Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise for the first time in this new session of Parliament to debate the role of Canada in Haiti. We all recall that an emergency debate on our peacekeepers was among the first topics discussed in the first session of this Parliament. It was also my maiden speech in Parliament. Since then the government has consulted, as promised, this House on several occasions because it believes in hearing the opinions of its members as representatives of all Canadians.
Today, once again, the Liberal government is turning to us for our views on the subject of Haiti where Canada has played a fundamental role in helping to restore peace and democracy. More than ever, Canada continues to be asked to assist in such missions as the one we are debating today. The reason for this, as the Prime Minister said in his speech this afternoon, is because they see Canada as a model for hope for the future and they aspire to achieve what we have in our country.
I feel it is our duty as well as our responsibility to help these nations, which I will call also our brothers and our sisters in need. After all, we live on this planet earth together and we are all a global family.
Haitians see us as a partner and a strong ally who has never let them down. As for the UN, it sees us as an active participant in a multilateral system, and also as a country with a deep respect for peacekeeping. Today, both of them are showing the great confidence they have in our country and its citizens.
I want to focus on two themes that, I think, justify our participation in that mission: to help strengthen the civilian authorities in Haiti, and to ensure the safety of individuals.
On February 7, our new colleague, the Minister for International Co-operation and Minister for Francophonie, went to Port-au-Prince to represent our country at the swearing-in ceremony of the new President of Haiti, René Préval.
This was the minister's first trip, which is an indication of the importance given to the Haitian situation by our government. The minister was able to see first hand the rebuilding going on, as well as the magnitude of the job that awaits Canada and other donor countries willing to help Haiti meet the basic needs of its population.
Canada has played, and continues to play, a major role in the march of the Haitian people towards democracy. Our immediate concern is to maintain a stable and safe environment in Haiti. In order to do that, the UN peacekeeping mission must remain in Haiti. Canada will continue to support the development of the rule of law in Haiti and help strengthen the civilian authorities in that country.
In the long term, this will not only mean helping Haiti reorganize its courts, but also train its judges and help reform its whole legal system. The Canadian International Development Agency is currently developing a program that will help Haiti train judges as well as court officers. That program will also help the Haitian government reorganize trial courts and develop its own training capabilities. Technical assistance is currently being provided to the Haitian justice department through that program.
As a Montrealer, I am pleased to know that over 245 police officers from Montreal's urban community volunteered to spend three to six months in Haiti, where they will join the 15 or so officers who are already there, to help train their new Haitian colleagues. This type of exchange shows the value and the strength of international co-operation.
This program will not only help the new Haitian police force, but will certainly work to bring together the SPCUM and the cultural communities of Montreal. This shows what co-operation can do. This is a fine example of what international co-operation can bring to all of us in Canada.
We need to help Haitians not only to overall their justice system, but also to discover and protect their rights. With its Human Right Education and Promotion Program, CIDA is teaching the Haitian people, at the community level, how to exercise and protect their rights. This program will promote a sense of civic duty and try to make the Haitian people more responsible, while the lack of such a sense of civic duty has only led to violence and fear in Haiti.
We will help Haiti to further develop this sense of civic duty by revitalizing its co-operative movement. The Haitian people will gain a better understanding of the true value of participatory democracy. The co-operative movement has been in existence in Canada for a long time. Whether it is in Quebec with its caisses populaires or in Western Canada with its wheat pools, we know the many benefits this movement can bring to the community. The co-operative movement helps to create and protect jobs and to distribute wealth, but also teaches its members about democracy and gets them involved in society. This is why CIDA implemented a five-year program to promote the co-operative system as the key to economic growth and to the social and financial security of its members.
Strengthening democracy in Haiti will lead to social development. The Haitian people had the courage to take the first steps in what will be a long and difficult march. Haitians have let go of their painful and violent past and are working hard to build a peaceful society where all their fellow citizens will share the benefits of development and progress.
They can be proud of what they have accomplished in such a short period of time. We agree with President Préval, when he said in his inaugural speech that, in the end, it will be up to the Haitian people to take responsibility for their future.
Even if they have taken their future into their own hands, we must continue to stand beside them and to give them a hand. We cannot let the gap between aspirations and reality get any wider in Haiti. The longer people have to wait for real change, the greater the potential for violence and instability. For this reason, Canada's two priorities in Haiti are to seek and maintain a stable and peaceful environment, and to reduce poverty and foster economic growth.
Canada is convinced that Haiti must have sustainable development. If there is to be any chance of that development fostering any hope, it absolutely must integrate all of the environmental, social, economic and cultural challenges that face Haiti. This holistic approach is the key to reducing Haitian poverty. Too often poverty, coupled with inequality, injustice and systematic abuses, leads to violence. We must break that vicious circle, and this we can do if we create the necessary conditions for growth and for job creation.
If we contribute to maintaining the current atmosphere of stability in Haiti, and if we can consolidate it still further, national and international investors will be more inclined to make investments there. In the meantime, Canada has concentrated its efforts on small labour intensive infrastructure projects throughout Haiti, such as rebuilding schools and nursing stations, repairing roads and improving irrigation and drainage ditches.
In addition to supplying technical assistance in various forms, since 1994 Canada has provided more than 300,000 tools such as hoes and shovels-simple, but in scarce supply-to allow these projects to take shape. So we have a grasp on the magnitude of the task Haiti has before it.
In conclusion, Canada is aware that the Haitian people have great confidence in us. On behalf of myself, and of all Canadians I believe, I wish to thank them for their confidence and to assure them that we intend to show ourselves worthy of it. We and our ministers will work hand in hand with them, while respecting their differences, at fulfilling their aspirations for peace and development.
I wish once again to applaud the efforts the Liberal government and our ministers have made in helping to restore democracy in Haiti. It is important for us to continue to do all we can to strengthen our commitment to our brothers and sisters in Haiti.