Madam Speaker, I thank the minister for having the opportunity to talk on this most important subject. This certainly is an example to Canadians when Parliament is allowed to speak on a subject of such national interest. I go along with the other speakers in terms of our reputation and the pride we have as Canadians in our peacekeepers.
Since the first peacekeeping mission in 1956 tens of thousands of Canadians have been involved in these missions. Some of them have made the ultimate sacrifice with their lives. We want to thank those people for what they have done; it is certainly appreciated. The millions of people around the world they have helped certainly know what we as Canadians have done. On behalf of the Reform Party and Canadians in general I would like to pay tribute to those people and say: Job well done.
As the House is aware since early this year the special joint committee reviewing Canadian foreign affairs, of which I am a member, has been travelling across the country to find out from Canadians what they think about foreign affairs and our international commitments for the coming decades. It has become very clear to me and to many members on the committee just how deeply concerned Canadians are with events around the world.
We want to stand up and be part of the missions that occur. We do not want to bury our heads in the sand and not take part in all of those things that affect our world.
Canadians are not prepared to give up on their proud tradition of caring and intervention for the sake of peace. These times however cannot be seen from a purely international perspective. Our foreign commitments must be in harmony with our domestic needs. Therefore we must be sure when we do support peacekeeping that we are operating in Canada's best interests and within the very real financial constraints that must be the primary concern of any good government. We must pick our spots and we must choose wisely.
Today's debate is an example of trying to choose those spots and pick the ones that are of most interest. One thing we must make clear is that Canada cannot become the 911 phone number for the world. As much as we want to help others, this desire is tempered by the fact that we cannot be all things to all people. It is better that we help effectively in a few cases rather than spreading ourselves too thin. In this way Canada can protect its own vital interests and provide the most effective help for the international community.
As we examine the issue of peacekeeping it is worthy to note that since the end of the cold war the demand for peacekeepers around the world has skyrocketed. If the past few years has taught us any lesson it is that instability will continue. New hot spots will continue to crop up and Canada must be ready. If more requests come from Africa, southeast Asia or the former Soviet republics how will Canada respond?
Clearly, Canada must establish criteria to test the importance of each request for our help. While this is a sensitive issue and I do not claim to have all the answers, I would argue that the following should be considered by Parliament when deciding whether to approve peacekeeping missions.
First, Canada's economic ties are an extremely important factor when we determine how willing Canadians would be to commit our resources.
Second, the conflict's impact on the state of international stability is another obvious test of whether Canada should get involved. If the conflict has a serious potential to escalate or destabilize the whole region, we should consider this seriously when making our decision.
Third, geographic ties are important. For reasons of regional stability, the world would be a better place if countries co-operated to make sure that their own part of the world remains stable. Where peace does break down, regional organizations should co-operate to make things right. After all it will be the member nations of such regional groups that have the greatest interest in restoring stability. For logistical reasons as well, proximity is an important factor in determining whether a country can respond to a crisis in a timely and effective manner.
Fourth, humanitarian considerations must also be taken into account. While Canadians want bang for their buck, they also want Canada to maintain its tradition for compassion. While I could say more on this item, one of my colleagues will talk on that subject later on this evening.
Fifth, our prior commitments must be given more weight than is the current practice when determining what else we are going to do. We only have so many troops and a limited amount of high quality equipment. Therefore we owe it to our troops to be fair in our decisions where we send them and to make sure that we do not overcommit our forces. My fellow Reformer, the hon. member for Okanagan-Similkameen-Merritt, will talk on that issue.
Another very important consideration which must be taken into account is that our judgment should not be clouded by the media spin in each crisis, the so-called CNN factor. There are many conflicts in this world which could use the assistance of Canadian peacekeepers however the media does not treat them equally.
The usual process involves one crisis headline becoming really big and bouncing everything else from the front pages. The media raises a hue and cry to be heard throughout the world: Why is the world not helping to do more? Then two weeks or a month later the media drops that story and picks up on something new. That is just the way it works and we have to be conscious of that. Just because the media likes this approach does not mean their priorities are always correct; nor do they always reflect Canadian interests.
