Mr. Chair, it is a privilege to speak on this subject.
I want to talk about three things. They will be a little different from what other people have talked about.
First, I want to talk a little about take note debates; second, I would like to talk about my experience with Haiti; and third, I would like to talk about the adopted children who are in Haiti. There are a great many people in central Alberta, and in Alberta generally, who I have been dealing with to try and help expedite the adopted children leaving Haiti. I think these are three areas that are worthy of a few minutes, rather than talking about the military and some of the other issues.
I arrived here some 11 years ago. Shortly after my arrival as the foreign affairs critic, we had a take note debate. The take note debate was similar in attendance to what we have here tonight. It was rather shocking for me because I thought that I came here to present a point of view, to debate an issue, and to talk about what I thought my constituents wanted. I thought that people would be listening, and people would respond and react to the kinds of things that they would hear in this House.
Instead, what I found with take note debates was that they are exactly that. We talk to ourselves, and possibly to the T.V. cameras, and maybe someone out there is listening to our point of view about a certain subject. I find it very frustrating and a poor way to do it.
At that time, I developed a concept. Why do we not have a real take note debate, where we spend the first third part of the debate bringing in experts to tell parliamentarians what the details are of the issue? Then we spend the next third of the debate with the critics from each party, maybe two from each party, presenting their point of view of the particular subject. Then the third part would be an actual free vote where we would vote about things that really mattered as they pertained to that subject. That seemed to me like a real way to do it democratically and to make these take note debates meaningful.
Instead, we come sincerely, on all sides of the House, to present our points of view, but I really question how much of that is heard or really valued.
I again put that forward as a concept and hopefully our new Prime Minister will look at the democratic deficit and review take note debates so that they actually become meaningful.
The second subject is about Haiti itself. As the foreign affairs critic, I travelled with Mr. Axworthy, then foreign affairs minister, to Haiti during the last revolt and got a chance to visit pretty well the entire country. I was pretty shocked by what I saw. I was shocked by the poverty. I was shocked by the lack of clean water, health care, and the very basic needs that human beings should have.
I went on patrol with our troops. I will probably never forget the dedication of those police and military who were there--great young men and women--but I was shocked by what we saw. We walked down a lane and all of a sudden we knew people were watching us, something was watching us. Of course, the military took some pleasure out of shining their lights and seeing a bunch of rats standing on their hind legs, literally ready to come after us. It certainly impressed upon me the situation in that poor country. It also made me think that we must do something better.
We met with some parliamentarians. One of their major concerns was what kind of new parliament building they could build. And yet, on the streets at night were the kinds of things that we saw.
I look at that country, as well, coming from a tourist industry background, and I say it has everything. It has been deforested and so on. But it really has the beaches, the climate, and the weather. It has great potential. And of course, there is the politics, the history of the lack of law and order, and the destruction that has occurred in that sad country.
At that time I was very impressed with the fact that Canada was involved in the training of police by police forces from across the country. We had a school for judges where we tried to teach the rule of law. We had teachers and professors who were trying to show them how to develop an education system. And we had the health people who were trying to establish some semblance of a normal health care system.
I have to wonder what happened because we are back to almost square one or even worse with the kinds of events that we have seen on television.
When we talk about Haiti and places like that, we cannot just say we are going to send some troops and they will be there for three months. We need to talk about how we could rebuild a country like that so that it would be sustainable, so we do not have to go back again and start from square one.
That becomes an issue for Canadian parliamentarians. We are naturals in terms of helping Haiti. The language there is French and that gives us a step up in that area.
The third issue deals with the orphans who have been adopted by many Canadian parents. I am aware of 28 such parents and many of them I am sure are watching this debate tonight.
The people in foreign affairs and immigration have been fantastic to work with. They have phoned me at 7:00 a.m. They have phoned me on a Sunday night. They have communicated with me above and beyond the call of duty. I certainly appreciate that and I commend them in the House and trust that hopefully they might read Hansard to hear that they were commended. I will not mention names but there are two outstanding people who will know who they are that work in Citizenship and Immigration Canada who have helped and kept us informed.
My job has been to inform these parents. I have letters from typical parents, and again I will not use their names without permission, from my constituency of Red Deer. They have been involved in the adoption of a baby in Haiti and they have an adoption number. Everything has been done except a release by the Haitian government. Some have been waiting months and some have been waiting longer to have that piece of paper signed.
I totally understand why the Canadian government cannot go in and take those children out of the orphanage and take them out of the country. However, I would implore the government to do everything in its power to get those papers signed to release those children and get them out to safety so that these parents could pick them up.
That is an issue that I am not sure anyone else has talked about, but it is a very important issue. Many of these adoptive parents are in Quebec. I am aware of 28 of them and there are seven in my riding who I have been working with on this issue.
Our troops are going there to stabilize a difficult situation. I would urge them, and I know this will be high on their priority list, to help these parents to get these very young babies out of the country so that they can come to Canada and have a new life.
In conclusion, I thank the government for that part of it. I am glad we are going there, but let us look at the long term of what we can do.
Then, let us take a look at take note debates because my opinion is the same as the Prime Minister's. I believe that members of Parliament do have a right to make their voices heard. Parliament should be the centre of national debate on policy. I would like to see that happen here so that we could actually vote on sending our troops places and express these kind of concerns that exist across the country.