Mr. Speaker, the House has been debating Canada's role in UN peacekeeping operations for a number of hours now. Obviously, it is an important question and there are many aspects to consider.
Of course I want to focus on the role and mission of our peacekeeping forces, but I would also like to take a closer look at their presence in Bosnia.
Since the mid-1950s, our peacekeepers have earned a reputation for Canada as a very humanitarian nation. You will recall that it was on the initiative of the former prime minister, the Right Hon. Lester B. Pearson, that Canadian peacekeepers, working under the auspices of the United Nations, undertook their very first peacekeeping mission.
Peacekeeping has since become the cornerstone of Canadian diplomacy. Many other countries have also patterned themselves on us when sending peacekeepers on missions throughout the world.
Canada's decision to make a name for itself on the world scene as a peaceful, humanitarian country has earned it a reputation which generally means that we are greeted as friends when we travel abroad.
Over the years, Canada has therefore maintained a tradition wherein it holds an altruistic view, namely a view of peacekeepers as carriers of the humanitarian torch and missionaries of peace. Quebecers and indeed all Canadians are proud, and justifiably so, of having made a major contribution to peacekeeping in the world.
I would mention that the tradition of the peacekeepers reflects a fundamental value held by the people of Quebec and of Canada. We are a peace-loving people, imbued with a keen sense of tolerance and democracy. We value human life a great deal and we are sensitive to human suffering. It is very natural for us to want to help those in need.
I know this House would agree that the role of our peacekeepers in maintaining peace and alleviating human suffering has reflected the very profound, historic values of Quebec and Canada.
The war in Bosnia has blurred the traditional role of our peacekeepers. They cannot keep the peace when there is no peace to keep. Whereas in the past our peacekeepers were called upon to maintain a brokered peace, this time, they find themselves in the midst of a conflict between factions which seem to see no advantage in settling their dispute. So, what are our peacekeepers doing in such a nightmare?
This question interests me for more than one reason. Indeed, approximately 80 per cent of all Canadian and Quebec soldiers actually deployed in Bosnia do come from the Valcartier CFB which is home base of the French speaking 22nd Royal Regiment part of which is in my riding of Portneuf just west of Quebec City.
Those almost 2,000 soldiers lived either on the base or in one of the surrounding areas. I personally know families that have a parent actually in Bosnia. I am therefore even more sensitive to their anguish.
As I was saying, I take a particularly interest in this issue, especially since many of these soldiers are from my riding. I personally know families who have a relative in Bosnia, and I truly share their fear. I also know that these families, because they correspond with their relative, are aware of the importance of the humanitarian aid provided by our peacekeepers in Bosnia.
It is therefore important that this House correctly define the rationale for our involvement in Bosnia and in other international peacekeeping operations. We must ask ourselves the true question about our peacekeepers in Bosnia, namely: what is their mandate? It is certainly not the traditional one of helping to maintain peace, because the factions there are still engaged in all-out war.
So then what is their mission? Do we expect our peacekeepers to bring peace to the area? Mr. Speaker, even if this were what is asked of them, how could they possibly bring a peace which the warring factions have currently no use for?
Should we consider letting our troops use force to take control of the country and to subjugate the belligerents? Should our troops use violence for humanitarian reasons? Should they occupy the area to impose our peace? No, because to do so would be to forget the important lessons of history, namely that no occupation force can be a substitute for an agreement truly recognized by the parties involved.
Furthermore, if this government would authorize our troops to make use of force to impose reason onto the fighting factions, we would depart dramatically with our pacifist traditions that honour Canada and that are so dear to the people from Quebec as to those from all provinces I am sure.
What is the mandate of our troops in Bosnia? Unfortunately, this House does not have a magic solution to solve the problem in Bosnia and to improve the prospects of the people there. However, this House can and must define the mandate of our peacekeepers in Bosnia. We owe it to our troops stationed over there, to their families waiting here, to Quebecers and Canadians, and to the international community.
