House of Commons Hansard #143 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was quebec.

Topics

Appropriation Act No. 1, 1997-98
Government Orders

6:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Bill read the third time and passed.)

The House resumed from December 10, 1996 consideration of the motion and the amendment.

Peacekeeping Or Peace Enforcement Commitments
Private Members' Business

March 12th, 1997 / 6:15 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Kilger Stormont—Dundas, ON

Madam Speaker, notwithstanding the order that was adopted earlier today with respect to Private Members' Business Motion No. 31, I believe you will find consent that at the conclusion of the debate on Motion No. 31 today, a recorded division be deemed requested and deemed deferred until Monday, April 7, 1997 at the conclusion of the time provided for Government Orders.

Peacekeeping Or Peace Enforcement Commitments
Private Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Bloc

Madeleine Dalphond-Guiral Laval Centre, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to point out that we will have an amendment to Motion M-31 and that we agree that the vote be deferred to April 7.

Peacekeeping Or Peace Enforcement Commitments
Private Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)

Is it agreed?

Peacekeeping Or Peace Enforcement Commitments
Private Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Peacekeeping Or Peace Enforcement Commitments
Private Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Reform

Myron Thompson Wild Rose, AB

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak the motion by my colleague from Red Deer which would allow all proposed peacekeeping or peace enforcement commitments involving more than 100 Canadian personnel to be put to a free vote in the House for approval or for rejection. I believe that is a very reasonable request in a democratic fashion, something that this party over here has a difficult time understanding. We certainly saw an example of it a few minutes ago.

Peacekeeping has become one of the most important aspects of our foreign policy. It has allowed Parliament some influence on foreign conflicts. The problem over the years is that modern day peacekeeping has become both dangerous and extremely costly. Therefore it is important for Parliament to chose wisely which missions it will participate in. The risks and the costs should be evaluated. The mandate and the rules of engagement should be known and the chances of success should be examined.

Motion No. 31 would allow these points to be raised in parliamentary debate followed by a vote when all members could represent their constituents and let their vote count.

When the soldiers from Wild Rose are ordered to put their lives on the line, I would like to think that I would be able to say to them Parliament looked at all the facts and made the best decision in their interest.

The problem with this Liberal government is that there is always too little too late with decisions being made in a rush behind closed doors. Currently troops are already on a plane on their way to a mission before we are even asked if they should be sent. Then they question whether we have the resources in place for this mission.

This was seen most recently in February when the Canadian government again decided to keep our peacemakers in Haiti for another five years. Canadian taxpayers had already paid over $430 million for this mission and now we find there is no end in sight. However, the government did not consult with Parliament before making this expensive and irresponsible decision; nor has it offered any long term solutions or plans.

If ever there was a need for elected representatives to have a voice, it is in these situations. The Canadian people expect Parliament to face up to the responsibility of sending our troops on these missions. When our soldiers go it should be a Canadian decision endorsed by the House of Commons. We have to be accountable to the people and give them concrete reasons why Canadian soldiers have gone on peacekeeping missions with their tax dollars.

Canadians want accountability for a change, which only a full parliamentary debate and a free vote can provide.

It has recently been reported that the Canadian people are starting to question why the Canadian government is always quick to volunteer our troops for every mission. The repercussions of this are being felt by our troops both physically and emotionally. Some Canadian soldiers served four tours of duty in the former Yugoslavia in a three year time period. This created tremendous hardship and family stress for them.

As reported in Monday's Ottawa Citizen : ``Peacekeeping has produced hundreds of psychological casualties. At least six soldiers have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, the result of witnessing the horrors of war on a daily basis. They live in almost constant depression. Hundreds of others, as many as 20 per cent of all peacekeepers, could be suffering from various forms of stress according to defence officials''.

The problem is the average Canadian does not know what a peacekeeper must endure today. Since 1994 there have been about 2,000 Canadian soldiers overseas every year. So far 16 Canadians have died during these missions, 3 from battle wounds and the other 13 from accidents or disease. More than 115 Canadians have been wounded, most in the wars that have raged in the former Yugoslavia.

To commit our forces to the atrocities going on in today's world is not a decision to be taken lightly. Peacekeepers today are plunged into the middle of civil wars. This is why a full debate of the matter is imperative. We have an obligation to stand up for our troops at every turn, to discuss the lives of our young people and the place our country has in the world.

Parliament should develop criteria in order for the decision to be made in a thorough manner. In other words, we must know every aspect, from the cost of the mission to the exact mandate to how long we are going to stay. It clear that Canadians are willing to aid

the international community for humanitarian and security tasks, but we can no longer be the world's 911 number.

