House of Commons Hansard #130 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was defence.


PeacekeepingGovernment Orders

7:15 p.m.

York Centre Ontario


Art Eggleton LiberalMinister of National Defence

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to join our new Minister of Foreign Affairs in discussing with the House this evening the possible Canadian peacekeeping activities on the border between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

The minister has spoken about the diplomatic efforts in the United Nations and the Organization of African Unity with respect to bringing peace to this region. I would like to further discuss the matter in terms of supporting our interests as well as our values as long standing participants in peacekeeping efforts with the United Nations and around the world.

Peacekeeping speaks in a concrete and active manner to the values most dear to Canadians: peace, democracy, human rights and compassion.

Canadians have been and remain prepared to join other nations to better the world, whether in Africa, Asia, Central America, the Balkans or the Middle East. We want to participate in helping to bring peace and stability in the world. This is in our interest as Canadians to continue to help the United Nations to carry out these missions.

Five years ago Canada completed a study on how to improve the United Nations rapid reaction capability. A key recommendation is materializing in the form of SHIRBRIG, the standby high readiness brigade. The concept behind SHIRBRIG is to provide the UN with a readily deployable brigade to support UN operations. Its job is to react quickly to get a UN presence established and then to make room for a UN follow-on force.

The United Nations mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea, UNMEE for short, would mark the first deployment of SHIRBRIG. The core of the UN mission's headquarters planned for UNMEE would consist of military headquarters staff from SHIRBRIG. Canada has committed up to seven officers to the planning element of this staff.

The UN force commander is expected to be the Dutch brigadier-general currently in command of SHIRBRIG. We now have an opportunity to advance our goal of enhancing the UN's rapid reaction capability.

Let me now turn to the mandate of this mission. The UN security council resolution 1320 of September 15 authorizes the peacekeeping mission to monitor the cessation of hostilities in a temporary security zone along the border between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

UNMEE would consist of up to 4,200 troops, including up to 220 military observers. The resolution also authorizes the deployment for a period of six months.

The Canadian forces can make a meaningful contribution to this mission. Our contribution would consist of a mechanized infantry company, including a company headquarters and three infantry platoons equipped with armoured personal carriers. It would also have engineer and logistics support and other combat services support units. It may also include a reconnaissance platoon equipped with our Coyote vehicles. All of the equipment we will be sending on this mission will be the best state of the art equipment that can be provided.

The total number of personnel will be about 400 and they will be there for a period of no more than six months. The United Nations is well aware of our commitment with respect to the six month timeframe.

The Canadian forces would be deployed within a Dutch battalion and under the operational command of a Dutch battalion commander. Canada has worked closely with the government of the Netherlands on this proposed mission. I have met with my counterpart on two occasions with respect to this, and the Dutch parliament, as the foreign affairs minister has indicated, is currently considering this matter. Our approval is tied to their approval since the battalion is a joint effort.

I have discussed with the chief of defence staff, General Baril, the risks involved in this mission and the impact on the Canadian forces. While the military risk is assessed as low, the health and environmental risks, including the threat posed by land mines and unexploded munitions, are of greater concern. To better assess these risks we are sending a strategic reconnaissance mission to the area. Before the government deploys Canadian troops on this proposed mission, the chief of defence staff must be satisfied that logistics, medical and security arrangements are acceptable.

I know that members of the House are concerned about the impact of the high operational tempo of the last few years on the quality of life of the Canadian forces.

As Minister of National Defence, I have made improving the quality of life of the men and women in the Canadian forces one of my main priorities.

I can assure members that we have taken this into consideration in our planning. With the reduction in our personnel overseas, from over 4,000 a year ago to some 2,500 today, the pressure is certainly much less.

Having carefully weighed these and other factors, and pending the final military advice of General Baril, I believe that Canada should make available the mechanized infantry company group of about 400 personnel as I have outlined.

We have a real opportunity and the capability to make a difference in Africa. We have an opportunity to enhance the UN's reputation as a force for peace and we have an opportunity to build on our peacekeeping legacy. In short, we have the chance to do justice to our words, our values and our policies. That is why I ask the House to support the proposal to deploy the Canadian forces to a UN mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea.

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7:20 p.m.


Art Hanger Reform Calgary Northeast, AB

Madam Speaker, I want to reflect on the comments of the chief of defence staff. I think he spoke with some bluntness this week, saying that the Canadian forces will have to cut personnel further and cannibalize its own operations to purchase new equipment. That is just to keep things afloat. Looking at the auditor general's report that came out today, it is very clear that there will be substantial reductions again in military capability.

The government has a history of deploying troops and stretching them to the limit every time a conflict comes up. One has to ask whether it is the defence minister or the foreign affairs minister who actually gives direction to the military on whatever he decides should happen. This is not to say that there are not conflict areas in that world that do need attention, but I am concerned about our troops.

I am concerned about the number of deployments they have had. I have not heard much as far as assurances from the minister that those concerns will be addressed other than making this commitment. We are in the middle of a take note debate but the decision to send them has already been made, which does concern me.

What does the minister plan on doing? Does he plan on stretching the troops even further, to the point where something else will give? The chief of the defence staff has made clear note that there are problems with the budget as it sits and now the minister is committing our men and women even further.

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7:25 p.m.


Art Eggleton Liberal York Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, the hon. member has once again misread the comments made by the chief of the defence staff, or even the auditor general for that matter.

The auditor general has noted in his report that we have made substantial progress in providing the kinds of equipment and resources needed by the Canadian forces. The chief of defence staff also said, in the same articles that the hon. member seems to be reading, that we are more combat capable today than ever before and that we are ready for these kinds of missions.

The hon. member should also listen to the remarks I made a few moments ago in terms of the operational tempo of the Canadian forces. We had over 4,000, a very high operational tempo a year ago. It is down to 2,500 today, to a great extent because of our rationalization of our forces in the Balkans.

It is at a much more manageable level because the government is concerned about the quality of life of our troops and wants to make sure that in fact there is a period of time between these rotations, so that they are not being stretched and over stressed, as we are all concerned that they not be.