So what is the mandate of our troops in Bosnia? Mr. Speaker, while reflecting on this issue, I came across a dilemma, like many other members who have thought about this issue and have expressed their views here today. Today, by acting as a buffer between the warring factions, are the United Nations not protecting the belligerents from the consequences of their acts? In other words, does the peacekeepers' presence unduly and unnecessarily prolong the agony of those people? Would it not be better to have the peacekeepers withdraw from the area, leaving the belligerents alone to face the atrocities and the consequences of their acts? Would our absence perhaps more conducive to a resolution of this conflict?
One thing is certain: far from being observers without influence in this military and political game of chess, UN troops have an impact on the situation through the direct and important role they play.
What we must do is consider whether the process of resolving the conflict is helped by the presence of our peacekeepers. Is their presence an asset or a liability?
I think the debate should focus on a third dimension which I will discuss now. Consider the results obtained so far. Without peacekeepers the conflict would very likely have spread to the entire region of Eastern Europe, like a replay of World War I. However, this conflict has not only been contained but has gradually been confined to a very limited area. The presence of the peacekeepers has given diplomacy and peace a chance to make some progress, bit by bit.
But there is more. The presence of the peacekeepers has afforded civilian populations real protection in a terrible war and alleviated their suffering significantly. This was not done without serious difficulty. Convoys of food and medicine were held up, supplies diverted to the black market, soldiers threatened by belligerents and some soldiers, unfortunately, were killed. On the other hand, hundreds of thousands of people received food and medical care and managed to survive.
At this point I would like to share with you and with the members of this House what I was told recently by the wife of one of our soldiers who is now in Bosnia. This lady told me that her husband had been very moved by the terrible living conditions of the people over there. She told me how her husband took off his socks and gave them to a child who was walking barefoot in the snow. This was only a few days before Christmas. The public in Quebec and Canada is also worried about the cost of our operations in Bosnia.
I did some research. I did some simple arithmetic, and I can assure you that the costs directly related to the presence of our soldiers in Bosnia represent only about 25 cents per month per person in Quebec and Canada, 25 cents, for an annual total of $120 million. Twenty-five cents per person per month. I think our fellow citizens can afford to contribute a quarter to help people in need.
What is the role of our peacekeepers in a new world order? First of all, their role will certainly not be that of a global cop. That is out of the question, because it would be entirely counterproductive. Obviously, their role is no longer limited to peacekeeping in areas where the parties have decided to resolve their differences.
We must consider a new role, a role for the twenty-first century. As nations struggle towards democracy, this new role would be to prevent conflicts from escalating and spreading, to protect and help civilian populations and to provide diplomatic efforts with a climate conducive to conflict resolution and durable peace.
The new role of Canada in this regard will be not only to participate in peacekeeping, something we are already doing, but to guarantee in the field, proactively and peacefully, protection and assistance to civilian populations in distress, while diplomats try to come up with a formula establishing peaceful relations between populations at war. The new role of Canada should not be limited to peacekeeping, it should also focus on peacebuilding and peacemaking.
To conclude, Mr. Speaker, Canada should not withdraw from peacekeeping operations. Quebecers and Canadians of all provinces have a long tradition of peace, and our peacekeepers will
not only be perfectly able to fulfil their redefined mission for the 21st century, they will also do so knowing full well what is expected of them.
Withdrawing from peacekeeping, withdrawing from Bosnia, would be repudiating one of our greatest traditions. It would also, given our reputation as a world leader in peacekeeping, set up a chain reaction among countries participating in peacekeeping operations with the United Nations. It would also mean condemning tens of thousands of men, women and children to suffering, torture, rape and death. This might also cause the conflict to escalate and spread to neighbouring areas.
Canada has undertaken in Bosnia a difficult, but useful, humanitarian action. People in Quebec and Canada are not the type to quit a job they took on. On the contrary, we all strive to finish what we start, especially when the going gets tough. Quebecers and Canadians are not quitters.
I would like to conclude by thanking personally, and on behalf of all my colleagues in this house I am sure, all our troops from Quebec and Canada who, day after day, put their life on the line while serving their fellow man, not only because this is the job we asked them to do, but also because they are noble-hearted men and women.