Mr. Paul Dewar (Ottawa Centre, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to debate the motion before us with regard to the extension of the Afghan mission.
As of Saturday, November 27, 2010, NATO will have been in Afghanistan longer than the Soviet Union had been in its military excursion into Afghanistan. This is a sober reminder of the need to change direction and to change, in effect, what we have been doing in Afghanistan. Sadly, instead of changing the direction of the mission in Afghanistan, the government has decided, along with the support of the opposition Liberals, to continue in the same direction.
We must make no mistake that when we hear from the government that this is honouring the previous motions that we would have withdrawn all of our military by 2011, it in fact is not. Not only is the government breaking its promise to Canadians and Parliament by extending the military mission in Afghanistan, but, instead of changing directions, I believe we are furthering the muck that is the situation in Afghanistan right now. I will explain that.
When I stood to speak to this issue in 2006, in 2008 and in other interventions, I, along with my party, said that it was time to change directions and put a different emphasis on the mission in Afghanistan. We, like others, did not believe that the war in Afghanistan would be solved militarily speaking. We said that time and time again. In 2006, the government, aided and abetted by the Liberal opposition, extended the war but told us not to worry because by 2009 it would be done.
We have heard time and time again from both members of the Liberal Party and the government that this is different because we are training troops. If we look back to the debates and the motions, training of the troops was embedded in both of those debates and in both of those motions. We saw that again in 2008 and in the extension to 2011.
Here we are again debating the extension of the war in Afghanistan, the extension of our government sending our men and women to continue to be in harm's way, and saying to them yet again that this will be the end as of 2014. Why would anyone believe the government or anyone else in this Parliament who said that will be the final date?
It is clear how this decision was made. It was exactly the same situation as in 2005 when we ended up in Kandahar. We all remember what happened there. We did not have a plan to get to Kandahar. We did not have sufficient equipment. We did not have a plan as to what were our goals and we did not have an exit plan. We are there yet again. We know that as of two weeks ago the Prime Minister said to Canadians and to Parliament that was it, that the military mission was done. We would leave a couple of guards in front of the embassy but that was it. He cannot walk away from those words without being held accountable, and that is what we are doing today.
What has happened is very clear. He did not consult government within, which was clear at yesterday's Afghan committee. The officials who were working for two years in an entirely civilian mission, which we supported and which would have had development, diplomacy and transitional justice funded, were cut loose. I do not even think the Minister of National Defence was consulted on this. I have watched very carefully how this has rolled out and the Minister of National Defence was clearly out of the loop. I think he would have wanted to have seen a little more probing into this.
It is clear that Canadians have a government that is simply sleepwalking into yet another conundrum, as we initially saw when we walked into Kandahar back in 2005-06.
That is sad because clearly the war in Afghanistan is a war where things are deteriorating on the ground. We have the insistence of the government to put a focus on military training. Let us go over the numbers. According to the Pentagon and to NATO, we will have trained 171,500 troops as of next spring. We have already surpassed the goals that NATO had to train troops for this year.
I should not have to tell anyone in the House that that has not been the case when we look at other goals. When we look at the focus of ending the war, the focus that should be on diplomacy, where is the regional approach from the government? It talks about border exchanges in Pakistan. This is a war that affects the whole neighbourhood. We need a regional approach, yes with Pakistan but also with all countries in the neighbourhood. That is where Canada should be focused and that is where we should be putting our resources.
Sadly, as of last week, we have a government that walked away from that approach. It should simply look at the numbers that we now have in front of us: initially $550 million for a civilian-only mission.
Mr. Speaker, I should have said at the beginning that I will be splitting my time with the member for Thunder Bay—Rainy River.
We have gone from investing $550 million for a civilian-only mission to $100 million a year for we do not even know what yet. When we ask the government how much it will spend on diplomacy, it cannot give us an answer. We know we are cutting severely. We know the number is $1.6 billion for military, which is after, as I have already mentioned, we have met the goals for the military training.
