Afghanistan as a foreign policy objective and instead turned its attention and resources to a war with Iraq, which amongst other things, of course, as we have seen, served to increase, not diminish, the strength of al-Qaeda in that region.
Who knows what a dedicated focus on Afghan nation-building, which we supported at the time and wanted Canada to focus on, serious international diplomatic and foreign policy efforts to engage the neighbourhood, in particular Pakistan, and to help them create a stable Afghanistan and create one out of the ashes, might have accomplished in the last 10 years? We do not know. However, we do know and we can be certain that the results would have been better than they are today.
In 2008, once again, when we were asked to extend the mission, the focus, the discussion and the quotations from members supporting this mission were all about training: we have to have training in Afghanistan; we want to train the Afghan army; we want to train those troops.
We have a whole series of quotes from the current leader of the Liberal Party in regard to this and his support for it because it was a training mission, all about putting the Afghan people in charge of their own affairs militarily and providing security.
In Afghanistan, that is what we have been engaged in, but has it been successful? The answer to date is “clearly not”.
We are opposed to the extension of this military mission in Afghanistan. We believe the expenditure of Canadian money and effort in Afghanistan militarily has been done and Canadians think it is a significant contribution to our NATO partners and to the people of Afghanistan on the military side.
What are we seeing now? We are seeing a unilateral decision by government to extend this mission militarily, at an admitted cost of $1.6 billion. At the same time, in terms of the nation-building that the member for Toronto Centre so eloquently talked about, I am shocked that he is not saying that we should take this money, this effort and these resources that are being expended on the military and use it for nation-building, because that is what is going to save the Afghan people. He might grumble, but he is not saying that. Instead, he is supporting the expenditure of five times as much on the military than on nation-building, which is so desperately required in Afghanistan.
However, I do not want to make a speech in the House without talking about what we have done and what we have accomplished. We do not want to take away, in any way, from what has been done by Canadian soldiers and civilians working and serving in Afghanistan.
I, like every parliamentarian who has gone to Afghanistan, have been extremely impressed with the dedication, commitment and professionalism of our troops, our support staff and our top-notch diplomatic personnel, who are doing a very good job, including the current ambassador, Mr. William Crosbie.
All Canadians owe them a debt of gratitude for their service and willingness to serve and to take the risks that they have taken and risk their lives and their future in doing so. We can all be proud of them as Canadians.
Sadly, too many Canadians, soldiers and their families have paid a huge price, including, of course, the 152 deaths that we have suffered, and we wish to honour their sacrifice.
The debate here today is about what Canada will do now, not necessarily what NATO will do. NATO has made a decision. It has a $1 billion per month budget for military training. But what should Canada do? What should we contribute? How should we honour the sacrifice that has been made?
We say that we should do something that is going to have lasting, permanent effect on the future of Afghanistan. We say, bring home our soldiers and make our contribution to Afghanistan in other ways.
What we have before us is a government that once again sells a training mission to Canadians, and sadly, cuts by more than half its aid and support for aid and development in Afghanistan. It says it will be $1.6 billion in terms of forces and $300 million for aid and assistance.
What is really needed in Afghanistan, of course, is aid and assistance to have a strong government that has the respect of the people. What do we have instead? We have in Afghanistan a government that the international transparency watch organization, in its corruption perception index, sees as tied for 176 out of 178 countries in the world for corruption. It is a government that is not respected by the people of Afghanistan and cannot have the respect without a significant amount of long-term work being done in that country.
In fact, that government is held in so much disrespect and disdain by the Canadian government that we had the Prime Minister in Lisbon saying that we will not dispense a dime to the Government of Afghanistan unless we are convinced the money will be spent in the way it is intended to be spent.
We had that confirmed yesterday by the officials from the Afghanistan task force, saying in regard to aid money that none of this $100 million over three years, which is grossly inadequate to do a significant job, will go to the Government of Afghanistan.
The irony of this is a bit shocking. We are saying that we do not trust that government with a dime of our money but we are prepared to give them an army. We are prepared to train and develop a force of up to 300,000 combined police and security officers and hand it over to that government that we do not trust with a dime of our money. That is what we are saying.
The irony of that should not be lost on the Canadian public, because that is what the government is saying.
