Mr. Claude Bachand (Saint-Jean, BQ)
That this House condemn the government’s decision to unilaterally extend the Canadian mission in Afghanistan to 2014, whereby it is breaking two promises it made to Canadians, one made on May 10, 2006, in this House and repeated in the 2007 Throne Speech, that any military deployment would be subject to a vote in Parliament, and another made on January 6, 2010, that the mission in Afghanistan would become a strictly civilian commitment after 2011, without any military presence beyond what would be needed to protect the embassy.
Mr. Speaker, I first want to thank the leader of the Bloc Québécois for allowing me to put forward this motion on behalf of our party. It is actually somewhat tragic that it has been left to the Bloc Québécois to debate the real issues regarding the mission in Afghanistan. These issues have been before us for a decade now. For some strange reason, the Bloc Québécois has had to step up and move a motion to force the House to debate and vote on this matter.
I intend to show that the Prime Minister and the Conservative Party have misled the House, among other things by breaking their word. I will give you very specific examples later. In my conclusion I will also be reaffirming that, for the third time in a row, the Bloc Québécois will object to the extension of the military mission in Afghanistan, for a number of reasons, one of which is that the burden is unevenly shared among NATO members.
Before I begin, I would like to describe briefly how I see an MP's job, for the benefit of those listening in. First of all, an MP is someone who is elected by the people, someone representing an electoral quotient, as it is called in political terms, of approximately 100,000 constituents. This is true for each member representing one of Canada's 308 electoral districts.
A candidate wages an election campaign. I have personally waged six campaigns, so I know what I am talking about. Running an election campaign is by no means easy because you are fighting opponents whose views differ from yours. The public ultimately decides who will represent them in the House of Commons. Members of the public choose their representatives. They do not have time to follow politics on a daily basis, so they place their trust in their elected official, not merely in the Prime Minister and his cabinet.
As the member forSaint-Jean, I am accountable to my constituents. When the next election is called, constituents will once again have to decide whether I have done a good job, listened to them, acted according to their wishes and stood up for them every day here in the House of Commons.
On election day, when the results come in, each of the 308 elected members of Parliament will become the legitimate official representative of their constituents. The familiar Latin expression Vox populi, vox Dei comes to mind, meaning that the voice of the people is the voice of God. The residents of the riding of Saint-Jean spoke in that godlike voice on election day, when they chose me as their MP. Each of the 308 members of the House of Commons also became legitimate representatives when they were elected.
So then we are here in the public arena, the House of Commons, the place where we discuss the issues, where we choose to have a democratic debate, with all the conflicting views such a debate may generate, and where we must not only debate the issues, but also vote on legislative measures. Voting is important, because a vote should represent the interests of our constituents—in the riding of Saint-Jean for me, and in the other members' ridings, for each of them. A vote can also reflect the sometimes opposing views of other members. Of course, the majority rules. Ultimately, then, the minority has to bow to the majority. In the House of Commons, we always have an opportunity to discuss issues, to try to bring an issue back into focus and to see things from a different perspective as time goes on. I think it is important to point that out.
Entering the House of Commons means accepting certain principles. In my case, I accept that the Prime Minister has certain powers and that he has a lot of power, but not all the power. That is something very different. At certain times, the Prime Minister has to share his views and his power with the rest of the House. I believe that the issue before us today is deserving of the House's consideration. As I said at the beginning of my remarks, it has been the Bloc Québécois that has put the spotlight back on this issue, not the Prime Minister, who uses all sorts of arguments to justify his decision, arguments that I will refute shortly.
I said earlier that the government had broken its promise. And I have here six quotes where the government very clearly stated that it did not intend to take the approach adopted in Lisbon. Here are some examples.
This is what the Prime Minister said in January 2010:
But we will not be undertaking any activities that require any kind of military presence, other than the odd guard guarding an embassy....so, it will become a strictly civilian mission.
It was clear that the military component of the mission would be ending.