Why did we decide that we would forgo the civilian mission, which our public servants had been working on for two years to focus on aid, development and transitional justice, particularly important for women and human rights protection? Why did we abandon that in favour a huge investment of $1.6 billion for military training where we have already met our goals?
I will tell the House what many people think is the reason. It is that we decided that it was more important that we satisfy NATO's desires than the Afghan people's desires. It is evidently clear after the Lisbon conference. If we look at the Lisbon document before we went, we had said that while Canada's military mission will end in 2011, Canada will continue to have a development and diplomatic relationship with Afghanistan through the Canadian embassy in Kabul.
Guess what? This document that went to Lisbon was actually a false promise. We knew when we flew to Lisbon that we had no intention of backing that up. The difference is that we forgot to tell Canadians and Parliament that was what we were going to do. For that, Canadians are angry. Even those who might support this mission, they were angry because we had a Prime Minister for the last couple of years who said, of military mission, that all the military would return and we would focus on a civilian mission.
The only assessment we can come up with after that is that we have a government that turned its back. not only on Canadians, on Parliament and on its word, but, at the end of the day, on the Afghan people.
When we look back to this day where we debated what the choices were, let it be clear that the choices that we had in front of us were ignored by the government because the government decided to continue with more of the same at a time when we needed to change directions and support a civilian mission.
I regret that this is the case. I regret that we will not have had a more fulsome debate. I regret that we will not have had a vote that the government would have been bound to. On Tuesday, when we vote, we will not have all members in the House voting their conscience. What we will have are two parties deciding to take an issue and throw it off the table. That is sad indeed.
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Mr. Luc Malo (Verchères—Les Patriotes, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, despite the fact that the Prime Minister said many times that Canadian soldiers would be leaving Afghanistan in 2011, the Conservative government has made an agreement with the Liberals behind closed doors to maintain a military presence in Afghanistan beyond that deadline.
That is what is at the heart of this debate. Neither party believes that a debate, a vote in this House is necessary. This is another example of the fact that the Liberals and the Conservatives, despite being two distinct parties, share the same vision, which offends Quebeckers' values.
What does the hon. member think about this attitude of the Liberals and the Conservatives?
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Mr. Paul Dewar:
Mr. Speaker, it underlines what we have seen on this issue before.
I thought we were going to change the channel on this. Until a couple of weeks ago, I thought that the government was going to honour its word. I thought that the government was going to come forward with the plan that I have right here in my hand, a civilian-only mission without military involvement that would have put the emphasis on diplomacy, development, transitional justice, and human rights support.
Instead, what we have is a deal that has been done between those two parties to take that focus off the table, and put the focus on military training when it is not needed. That is a sad, sad, sad day for Canada, but most important, it is unfortunate for the people of Afghanistan.
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Mr. Deepak Obhrai (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and to the Minister of International Cooperation, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I do agree with the member that it is a sad, sad, sad day for Canada when members of that party get up and consistently oppose everything.
Let us not forget it was that party that opposed the 2008 parliamentary resolution that was passed in this House. Every time there is something, members of that party will vote against it and say no. Then they pick up these things and ask how we can do development when there is no security. Only he knows.
Let me also say that the member shows up once in a while at the Special Committee on the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan. He does not talk to the other members who know exactly how the mission is being run, how the mission is going, not that member. The member will stand here and say that members of his party want a civilian mission and all these other things.
Did the member not listen to our speeches? We are saying that with the extension we will be doing exactly what he is talking about: diplomacy, development, everything. Also, there is the important element of building the state and security services. Yet the member's party will not recognize that.
That is why it is a sad day for Canada. That party is totally out of touch with what Canadians want.
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Mr. Paul Dewar:
Mr. Speaker, that was a very measured question, indeed.
[W]e will not be undertaking any activities that require any kind of military presence, other than the odd guard guarding an embassy. We will not be undertaking any kind of activity that requires a significant military force protection, so it will become a strictly civilian mission.