The only long-term solution for Afghanistan has to be in the desire, will and ability of the people to have some control of their own affairs, at the local level through the kind of work that we have been doing and support for women. We have women's organizations in Afghanistan that are in desperate need of money and support for projects. We have had very successful programs, such as the national solidarity program, which has been effectively delivering programs and projects to communities, decided by them at local shuras as to what the leadership and the communities want and delivering those programs to the people. They are extremely successful programs, the kinds of things that give people confidence in their future and make them want to have control over their own country.
Support for literacy programs, education and rural electrification are the kinds of things that will help that country become more literate. We are doing things in education and I think all Canadians should be proud of that.
But why are we cutting our aid support in half? If we are only able to contribute the amount of money that is being offered, why are we not putting it all into something that will have long-term nation-building support?
I am talking Canada now. There are lots of other members in NATO and I am not talking about NATO's goals. I am talking about what Canadians want and should contribute to the people of Afghanistan in the coming years.
It should not be a one-, two- or three-year commitment. We should recognize that if we want to make the full commitment to the Afghan people based on our years of effort and sacrifice on the military side, which we have done and which Canadians expected from the motion to be over, we should honour that sacrifice and commitment by making a long-term commitment to the people of Afghanistan to help them build the nation that they have to build themselves. They are the ones who have to build that nation and they are the ones who are going to be in charge.
There are a lot of things we could say about Afghanistan. We have had President Karzai telling the Americans that they should be confined to bases and they should not do this and should not do that and the negotiations with the Taliban. All of that will go on and happen regardless of what Canada says or does.
However, I cannot help but remark on the irony of suggesting that we do not trust the Afghan government with a dime of our money but we are going to give them a fully trained army and let them take over when we get out in 2014. I do not think that is right.
I cannot help but remark on the irony of suggesting that we do not trust the government with a dime of our money, but we are going to give it a fully trained army and let it take over when we get out in 2014. I do not think that is right.
[Table of Contents]
Hon. Peter MacKay (Minister of National Defence, CPC):
Madam Speaker, I congratulate my friend for his insight and remarks.
The member being a proud Newfoundlander and Labradorian, I will take a brief moment to comment on the departure of Premier Williams who clearly will leave an enormous legacy in his province. He is someone who very passionately and very prominently led his province for many years.
I find myself almost a bit frightened by agreeing with so much of what my colleague has just said. While my friend from Toronto Centre made similar remarks, I am even more heartened by his breaking, perhaps, the ideological bondage of his former party and setting out quite clearly that much of the development, reconstruction and progress that we have seen in Afghanistan cannot happen and cannot be sustained in the long term without an adequate security presence and forces on the ground.
That is very much the transformation that has occurred in the mission. We are now focusing on the training so that we will not lose ground, so we will not see Afghanistan tumble back the way it has in previous times, the way another country, without putting too fine a point on it, such as Haiti for different reasons also fell back when the international community cast its gaze away from its troubles and tribulations.
How does the member divorce the essential ingredient of security from the continuation and perpetration of further progress in education, the vaccination of children, the furtherance of governance, democracy building, economy building, all of that absolutely critically important progress, the very essence of the mission, having to have those things occur under the umbrella of security?
This is a spectrum of development that will take years. I think the Prime Minister, the foreign affairs minister and others in the House would clearly see that this is a mission that will require attention beyond the military participation, well beyond 2014.
How does the member separate somehow the progress that has been made and the protection of the gains that we have made from the continued participation in some military training?
[Table of Contents]
Mr. Jack Harris:
Madam Speaker, I thank the minister for his comments about my friend and former law partner and colleague, Danny Williams. He has done a tremendous job for Newfoundland and Labrador.
On the point that the minister made, I would ask him in return, how can he and his government divorce themselves from the promise to end the mission in 2011 and to bring military engagements to the House of Commons?
On the substance of the point, we are talking about what Canada will do in the next three to ten years in Afghanistan. What we are saying is what Canada should do. Instead of spending five times as much on military as is spent on aid, as is being proposed by the government, or I should say decided by the government, because it has decided that it is going to impose it regardless of the will of Parliament and without bringing it to a vote, and instead of cutting our aid support in half, we should be multiplying that three times and trying to accomplish those goals as Canada's contribution, not as NATO. NATO is doing what it is doing.
