Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to participate in this debate today. I think it is extremely important for all members of Parliament to continue to be very much engaged, not so much in the debate around the tragedy of the unilateral choice made by our closest neighbour, the United States, in rejecting the peaceful disarmament of Saddam Hussein that was underway, but in staying focused very much on where we are now and on how we can get to a better, more peaceful place in the world of tomorrow.
I have briefly reviewed the motion that has been placed before us by the official opposition, the Alliance Party. I have to say this from the outset. Whether deliberately or not, because I guess motives do not actually count and in fact there is a question about whether it is parliamentary to judge motives, I think it has to be said that the Alliance has certainly put on the floor for debate a motion that it has made absolutely impossible for most members of the House to support. I want to very briefly say why that is so in dealing with the four basic elements of the motion.
I am going to pass over the first very briefly. Actually I agree generally with the sentiment of that motion, which may surprise some people, but I think what the Alliance has sought to do is to condemn offensive and inappropriate statements that have been made against the United States by various members of the House.
I have no trouble associating myself with the sense of regret about that, because I think that if one did not give some really thoughtful consideration to how destructive and counterproductive this could be before this morning's foreign affairs committee meeting, one could certainly not come away from that excellent foreign affairs committee this morning without being mindful of some of the important considerations that need to enter into how we actually debate substantively an issue as fundamentally important as this.
Before the foreign affairs committee this morning there was a really excellent pair of presenters, if I could put it that way, Professor Kim Richard Nossal from Queen's University and Professor Pierre Martin from the University of Montreal, both of whom addressed this issue in terms of what is a very important foreign policy dialogue going on in the country today, and I commend the foreign affairs minister for this, around the question of how we can on the one hand as Canadians absolutely maintain and strengthen our commitment to multilateralism while at the same time managing the relationship with the superpower or hyper-power, the United States of America of today, that is our closest neighbour.
What we really came away from that foreign affairs committee thinking about, and I hope it is true of all members, is that in some respects it has been the vagueness, the contradictions, the lack of substance, really, in the government's addressing of the issue about the war in Iraq that has created an environment in which the focus has tended to be more on inflammatory statements made on what I think one would characterize in many cases as unhelpful and provocative anti-Americanism.
I think there is a lesson in that for all of us, but I hope the government is prepared to listen to the argument that was made very skilfully and persuasively this morning: that if the government had been clearer about its position on the very question of the launching of a military offensive in Iraq rather than sort of playing around the edges with, “We are in favour of delaying to a certain date but not beyond a certain date, if we could delay the date”, and never clearly setting out the substantive arguments for why Canada should not be participating in the war on Iraq, then I think we would have seen a display of leadership that would have been easier to stand behind. I think then we would have seen a follow-through such that, having said we were opposed to participating in a war on Iraq, we would actually ensure that we are living up to that position and not participating in the war on Iraq when in fact we are doing that. We have a government that is saying one thing and doing another.
Now I want to move to the more substantive parts of the motion, the first having to do with hoping “that the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq is successful in removing Saddam Hussein's regime from power”. This goes to the heart of the single most unacceptable thing about the U.S. invoking a policy of regime change.
This is a very terrifying initiative that has been taken in a world where we thought we had made some substantial progress in creating the international architecture of the United Nations, in building up a body of international law and in establishing a charter of the United Nations, all of these to try to ensure that no country in the world feels free to engage in a pre-emptive strike against another country.
The concerns about this are obvious. If it is Iraq today, is it to be Saudi Arabia tomorrow? If the United States feels free to thumb its nose at the United Nations and launch a pre-emptive strike, then who tomorrow will feel free to launch a pre-emptive strike? Will it be North Korea? This is a really terrifying development in a world where we thought we had begun to make some real progress toward ensuring that the family of nations works together through the international body of the United Nations to deal with its principal objective, that is, to rid the world and future generations of the scourge of war.
The second substantive part of the resolution before us urges that the Government of Canada “assist the coalition in the reconstruction of Iraq”. This is also a very troublesome notion.
Had the official opposition, the Alliance, chosen to put forward a motion which urged that the Government of Canada participate and provide leadership in assisting with the reconstruction of Iraq and had it done so through the United Nations, then we would be first in line to say bravo. We would be the first in line to support that return to multilateralism, to support the return from this romp with chaos and hegemony to an orderly approach, to something that the world must rally to support, but must support through the United Nations.
It is not an accident that there is now a raging debate going on about how in the name of heaven we are to ensure that the United States, in its unilateralist mentality of the day, does not see its next step of world dominance being to reconstruct the supposedly liberated Iraq in its own image. This is a very great concern.
As the closest friends and neighbours of the United States, we have to urge, to coax and to persuade, to use every aspect of diplomacy available to us, to help the United States see that the world is poised and ready to contribute to the reconstruction of Iraq. This in fact is an appropriate role for Canada, having said no to the war in Iraq, to focus its attentions on. To state the obvious, if the Government of Canada were genuinely prepared to do what it said was its position for opposing the war, in other words, not to participate in the war, we would actually be saving millions, tens of millions, and potentially hundreds of millions of dollars, because one does not know any more what length of time this war is going to take. It certainly looks as though it is going to be longer than ever was imagined by the U.S. decision makers.