Who said that? It was the Prime Minister. I do not think I have to say anything else.
What I will say, though, with regard to that is that we did have $550 million going to Treasury Board for a civilian-only mission. I have been saying for years that we would support that. We would have supported that. The only problem was that the government broke its promise and walked away from that commitment.
As to my attendance at the Afghan committee, I have been there more than the parliamentary secretary has, so I need not take advice from him. I actually pay attention when I am there.
At the last committee meeting, we heard interventions from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence. He said that I was wrong, that the government is not cutting down to $100 million a year, aid and development in Afghanistan post-2011, that there is going to be $300 million and it is going to be in Kandahar.
Guess what? The member has already apologized to me, because he did not even have his numbers right and yet he had the audacity to intervene and try to correct me.
Maybe he could talk to his colleague, the parliamentary secretary, and maybe he could get his Coles notes up to date, because clearly they are out of date and so is he.
Mr. John Rafferty (Thunder Bay—Rainy River, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am a little reluctant to stand. I was enjoying the back and forth between the members. I hope there will be time for questions for me.
I am happy to rise on this occasion to talk about this issue. I listened to my hon. colleague's speech and he is absolutely right. If I end up repeating some of the things he said, it is because they are important.
Before I start reading some quotes and talking about aid, et cetera in Afghanistan, I would like to remind Canadians that if they are not fully engaged in this issue, they might care about the economics of it. As of Christmas this year, taxpayers will have spent $18 billion. With the extension the Liberals and Conservatives are talking about, it will cost another $2.1 billion, give or take. It may even be more than that. If they are not too worried about the whole concept of Afghanistan, perhaps people listening or watching are concerned about the actual cost to taxpayers.
One thing that has been very clear throughout the day is the concern in the House and across Canada as to when this mission will end. It is not clear. I have a couple of quotes that I would like to share with the House.
In 2006, when the Prime Minister presented his motion to extend the war until 2009, he stated:
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.
I bring forward this particular comment because it seems to me that people who think this mission will never end perhaps have some good grounds to think that way.
On May 29, 2006, the Liberal critic for foreign affairs was talking about the Prime Minister's decision to extend our presence in Afghanistan at that time and stated, “If I had been in the House, I would have voted against it”.
Mr. Pat Martin: Where was he?
Mr. John Rafferty: I don't know where he was.
On February 13, 2008, to get a little more current, the Liberal Party's position on Afghanistan was clear. The leader of the Liberal Party stated, “We say there is no military solution in Afghanistan”. That was in 2008. If Canadians are concerned and members in this place are concerned, it is with good reason. When will it end?
My hon. colleague was kind enough to point out that very shortly the NATO forces will have been in Afghanistan longer than the Russians were. The Russians knew it would never end and they got out.
I have a couple of rhetorical questions which do not require answers. Perhaps if there is time, we could get an answer or two.
While Canada's military role has been extended for three more years, possibly more, who knows, our aid commitments have been abandoned. That is important to note. They have not been abandoned entirely, to be fair, but they have been cut by more than half, from around $205 million to about $100 million.
We know that the Liberal leadership has recommended the three-year extension of the military role, even though the caucus members were not consulted on the issue. Perhaps I could get an answer from one of the Liberal members later. Was it the Liberal leader's idea to also cut aid to Afghanistan? Was that part of the deal?
We know the member for Toronto Centre was fully briefed on the details of the military extension when he and the Liberal leader were putting on a show in the House and asking the government things to which they already had the answers. Why did he not raise any objection about the deep cuts to Canada's aid budget in Afghanistan?
With whom does the Liberal caucus agree? Does it agree with the Liberal Party leader who said in 2008, “The Liberal Party is opposed to renewing the mission beyond 2011”, or does it agree with the Liberal Party leader now?
I think those are all legitimate questions. Not to leave the Conservatives out, I have a couple of questions for them also.
