Jack Layton on the Afghan Mission

This is almost a year old but is perhaps the most extensive public speech Layton has given on the Afghan mission. I didn't realise that the Canadian mission was ever solely devoted to reconstruction. As I recall Canada supported the original US led missions. Layton nowhere suggests the original overthrow of the Taliban of the US with the help of the Northern Alliance was itself wrong.


Statement by NDP Leader Jack Layton on Canada's mission in Afghanistan
Thu 31 Aug 2006 | Printer friendly
Good afternoon.

Four years ago, Canadians embarked on a mission to help reconstruction efforts in war-ravaged Afghanistan, and to bring some measure of stability and security to that country’s fledgling government in Kabul.

Last fall, under the former Liberal government, Canada’s mission in Afghanistan changed dramatically, from reconstruction to fighting in the US led counter insurgency war in Kandahar and surrounding regions.

This spring, Stephen Harper announced plans to extend the Liberal-initiated aggressive combat mission in southern Afghanistan through to 2009.

Challenging the Harper government’s plans, New Democrats called for and secured a debate and vote in the House of Commons.

With the support of Liberal MPs – who either voted with the Conservatives or refused to show up at all - Stephen Harper extended Canada’s aggressive mission in Afghanistan. In contrast, every single New Democrat MP stood in their place and voted against the extended combat mission.

Throughout the debate, some voices, including that of the Prime Minister, suggested that by failing to support this mission Canadians were failing to show support for their troops. Some equated opposition to the mission with being unpatriotic. It was even suggested that those who were expressing concerns about the mission were putting our soldiers at greater risk.

This is wrong. And it does a disservice to the democracy that we ask our women and men in uniform to defend with their lives. The role and responsibility of parliamentarians is to ask tough questions and to make responsible decisions.

New Democrats support our Canadian Forces. We are proud of the work that they do. We grieve with each family that loses a loved one in this and all conflicts, or sees a loved one injured in the line of duty.

It is precisely because of this deep respect for our soldiers that we have consistently asked tough questions of the Harper government - a government which is keeping Canadians in harm’s way without clearly-articulated objectives, timelines, or criteria for success.

In April, I asked the Conservative Minister of Defence, Gordon O’Connor, a number of key questions. In fact, I asked the very same questions of him that he had asked the Liberal government just a few months before.

What are the goals and objectives of this mission and how do they meet Canada's foreign policy objectives?
What is the realistic mandate of the mission and how is it being enforced?
What are the criteria to measure progress?
What is the definition of success?
And what is the clear exit strategy for this mission?
Last year, while in opposition, Gordon O’Connor said that these questions must be answered when intervening in failed states. Now, after seven months in office, the Conservatives, just like the Liberals before them, have failed to answer these questions.

Despite the lack of answers, the government continues spending billions of dollars on the war in Afghanistan – a war that the government refuses to explain. A war that has claimed dozens of Canadian lives, and left dozens of other Canadians wounded.

By participating in this aggressive counterinsurgency war, Liberals and Conservatives claim to be making Canada safer. But Canadians are asking themselves whether Canada's role in this war is actually making our country less secure. These are valid questions.

Our efforts in the region are overwhelmingly focussed on military force - spending defence dollars on counter-insurgency. Prime Minister Harper need only look at the experience in Iraq to conclude that ill-conceived and unbalanced missions do not create the conditions for long-term peace. Why are we blindly following the defence policy prescriptions of the Bush administration?

This is not the right mission for Canada. There is no balance - in particular it lacks a comprehensive rebuilding plan and commensurate development assistance.

Canadians are looking for meaningful debate on Canada's place in the world, and they're looking for leadership that presents bold, progressive ideas that will make Canada and the world more secure - now and into the future.

That's why I'm announcing that as a first step, New Democrats are calling for the withdrawal of Canadian troops from the combat mission in southern Afghanistan. Withdrawal should begin as soon as possible - working with our international partners to ensure a safe and smooth transition - but with a view to having it complete by February 2007.

Canada can then focus on building a made-in-Canada foreign policy that moves us toward reclaiming Canada's place in the world. One that is clear, comprehensive, and balanced.

New Democrats believe in such an approach. Canadians believe in such an approach. Canadians want a foreign policy rooted in fact, not fear. One that is uniquely independent, not ideologically imported. And one that leads the world into peace, not follows the U.S. into wars.

Stephen Harper wants to take Canada in the wrong direction. The Liberals now want to take Canada in every direction.

New Democrats have a clear, comprehensive vision that moves Canada in the right direction - where our role in Afghanistan is through humanitarian aid, reconstruction, and a comprehensive peace process - not a George Bush-style counter-insurgency war.

Naturally, we must continue to work multilaterally to get tough on terrorism. But, we also understand that making the world a safer place requires us to go much further. Issues like international development assistance to combat global poverty, reforming international institutions, peace building and securing human rights are all part of the solution.

So is the strategic use of our highly-skilled and well-respected Canadian armed forces. Canada has a long history of stepping into the breach when called upon by our international allies. Unfortunately, the number of conflicts around the world today, including deepening tensions in the Middle East, mean that we must carefully choose where we can make the greatest difference.

New Democrats understand the need to send troops into combat and the risks involved. We support and have supported appropriate missions. Our duty is to ensure that Canada participates in missions where the objectives and mandate are clear and where there are clear criteria for success.

Next week, our party gathers in Quebec City for our major policy convention. I’m asking New Democrats to send a strong message to all Canadians, and to the world, by supporting, in overwhelming numbers, motions that call for the withdrawal of our forces from the Liberal-Conservative mission in Afghanistan.

It’s time once again for a made-in-Canada foreign policy that reflects the values and dreams of Canadians. It’s time to reclaim Canada’s place in the world.

Thank you.

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