Mr. Speaker, I too am going to speak to Motion M-31 introduced by the Reform Party member, the purpose of which is to give Parliamentarians a greater voice when Canada sends soldiers to take part in United Nations peacekeeping operations.
It is very laudable to give Parliament a greater say in these decisions. Nonetheless, there are some changes we would like to see made to the proposal. As for the substance of this proposal, I think it is desirable to involve parliamentarians in debates of this importance.
We know that, on a number of occasions, this has already happened. Emergency debates have been held to back decisions which, in some cases, had been taken, or were to be taken, to send Canadian soldiers to take part in peacekeeping operations. At the conclusion of my speech, I will propose an amendment to this proposal.
Many people in our ridings and in our families have a connection with the armed forces; we all have such people in our ridings. Some members have military bases or other military installations in their ridings. The number of people involved in the military across the country is large. In debates such as these, therefore, we can
represent our constituents, who share with us their views and opinions when we see them at various events and meetings.
The Bloc Quebecois has already made its views on this subject known in its dissenting report on Canada's foreign policy, tabled in November 1994 after the election. I am going to read you parts of this report. The last paragraph deals specifically with the subject of the motion put by the member of the Reform Party.
The Bloc Quebecois said that "it considers that one of the primary roles of the Canadian Forces on the international scene must be to support peacekeeping operations by taking an active part in them. Canada's willingness to help keep the peace is one of its most important attributes and a major international achievement. However, in the future Canada will have to define more precise criteria for its interventions.
The costs and complexity of intervention will require a new attitude on the part of the international community: the events in Rwanda and Bosnia are eloquent evidence of this. Canada must learn from the experience of all these peacekeeping missions. The recent case of Haiti is a reminder of the need to base our intervention on democratic legitimacy and rigorous planning. In the future, mission objectives and orders will have to be carefully established, under the aegis of the United Nations". I continue: "Although in agreement with the majority report's recommendation on the necessity of giving the Canadian Forces a special configuration, since the credibility of our intervention depends on this, the Bloc Quebecois wishes to spell out the direction that Canada should take in this area. First, we think that Canada should rethink its current military alliances-NATO and NORAD-so that their strategic missions reflect the UN's needs".
"This approach would bring new vitality to these organizations and update their usefulness in security maintenance and conflict resolution, while enabling Canada to achieve the collective security goals that are crucial for its own territorial security. In addition, we consider that Canada should encourage the setting- up of a permanent contingent available to the UN for its peacekeeping missions abroad. We further think that Canada should set a ceiling on the human resources it is prepared to devote to peacekeeping. For example, it could limit the number of military personnel committed to peacekeeping missions at any one time to a maximum of 2,000 to 2,500".
This is what we said earlier. There are now close to 2,000 Canadian peacekeepers abroad. These soldiers are generally sent on a mission for a six-month mandate, so there is a rotation.
We concluded as follows: "And lastly, Canada should submit any decision to participate in peacekeeping missions to a vote in the House of Commons, as rapidly as possible, where time allows".
That is the context in which we want to propose an amendment. I want to say here that peacekeeping is currently one of the main areas of activity of our armed forces. I do not think that anyone is under the impression that, overnight, Canada will be facing any threat of invasion. Our role, as a country, is therefore much more to provide personnel to contribute to the peacekeeping and peacemaking effort around the world.
In fact, any review of DND activities should always be carried out in a similar frame of mind, looking to allocate a larger portion of the budget to peacekeeping missions, which are important missions, while at the same time assuming a role that may be very useful at home and in terms of operations of a more civilian nature. That being said, savings could certainly be made by managing along these lines.
The Bloc Quebecois policy, as set out in this report, has not changed. A number of options are discussed as far as possible positions regarding UN missions.
As for the amendment, I would like to point out that, in its present form, it refers to a number of peacekeepers. A figure like 100 is rather restrictive. The opportunity of this figure could be questioned. It is always difficult to set an arbitrary number. The other question is: what would we do in the event of a major crisis, a crisis erupting somewhere on the international scene, in any given country, on July 31, August 2 or December 27? According to the wording of the other motion, we would have to call an emergency session of Parliament, with the delays that would entail.
To ensure that a decision may be made in any event, and later approved by Parliament, we will submit in a moment an amendment introducing a degree of flexibility in the process, while ensuring however that, should this occur, if the government decided to send troops and contribute to a peacekeeping force over the summer or any other time when the House is in recess, immediately upon its return, the decision would be put to a vote in Parliament.
You will tell me: "Yes, but the personnel have already been sent". Even so, if Parliament decided that it was not necessary, we could go back on the decision and not renew the mandate at the end of the six month term, or withdraw the peacekeepers, not immediately of course, because replacements would have to be found, and we do have commitments to honour within the United Nations.
So that would influence matters somewhat. It would mean a public debate could be held on the subject, people from various sectors could express their points of view, and if the government, in the view of the opposition parties, had not made the right decision, this would be the time to say so. But it would allow more flexibility, it would not have the disadvantage of having to
convene an emergency session of Parliament. That is why our amendment will introduce a little more flexibility in this regard.
I would like to say, while I am on the topic, however, that I would like to see our troops receive more training before being sent outside the country, so that they will have a better understanding of the stakes involved, which are often political, economic or social, in order to be able to represent us with dignity.
Many people have done extraordinary things during their posting. It only takes a few unfortunate incidents like those in Somalia, for example, or elsewhere to ruin the reputation it has taken years to build. We must therefore step up our efforts to train these people before they set out, to ensure that they have a clear understanding of the work they will be doing, and that they represent us well. I think we have some way to go, and we must avoid any more events like those that took place in Somalia.
In conclusion, I propose as follows:
That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word "all" and substituting the following:
"projects of military commitments abroad involving Canadian troops must, as soon as possible, be the subject of a vote in the House in order to recommend their approval or rejection to the government".
This would satisfy the objectives I have just mentioned. I would like to table this amendment.