200 people in Halifax is not a small number, 500 in Montreal is not a small number, nearly 100 in Edmonton is not a small number, several hundred in Toronto is not a small number and numbers in other places Quebec City and St. John is not sad, it means it is in every place of Canada, and is over 1,000 people.
Today we gather here in Toronto, and in more than 30 communities across the country, because we are deeply concerned about Canadaís combat role in southern Afghanistan.
Millions of Canadians are deeply concerned about this combat role.
Iím talking about ordinary, everyday Canadians.
We gather to make our voices heard and tell the Prime Minister: itís time to pull our troops out of Kandahar. Canada must help the people of Afghanistan rebuild their lives but this Liberal Ė Harper mission is the wrong mission for Canada.
Stephen Harper thinks heís smarter than Canadians.
So do the Liberals, who put us there and helped the Conservatives keep us there.
So do many of the elites, and the editorial writers.
They all think that theyíre smarter than YOU Ö that only they know whatís best for this country.
And yet ... many Canadians still feel in their hearts that this mission is wrong for Canada.
So do more and more of the military families of soldiers serving in Afghanistan.
Dale Wilson, whose son died in Afghanistan, said that despite originally supporting the mission, ďthe mission isn't moving forward and my support has waveredĒ.
Chris Craig, whose son is preparing for a second tour; Paul Short, the father of a 25 year old army medic, and many others are asking the tough questions weíve been raising in the House of Commons, day in and day out.
And with good reason.
This seek-and-kill mission isnít easing aggression and extremism ó itís feeding it, itís fueling it.
Most Canadians accept that we must sometimes put our soldiers in harmís way.
But this is not such a mission.
Most Canadians support balanced, clearly-defined missions that focus on long-term security and peace.
But this is not such a mission.
And with each passing week, more and more people are standing with us and saying so.
This mission is poorly defined and unbalanced.
For each $1 weíre spending in Afghanistan, only 10 cents goes to aid and reconstruction. While the other 90 cents goes into combat.
Harper claims the mission is following a 3-D approach: disarmament, diplomacy and development. So far weíve seen very little of the 3-Ds. But we have seen a whole lot of the 3-Cs: combat, chaos and casualties.
NGOs working on the ground in Afghanistan tell us that when the military tries to carry out humanitarian work it puts their projects in jeopardy, and the lives of their staff in danger.
Thatís why Doctors Without Borders, in Afghanistan for years helping civilians, were forced to leave Afghanistan.
This Bush-inspired mission is looking more and more like the quagmire in Iraq.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai is raising alarm bells. These are his words to the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations:
ďBombings in Afghanistan are no solution to the Taliban. You do not destroy terrorism by bombing villages.Ē
Even Canadaís Defence Minister has admitted thereís no military solution here. But thatís the role the Liberals and Conservatives have locked us into anyway.
Canadians question whether lifeís really getting better for ordinary Afghans.
With good reason.
Because more and more Afghans say itís not. In the south, many say life is harder and more dangerous than ever.
Thatís what weíve heard ó clearly ó from Malalai Joya. Sheís the youngest member of the Afghan legislature, and she risked a great deal to come to Quebec City last month to address the NDP convention.
This is a woman whoís been physically attacked in her own Parliament for telling the truth about warlords, about drug-lords and ongoing corruption, about life getting worse for people in the South.
Malalai Joya honoured Canadian soldiers for risking their lives in her country ó but said our governmentís mission is the wrong one.
Even Canadian soldiers serving in Afghanistan admit that conditions are getting worse, not better.
Lt.-Col. Simon Hetherington, in charge of the Provincial Reconstruction Team, admits that the area is more dangerous than it was a year ago.
Recently, new details have come to light about just how dire the situation for Afghan civilians has become. Recent reports documented how the flawed mission in southern Afghanistan is causing a severe famine.
Thousands of families have been displaced by combat taking place in Kandahar and have been forced to live in makeshift refugee camps. Camps that are without food, shelter, and essential medicines. People are starving in these camps.
This is a humanitarian disaster.
But it is also a security disaster.
These deplorable humanitarian conditions make the refugee camps ripe ground for insurgent recruitment.
The failure to deliver on the humanitarian component of the mission is fueling the insurgency, endangering the lives of Canadian troops and killing Afghan citizens.
This is why the NDP is calling to withdraw our troops from Kandahar.
1. Itís an unbalanced mission
2. Itís not making life safer for Canadian families.
3. Itís not helping ordinary Afghans either.
4. Itís an ill-defined mission ó without clear goals or exit strategy.
And itís not only Canadians who are concerned about this mission.
Across Europe, NATO member nations are refusing to commit troops to southern Afghanistan.
Nations like Germany, Italy, France, Turkey. They all doubt the viability of this unbalanced mission. Unlike Stephen Harper, they wonít let George Bush set their foreign policy.
So thereís a desperate need, a tremendous opportunity, for Canadian leadership here. The Conservatives and Liberals just donít seem to see it ó or donít want to.
Canadians want to help the people of Afghanistan.
The NDPís has been clear about what Canadaís next steps should be.
First, letís get our troops out ó prudently, safely ó out of a combat mission thatís only making matters worse.
Second, letís connect with our NATO partners, including countries that refused to embroil themselves in the Kandahar fiasco. Canada can help lead the drive for a political solution to bring lasting peace to the region.
Third, letís establish a new role for Canada on the ground in Afghanistan, a balanced role whose priorities are security, aid, and reconstruction.
And fourth, letís treat this as an important step toward building a truly independent foreign policy ó not imported from Washington.
Letís keep up that work. Letís claim a new place in the world for ourselves, a place of which, everyday Canadians can truly be proud!
Itís time to reclaim Canadaís place in the world. We just need a government that will do it.
What happens if NATO pulls out? Will the people embrace the Taliban? The NDP and peaceniks cannot or will not answer these questions.
The people have the right to self determination - after all, that is what democracy is all about.
After his initial pretexts for war were refuted, Bush attempted to justify his warism by saying that he wanted to promote democratization in order to advance society and to guarantee peace. Well, now you see what democratization brought in Palestine and Lebanon. If Bush is to remain consistent in the application of his principles, then he must allow for democratization to take place in Afghanistan according to the dictates of the will of those people. If they say the Taliban is to rule, then so be it. That's democracy in action and if you support Bush then you should approve of its consequences.