While the Alliance Party only talks about matters, we have taken action. We have put more money into the defence budget this year to help make sure we do have the equipment. That is why when they go to Eritrea and Ethiopia they will have the best equipment that anybody could have, modern, up-to-date equipment. It is because of the actions of the government while the Alliance Party only talks.

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7:25 p.m.


Art Hanger Reform Calgary Northeast, AB

Madam Speaker, the concluding point in the auditor general's report—and I believe this is incumbent upon government to inform the House of exactly the state of our military—is this:

In summary, there is a need to provide Parliament with a more complete picture of the capabilities of the Canadian Forces.

To listen to the rhetoric coming from the minister one would think otherwise, but the truth of the matter is that the auditor general, as are many Canadians now, is very concerned about the state of our military and the deployment of our troops overseas.

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7:25 p.m.


Art Eggleton Liberal York Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, we have new Coyotes, new armoured personnel carriers and new combat clothing for an environment such as Eritrea and Ethiopia. We have provided so many new things to our troops that it is a very clear demonstration of our commitment to make sure that when we send our troops there they will be properly equipped. Parliament is being consulted on this occasion and will be consulted on many occasions with respect to meeting those particular needs.

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7:30 p.m.


Monte Solberg Reform Medicine Hat, AB

Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Calgary Northeast.

I would like to welcome the new foreign affairs minister to his position. I have no advice to give him other than to read deeply for several weeks before he wanders into that portfolio. As somebody who is fairly new to this, I have discovered how complicated it is.

I will not suggest that I am going to edify the House greatly with what I have to say tonight, but I do want to issue a few cautionary notes about what the government is proposing to embark upon.

Canada is proud, and rightly so, of its record in peacekeeping. As a Canadian citizen I am very proud of what Canadian soldiers have done in their role as peacekeepers over the last 44 years since former prime minister Pearson invented the idea of peacekeeping. Soon I will be able to present a peacekeeping medal to one of the people who works in my office in my riding. I am quite proud of that fact and he is very proud of the role he has been able to play as a peacekeeper in the past.

It is something that Canadians generally support. We like the idea that Canada has played a very productive role around the world as peacekeepers in the past.

That said, Canadians are rightly concerned about some of the things that have happened in the past and which give us pause when we consider moving into some of these new trouble spots such as the mission that the government seems ready to embark upon, the mission where we would essentially patrol the buffer zone between Eritrea and Ethiopia, which is 25 kilometres wide.

This is a situation where there has been, as the foreign affairs minister pointed out, tremendous bloodshed over the last few years. There have been somewhere in the neighbourhood of 100,000 or 120,000 people killed and 85,000 to 100,000 displaced. In some cases people are in jeopardy of not having enough to eat this fall. It is a pretty desperate situation.

We also know that in the past when we have gone into the continent of Africa we have had huge trouble in some cases. I think of Zaire, where peacekeepers sat on the tarmac for a month trying to figure out what exactly they were doing there because seemingly on a whim the Prime Minister decided that peacekeepers should be sent there. I think of course of Somalia. Who could forget Somalia and the disaster that was? It spawned an inquiry that ultimately never did get to the root of the problems, an inquiry that the government cut short.

Most tragic of all, of course, was Rwanda. That was a terrible situation. Roméo Dallaire sat helplessly and watched the genocide that took place there while he tried to alert the rest of the world to what was going on. Ultimately the UN failed him, frankly, in that situation.

The reason I raise some of these cases is not to suggest that Canada should not go on peacekeeping missions into Africa but that we should go with our eyes completely open. We have challenges that I am not certain the government has considered yet. I do not think it has addressed some of the questions that have been raised.

My friend who just spoke and questioned the defence minister has pointed out that Canada has been involved in a lot of peacekeeping over the last many years, at a time when the government has cut deeply into our ability to provide equipment for our personnel, at a time when the government has cut the number of personnel dramatically. There were about 10,000 people out of uniform in the last seven years and about $10 billion to $11 billion removed cumulatively from the defence budget over the last seven years. That is a lot of money and a lot of personnel to remove and still maintain the same levels of peacekeeping that we have been maintaining. It was not very long ago that we consolidated our troops in the Balkans because we were overextended. It was hurting morale in the military.

It seems like we cannot say no to missions. We are just now starting to get back on our feet. We are just now giving our military personnel a chance to collect themselves and get used to having a bit of time to spend with their families in many cases. Right away again, though, the government is committing us to another mission. It commits us without answering some fundamental questions.

We point out that Ethiopia-Eritrea in the Horn of Africa is a tremendous distance from Canada. How do we support these people when they are that far away? Let us remember that we do not have the airlift or sealift capacity we should have. We do not have a lot of capacity in our military because we have let our military run down so much. How do we reinforce those people? How do we support them? How do we withdraw them if there is trouble?

We know that there can be trouble in Africa. That is one thing we have learned over the last many years. Even when we do not expect it, all of a sudden there can be trouble. When we talk about trouble in Africa we are not talking about skirmishes but about the sorts of things that have happened in Somalia and Rwanda and the sorts of things that happen today in Congo. We are talking about terrible messes, terrible situations, so we need to be assured that we have the ability to reinforce those troops, to supply them and to get them out if there is the type of trouble we are talking about. We have heard no reassurance from the government that we have that capacity.

Next, as I have already mentioned, we are in a situation where we are already extended about as far as we can go. What happens if we are asked to intervene in places like the Congo? Are we to send more people over? How will we deal with that sort of situation? It is not clear to us what the government's intentions are. Obviously this is something that is on the government's radar screen, but we need to have that kind of information before we can say yes. The government has said clearly that we would not be involved in the Congo, that we would therefore commit these troops only to Ethiopia-Eritrea. That is an important thing, which we need to know. We have not heard that yet from either one of the ministers.

My final point is that while I appreciate the chance to speak tonight to this issue, I resent the suggestion that somehow we are influencing the government's policy on this issue and somehow influencing their decision on whether Canada will go. It is all but assured that Canada will go.

The minister mentioned a moment ago that the Dutch parliament will consider this. Maybe in that system members actually do consider it. That would be a great thing, but I have a niggling suspicion, which is borne out by past experience, that this debate really will not influence the decision very much. That is regrettable. A lot of people who are here have some valuable points to raise. We would see this place full if people thought they could influence the government's decision making. Unfortunately they do not, and that is reflected in how many people will speak to the issue tonight.

