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Ms. Joyce Murray (Vancouver Quadra, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to the government’s motion to extend and expand Canada’s mission in Iraq. Liberal Party members do not support this motion to seek Parliament’s consent for an unfocused and potentially unending mission because it is not in the Canadian interest.
ISIL poses a real and serious threat to security around the world and in Canada. We recognize that. Liberals believe that Canada must be part of the international effort against ISIL. As one of 60 nations participating in the coalition against this ideological extremist and terrorist scourge, Canada must play a constructive role. We must make the best contribution we can, one that serves our national interest.
The mission proposed by the Prime Minister does not measure up. It has an unclear legal basis, unclear mission objectives and an open-ended scope. Overwhelmingly, it fails the national interest test.
Why else do Liberals oppose the Prime Minister’s present motion? Let us discuss this. Last fall, Liberals did support the government’s plan to send Special Forces into Iraq to help behind the lines, training, advising and assisting Iraqi forces. We believe that ISIL will be stopped when local Iraqi forces can fight successfully against the ISIL rampage, can protect local people and their villages, can succeed in capturing and holding lost territory, and can commit to respecting minority rights. We want to help them be able to do those things.
But, Liberals did not support the Prime Minister’s October motion to go to war in Iraq, because he failed to offer a clear objective for his combat plan. He failed to outline a responsible plan to achieve it, and he failed to make the case that a bombing role was the best contribution Canadians could make. Regrettably, the motion before us has similar deficits.
Earlier this week, the Liberal Party leader’s speech in the House reminded Parliament of four core principles Liberals set out for the October combat mission in Iraq, and they still stand today. The first principle is, Canada has a role to play in confronting humanitarian crises in the world. That is an important Canadian value. Over many decades, Canadian governments have generously contributed help, military and non-military alike, in human emergencies abroad.
We opened our country’s doors to the oppressed. We welcomed refugees to come, to rebuild their lives here, and those refugees have helped build Canada. Refugees from Vietnam, Uganda, Cambodia, Somalia, Nicaragua, from every corner of the world, have come to Canada and made our country better. This current motion contains no new ideas, no new funds, no new proposals to help alleviate the catastrophic humanitarian crisis in the region.
Le deuxième principe est que, lorsque notre gouvernement envisage le déploiement de nos hommes et de nos femmes en uniforme, la mission et le rôle du Canada doivent être clairement définis. La motion d’octobre n’a pas respecté ce principe et celle déposée aujourd’hui est tout aussi floue quant à la mission et au rôle du Canada. En octobre dernier, les libéraux ont dit craindre fortement que l’absence d’objectifs clairs masque la véritable intention du premier ministre à savoir: engager le Canada dans un combat plus long et plus intense.
La motion présentée aujourd’hui valide cette crainte. Le premier ministre déclare que son objectif est d’affaiblir le groupe armé État islamique, tandis que le ministre de la Défense dit que c’est pour vaincre jusqu’à son élimination complète. Voilà deux mandats fort différents. Encore une fois, la nouvelle motion sur la mission de combat n’énonce aucun objectif clair, ni aucun plan sur le moment et la façon dont le Canada s’extirpera de cette situation aux conflits multipartites de cette région complexe minée par les divisions profondément enracinées, les tensions et la haine.
On the contrary, section (a) of the motion gives the government exceedingly vague and broad latitude to conduct this war. It reads that this House:
“continues to support the Government’s decision to contribute Canadian military assets to the fight against ISIL, and terrorists aligned with ISIL, including air strike capability with authorisation to conduct air strikes in Iraq and Syria.”
That is a pretty open-ended permission slip, and both the Minister of National Defence and the Minister of Foreign Affairs appear eager to use to it. They explicitly compared this new mission to Afghanistan stating that “we are in this for the longer term”. In Afghanistan, the longer term meant a decade; the longest war in Canadian history.
When asked who takes over should ISIL be cleared from Syria, the Minister of National Defence told Evan Solomon on Power & Politics: “I don’t know how this is going to end”. No clear objective is not good enough.
