Transcripts: Harper’s Iraq speech, and the NDP, Liberal responses

The Prime Minister lays out his plans to combat the Islamic State in Iraq, and Mulcair and Trudeau respond
Prime Minister Harper is applauded in the House of Commons on Friday, Oct. 3, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Prime Minister Stephen Harper is applauded in the House of Commons on Friday. (Adrian Wyld/CP)
Prime Minister Stephen Harper is applauded in the House of Commons on Friday. (Adrian Wyld/CP)

Stephen Harper delivered the following speech to the House after question period on Friday in proposing a motion for six months of airstrikes to combat the Islamic State. The French has been removed where ellipses appear.

M. le Président,

… ISIL has established a self-proclaimed “caliphate,” at present stretching over a vast territory, roughly from Aleppo to near Baghdad…From which it intends to launch a terrorist jihad, not merely against the region, but on a global basis. Indeed, it has specifically targeted Canada and Canadians, urging supporters to attack (quote): “disbelieving … Canadians …in any manner,”…vowing that we should not feel secure, even in our homes.

More shockingly, ISIL’s words are matched by its actions. In the territory ISIL has occupied, It has conducted a campaign of unspeakable atrocities against the most innocent of people. It has tortured and beheaded children. It has raped and sold women into slavery. It has slaughtered minorities, captured prisoners, and innocent civilians…whose only crime is being or thinking differently from ISIL. Indeed, by late summer, ISIL stood on the brink of committing large-scale genocide in Northern Iraq.

On September 5, I announced…that members of the Canadian Army, in a non-combat role, would advise and assist security forces in Iraq battling the terrorists.

And we indicated that Canada was prepared to do more.

Today, we are bringing forward a motion asking this House to confirm its confidence for a Government decision to join our allies and partners: The United States, the United Kingdom, France, Australia, Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands, Jordan,  Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, The United Arab Emirates, And (likely) others, in launching air strikes against ISIL.

We will also contribute one air-to-air refuelling aircraft, two Aurora surveillance aircraft, and the necessary air crews and support personnel. In addition, we are extending the deployment, in a non-combat role…of up to 69 members of the Canadian Army advising and assisting security forces in Iraq.

There will, however, be no ground combat mission, which is explicitly ruled out in the resolution.

These contributions are for a period of up to six months.

Let me be clear on the objectives of this intervention. We intend to significantly degrade the capabilities of ISIL… Specifically, its ability either to engage in military movements of scale or to operate bases in the open.

But, again, to be clear…While ISIL will not be eliminated, the risks presented  from the territory in which it operates will be significantly reduced…To those of other, similar, ungoverned spaces in the broader region.

There are two other matters on which I wish to elaborate. First, the resolution confirms the Government of Canada’s intention to strike ISIL and its allies.

We will strike ISIL where – and only where – Canada has the clear support of the government of that country. At present, this is only true in Iraq. If it were to become the case in Syria, then we would participate in air strikes against ISIL in that country also.

Second, let me assure Canadians that the Government is seized with the necessity of avoiding a prolonged “quagmire” in this part of the world.

Indeed, we and our allies are acting now precisely to avoid a situation that was clearly headed… To a wider, protracted and much more dangerous conflict. Let me also say that the military measures we are taking do not in any way preclude humanitarian actions. There is no “either/or” here.

This is in addition to large-scale financial assistance already being furnished… To the significant number of countries in the region that have been impacted by the humanitarian catastrophe in Syria. Let me also assure Canadians that the Government will continue to be seized with broader terrorist threats against Canada. We have strengthened laws in this country to deal with the issue of so-called “Canadian foreign fighters.”

We will soon bring forward additional measures to strengthen the ability of our security services to monitor aspiring terrorists…To, where possible, prevent their return to Canada, or to, where that is not possible, give greater tools to be able to charge and prosecute.

Mr. Speaker, to return to the matter before us today, I urge all Members to consider and support the motion we have presented. I do this, Mr. Speaker, in recognizing that, in a democracy, especially one approaching an election…there is rarely political upside in supporting any kind of military action, and little political risk in opposing it.

As evidence of the necessity of this, there is none better than the fact that this mission has been launched by President Obama…the leader who had withdrawn American troops and proudly ended the war in Iraq.

Of course, Mr. Speaker, one could say that, while the mission is evidently necessary…we don’t have to be the ones to do it, because others will. But, Mr. Speaker, throughout our history, that has never been the Canadian way…To do only the most easy and praiseworthy actions, and leave the tough things for others.

Indeed, colleagues, we should be under no illusion. If Canada wants to keep its voice in the world…and we should since so many of our challenges are global…being a free rider means you are not taken seriously.

