Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Why we are voting
As Members of this House know, I made a clear pledge during the last election campaign to put new international treaties and new military engagements to a vote in this Chamber.
I made that pledge because, before committing diplomats, humanitarian workers or national defence personnel to dangerous missions abroad, it is important that we be able to tell them that MPs share their goals and support their efforts.
This is an opportunity for such a vote.
Last week, the Minister of Foreign Affairs visited Afghanistan.
During his visit to Afghanistan, President Karzai requested that Canada extend its peace and security operation in his country beyond our existing commitment, which expires in February 2007.
And this operation of our national defence personnel is fundamentally interlinked with our other diplomatic and humanitarian efforts.
President Karzai and the Afghan people are waiting for our response.
That is why we will be voting this evening for a renewed commitment – a vote is that is long overdue.
As Members know, our diplomats, aid workers and soldiers have been deployed in Afghanistan for five years.
And despite the fact that members of three parties of four parties in this House have consistently voiced support for our mission in Afghanistan, including the Liberal Party which sent them, Canadians on the ground – in Kabul, in Kandahar and in the PRT – have never received a clear mandate from this Parliament.
Mr. Speaker, that’s not fair to the brave men and women who wear the maple leaf.
They need to know that Parliament, their Parliament, is behind them.
And President Karzai’s request provides us with an opportune time to explain our next moves forward and renew our commitment.
So today we debate.
And tonight we will vote.
This is an urgent matter.
We need to move quickly.
A lengthy debate, drawn out over several days, would place our men and women on the ground in uncertainty and make them vulnerable to violent enemy attacks.
They need to know where we stand,
so that they can do their duty and carry out the job that we, Members of Parliament, want them to do.
President Karzai is not the only person waiting for Canada to decide.
Our international and NATO allies will also be watching.
They too want a renewed commitment.
As Members know, both the Netherlands and the United Kingdom –
our two primary partners in southern Afghanistan – have recently renewed their commitments.
Two- and three-year commitments respectively.
They have made their choice.
And tonight we make ours.
Mr. Speaker, our rationale for being in Afghanistan is clear.
It is in the interests of this country.
We are there at the invitation of the Afghan government.
And we are taking part in a multilateral operation approved by the UN.
Our mission there is not some sort of throw-away option amongst many competing alternatives.
It’s not a manufactured make-work project to keep soldiers and diplomats busy.
And it most certainly is not a unilateral effort on Canada’s part.
The events of September 11, 2001 were a wake-up call.
Not just to Americans but to all people in free and democratic nations.
Two dozen Canadians were killed as a result of the attacks on the twin towers – our ordinary fellow citizens – people with stories, with families and with dreams.
And the attacks in New York and Washington were followed by others in Madrid, Bali, London, Turkey, Egypt and elsewhere.
Mr Speaker, we need to be clear: Canada is not immune to such attacks.
And we will never be immune as long as we are a society that defends freedom, democracy and human rights.
Not surprisingly, Al-Qaeda has singled out Canada along with a number of other nations for attack.
The same Al-Qaeda that, together with the Taliban, took an undemocratic Afghanistan and made it a safe haven from which to plan terrorist attacks worldwide.
Mr. Speaker, we just cannot let the Taliban, backed by Al-Qaeda, or similar extremist elements return to power in Afghanistan.
It can’t be allowed to happen.
The continued existence of Taliban pockets following defeat of the Taliban regime means our efforts in Afghanistan have never been peacekeeping in the traditional sense.
Al Qaeda and the Taliban are not interested in peace.
They target civilians, including women and children, in a quest to once again impose their will, and their dark and backward vision of life on the Afghan people.
They promise their followers Heaven in the afterlife, they deliver hell on earth.
The previous Government recognized this fact.
In fact, the Leader of the Official Opposition has never shied away from voicing his support for his fellow Canadians in Afghanistan.
Who in the debate last month on our mission in Afghanistan stated, "I want to start by echoing the minister’s words. We are very proud of them."
And on numerous times he has corrected misinformation about our role in Afghanistan:
I quote: "We are in Afghanistan because the Afghans want us in Afghanistan. This is not an invasion or occupation. This is going to help people."
Support for the mission was echoed last month in this House by the Member from Vancouver South who stated, "Our Government agreed to this deployment. We believed then and we believe now that destroying root and branch the agents and infrastructure of supply and training that made Afghanistan into a safe haven for international terrorism is in Canada’s vital national interest."
Support for our troops has also been expressed consistently by the Bloc Quebecois and even by members of the New Democratic Party.
The Member for Sackville-Eastern Shore firmly stated – and I quote – "I support the mission and the troops in Afghanistan and so does my party."
And this was echoed by the Member from La Pointe de l’Île who stated, "Why should we be in Afghanistan? Because it is a question of international solidarity that can make Quebeckers feel obliged to be there."
I can tell you, Mr Speaker, because I have seen it for myself, that our men and women in Afghanistan appreciate the many MPs, of all political stripes, who have supported their efforts.
Together, diplomats, aid workers and soldiers from 35 countries are working with the Government of Afghanistan to re-build their country.
We are providing knowledge.
Security that allows the Afghan people to:
Build a justice system.
Develop and grow their economy.
Construct schools, hospitals and irrigation systems.