Several months later, the Prime Minister stated:
Mr. Speaker, I have the same answer that I had last week, and it will be the same next week: Canada's military mission in Afghanistan will end in 2011, in accordance with a resolution adopted by Parliament. We plan on remaining involved in Afghanistan in terms of development, governance and humanitarian assistance. We invite the opposition to share its ideas on the future of this mission.
Again, the statement made it very clear that the military component of the mission would end.
On April 11, 2010, the Minister of National Defence had this to say about the training of the Afghan army:
After 2011, the military mission will end.... What we will do beyond that point in the area of training will predominantly be in the area of policing. And that is very much a key component part of security for Afghanistan.... Let's be clear, it's speculation at this point. We're talking over a year before Canada's military mission will end.
It is interesting to note that theMinister of Foreign Affairswas also opposed to a vote in the House:
We have made it clear that the military will not be in Afghanistan] post-2011 and in that regard there is no need to have a debate in the House.
It is fairly clear: the military mission was supposed to end. In December 2009, the Chief of the Defence Staff had this to say:
Military operations must end in July 2011, according to the motion passed by the House of Commons. When we say “military“, we mean all military personnel, including those assigned to the Provincial Reconstruction Team, those protecting our civilians and those involved in the training of Afghan forces. The plan is to bring all our military personnel home.
We were extremely surprised to hear rumours that between 950 and 1,000 soldiers would remain stationed in Afghanistan. Despite all the statements made over the past year, the opposite is occurring. That is why we are saying that the Prime Minister and the Conservative government have broken their word. Hence the debate that we are having here today.
The Bloc Québécois stresses once again that the authority to deploy troops is extremely important and the Prime Minister must share this authority with the House of Commons. The Bloc and I have stated on numerous occasions that we take issue with the type of mission the government wishes to undertake. We do not have any issues with members of the military, who are following orders issued by the civil authorities.
I have stood alongside the military on numerous occasions. I went to Bosnia with the Royal 22nd Regiment, and I have been to Afghanistan three times. So, once again, I can say loud and clear that the armed forces are doing an exceptional job. They are not to blame. We object to the type of mission and to the manner in which operations are being conducted in Afghanistan under this government. That is why we need to force a debate on this issue today.
As the critic, it is my job not only to assess the mission, but also to review budgets and to determine whether it is time to declare war or peace. And that responsibility is shared by all the members of my party. That responsibility must be shared by Parliament and on every member of the House.
We have repeatedly criticized the fact that the government has reversed its policy. It has procured a tremendous amount of military equipment. We are not necessarily opposed to that, but we would have preferred that it be done in a much more structured way. This government is leading the country down a very militaristic path, which, by the way, began under the previous Liberal government. Today, there are hardly any peacekeeping missions left to speak of.
The purchase of strategic and tactical aircraft, armoured vehicles and other military equipment must be done with a specific purpose in mind. Why are we buying all this equipment?
The government set out the Canada first defence strategy, but the policy did not come from the Department of Foreign Affairs. The government should have put forward a foreign affairs policy outlining what Canada wants to achieve. There is only one department behind the strategy, the Department of National Defence, which is involved in foreign affairs. The government needs to state what the future objectives of the Canadian Forces are, and then it could buy equipment to achieve those objectives.
In terms of the process I just described, the government, unfortunately, did things backwards. It began by buying the equipment, and it plans to use that equipment in Afghanistan or elsewhere; it does not really know where. It has not established a clear foreign affairs policy. We are in a policy vacuum, and we are in serious trouble. Now that it has spent $50 billion or $60 billion on military equipment, will the government try to get its money's worth by coming up with a policy that makes use of that equipment? It should have done that first.
The Bloc Québécois is opposed to the mission as such. For some time now, delegations have been sent to speak to NATO authorities, and I was one of the first people to speak out about this. NATO should be sharing the burden of the military mission in Afghanistan. I have been to Afghanistan three times. I have been to the north, where I met up with German troops, and I can tell you that not much is happening there.
The problem is in the south. That is where Canadians are currently deployed, and where they have been positioned for several years now. We have often asked NATO authorities if there is some way to have the burden shared more equally, since we are paying a heavy toll, not just in human lives, but financially as well, to maintain a theatre of operations like the one in Kandahar, which is on the other side of the world. Equipment must be transported and housed and so forth. The costs are astronomical, and some are beginning to say that the final price tag for this mission will be $20 billion.