Without objectives, clarity or boundaries in the motion, Canada’s war on ISIL in Syria could well result in Syrian President Bashar al-Assad consolidating his grip on power. This president oppressed and terrorized his own people. In just four years, he bombed, gassed and killed over 130,000 of his own citizens; the vast majority of them civilians, and almost a quarter of the victims were women and children. Enabling Mr. al-Assad is not in Canadians’ interest.
The third Liberal principle is that the case for deploying our forces must be made openly and transparently based on clear, reliable and dispassionately presented facts.
The current Conservative government has not been transparent and open on this mission, not with parliamentarians nor with the Canadian people. The Conservatives refused to provide cost estimates to Canadians until shamed into it by the Parliamentary Budget Officer. They refused to provide critics with briefings until yesterday, while troops were first deployed last September. It is facts not fantasy that underpin the moral value of honesty. Honesty in turn earns trust.
We cannot trust the current government which has been dishonest to Canadians. At every opportunity, ministers promote the myth of stable increasing funding for defence, the myth of investment in state-of-the-art equipment. The fact is that the Conservatives have been cutting the budget for the last four years, they reduced the defence share of funding to 1% of GDP, the lowest in 70 years, and failed to replace our rusting military planes, ships, trucks, tanks and rifles.
The Minister of National Defence himself was caught in a string of falsehoods, misrepresenting a photo of a religious ceremony to promote his war rhetoric, making false claims about the NDP’s past record on combat mission votes, and concocting false statistics on former Liberal government defence spending—statistics that are on public record.
Much more serious is the fact that our military was sent into ground combat operations in Iraq despite the Prime Minister’s repeated, explicit assurances that this would not happen. Canadians were assured by government and by the generals that the Special Forces would not accompany troops to the front lines, they would not do what is called “close combat advising”, and they would not engage in combat. But in fact, they did and they are.
In January we learned that since last November, the mission had ‘evolved’. Canadian troops are active on the front lines. They regularly engage in direct combat activities. Unlike our closest allies whose advisors stay behind the wire, we are needlessly risking our soldiers’ lives. Tragically, Sargent Andrew Joseph Doiron lost his life in this combat zone.
Now the government gives false reasons for participating in the Syria bombing mission. The Conservatives claim Canada has been asked, because only Canada has precision-guided smart bombs to assist the United States. False. Even Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have these munitions and use them very effectively in Iraq, in the region, according to the chair of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff General Dempsey.
Voting yes now to a longer, deeper war for Canada led by a dishonest government we cannot trust is simply not in Canadians’ interest.
Our final principle is that Canada’s role must reflect the broad scope of Canadian capabilities so we help how best we can.
Given the Conservatives’ massive defence cuts, the Liberals are concerned about asking our Canadian Armed Forces to do more. The Conference of Defence Associations Institute reported that the forces’ current “international deployments mask a considerable decline in capabilities and readiness”. Today’s soldiers injured in the Afghanistan war are still waiting to receive timely professional mental health care. How unacceptable.
What are Canada’s capabilities? How can Canada play a constructive role in this very challenged region? What roles reflect Canadian values and our national interest? What do Liberals support?
Canada can do better. Canada can act on the values it was known for throughout the world. Values like working constructively with others, helping the less fortunate, doing more than our fair share, and being honest.
I will talk about three areas that the Liberals support. First, Canada can work constructively with Coalition allies to accelerate the training and capabilities of more Iraqi soldiers. According to Major-General Michael Hood , 69 special forces members currently work with Americans to provide strategic and tactical advice to security forces in the Iraqi army. To date, they have conducted 42 training courses with 650 Peshmerga soldiers.
Canada has a clear expertise in helping to train Iraqi forces to fight and stop ISIL. Surely, there is a need for more trainers. Canada supplied over 1,000 fine trainers in its final years in Afghanistan. Surely, Canada can do more now in Iraq. We can, and must, do it away from the front lines.
This is an area in which we differ from our NDP colleagues, who have been all over the map about military missions, sometimes talking about potentially being supportive of strategic airlifts or military use to bring supplies. Today, we heard that the NDP is not interested in any military involvement at all, while we, the Liberals, have respect for our Canadian Armed Forces members. We know that they can play an essential role here.