I will conclude my remarks with that. I urge the government to consider some of the questions I have raised. It is for those reasons that the Canadian Alliance is very reluctant to suggest that Canadian peacekeepers should go to Ethiopia-Eritrea to be involved in this mission. We need more information. We do not have it. It is for those reasons that we would oppose that action at this time.

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7:35 p.m.


Art Hanger Reform Calgary Northeast, AB

Madam Speaker, it is not just the discussion of Canadian peacekeeping deployment to Ethiopia but other conflicts in the world that have given rise to a take note debate in the House.

It is always interesting that the feedback from the government side to the opposition and to the Canadian people does not appear to lend itself to a true debate on this issue or any others when it comes to deployment. The decision has been made, pure and simple, so in a sense all we are really doing is offering a viewpoint that will not go much further than the statements made here in the House and which certainly will not influence any decision on that side.

I am concerned that the Liberal government continues to commit our troops to overseas duty despite almost daily warning signs that the Canadian military is on the verge of collapse when we talk about combat capability. The chief of defence staff was uncommonly blunt this week, declaring that the Canadian forces will have to cut personnel again and cannibalize their own equipment to purchase new equipment.

I want to go back to the auditor general's report, because I think the Canadian people should be well aware of what in fact will happen and what is presently happening.

We can talk about the navy issue. It is going to lose part of its operating budget and will cut back on two Kingston class maritime coastal defence vessels. It will retire minesweepers.

The air force has already removed eight of its 14 Challenger jets. In addition, two Dash 8 aircraft were declared surplus. It has called for a 10% reduction in infrastructure from its component parts.

The business plan of the individual services for the 2000 planning year indicates that additional reductions are planned. The air force faces the largest cuts. The CF-18 fleet will be reduced from 122 to 80. Overall, the air force will shrink from 460 aircraft to 257.

The situation in the army has not been addressed yet. The army has not yet determined how it will restructure itself, but it could also face significant reductions in its order of battle.

That is the complete picture. Of course there is no indication of downsizing, but that is on its way also.

Why? It all comes down to the issue of funding. The government really refuses to address that point of keeping our forces combat capable. If that is the purpose of having the military, the government has reneged on its duty.

The limited cash infusion contained in the last budget was just enough to pay off some of the backlog of bills. The vicious cycle of defence planning and spending continues in the country, yet the government continues to ship more troops overseas. Quite a number just came back from East Timor not too many months ago.

I would like to ask the government how much planning, both of a tactical and a strategic nature, has been invested in this mission. We have committed ourselves to UN missions before without considering the long term requirements or expectations, like the list my colleague from Medicine Hat clearly pointed out, with some situations like Zaire.

I believe the government just does not get the picture when it comes to what our military is all about. In fact, it has insulted our military from time to time, even to the point of referring to our peacekeepers as boy scouts. I think that is an insult. Really, they are far from being boy scouts.

The point remains that the government continues to support peacekeeping missions because we have always supported peacekeeping missions. No consideration is given to the fact that there are half as many people in uniform in 2000 as there were in 1970. We are deploying beyond our means.

The government has worked hard to promote and project an image of peacekeeping and our peacekeepers that is blatantly false and that needlessly places our military personnel in harm's way if they do not have adequate equipment.

Peacekeeping no longer follows the Cyprus model where Canadians stood in observation posts with binoculars and surveyed the uneasy but verifiable peace. For the past decade the UN has sent peacekeepers into countries where there is no peace to keep, or where the one that does exist is exceedingly vulnerable.

We have been sending our soldiers into war zones and blithely asking them to keep the peace, and it has not happened. The government's insistence that these operations are peacekeeping as usual has created a sense of false comfort as Canadians think their military personnel are enjoying six months in some foreign land with little or no danger. Moreover the government has failed to equip the troops it does send.

That brings us to the point of clothing the soldier. It is far from complete and well behind its deadline, leaving them without even the basic kit requirements. They have been forced to beg supplies and material from our allies in the field.

The larger equipment requirements have also proven a constant source of failure and embarrassment for the government. Our lack of sealift and airlift capability has meant that we cannot move our personnel or our equipment on scene without relying on contracted out services. All we have to do is reflect back to the GTS Katie to realize how unreliable some of those services can be, with disastrous implications to this country.

Canada is consistently late in regard to deployment because we lack the necessary deployment resources. Our military personnel are forced to work with equipment that is often not interoperable with our allies. Kosovo was an example. We just barely fit into the communications band with our allies and they were required to adjust to meet our lower standard.

We have no extraction capability, and this is becoming more and more important. If our troops were involved in some conflict and needed to be removed, there would be no opportunity to do that because we just do not have that capability. There are no resupply options. There is no reinforcement plan.

We have been fortunate thus far that our international friends have been so willing to lend us a hand under these circumstances, but surely a country such as Canada should not have to rely on military charity for its military forces to function. There must be a limit somewhere.

It is time to answer UN deployment calls within the context of national interests. The member for Medicine Hat clearly pointed out what should be our national interest. Is it every conflict which comes along that we are asked to participate in and we do it in an ad hoc fashion? Or, is it something that we define as our basic interest and that is where our priorities lie? That has never come from that side of the House, and it is high time it does.

We cannot respond to every crisis, especially given the government's complete lack of resolve to provide consistent funding to the Canadian forces.

Members of our forces have been deployed in some of the most difficult of situations and have never complained. It is the responsibility and moral duty of the government of the day to look after those needs, and I would have to say it has failed to do so.

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7:45 p.m.


Francine Lalonde Bloc Mercier, QC

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.

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8:05 p.m.


Gordon Earle NDP Halifax West, NS

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased and welcome the opportunity to speak on behalf of the NDP to the issue of Canada's role in the peacekeeping mission to Eritrean-Ethiopian border. Like other members of the House, I am very proud of Canada's record in the world of peacekeeping and what our men and women have accomplished and will continue to accomplish in this field.

