Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to participate in this extremely important debate of a motion that has been brought forward by one of my colleagues in the Bloc Quebecois.
The motion states:
That this House consider the sending of troops to Iraq by the government only after the United Nations Security Council has passed a resolution explicitly authorizing a military intervention in Iraq.
I want to congratulate the Bloc for bringing forward the motion today. I do so for a couple of reasons. First, it pierces the absurdity of the arrogance of the position that has been articulated by the Liberal House leader again this morning, but also proclaimed by the Prime Minister following a debate on Thursday. They stated that as a result of the debate that took place on Thursday on the question of a vote in the House, that the Liberal government has somehow endorsed and authorized a vote in the House on the question of any participation by Canada in a war against Iraq.
Unless I am missing something, and perhaps you as Speaker can correct my understanding of procedures in the House, the Prime Minister, or the Liberal government House leader, could not prevent a vote in the House on this question if an opposition party, on its opposition day, chose to assign as the business of the day such a vote. It seems to me ridiculous to keep hearing this assertion from government members that now their Prime Minister has had the foresight and courage to allow something to take place in the House, namely a vote on this issue, if an opposition party on its opposition day brings forward such a motion. It is important to dispel the nonsense surrounding the rhetoric coming from the government benches.
The second and far more important thing is that the motion that is before us is based on a rejection of the notion that Canada's participation in a war in Iraq is somehow inevitable. One of the things that is of great concern to Canadians today, increasingly so, is the notion that somehow a war in Iraq is inevitable, unstoppable, and that the U.S. will do it no matter what, come hell or high water, and that somehow Canada had better grow up, get over it, and sign on. That is not only distressing to increasing numbers of Canadians, it is also, in my view and the view of my party, extremely dangerous and we need to be clear about that. The motion that is here today gives us an opportunity to express the opposition to that notion of inevitability and inalterability by supporting the motion.
I want to take a moment before I address the motion itself to say a bit about the context in which this debate is taking place. I was struck over the weekend by an article in the New York Times , by a well known commentator Maureen Dowd, entitled “Desert Spring, Sprung”. It struck me as really important to take note of a fact she cited. I am assuming it was accurate, or at least I am prepared to acknowledge that there must be some solid basis for the assertion. A CNN poll taken recently showed that 82% of Americans think going to war with Iraq would provide another terrorist attack on the U.S. as opposed to 13% of Americans who think it would prevent one.
Shocking as that statistic is there is buried within it an important ray of hope, because if it is indeed true that 82% of Americans actually believe that launching an attack on Iraq would result in terrorist attacks on the U.S., as opposed to 13% who think it would be a preventative action, it gives us a glimpse of how many Americans share with the growing numbers of Canadians and people around the world the belief that this war can and must be stopped and that we need to work together to find alternatives to any attack on Iraq.
Second, with respect to the context, in spite of the fact that increasing numbers of Americans are expressing alarm at where their country is headed, at where the George Bush administration is aiming to take them, there are today 113,000 American troops amassed along the Iraqi border and another 37,000 on their way. The U.S. has a fleet of aircraft carriers, F-18 fighter jets and Stealth bombers, forming, as Michael Harris stated in the Ottawa Sun over the weekend, “the most formidable fighting force the world has ever seen”.
I think there is a third bit of context for this important debate. It is one that also gives hope to those in this world who cannot conceive of charging ahead with a war in Iraq when alternatives to war exist. Despite Colin Powell's presentation on Thursday to the UN Security Council, which I do not know whether to call a performance or presentation, all I know is that it was not solid evidence, among the 15 members of the Security Council, only 4 have publicly stated their endorsement of the position put forward by Colin Powell, namely Britain, Spain, Bulgaria and Chile.
Why do I say that is a basis for hope? Because I think what it indicates is that there is a growing body of public opinion that says no to war in Iraq, that says no, it is not inevitable, and yes, there are alternatives to war. On previous occasions in a debate in the House I had the opportunity to make reference to some really excellent work done and published in a paper, “Alternatives to War with Iraq”, coming from an expert panel that was assembled here in Ottawa in mid-December. Those who have not read it should seek it out and give it the careful attention it deserves.
It is not only thoughtful, expert Canadians who are giving consideration to these matters. I think we should be glad to know that over the weekend France and Germany put forward what they see as an alternative to this notion of the inevitability of moving with the U.S. to an early declaration of war.
I am not in a position to say at this point that the details of the proposal that have been set out are absolutely feasible, but what I do say is that kudos should go to France and Germany for putting forward alternatives, for asking the world to consider why it is the sensible course of action to recognize that the deployment of troops to maintain pressure on the Iraqi regime is worth considering, that the assignment of a permanent UN coordinator for disarmament to Iraq is worthy of consideration, and that a UN court for dealing with infractions and human rights abuses that rear their ugly head in Iraq is worth considering. Yes, let us all be realistic that such ugly abuses and atrocities are happening in Iraq as we speak, not in Iraq alone but in Iraq and in other countries that also cause concern to the international community. And yes, UN inspectors could be bolstered by a UN force several thousand strong to keep the pressure on.
As I say, at least there are thoughtful commentators, researchers and academics, there are military experts and, yes, there are democratic nations addressing the question of what kind of alternatives to war there are. Let Canada decide to be among those nations that are serious about committing to a path to peace.