To the extent that Canadians do care about what they see in the media, we have to acknowledge the media will always be a factor. However, we must not let the headline du jour drive us into unwise or hasty action. Whether it is a sexy headline or not Parliament should do the right thing, period.
Now that I have outlined some of the basic criteria on which we should be judging our participation in peacekeeping, I would like to move on to two specific cases which we are discussing today, Rwanda and Haiti.
According to the six criteria which I have listed, I do not believe that Rwanda was a fully appropriate peacekeeping initiative for Canada.
First, Rwanda and Canada have virtually no trade ties. Therefore we certainly could not argue that our economic interests were at stake. Other central African countries are Rwanda's main trading partners and they are the ones who are having their trade disrupted.
While the massacres in Rwanda have had an impact on the neighbouring countries, especially in terms of creating large flows of refugees, I do not believe the crisis there represents a threat to regional or world stability.
In terms of my third criteria, geographic ties, Canada is neither close to Rwanda nor do we have a tradition of dealing with that country or its people. Therefore there was a long delay before the majority of our peacekeepers could even get there.
In the future Canada should encourage regional organizations such as the Organization of African Unity to build up their capacity to respond when a local crisis arises. Beyond this Europe has many more ties to central Africa than we do. This tradition makes it more natural for them to adopt a leadership role there just as France did.
When taking humanitarian considerations into account, clearly Rwanda is a case which required the world's attention and help. While Canadians will always help in such circumstances, do we always have to send in the troops to show we care? I do not think so.
Many thousands of Canadians spoke with their wallets and donated money to Canadian and international NGOs that were helping with humanitarian relief. This was an appropriate reaction. We would like to do more, but quite frankly others were better placed to provide the peacekeeping in Rwanda.
One of the main reasons that our reaction to the Rwandan disaster was so limited relates to my fifth criteria: our prior peacekeeping commitments. No other country has given more in the cause of peacekeeping or has been on more missions, but our forces are stretched to the limit. It simply is not fair to keep asking our soldiers to go on so many endless peacekeeping missions. They are the Canadian forces, not the Canadian foreign legion. If we scale back or shut down other missions, then perhaps we will have some reserve forces to be deployed upon need, but right now we do not.
According to the last factor, the CNN factor, it is beyond doubt that the extensive media treatment of the Rwandan disaster initiated the response from this and many other governments. Let us not forget that about two years before in neighbouring Burundi many thousands were slaughtered for the third
or fourth time since the 1970s but there was no media reaction, no hue and cry, and no peacekeepers.
In the future, Parliament must do a better job in assessing the seriousness of a crisis. An international crisis is more than the sum of the media coverage it receives.
Before I move on from the topic of Rwanda, I will talk about my experience with Rwanda. In 1971 I read an article in National Geographic about the mountain gorillas and the country of Rwanda. I decided I had to go there and 15 years later I managed to complete that dream.
My wife and I experienced a country with beautiful green covered hills and mountains and fertile volcanic soil. There were friendly people who were smiling and happy. I will always remember the markets we visited with the children playing and the people doing their weekly shopping. How can a country change so dramatically? We were aware of the two tribes but not of the hatred. What happened? NGOs and missionaries warned of impending problems but nobody listened. Nobody took the leadership to try to prevent the carnage which was to follow.
If we wanted to get involved in Rwanda it should have been then, when our diplomatic negotiations and leadership could have been more effective. Instead the international community failed to act proactively and went to its old standby: when the damage was already done they called in the peacekeepers, Canadians included.
We must learn from this experience. Proactive measures through diplomatic channels or through international organizations are not only more effective and cheaper than expensive peacekeeping missions but they can save a lot of lives.
Let me go on to Haiti. Once again we have a situation which is seemingly thrust on us, a crisis that requires our immediate attention. However, on closer inspection a very different picture appears.