Just this past week I had the honour of attending a reunion of the veterans of the Princess Louise Fusiliers regiment. It was very encouraging to attend their special ceremonies. I had the honour of presenting Mr. George Cameron, one of the veterans in my riding of Halifax West, with a special service award, a peace bar for service he performed in Korea, and to see the pride and joy on his face with which he accepted that medal, even though it had come many years late. There were some problems in getting the medal to him, but we were finally able to do so and he was very pleased with it.

I was also pleased to see at the ceremony the current regiment of the Princess Louise Fusiliers on parade. I was quite impressed with the composition of that reserve unit. Minority group people and young women were represented in that unit. Young women were marching proudly. It shows we have made some advances over the years and that we are gradually improving the situation with respect to our military.

It was particularly encouraging when the regiment called up the veterans and they stood side by side on parade. The younger and older generations were side by side, proudly displaying their feelings of having provided service to our country in a very meaningful way.

Turning to the particular mission, I underscore that on this occasion I am quite pleased to see that this is a UN sponsored mission. It is somewhat different from the conflict in Kosovo which was primarily NATO driven and dominated by U.S. intervention. I made the point forcibly during the debate on that issue, but on this issue I am pleased to see that this is a UN sponsored mission, which is where I think these kinds of international conflicts should be dealt with.

First and foremost, I believe that all Canadians involved in this effort must be properly equipped, clothed, supported, trained, led and organized. I pray that the government has learned from the extreme hardships encountered by peacekeepers in Croatia and is ensuring that our peacekeepers on this mission are provided with every opportunity to fulfil their mission safely and securely.

Canada owes a debt of gratitude from the outset to every Canadian involved in this effort. I think about their families and their communities. I recall this past June taking a trip to Edmonton, Alberta, to speak to a group about health care issues. When I finished my talk I asked if there were any questions.

I was asked a question, not by one of the members of the audience, but by a young lady far in the back who was working the bar in that establishment. She asked me when I would bring her husband back home. There was a note of desperation in her voice as she told her story of how due to the operational tempo of the armed services her husband was away from home time after time. She hardly saw him. She was left behind with two small children to support. She was holding down two jobs trying to support her children and was going through a terrible time. When I talked with after the meeting she broke down and cried. I hugged her for a moment and we talked a bit more. Then she told me that if things did not get better she would have to leave her husband. She did not want to but she could not take it any more.

That is what the high operational tempo is doing to families. This was back in June. I am glad to hear the minister in his remarks acknowledged the problem with the operational tempo. He is apparently concerned about it and is doing something to address the issue. It is important to families to know when their men and women are away on service that proper supports are available to them.

Also during the summer I visited a family resource centre. I was impressed with the amount of work and the kind of work the organization was doing to support military families. It was there in their time of need to help them through the many problems they faced while their spouses were on active duty.

Also with respect to this mission, I am glad to see that we are becoming more involved on the African continent. I have raised that point as well. I was pleased to hear my colleague from the Bloc Quebecois point out her concern that perhaps in the past our involvement in the African nations has not been as desirable as we would like or has not accomplished as much as we would like.

It is good to see that this particular mission is going to an area that has been torn by strife and where the need is there.

Just last evening I was speaking with the ambassador from Eritrea. We talked a bit about the difficulties in that country and the devastation that the war has caused. I was quite surprised to learn that a large number of the people who fight in the Eritrean army are women. There are a large number of women soldiers fighting in that battle. I asked in particular whether or not there were child soldiers involved. She said that there were not, that they protect their children, but that women are out on the front lines fighting and dying for their country.

This conflict has had an enormous cost for both Eritrea and Ethiopia in terms of lives lost. We are told that in a two year period up to June 2000 almost 100,000 lives have been lost. Just picture that. That number would wipe out a good portion of the core city of Halifax and is larger than the population of many towns and cities across Canada. So many lives have been lost in the war.

It has been very difficult for both countries with respect to food, security and property. I asked the ambassador from Eritrea what her views were with respect to this upcoming peacekeeping mission and I could see the joy on her face and her appreciation of the fact that we were going to send peacekeepers to help them in their time of need. She said that we would be very much welcome in the role of peacekeeping in that area.

In the past year, successive poor crops in Eritrea combined with recent Ethiopian attacks in agricultural regions have brought more than one million Eritreans to the brink of starvation. That is a lot of people. Sometimes we think about the poverty and the starvation right here in our own country, but look at a large number like one million people. Quite often it is seen on TV. We can see the bodies that are being racked with hunger, the bones coming through the flesh. It is hard to imagine that when many of us can sit down at a table and sometimes eat more than we should eat. We have to go on diets sometimes because we are overweight, yet one million people are on the brink of starvation.

I sincerely hope that this peacekeeping effort can play a role in creating conditions whereby the famine in Eritrea can be addressed. On that issue, Canada should be front and foremost in providing food aid to Eritrea over and above the $500,000 recently provided for displaced persons. We need to do more.

On September 15, 2000 the UN security council passed resolution 1320 authorizing a full mission of 4,200 troops, including 220 observers, with a six month mandate. The United Nations mission will monitor the implementation of the cessation of hostilities agreement in a temporary security zone along the border. A combined Canadian-Dutch battalion will take responsibility for the central portion of this region.

Canada is looking at sending a mechanized infantry, including a company headquarters, three infantry platoons, a reconnaissance platoon, supporting engineers and logistics and combat service personnel, amounting to about 400 troops in all, and possibly another 200 engineering and logistics personnel as needed.

The report on Canada's peacekeeping efforts in Croatia produced a troubling picture. In that situation our peacekeepers lacked lumber and sandbags to adequately protect themselves from the regular shelling and gunfire. They lacked proper medical support and sufficient advance surgical team support. The UN refused for weeks to examine complaints from our peacekeepers that the drinking water was contaminated.

I was pleased to hear the minister indicate in his remarks tonight that in this particular mission our troops will be well resourced and well supplied.

Our peacekeepers, their families and communities deserve to know that the government has addressed all these issues and is doing everything possible to ensure that our peacekeepers are provided with all the support possible.

Our thoughts and prayers will be with our peacekeepers and their families over the weeks and months to come. I pray for their safety and for their safe and healthy return. On behalf of all Canadians and many beyond our borders, I am both proud and humble in offering sincere thanks to our peacekeepers for their efforts.

