Over 600 schools in Afghanistan are empty due to the ongoing conflict.
Staff Sgt. Marcus J. Quarterman/

Military spending versus reconstruction

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While the Canadian mission in Afghanistan might be on the backburner with the focus on the economy, Calgary-West candidates are busy debating the best plan of action.

Last month Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Canada would withdraw the majority of its troops from Kandahar province in Afghanistan by 2011. Currently, over 2,500 Canadian Forces personnel are deployed in the province in a NATO-led mission endorsed by the United Nations.

Calgary-West Liberal candidate Jennifer Pollock said the Liberal Party supports reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan and the development of the democratic government, but the balance between military spending and reconstruction needs to be changed. She cast doubts on the promise to withdraw the troops by 2011, pointing out Harper's promise is subjective to possible election results.

"When I went to read that press release, the language they said is we would not change the timing because that is not the will of the Parliament," she said. "So if they got a majority government, then they would say the will of the government has changed."

New Democrat Party candidate Teale Phelps Bondaroff strongly disagreed with the Canadian mission. He added the NDP has always opposed keeping troops in Afghanistan, citing imbalance between military and infrastructure spending and the focus on defeating the insurgency by military means instead of diplomacy as reasons for the mission's failure.

"Unlike a university degree, where four or however many years later, you have a diploma and a certain amount of credits, we don't have that system in Afghanistan and there is no end goal," said Phelps Bondaroff. "The way we're fighting it is essentially for every dollar of aid, we're spending nine fighting the war."

Marxist-Leninist candidate Andre Vachon called it an unjust war. He explained Canada has an international responsibility to help poor nations by bringing them up to par industrially with the rest of the world.

"Canada needs an anti-war government," he said. "We should have no Canadian troops in foreign lands and no foreign troops in Canada. We have no business there and we should get out immediately."

Green Party candidate Randy Weeks agreed with Vachon, adding there are at least five countries who need peacekeeping and humanitarian aid where Canada could make a huge difference. He explained the Greens want to redefine Canada's role in the Afghan mission to a humanitarian and rebuilding policy.

"This is not a humanitarian mission at all," said Weeks. "There are over 600 schools there that have been built that are sitting empty because you can't run a school in a war zone."

Kirk Schmidt, an independent candidate, reminded voters that Canada is doing this as part of an international commitment and has been making progress on training the Afghan military and police force. But Schmidt added it is time for another country to take leadership there. He defended the defence spending as important for purchasing new technology needed for Canadian soldiers such as unmanned aerial vehicles and devices that detect improvised explosive devices.

"Reconstruction is exceptionally important, but it's about the lives of Canadians first and foremost," said Schmidt. "Once we can ensure a better level of safety and security for the soldiers, then yes, we need to spend lots of money on reconstruction."

The Conservative Party of Canada website offered a preview of its stand on Afghanistan, saying the mission protects Canadians by "clearing out terrorist sanctuaries; reinforc[ing] Canada's role as a leader in the fight for democracy and human rights; and fulfill[ing] a global promise to rebuild the shattered Afghan state."





Probably not relevant to the article, but why an American photo on a Canadian Forces focused article?

The troops in the photo are from the 82nd Airborne Division - says so on their patch.