Canada’s Contribution to the Effort to Combat ISIL

Madam Speaker, it is always an honour for me to rise in this House to speak on important national debates, and the threat to Canada posed by ISIS or ISIL is one of those issues facing Canada and facing our Parliament. In fact, this is my fourth speech in the House on this issue, and I divide my time with the hon. member for York—Simcoe.

In the first debate on this issue that the previous government brought to this House, the Prime Minister, who was then the third party leader, laid out four elements that the Liberal Party would consider in deploying the men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces.

I have to say at the outset that all members of this House are tremendously proud of the professionalism and dedication to service of our men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces. It is a given, and I am fortunate to have met and spoken with all of them, given my former role and given my 12 years wearing the uniform of our country. I thank the people, even those on their way home, for what they have done. We are all very proud of them, and the debates here in no way diminish the pride of anyone in this House, I would think.

At that time, the Prime Minister, who was then the third party leader, laid out four criteria: first, was there a role to play in the threat; two, was there a clear mission and a clear role; three, was there a clear and transparent debate; and four, how could Canada best help in this international mission.

Let us look at those things. In his speech in this House last week, the Prime Minister said that ISIS is a direct threat to Canadians; and that is when we deploy our military, when there is a threat to Canada or our allies or our values around the world, but in this case the Prime Minister agrees that it is a direct threat to Canadians and we have seen that.

Second, is there a clear mission and role? Yes, there was. The previous government, in conjunction with our allies, brought that clear mission and role to the House. The air strike mission that our six CF-18s have been participating in has been tremendously successful. With our allies we have limited ISIS to about 25% of the territory it once held. We have weakened it and degraded it, and that is why in fact our allies are stepping it up, because there has been success with this clear mission of which Canada was part, until the Prime Minister‘s election promise pulled us out.

Third is clear and transparent debate. We are failing on that rung as well. The CF-18s are already en route back home. We are still debating this in this Parliament, so it is actually not a transparent debate. The government had already said, originally, that today was to be the last day, February 22, but we learned last week that the final mission was flown and our men and women are on their way back home before we have even finished the debate in this place. The Liberals are not even meeting their own standard. Canadians expect more, and particularly our men and women in uniform, who cannot speak up with respect to their opinion, expect the debate to at least be completed and voted on before we hightail out of a fight our allies are still in.

The fourth pillar was how we can best help. I will spend a few moments on that, because I have heard ridiculous statements in this place that only Canadians are uniquely suited to provide humanitarian aid or training. The United States military would probably train more people in its own armed forces in one year than we could ever possibly train in the next two decades. Our allies in NATO in other countries are equally as professional in the training. We were playing that role before and we will continue to play that role, but suggesting that is the only role Canada is uniquely suited to is disingenuous.

We are also one of the largest per capita aid donors, but we cannot deliver aid until there is stability. That is why military force is required at times, to bring that stability so that humanitarian assistance can reach the people it needs to reach.

We have not had a clear, transparent debate, and we are not helping the way we could. Our men and women of the Royal Canadian Air Force are some of the best pilots and air crew and technicians in the world. We have a history, from the early days of World War I and Billy Bishop to today, of being some of the best and most professional in the world, and what “most professional” means is that we assess our missions to make sure that strikes are appropriate and that there is minimal collateral damage.

We are able to interoperably work with our allies, namely, the Americans, the British, and some of the other participants. We seamlessly operate with them as members not only of NATO but of our Five Eyes relationship. This is an area where Canada is uniquely suited to play a role to ensure there is no collateral damage or death. I will quote U.S. Marine Corps Brigadier General Tom Weidley, who said this last year, on the Canadian participation. The CF-18 war planes are:

…an absolutely capable platform in this environment. They provide a great deal of flexibility in the ordnance they can carry in order to address different targets. They have a tremendous array of sensors and data sharing capabilities.

We are used to working alongside our allies. Canada is never usually the first nation in, but when our friends or our values are at risk, we are always, or have been in the past, standing alongside our allies and can work with them better than any other nation.

The previous government launched us on a mission of training, aid, and military force with our allies. This debate really is not about increasing the number of trainers. It is not about increasing the amount of aid. I am sure this debate would have come to the House anyway because our previous government set a timeline. We probably would have bumped those numbers up too. This debate rests solely on the decision to withdraw from the active combat role in this mission at a time when our allies are stepping up. That leads me to the subject of my previous three speeches in this place and an essay I wrote online that was called “The World Needs More Canada”.

Our foreign policy since our early days has been to align our interests on the security of our country, threats to our allies, and promotion of values and human rights and security for others around the world. I have quoted so many Liberals lately that some of my colleagues may start questioning my Conservative bona fides. I am using those examples to underscore how this was never a Conservative versus Liberal proposition. This was an essential vote that usually Parliament was unanimous on because it was greater than ourselves.

MacKenzie King said within Canadians there lies a deep-seated “instinct for freedom”.

Lester Pearson said that whether Canadians fire their rifles in Korea or in Germany, they are protecting Canadians just as if they were firing them here at home”. That is what our crews have been doing in their sorties.

I quoted John Manley and his inspirational words after the 9/11 attacks, saying we just need to look to the cemeteries of Europe to see if Canada’s history is one of taking an active role.

Today I will continue in that vein and quote a few others.

Lloyd Axworthy last year said how disappointed he was about the then third party leader’s position. He said:

You’ve got to realize that diplomatic niceties are not going to work, humanitarian aid is not going to work if people are going to be shot in their beds…. At times, you have to toughen up.

I hope the Prime Minister is calling Mr. Axworthy, who was our foreign affairs minister during the Kosovo air strikes of 1999.

Last week, I spoke with a Canadian veteran who fought as a CF-18 pilot in those Kosovo missions. I was struck by the fact that in Kosovo, the Liberal mission, we flew 2% of the sorties and we were the fourth or fifth largest overall contributor to the air strike mission. What are the numbers over the last year? We flew 2% of the sorties and we were the fourth or fifth largest contributor. That is our traditional role.

Art Eggleton, who was minister of defence at that time, said about Kosovo that it “is in every way consistent with our traditional approach to international security threats and the protection of human rights”.

What did their boss, my old legal colleague, former prime minister Chrétien, say about the Kosovo air strike mission? He said in this place:

We have entered into the campaign to stop President Milosevic and the ethnic cleansing, raping and murdering that are going on.

However, we are a member of a team and as a member of a team we have agreed on a strategy that the best way to…resolve…[this] was to have air strikes. That is what is going on….

The final quote is from the now Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, who said in 2002:

So what does sovereignty mean in this context [of being minister of defence]? It means that our government must be able to deploy forces overseas to reflect Canadian priorities and values, to help Canada achieve its foreign policy objectives….

Those objectives have been sound throughout our history until this debate. I hope the government sees the light.

Stay in Touch with Erin

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