Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak today in the House in the debate on the motion presented by the Liberal government. It is vitally important, given the situation that exists in the great lakes region of
The situation in eastern Zaire and on the border with Rwanda changes hourly and it is now important to act with great speed in order to save lives, while ensuring that our soldiers will be able to work within the safest framework possible.
At this point, I would like to state that it was normal for us to decide to become involved. I feel somewhat the same as the United Nations special envoy to the region, Raymond Chrétien. We could not have remained insensitive, inactive, watching all of this barbarity without taking action, without losing part of our souls in the process.
Consequently, the Bloc Quebecois applauds the motion finally presented to us today. The media has been giving us daily reports on the deterioration of the situation in eastern Zaire. Since then, the Bloc Quebecois has asked many questions of the Minister of Foreign Affairs in order to encourage him to take the initiative at the international level, but all of the responses came back to the idea that Canada was prepared to offer its assistance, but refused further involvement.
It may be that the internal situation currently prevailing in Quebec and in Canada, in which the Liberal government is actually already fully launched into its pre-election campaign, could explain why, finally, the government has decided to go ahead on this.
The Bloc Quebecois would like to believe that current initiatives are being taken for humanitarian reasons and to promote international peace, not for the kind of petty political motives that we have come to expect from the federal Liberals.
We must point out that Canada did not acquire its reputation on the international scene by simply engaging in trade, as the Liberal government keeps suggesting.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs suggested earlier that the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade be given daily progress reports on the situation. How can we believe him, since this is the same minister who took advantage of the fact that members of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade were away on a mission in Europe to sneak legislation through the House, Bill C-61 which implements a free trade agreement between Canada and Israel?
How can we believe the minister, since the Government of Canada took this initiative regarding Zaire without even taking the trouble to reach members of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade abroad? And now the government would have us believe it is interested in their views and in providing information for committee members. This is outright hypocrisy. In its famous red book, the Liberal Party said, however, that: "A Liberal government will also expand the rights of Parliament to debate major Canadian foreign policy initiatives, such as the deployment of peacekeeping forces, and the rights of Canadians to regular and serious consultations on foreign policy issues".
To some extent, the debate we are having today in this House is a farce, since obviously one cannot disagree with this kind of initiative or mission.
In fact, is the government really concerned about the opinion of this Parliament? Unlike what happens in Europe, the government is under no obligation to take into consideration the views of parliamentarians. And even if it were, considering the British parliamentary system, it is clear that the government is formed by the majority in Parliament, which means that consulting Parliament to give some democratic legitimacy to these international initiatives is just window dressing.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs also said that Canada had shown political initiative by mobilizing the international community around the problem in the great lakes region.
I would ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs to be a little more modest, because the initiative did not come from the Canadian government, as he claims, but from France, which for many days had tried to pressure the international community to set up this intervention force. However, France was disqualified from the start by its colonial past, and that is when the Canadian government took the initiative to lead the current mission to Zaire.
And this is par for the course. We warned the government in recent months that the situation was deteriorating in Burundi. And the government replied: "Of course we take note of your comments and we are very concerned, but we want the community of African countries to deal with the situation that is now developing in Burundi", with predictable results, which means it is always more costly to intervene after the fact than to take preventive action.
But the government did not understand that. It waited until the situation deteriorated to take the "initiative", as the Minister of Foreign Affairs said this morning. It is too late. Many people have already died in the region of the African great lakes, a situation which we could probably have prevented if we had acted earlier, as the Bloc Quebecois has already been suggesting for several months.
This is why the Bloc Quebecois believes it was high time the Canadian government finally took the decision to adopt France's position and unite the international community so that it would not ignore the situation in central Africa. Let us not forget that since the assassination, in 1994, of the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi, we have witnessed, dumbfounded, petrified, helpless and paralysed, the massacres of civilian populations so huge that it defies the imagination.
In the last two years, the international community has not really done anything to find a durable solution to the situation which now prevails in central Africa. Yet, the massacres were only the beginning of the plight of those civilian populations who had to flee to neighbouring countries and were crammed into refugee
camps, some of which held hundreds of thousands of people. Mugunga, the largest refugee camp in the world, had more than 400,000 refugees.
A representative of the Department of National Defence told us this morning that the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has estimated that 500,000 refugees are headed back to Rwanda. You will certainly admit that this situation is very alarming and precarious. If you add to this number the 12,000 to 15,000 people who have been entering Rwanda every hour for the last several days, it is obvious that we must help Rwanda to absorb and receive this flood of people.
It must be pointed out that the current crisis in the Great Lakes regions is essentially a political one. Many dictators, like Mobutu Sese Seko, who is now estimated to be worth more than $10 billion, contributed nothing to the development and stabilization of their country and area in general.
When you look at events in this region, perhaps the most deplorable is the fact that these dictators have often had the support of western countries, which, in the pursuit of their own interests, have allowed them to do whatever they liked. Now the leaders of the various factions within the central African countries of Rwanda, Zaire, Uganda, Burundi and Tanzania have to try to set aside their claims and particular interests in favour of humanitarian considerations.
We have already heard the statements of the main leaders in the area. The leader of the Zairian rebels, Laurent Désiré Kabila, has already said that there is no justification for this international intervention. Zaire has denied landing rights to Canadian planes.
Rwanda has tried to restrict the movements of the Canadian troops that arrived in Kigali yesterday. The President of Rwanda, Pastor Bizimungu, has said he did not consider this operation relevant.
With the latest developments in the region, some countries taking part in the mission, including the United States and Great Britain, are now having doubts about its relevance. As we can see, General Baril, who will be leading the international force, will have no easy task of bringing all those involved together, especially since events are moving very quickly.
Most of the refugees have already moved from eastern Zaire to Rwanda. The international force will therefore have to refocus its mission in order to adapt to the continually changing situation, to the point where some members of the coalition question its relevance.
I see you are smiling, Madam Speaker, and I wonder why, because the current situation is serious, and there is no reason to smile at the events unfolding.
One important point: the mission is to end no later than March 31, 1997, in four and one half months, approximately. This short time frame will severely limit medium and long term approaches to lessening the suffering of the people and stabilizing the situation throughout the region.
The new minister of defence expects this operation to cost about $100 million.
As regards this significant amount of money, allow me, Madam Speaker, and I hope you are not smiling at this again, to make a suggestion. Since-