To date Canada's approach to peacekeeping has placed serious strains on the armed forces. Problems with equipment such as shortages of helmets, communications equipment and obsolete armoured personnel carriers have plagued operations. Fewer soldiers with fewer resources have been required to participate in more missions. Tension and burnout have been evident from too many tours too often.

These factors have to be considered for every mission. As well, we have to learn from the experience of past peacekeeping missions. The events in Rwanda and Bosnia are evidence of this.

The Minister of National Defence was kind enough to provide each member of Parliament with a chart outlining peacekeeping and humanitarian operation cost estimates. This chart clearly shows four missions that will be ending throughout 1997. With these dates clearly outlined there should be more than enough time to debate and vote on whether these operations should be continued.

This is why Motion No. 31 is so timely. It would allow each member of Parliament an opportunity to raise any issue related to these missions on behalf of their constituents and make their vote count as such. I would encourage all members to vote in favour of Motion No. 31 in order to empower Parliament to stand up for our troops.

There have been too many times that decisions are made behind closed doors. Then we use party politics and the power of we will punish you if you do not vote the way we tell you to vote. Decisions are made behind closed doors even before a debate begins. When that happens that makes this place a farce. To start a debate on a Monday when a decision has already been made on the past Thursday behind closed doors, with government members being told how to vote and that they must vote that way or be punished, is a sham, a shame and a disgrace to democracy.

I have made these kinds of statements before in the House and recently on the Internet someone made a comment regarding my comments about backroom decisions, closed door decisions. I would like to read it. It is from an individual who is a political hack from the old days and from the old way of doing things. Let me quote, showing the attitude and the way they look at how we should operate. This person has been in politics for years: "As for backroom deals, that is the nature of politics. That is how you get things done. If the government was truly above politics then things would never work right. For example, without the heavily attacked patronage system, important positions would go to people of questionable loyalty who may work to subvert the government and to undermine its efforts. Again, having no experience with government, Reform would have little or no understanding of this principle. Politics is a dirty business. No, you would want the best politicians in there who could cut those backroom deals, make those backroom decisions and keep things running well".

A person who has been in politics in this land for a number of years told me that was the way to run the country. In other words, the Canadian public or the Canadian taxpayer should not be involved in all these decisions. We should simply go behind closed doors because the average Canadian and the normal taxpayer are too stupid to make good decisions. I am sick and tired of that kind of democracy. It must end and this is a good chance to demonstrate that we can do it.

Peacekeeping Or Peace Enforcement Commitments
Private Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Liberal

Ted McWhinney Vancouver Quadra, BC

Madam Speaker, I have a question for the hon. member. Accepting the thrust of his speech, would he not recollect the debate on several occasions in the House on Canadian contributions to UN peacekeeping missions and the consensus that developed in which the minister of defence at the time indicated that wherever possible issues of this sort would be referred back to Parliament?

Would he not consider-

Peacekeeping Or Peace Enforcement Commitments
Private Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)

It seems the hon. member is asking a question or making a comment and this is not the time for that. This is the time for debate.

Peacekeeping Or Peace Enforcement Commitments
Private Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Liberal

Bill Graham Rosedale, ON

Madam Speaker, this is an important motion and this is an important issue. All members of the House are concerned about the handling of information about the way our peacekeepers are deployed and the way authorization is given for that deployment. Above all, we want to ensure that it is a transparent process so that all may know the consequences of what we are doing.

The motion proposes very little in the way of changes to make Canada's peacekeeping policy process more transparent. The simple reason is that the process is already extremely open.

The suggestions that unilateral decisions are being made behind closed doors have ignored the facts. Such assertions have no basis whatsoever in reality. The process, as it now exists, is one of the most open in the world. How many other countries have established Internet sites and conducted surveys to determine public support for involvement in peacekeeping missions?

I argue that such countries are few in number, yet our hon. colleagues insist the existing Canadian system is opaque and in need of reform. These statements are difficult to accept.

Furthermore, the principle underlying such a motion supports the thrust of government policy. It has been and will always be our policy to put to this House directly or through its Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade all issues

involving peacekeeping. When it has been possible and necessary to do so, that is what the government did.

We recognize the importance of thoroughly and freely debating all proposals to deploy Canadian forces personnel and we attach considerable importance to the opinion expressed in this House. For these reasons, the government is working to ensure that Canada's peacekeeping commitments are debated each time the occasion arises.

Furthermore, the minister and the government have indicated a willingness to adopt new and interesting procedures to enable this to take place.

