Madam Speaker, I find it indispensable to take part in this debate. I must say that I have just heard some surprising words.
My new colleague from Medicine Hat, the foreign affairs critic, seemed more concerned with adding to the argument of his colleague, the defence critic, than giving the foreign affairs point of view.
Yes, it is true much needs to be done here, but much is indeed being done, and we know that at this time there is one fundamental issue for peace: that the UN regain its credibility. This is something that affects all countries that have the means to participate, and Canada is among them.
The people on the other side of the floor with all their surpluses are not going to say whether the means need re-examining. I know that they do not. What is the government asking? Compliance with the UN request to provide 400 military personnel, under chapter VI, to this mission, that is, to send in some Blue Berets, infantry and armoured equipment in a context in which there would not be any peace if the UN had not guaranteed to occupy the disputed border area between Eritrea and Ethiopia. The peace agreement was signed on June 18. We were no longer sitting by that time.
It would have been a good idea if the question had been submitted to us before the UN accepted. Perhaps the UN committed itself without knowing the direction this mission would actually take.
I am pretty well convinced, however, that Canada would have agreed to participate in this mission after it weighed the situation. It is more than participation, since the UN is asking Canada to take on the responsibility of managing the mission, along with the Netherlands.
I would have liked to tell my colleagues who are concerned about these issues—and we are also concerned about the plight of Canadian troops—that since the ceasefire, since June 18, we have found, based on our research, that the ceasefire has been respected by both sides. In a way, this is a peacekeeping mission that meets requirements that had not been met in a long time.
It is a peacekeeping mission that is not at all like the one in Sierra Leone, not at all like the one we need to have in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where fighting is taking place everywhere, and also not like the peacekeeping mission in East Timor. It is a situation where the ceasefire will be respected. Even the end of the rainy season did not result in renewed violence. There has been tension, but no violence.
When we assessed the situation, when we looked at the troops available, when we took into consideration soldiers who had returned from a mission and had already had a respite—because that is important—we realized that we were able to take part in this mission.
I want to go back to the UN's credibility, to this notion that is based on what happens in the area of foreign affairs. We must remember the failure of UN troops in Sierra Leone, the dismal failure of peacekeepers in Sierra Leone. We must remember what happened in East Timor, where a referendum held under the aegis of the UN left the population at the mercy of mistreatment, fire, destruction and abuse from adversaries who had not accepted the clear verdict of that referendum. The population is still waiting for the reconstruction process.
Who followed what happened in Rwanda? Of course, we do not even talk about it. However, in these new missions, the UN must demonstrate that it can be effective.
Who is the UN, if not all the countries that make it up? It is the member countries, ultimately. We cannot point a finger at Kofi Annan. Of course there are problems of administration in the UN. We can single out examples of overspending, yes, but the collective responsibility of the member countries with respect to peace lies ultimately with each individual nation.
I would like to speak briefly about Africa in connection with what is going on in the world. Africa is the poorest continent, the one which is now the stage for terrible conflicts in countries that are poor and growing poorer.
There is the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where eight African nations are battling each other. It is being called Africa's first world war. Africa is in a terrible state and the UN has frankly done little to help.
Perhaps help is not possible, but that was not the impression given by General Dallaire at the time. On the contrary, the poor man is now personally tormented by what he experienced of the UN's failure to act. He says that what has become a terrible human tragedy, this genocide, could have been avoided.
With respect to the request being made, once again, I repeat that it does not come under chapter VII, which provides for armed troops who can defend themselves, but chapter VI concerning peacekeepers. This is in a situation where there is already a ceasefire. Canada's commitment is not an unlimited one. As I understand it, it is limited.
Not only is it limited because the defence minister has said he made that clear to the UN, but it appears to be limited by the situation itself. What this peacekeeping force will allow is a negotiated peace.
Permit me to recount some of the troubled history of this region. Eritrea is a new country. It became a country as the result of a referendum on self-determination overseen by the UN in the spring of 1993. At that time, it became an independent country. We knew at the time that there was a border problem. Let us say that cartography is not the best equipped department in a country that lacks everything, one of the poorest countries on the planet.
The borders were not a big problem for several years. The region is sparsely populated and has no natural resources. In any case, relations between the two countries, Eritrea, which I have just mentioned, and Ethiopia, which it separated from, were more or less satisfactory. Trade disagreements arose, but it was in 1996 that there were new disagreements.