What are we hearing from Canada? Over the weekend, I think that a lot of Canadians considered it an embarrassment to have our foreign affairs minister applauding Colin Powell for the convincing evidence he had put forward at the very same time that revelations were swirling around the world that the so-called intelligence dossier putting forward this supposedly persuasive evidence in fact contained plagiarized material, which not only was presented a year and a half ago but was based on a student paper that used 12 year old material. It was cited by Colin Powell as important documentation brought forward by the British. I do not know how we can be among those nations that say not only is that solid evidence but it is sufficient justification for us to contemplate the notion that Canada should join in a war in Iraq when there are alternatives, when there are other options to be pursued.
I went home on the weekend very discouraged. I am sure I am not alone in this, because I am sure members on the government benches would say so as well if they were free to say so publicly. I was very discouraged by the events of last week. I was very daunted by the challenge of what in the name of heaven we can do to try to avert this war.
I was quite delighted to open a copy of the Halifax Daily News , from my own riding, shortly after I got off the plane and read an article by a highly respected author, writer and poet, a creative thinker by the name of Lesley Choyce, a former American, in fact, now a Canadian citizen. In that article he touched upon one of those simple, concrete, sensible notions, one that I think is worthy of consideration by every single Canadian.
In that article he expressed his concern about the notion of war being inevitable, of it being the only option. Then he suggested such a simple idea but one that I think is worthy of every single one of us in the House embracing, and that is, recognizing that we are indeed the closest friends of and neighbours to the Americans, and that therefore means that there is not one among us who does not have family or friends in the U.S. He suggested, and I think he is right about this, that it would not matter if every single Canadian called George Bush or Colin Powell and said, “We plead with you to consider the alternatives to war”, because it still would not amount to a hill of beans.
However, he went on to ask why every Canadian who wants to avert that war does not pick up the phone or fire off a message on their e-mail to their friends and relatives in the U.S. and respectfully say to them, “We are pleading with you to have more faith in your own democratic potential and your own democratic ideals, so we want to talk to you about why we think there are alternatives and why we think the human catastrophe that is going to unfold is simply unthinkable”. Then, as he said, if we receive even a glimmer of support for the alternatives to war, we should encourage our friends or relatives in the U.S. to pick up their phones and register their views with their local senators or local congressmen.
It does not amount to a solution, but let me relate very briefly what happened when I said that was not a bad idea. I spent a good deal of time yesterday making exactly those kinds of phone calls and sending those e-mails. I want to describe briefly what happened. I was thrilled at what happened, because what I received in response was a lot of information that we are not getting here in Ottawa where we think we are concerned enough about this issue to know what is going on.
I learned about the alternatives to war that Jimmy Carter has outlined in considerable detail. I learned about the Patriots for Peace, an organization that started up in Vermont and is gathering considerable momentum, with people taking simple actions to display their opposition to the war on Iraq. I already have had the pleasure of being introduced to representatives of the military families who speak out, who have sons and daughters already deployed in the Persian Gulf being prepared for battle, and who are standing up and saying, “We are not in agreement with this war and we are pleading with our neighbours and friends to share their views, which we know they share with us, and make them known to their representatives”.
Then I received some information, which I thought was very encouraging, about 39 Congress members who have been very strenuous in increasingly trying to put the pressure on the Bush administration to back away from this notion that a war is somehow the only alternative and that it is inevitable. It is a letter that was signed by 39 Congress members. It is dated January 29. Let me quote briefly from it. It states:
Over the past several months we have received a huge amount of correspondence from our constituents who believe that the crisis in Iraq can be resolved without bloodshed. They believe, as we do, that a “preemptive” attack on Iraq will result in a massive increase in anti-Americanism throughout the world, and will make our country less safe from terrorist attacks, not more safe.
They are 39 American congressmen who put this point of view forward to the American president and said, “We want to sit down and talk to you about this”. They went on to state:
Our constituents are concerned that if the United States ignores... international law, we will help create a climate bordering on international anarchy and a mind-set in which all nations will feel freer to attack other nations for whatever reason. In a world where at least eight countries have nuclear weapons, this is not a good idea. Under those conditions, what moral authority will the United States have in calling for peace and negotiations in the Middle East or between India and Pakistan, or China and Taiwan?
They went on to state:
--many people in our districts are extremely fearful about the costs associated with a war in Iraq and the ensuing occupation. At a time when we have a growing deficit and you [President Bush] are proposing cut-backs in veterans' needs, Medicare, education and environmental protection, a war with Iraq could cost over $100 billion and increase both the suffering of the present generation and the financial liabilities of future generations.
These are excerpts from a letter that I think is very significant, because we are not hearing this. In fact, I think what we generally hear is that the American elected officials are of one view, which is “Straight ahead, George Bush, we are on board”.
Finally, I thought it was very significant that U.S. representative Jim Oberstar, a veteran of I think almost 30 years in the American Congress, has actually issued a statement in which he has made it clear that he personally is withdrawing the support that he gave at an earlier date for the expropriation of funds to launch that war in Iraq. He is introducing a bill and encouraging his colleagues to support that bill cancelling out that appropriation of funds.
It is time for us in the House to speak with one voice, a voice in support of concrete, practical steps that can be taken to avert that war. We must make it clear that Canada wants to be among the peace builders and the peace seekers, not simply to tag on to an American declaration of war in Iraq.