Business of Supply

Mr. Speaker, this is my third opportunity to rise in the House to speak about this important national and global security issue facing Canada and the free world, and what Canada’s response should be in the face of the fight against ISIS, or ISIL, as we called it a year ago in the first debate.

Like those previous speeches, it is an honour for me to rise in the House for such an important debate on the deployment of our men and women to an area of the world where they will be in harm’s way, whether directly in a combat role or indirectly in a support role.

We have been fortunate as Canadians to have one of the most effective and professional militaries in the world, dating from our early years as a country. We send these people into harm’s way to promote and protect our values and to support our allies. That is what hundreds of the men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces have been doing on our behalf in this last year. They have faced risks in flying combat missions, and we saw how they faced risks in friendly fire incidents, as we lost Sergeant Doiron to such an incident. I had the fortune of visiting his CSOR colleague who was recovering in hospital from his wounds. This is a very real threat faced by our men and women and I know that all members of the House acknowledge and respect that role.

What we are debating here is the role of Canada. Are we a nation that allows other nations to do the difficult work for global security and we ride on the immense wealth and opportunity we have as a leading member of the G7? Do we cross to the other side of the street as we go by people in distress, or do we take the lead and try to make sure that we combat a force that is committing genocide, horrendous crimes, and is now a global threat?

This is one of those quintessential questions facing members of the House. It concerns me that the Liberal Party in its current iteration does not seem to respect its traditions. In fact, in my previous speeches I referred to Mackenzie King who spoke of the deep-lying instinct for freedom that he said all Canadians had on the eve of a North American country going to Europe to fight tyranny.

Lester B. Pearson said that if a Canadian fired a rifle in Korea or in Germany, they were protecting their freedom and the security of Canadians, just as if they had fired that rifle on our own soil. So we cannot afford to hide in the blanket of security that distance and wealth provide Canada. We have a responsibility as a nation to play a role that is commensurate with our size, our abilities, and our values. We have been doing that.

There have been 1,100 sorties on ISIS positions and storage areas, helping to cut off supply and financing lines to that force. The result is an effective cut-off of 25% to 30% in of the territory that ISIL once held or threatened to hold. People are able to return to areas they could not go 18 months ago. These are huge, huge wins that Canada and our coalition partners are securing, and we are doing it in a way that is meaningful and commensurate with the remarkable ability of our CF-18s and their crews to make sure that this important security role can be done with minimal to no collateral damage.

My approach and that of the previous government was a three-pronged one: providing humanitarian assistance in response to this tremendous crisis, in which we have been a leading donor, particularly on a per capita level; and providing a refugee response, which our government began and what the new government is doing and expanding, which we support. We have been playing that role. In fact, the Syrians arriving in airports in recent weeks have been privately sponsored, and were approved and cleared by the previous government. However, the third pillar has always been a military role for Canada.

We need only look around this building to the statue of George Baker in the hall who was a sitting MP and who died in World War I to know that Canada, from our earliest days as a nation, took that role. We did not pass to the other side of the street. We did not allow other nations to do all the work. We took a role that was never the biggest, that was never an aggressive posture, but supporting the values we hold as Canadians and supporting our allies. That is what we have done.

It is hard for me to get used to this side of the chamber. One of the positives of a large Liberal government is that I am happy to see more veterans in the House of Commons. I am happy that some of them have taken part in this debate today, including the Minister of National Defence and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Veterans Affairs. It is a positive thing to have more veterans’ voices in the chamber. There are two exceptional new veterans’ voices in my caucus, new members from our team in Quebec, and I am very happy with their contributions to the debate today as well.

I know that the Liberal veteran members cannot vote for the motion here today, but what I am hoping they can do is to start wrestling back the position of their party taken in the past Parliament. They are saddled with the position the Prime Minister took at that time, but I hope they use their experience and influence in their Wednesday meetings to say that we need to return to our Pearsonian ideals, that Canada has a real role to play.

I was deeply concerned by the comments of the Minister of National Defence here today. I have the utmost respect for his tremendous service to Canada. I think all members of the House do. He was a proud commanding officer of one of our fine regiments, the British Columbia regiment. He has 21 battle honours with the B.C. regiment, and those battle honours were not for humanitarian assistance. They were a recognition that, from the early days of that province, its citizens were willing to play a role for our values and allies.

Today, he blamed the previous government by saying, “Where was its leadership when it could have taken out this threat, looking at the indicators, when it was smaller”, meaning why did we not move against ISIS sooner? I will remind him and the members of the House of what happened.

Last September, the Prime Minister announced a 30-day mission, in which we sent military assessment advisors into Iraq at the invitation of that government, along with our allies, to see how we could respond to a force that had pushed so quickly across that region that it was almost into Turkey, a NATO ally. After that 30-day assessment period, the previous Prime Minister brought to the House the decision to deploy combat troops in that mission, and we had a debate.

The then third party leader, now Prime Minister, asked mockingly if we should just send a few aging aircraft. We know what he later called even more flippantly our sending of aircraft, but he opposed the mission from that date. We then brought back for debate in the House, in March of this year, an extension of that mission, when the mission was extended and changed slightly to include bombing missions into Syria against ISIS targets. Some of those have been successful.

At that time, the then third party leader, now Prime Minister, established four principles that he said the Liberal Party would use in deploying military troops: that Canada had a role to play; that there be a clear mission and role; that there be a clear and transparent debate; and how we could help best. There is clearly a role to play. There is a clear mission and role. In fact, President Hollande and other leaders are ramping up the mission, not just to deter and degrade ISIS, but to defeat it. We are having another clear and transparent debate. In fact, we are bringing this debate to the House. It should be the government doing that, since it is altering the mission.

I guess it comes down to the fourth pillar, the role that Canada can play. We have one of the most highly trained, highly effective air forces in the world. I was proud to be an officer in the RCAF for a few years, albeit never in the top gun role that some of our men and women are doing overseas. Nonetheless, we have some of the best equipment, the best capability, and the best training to assess each mission and to be part of this coalition, to make sure that we are getting targets and that there are no civilian lives at risk, to ensure that we are defeating and degrading ISIS and not allowing conflict to spread into urban areas. We have that capability, possibly better than most countries, with a handful of NATO countries being our equal in this unique role of targeting with certainty.

We are flying 2% of the missions, which is commensurate with our size and participation. At a time when our allies are asking the coalition to do more, Canada is turning back. The government needs to listen as much to its Pearsonian and Mackenzie King traditions as to the sunny ways of Mr. Laurier, and not withdraw Canada.

Stay in Touch with Erin

Sign up for email updates from Erin O'Toole to hear the latest from Ottawa and our riding.