In 1998, the Ethiopian parliament declared war. We all saw the terrible images because these countries found themselves at war in this situation. Because of this war, and not because Eritrea is not self-sufficient in food, the land could not be cultivated as it ought. This war just ended in June.
We are being asked to allow peace to be negotiated and agreed to.
The Bloc Quebecois, members will have understood from what I have said, supports this mission. We support it because our general council adopted a resolution this spring calling for the UN to agree to act as a buffer between the two borders.
I neglected to mention the importance of understanding that there is a zone 25 kilometres wide and more than 1,000 kilometres long that both parties want to see protected by the UN peacekeeping mission.
Why? Because the border between the two countries, the one being preserved by the UN, which was the original line at the time Eritrea was separated from Ethiopia, is not well known. It is being discussed.
While this border is being marked out, the mission in which we are going to take part, I hope, will make it possible to preserve the peace.
Since the general assembly of the Bloc Quebecois voted in favour of such a resolution, we are pleased to see Canada participating in a mission that will put it into place.
Second, we understand that there is a lot of mine removal to be done. This land, which is poor and in many areas dry, and lacking in natural resources as well, has been mined. There is much work to be done to remove the mines.
When I accompanied the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the time to Kosovo, I saw with my own eyes how soldiers were helping out, helping groups, companies or community undertakings that were going to do the de-mining.
It is therefore our understanding that there is a considerable humanitarian aspect to the UN mission. For those who may be watching, I should point out that the UN mission is going to be called UNMEE, which stands for United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea.
Third, it seems extremely important to us that the UN and Canada, which was invited to participate and which has the means to do so, take part in that mission, precisely because this new country, Eritrea, has become a country following a referendum held under the aegis of the UN.
Therefore, it is not possible for the UN not to help that region, that new country called Eritrea, which separated from Ethiopia, define its borders. It is important not only for that country but also for the future. It is the UN's duty to intervene.
Fourth, it is interesting to know that the ceasefire agreement provides for the implementation of a peaceful dispute settlement process, including arbitration if necessary, to define borders. This means that the conflict will be limited in terms of its duration.
I should add something that is more comforting. The two sides agree on one thing: under international law, Eritrea's border will have to be the same as it was when it achieved independence, and this excludes any partition, whether through a referendum or armed intervention.
Naturally, as a history teacher and a committed individual when it comes to the right of peoples, I am pleased to see that both sides agree on that, under the UN's authority. That country comes all the more under the responsibility of the UN, and of Canada, which was invited to take part in that mission.
Fifth, I repeat that, unlike most conflicts where peacekeepers are present, this conflict has every chance to be limited in terms of its duration. As soon as the peace accord is reached, the UNMEE will no longer have any reason to exist.
It is much simpler—and it has seldom been possible in recent missions in which Canada took part—to say that the mission is limited in duration. The Canadian army is now in a position to participate in the mission. There are 2,500 Canadian Blue Berets in the world. With the exception of the 192 on the Golan Heights, Canada is not very involved in the most difficult missions right now. There are ten Blue Berets in Jerusalem, five in Iraq, five in Sierra Leone, two in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and three in Timor.
The largest contingent is in Bosnia where, despite everything, there is relative peace, particularly since the recent election in Serbia. UNMEE is therefore coming at the right time.
For all these reasons, and I hope the member for Medicine Hat will come around, I say on behalf of the Bloc Quebecois that we hope that Canada will take part in this mission. I would, however, emphasize that prior consultation would have been preferable.
Given the circumstances, however, I think that the government should perhaps have recalled us during the summer in order to consult parliament, but I understand that there were circumstances in which Canada was being pressured and that it was urgent to reply to the two countries concerned.
We have been told of the terrible situation they faced, of the more than 100,000 dead, of those who were displaced, and of all those of whose suffering we were not reminded but who faced starvation and other woes.
Whenever Canada comes to us with a responsible decision which bolsters the credibility of the UN and is consistent with the health and safety of troops from Quebec and from Canada, we will be there.
In conclusion, during my first term of office, before my riding boundaries were changed, the Longue Pointe military base was in my riding and I met with a number of officers who were very proud of Canadian skills and very unhappy about all the disappointments that had befallen the army.
I understand that our troops are proud when they can demonstrate their skills. The Canadian army needs this pride given what it has gone through as an organization. I am not talking about responsibilities to be distributed, but troop morale.