Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Mount Royal.
I want to spend my time in the debate talking a little about the challenges that we face. I appreciate the comments that have been made by the two spokesmen for the government. It does represent a change on the part of government policy. It means that Canada is finally catching up with the views that have been expressed by a number of countries around the world over the last several weeks.
It has been very troubling to me that the Government of Canada has been consistently behind the concerns that have been expressed by a great many other governments and countries, including the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Mr. Brown; the foreign minister, Mr. Miliband; the spokesman for international affairs for the European Union, Louis Michel; Secretary of State Clinton a couple of days ago; and a number of people who have been moving ahead.
It has been troubling for me as a Canadian to see that our government has been behind, but the glass is always either half full or half empty. I prefer to see it as half full. I am glad the minister has made the statement that he has made today with respect to the position of the Government of Canada. I had a chance to say that to him today. I also appreciate the comments made by theMinister of International Cooperation
A number of my colleagues in the Liberal Party will be speaking this evening, based on their own personal experience. I want to just say a couple of things. I have had an opportunity over the last decade to be involved in the terribly tragic situation in Sri Lanka. I think it is fair to say that like so many other people around the world who visited and who have been affected by what has gone on, it is a situation that has touched me a great deal.
Like my leader and friend, the Leader of the Opposition, I have lost friends: journalists, political leaders, activists on all sides of the conflict who are no longer with us because they have been killed. My experience is nothing in comparison with the experience of a great many people, many of whom are in the House tonight, who have lost family. I have seen whole towns destroyed by bombing. I have seen rubble stretching for miles on end.
I had an opportunity to meet with the rebel leaders in the Vanni in Sri Lanka nearly a decade ago after the ceasefire. I have since been back many times. I have spent many days and indeed weeks meeting with them as well as with Government of Sri Lanka trying to see if there was not a way of resolving the profound differences that exist between the two warring parties. Perhaps I can just provide the House with some observations as to where I think we need to be and where we need to go as a country in terms of our policy and our direction, and what the nature of the dispute in Sri Lanka really is.
I want to make it very clear that I am not one of those people who is carrying an argument on behalf of anyone. I have been around too much, I have seen too much mistrust and, frankly, I have seen too much bad behaviour, really bad behaviour, in terms of intimidation. in terms of assassination and in terms of steps that have been taken for me to turn around and say that one side in the dispute is all angels and one side in the dispute is all evil. It is more complex than that.
However, I do believe that there are a couple of things we need to understand and really focus on as a country. The majority in Sri Lanka, the Sinhalese people, have yet to make the critical decision that a majority in every country has to make at some point and that is a deep willingness, not just a verbal willingness or a willingness on paper, but a deep willingness to share power. They have not been able to make that in critical moments, in critical junctions in the history of the country. There have been times when they have come up to saying “Yes, this is something we should explore”, whether it is a federal model or a devolution model, whatever name we might happen to give to it, they have come to a certain point and then it is pulled back.
There is a political contest in Sri Lanka between different political parties. When one party representing the majority says that it is prepared to go, then it is attacked as being weak by the other party, and when that other party gets into power and it recognizes that a compromise is necessary, it, in turn, gets criticized. That is the problem on the one side.
There clearly was a decision taken by the new administration led by President Rajapaksa to say that it would force a military solution to the conflict. I took great issue with it when I saw it unfolding and I was subject to rather intense criticism from the Government of Sri Lanka for taking that position. I thought it was a path that would not succeed and a path that would lead to tremendous human devastation and terrible consequences for the people in the north and east.
On the other side, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, like every gorilla army, at one point face a choice. It is a choice that was faced by the PLO and by the African National Congress. The choice is clear: Do we make the transition from essentially looking at the world through a military lens, through the lens of a gorilla army, and shift to political tactics and to becoming a political force , or do we maintain the war up to the end? The IRA faced the same choice.
Yes, we can say that this is a terrorist organization because it kills civilians, it carries out suicide bombings and it recruits children. However, let us be clear, behaviour can change. Behaviour is not a label that lasts for a lifetime.
It is always possible that the group will change its behaviour. That is why I worked very hard with all the Tamil Tiger leaders I met with several times to tell them they had to change. Otherwise, the world would decide to take a very difficult course of action.
I can clearly recall the conversation I had directly with Mr. Thamilselvan, who is now dead because he was killed by the Sri Lankan army. I told him that if the group did not change, the military conflict would continue and the outcome could not be guaranteed. And that is what we are seeing.
It is perhaps not a very original thing to say that if we want to end a conflict then both sides need to change. Both sides need to understand that there needs to be a turning in the road and a change in behaviour.
As a Canadian I am very proud of the Canadians I have met who have been working in Sri Lanka, the young men and women who have been working on removing landmines before the Tsunami, which is now a much more difficult thing to do, and the aid workers. We have some fantastic aid workers who are working for all of the NGO organizations that the minister has named, as well as many others. They are risking their lives and their health. Many of us have family there. My friend from Dartmouth's sister is working as an aid worker in Sri Lanka. We have so many ties with this country, the ties that existed through the Commonwealth, the ties that have been hugely strengthened and changed by the hundreds of thousands of people of came to Canada.
I happened to be in office at the time in Ontario when we had a tremendous influx of Tamils coming in. Now we see their children doing brilliantly in school. We see such a tremendous new generation of Tamil Canadians growing up and it is an extraordinary thing to see.
Right now we are in the middle of a humanitarian disaster. It is a disaster that we could all see coming as the logical outcome of people looking for an exclusively military solution to this conflict. I was so pleased to hear the minister today say that the solution would not be found on the battlefields of Sri Lanka or in the jungles of the Vanni, that the solution would be found when people finally recognize that they need to talk.
Canada needs to be at the lead in those talks. We have an experience with devolution. We have an experience of a majority population understanding that it has to share power. We can argue with our friends in the Bloc Québécois about how fair that sharing is but, nevertheless, I am sure even those members would say that the Canadian federal example is one of civility. We can have our differences but they are based on civility. It is that value and that issue that we have to take forward.
This is a humanitarian tragedy and we need to debate this question going forward. We need to do everything we can, working with the Government of Sri Lanka and through whatever channels of communication we have with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, to say that both sides need to change. The perpetuation of an attempt to find a military solution to this conflict simply will not work and that is what needs to change.
I am very pleased to have been able to participate in the debate on behalf of my party.