October 2, 2014
Thank you for giving me this opportunity to speak today. Thank you for being here this weekend to debate the key issues we face as a country.
In thinking about this speech, I asked myself the question Canada 2020 is asking us as part of this conference: In 2020, what kind of country do we want to live in?
Personally, I hope that this will be a country that has put itself back on the road to progress. I hope that this will be a country that has renewed its promise to leave our children a country that is better than the one our parents left us.
In short, I’d like Canada in 2020 to be the precursor to an even better Canada in 2030.
We’re a few years away from 2020, but each challenge we face now is a chance to work toward that future Canada.
As we do, we should consider our actions in a future tense. How will we stay true to our country’s character? How will we live up to our own high standards? How do we make judgments today with that future in mind?
In recent days, the issue before us has been the following: What is our role on the world stage? And how can we use our influence in a positive, constructive way?
Before us is a question of the most serious and consequential kind about how Canada ought to act in the world.
More to the point: how can Canada deploy its resources and resourcefulness in a world of ongoing and complex threats? How do we ensure our own security, and help build peace for people in the world’s most embattled places?
This is what we face with ISIL. It is a threat to regional and global security, and to millions of innocent people in an already war-ravaged part of the world.
You know as well as I do that ISIL’s acts are horrific. They are designed to be.
ISIL murders ethnic and religious minorities across Iraq.
They murder innocent civilians, humanitarian workers and journalists.
These awful acts have been fully documented – often by the perpetrators themselves.
This humanitarian crisis and security threat needs to be dealt with.
However, when we ask ourselves what Canada should do about it, a lot of tough questions arise.
Ten years ago, allied countries had to make their own decisions on military intervention in Iraq. Jean Chrétien’s government made the wise decision not to deploy the Canadian Armed Forces in that venture. However, the current Prime Minister, Mr. Harper, was among those who believed that Canada should engage in that war.
Our decision not to go to war was the right decision.
The 2003 Iraq war was waged on false pretenses and flawed intelligence.
It was a mission that destabilized the region, sowed further conflict, cost our allies three trillion dollars, and cost thousands of people their lives.
The world is still dealing with the consequences of that mistake.
Let us never forget how that mission was sold to the public:
With overheated, moralistic rhetoric that obscured very real flaws in the strategy and the plan to implement it.
I thought about this the other day in Parliament when Mr. Harper called the current military campaign a “noble effort”.
Back in 2003, he called President Bush’s Iraq war a matter of “freedom, democracy and civilization itself.”
We can therefore understand why Canadians have many doubts and questions about the current situation.
They deserve answers.
Clear answers. Honest answers. Complete answers.
We know the Iraq fiasco haunts the choices we have to make today, butwe cannot make the wrong decision now because the wrong decision was made then.
Unfortunately, we do not have all the facts right now.
And Mr. Harper has shown no desire to provide us with those facts.
The Conservative government has deployed the Canadian Armed Forces on a 30-day mission.
Liberals supported that non-combat mission in good faith.
And how was that faith rewarded?
They won’t reveal the goals of that mission.
They won’t reveal how that mission might end.
They were not upfront about exactly how many members of our Forces are part of that mission.
They wouldn’t even give us a start date, let alone an end date.
That last bit of information did come eventually, but by that time, Canadian Forces were already involved.
Canadians still don’t know what those advisors – members of our Forces – have been doing all this time, or what sort of risks they may be facing.
That 30-day mission is almost up.
So where does that leave us today?
The Prime Minister has said he would agree to Canada playing a larger role in the current mission.
He has said that the United States has requested additional support, and that he was considering the request.
But he has shared no information with Parliament.
And he has shared no information with Canadians.
How did Mr. Harper let Canadians know that he was thinking about sending their fellow citizens into war?
He announced it casually in New York – during an interview with the Wall Street Journal at Goldman Sachs.
And as we later learned through the U.S. State Department, Mr. Harper’s description of events was only loosely related to the truth.
He had been the one to offer the help first.
Instead of being honest and upfront with Canadians he dissembled.
Instead of being open and transparent, Mr. Harper gave his own version of events; the version that helped him make his argument.
He remains secretive, and with a purpose.
Unlike Prime Ministers for decades before him, Mr. Harper has made no effort to build a non-partisan case for war.
Instead he dares us to oppose his war, staking out not moral territory, but political territory.
As a consequence, all these critical questions go unanswered.
We don’t know exactly what he has offered the Americans.
We don’t know what our role will look like.
We don’t know how long our contribution is expected to last.