The mover of the motion, the hon. member for Red Deer, knows very well that we have had the occasion in the foreign affairs and international trade committee to examine the deployment of troops in Haiti. On an extensive basis we were able to hear witnesses. We were able to have a frank, open debate in circumstances which were, I would submit, preferable to an exchange of views in the House which often tends to be adversarial in nature. We should be looking at that way of dealing with it. That is how we will deal with issues raised by the member for Wild Rose. He said that these were very costly and dangerous and must be evaluated. We are able to do that in committee in many ways far better than we are able to do it in the House.

I urge members of the House who are concerned about this matter and about the way Canadians feel about peacekeeping to examine some simple figures. In 1995, in spite of what the member for Wild Rose said, the results of a study documenting Canadian opinions on foreign and defence policies found that 79 per cent of those polled considered peacekeeping important for Canada.

A February 1996 study showed that 75 per cent of Canadians wanted our current commitment to peacekeeping to be maintained or increased. A similar percentage of respondents indicated that they believed peacekeeping to be a very positive source of Canada's international reputation. It is obvious the Canadian public recognizes the importance of peacekeeping to Canada internationally. Furthermore, Canadians firmly support our involvement in peacekeeping.

The high level of support shown leads us to wonder about the real value of this motion. The argument that the issue must be put to a parliamentary vote so electors may have their say simply does not hold water. They have already had it, in a much more significant way than they have for years. The same is true for the members of this House. Cabinet has not acted unilaterally behind closed doors in considering peacekeeping commitments. This House has had many opportunities to debate the issue, and the government has considered members' opinions.

What is quite concerning about the motion is the possible detrimental affect it could have on Canada's ability to effectively participate in international peacekeeping efforts.

For the last 40 years Canada has been an open international leader in peacekeeping. Our unparalleled reputation has resulted from our willingness to act in difficult circumstances and on short notice. These characteristics have become even more important in recent years. Gone are the days when peacekeeping was turned to only after a superpower had brokered a ceasefire between two states. Now the international community finds itself having to respond to internal conflicts causing humanitarian disasters of unprecedented magnitude.

Given the nature of those crises the international community is often confronted with, it has become obvious that the UN and its members do not have sufficient capability to react quickly. Canada has been a leader, making suggestions and looking for ways to develop mechanisms to increase the capability of the international community to react quickly to complex emergency situations.

A Canadian report entitled "Towards a Rapid Reaction Capability for the United Nations" has been an important contribution in this exercise. The UN has implemented a number of recommendations in this report, including the establishment of permanent headquarters for the rapid deployment of peace missions that will give the UN a whole new capability.

Nationally the Canadian Armed Forces has developed the disaster assistance response team or DART to respond quickly to international humanitarian disasters. Canada has also come forward in actual times of crisis showing the leadership for which we are renown. During the recent crisis in eastern Zaire, Canada stepped forward to lead the international community to action.

What a terrible irony it would be for Canada, one of the most ardent international supporters of rapid reaction, to take measures to make its own system cumbersome, in fact in some cases virtually useless.

That will be the likely outcome of this motion. Making Canada's peacekeeping commitments dependent on a vote in Parliament would be detrimental to Canada's leadership and effective contribution to international security.

The amended motion demanding that all proposals for peacekeeping or peace enforcement commitments be put to a vote in Parliament would considerably reduce our ability to make a timely contribution to international efforts. Whether it is the commitment of a unit the size of a battalion or just a couple of military observers, the difficulty would be the same. Obviously, we could not keep the leading role we now have in international peacekeeping if our participation were subject to such constraints.

Therefore the motion has implications not only for our international reputation but also for the lives of those people we are seeking to assist. It has become increasingly clear in recent years that without a rapid response from the international community countless lives which might have been saved will indeed be lost.

Canadians such as generals Dallaire and Baril know this all too well. The imposition of additional constraints on our ability to act nationally would fly in the face of all that we have tried so hard to achieve in the international arena.

In moving this motion, the hon. member neglected several highly significant realities about the world of today. First and foremost, it must be realized that events develop quickly, often with tragic outcomes. To insist that Canadian peacekeepers be reduced to doing nothing until the House can meet and debate the issue, while innocent people are suffering as the result of a conflict or a humanitarian disaster, is foreign to the interests and values Canadians hold dear.

The international community has learned one thing from the tragic events of recent years: we must act promptly when we are called upon. The motion in question could totally prevent us from doing what we have demanded of other members of the international community: providing a rapid response.