We could save hundreds of millions of dollars that could appropriately be directed to the reconstruction of Iraq, as it could be redirected to other critically important humanitarian needs in the world, including one that we have been speaking about in the Chamber, and we will continue to do so until the Canadian government does live up to its commitments, for example, to pay its proportionate share to the global fund to deal with the HIV-AIDS pandemic.
The issue is not whether Canada should play a role in the reconstruction of Iraq. Of course it should. What is fundamentally important is that we do so within the framework of multilateralism and the well-established body that exists through the United Nations to do that in the most effective, the most efficient and the most sensitive way.
I do not want to dwell on the fact that the Alliance--and perhaps I should not predict but we will see--appears as though it is more interested in introducing a motion that it makes impossible for us to support when it once again takes this totally unilateralist view and talks only about the coalition doing the reconstruction of Iraq.
I know that when one speaks in these terms, when one criticizes the decision of the Bush administration to plunge the United States and the world into this tragic war in Iraq, one is often accused of being anti-American. In the moments that remain to me I will quote a couple of American politicians who themselves, after I think a disappointing period of silence and complicity for many American politicians, have found their voices and appear to have found courage, and who are now speaking out, in response, I think, to a great deal of anti-war mobilization by large numbers of Americans.
I start with a Democratic congressman from Ohio by the name of Dennis Kucinich. Some will know that he has become an articulate voice, not just in opposing the U.S. launching the war but now in an increasing crescendo urging that the war be stopped and that it be stopped now. We are pleased to associate ourselves with that position.
At the absolute minimum, unless we are to turn our backs on a humanitarian tragedy of monumental proportions, there has to be a ceasefire, and a ceasefire now, in order to get the food aid, the humanitarian aid and the medical aid in to deal with the increasing numbers of casualties that are occurring and the widespread hunger that will lead to premature death, even among those who have not been directly injured in the hostilities and the violence.
Let me quote briefly from Dennis Kucinich, the U.S. congressman:
Stop the war now. As Baghdad will be encircled, this is the time to get the UN back in to inspect Baghdad and the rest of Iraq. Our troops should not have to be the ones who will find out....whether...[there are biological and chemical] weapons.
This of course goes to the very point of how tragic it is, of why it is so tragic that the U.S. chose to shut down, because that is what happened, the peaceful weapons inspection process that was taking place. Because of course what we have now is a situation where not only are the weapons inspections not taking place, but if there were any genuine belief in spite of the absence of any real evidence, if there were any genuine belief about biological and chemical weapons being present in Iraq, then would not the last thing on earth one would want be to engage in hostilities that would unleash those weapons?
Mr. Kucinich goes on to make the argument that before the sending of any troops into house to house combat in Baghdad, a city of five million people, surely we have to put a stop to this before we create the kind of casualties that are going to be involved but also before we put troops in a position that is so absolutely and horrifyingly unsafe, destroying both body and soul of all of those who end up locked into that war.
This brings me back to the question of Canada's complicity. I do not know how else to describe it. While the Prime Minister took the position officially, for which he had our congratulations and support, that Canada would not participate in the war, we now know that in fact Canadian troops are involved in that war. I think it is very hard for people to have confidence in the moral authority of the government or, frankly, in the truth telling of the government if it says that we will not participate and then, when challenged to address the evidence that was coming more and more to the fore, to then say that we were still not participating despite the evidence, to the point now where the government essentially is saying that it decided to have it both ways.
As a member of Parliament who proudly represents the riding of Halifax, I am deeply disturbed about the safety of our troops who find themselves in that impossible position in which the government has placed them. There is reason to be concerned about whether the protections under the Geneva convention would apply to Canadian troops who are participating in someone else's war at the very time that its own government is saying that we are not participating.
The fact is that the evidence is there for all to see. The government can no longer deny, even though it tried initially to mask the evidence, that we have Canadian military men and women on Iraqi soil, on ships that are accompanying warships involved in the Iraqi war, and in the air. What are they doing in the air? They are participating in the targeting of air strikes, of bombings in Iraq.
I know my time is almost up but I have to say that it makes no sense whatsoever for Canada to have taken the position that it took of non-participation and then turn around and hide behind what is a grotesque misrepresentation. It is an act of deception for the Prime Minister, the defence minister and the foreign affairs minister to say that the reason they are leaving the Canadian troops, at least 1,331 troops that have been acknowledged, who are involved in the combat zone, in there is because of an agreement Canada has with the U.S., the U.K. and Australia and one that we do not want to turn our backs on. That agreement specifically says that in the event of a war in which one of those countries becomes involved and in which Canada is not participating, then we bring our troops home.
Furthermore, that has always been the case. I do not know of a single example, although there may be one that proves the exception, but there are many examples for which military personnel and retired military personnel who are free to speak the truth know that under similar circumstances of a combat or a war in which Canada was a non-participant, we brought our troops home.
I will finish by pleading with government members to address this issue, to remove this deception that is being perpetrated on Canadians and to live up to our own obligations to our own military and to our own agreements.