The Prime Minister came to office after campaigning on accountability, promising to bring decisions on military engagements to Parliament and a vote. Time and time again the Prime Minister has assured this House and Canadians that our soldiers would be out of Afghanistan by 2011. Of course, these promises, these principles, are completely out the window.
Why is the government breaking its promise to bring our soldiers home in 2011? Why is it breaking its promise on such a serious and important matter and not bringing it to a vote?
Among all the promises we have heard this week, and promises we have always heard, the most devastating for Afghans was the Conservatives' cutting of development commitments to the people of Kandahar. The Conservatives promised to build 50 schools, but only 19 have been built. They promised to train 3,000 teachers, but we have not even reached half that target. Many of those schools are schools for girls. That was a definite commitment the Conservatives made.
What else are we talking about when we talk about cutting aid? It is not just about schools or training teachers, it is about agriculture, political reform, judicial reform, a number of things. I wonder if the Conservatives could explain to the people of Canada why they broke their word. Perhaps more importantly, why did the Conservatives break their word to the people of Afghanistan?
In spite of all the rhetoric we heard today, the Prime Minister did make a promise, a sincere commitment, to allow parliamentarians to vote on these sorts of issues. That is important for people to remember as we carry on.
Moving on to aid, the $205 million in aid is down to approximately $100 million. We have not met our other commitments. The Minister of International Cooperation has been very clear. Everyone is going to be behind the wire I guess. I do not know what that means for aid commitments. Are we abandoning them?
The deep cut in aid is a serious issue. I am having trouble understanding the math. There is $100 million left to be spent on aid. It has been more than cut in half. We have a signature project, the Dahla Dam that everybody has heard of, but it is far from finished. I assume some money will go to that signature project. Half of Canada's aid, which is more than now is committed over the next three years, now goes to Kandahar. I am not sure what is going to happen to that. How is that going to be spread out across the country?
Aid is reduced by half and there are still some signature projects which the reconstruction team is working on, not to mention the eradication of polio.
Polio is still a problem. Having worked and lived overseas for a number of years in Africa, I understand the problems with that. We did not expect the polio situation to be finished by 2009. It is probably close to 97% or 98% done, but how can we get it done 100%? We will still have to spend money on that. That is the second--
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The Deputy Speaker:
Order, please. I will have to stop the member there. His time has expired for his speech.
We have enough time to have one question or comment. The hon. member for Crowfoot.
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Mr. Kevin Sorenson (Crowfoot, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I certainly enjoyed the debate today. I have had the privilege of serving as chair of the special committee on Afghanistan. I want to personally thank our government for taking a responsible approach to the withdrawal from Afghanistan. I say “responsible” because of what it will do for Afghanistan.
First, allowing Afghans to secure their own country means that the Afghan forces will be able to not only secure their country, but will also allow much of the development that Canada wants to be involved in to go ahead. It allows the building of roads, hospitals and schools to continue.
What we have done is a responsible approach because of what it allows us to do within NATO. NATO has made this request and we have taken the responsible way of an eventual withdrawal from Afghanistan.
I do not believe the Soviet Union pulled out in the 1980s in a responsible way. It left nothing there when its troops went home. In fact, I would perhaps go a step further and say that not many of the other countries were very responsible at the time either. They did not, in a good effort, step up and help build that country.
How would the member have it? Would it be let us just go home? He knows the development cannot continue in that country if we do not have the security to do it. Does he want to piggyback on all the other countries?
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Mr. John Rafferty:
Mr. Speaker, I welcome the question from my colleague. He is a great chair. I have had the opportunity to be in committee with him.
Let me answer this way. It is not that we are against the aid given to Afghanistan. I personally have a problem right now with two things. One is the cutting of the aid in half. That is disastrous. Second, he says that the security has to be there. The government has promised it will be behind the wire and that is where the security will be.
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The Deputy Speaker:
It being 5:13 p.m., pursuant to order made earlier today, all questions necessary to dispose of the opposition motion are deemed put and a recorded division deemed requested and deferred until Tuesday, November 30, at the expiry of the time provided for government orders.