Mr. Speaker, it is good to be back again for another session. I am sure you have had many anxious moments over the last few weeks wondering just what was going to greet you when you got back to the House. To think that I would be the first person to wish you a happy new year, what a way to go. Happy new year, Mr. Speaker. It is only going to get better after this in this parliamentary session.
This bill before us, Bill C-300, is a fascinating one which has gone through Parliaments before. One of my colleagues, the member for Saanich-Gulf Islands, thought that it was important enough to bring it up again and finally do something about it before the turn of the century. Therefore I am pleased that hopefully we in this House will find unanimity and be able to move forward on this.
When we talk about peacekeepers we talk about an amazing group of people willing to put their lives on the line, perhaps not in active duty but in what we would call a safe zone. One wonders if there is such a thing as a safe zone in this world. It is one thing for a peacekeeper to say "I am going in there to try to hold two groups apart", but when there has been strife and a great deal of human pain and tragedy, it is very difficult to be the person who walks into the middle to say "here I am to try to keep peace". It is essential to make peace at the beginning but it is also important to be able to keep the peace.
Canadian peacekeepers have an incredible reputation around the world. Therefore to honour them and give them a medal for their service is something that is long overdue. Hopefully we will be able to put this bill through the House very quickly.
This medal would provide a distinct Canadian recognition for all Canadians who have served with the United Nations peacekeeping force by awarding a Canadian volunteer service medal for peacekeeping, which is what we are focusing on today.
If we want to talk about the difference between active soldiers or those who are involved in a fight, we may consider that peacekeepers may not necessarily be involved in active fighting. However, when the question is asked whether peacekeepers fight, I think the answer is yes, they do. They fight for many things. They fight for justice, order and maintaining the peace. One may say that they do not have weapons in their hands but I think they have an even more tenuous task because they do not have those defence mechanisms but they do fight.
They fight fear and terror. There is no guarantee that they are going to be safe in a safe zone. They may be lunged upon from either side or both sides. Therefore when we say they are not active fighters I would have to disagree with that. They fight fear, terror and the unknown. The unknown is probably more frightening than anything else.
Those of House sitting in the House of Commons came in here for our first day at one point, whether it was two or three years ago or whether it was eight, nine, twelve or even thirty-three years ago, but there was a first day for all of us and it was unknown. It is the same for any student or teacher going into a new school or someone going into a new business. It is the same for a peacekeeper going on to a peacekeeping mission. They have a fear because they are fighting the unknown. They are not sure what is going to meet them there.
It is one thing to come in here and face adversaries in the House of Commons but surely that is not as terrifying, although some days it seems like it, perhaps even uncivil. However, to know that you are there on the line trying to hold peace and being there as a Canadian peacekeeper, one of the proudest in the world, not knowing if either side that you are trying to hold apart is going to go after each other, that is unknown and it is fear. It is also very difficult.
Probably the most important fight that peacekeepers have is the fight of loneliness. Perhaps they are not engaged in active battle, but they battle loneliness. I believe that is one of the most insidious forms of fighting that anyone ever faces. For those peacekeepers who are thousands of miles away from home, family and friends they do not have a cell phone at their beck and call to just ring someone up and say "Hi, I just wanted to tell you I love you today". They fight that loneliness of knowing if and when they will ever get home again.
Mr. Speaker, you are not terribly far from this place, but for those of us who come from a great distance I think we have the same analogy in this House as well.
I have drawn parallels to that in some of these other areas, about fear and the unknown, something which is a new situation. We battle that as well here in the House of Commons. We battle and fight against loneliness because we are thousands of miles from home. We are away from friends. We are away from the people who support us. That plane ride every Sunday is difficult for all of us to take. We could multiply that for every peacekeeper who has left our country's soil and gone on a UN peacekeeping mission. Imagine how we would feel as we climbed on that plane.
I want to take my hat off today and talk about how important it is that we recognize these peacekeepers.
Probably first and foremost, peacekeepers need to be honoured because they have to work with a government which is unfocused. The peacekeepers are not sure exactly what it is they are supposed to be doing. How do they know they are doing their job when their job description is not clearly laid out? They need to know what their mission is. They need to know what their support system is. They need to know what their staffing is. They need to know what their equipment level is. If we were to ask many of them, they would probably shrug their shoulders and say they are not quite sure, but because they have pride and passion in what they are doing to defend their country they are going to go ahead anyway and do as much as they can.
Without trying to sound cynical, maybe it is harder for the peacekeepers to work for and deal with the government than it is to work in their peacekeeping situations. Maybe they deserve a medal for that.
There are many veterans on the government side. It is important for them to finally realize that we could give ourselves credit in the 35th Parliament for being the group of people who had the nerve and the fortitude, the parallels, to be able to say yes, let us honour these peacekeepers.
There are members in the House today who are nodding in agreement. They are saying yes, we have watched this for several years. As we get closer to the turn of the century it is important that we finally do it. We should not just think about it and talk about it; we should do it.
Let me say again that the last Parliament supported this initiative through the introduction of two private members' bills and the House of Commons Standing Committee on Defence and Veterans Affairs. They talked about the Canadian volunteer service medal for United Nations peacekeeping. Some wars have begun and ended while we have been talking about this in these hallowed halls.
Let us do it. As we get closer to an election, the government has the mandate to get this done now and put its stamp of approval on it. Also, as we get closer to the turn of the century, we will be able to say to our Canadian peacekeepers "way to go, well done, you have done a super job".
At a time when the military has been going through such pain, this would be a way of saying "we celebrate you and we appreciate the many things that you have done on our behalf".
I want to talk about another thing that went through this Parliament in June of 1991. At that time the Canadian voluntary service medal for Korea was approved for the Canadian military personnel who participated in that conflict. It was in addition to the UN medal awarded to the veterans of the Korean war. It was a terrific job and certainly something we needed to see action taken on.
We are speaking specifically of our Canadian peacekeepers. They have done a superb job in their United Nations peacekeeping missions. They have fought well. They have fought nobly. They have fought fear. They have fought terror. They have fought the unknown. They have fought loneliness. They have fought the battle for all proud and passionate Canadians when they were not quite sure what their mandate was. I take my hat off to them. I trust that all of us in the House will take our hats off to them today. I urge the government to move ahead quickly and say "yes, we will bind
together in this House, regardless of political background, regardless of political persuasion". We are Canadians. Let us join together under our Canadian flag, link arms and say "yes, peacekeepers, you have done a good job, we will award you with the Canadian volunteer peacekeeping service medal". We rejoice because we trust that is happening.
I am a woman of faith. I am a woman of optimism. Therefore I trust it will happen in this House today.