First, we have virtually no economic interests in Haiti. Neither is international stability threatened. In terms of geographic ties Haiti is certainly in our hemisphere, therefore we should have an active interest. But if we are going to get involved it should be under the auspices of the Organization of American States, not as part of the U.S. led adventure that may be opening a Pandora's box into which peacekeeping nations may enter, never to withdraw.
If Canada is going to Haiti, let us make sure that we know what we are getting into. How much will it cost? When do we get to leave? What are we trying to accomplish? Is Cedras a diabolical murderer yesterday and our partner for the reform of Haiti today? Not in my books he is not. I would gladly kick his butt but I would not shake his hand.
Clearly things are not going as the Americans first planned. Haitians are still being beaten and killed by thugs. Aristide is clearly unhappy. Haitians in Canada are unhappy. The American soldiers are unhappy. In fact the only ones with smiles on their faces are the coup leaders. If this is not a clear warning sign I do not know what is.
On the humanitarian side, there is no doubt that Canada can be of assistance to the poorest and most desperate people of Haiti. Once again, I argue that it is our NGOs that are best equipped to do this; not our soldiers who are already stretched to the maximum when it comes to peacekeeping around the world.
The Haiti crisis is a hot item today in the media. It may be hot tomorrow. However let us not forget that Jean-Bertrand Aristide was thrown out in 1991. This is not a new issue. Haiti's problems were not even new in 1915 when the Americans invaded the last time. Back then they stayed for a generation. Let us make sure that this time next year we are not watching the American troops pull out only to leave our Canadian servicemen and women there for the next generation.
Canada can be an effective world player and peacemaker. Canadians are proud of this and we do not have to prove it to anyone. If we decide not to go to Haiti the world will not hold it against us.
Let us do Canadians a favour and give the Canadian forces a break for once. We will keep our troops at home and instead take a leadership role in the OAS. If we build the strength and credibility of this and other regional organizations then maybe we can really solve the problems of countries like Haiti.
It is in this precise role that Canada excels. While other countries may be known for their strength or guile, Canada has worked long and hard to develop its image as an honest broker and leading middle power. We are a member of all of the strongest clubs, NATO, G-7, UN, OAS, et cetera, and yet we do not have the historical baggage of the world's great military powers. Therefore others look to us and trust in our ability to build up international institutions like the UN and the OAS. Canada will do a great favour for the world if we take this role to heart and help to bring about constructive change.
On a visit to Washington last week I asked the OAS and State Department the same question: Do you feel Canada has played a
strong leadership role in trying to solve the Haiti problems diplomatically? I got a negative response from both. Instead I was told that Canada is very timid and suffers from an inferiority complex when it comes to dealing with foreigners.
We can play a strong middle power role and become a world leader in brokering peaceful solutions to international crises. However first we need government leadership to show the way, to demonstrate a commitment to diplomacy and playing a more active role. We have the education, the foreign staff and most of all a reputation as a reasonable, democratic society that can be trusted.
What we have been lacking is the political will to succeed. Such change would not only be good for the international community but would be good for Canadians, since affected international organizations could go a long way in preventing any future problems. Without a crisis there is no need to spend more money or risk the lives of members of the armed forces.
In conclusion, we should not enter Haiti or any other area until we establish, first, the criteria; second, the cost; third, a plan including the logistics, our specific job, how and when we will get out. We must be sure that Canadians support our actions and that we always debate this issue in the House of Commons.
The time has come for us to take a step back. Before we send our troops on yet another indefinite mission with uncertain dangers and an unknown cost, let us establish a credible set of criteria on which we can depend to make sure that we pick our spots wisely. Canada can make a difference in this world. Canada can still be an innovator and a leader in the area of peacekeeping but we have to make a choice. Any foolish government can say: "Yes, we will help", and it will think it is doing the best thing. It takes a strong government to say: "Meet me half way and then I will help; otherwise you are on your own".