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8:20 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Elsie Wayne Progressive Conservative Saint John, NB

Madam Speaker, it is with a mixed sense of both pride and concern that I rise to speak tonight on the issue of sending Canadian armed forces peacekeepers to Ethiopia and Eritrea.

I would like to advise you, Madam Speaker, that I intend to share my time tonight with my colleague for Richmond—Arthabaska.

In the history of the United Nations' peacekeeping efforts, few countries share the type of legacy earned by the people of Canada. Our Canadian peacekeepers are the most requested in the world, known for their fairness, their dedication and their great skill and ability. Our peacekeepers have challenged those who would challenge freedom and liberty, whether in Europe, Asia, Africa or the Middle East.

At no time in our nation's history has our service to global community or our sense of duty and responsibility ever been questioned. Whenever human rights and democracy were threatened, Canada has stood in their defence. Whenever tyranny and genocide have ruled, Canada has sought them out and ended their reign.

Given the importance of this debate tonight, let me be perfectly clear. I will not dispute the merit of sending Canadian armed forces peacekeepers to Ethiopia or Eritrea, but I will oppose with my very last breath sending our armed forces to any point on this globe if they are either unprepared or ill-equipped. As my colleague from Nova Scotia has stated, many of our men and women in uniform have been sent before as peacekeepers and they have been ill-equipped and unprepared.

I was at a family resource centre on one of the bases in Nova Scotia. I want the Minister of National Defence to know that I was really impressed with that family resource centre, but they had to have a place for little children so they could feed them, because our men and women were taking them to the food banks. They had to have counselling there because the fathers were away for months at a time. The government did not give one penny to that resource centre. The people on the base had to go out into the community and raise the money in order to put that family resource unit together. It was unbelievable. When they told me about this I was really in shock to think that we had allowed this to happen in Canada.

I have often stood in the House and said that when we order our men and women in uniform into harm's way, we must not increase the risk by supplying them with resources and equipment that are insufficient for the tasks we have assigned them to do.

I am confident that hon. members are aware of the uncertain state of our armed forces. In the last seven years Canada's defence budget has declined steadily as the operational tempo of our armed forces has risen. When I speak of our military's operational tempo, I speak of the ratio of time spent in deployed missions by our men and women in uniform.

This is at the very heart of what we debate here tonight. In the 1993-94 fiscal year, the Department of National Defence had a budget of $12 billion. Perhaps this was not ideal but it was respectable. Tragically, by the 1998-99 fiscal year the department was cut to a shameful $9.4 billion. In this past decade the defence department's budget has been cut substantially, by 23%. In this same time our military has been called upon to battle both the worst of mother nature's arsenal and the worst of the world's tyrannies.

Sadly, the cuts to the military's budget have been unavoidably followed by cuts to the numbers in their ranks. The number of CAF personnel has been reduced by about 20% in the same period as the budget cuts. The reduction in the number of civilian employees at the Department of National Defence has been a staggering 40%.

That said, fewer people with fewer resources are being assigned a greater number of missions and more work. The House knows as well or better than I that when we use terms such as missions and work we mean risk and danger.

Just this past weekend the chief of the defence staff, General Maurice Baril, confirmed in the Ottawa Citizen that there was likely to be an additional reduction of 2,000 to 3,000 men and women in a process that he called readjustment. General Baril alluded to a grave prediction that up to 10% of all the bases in Canada will either be shut down or sold off.

The best training in the world for young people is in the cadets reserve and then right into the military. They learn respect for their fellow Canadian, their fellow man, and they learn respect for their country. If we wanted to turn our country around, we would put more of our people in the military. We would give the military more money for the budget. We would give the minister more money for the budget. We would give Maurice Baril and whoever needs it more money.

Those men and women can never come up on this Hill with placards when in uniform and fight for what they need, but never do I want to see any of our people in the military taking their children to a soup kitchen.

That is with the understanding that about 50% of the defence department's infrastructure is aging rapidly and will need to be replaced within the next 10 years, at a heroic estimated cost of about $1 billion. That is why they talk about closing bases.

Those are just the details that are known. Those are just the facts and figures that any Canadian can learn by picking up the newspaper. Imagine what might be hidden away beyond the reach of the Access to Information Act.

It was around this time last year that we began to see the very real need for our help in East Timor. The House will recall the flurry of activity on the part of the Minister of National Defence at that time, when out of pure uncompromising necessity he had to limit our commitment to other parts of the world to make Canadian participation in East Timor possible.

I am a proud member of the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs. It is very close to my heart. I attended committee meetings late last year when the chief of defence staff and his officers came and told us of the need to limit our international commitment until we had the resources to afford them.

My colleague for Richmond—Arthabaska is more knowledgeable than I in matters related to foreign affairs. I am certain he will have a greater understanding of and appreciation for the desperate situation now facing the Ethiopian people, but my duty here tonight is to speak for our armed forces and my responsibility to the House is to defend the best interests of the men and women in uniform.

If the merits of this mission are outweighed by the risks to our troops, then the cost is too great for our country. If the branch of peace can be extended to those desperate people, if a better life can be afforded to them by our action, it would be cruelly un-Canadian to turn our backs.

I will finish my remarks here tonight as I began, by praising the hard earned and well deserved reputation of Canadian peacekeepers. Here tonight it is under the watchful eye of a protective God that we dispatch them to help plant a Canadian seed of freedom in a land scorched by the fire of war and soaked by the tears of a crestfallen people. We pray for their safe return.

Godspeed and good luck.

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8:25 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

André Bachand Progressive Conservative Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Madam Speaker, this evening, two ministers started off this debate, and I would like to pay tribute to the tenacity of the Minister of National Defence, who has remained with us. It is greatly appreciated.

This evening we are to debate and vote on the deployment of troops with our allies from the Netherlands to a corner of the world we rarely hear about, except from journalists who are braving the war to show it to us in the papers and on television. There were over 100,000 dead in two years.

It took some marketing and publicity to get the nations of the world to deal with this war. It is true that not all problems can be resolved; still, there are 100,000 dead.