The hon. member also seems to ignore an even more immediate reality. As I have said, the government has consistently endeavoured to bring matters related to Canadian peacekeeping commitments before the House or before the appropriate committee for debate and informed discussion.

Furthermore, it has provided the Canadian people with a direct means to express their views concerning their country's peacekeeping policy. The Canadian public has expressed its opinion. It firmly believes in and supports Canada's role in international peacekeeping.

The Canadian government and the Canadian public are proud of the lead peacekeeping role Canada has assumed in the world. Our role in this area is important for Canadians, for Canada, and for the world.

We cannot support this rather unwise motion, which can only serve to diminish Canada's role in the noble enterprise of peacekeeping.

Peacekeeping Or Peace Enforcement Commitments
Private Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

Reform

Bob Mills Red Deer, AB

Madam Speaker, it is my pleasure to conclude the debate on my Motion No. 31.

The motion is designed to try to allow Parliament to have more control, more discussion and more open debate on the sending of our troops on peacekeeping missions. It is not intended to be against peacekeepers, to say that we do not do a good job, or to say that Canadians are not behind it. This is a motion simply to provide accountability for decisions that are made.

Even though peacekeeping is one of the most important aspects of our foreign policy, the Prime Minister and the other elites in the government do not want Parliament to truly participate in the making of decisions. They want to have sham debates or no debate at all. They refuse to allow parliamentarians access to crucial mission information until the dye is cast. They refuse to allow members a vote on whether the peacekeeping mission is in the interest of our country or the interest of our troops.

A perfect example of this disregard for Parliament occurred just a few weeks ago when the government leaked to the press the fact that we would be staying in Haiti for the next five years. There was no consultation. There was no mention of cost. There was no mention of the best interest of our troops.

It was just another unilateral decision by the government. Even though the Minister of Foreign Affairs promised to consult he broke his promise. Even though the minister assured Canadians "when Haitian President Préval was here, he indicated a very strong interest in having the international presence of the UN force and the Canadian force end as soon as possible", guess what. He did not mean that either. Even though Canadian taxpayers have already paid over $430 million for this mission, we now find out there is no end in sight. No wonder the federal debt is $600 billion.

It is not true that committee has the opportunity make the decisions and debate the issues. I use as an example the mission to Zaire which was decided on a weekend. In fact, the member for Rosedale and I heard from a news reporter that the decision had been made for the Zaire mission. We were not consulted. There was no opportunity for Parliament to make a decision.

To say that we need 24 hour decision making, I again use the example of Bosnia. The situation there has gone on for hundreds of years. There was no panic to make a decision.

The situation in Haiti of the dictatorship has gone on forever. I was in Rwanda in 1985 and I knew there was a problem. There was lots of time for Parliament to debate it, two years to make a decision. I mentioned Zaire. That problem did not just pop up overnight. Very seldom will that argument hold any water. If it did there would be ways to deal with it by way of an amendment to the motion.

The issue of peacekeeping goes far beyond the issue of money. It goes to the lives of our Canadian troops, their parents and the lives which could be lost or shattered by crippling injuries. When we send our soldiers abroad we are asking young men and women to take a serious risk for the country. They could be shot, taken hostage, blown up by land mines. There are numerous examples of this.

For the sake of these soldiers, we in Parliament must ensure that the government is not being irresponsible in its decisions to participate in these missions. It cannot be because the Prime Minister watched CNN and made a decision on a weekend. We must not let the government rubber stamp missions where lives will be lost. We must accept responsibility as legislators and demand a full debate will all the information on the table.

Only after the debate, when we know the risks, the mandate, the rules of engagement, the duration and the cost, can we decide if the mission should go forward.

Then we must hold a free vote. A free vote is critical because it forces individual members to assume responsibility for the safety of our soldiers. When young men and women from our ridings are going to a war zone or a country where government has broken down, we owe it to them to find out the facts for ourselves. The lives of Canadians are more important than pride, the party or the government.

In conclusion, when we vote on the motion each of us will make a choice for which we should be held accountable. Our choices will show Canadians what we think is most important, the lives of our soldiers or what the party brass says.

I will end here and let the vote speak for itself so that Canadians from coast to coast can see where their members stand when it comes to the lives of our soldiers.

Peacekeeping Or Peace Enforcement Commitments
Private Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

Vancouver Quadra
B.C.

Liberal

Ted McWhinney Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Fisheries and Oceans

Madam Speaker, we have had in this particular area of United Nations peacekeeping missions and Canadian contributions to them a very high level of debate in recent years. It is a debate to which members on both sides of the House have contributed significantly.

