Madam Speaker, I rise today to speak to this motion and to reassert the government's commitment to consulting and having an open debate on defence and foreign policy issues.
The first part of the motion presented by the hon. member for Roberval calls for consultation. We on this side of the House have no difficulty with that. We have put it into practice and used it in a meaningful way for a great number of years.
However the second part of the motion calls for a different kind of procedure and debate in the House that would culminate in a vote of parliament. It is for that reason that I rise to oppose the Bloc motion.
First, I do so because it would break with a current Canadian parliamentary practice that has been in effect for some eight years, the life of this government, a practice that has worked exceedingly well.
Second, the motion deals with a hypothetical situation. We do not know whether our armed forces will be called on for a combat role in the campaign against terrorism at this time.
Third, the motion creates difficulty in terms of the timeliness and effectiveness of being able to move our resources, both assets and personnel, to help deal with these kinds of struggles and tragedies. This would sometimes require swift deployment of troops, perhaps at times when the House is not sitting. The government would not be able to wait a very long time to do that.
Finally a reason for not supporting the component of the motion which calls for a vote of parliament is that quite frankly such decisions should be made by the government. That is what we were elected to do.
Yes, we need to consult with and fully inform as best we can members of parliament. However it is ultimately the responsibility of the Government of Canada to make the decisions for which it must be accountable to parliament and the people of Canada.
It would be better to direct the energies of the House toward responding to the tragedy of September 11 than to engage in the kinds of procedural debates or wrangles we are seeing this morning.
If we take the discussion beyond the current eight year practice in terms of the matter being dealt with in parliament, it is interesting to note that no formal parliamentary resolution was ever made with respect to the entry of Canada into the Korean war in 1950.
Even in 1939 at the outset of World War II there was no specific resolution of parliament declaring war on Nazi Germany. Parliamentary approval for the government's policy was shown through support in the Speech from the Throne and the defence estimates. There was no resolution of parliament. There was no vote at all in parliament on the declaration of war against imperial Japan.
Since 1950 Canada has had over 50 peace support operations of varying size. For many of these missions parliament was not consulted at all if they were small. For the roughly 20 major missions debated in the House there were only five recorded votes. Three motions were agreed to without a recorded vote.
The government has delivered on what it promised to do: expand the rights of parliament to debate major Canadian foreign policy initiatives such as peacekeeping deployments.
Since 1994 we have consulted parliament on many of the international missions carried out by the Canadian forces. We held a debate most recently in October 2000 prior to deploying Canadian forces personnel to Ethiopia and Eritrea. Debates were held in the House during the Kosovo crisis. The Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade and the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs met numerous times, either jointly or separately, to discuss the issue.
There was in addition a series of detailed technical briefings by military and other officials to make sure members of the House were well informed of developments in the Balkans. Two debates were held in April 1998 and February 1999 regarding the deployment of peacekeeping forces to the Central African Republic. We held a debate on potential military action against Iraq in February 1998.
In November 1996 we debated Canada's leadership role in alleviating the suffering in the African great lakes region. We also held more than one debate on Canada's role in implementing the measures taken by the international community to maintain stability and security in Haiti. This demonstrates that parliament's role has extended beyond consultation on deployments.
In 1994 a series of joint committees were especially organized to take an indepth look at Canada's foreign and defence policies. Their work led to the adoption of a new defence policy and a review of Canada's foreign policy.
Parliament has also played a major role in many other aspects of foreign and defence policy. For example, the expansion of NATO, the renewal of the NORAD agreement that provides for the security and defence of North America, and Canadian policy on non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, arms control and disarmament have all been subjects of consultations with parliament.
As for the tragedy that struck the United States, there have been three separate debates about it over the last week.
The September 17 special debate, the September 18 Canadian Alliance opposition day debate and the September 20 evening debate on the Prime Minister's meeting with President Bush have all been the subject of discussion in the House. I think these examples show that this government and this party are committed to consulting with parliament and will continue to do so.
I will also add that the motion put forward by the Bloc Quebecois deals with a hypothetical situation. The question of armed forces outlined in the motion is clearly hypothetical. There is no UN, NATO or United States request to deploy Canadian troops to respond to the events of September 11. There is none at this point in time.
What is certain, however, is that the struggle that lies ahead will be a long and difficult one. This will not be a simple or a quick campaign. The world is faced with an elusive enemy that works in the shadows and uses unconventional techniques. We do not expect this campaign to be run by the conventional methods of war. President Bush himself underlined this in his speech last Thursday.
