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Broadcast Date: Sunday, September 2, 2007

Time: 12:00:00 EDT

End Time: 13:00:00 EDT

Network: CTV
GRAHAM RICHARDSON: Now the big change with the recent cabinet shuffle is, of course, at the Department of National Defence. Gordon O'Connor was shuffled out, and shuffled in was the Honorable Peter MacKay. The new Minister of National Defence joins us now from Toronto. Minister, thanks for being here. Appreciate it.
PETER MACKAY (Minister of National Defence): My pleasure, Graham. Thank you.
RICHARDSON: A lot of the reason you have this new job, if we're to understand the Prime Minister, is that the communications on the Afghan mission needs to change or needed to change. In what way, heading into the fall, do you think the communications plan will change?
MACKAY: Well, firstly, let me say how proud I am to be associating with the men and women of our forces and to take over from Gordon O'Connor who served over 30 years previously in the forces before taking on this role, and I hope to continue some of the progress that he has made to articulate the mission itself as we go into the fall. The focus will be, of course, on continuing to stabilize on the ground in Afghanistan the security that's required to build that country from the ground up. We're doing a lot as far as infrastructure development, reconstruction, a lot of programs that are in place, inoculations of children, education programs, microfinance. All of this happens with an expanded perimeter around the country that allows our development, our aid workers, our diplomats to do the important work. It's a major undertaking. Canada is there, as you know, with 37 other NATO countries, but over 60 countries that are working in the broader scheme of things, to make Afghanistan a fully functioning country.
RICHARDSON: Naturally, given the fighting that's going on there, we hear a lot about the combat. We hear a lot about the deaths of soldiers, as we should. Have we heard too much from your perspective? Is there too much focus on those terrible scenes of captives coming home?
MACKAY: Well, look, it's a tragedy when anyone loses their life in uniform. We lost a diplomat, of course, Glyn Berry. But let's not forget these are sacrifices that have made the way, paved the way for incredible progress. Through the Afghan compact, of which Canada is a signatory, we are seeing millions of Afghans return. We are seeing villages now able to undertake their own development. We're seeing an Afghan army, an Afghan police force start to participate in a more fulsome way in the defence, in the security of their own country.
RICHARDSON: Have we not heard enough about girls in school?
MACKAY: We are seeing the type of humanitarian aid work that was vacant just five or six years ago.
RICHARDSON: Sorry, minister. Have we not heard enough about those things then in the past?
MACKAY: Well I think you'll see a more concerted effort to make those statements, and to demonstrate and highlight the progress that has come about because of the work of our military. And our military are doing this in conjunction. I mean they're working at the PRT, they're partnering with other countries, they're providing the security for Afghans who are digging wells and putting irrigation in place and building the roads and schools and hospitals and clinics that their country needs. And, yes, the progress is in some sectors more challenging than others. But again I harken back to where the country was just five or six years ago, an incubator for terrorism, Graham, that was being exported all over the world and North America, as we know, is not immune.
RICHARDSON: On the combat mission, the Prime Minister has talked about consensus. Under what circumstances post 2009 could a combat role continue for Canada from the government's perspective?
MACKAY: Well, as you know, the Prime Minister has been very clear and very honest, firstly, in having a vote last spring which did not occur when the previous government started this mission. It did not happen with consultation with a vote in parliament. But we took that step and we have committed, the Prime Minister has committed to having our soldiers there until February of 2009. But in the interim period there will be another vote taken in parliament if there was to be any extension, so I expect that this discussion will take place in the House of Commons this fall. As far as our role, we are there with NATO countries. We are participating in this overall mission to bring peace and security and civility to a war-torn country that has for decades been terrorized and been under oppressive regimes. The lifestyle and the quality of life in Afghanistan has markedly improved, and I think we have to keep the focus on where Afghans find themselves today, and we're there at the invitation of their government, a democratically elected government I'm quick to add, and we now have women sitting in that government. We have women participating more fully in society, girls being able to go to school. All of those are direct dividends, and benefits of the work that Canadians and our NATO partners have been able to do. I would suggest that Canadians are extremely proud and should be very proud of the work that has been done to date, and I don't believe anyone wants to see Afghanistan fall back or fail and become that incubator that I spoke of earlier.
