Mr. Speaker, I am extremely pleased to speak today on Motion M-13 put forward by the hon. member for Red Deer.
As official opposition critic on foreign affairs and vice-chair of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade, I am in fact entitled to draw attention to the appropriateness
of this motion, which would make the process of sending our troops overseas much more open and democratic.
Let me start off, however, by reminding you that the Bloc Quebecois has proposed a very important amendment, because we felt that Motion M-31, while very pertinent, was still flawed. Thus, with the amendment proposed by the Bloc Quebecois, the motion would read as follows, and I quote:
That, in the opinion of this House, all proposed peacekeeping or peace enforcement commitments 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 amendment would be totally acceptable to the present government, since it would have the advantage of adding to the transparency of the decision making process associated with sending our soldiers abroad, without tying the hands of the government when prompt action is required.
You will see that the Bloc Quebecois is being very consistent with its previous positions, because we had already, in the dissenting opinion we tabled in November 1994 in conjunction with the report by the Special Joint Committee reviewing Canada's Foreign Policy, recommended that the House of Commons be more involved in decisions involving foreign affairs.
I will quote, if I may, an excerpt from page 4 of the Bloc Quebecois dissenting opinion: "We consider that Canada should submit any decision to participate in peacekeeping missions to a vote in the House of Commons, as rapidly as possible, when time allows".
Now that the irritants in the motion tabled in this House by the Reform Party have been removed, we sincerely believe that it would be illogical for this government to vote against it, especially since the Minister of Foreign Affairs is constantly reiterating his desire to consult MPs and the general public to a larger extent.
I do not have to remind my hon. colleagues in this House that the principal role of a member of Parliament is to represent his or her fellow citizens. The government ought, therefore, to do everything it can to involve MPs in decisions as important as sending our soldiers overseas. The lives of Quebecers and Canadians are at stake, whom Canada takes the risk of sending into parts of the world where instability or danger, or both, are constantly present.
Of course, our military personnel possess all of the qualities required to carry out such missions successfully. Moreover, they have our total support and affection, given the excellent reputation they have built for themselves in their many peacekeeping assignments.
We believe, however, that not just the soldiers, but the people of Quebec and Canada are entitled, at the very least, to be informed of the dangerous situations our troops might have to contend with. What is surprising today is that the Liberal government might well vote against this Reform Party motion as amended by the Bloc Quebecois, although the Liberals themselves promised in their famous red book that they would increase the involvement of Parliament and the public in debates on major foreign policy issues.
I shall, if I may, quote a particularly significant excerpt from the red book which would be a mere pamphlet if it only included the promises that were kept. It says, and I quote:
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.
The conclusion is that it makes no sense at all to debate this motion today, since it is clear that if the Liberal Party had kept this promise, the case would already be closed. Of course some of our Liberal colleagues are going to argue that the government would not be as functional or that it has to be able to act quickly.
During the debate in April 1995 on Bill C-295, whose purpose was to promote parliamentary control of peacekeeping operations, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence and Veterans Affairs implied that he would not go along with the idea of being subjected to a set of rules that would restrict the speed with which the government could react.
Motion M-31 as amended would allow the government to act quickly. Adding the phrase "as soon as possible" means that the government could act immediately in a crisis and would not have to wait for Parliament to reconvene before making a decision.
If, for instance, a crisis arose somewhere in the world, our troops could be dispatched immediately to the theatres of operations and subsequently, parliamentarians would be able to have a debate on this decision.
The Americans have already thought about this and came up with a solution in 1973 in the form of the War Power Resolution. The three main points may be summarized as follows: after sending troops abroad, the president has 48 hours to inform Congress in writing of what he intends to do; the use of force by troops must cease within 60 days, unless Congress authorizes an extension. However, the president may request a further 30 days to ensure a safe withdrawal of the troops. Congress could demand the withdrawal of the troops within 60 to 90 days by passing a resolution to that effect, a resolution that would be passed simultaneous by both chambers.
It is clear that we are nowhere near this kind of control. Motion M-31 as amended by the Bloc Quebecois merely proposes to have an open debate on sending our troops abroad.
This motion would give members a chance to make their suggestions and opinions known in this House. The last time troops were sent abroad, it was clear that the members of this House had not been consulted but merely informed.
It is too bad government does not pay more attention to the advice of parliamentarians, despite its claims of openness and transparency.
Take for instance the case of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs. The minister does not seem to realize that the members of this committee examine a certain number of issues thoroughly. We hear witnesses from all walks of life with often exceptional knowledge of often very complex subjects.
The minister keeps saying that the work done by the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade is very important. He says that he intends to keep committee members informed of the government's decisions, and to take into consideration the positions formulated by this committee.
Is there not something ironic about the fact that these eloquent, gratuitous and inconsequential statements come from the same government which waited until the members of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade were held up abroad as members of a parliamentary delegation to sneak through the House the bill to implement the Canada-Israel free trade agreement, despite the reservations expressed by members of this committee during clause by clause consideration of the bill and after hearing witnesses?
When the government decided to lead what was supposed to be a multinational force that would go and help refugees in the African great lakes region, it did not even bother to consult or even inform members of the committee or at least the chairman of its decision.
The government has already promised that members sitting in this House will have a say in the deployment of peacekeepers. That is exactly the purpose of motion M-31.
I see you are signalling that my time is up, but you allowed the member of the Liberal Party a few seconds more, so I shall, if I may, use the time I have left to say that this is exactly the purpose of Motion M-31 as amended by the Bloc Quebecois. It does not deny the government the authority to act quickly when the situation so requires and it would have a major impact in that it would open a window on that rather closed decision making centre which is the Department of Foreign Affairs.