There were one or two UN resolutions. Yet there are 100,000 dead. Why did intervention not come as quickly as in the case of Kosovo, for example? Was it because no aggressor could be identified? No one wanted to take sides. One hundred thousand dead. What lesson did we take from Rwanda in this? None. We have let things be. Men, women and children killed, massacred and tortured: 100,000 dead and we did not intervene.

I do not blame this government. I believe that all of parliament, all of Canada and all of the world must share the blame. But 100,000 dead, that is unbelievable. We moved more quickly in Kosovo. Why? Was it because economic interests justified a western presence there, while Canada has virtually no economic ties to that part of the African continent? Who knows?

I congratulate the government, however. My colleague from Saint John has always been ready to support any peacekeeping initiative by the government in power, while pointing out the budgetary complications.

I trust that the prayers of my colleague from Saint John for the men and women over there will be granted. I hope that the wishes of the Minister of National Defence will also come true: to get the funding necessary to really have a quality military force over there. That is our wish as well.

What I would like to point out is that there has not been enough said about this. No aggressor has been identified.

When I look at the various UN resolutions, whether it be 1312 or earlier ones, what I conclude is that as of July 31 the decision was made to send people to set up a human rights unit. There is a co-ordinator, and he or she—I do not know which—is going to look into the charges of atrocities, abuses, by either side. I think that is a good thing, to be honest.

When we send our men and women from Canada and from the Netherlands to that part of the world, there will also be people over there who will have to look into the charges and prepare files on them.

My question is this: are there going to be charges? Canada is a leader in international law. There has been Louise Arbour, and Canada has done a great deal. Yet the fact remains that 100,000 persons were killed over a two year period. Will charges be laid? My prediction is that, unfortunately, no charges will be laid.

If charges are laid on one side rather than the other, people will refuse to let the international community get involved. Who will deal with those who killed 100,000 men and women? A report will be prepared, but it will be hidden away, because those involved will feel that it is better not to accuse anyone than to resume the war.

It is like some bargaining negotiations that fail. They break everything in sight—I am not naming anyone—and then they say it is all right, as long as the strike comes to an end.

But here we are talking about human lives. I know that the government, parliament and all Canadians are receptive to that. We are leaders. If one commits a crime, there should be no haven for that person.

There are no havens, except that unfortunately in this specific case, those responsible for these atrocities will probably not be charged by the international criminal tribunal. It is not the fault of the Department of National Defence, not at all. I do not put the blame on the new Minister of Foreign Affairs. I cannot do that. It is a joint responsibility.

I hope the government will continue to exert proper pressure. I know the limitations of international diplomacy. I know that when we sign a treaty or a peace agreement, we must make sacrifices.

Under international law, will rounding up those responsible for atrocities be part of the peace negotiations? If so, all of the work Canada, other countries and Madam Justice Arbour have done will be for naught. It is said that 100,000 people were massacred in this war between two countries alone. Millions and millions of people have been massacred and mutilated in Africa, and the west has done nothing. I am not talking about the rest of the world; I am talking about the African continent. To get something done, journalists equipped with cameras would have to be sent to every corner of every country on the African continent.

That said, I draw attention to the efforts by the minister of defence. However, it is said that there can be no negotiation with terrorists. But sometimes, negotiation is necessary. Should we negotiate with the people responsible for the massacres? For peace, perhaps.

If we say perhaps, we scrap all the efforts at ensuring accountability in international law. I know that the people in the government know this. They know very well that the people in this party also know about the basic right that applies to the world as a whole, which is the right to life. When this right is taken away, international law must come into play.

I join with my colleague from Saint John in the hope that the men and women who will be there will be absolutely safe and that the six month mandate is a success. It will probably be renewed with other countries. Canada has a truly magnificent international reputation.

On this side of the House, in this party, we support this initiative of the Minister of National Defence or the Minister of Foreign Affairs or the government to have Canada maintain and in fact increase its credibility and not simply observe massacres or the aftermath of war and indeed be a country that ensures peace ahead of any armed conflict.

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8:35 p.m.

Beaches—East York Ontario


Maria Minna LiberalMinister for International Cooperation

Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Hillsborough.

I am very pleased and proud this evening to participate in this debate and obviously to support the government's position to send peacekeepers to Ethiopia.

As the minister responsible for the Canadian International Development Agency, I have been dealing with this area for some time, both with respect to the disastrous effects that the famine has had, which is a natural disaster as a result of drought in this region both in Eritrea as well as in Ethiopia, compounded with the war that exists between these two countries.

People have suffered on both sides. In Eritrea there are about one million people who have been displaced within the country as well as in Ethiopia. The war has caused a tremendous amount of hardship which was compounded by the famine. Safety in the area to provide assistance has been very difficult.

We are very thankful and very proud that my department, together with other departments in the Government of Canada and other partners, have managed to finally negotiate a peace agreement in this area. I congratulate the two countries and hope that this of course will hold. That is why I support wholeheartedly Canada's participation.

Canadian peacekeepers are, from what I saw when I travelled to Kosovo, a group of soldiers who are not only welcome but who become part of the community. In Kosovo they have become loved partners of the children of Kosovo. They have helped to rebuild the schools as well as doing their jobs as peacekeepers and keeping the young people away from mines.

CIDA has already announced $200,000 to the UN mine co-ordination centre, $100,000 for Eritrea and the other $100,000 for Ethiopia. Unfortunately both sides have laid an untold number of land mines in the area and this has to be addressed very quickly.

Last month Canada made an important investment in peace in a broader sense. I am referring, of course, to the International Conference on War-Affected Children which was held in Winnipeg. Children and women are very much the people who pay the highest price in these circumstances. The conference was attended by Eritrean ministers and I urged them to sign and ratify the land mines treaty.

I am pleased to note that Ethiopia has signed the treaty and we still look forward to its early ratification. First and foremost, however, we look forward to both governments taking a leadership role in removing the mines laid during the conflict, which are major threats to Ethiopian and Eritrean people, especially children.

Both countries have a responsibility to utilize the strength of their soldiers who are no longer involved in hostilities and hopefully will continue to not be involved in hostilities but who will direct their energies toward the removal of the land mines with the assistance of the UN mine action committee which can certainly train, supervise and assist together with Canadian assistance.

