Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to again rise to speak on this, our opposition day.
The war in Kosovo is now in its 26th day. Who would have believed that the conflict would have gone on this long? With NATO and all the new military technologies involved, we might have expected it to be over in a few days at most.
Unfortunately, we underestimated Milosevic and the Serbian government. In particular, we had not predicted how fast and efficient that government would be in its ethnic cleansing operations against the population of Kosovo.
The Bloc Quebecois has always regretted this war, and all war moreover, yet intervention in Kosovo was necessary, unfortunately. Necessary because Milosevic and the Serb army are engaged in literally depopulating Kosovo.
The latest figures on the massive exodus of the Kosovar population are terrifying. The UNHCR is now talking of some 400,000 Kosovar refugees in Albania, 150,000 in Macedonia, 75,000 in Montenegro, and 32,000 in Bosnia.
This is not taking into account the 260,000 Kosovars refugees within Kosovo itself, nor those who have taken refuge in the mountains. To date, NATO estimates that this war has claimed 3,200 lives. NATO also believes it has found 43 mass graves. This is not even taking into account the rapes, the physical atrocities and the psychological sufferings of an entire people.
For all of these reasons, all available resources must be deployed in order to relieve the sufferings and improve the living conditions of the Kosovar refugees in Bosnia, in Macedonia, in Albania and in Montenegro. It is therefore important to provide the High Commissioner for Refugees with all the humanitarian aid and logistical support appropriate.
To this end, we are still awaiting a clear response from the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration to the question I asked here in the House last week. Members will remember I asked her if the government was prepared to commit to using the $100 million set aside to take in the refugees here in order to provide additional support to the NGOs on location in the Balkans.
The minister responded at the time with banalities such as “the situation is stabilizing at the borders there”. However, according to the HCR, Macedonia alone expects an additional 100,000 refugees in the next few days. No need to point out that the needs are urgent in the various refugee camps.
When will the minister be announcing that this $100 million will go to refugees in the Balkans? It is a matter of life and death, and the money is available here and now.
I would hope that the minister and the government will show compassion as soon as possible, before it is too late.
It is very clear that we are now facing new realities and that the NATO forces should reassess their strategies in this war.
That is where the problem lies. The Government of Canada's haughty attitude toward the members of this parliament, drawn, it must be said, from the Liberal leader's arrogant treatment of the opposition members, prevents us from having a clear picture of the situation in the Balkans. This deplorable attitude is reflected in this government's lack of transparency in releasing information on this war.
As a member of this House democratically elected by the people of the riding of Laurentides, I am very frustrated by the Prime Minister's refusal to allow a debate followed by a vote on the possibility of sending Canadian troops in the Balkan region or on any other initiative, whether military or diplomatic.
Yet, according to an Angus Reid poll, 59% of Canadians would be willing to support the deployment of ground troops, and 61% would agree to the involvement of Canadian soldiers in this ground operation, if it became necessary.
Why is the government still stubbornly refusing to allow a vote on this issue here in the House? Considering the Angus Reid poll results, it would be in the best interests of the government to vote on this issue. The government would then come out stronger in its support, as would the Canadian democratic system.
Let us remember the Gulf war in 1991. At that time, Liberals were in the opposition. Despite the three votes taken in the House of Commons about that war, the hon. member for Shawinigan had openly criticized the government for its lack of willingness to fulfil its duty of having a consultation and a debate.
Eight years later, the Liberal government is trampling not only on Canadian democracy, but also on its own ideas. Even Yves Fortier, the former Canadian ambassador to the UN, publicly blamed the Prime Minister for his lack of transparency regarding Canadian positions and actions in the Kosovo crisis.
Since the beginning of the war in the Balkans, the government has been providing information on the conflict in dribbles. It is time the government stopped acting that way. Quebeckers and Canadians as well as members of parliament have a right to know the different military or diplomatic options to which the Canadian government and NATO are giving priority.
To this day, the Bloc Quebecois and other opposition parties have all supported the decisions of the government, but this does not mean that the Bloc Quebecois is ready to sign a blank cheque. We demand a substantial debate followed by a vote, to allow members of parliament to take a just and informed decision on the opportunity to send ground troops to Kosovo.
Why such lack of transparency compared to other governments? Germany has voted twice on the advisability of air strikes in Kosovo.
The United States will also vote on the granting of additional funding requested by the Pentagon to increase the American participation in Kosovo. The Hungarian parliament also voted to allow NATO aircraft to fly over its territory. The Czech Republic voted on the same issue. What is the Canadian government waiting for to show the same openness?
The lack of democracy created by the silence of the Liberal government could have a negative impact on the consensus we now have in this House. Indeed, how are we expected to be able to assess NATO's diplomatic or military initiatives if the government does not think of providing us with adequate information, which would encourage this House to debate and vote on these initiatives?
Eventually, the Bloc Quebecois might be forced to raise serious concerns on the advisability of those initiatives, which could bring the present consensus to an end.
In 1991, during the gulf war, members of the House received excellent information on the state of the conflict and governmental initiatives but this time we are better informed on the crisis in Kosovo by the medias. This is not right.
In closing, I remind all members of the House that the Bloc Quebecois is deeply disturbed by the atrocities and ethnic cleansing activities directed against Kosovars. To put a stop to such atrocities, all diplomatic and military alternatives, including sending ground troops to Kosovo, must be debated in this House and approved through a vote. What is at stake is the health of our democratic system, the legitimacy of this government, and perhaps even the survival of a people.
I would like to conclude with a short poem written by a pupil at the École des Ursulines de Québec. Her name is Sarah-Émilie Mercier. Her poem is about peace, and I will read it now:
Why does peace elude mankind? Why not put our hate behind? With fighting and poverty all round the earth Peace has retreated for all it is worth And though I seek it near and far It has become like a distant star What is so hard to comprehend? Love one another, and wars will all end.