And yes, ensure that the rights of the Afghan people are protected.
The right of women to be treated as human beings.
The right to look at, read and say whatever they want.
The right to choose their leaders at the ballot box.
There are real risks involved in helping the Afghan people achieve these gains.
Risks for Afghans.
Risks for our allies.
And, as we all know, risks for Canadians.
We know this.
But the risks are not unique to this time or place.
There were risks when Canada went to the Balkans.
During the Suez crisis.
And of course, in Korea, and two World Wars.
Canadians accept risks when those risks are in the service of a greater good.
And, Mr Speaker, this Government believes that the emergence of a stable, secure, self-sufficient and democratic Afghanistan that will never again be a safe haven for terrorists or drug traffickers is well worth the risk.
Canadians, particularly young Canadians, often ask me what I saw in Afghanistan. They want to know what work we are doing.
The work, I tell them, is both serious and complex.
We are working together with our partners from Afghanistan, the UN, NATO and NGOs in an integrated international effort to support the country’s reconstruction.
Key to this are the 27,000 troops from dozens of countries – including Canadian Forces personnel - who are helping to stabilise Afghanistan so that vital humanitarian and development work can be undertaken,
The challenges are enormous.
There are no quick fixes.
And success cannot be assured by military means alone.
In fact, Canada and her allies all agree that we need to provide simultaneous support for Afghan governance and economic development to bring about a lasting recovery.
This is why we opened a mission in Kabul in 2003 and recently doubled our presence there.
Every day, Canadians in our embassy are working directly with Afghans, the UN, the World Bank, NATO and our other partners to make the reconstruction of this nation a global success story.
That means ensuring that development resources are put in place – and distributed fairly to the Afghan people.
Mr. Speaker, our work is paying off.
In little more than three short years, 12 million Afghans – both men and women –
have registered to vote in two historic elections.
Close to five million children have been enrolled in schools, one third of them girls.
Almost four million refugees have returned.
And more than half of all Afghan villages have received grants to allow them to begin to rebuild.
All this in a country where, just a few years ago, there were no elections, public education was practically non-existent, women had no rights and the future was bleak.
I saw this progress first-hand.
And it made me proud to know that Canada was there; making it happen.
The next moves forward for Canada
Mr. Speaker, working with our allies and the Afghan people, Canada has achieved great things.
But there is more to do.
Afghanistan remains the fifth poorest country in the world.
The Taliban is seeking to regain power.
And too many people have to resort to drug trafficking to meet their families’ needs.
We need to extend our mission so we can work to finish the job the previous government started.
We need to improve the security situation in southern Afghanistan to bring it in line with the north and west of the country.
We need to ensure that children in southern Afghanistan will be able to go to school without fear of attack.
And we need to ensure that people there can get the things we take for granted: clean water, mine-free roads, reliable sources of energy.
Stability in southern Afghanistan will also help the Afghan National Government focus on improving the country’s emerging democratic infrastructure:
An independent human rights commission,
A professional police force
And a new central bank.
Canada – one of many
Mr. Speaker, our mission in Afghanistan is one more example of the Canadian leadership tradition in world affairs.
A tradition we are all proud of.
A tradition that favours action over words.
Results over process.
Principle over politics.
Mr. Speaker, the allied governments that have sent missions to Afghanistan are a diverse lot.
People and parties who would naturally disagree on so many day-to-day political issues – as we do in this Chamber – but who share a common resolve to:
To achieve these objectives, our allies agree that we must eliminate the threat posed by Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and train Afghan security forces so that they are capable of sustaining security in their own country.
Staying the course
Therefore, Mr. Speaker, this Government is seeking Parliament’s support to renew Canada’s mission in Afghanistan.
Our men and women need to know that we share their goals.
Support their efforts.
And are willing – regardless of polls that sometimes go up and sometimes go down – to back them for the next few years.
So they can work to finish the job the previous Government started.
We are calling on Parliament to make a three-pronged commitment:
All three are inextricably linked
And we are asking Parliament to support the following:
First, the construction of a permanent, secure Canadian embassy in Kabul which will serve Canada’s interests and meet Afghanistan’s needs for at least 15 years.
Second, approval of an additional $310 million for aid and development in Afghanistan between next year and 2010-2011.
That will bring Canada’s total contribution to nearly a billion dollars over ten years.
Third and finally, Mr. Speaker, we are seeking to extend the mission of both the Canadian Forces in Kandahar as well as the efforts of Canadian military, diplomats, development workers and police in the PRT for 24 months.
This mission extension will cover the period from February 2007 to 2009.
Extending the mission of the Canadian Forces has operational consequences.
We will take on a second leadership rotation from November 2007 to May 2008 and assume overall leadership of the ISAF force for one year starting in February 2008.
Near the end of each calendar year – 2006, 2007, 2008, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, International Cooperation and National Defence will evaluate results with our allies according to the criteria set out at the London conference, and will share their evaluation with parliamentarians.
So, Mr. Speaker, there you have it.
A re-affirmation of Canada’s intent…
Expressed through a clear and renewed commitment.
A commitment that builds on past achievements.
A commitment in line with Canadian values.
A commitment that allows us to finish the job the previous Government started.
The choice is now up to this House.