According to the UN human development index, these two countries rank among the 15 poorest countries in the world. Already this year, in order to assist with the disasters that have occurred in that country, natural disasters, famine, as well as having the situation compounded by the war, Canada has provided $25 million in assistance to meet the needs of the drought in war affected populations in the Horn of Africa. Most of that was provided to both Eritrea and Ethiopia.

During the last conference on war affected children, I made a commitment that from now on when peacekeepers go into an area we will also finance a child protection program that will be part of the peacekeeping unit. It is very important to understand that when peacekeepers move into an area there are people in various camps to separate the children and women. We want to be able to assist and to protect children from any situations that might arise and ensure that they are assisted with rehabilitation, education and nutrition. Most children in this situation have suffered tremendously from malnutrition, from fear and, quite often, are not just physical abused, but as a result of war are injured in many different ways.

In addition to that, I have asked my department to be very much involved. One of my advisers in this area is General Dallaire who will be working with me to define and shape some of the programs that we will be delivering to this region.

As members know, General Dallaire is someone who has a great deal of expertise in the field with respect to peacekeeping. He also has a great deal of understanding of what happens to children and people when they are affected by war and when they have gone through a very long period of hostilities. He knows about the kind of assistance that is required to assist people to rebuild their lives slowly and be able to function again.

My department and CIDA will be looking to working very closely with the peacekeepers in terms of protecting the children, providing the medical health care they require, the food aid, the nutrition, the education, the rehabilitation and possibly assistance in the area of shelter.

It is very critical to understand that we must begin to push very hard for the elimination of land mines.

Most of the land has not been tilled as a result of the war and the drought. The land that could be tilled and could be planted is full of land mines. If we do not de-mine as quickly as we can and with the assistance of the two military groups that were involved in laying many of these land mines, crops will not be planted. That means yet another season of crops will be missed, which will exacerbate the famine and the food shortage in the region as they exist today.

I am very proud to say that the staff at CIDA and our partners, the NGOs that we worked with, have been in the field for a very long time to assist with the famine as much as they could and with some of the displaced people in the camps. They will now be in a position to go in with our peacekeepers and make a much bigger difference.

I am proud today to support the Minister of National Defence and the Government of Canada with the initiative. I believe in it very strongly, having seen what happens to people when I visited some of the areas of conflict in Africa. I believe that Canada should be there. CIDA will be there to assist side by side in ensuring that people can get back to some normalcy of life.

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8:45 p.m.


George Proud Liberal Hillsborough, PE

Madam Speaker, as a Canadian and as a parliamentarian I am very proud to rise in the House tonight to speak in support of the motion before us on possible Canadian peacekeeping activities in Ethiopia and Eritrea. Indeed it is an historic moment every time Canada deploys in an international operation such as this one. It reaffirms in no uncertain terms our steadfast commitment to world peace and security.

By supporting the proposal before the House we will be continuing in the fine Canadian tradition of coming to the aid of those in need. By participating in the United Nations mission to Ethiopia and Eritrea we will be showing the world that we not only speak of peace but we act on it as well.

We have heard today from some members of the House why this mission is important. After years of bloody war, an estimated 100,000 or more dead and about 1.5 million displaced, the fighting has finally stopped. What is more, the parties are now looking for help in their bid to establish a lasting peace.

From a moral standpoint there are very good reasons to participate in this mission. Furthermore, from a military perspective this mission is well within our means. In other words, we have both the will and the military potential to successfully contribute to this UN operation.

The conditions on the ground in Ethiopia and Eritrea are ready for a peacekeeping force. The parties have signed the agreement on cessation of hostilities and have called for a UN mission to monitor and ensure this agreement. The parties are prepared for peace and we are well placed to respond to their call for help.

With an end to open hostilities there is now little threat posed by the warring parties. In fact, the greatest dangers that our forces anticipate on this proposed mission are the harsh operating conditions, disease and unexploded munitions. These are threats that with proper precautions can be minimized and effectively managed by professional forces such as ours.

In fact, Canadian forces personnel would be well prepared for any possible contingency. They would receive thorough pre-deployment training, enabling them to deal effectively with everything from land mines to refugees. They would have the necessary equipment and support required to carry out their tasks effectively and safely. They would be physically prepared for the harsh conditions on the Horn of Africa with all the requisite medical support and attention this entails. The military preconditions are right for this mission. Furthermore, the proposed concept of the operation is sound.

Canadian soldiers would be there for six months only. This would ensure that our expertise is used at the most critical moment in the initial months of the mission. It would also ensure that the Canadian commitment of soldiers and resources would be temporary and would not place unreasonable long term demands on our forces.

Canada would be in good company. The proposed mission calls for the Canadian forces to operate alongside an experienced and professional allied force, that of the Netherlands, and under the operational command of the deployed standby forces high readiness brigade, better known as SHIRBRIG, from its headquarters. This, along with robust rules of engagement, would ensure that deployed Canadian forces are provided with the full support, leadership and authority required to effectively carry out their mission.

As hon. members may know, the proposal before the House calls for a company group of approximately 400 personnel to be committed to the United Nations mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea. Given the Canadian forces current operational tempo, this deployment is achievable.

The government's rationalization of overseas commitments is largely complete. The high operational tempo experienced just a year ago when close to 4,500 Canadian forces personnel were in operation is now behind us. This being said, the Canadian forces remain busy currently with about 2,500 personnel on overseas deployments.

The proposed commitment of approximately 400 personnel is therefore within our means. By providing a company group to the Dutch battalion, Canada would be making a substantial contribution to the overall success of the mission, while at the same time guarding the quality of life of its military personnel.

I would like to call once again on all members of the House to support the government's proposed involvement in the UN mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea. Our help is needed. Our soldiers are prepared and our objectives are achievable. Let us not fail to respond.

I will take a few moments to thank and say farewell to my colleagues on the last time that I will be speaking in this glorious Chamber. Over the last 12 years in parliament I have met some wonderful people on all sides of the House. My opposition colleagues, even in the toughest of times, have shown me non-partisan respect. I certainly appreciate this.