RICHARDSON: You're in a minority government, though. Your opposition is saying that you should send a signal to NATO that the combat mission can't continue past 2009 because there is no chance of consensus. Wouldn't that be a responsible thing to do or are you hoping to bring opposition members around to maybe have a combat role post 2009?
MACKAY: Well, look, Graham, let me first state clearly that we're in regular contact with NATO. I speak with Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, the Secretary General. I speak with our NATO allies, and as does the Prime Minister, as does our new Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier, so there's no lack of communication taking place. As far as the signal that has been sent already is that our current configuration will end in February 2009. Obviously the aid work and the diplomatic effort and presence will extend well beyond that and the Afghan compact itself goes until to 2011. But the way the mission is currently configured with respect to our presence in Kandahar, there is an expiration date that has been set. But the commitment to reexamine this issue in the House of Commons where parliament can have its say in a very diplomatic and democratic forum. That's what we're committed to. Now other parties have been less than clear, including Mr. Dion and the Liberal party where you had a split in their caucus as far as their stance, as you will recall in the vote last spring. And where was Mr. Dion himself in 2003 in voicing his opposition to this particular mission? He was part of the government that sent the soldiers there. Also, I'm quick to add, sent them there with inadequate equipment. And we've addressed that and we're continuing to do so and our men and women need the necessary tools to do that.
RICHARDSON: But in fairness, a lot more soldiers have died in a lot tighter time frame, and I think it's fair to say the public is much more focused on this question than they were all those years ago. Is that not a fair point?
MACKAY: Yes, it is a fair point and clearly it does demonstrate the depth of the commitment and the sacrifice that has been made. But I would suggest that we are now starting to see the tangible progress as a result of those efforts, and so the Canadian public do deserve to be fully informed, and that's why we're committed to this debate in the house. That's why we're continuing our effort throughout the summer and it will continue, of course, into the fall to give Canadians a full understanding, a very clear understanding of the need for Canada to be there, the work that we're doing, the importance of that, and how it benefits Canada directly, as well.
RICHARDSON: Minister, Minister O'Connor found out, and some people described your new job as a political graveyard. Are you concerned about how difficult this is going to be, to get out from under Afghanistan or to get beyond the questions about Afghanistan?
MACKAY: Look, as I said off the top, Graham, I'm extremely honored to fill this role. The Prime Minister has asked me to take this portfolio. I'm working at it very hard. I'm getting familiar with the files. I visited Val Cartier to speak to members of the Van Doos and the command there as well as CFB Trenton, Halifax, Shearwater. I've been to a number of the bases already. I'm getting into the files as quickly as possible, including the major procurement center underway, and I'm going to work to the best of my ability to represent the government in this particular capacity, and as I said, I'm extremely honored to work with men and women of our forces.
RICHARDSON: New Defence Minister Peter MacKay, many thanks for being with us this afternoon.
MACKAY: Thank you, Graham, all the best.
RICHARDSON: Just ahead, polls show no party made real headway with voters over the summer. When will Canada see another majority government?

Broadcast Date: Sunday, September 2, 2007

Time: 23:00:00 EDT

End Time: 23:30:00 EDT

Network: CTV

SANDIE RINALDO: Canada's new Defence Minister has made it clear, he says, to NATO that Canadian troops will stay in Afghanistan until 2009. February is the month unless Parliament votes to extend the combat mission. Peter MacKay made the comments on CTV's Question Period.
PETER MACKAY (Defence Minister): As far as the signal that has been sent already is that our current configuration will end in February 2009. Obviously the aid work and the diplomatic effort and presence will extend well beyond that and the Afghan compact itself goes until 2011. But the way the mission is currently configured with respect to our presence in Kandahar, there is an expiration date that has been set but the commitment to re-examine this issue in the House of Commons where Parliament can have its say in a very diplomatic and democratic forum, that's what we're committed to.


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