Mr. Speaker, like everybody else who participates in this debate, I will say that it is probably a debate we would rather not have to participate in. However, the action is going on and that is why we are here to discuss such issues.
Having listened to the recent speeches from members of the New Democratic Party, I am wondering from which authority they are getting the idea that this is not a legal war. Our own Prime Minister, from whom we should be able to take direction, has said quite clearly in the House that the war is legitimate. The leader of our party, the right hon. member for Calgary Centre, has asked government for a legal opinion. We did not get one but yet the Prime Minister, just a couple of days ago, made it quite clear in the House that he and the government recognize the legitimacy of the war. To say that the war is illegal and that is why the NDP is against it does not hold water.
However, we have concerns about where the government stands on this. In the beginning, before the war had actually started, as questions, comments and debates raged in this House, most parties--and I am not speaking for the NDP or the Bloc--were in agreement when they said that they would support action if sanctioned by the United Nations. That would have been the ideal way to go about this. However, because of procrastination within the United Nations, it did not happen.
Let us look at what was going on in Iraq, and certainly everybody is aware of Saddam Hussein's past. We remember the Kurds he killed, the war with Iran, the invasion of Kuwait, and the slaughter of his own people. I could go on and on. For 12 years we have given him and his regime a chance to clean up their act, but they laughed at the efforts. Then we sent in a group to find the missiles or any kind of weapons of mass destruction. Did they find anything? To some degree, yes, but nothing of any great significance which would lead the other countries to decide to go in and take action.
We were not surprised that they did not find anything. As we watched the search it reminded me of the old days in Newfoundland outports when the Mounties came in looking for the moonshine stills. They knew someone was coming, where they were, what they did and what they were going to do today and tomorrow. Were they going to leave the evidence out in the open for them to see? The answer is quite obvious.
All of this led to the point where somebody had to make a decision. It was the United States and Britain, and let us remember 40 other countries, who decided it was time to take action. A few days ago we had a vote on a motion put forth by the Bloc. The motion read:
That this House call upon the government not to participate in the military intervention initiated by the United States in Iraq.
Let us make a couple of things clear. First, the action was not initiated by the United States but by Saddam Hussein and his regime a long time ago. Second, the government voted for the motion. It voted to call upon the House not to participate, that means to not get involved at all.
Yet the following day, the Minister of Foreign Affairs was asked about Canada's stand. He said:
Mr. Speaker, it is not our view that the vote last night, which clearly was the opinion of the House, was that we should not be sending troops to be a part of this intervention. It would determine all future possibilities for all future time and no Parliament seeks to bind its government in such a way.
In other words, what the minister was saying was that if the motion came up and if the government thought the people of the country might support it at any one given time, it would support it also, but if it wanted to do something else tomorrow it would not make any difference. What kind of leadership are we seeing? For weeks in the House we saw a government jump all over the place and we could not get a clear-cut idea as to where it stood on the whole issue.
The Prime Minister sits on the fence with his finger in the air wondering which way the wind blows. He waits to see what the people of the country say. He is a leader governed by polls. He is one of those who says, there go my people, I must follow them because I am their leader.
We need a leader who leads the parade and not one who sits on the fence and watches it pass. We need people in government who realize that public opinion at any one time is not necessarily reaction to the actual situation. It is reaction to the initial reaction, and broadcasting of any one situation. That is exactly what we are seeing here.
There is a motion before us today. If the government had any influence with the United States or with the United Nations we may not have to worry about either this one or the one with which we dealt on Thursday because we would be looking at an entirely difference scenario. There was a time when Canada led the fray in diplomacy. There was a time when Canada went to the United Nations and it was listened to. There was a time when Canada spoke to the United States or to Great Britain and it was listened to, and Canada offered a leadership role in democracy.
There was an interesting comment in the House this afternoon by the minister responsible for CIDA when talking about the government's involvement following the war. For days again the Prime Minister showed that the government had no idea at all of Canada's involvement following whatever happens in Iraq. Canada has always been a leader when it comes to refocusing and restructuring after world conflicts. Will we be a player this time? The government is now saying, after days and weeks, that Canada will be a player, but the comment today was probably the most applicable one. She said, “Canada will be there after the reconstruction”. She did not say we would be there for the reconstruction.
I know she probably got mixed up in her wording but if we read the blues, she said that Canada will be there after the reconstruction and that is probably what will happen because we are so far behind as a world player these days.
It is extremely unfortunate. Our friend and neighbour to the south who would be there if we were in any kind of a conflict, but we sit by and pay absolutely no attention to them. We do not know where we are actually because there has been absolutely no leadership. The government is saying no that it is not getting involved one day and then the next says it does not know, maybe it will.
When people ask us to follow what government says and to support the government stand, how can we support a stand when we do not know what the stand is, when the government itself does not know what the stand is?
Canadians were always proud participants on the world stage. Canadians, and Newfoundlanders before they joined Canada, in both world conflicts lived the fray. Who went in and helped clean up Europe? Who went in and saved France from the German onslaught. Twice it was Canadians and Newfoundlanders. Let us not forget Vimy Ridge.
To look at how we are wimping out of our part as a player on the world stage, we only need to look at the song that Elvis Presley sang that was taken from the Shakespearean play:
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
That is exactly what we are seeing from the government.
Canada should be a leader. All of us should be supporting a government and a country that plays a leadership role. In a conflict like this, we cannot sit back and let somebody else do it. We have to play our part and we should be involved.
I will go to parts two, three and four of the motion first. The second part expresses our support for the Canadian servicemen and servicewomen. Let us never fail to support our people who are involved in the conflict. Let us never fail to support the other nations who are there to protect the freedom of the world. If they had not been there in 1939 to 1945, what would it be like here? We would not have the freedom we have today to say whatever we want and to make the varying decisions that we make.
Part three states, “extend to the innocent people of Iraq its support and sympathy”. Many people in Iraq are just as glad as others that this is happening because they might have the chance to find freedom and peace in their country and in the surrounding countries.
Part four states, “urge the government to commit itself to help the Iraqi people, including through humanitarian assistance, to build a new Iraq at peace with itself and its neighbours”. That is the wish of all of us. Canada should play a leading role in the reconstruction, even if we did not have the forces. We all know how the government has let our defensive corps fall away to nothing, individually and in relation to the equipment that they must use. We at least could pledge our support and offer to help out as the reconstruction begins. We are not even listened to now. We are a joke on the world stage.
We talk about protest. It is not really hard to get a protest going. I also know there are people with varying views across the country, and I respect that right. However, I saw people in the Montreal Forum booing the American flag. That is unfortunate regardless of how we feel about the United States. Fortunately on Saturday night we saw a change when people in Toronto in the Air Canada Centre stood up and cheered when the American anthem was sung. Then we felt proud that we supported our neighbours. Whether we agree with the war, they are still our neighbours and we will be there to help them.
This is not the message that has been sent forth by the government. Backbenchers are making comments from which all of us distance ourselves. When frontline ministers start making similar comments, we wonder what is happening in our North American relationships.
It is about time that we as Canadians played our part in ensuring the world is a proper, peaceful place to live. We should be a leader in diplomacy. If we are not going to take that leadership role, then at least we should be able to support those who do.