Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to take part in this debate because it is crucial to Canada's peacekeeping mission.
It is appropriate that Canada was called upon to play an important role in Haiti because we have for a long time participated in the peacekeeping missions of the UN and we have made great efforts to ensure the security and the stability in the western hemisphere.
Our participation in Haiti also reflects the reality of bilingualism in Canada and our role as a leader within the francophonie.
Canada helped in many ways: members of the Canadian armed forces and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police participated in the UN mission in Haiti; Canada trained Haitians who would form a national police force in Haiti; finally, we offered bilateral financial help in order to facilitate the social and economical stabilization of the country.
We have assisted in the last number of months in Haiti. I visited our forces last fall in Port-au-Prince and also on a mission to Gonaïves.
The forces have been composed of about 600 members of the Royal Canadian Air Force, some army, but largely air force. I underscore this because people often think that peacekeeping missions are simply the reserve of the army. The fact is that the navy and the air force do participate in these missions and of course the air force has carried the load so far in Haiti.
What we are talking about this evening and my colleague the Minister of Foreign Affairs has talked about the ongoing debate in New York, we are talking about a force that Canada might send of up to 750 personnel. It may be configured in an imaginative way,
perhaps not all under blue berets, perhaps under green berets. The fact is that what is envisaged is to have a Canadian commander.
On that point I do regret the comments made by the hon. member-
-for Charlesbourg because he criticized one of our generals. It is unfortunate because, as I said during Question Period, I trust all the generals in the Canadian forces and I also trust the person who raised that question this afternoon and this evening.
The decision as to who commands the Canadian force should we participate is a decision for the chief of defence staff. That is an operational decision and is one that I shall support.
A lot of good work has to be done in Haiti. The reconstruction of Haiti is needed. The force in the last six months under the leadership of the United Nations has established a degree of peace in that area. The crime rate has gone down. Democratic elections have been held. Really it has been quite successful.
I understand the reservations some members have with respect to Canada participating yet again in terms of the length of the mission and especially the cost of the mission. I stood up in this House sometime ago and I gave an approximate cost for IFOR. I have been quite amazed that not the incremental costs on the Canadian side but the costs on the NATO side have escalated.
I think the hon. members for Red Deer and Charlevoix have raised very good points about getting a better handle on the costs before we go into these missions. I will not be able to give a full accounting of IFOR for a few weeks. I will come back to the House and give that information but we do have to be very very careful.
With respect to the rules of engagement, we have to be very sure that we know under what auspices we are operating there. We have had some unpleasant experiences before, one in Somalia, and we have learned a lot of lessons.
As I mentioned in the IFOR debate before Christmas, it was because of the lessons that we had learned in the past that we were able to work with our colleagues in NATO to develop rules of engagement that were applicable to that particular situation. We want to make sure that the rules of engagement for any mission in Haiti are certainly ironed out and that we know what we are getting into.
With respect to the resources devoted to the development of the Haitian national police, that is also something we want to know about. This is just not a Canadian Armed Forces operation; the RCMP have been involved and involved in a terrific way. Inspector Pouliot of the RCMP has been well received and has been widely congratulated for the efforts he has given to the Haitian police force.
However we would like to know what the UN has in mind in terms of financial resources for that force. The mandate has to be appropriate and achievable under the circumstances. We have to know the rules of engagement. We have to know what the ultimate force size and composition are and they are the subject of negotiation, as my colleague just said, and we do not really have a clear handle on that. When we get all the costs and conditions, we will be in a position to know if the mission is viable. I think it will be viable but the questions raised here today have to be answered.
The hon. member for Red Deer talked about the public meeting in his constituency. I applaud him for having that kind of grassroots debate before we came here this evening. He made a statement that I would really like to challenge, which is that Canadians, despite our own financial woes, despite our own domestic pressures are unwilling or unable to help less fortunate nations.
Those of us on this side of the House believe that no matter what belt tightening we have to do as a government or as a people, the generosity of Canadians and the richness of our society is such that we must continue to do our bit in helping less fortunate patrons in the world. From time to time we run into doubting Thomases so to speak about our involvement and where it gets us. We have a track record, whether it has been in Somalia, whether in Bosnia, Croatia, Rwanda, Haiti in the last number of months, I think the UN missions have been successful. They have been worth participating in and the UN has made a difference. It has made a difference because it has been able to count on the dedication of forces from around the world.
We have heard the Prime Minister say in this House how highly regarded the Canadian men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces are, how highly regarded men and women of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police are, as are other civilian officials who monitor elections, are involved in overseas development work, are involved in bringing aid, in monitoring and are involved as observers. All the Canadians who have been involved in missions in the last few years have done an excellent job. That is why the UN needs us.
The UN frankly needs Canada. We have been in the forefront of peacekeeping development and overseas development generally in the last 50 years. If Canada is asked, if the conditions are right and if my colleague and I are satisfied that certainly the conditions under which we want to operate which we described this evening are met, then we should entertain participation in that force.
We owe a helping hand to Haiti. It is the poorest country in this hemisphere. I know the country well. I have been there at least a dozen times on various business and overseas development missions. It is a tragic case of where a people and a country have been exploited unduly. We as well as others in the United Nations are trying to make a difference to at last get Haiti back on the right path to democracy and to the improvement of its economy and the lot and lives of individuals.
The hon. member for Red Deer raised a very good point, that is, the whole question of what guarantees there are if there is a problem. This is not quite like Bosnia or Croatia but there are precedents where the United States particularly was willing to extract forces from Somalia. The U.S. was certainly willing with the allies to extract forces from UNPROFOR last year. In fact, we were part of that planning. The hon. member should rest assured that should anything untoward happen, we have the means, we have the ability, we have the equipment and we have the belief that our friends and allies would make sure that if there were any undue emergencies, they would be there to help us in a difficult situation. The precedents have already been set.