Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to be able to participate in the debate today on the motion on Canada's peacekeeping role.
First I would like to congratulate the Leader of the Opposition for his sensible speech-
-and the two members of the Reform Party to my right, the member for Saanich-Gulf Islands and the member for Red Deer for their most informed speeches.
The debate we will hear today and tomorrow, first on peacekeeping and then on cruise, is a debate that will allow individual members to express his or her own views. There is no whip on this side. We are on record as being supportive of peacekeeping. That is in our red book and I would be very surprised if any of the Liberal members would disagree with our continuation in peacekeeping.
However with respect to the specific mission that we are talking about today in the former republics of Yugoslavia or tomorrow, which is the deployment of further testing of cruise missiles under the Test and Evaluation Agreement members, on both sides of the House, and certainly in our party, are free to express their views and the government will take those views into account.
It is only appropriate that I join with the other members opposite in beginning my remarks by paying tribute to the men and women of the Canadian forces who, as we speak are working to bring some peace to the world's trouble spots. I know that members share my admiration and appreciation for the very difficult job they are doing, whether they are in Srebrenica in the Balkans, in the Far East, on the African continent, or off the southwest coast of Haiti. On behalf of all Canadians, merci beaucoup, thank you very much.
Today, Parliament has an opportunity to consider the activities of our peacekeepers, the various aspects of Canada's contribution to peacekeeping and the future direction of our commitment in this respect.
Canadians are justly proud of this country's exceptional contribution to UN peacekeeping efforts. For 47 years, Canada has made a generous and sustained contribution to peacekeeping missions. The total number of Canadians who have served as peacekeepers over the years is now over 100,000.
Canada's high level of participation is particularly impressive when we consider that our country has only one-half of 1 per cent of the world's population.
No other country has a peacekeeping record that compares with Canada's. No other country knows the military operations aspect of peacekeeping as well as we do, and no other country has our expertise. This may explain why Canada is the only country in the world to have erected a national monument to peacekeeping.
Some say that Canada invented the peacekeeping concept. Most observers agree it was the UN emergency force, designed by former Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson in 1956, which demonstrated the value and potential of an international UN force.
During the sixties and in fact until the eighties, Canada increased its efforts and enhanced its reputation in the peacekeeping area. We were one of the few countries that were accepted as a neutral force to separate two belligerent parties. The international community has repeatedly called on Canada to take part in missions of many kinds throughout the world.
It was back in 1949 that Canada's first peacekeepers were deployed. They went to Kashmir with what was soon to become known as the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan under the acronym UNMOGIP.
Regrettably it was during the first mission that Canada suffered its first peacekeeping casualty. Since that time almost 100 Canadians have lost their lives while on peacekeeping duty.
Peacekeeping has never been without risks. The Minister of Foreign Affairs talked about it today. Members on the other side have talked about it. It has always been dangerous but our forces are keenly aware of the danger when they enlist to serve their country overseas.
Canada has a long association as well with the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization, UNTSO. This mission, which is the UN's oldest, monitors ceasefire agreements in the Middle East and today 13 Canadian-UN military observers are with UNTSO, a commitment we began in 1954.
Canadians have served over the years in Indochina, Lebanon, Congo, West New Guinea, Yemen, the Middle East, Cyprus, Afghanistan, Namibia, Angola, Cambodia and Central America. That is a pretty impressive record for a country with a population of only 27 million.
In recent years, a new chapter was started in the history of UN peacekeeping operations. At the end of the eighties, when the confrontation between east and west ceased to exist, the UN was able to start operating more or less as its founders had planned in 1945.
Since 1988, the UN has created more peacekeeping missions than it did during the four previous decades.
I have already mentioned our contribution to UNMOGIP in Kashmir and UNTSO in the Middle East. As well Canada provides a total of 10 staff and military police to the United Nations peacekeeping force in Cyprus; over 200 personnel assigned to a supply, transport and communications duties with the United Nations disengagement observer force on the Golan Heights between Israel and Syria. We will be hearing more of them as the weeks unfold in the quest to finally solve the Middle East dilemma. Twenty-seven Canadian forces personnel are in various staff, air traffic control and administrative support positions in Egypt at the headquarters for the multinational force, a non-UN mission which adheres to the 1979 Camp David accord. We have five military observers to the United Nations in the Iraq-Kuwait observation mission.