I would also like to recognize my own colleagues. I have met some lifelong friends that I will always hold close to my heart. I thank both the staff and members I have worked with in my capacity as parliamentary secretary to both veterans affairs and labour. I also thank those I have worked with in the Canadian NATO Parliamentary Association and on the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs. I thank them all for their help, for their advice and for their friendship. I have had the most remarkable 12 years in the House and I have been privileged to serve the people of my riding of Hillsborough and the people of this great nation.

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8:50 p.m.


Jean Augustine Liberal Etobicoke—Lakeshore, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to speak in support of the motion before us respecting possible Canadian peacekeeping activities in Ethiopia and Eritrea.

I support the government's position in this regard. As a member of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade I have followed this conflict. I have followed it as my friends in the Ethiopian and Eritrean community spoke to me about the loss of lives and the agony of the situation in those two countries. Since the parties are prepared for peace, as Canadians we cannot but support this effort.

I reinforce some of the points mentioned by the Minister of National Defence in describing Canada's proposed military contribution to the UN mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea. It is important to restate some of the major points, bearing in mind that the final number of troops, the cost, et cetera, remain to be determined.

As many of us know and as we have heard here tonight from various speakers, the conditions and opportunity for a UN sponsored peacekeeping mission to Ethiopia and Eritrea began to take shape this past four months.

On June 18 Ethiopia and Eritrea signed a cessation of hostilities agreement sponsored by the Organization of African Unity. This agreement called upon the UN to establish a peacekeeping mission. In response, UN security council resolution 1312, adopted unanimously on July 31, authorized a mission consisting of up to 100 military observers to deploy to Ethiopia and Eritrea in anticipation of a larger peacekeeping operation.

The tasks of this initial mission are: to establish and maintain liaison with the parties; to visit the parties' military headquarters and other units in all areas of operation of the peacekeeping mission; to establish and put into operation the mechanism for verifying the cessation of hostilities; to prepare for the establishment of a military co-ordination commission provided for in the cessation of hostilities agreement; and to assist in the planning for a future peacekeeping operation.

The security council has called on Ethiopia and Eritrea to provide this advance mission with access, assistance, support, and protection required in the performance of its duties. Many of my constituents underlined that these are tremendously important: access, assistance, support and protection.

The two countries are also called upon to facilitate the deployment of mine action experts and the assets under the UN mine action service.

The security council has stressed the importance of a rapid delimitation and demarcation of the common border between Ethiopia and Eritrea in accordance with the Organization of African Unity framework agreement of 1998 and the cessation of hostilities agreement.

Six members of the Canadian forces are already committed to this mission. One lieutenant-colonel is already in theatre as the chief operations officer in support of the UN mission headquarters there. He has already been heavily involved in the initial deployment of military observers throughout the region.

Through discussion we know that we have five of our own military observers about to deploy. A Canadian major was also briefly deployed as part of a UN team that helped to train the initial cadre of observers.

On September 15, following a technical assessment by the team of observers, the UN security council adopted resolution 1320 authorizing the establishment of a UN mission to Ethiopia and Eritrea. This resolution precipitated our current proposal to make further Canadian contributions to the UN mission.

The main Canadian forces contribution would be a mechanized infantry company group. This would include a company headquarters and three infantry platoons equipped with armoured personnel carriers. It would also have engineering and logistics support and other combat service support. It may also include a reconnaissance platoon equipped with our Coyote vehicles.

We know that we as Canadian peacekeepers are equipped to carry out this mission. With regard to the total number of personnel deployed, as I said earlier we are still uncertain at this point, but there is an approximate number of 400 suggested. In addition, we are prepared to deploy, if needed and for a brief period, a surge of up to 200 engineers and logisticians to establish the initial basic infrastructure such as shelter and services.

We will know more after we have conducted our reconnaissance mission. It is hoped that the Minister of National Defence will be notifying the House and Canadians as to the progress of this mission.

The minister also pointed out that the Canadian mechanized company group would be deployed as an integral part of a Dutch battalion operating in the central region under the UN mission headquarters. They will be joining other battalions from Jordan and from Kenya under the UN mission headquarters in the eastern and the western regions. The mission headquarters would have at its core the military headquarters staff from the standby high readiness brigade, or SHIRBRIG. Canada has committed up to seven officers to the planning element of this staff.

As with any deployment Canada would have its own national command and support elements in place in the combined Dutch-Canadian battalion. We have learned lessons from other peacekeeping areas we have been in and recognize that being under our own national command is important to us.

Deploying alongside the Dutch forces is a particular point of strength in this proposed peacekeeping mission. Our forces would be in very good company, operating alongside professional, well equipped and well led soldiers. We also have been working very closely with the government of the Netherlands on mission planning.

This would not be a long term commitment for Canada. The Canadian company group would be deployed for a period of no more than six months. The UN is well aware of our intent to hold to this six month commitment and to thereafter return our forces to Canada. Other speakers tonight mentioned the importance of our going in, getting the job done and safely coming out.

Following pre-deployment preparations and training, the company group could be ready to leave Canada in 45 days to 60 days from the time the government decides to deploy. Initial preparations are already under way. If a decision is made to deploy, Canadian and Dutch troops would start arriving in theatre at the end of November.

Once in Africa, Canadian forces would complete any necessary collective training with the Dutch contingent before commencing operations. It could take up to 25 days to get equipment. We know we have not only to fly in equipment but sail it in from this region to the African region.

Based on our initial planning, the department estimates that the incremental cost of this proposed operation will be about $60 million for the six month period. I would imagine this is $60 million Canadian.

We are calling upon the men and women of the Canadian forces to demonstrate our resolve in maintaining peace and stability in a troubled region of the world. Not many times do we see the western world running to the assistance of Africa, but this is one instance where I must commend the decision we are taking tonight to support that peace effort. Such decisions are not taken lightly by the government and the House. Everyone's support today is important to Canada and to our common goal of peace building.

I plead with and ask hon. members to support the government's proposal to deploy the Canadian forces to a UN mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea. Let us all pray that this six month mandate will be successful and that at the end of those six months we can say with the old psalmist “Peace at last”.

PeacekeepingGovernment Orders

9 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

There being no further members rising, pursuant to order made earlier this day, the House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 2 p.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 9.04 p.m.)