Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak today to give my full support to the bill introduced by the hon. member for Ahuntsic.
My colleague has seen with her own two eyes what the expression “war zone” means. She went to Lebanon during the period following the Israeli attacks in the summer of 2006. I believe she knows exactly what she is talking about when speaking about the delicate situations facing our soldiers deployed abroad, especially in armed conflict zones.
I am very proud that my party introduced Bill C-513 and even more proud that it was my colleague who introduced it. In my time as a member of this House, we have had a number of opportunities to debate the relevance, importance and duration of Canadian military missions abroad.
That is how it should be in a parliamentary democracy. In this House, sometimes—let us be honest—we clash on relatively minor issues and we hotly debate bills that involve very small amounts of money. However, it is possible in this country, in this great democracy of ours, to send young people to risk their lives in conflict zones, without any debate in Parliament.
The Bloc Québécois has always defended the interests and values of Quebeckers, but we have always shown the utmost respect for Canadian institutions, starting with Parliament. I would like the government to show the same respect for Parliament and acknowledge that the House should vote on issues as important and challenges as fundamental as deploying our troops abroad.
We often hear that Canadian military missions abroad are geared toward peacekeeping and democracy building. Indeed, that is often the case, but we have to think about applying that rule at home. To do so, the decision whether or not to deploy troops in offensive missions must be made by the public and its representatives, in other words, the elected members.
Sometimes the public is not unanimous regarding its country's military involvement in a foreign mission. That is more often the rule than the exception. In a democracy, it is up to the public to decide on these issues that we cannot leave to the sole discretion of the government of the day.
Let us be clear: it is not a matter of allowing parliamentarians to interfere in the operational decisions of the Canadian Forces. Canada has people who are much more competent and more experienced than parliamentarians to make such decisions.
However, no decision is more important than the decision to deploy soldiers overseas, and that decision must be made by the House.
Soldiers from Quebec and Canada risk their lives to protect local people against attackers, defend our interests or restore and keep peace. We must carefully weigh all aspects of a situation and be sure to make the best, most informed choice possible before sending our young soldiers into harm's way.
We in the Bloc feel that it is important to amend section 32 of the National Defence Act when a foreign mission includes or might include an offensive facet.
Our current mission in Afghanistan is a telling example. Canada decided to join the mission because it is a member of NATO. The objective was to chase the Taliban out of Kabul and capture Osama bin Laden.
When the mission began to go on longer, the federal government began to subtly change what it was saying, implying that Canada was now in Afghanistan for humanitarian reasons. Today, seven years later, far more money is allocated to the military aspect than to the humanitarian aspect of Canada's mission, and Canada and its allies are at serious risk of getting stuck in Afghanistan.
Moreover, we cannot ignore the fact that we have unfortunately lost more than 80 soldiers in Afghanistan.
The House held a vote on whether to extend the mission. That is as it should be.
The Bloc voted against extending the mission. We felt and still feel that Canada has done more than its share and that it is another country's turn to take over in southern Afghanistan.
True to their recent form, the Liberals hummed and hawed, deliberated and split hairs until no one in this House or anywhere in Canada understood anything anymore about their confusing and shifting position.
When the dust had settled, Parliament had voted to keep our soldiers in Afghanistan until 2011.
We are talking about Canadian military involvement that is going to go on for at least a decade. That is longer than Canada's involvement in the first world war, the second world war, the Korean war and the Gulf war.
Moreover, that is one of the main conclusions that can be drawn from this Afghan adventure. We know when the mission begins, but we never know when and under what conditions it will end. That is one more reason Parliament should make the initial decision. It is sometimes more momentous than we might like to believe.
Remember the American intervention in Southeast Asia. When the Americans sent their first “military advisors” to Vietnam at the very beginning of the 1960s, they had not idea that the war would end 15 years later, in 1975, with the American embassy staff in Saigon being evacuated by helicopter.
War is a system, a system with its own inner mechanism that is not controlled by those who first set it in motion. History's lessons are clear on this.
My colleague's bill seeks to require that a motion be moved in the House before each foreign mission that includes or might include an offensive facet.
I would like to remind the House that during the two global conflicts Canada was involved in, the House was able to make its opinion known. It was not with a motion, as my colleague's bill proposes, but rather as part of the throne speech, which outlined the measures that the government wished to take.
So even when world political issues were looming large, Parliament took the time to consider the implications of offensive military action.
Despite these two historic votes, nothing obliged the governments at the time to call on Parliament.
Today the Bloc Québécois is using principles and precedence to argue that, for each foreign mission, the minister should table a motion for ratification of the declaration of intention to place the Canadian Forces on active service before the House of Commons.
I hope that all of my colleagues, from each of the parties represented in this House, will understand the important issue raised by this bill and that they will support it without hesitation.