We have two officers including the force commander for the United Nations mission in Rwanda. We have 30 military observers, officers and staff to the United Nations mission for the referendum in the West Sahara known by its French acronym as MINURSO.
Turning to Haiti, Canada remains prepared to provide approximately 110 military personnel to the United Nations mission there. The majority of these Canadians will participate in construction of engineering projects among other tasks.
Canada also continues to be a participant in the UN observation mission in El Salvador, which supervised a ceasefire, disarmament and the human rights situation in that country.
We shall continue to support the UN operation in Somalia through the presence of a small number of staff officers. At one time there were more than 1,000 Canadians in Somalia as part of the UN multinational force responsible for the security of humanitarian aid operations.
I should say that despite some unfortunate incidents which are now being adjudicated, our people in Somalia made a real difference in bringing order to the country and in helping to rebuild the infrastructure of this very poor nation.
Finally, Canada is a participant in the UN mission in Mozambique which has a mandate to supervise the ceasefire and the elections in that country.
The United Nations Command Military Armistice Commission in Korea has also seen the participation of Canadians. This is the agreement which supervises the implementation of the 1953 armistice accord.
We have also been involved in the United Nations special commission charged with the inspection and destruction of Iraq's ballistic missiles as well as its chemical, nuclear and biological facilities.
We have men and women on the ships enforcing the embargo against Serbia in Montenegro as well as on our ships off the coast of Haiti. Finally, there are Canadian forces personnel working to locate and diffuse land mines in Cambodia with the United Nations development programs mine technical advisory group.
I mention all of these because even though we are focusing today on the current conflict, which is a very nasty one, we should not forget the hundreds of other Canadians serving with the United Nations forces around the world in the engagements I have mentioned.
Let us take a look at the Balkans. This is a tragedy that has unfolded for the last 15 years since the death of former president Marshal Tito. While I am sure the members of the government in no way supported the kind of government that Mr. Tito gave to Yugoslavia, one thing that he did leave behind was a will and a determination to unite many disparate factions, religious and ethnic, into one nation.
There is a lesson in Yugoslavia. It is that multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-racial states can only be kept together in today's world by a codification of individual rights and by their protection with strong national institutions. Those national institutions and that constitutional protection has eroded in Yugoslavia and it has forced the rest of the world through the United Nations to try to salvage some dignity, some peace and some sense of humanitarian obligation to the people living in the former republics of Yugoslavia.
As the conflict in the Balkans escalated, the UN gradually extended its mandate beyond the borders of Croatia. For instance, the mission was asked to open the airport in Sarajevo.
I must say a few words about the President of France, François Mitterrand, who showed great courage when he visited Sarajevo two years ago.
The president of France demonstrated great courage in drawing the world's attention to the conflict in Yugoslavia. I would also join with my colleague, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, in congratulating the people and government of France together with the British government for having supplied along with Canada the largest contingents of forces in Yugoslavia.
Today we have about 2,000 personnel in Bosnia and Croatia and that is one of the focuses, perhaps the principal focus for this particular debate. We care about them. These are our people. They are doing our bidding.
Canadians have played their part in two world wars and the Korean war. I do not think we want to be part of any other larger wars in the latter part of the century or as we go into the 21st century. It is the lessons that have been learned from our actions in those wars that lead Canadians to use their military expertise, their technical know-how and their understanding of conflicts to try to help the United Nations in bringing peace to some of the hot spots that we see today.
Mr. Speaker, I had the honour of visiting our troops very briefly for a few days in December of last year. I was first in Croatia then in Sarajevo and Visoko and then with our ship HMCS Iroquois in the Adriatic which is enforcing the sanctions with other members of NATO and the United Nations.