I am talking about what Canada and Canadians should be doing to honour the sacrifice that has been made by our soldiers and their families and by this country. That is something I think Canadians would want to see happen.
[Table of Contents]
Mr. Paul Dewar (Ottawa Centre, NDP):
Madam Speaker, I think what my colleague from St. John's East was displaying is that there is a lot of space required for substantive debate and we are just not having that. I am glad we are doing it today.
The defence minister said that it is great we are debating this and that we are going to have a vote. I wish that vote had come from the government, as that was its pledge.
I want to touch on some of the comments that my colleague, our party's defence critic, made around the priorities for the people of Afghanistan. I think that gets forgotten here.
We can talk about troop numbers and we can talk about how many are going to be trained. I mentioned that NATO and the Pentagon had already said that they were going to train the troops on schedule, before we got in the game, before the government broke its promise. What we have not been able to achieve, which the government loves to talk about, is the training of teachers and the building of schools. We have slid even on those numbers. It would seem to me, if we are concerned about supporting the people of Afghanistan in terms of aid development and we want to further stability in the region, that is where we would put our investments.
Why does the member think that the government chose to put all of its eggs into the military and not into investing in diplomacy and aid? In fact, by its own reporting, that is where it is not up to scratch. We are up to scratch in terms of military training according to NATO and the Pentagon, so why the choice for the military over diplomacy and aid?
[Table of Contents]
Mr. Jack Harris:
Madam Speaker, it is very difficult to understand that choice, frankly.
As a Canadian who has spent a lot of time in the last while trying to understand what the government does from day to day, I have been appalled by the failure of the Canadian government to act in a responsible and proactive way internationally, and that the fallback position is to do what NATO wants or do what the pressure point is.
Until June of this year, and even until two weeks ago, the commitment was that we would be out of there, that we would focus on human rights and humanitarian aid. We were rejoicing in our party, frankly. We thought that this was good. We were looking forward to a debate about how we could best accomplish that goal and how many resources we could convince the government to devote to it. We were avidly looking forward to that debate in the Afghanistan committee, but in the blink of an eye, the government unilaterally decided that it was going to extend the military mission and that it was going to commit up to 1,000 personnel.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer said in 2008 that it could cost as much as $3 billion for a three year mission. The government is saying it will cost half of that. We will see. Instead the government is saying it is going to cut our aid budget from what was $227 million in 2008-09 down to $100 million a year for three years.
It is astounding. I cannot account for it and I have not heard an explanation from the government as to why it changed its course, why it dropped the aid and instead decided to focus on a military mission. I am saddened by it, frankly, as a Canadian.
[Table of Contents]
Mrs. Shelly Glover (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, CPC):
Madam Speaker, I appreciate the comments made by my colleague. However, I feel it necessary to correct the record, and I would like to ask the member a question with regard to the correction of the record.
I would like to read what the resolution in fact was before the House of Commons, because for whatever reason, my colleague has it all wrong. The resolution actually states, “the Government of Canada notify NATO that Canada will end its presence in Kandahar”, not in Afghanistan, as has been repeated many times by my colleague. I repeat that the resolution indicates that the presence of Canada will end in Kandahar, not in Afghanistan as he has repeated numerous times. It states:
...that the Government of Canada, together with our allies...[will] set firm targets and timelines for the training, equipping and paying of the Afghan National Army...
I would like to give my colleague an opportunity to apologize for misleading the House and for misleading Canadians about the resolution. I would like his response.
[Table of Contents]
Mr. Jack Harris:
Once again, Madam Speaker, the hon. member is trying to re-write history. The motion does talk about a military presence in Kandahar as one of the specifics, but after talking about that, it says that it is the opinion of the House, “that, consistent with this mandate, this extension of Canada's military presence in Afghanistan is approved by this House expressly on the condition that” and there are a whole series of conditions.
It talks specifically about a combat role in Kandahar, but it also talks about an extension of the military mission to 2011 and 2011 only. That is consistent with what the current Leader of the Opposition said at that time, “The Liberal Party is opposed to renewing the mission beyond 2011”. If he believed that at the time, there would have been a necessity for an amendment. There was not, because it was understood at the time that the military mission as a whole would end in 2011.