As the member for Rosedale rightly reminded us, Canadians have a special interest in UN peacekeeping. The concept is a Canadian creation. It was the brain child of our then foreign minister and later Prime Minister Lester Pearson. He recognized that there is a period in a conflict in which in a certain sense the parties have exhausted themselves emotionally and physically and where the interposition of a third force may allow them to retreat without intolerable loss of face. It is in this context thatMr. Pearson proposed a UN peacekeeping force for the resolution of the Suez crisis.

It worked perfectly and it has become known as the special Canadian contribution to the United Nations international organization. He was later recognized for his work with the award of the Nobel peace prize.

This was an area, if one considers the participants in this particular difference-Great Britain, France, Israel and Egypt-in which there was special Canadian interests apart from the idea of a foreign minister who was a UN man par excellence.

Similarly, I would have said with the Congo in 1960, which was the next big exercise in a UN peacekeeping operation to which Canadians contributed, there is a special Canadian interest in every issue where the presence of a French speaking force is crucial and one with openings to the English speaking world and recognizing the American interest in all these things. The Canadian mission becomes logical, sensible and almost inevitable.

The lesson from our debates in the House in recent years and in the present Parliament has been that we need to redefine our roles in missions, that we have to be more selective in the allocation of our energies, our forces, our contributions to missions and that we should, as far as possible, husband our scarce resources and apply those to situations where there is a Canadian special interest.

I would have thought, and I would agree with people on both sides of the House on this, as to some of the more recent missions, the Somalia mission, I would have thought by most tests, it was not a good case for Canadian involvement at the very beginning. There is something to be said for the thought echoed by the hon. member opposite that when the telephone rings at five in the morning and somebody says that they need our help, maybe the correct response is to say: "George, why do you not go back to sleep and call at regular hours?"

Somalia was a case where the special expertise in terms of the language, in terms of the significant Canadian ethnic community with links to the territory, in terms of knowledge of the culture of the region, the special problems of language and religion, and also the historical divisions within the country was absent. These were outside our knowledge. In some senses it was a tragedy waiting to

happen when we sent over, in essence, a regiment trained more or less for anti-terrorist activities.

I would have said that Bosnia was possibly an issue of which we should have been more cautious although there were special pressures on us by members of Canadian communities with roots in the homelands of the former Yugoslavia. On that we can leave the question open.

However, the main issue is that the pragmatic consensus which has developed in the debates in the House over the past several years is that Parliament should be involved. I remember the Minister of National Defence making this view known to the House during the course of the debate. Sensibly any administration, recognizing the political aspects of these operations and the dangers of misconception or misconstruction of a mission, should be very sensitive to parliamentary opinion. I believe these undertakings were given sufficiently at that time.

The problem we have with this motion is that we recognize the spirit. We believe the spirit has essentially been accepted on both sides of the House, but it does introduce, with its too narrow limits, too specific limits, a limitation that frankly could be extremely troublesome in a period of international crisis solving where urgent action is required.

On that basis, I believe we could say to the party opposite moving this issue that the spirit is there. I think the spirit is accepted and understood on both sides of the House in a responsible way. However, our suggestion to the members opposite is that the tethering limits of the motion create serious impediments to situations in which Canadian interests and Canadian special knowledge and competence suggest an intervention.

Looking at the situation in Somalia, the United States was involved.

The U.S. admiral advising the United Nations in that situation simply did not understand that American federal conditions could not be replicated in a country that was more similar in its social political organization to, for example, Great Britain in the 13th century. I am speaking in terms of the confrontational situation of feuding feudal barons. In Bosnia largely the exercise in policy making had been made in a few key European foreign ministries and not necessarily along lines that were sufficiently broad in their conception to yield a lasting solution.

On that basis I thank members of the third party for their contribution. It adds to the thoughtful contributions of earlier debates made in particular by the member for Saanich-Gulf Islands and the member for Nanaimo-Cowichan. These sentiments are understood and appreciated on this side of the House.

It is in this spirit I repeat the thoughts of the member for Rosedale. We think the limitation is too tethering. We think it could be a serious impediment in a crisis situation. In any case the pragmatic understanding on both sides of the House is enough to achieve the spirit of what has been contributed to this thoughtful debate.

Peacekeeping Or Peace Enforcement Commitments
Private Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)

Is the House ready for the question?

Peacekeeping Or Peace Enforcement Commitments
Private Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Peacekeeping Or Peace Enforcement Commitments
Private Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Ringuette-Maltais)

The question is on the amendment. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the amendment?