This will not be like World War II. This will not be like the Gulf war. It will not be like Kosovo. There may be aspects of conventional military operations involved, but ultimately it will take a different kind of effort to weed out the perpetrators of this violence.
For that reason we must be prepared for a sustained and intensive effort, one that uses all available tools at our disposal, including diplomatic, military and economic means. Yesterday, both in the House and in the United States, there was much discussion about cutting off the funding to these people who inflict this terrorism.
The United States has already pre-positioned some of its military forces into the Middle East area where many of the terrorist organizations exist, near Afghanistan, near the operation that is the headquarters of Osama bin Laden. It is normal in times of crisis for military forces to move in such a fashion and pre-position, but let me make it clear that no decision has been made by the United States as to how this campaign will be carried out and how these forces will be used. This is clearly positioning. It is also quite obviously a tool to put pressure on the Taliban and Afghanistan to give up bin Laden.
The Americans have not asked for anything specific from Canada at this time in terms of future military contributions. However, we have already responded to the United States requests as events unfolded between September 11 and now. I think the Canadian forces have been doing an excellent job in meeting those requests.
Canadian CF-18s work closely with their American counterparts in Norad to defend North American airspace from further terrorist attacks. We put additional planes into the Norad system at their request. Three Canadian forces vessels were put on a heightened state of readiness to deliver humanitarian aid to the United States ports if it should be necessary. At the same time members of the disaster assistance response team, who responded so quickly and effectively to natural disasters in Turkey and Honduras, were also put on active alert in Trenton in order for them to be able to move into the United States to assist in New York or Washington.
The Canadian forces also responded quickly to the domestic demands of more than 200 rerouted planes placed in Canadian communities across the country. Within hours of learning that flights were being diverted into Canada, Canadian forces Airbus and Hercules aircraft worked closely with local airports, Transport Canada, Red Cross workers and countless volunteers to provide important resources across the country to help cope with the heavy influx of travellers. Their efforts deserve recognition and the gratitude of Canadians. We can be proud of their reaction.
At the same time members of the Canadian forces were setting up shelters and bases in Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and Manitoba to accommodate some of the thousands of distraught passengers and crew who found themselves stranded in our country. The assistance that was both offered and provided by the Canadian forces was an important part of the overall national response efforts.
Organizing the many aspects of this response was no small task and here the federal government's new Office of Critical Infrastructure Protection and Emergency Preparedness played and continues to play a key co-ordination role. Officials at OCIPEP are working in close co-operation with the U.S. federal emergency management agency, FEMA, in this connection.
I think the excellent work of the Department of National Defence and the Canadian forces in the days following the attacks demonstrates that we are ready and able to respond whenever we are called upon. As we move forward the Canadian forces continue to work with the U.S. and our allies through our intelligence community, which has put on an extra effort at the request of the United States in terms of intelligence gathering and analysis. From them to our binational command of NORAD, our Canadian forces are maintaining a close working relationship with their counterparts in the United States.
As we can see, we have been there with the Americans and they have thanked us for what we have done. We will continue to be there as we prepare to embark on this campaign against terrorism. We have capabilities in the Canadian forces that we can still make available. Moreover last Friday I authorized more than 100 Canadian forces personnel who were serving in the United States and other allied military forces to participate in any operations conducted by their host units in response to the recent terrorist attack.
I can assure the House that we are not looking to play a symbolic role. We are looking to play a very meaningful role. As the United States comes through the planning stage it will then consult with Canada and other allies to determine how we can work together. It is by working together that we will be able to use our capabilities in a complementary way. That is why the Prime Minister travelled to Washington yesterday and why I leave for Brussels later today to meet with our NATO allies.
We are in the process of building a coalition of countries that recognize the need to suppress terrorism. Let me assure the House that Canada will work with our allies, but we will not rush into any decisions concerning our response without thorough and balanced consideration. If, after consultations with the United States and our allies, it is decided that Canada would contribute combat troops, let me remind the members of the House that the Prime Minister has already pledged that the House, as is our custom and has been our practice for many years, will be fully consulted.
Let me make one last point concerning the Bloc Quebecois motion. It is important that Canada be able to respond quickly and flexibly to the events of September 11. While we are committed to consulting Canadians and members of the House, we are equally committed to making the most effective contribution to peace and freedom.
That is precisely what we have been doing since September 11.
This is what we will continue to do in the coming months as we stand with the United States and our allies in this campaign to suppress terrorism.