Where Canadian troops are positioned in Afghanistan is important. They are in Taliban territory. They are suffering the greatest number of losses per capita. We are losing this conflict, which is escalating significantly, according to NATO and UN reports. For that reason, the Bloc Québécois feels that Canadian Forces have done enough. It is now time for someone else to take over. We could continue with a mission that ensures a police, development or diplomatic presence, aspects that are often overlooked. But we are hearing much more talk about the military component than about anything else.
The government maintains that our military will be behind the lines training soldiers. I saw what that entails when I travelled to Afghanistan. There is more involved in training soldiers. It is more than merely showing them how a safety catch works. It is quite a bit more complicated than that. Theory courses are not enough. Practical courses must be given as well. I have had my doubts ever since I heard that our military would be stationed in Kabul and would not be in the theatre of operations. And who confirmed my suspicions last week? None other than General Rick Hillier, the former Chief of the Defence Staff, who had this to say about training soldiers without going into combat:
You can come up with all kinds of schemes to hide away in camp and train people for the Afghan army, but they lack credibility. If you try to help train and develop the Afghan army...you are going to be in combat.
When you train troops, the first step is to show them how to hold and shoot a weapon, and how to get in basic position. Then it is just like hockey practice. Everything is easy in practice, but it is a different story when you play a real game. In a few years, we will find out that mentors coached troops in the theatre of operations. Movements and strategies need to be corrected in the heat of battle. If you are not there, you do not know what is happening. The general himself said that training would fall short if mentors did not accompany their students into the theatre of operations. So that is where things stand with training.
For the third time, when we vote on Tuesday, the Bloc Québécois will oppose the type of mission being put forward. We have examined the issue from every angle. In the past, it seemed that we did not have an exit strategy and that training was not happening fast enough. Now the training process has been sped up. We are going to vote for a third time because we have responsibilities to fulfill. My Liberal friends disappointed me the last time. For a year, prior to the most recent extension, I heard them say that the mission had lasted long enough. I very clearly remember them using the same arguments that I am today, especially with respect to the importance of rotation within NATO so the burden does not always fall on the same countries. Much to my surprise, they ultimately decided to back the Conservatives in extending the mission.
Today, we no longer want to extend the mission. That has been the long-held view. The government is contradicting what it has been saying for a year. No doubt it has come under pressure, but that does not justify a sudden about-face.
The Bloc's political position is in line with what Quebeckers want. According to recent polls, 78% of Quebeckers object to the new mission that the government wants to launch. Voters keep up with the news. Like us, they have been hearing for a year now that the military component would come to an end. We are not just talking about the combat aspect, because our military presence also includes training. We were all under the impression that there would probably be only one soldier left, the military attaché at the embassy in Kabul. But that is not what is happening now.
We all have to face the consequences of our actions when we decide to go to war. For several years, the focus has increasingly been on the combat mission instead of the peacekeeping mission. We should perhaps return to our peacekeeping missions. That would be more in line with what the public wants. We look at how things have evolved, and this needs to stop at some point. We think that it should have stopped a long time ago. Every time that the government makes these militaristic proposals, we should object and refuse to extend the mission.
According to my notes, I have attended the funerals of five soldiers. That is a direct consequence of the actions taken by the House of Commons. When we go to war there are consequences for everyone. It is unacceptable to have to stand beside the grave of a young soldier who was only 22, 23 or 25 years old. To date, 152 soldiers, one diplomat, one journalist and two humanitarian aid workers have been killed. That is a lot and does not include the thousands of wounded soldiers. We think that is enough.
We have spent $20 billion, lost 152 soldiers and seen several hundred wounded. The sacrifice has become too great. We have suffered too much. We think that other NATO countries should provide assistance and that we should focus on a civilian approach with police officers, on the jail system and prison guards, on the justice system and so on.
It is time for our troops to come home.
Topic: Government Orders
Subtopic: Business of Supply