Mr. Speaker, I begin by welcoming everyone back to the House. I am sure we have all enjoyed a tremendous break and
look forward, as the hon. member who just spoke, to very eagerly returning to the House and working together in an enthusiastic and co-operative manner.
Before I address the matter at hand I would like to congratulate the hon. member for Saanich-Gulf Islands for reaching this far with his private members' bill. I know full well the hurdles one has to jump in order to get this far. Mr. Speaker, let me tell you it is not easy.
Moreover I would like to pay tribute to the hon. member for Saanich-Gulf Islands. As I understand it he will not be seeking re-election and I am sorry to hear that. He certainly is an honourable member and a good friend. I enjoyed working with him while serving on the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs, particularly on the Special Joint Committee on Canada's Defence Policy. He has been a competent adversary and a diligent politician. The House will miss him.
We know the member for Saanich-Gulf Islands put forward the same bill in the previous session of Parliament. Unfortunately, like so many other worthwhile private members' bills, it never reached the end of the legislative process. As many members also know, I spoke in favour of that bill then and I am happy to say that I support this bill now.
However, I must qualify that by saying that the bill before us now is not perfect. The concept behind the bill is commendable and I agree with it. Our troops need to be treated with respect and as such should be decorated for their service.
As we all know, Canada is world renowned for its international efforts. That reputation has been over a century in the making. Moreover since the second world war our participation in international peacekeeping missions has enhanced our reputation, as was said earlier here. I am not ignoring the recent revelations about several incidents but I do think our entire Canadian forces should not be marred by it.
The high quality of Canada's troops is envied around the world. In fact it mirrors the quality of life in Canada in general. When travelling abroad Canadians are welcomed more than people of any other nation. The reason for that is our outlook on life. By nature Canadians are fair, patient people. This applies equally well to our troops.
We should not forget the accomplishments of the Canadian forces. We should embrace them. A nation proud of its military is a strong and united nation. I am not suggesting that we become more like the Americans. I do not want us to look at our forces as flexing our muscles. We leave that to the thinking of others. But we should look at our forces as an example of what we can accomplish if we agree to work together.
We should look at our forces as one common attribute. Our military is a joint effort by Canadians from coast to coast to coast. Without the participation from all regions, from all provinces and yes, even from all communities, we have no national military.
Our reserves play a major role in providing a link between our communities and our Canadian forces. This particularly was an important aspect which received a lot of attention in 1995 when the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs reviewed the report by the commission on the restructuring of the reserves. Numerous members of this House spoke out on how the reserves expose the community to the military. Without it Canadians would think less of the military than they do now.
Our military can be the foundation to rebuilding our national unity. We should not look down upon them; in fact, we should look up to them. They are willing to risk everything for the sake of not only their country but someone else's.
Millions of Canadians during our history have given their lives to protecting their country, but there have also been countless Canadians who have given their lives going further than that. They have given their lives to protecting not Canada but a foreign country. It would be hard enough to put one's life on the line for one's own country, but to put it on the line for a foreign country, a foreign land, is an entirely different thing. For that reason we should ensure that we properly decorate that service.
Some may say that there are a multitude of medals to award the services of our forces. However there still exist some missions that have yet to receive the proper decoration. Certainly our troops serving abroad in UN led missions do receive United Nations medals and ribbons, but I ask and the hon. member across asks, is that enough? Should we ourselves not recognize that service in the name of this country? Is it not appropriate for Canada to do like other United Nations member countries and present its forces with a distinctive Canadian medal for service in the United Nations peacekeeping missions?
What is proposed here today can alleviate that problem. But as legislators it is our privilege and duty to ensure that we do not create one problem while trying to resolve another. Rarely is anything as simple as it first seems, and this is no different. It is for that reason that I am suggesting that we refer this bill to the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs or better yet, to a subcommittee thereof.
It has been said before in the House and elsewhere that this bill has the support of various associations representing current and retired members of the Canadian forces. I need not list them all for
I believe their names have already been mentioned. But suffice it to say that if these organizations and all the members within support this bill, then perhaps it does deserve a thorough study.
This is further evidence for why the bill should be referred to the committee because it deserves that. It deserves a close examination of its objective, the process of achieving that objective, and whether it will have the intended result.
With the indulgence of the House I would like to spend a few moments providing some positive criticism of the bill. The member's bill as it now stands dictates a very specific medal as was mentioned earlier. However it does not include missions that are not UN led. This may exclude people who I am sure the hon. member intended to include.
What about our troops who have participated in NATO led missions such as IFOR, the peace implementation force in Bosnia? That, as we all know was a very difficult mission. It has been said the mission was to uphold a very fragile peace. In fact, it has been said that there was no peace at all at the time. However, I will leave that debate to another time.
Nevertheless I think we have to be very careful not to exclude some members of our forces who have participated in peacekeeping missions led by either the United Nations or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. I firmly believe that if this bill were to be adopted and such a medal awarded, it would be a grave mistake to exclude some soldiers because their mission was led by NATO and not by the UN and I do not think we should bias ourselves on this issue.
Another aspect of the bill that we can improve is the detailed specifications of the design of the medal. I mean the hon. member for Saanich-Gulf Islands no disrespect when I say he has put too much into this bill. The design of the medal as contained in the bill is too specific. I hope the hon. member is open to some alternative design specifications. This could be further examined during committee hearings and a mutually agreed to compromise can be achieved. There the committee members and the hon. member for Saanich-Gulf Islands himself could hear testimony from various witnesses and the list could include many people.
I also appreciate that several members have given consideration to the cost of such an initiative, but I do not think we should lose sight of why we want to do this. We should not let money considerations prevent us from doing this properly. Yes, we should look at ways of keeping the cost down but not to the extent of negating the whole exercise.