Madam Speaker, this is an important motion and this is an important issue. All members of the House are concerned about the handling of information about the way our peacekeepers are deployed and the way authorization is given for that deployment. Above all, we want to ensure that it is a transparent process so that all may know the consequences of what we are doing.
The motion proposes very little in the way of changes to make Canada's peacekeeping policy process more transparent. The simple reason is that the process is already extremely open.
The suggestions that unilateral decisions are being made behind closed doors have ignored the facts. Such assertions have no basis whatsoever in reality. The process, as it now exists, is one of the most open in the world. How many other countries have established Internet sites and conducted surveys to determine public support for involvement in peacekeeping missions?
I argue that such countries are few in number, yet our hon. colleagues insist the existing Canadian system is opaque and in need of reform. These statements are difficult to accept.
Furthermore, the principle underlying such a motion supports the thrust of government policy. It has been and will always be our policy to put to this House directly or through its Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade all issues
involving peacekeeping. When it has been possible and necessary to do so, that is what the government did.
We recognize the importance of thoroughly and freely debating all proposals to deploy Canadian forces personnel and we attach considerable importance to the opinion expressed in this House. For these reasons, the government is working to ensure that Canada's peacekeeping commitments are debated each time the occasion arises.
Furthermore, the minister and the government have indicated a willingness to adopt new and interesting procedures to enable this to take place.
The mover of the motion, the hon. member for Red Deer, knows very well that we have had the occasion in the foreign affairs and international trade committee to examine the deployment of troops in Haiti. On an extensive basis we were able to hear witnesses. We were able to have a frank, open debate in circumstances which were, I would submit, preferable to an exchange of views in the House which often tends to be adversarial in nature. We should be looking at that way of dealing with it. That is how we will deal with issues raised by the member for Wild Rose. He said that these were very costly and dangerous and must be evaluated. We are able to do that in committee in many ways far better than we are able to do it in the House.
I urge members of the House who are concerned about this matter and about the way Canadians feel about peacekeeping to examine some simple figures. In 1995, in spite of what the member for Wild Rose said, the results of a study documenting Canadian opinions on foreign and defence policies found that 79 per cent of those polled considered peacekeeping important for Canada.
A February 1996 study showed that 75 per cent of Canadians wanted our current commitment to peacekeeping to be maintained or increased. A similar percentage of respondents indicated that they believed peacekeeping to be a very positive source of Canada's international reputation. It is obvious the Canadian public recognizes the importance of peacekeeping to Canada internationally. Furthermore, Canadians firmly support our involvement in peacekeeping.
The high level of support shown leads us to wonder about the real value of this motion. The argument that the issue must be put to a parliamentary vote so electors may have their say simply does not hold water. They have already had it, in a much more significant way than they have for years. The same is true for the members of this House. Cabinet has not acted unilaterally behind closed doors in considering peacekeeping commitments. This House has had many opportunities to debate the issue, and the government has considered members' opinions.
What is quite concerning about the motion is the possible detrimental affect it could have on Canada's ability to effectively participate in international peacekeeping efforts.
For the last 40 years Canada has been an open international leader in peacekeeping. Our unparalleled reputation has resulted from our willingness to act in difficult circumstances and on short notice. These characteristics have become even more important in recent years. Gone are the days when peacekeeping was turned to only after a superpower had brokered a ceasefire between two states. Now the international community finds itself having to respond to internal conflicts causing humanitarian disasters of unprecedented magnitude.
Given the nature of those crises the international community is often confronted with, it has become obvious that the UN and its members do not have sufficient capability to react quickly. Canada has been a leader, making suggestions and looking for ways to develop mechanisms to increase the capability of the international community to react quickly to complex emergency situations.
A Canadian report entitled "Towards a Rapid Reaction Capability for the United Nations" has been an important contribution in this exercise. The UN has implemented a number of recommendations in this report, including the establishment of permanent headquarters for the rapid deployment of peace missions that will give the UN a whole new capability.
Nationally the Canadian Armed Forces has developed the disaster assistance response team or DART to respond quickly to international humanitarian disasters. Canada has also come forward in actual times of crisis showing the leadership for which we are renown. During the recent crisis in eastern Zaire, Canada stepped forward to lead the international community to action.
What a terrible irony it would be for Canada, one of the most ardent international supporters of rapid reaction, to take measures to make its own system cumbersome, in fact in some cases virtually useless.
That will be the likely outcome of this motion. Making Canada's peacekeeping commitments dependent on a vote in Parliament would be detrimental to Canada's leadership and effective contribution to international security.
The amended motion demanding that all proposals for peacekeeping or peace enforcement commitments be put to a vote in Parliament would considerably reduce our ability to make a timely contribution to international efforts. Whether it is the commitment of a unit the size of a battalion or just a couple of military observers, the difficulty would be the same. Obviously, we could not keep the leading role we now have in international peacekeeping if our participation were subject to such constraints.
Therefore the motion has implications not only for our international reputation but also for the lives of those people we are seeking to assist. It has become increasingly clear in recent years that without a rapid response from the international community countless lives which might have been saved will indeed be lost.
Canadians such as generals Dallaire and Baril know this all too well. The imposition of additional constraints on our ability to act nationally would fly in the face of all that we have tried so hard to achieve in the international arena.
In moving this motion, the hon. member neglected several highly significant realities about the world of today. First and foremost, it must be realized that events develop quickly, often with tragic outcomes. To insist that Canadian peacekeepers be reduced to doing nothing until the House can meet and debate the issue, while innocent people are suffering as the result of a conflict or a humanitarian disaster, is foreign to the interests and values Canadians hold dear.
The international community has learned one thing from the tragic events of recent years: we must act promptly when we are called upon. The motion in question could totally prevent us from doing what we have demanded of other members of the international community: providing a rapid response.
The hon. member also seems to ignore an even more immediate reality. As I have said, the government has consistently endeavoured to bring matters related to Canadian peacekeeping commitments before the House or before the appropriate committee for debate and informed discussion.
Furthermore, it has provided the Canadian people with a direct means to express their views concerning their country's peacekeeping policy. The Canadian public has expressed its opinion. It firmly believes in and supports Canada's role in international peacekeeping.
The Canadian government and the Canadian public are proud of the lead peacekeeping role Canada has assumed in the world. Our role in this area is important for Canadians, for Canada, and for the world.
We cannot support this rather unwise motion, which can only serve to diminish Canada's role in the noble enterprise of peacekeeping.