I was struck by the uniformity of purpose and the unity with which our men and women view our role in Croatia and Bosnia. I did not hear from them one word about whether or not they had any doubts about the utility of being in that very difficult spot. At night when we slept in the camp at Visoko and shots rang out and as we travelled to Sarajevo with shots all around us in our convoy, not one of those people exhibited any fear of the danger.
I can say that I had some fears. However, these men and women live with this every single day. They are prepared to follow the instructions of the Canadian people as expressed in Parliament and by the government. If we want them to come home then they will come home. If we want them to stay then they will stay. There is, however, no dissension on the part of our troops.
In fact, the deputy UN commander, General John MacInnis, is a Canadian and he has made some very courageous statements. There was one in the newspapers the other week about Srebrenica: "It is not for the Serbs or any of these factions to dictate what battalions or groups of soldiers can relieve others. We are not here to be dictated to by these factions. We will determine whether or not there will be Ukrainians or whether there will be Dutch or whether there will be Nordics or Malaysians that will replace our troops".
General MacInnis has the full support of the people under his command and I salute him and the work that he is doing. There is also the work of Colonel David Moore. Many in this House have heard him speak on radio and television. This is the gentleman in charge of our forces in Visoko, right in the centre of Bosnia. This is the gentleman who has to worry day and night about the safety of his people but more about the safety of the people in the surrounding areas.
Who can forget those graphic portrayals of our good work and our duty in keeping those hospitals open in Fojnica and Dakovica? When the civilians had to leave for fear of retaliation and death it was Canadian troops that kept those hospitals alive, whether it was washing laundry or whether it was bringing food. This was the real humanitarian side of the peacekeeping that our forces are doing in Bosnia.
I find it a little odd. I do not want to be critical of the news media or of Canadians in general or some commentators but it seems that a lot of people have only just become aware of the heightened danger that our troops face on a daily basis when the New York Times says there was danger. Maybe that says something about Canadians when we have to look at the New York Times to say whether or not something is dangerous. We have all known on this side that it has been dangerous. Our troops have known it is dangerous.
We cannot be intimidated by some of the actions that are going on on the ground every single day. There were two incidents last Sunday which we made public.
The troops there are working hard. They are devoted and they will continue to be there and work as hard as they can as long as we want them there. Therefore the views that are expressed today should not be taken lightly. I am not suggesting that
members will take it lightly because it is very important that we underscore our commitment for them and the aims of the United Nations and peacekeeping in general.
In Canada this support for peacekeeping I believe is still there. We have heard about opinion polls that say Canadians want our people to withdraw. After hearing some of the comments from the other side and hopefully some from this side today, I think they will realize there is more to it than simple withdrawal and some of those concerns have already been expressed.
It is up to us as elected representatives to make the hard decisions about what Canada, and by extension our Canadian forces, should do. Peacekeeping continues to dominate our operational activities and this poses special challenges for the Canadian forces who must balance their peacekeeping commitments with their other national and international commitments.
Achieving this balance is not going to be easy. Our current peacekeeping and related missions are considerable in terms of both the sheer geographic reach of the Canadian forces and the different types of operation and commitment involved.
At the same time as the complexity and the cost of peacekeeping missions increase, here at home we are faced with the hard realities of declining budgets and reductions in the regular force. I made statements on that earlier and members will be hearing more about that as the weeks go on.
Let us face the truth. The more we cut back in our defence budget the more we restrict our ability to perform these essential peacekeeping tasks along with our other military obligations.
If Canadians wish to continue to be leaders in the field of peacekeeping and continue to make this important contribution to stability in troubled regions then Canadian forces must be adequately trained and appropriately equipped. In other words, they must be combat capable forces.
Finally, Canadians must accept the risk involved in sending our troops abroad to areas of recent or ongoing conflict.
We have seen where UN peacekeeping has been. While we cannot predict where it will go in the future it seems likely there will be a continuing need for UN involvement in the world's hot spots at least for the next few years. This will pose many challenges for us on the government side and for all Canadians. I invite members to think very carefully before they advocate a hasty withdrawal from the former Yugoslavia and perhaps reflect upon the continuation of our peacekeeping in general.