Deuxièmement, le Canada peut diriger une intervention internationale d’aide humanitaire bien financée et bien planifiée pour aider les personnes démunies de la région du Levant. Le Haut-Commissaire des Nations Unies pour les réfugiés, António Guterres, affirme que 3,8 millions de Syriens sont maintenant inscrits comme réfugiés alors que 12 millions de personnes déplacées ont besoin d’aide à l’intérieur même de la Syrie. C’est sans compter les millions d’autres déplacés et réfugiés irakiens.
Le mois dernier, le Haut-Commissaire a lancé un appel afin d’obtenir 3,7 milliards de dollars $ CAN en aide humanitaire, seulement pour 2015. Le Haut-Commissaire Guterres signale que les besoins humanitaires en Syrie augmentent beaucoup plus rapidement que les contributions de la communauté internationale. Il a exhorté les donateurs à hausser considérablement l’aide aux réfugiés et le soutien à la communauté d’accueil. Cette crise des réfugiés menace la stabilité et la sécurité de la région. Des pays voisins comme le Liban et la Jordanie sont déstabilisés. La Turquie nourrit et héberge des millions de réfugiés.
What is in Canada’s best interest? Do more to help vulnerable refugee families, because it is a Canadian value and so that these families’ soldiers can confidently fight ISIL.
Third, Canada should expand our country’s target for Syrian refugee settlement. Let us give more victims of war an opportunity to start a new life in Canada. The Conservative government’s promises have been weak, and its delivery is even weaker.
Here is an example of past Canadian governments’ generosity. In just 1979 and 1980, 50,000 Vietnamese refugees settled in Canada.
These immigrants, known as ‘boat people’, were both urban and rural dwellers. They did not speak English or French, by and large, they had no Canadian relatives, and they arrived during an economic downturn in Canada. This made integrating into Canada and achieving economic independence a difficult struggle. Today, these Vietnamese Canadians are recognized for their successes, their strong communities, and their tremendous contributions to Canada. Keep the figure of 50,000 over two years in mind.
In contrast, the Conservative government has been miserly in its treatment of Syrian refugees. Originally targeting only 1,300 refugees over 18 months, the government resettled less than half by its target date of last December. At opposition members’ urging, the government recently increased its pledge to 10,000 refugees in three years, but refugee aid groups are skeptical of this pledge because much of the funding must be raised by sponsoring families and private organizations and not by government. It is not a Canadian value to do less than our fair share. Canadians believe in helping more, and that is in the Canadian interest.
Finally, of the four commitments in the government’s motion, Liberals enthusiastically endorse only the last, which I will quote:
Accordingly, this House:
“offers its resolute and wholehearted support to the brave men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces who stand on guard for all of us.”
Au Parti libéral, nous respectons et reconnaissons le professionnalisme, le courage et le dévouement dont font preuve tous ceux et celles qui servent notre pays. Nous n’avons jamais hésité à déployer nos Forces armées canadiennes très compétentes en zone de combat, lorsque cela sert clairement l’intérêt national du Canada et des Canadiens. Dans chacun des cas, cet intérêt national était exprimé clairement.
A mission designed to uphold Canada’s interest must have transparent objectives, a responsible plan to achieve them, and a plan to exit the theatre of war. That is missing from this motion and from this proposed combat mission.
Liberals encourage the government, as quickly and as responsibly as possible, to shift Canada’s role in Iraq, shift it not into a bombing role in Syria but back to a non-combat mission, focused on expanded Iraqi troop training, humanitarian aid leadership, and a far more generous and warm-hearted welcome to this war’s refugees. That is the Canadian way.
Ms. Joyce Murray (Vancouver Quadra, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, despite the minister’s shabby rhetoric today, despite his repeated assurances that spending cuts at Veterans Affairs will not affect veterans, he is wrong. Since 2011, Veterans Affairs has cut one out of every four staff members right across the country and these layoffs are definitely affecting frontline services. In fact, this government cut almost one of every five caseworkers, leaving a smaller group struggling under their workload. Veterans are the ones paying the price and I have news for this minister: If they do not have a caseworker, they will not get to an operational stress clinic.
Will the minister reverse his callous neglect of our veterans and rehire these desperately needed caseworkers?
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