We don’t know how helpful our CF-18s will truly be.
In place of these facts we get rhetoric about the nobility of combat.
This all makes Canadians understandably anxious.
What we do know is this:
It has been more than a week since Mr. Harper said he might shift Canada’s contribution in the fight against ISIL from a non-combat to a combat role.
It has been more than a week since he said we could be sending the Canadian Forces into war.
Which means it is now more than a week since he set us on a path to doing something we can’t – and he won’t – define.
This is troubling, my friends. On this issue of all issues, in that place of all places, it is very troubling.
Canada has asked a lot of our men and women in uniform over the last decade, and too often they have returned home only to be let down. If we are to ask more of them now, we had better have a good reason.
We have been saying from the beginning that any change in the mission must be debated in the House of Commons.
Mr. Harper wants to go to war. He must tell us why.
The onus is on him.
Mr. Harper is intent on taking Canada to war in Iraq. He needs to justify that.
He has not made the case for it.
He hasn’t even tried.
In the time since Mr. Harper raised this idea of an extended Canadian mission in Iraq on Wall Street, our ally, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, reached across partisan lines and held a full and informed parliamentary debate.
It’s quite a contrast.
We are told a debate is finally coming to our own House of Commons.
Well, here are the core principles Liberals will take to that debate.
One: That Canada does have a role to play to confront humanitarian crises and security threats in the world.
Two: That when a government considers deploying our men and women in uniform, there must be a clear mission overall and a clear role for Canada within that mission.
Three: That the case for deploying our Forces must be made openly and transparently, based on clear and reliable, dispassionately presented facts.
And four: That Canada’s role must reflect the broad scope of Canadian capabilities, and how best we can help.
It comes down to this:
Canadians expect the highest standard of openness and honesty from a leader who wants to send our Forces to war.
Prime Minister Harper has so far failed to meet that standard.
A Prime Minister who intends to send our soldiers to war must meet the highest standard of honesty and openness.
So far, Mr. Harper has failed miserably.
Mr. Harper would have Canadians believe that Canada’s only possible contribution is to send fighter jets into Iraq.
Here’s the thing: Prime Minister Harper would have you believe that Canada’s best contribution to this effort is a handful of aging war planes.
I think Canadians have a lot more in them than that. We can be resourceful, and there are significant, substantial, non-combat roles that Canada can play.
Canada can play a significant role in Iraq, even if it does not undertake a combat role.
And some we can play better than many – or perhaps any – of our allies.
Whether they are strategic, airlift, training, or medical support.
We have the capabilities to meaningfully assist in a non-combat role, a well-defined international mission.
We should also answer the call from our allies to provide more help with a well-funded and well-planned humanitarian aid effort.
Our Canadian values and principles are reflected in our commitment to the Responsibility to Protect. And while that does not require us to take a combat role, it does compel us to help.
Canada has a long, proud tradition of helping those in need throughout the world. We have done so many times before, and we can do so again.
Our government has the ability and the means to provide Iraqis with development assistance that is much more generous.
Our allies in the region, Turkey and Jordan, have been on the front lines of the refugee crisis. They need assistance.
They won’t be able to maintain that level of commitment and responsibility on their own for much longer. We should support them in this huge humanitarian crisis.
Political reform has to occur in Iraq. It needs informed partners to help build these institutions. This is something we do well.
The country needs an inclusive government that speaks for and represents all Iraqi men and women. Iraq needs a government that is fair-minded and which respects the many ethnic minorities within its borders.
Canada has that expertise.
In the end this all comes down to leadership. Who do we want to be? What are our values? What are our interests, and how do we want to pursue those interests in the world?
In this case, it is about the Prime Minister’s sacred responsibility to be honest and truthful with people, especially about matters of life and death. At the end of every decision to enter combat is a brave Canadian in harm’s way. We owe them clarity. We owe them a plan.
Most of all, we owe them the truth.
Mr. Harper has offered none of those.
There is another question Canada 2020 puts to us. It’s right there on the website: Where do we want Canada to be on the world stage?
I think the answer to that one is actually quite easy. We do not want a Canada that only believes itself to be a leader, while in reality, it merely follows along in global affairs.
It’s one thing to claim to be a world leader; it’s quite another to prove it by walking the talk. To say that Canada is good is not enough. One must prove it through concrete action.
Canada should be a true leader. One that has earned its place at the front of the pack, based on the role we play internationally and our commitment to uphold human rights and security. A Canada that stays true to its founding values, and that will be an example to the world.
Thank you. Merci.
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