Madam Speaker, I think it is extremely important to speak to the motion today, and I will take a few moments to read it again:
That this House demand that the government submit to a debate and a vote in the House the sending of Canadian soldiers to the Balkans who may be involved in military or peacekeeping operations on the ground in Kosovo and the Balkan region.
The Bloc Quebecois has been calling from the start for a vote in this House on the possible deployment of Canadian troops to take part in a peacekeeping mission, and even more so if they are to take part in a ground war which would certainly be a dirty war. The Bloc Quebecois has not said that it is against such a deployment, but it wants to have all the information. It wants this issue to be debated by the representatives of the people.
We hear a lot in the news about what is going on in Kosovo. However, in the House we do not debate the issue with the benefit of all the information available to the government. We had evidence of that on several occasions.
Even though we did not hear about the conflict in Kosovo until some time ago, it is not a recent one. Last year as representative of the Bloc Quebecois at a meeting of the Council of Europe—where colleagues from other parties were also present—I attended debates on the crisis in Kosovo on two occasions. These debates were between parliamentarians from all European countries.
Those were disturbing and harrowing debates. Over there, there are many parties. Parliamentarians are divided in five blocs that have existed since the foundation of the Council of Europe in 1949. Europe has experience in this matter. The debates were disturbing and harrowing, because everybody wanted a peaceful outcome.
Calls for a peaceful settlement, for good will, for the intervention of observers, for third party negotiations were heard ad nauseam. However, what was mostly heard is that Milosevic could not have care less and was deaf to the pleas by the rest of Europe, which has had more than its fair share of wars.
I will quote only a few sentences, but I heard people like Lord Russell-Johnston, who is now the president of the Council of Europe, speak in the name of the liberal group and express his profound sadness and pessimism. This was on April 22, last year.
The Barsony report is a good report—
This report dealt with what was going on.
—but there should not be any preconditions to the negotiations between the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and Kosovo. As long as both parties do not move in this direction, the situation will not change and violence will continue. In Northern Ireland also, problems were complex and the situation was serious, but external mediation proved to be useful. Nothing should be excluded from the talks. The Council of Europe does not have to choose between Albanian Kosovars and Serbs. Its only wish is that all citizens live in peace and tolerance. A Liberal is not a priori in favour of an ethnic state, but when the will of a people is so clear—
He was referring to the Kosovars.
—they are entitled to express it. This international principle is recognized in the Charter of the United Nations. Human rights affect everyone. Serbs should recognize the rights of those who have been living in Kosovo for centuries now. They do not have the right to impose anything on anyone.
Mr. Solé Tura, who spent many years in prison under Franco, said:
What is happening in Kosovo is definitely not a Yugoslav domestic problem. Nothing that affects human rights can be reduced to a mere domestic issue.
And I could go on and on. This was a year ago.
I took part in the other debate held in September. A lot was learned from that debate. The Council of Europe was concerned about the hundreds of thousands of Kosovars who had already been displaced and were bracing themselves for a harsh winter in the woods without enough support. Everyone was calling for pressures to be exerted so that peace agreements could be reached. It did not happen.
Finally, there were the Rambouillet talks, where NATO threatened air strikes, which many were already calling and wishing for. Many argued that NATO had to get involved. What did Milosevic do regarding Rambouillet? From what we were told, he massed 40,000 troops at the border.
We are now 26 days into the air campaign. Yesterday, we learned that 150,000 soldiers were fighting under Milosevic.
NATO got involved without waiting for the support of the United Nations for humanitarian reasons. We do not know what will come of this situation, but one thing is sure, we are far from a resolution, far from peace.
If, for the sake a consistency with our first campaign, which has been waged without a UN resolution—which is a first since the creation of the UN—and with our initial intent, which was to prevent the expulsion of the Kosovar people from its land, NATO should decide that ground troops are needed, hopefully with the involvement of the UN, we must hold a debate in the House, because this will not be a walk in the park. Other European countries have not yet decided to get involved. Only 19 countries are NATO members.
We do not know who would be ready to get involved. We need to know all the facts and have all the information. We need to know what the particulars would be. And the UN should be involved.
It seems that some pressure is being put on Russia. We should keep the pressure on. We know that Russia is in a very precarious situation.
Sending ground troops into Kosovo would not be business as usual. We certainly would not know ahead of time how long this operation would take. And there definitely would be some danger.
Our colleagues opposite should be in complete agreement with us on our motion that there be a debate in the House. If there is one important issue in this parliament, in the previous one and even in others before that, it is bound to be this one.
I have expressed my views with some feeling, but it is impossible to look at this issue objectively and not get emotionally involved. Soldiers are human beings, and when they go, there is no guarantee they will return. I am not saying we should not go, but the House should debate this issue as if it were the most important one to be put before us.