Mr. Speaker, right off the bat, I want to say that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Hochelaga-Maisonneuve.
"The most important asset of government is the confidence it enjoys of the citizens to whom it is accountable. This erosion of confidence seems to have many causes: some have to do with the behaviour of certain elected politicians, others with an arrogant style of political leadership. The people are irritated with governments that do not consult them, or that disregard their views, or that try to conduct key parts of the public business behind closed doors." These wise words are not from me, but from the red book of the Liberal Party of Canada. It goes on to say: "A Liberal government will take a series of initiatives to restore confidence in the institutions of government."
During the election campaign, the Liberal Party came out as a model of integrity, advocating integrity and transparency, wanting to restore the public confidence in politicians and their institutions. Instead, Liberals have become masters of cover-ups, shady deals, obfuscation, hidden and hypocritical actions.
It is with great pleasure that I support the motion put forward by my hon. colleague from Shefford, which reads as follows:
That, in the opinion of this House, the government should commit itself to having full light shed on the events occurring before, during and after the deployment of Canadian troops to Somalia, by extending the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry until December 31, 1997.
Just as the commission itself asked for.
As we all know, this inquiry was abruptly and prematurely terminated by the defence minister and the federal government. We have the right to ask why this commission of inquiry is not being treated with the same tolerance usually shown other royal commissions.
This decision is unprecedented. This is the first time a government refuses to extend the mandate of a royal commission or any
other judicial inquiry. So it is quite normal that we should question the motives behind this precedent, which will unfortunately go down in history.
However, we are all the more puzzled when the commission chief, Mr. Justice Létourneau, says that this deadline means that he and the commission will be unable to get to the bottom of this affair.
Thanks to our Liberal colleagues, Quebecers and Canadians will not be able to get the full story on the role of the top army and government brass in this affair. Once again, therefore, it is the little guys who will pay, in this case, the lower ranks.
Just when the Somalia inquiry was getting to the meat of its mandate, it is suddenly reined in. Why? "Because it has already cost the taxpayer too much", is the defence minister's reply. And a wonderfully deceptive reply it is, coming from a Liberal minister whose government will soon call an election.
Of course, they trot out figures of $25 million, which may seem huge to the ordinary person, but they neglect to say what they include. The amount is actually more like $14 million, when you deduct the cost of legal representation for certain witnesses, and the $10 million spent by the Department of National Defence getting ready for the inquiry.
In addition, if the costs of this commission are compared with those of commissions held over the last 15 years, it can be seen that this latest one is not out of line, far from it. As an example, the 1994 commission on new reproductive technologies cost the taxpayers of Quebec and of Canada exactly $29,726,730, while the commission on aboriginal peoples, which ran from 1991 to 1996, apparently cost the astronomical sum of $51,220,732.
As you can see, the first point raised by the minister regarding the fact that the Somalia inquiry was costing too much simply has no basis in fact.
They also referred to the time involved. As I said earlier, the commission on aboriginal peoples went on for five years; the commission on new reproductive technologies took four years; the commission on the future of the Toronto harbour area-imagine, the future of the Toronto harbour area-nearly four years; and this one, which goes to the very heart of organization and discipline within the Canadian armed forces is taking too long? This argument does not hold water.
This is like hiring a detective to investigate a somewhat unsavoury situation, and after a while, when the detective has almost found what he was looking for, I tell him "Listen, you already cost me $10,000. This is getting too expensive. We are going to stop there", although I know perfectly well the detective is about to find out the truth. "Besides, it is taking too long. I can wait no longer. I must find a way to deal with the problem".
If I want the detective to stop his investigation at this point, it may be because I realize he is about to discover that I am involved. That is what we are talking about here.
It is important for the commission to use the available tools carefully and with restraint, so as to shed every possible light on the events, and to do so as efficiently as possible. We should not be surprised that all this takes time.
And when a commission ends up looking for months on end at documents that have been tampered with and when it is inundated with thousands of documents that suddenly came to light, as happened in this case, obviously this slows down the commission's work. The government also tells us the procedure is too time-consuming and that we have to get on with the solutions instead of dwelling on the problems. But how can we find a solution to a problem that must be further defined and clarified? Unless of course we want to avoid shedding any light on the problem we want to solve.
Did not the former Minister of National Defence promise that the commission would have all the time and all the resources it needed to get to the bottom of this issue? Since this involves getting to the heart of the problem, and the heart of the problem is the senior political and military authorities in this country, the government prefers to skim the surface.
It would have been embarrassing for the Liberal government to admit that Mr. Anderson, appointed by this government as Canada's ambassador to NATO, Mr. Fowler, appointed by this government as Canada's ambassador to the UN, and Ms. Campbell, appointed by this government as consul general in Los Angeles, had been involved in something illegal. Rather than asking these VIPs, these honourable folks, to appear before the Somalia inquiry, they terminated the commission so as to get off the hook.
I believe that the government's decision is motivated purely by a desire to gain votes. The government has asked the commission to wrap up its public hearings on March 31, and to table its final report by June 30. There are rumours of a general election in early June, with the 9th being mentioned. The Prime Minister has not consulted me, of course, but there is talk of June 9. The public hearings would, therefore, be over by the time the election is called, and the government would not be embarrassed by the report either, as it would be published after the election.
If this is the case, if the government makes this kind of decision purely for electoral reasons, and thinks that the voters will not
remember the turpitude of the government when they mark their ballots, well the Bloc Quebecois will be there to remind them.