Mr. Chair, may I begin by joining my friend from Prince George—Peace River in noting the Prime Minister's presence in a take note debate. That does not happen very often. I hope it is a practice that he will continue so long as he is in that position. I want, as one member of Parliament, to commend him for being here in a debate of this kind.
Part of what is so distressing about the situation in Haiti is that we have seen it before. Too many in the House have been engaged in trying to help the people of Haiti come to some resolution of problems that seem to be more and more endemic and more difficult.
I certainly was involved with those issues during the time it was my privilege to be secretary of state for External Affairs and again as someone involved with the Carter centre, when President Carter was seeking to play a constructive role in the region.
Of course, the questions are important as to what happened to President Aristide and how it happened. But if those questions are important, the more important question is: What is going to happen to Haiti now? What is going to be done about it that is a response in the long term and not simply another intervention that three or four years later, in unhappy hindsight, it turns out to have been yet another failure?
If there has been an involvement by Canada, if there is a suspicion of an involvement by Canada that was either improper or is regarded as improper by some of the countries upon which we have to count in the region, then let the facts be known. It is important in any event but it is important certainly in terms of our ability to work with our allies and our traditional friends in that region.
I do not at all take away from the concern that has been expressed in the House about those questions. It seems to me simply that they are not the most urgent questions that have to be faced now.
I had the privilege a month ago, at the invitation of the Minister of National Defence, to visit Kabul in Afghanistan, where Canadian troops are deployed. I was impressed again by the excellence of our troops, by the fact that they are of course stretched near the limit. They know that, the minister knows that and everyone in the House knows that.
There is, of course, a question of our military capacity. I for one am prepared to leave those decisions to the military experts to make. I can offer one observation. The Canadian troops I met in Kabul are the quintessential Canadian public servants. They want to serve their country. They want to serve the interests of their country. I do not think that one will hear them expressing an unusual concern about being sent on another mission, particularly if that mission has a result that turns out to be both constructive and durable.
However if there is an issue of military capacity, if there is an issue of how President Aristide came to depart Haiti, those are to the side. The real issue is the future of Haiti. The situation is tragic and what makes it more tragic is that it recurs and, frankly, as we look at the circumstances now in all of this uncertainty, there is no one with much confidence that we can do anything to stop it recurring in the future.
That is what we have to address as Canadians, because there is another sense in which the issue here is Canada. What do we do in the world? What difference do we make in the world? When do we step up and when do we step back? I know resources are tight and I also know, if it is any comfort to the government, that they are tighter now than when I had the honour to serve on the treasury benches.
There are real restrictions upon what a Government of Canada can do, but there is a sense in which resources are always tight and there is a sense, consequently, in which if one wants to do something, if something needs to be done, and particularly if we are the only people who can do it, that casts a new light upon the resources that are available to us.
I do not want to dwell on the past but I have had experience with some of these issues. I had experience decades ago now when thousands of people were afloat on the China Sea and Canada could have stepped back, and we did not step back. We embraced a larger number of boat people than I think any other country in the world, with the exception perhaps of Australia.
I recall at the time the great famines in Ethiopia, a country a long way away and not in our hemisphere, when Canada could have stepped back but it did not. It was not just the government that responded. In both of those cases, it was the government of the people of Canada which responded in imaginative and quite extraordinary ways.
I had the privilege to be involved in Canada's activities with respect to apartheid. Again, Canada could have stepped away but we did not step away.
Had we stepped away in any of those cases, there was no guarantee that anyone else would have stepped forward. Had no one else stepped forward, Rwanda and Burundi would not have been as exceptional as they now are in the record of the world.
Countries sometimes have to step forward when there is a particular call upon their capacities and their reputation.
This is an extremely difficult situation in Haiti. The issue for us really is not whether we will send a certain number of troops for a certain number of days. That is important. The fundamental issue for us is whether we are going to engage seriously in this issue or not. Are we going to assume that the normal processes and the normal understandings should be trotted out again and tried again, or are we going to try to find something new and something different?
In each of the cases I cited before, Canada was prepared to look for something new and something different. Because we were prepared to stretch the envelope, to try to entertain some changes, we were able to make some small contribution to make a difference.
There are some very fundamental questions that we have to ask here. I share the profound respect for the sovereignty of nations, which I think is felt by everyone in the House, but let us ask a question: What is sovereignty to Haiti? There is a larger question: What is sovereignty to most failed states? In the case of Haiti, what does sovereignty mean to the people in Haiti in terms of their immediate future? Are we going to allow a definition whereby our great concern for sovereignty means that countries and individuals who might step in will find an excuse to step back? If that is the definition we apply to that concept, then we serve badly the concept and we certainly serve badly the people of Haiti.
We have to look at a couple of possibilities. The word trusteeship, as used in the United Nations context, has a bad history. It is not a word that people normally embrace. It also has a fairly specific history that applied to the transition from colonial roles of countries before. What it did was posit a role for an international body in unusual circumstances that could not simply provide a step toward a democratic process but could also establish some kind of interim means by which other social developments could occur.
Those of us who have been involved in encouraging democratic developments know that often we can get a democratic system in place and often an election can occur. It happened in Haiti. Often the result is not the profound kind of change that we were looking for.
There should be an examination by Canada's excellent diplomats and our excellent legal authorities as to whether there are some opportunities in the existing range of instruments available to the United Nations to apply those anew.
I am reminded of the case of East Timor and the case of Australia where an action was taken authorized by the United Nations in very extraordinary circumstances, circumstances in which normal procedures had broken down and violence had recurred. There needed to be an intervention that had some success and a way was found using the auspices of the United Nations to find that way.
I do not have a solution to propose except that if there was a time for Canadian imagination and commitment, this is the time. This is our hemisphere. This is our language. In very many cases, this is our family, very precisely, in the case of many individuals here. There is a great danger now that countries will do enough to be present but not enough to change the desperate decline that has become the characteristic of Haiti. This is an issue where Canada may be the only country that can make a real difference. I hope that the government will look very imaginatively into ways in which that might happen.