Left unchecked, this terrorist threat can only grow and grow quickly. As a Government, we know our ultimate responsibility…Is to protect Canadians, and to defend our citizens from those who would do harm to us and to our families.

And when our allies recognize and respond to a threat, that would also harm us, we Canadians do not stand on the sidelines. We do our part.

I call on all Members of this House to show their support for this mission…and, of course, our support for the brave men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces,…who are, now and always, ready and willing to answer the call of their country.


Response from Thomas Mulcair, leader of the Opposition. The French has been removed where ellipses appear:

There is no more important decision that we make in this 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 this Parliament. He’s asking for Canadians’ support, but the Prime Minister has refuse to answer their questions. Let me quote the Prime Minister: “Mr. Speaker, you can understand, I neither have the will nor the desire to get into detailed discussion of military operations here.”

Neither the will, nor the desire. “Here” was this Parliament. And it’s not just the “details”.

The Prime Minister hasn’t outlined a broad strategic blueprint for the mission.

He can’t even answer basic questions about the length or breadth or cost of Canada’s military deployment. When did Canadian forces arrive in Iraq and how many? No answer. What contribution have our American allies requested? No answer.

How much will this mission cost? What are the rules of engagement? What is our exit strategy? No answer; no answer; no answer. These are not hypothetical questions.

The only ally of the Prime Minister’s plan to begin a 30 day mission in Iraq, was the Liberal party, even though there wasn’t a shadow of doubt that that would lead us to where we are today.

But now that Canadian troops are committed, Conservatives are telling us the mission will be expanded: Airstrikes, refueling capabilities, aerial surveillance. Is that it? Is there more? Could there be more?

From mission creep to mission leap.

The United States has been in this conflict for over ten years. They have been fighting ISIS, under one name or another, for over ten years. While ISIS has renamed itself several times since 2004… This is literally the same insurgent group that U.S. forces have been battling for over a decade.

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

In one of the Prime Minister’s few real answers about this mission, he said 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… It can’t 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 other horrors unfolding before our eyes are the result of that failed invasion.

Remember, back in 2003, it was this 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 his Immigration Minister, during the emergency debate in this House, just a few days ago, actually dusted off the canard of Weapons of Mass Destruction to justify this war.

The Prime Minister insists that this mission in Iraq will not be allowed to become a “quagmire.” But isn’t that precisely what our American allies have been facing in Iraq for the last ten years? Will Canada be stuck a decade from now, 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 that we have the sacred responsibility to fully support in years after?

It is not only New Democrats who feel these questions haven’t been answered.

Why is military action supposedly our only choice in Iraq, and not even considered elsewhere?

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 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.

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

Canada, for our part, should not rush into this war.

Response from Justin Trudeau, leader of the Liberal Party:

With this motion, the Prime Minister has finally said in Canada what he said in New York City more than a week ago. He is intent on taking Canada to war in Iraq.

ISIL is a threat both to the region and to global security.

ISIL murders ethnic and religious minorities across Iraq and Syria.

They murder innocent civilians, humanitarian workers, and journalists.

These awful acts have been fully documented – often by the perpetrators themselves.

This is why the Liberal Party supported a 30-day, non-combat role on good faith and on which we were briefed.

This time, instead of briefings, there has only been overheated rhetoric.

Liberals will take the following core principles into the debate next week.

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.

Unlike the Prime Minister, Liberals believe Canada can make a more helpful contribution to the international effort to combat ISIL than aging war planes.

I think Canadians have a lot more to offer than that. We can be resourceful, and there are significant, substantial, non-combat roles that Canada can play.

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.

The fact remains: the Prime Minister has not been upfront with Canadians about his plans.

The Prime Minister and the government have given us no reason to believe that once in combat they will be able to limit our role.

Their overheated and moralistic rhetoric is being used to justify more than just air strikes.

It is an attempt to justify a war.

For Canadians it’s all too familiar, particularly from this Prime Minister.

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.

Back in 2003, this prime minister called President Bush’s Iraq war a matter of “freedom, democracy and civilization itself.”

We know the Iraq fiasco haunts the choices we have to make today. But we cannot make the wrong decision now because the wrong decision was made then.

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, our deliberations in this house should be honest and forthright to show ourselves worthy of the valour and strength we know our Forces always show in the field.

We owe them that.

We think there is a role for Canada to be involved in the fight against ISIL.

But there is a clear line between non-combat and combat.

It is much easier to cross that line than to cross back.

It always is easier to get into a war than to get out of one.

The Prime Minister has a 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.

The Prime Minister has offered none of those.

The Liberal Party of Canada cannot and will not support this Prime Minister’s motion to go to war in Iraq.