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October 3rd, 2014

Tom Mulcair responds to Prime Minister Harper on Iraq

Speech by NDP Leader Tom Mulcair in response to Prime Minister Harper’s Statement on Iraq.

Mr. Speaker, first, I would like to thank the Prime Minister for coming to the House of Commons today to make this important announcement. This should be a given in a democracy such as ours, because the Prime Minister has just decided the fate of many courageous young men and women who will risk their lives serving their country.

There is no more important decision that we make in the House, no more sacred trust for a Prime Minister, than sending young Canadian women and men to fight and risk making the ultimate sacrifice in a foreign war.

The Prime Minister is asking for the support of Parliament. He is asking for Canadians' support, but the Prime Minister has refused to answer their questions.

Let me quote the Prime Minister. He stated:

Mr. Speaker, as you can understand, I neither have the will nor the desire to get into detailed discussions of military operations here.

He said “neither the will nor the desire”. “Here” was this Parliament, and it was not just about the details: the Prime Minister has not outlined a broad strategic blueprint for the mission. He cannot even answer basic questions about the breadth or cost of Canada's military deployment.

When did Canadian Forces arrive in Iraq, and how many? There was no answer.

What contribution have our American allies requested? There was no answer.

How much will this mission cost? What are the rules of engagement? What is our exit strategy? There was no answer, no answer, no answer.

These are not hypothetical questions.

Canada just completed its mission in Afghanistan. That too began as a short mission with a small contingent of soldiers but wound up being the longest war we have ever been involved in. Twelve years, $30 billion, over 40,000 veterans, 160 deaths, thousands of soldiers injured and thousands more with post-traumatic stress disorder: is that what the Conservatives consider a successful mission?

As in this case, the mission in Afghanistan started out with only a few dozen soldiers. Twenty-nine days ago, the Conservatives were adamant that Canada was getting involved in a non-combat mission for only one month with just a few dozen soldiers. The NDP had its doubts. Canadians had their doubts. The Prime Minister's only ally was the Liberal Party, which fully supported a mission that, without a shadow of a doubt, would lead us to where we are today.

However, now that Canadian troops are committed, Conservatives are telling us the mission will be expanded to air strikes, refuelling capabilities, and aerial surveillance, and now the Prime Minister is specifically opening the door to bombing in Syria. We have gone from mission creep to mission leap.

The United States has been in this conflict for over 10 years. It has been fighting ISIS under one name or another for over 10 years. While ISIS has renamed itself several times since 2004—al Qaeda in Iraq, the Mujahideen Shura Council and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham in Syria—it is literally the same insurgent group that U.S. forces have been battling for over a decade.

Even the Minister of Foreign Affairs, in a moment of rare candour for the Conservative government, admitted that there are no quick fixes in Iraq. He called the fight against ISIS and groups like it “...the struggle of our generation”. That may well prove to be an understatement.

In one of the Prime Minister's few real answers about this mission, he said that Canada would be in Iraq until ISIS no longer has the capability to launch attacks in Iraq, Syria, or anywhere else. Now he claims it will be only six months. It cannot be both.

The defeat of the insurgency in Iraq is a goal that the United States has been trying, without success, to achieve since the wrong-headed invasion of 2003. All of the horrors unfolding before our eyes are as a result of that failed mission.

Let us remember that back in 2003, it was the current Prime Minister, at the time leader of the opposition, who went to the Americans to berate the Canadian government for not getting involved in what he considered a just and noble cause. Their nostalgia is such that during the emergency debate in this House just a few days ago, his immigration minister actually dusted off the canard of “weapons of mass destruction” to try to justify this war.

The Prime Minister insists that this mission in Iraq will not be allowed to become a quagmire, but is that not precisely what our American allies have been facing in Iraq for the last 10 years? A decade from now, will Canada still be mired in a war we wisely avoided entering a decade ago?

Do we have a plan for the war? Do we have a plan for the thousands or tens of thousands of veterans for whom we have the sacred responsibility to fully support in the years afterward?

We hope that we will get some answers during Monday's debate and that, unlike what we see in emergency debates, the ministers responsible will be in attendance and will be able to tell Canadians what is going on.

It is not only New Democrats who feel these questions have not been answered. Here a few examples.

In The Globe and Mail, we read “The case for Canada to go to war in Iraq has not been made”.

In La Presse, André Pratte writes about the courage to say “no”.

A Toronto Star editorial says “[The Prime Minister] fails to make the case for Canadian combat role in Iraq”.

There are dozens of editorials and opinions like that across our country.

Military intervention is not the only tool at Canada's disposal, and Iraq is not the only place where acts of unspeakable violence are being committed. In the Congo, 5 million are dead after 15 years of slaughter, but the Prime Minister has never considered military intervention there. In Darfur, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed and millions have had to flee, but the Prime Minister has never considered military intervention there. Why?

Why is military action supposedly our only choice in Iraq when it is not even considered elsewhere?

Why does the Prime Minister think that he can use military force to accomplish what others have been trying unsuccessfully to do since 2003?

ISIS has thrived in Iraq and Syria precisely because those countries lack stable, well-functioning governments capable of maintaining peace and security within their own borders.

Canada's first contribution should be to use every diplomatic, humanitarian, and financial resource at our disposal to respond to the overwhelming human tragedy unfolding on the ground and to strengthen political institutions in both those countries.

With the well-deserved credibility Canada earned by rejecting the initial ill-advised invasion of Iraq, we are in a position to take on that task.

However, the tragedy in Iraq and Syria will not end with another western-led invasion in that region. It will end by helping the people of Iraq and Syria to build the political institutions and security capabilities they need to oppose these threats themselves.

We believe that Canada should not rush into this war.