Mr. Speaker, the motion that was introduced by our Liberal colleague from West Nova and is before us today is very positive, in my opinion. The proposal that the federal government fully fund the Pearson Peacekeeping Centre does not seem like a whim to me, because the centre's mission is fully in line with the Bloc Québécois position on foreign development assistance.
As you know, political, geographical and religious conflicts cause serious harm to people, and even one conflict is one too many. The Pearson Peacekeeping Centre was created at the federal government's request in 1994, when a number of countries bordering Germany and Russia were in a rather unstable and fragile state after the fall of the eastern bloc. The centre's mission is to train civilians, military personnel and police officers for peacekeeping missions and to promote research in order to guide public policy debate.
The increasing demands of conflict prevention and resolution, and the growing scope of Canada's involvement in all aspects of peace operations required the creation of a focal point for education, training, and research activities. The teaching environment needed to be multidisciplinary and international, providing a location where persons from different professional, cultural and national backgrounds could learn together. This diversity reflects actual field conditions. The Pearson Peacekeeping Centre was established in Nova Scotia in 1995 and expanded in 1999, opening an office in Montreal to better serve the international francophone community. In November 2003, recognizing the importance of having a presence close to the seat of government, the centre opened a liaison office in Ottawa. Most of the centre's official courses are given abroad, in Africa, eastern Europe and Latin America.
Unfortunately, the centre has always had funding problems. When it was created in 1994, it was supposed to be financially self-sufficient by 1999. It has proven to be difficult for a peacekeeping training centre to be self-sufficient. The Bloc Québécois thinks it is important for the federal government to subsidize this centre. In March, the Bloc Québécois was pleased with the Conservative government's decision to give the Pearson Centre $13.8 million over three years, from March 2007 to March 2010. This funding was for the basic infrastructure of the centre: salaries, rent, equipment, etc. The funding does not cover the projects and courses offered by the centre. It is piecemeal. For example, CIDA is responsible for funding conferences in Canada and abroad.
Until recently, the Department of National Defence funded training courses on peacekeeping missions at the Cornwallis office in Nova Scotia. Located outside major centres in a small community, the advantage of this site is that simulations for the purposes of exercises can be held without disturbing people in the surrounding areas.
The Department of National Defence has decided to stop funding the training courses at the Cornwallis office, saying that National Defence will provide training itself at the base in Kingston.
The only purpose of the Cornwallis office was to provide training. Without federal funding for these courses, the Cornwallis office may have to close its doors. Training is at the very heart of the Pearson Peacekeeping Centre's mandate. The Cornwallis section is very important and the upheaval that will result from closing this section could be very damaging to the centre.
The importance of the Pearson Peacekeeping Centre should not be underestimated. The training and policy directions there are directly related to the policy Canada has been developing since the days of Pearson, whose goal it was in the 1950s to devote 0.7% of gross domestic product to development assistance—an objective I would point out has still not been met, unfortunately.
The development assistance envelope has not stopped shrinking, going from a little less than 0.5% in 1991-92 to 0.45% in 1993 and 0.25% in 2000.
The decrease was particularly significant when the Liberals were in power, but the Conservatives have not managed to do much better.
Through the debate on the motion, I want to reiterate today that the Bloc Québécois is committed to having the federal government implement a realistic and concrete plan to achieve the UN target of 0.7% of GDP for international assistance by 2015. To reach this, the Conservatives must start increasing development assistance budgets now, at an average rate of 12% to 15% per year.
The Bloc Québécois' desire to see this happen is genuine , since we have worked long and hard to improve Bill C-293 to make the development assistance objectives as clear and effective as possible, by proposing that the federal government make all bilateral assistance dependent on respecting fundamental human rights, but also ensure that the money is not diverted from its original purpose.
The Bloc Québécois believes that, given the importance of the Pearson Centre, the government should work with it to ensure a seamless transition from DND funding of training courses to other funding. The federal government should provide full funding temporarily, until the Centre can find new clients to fund its training courses. The federal government has the means to fund this Centre.
Under no circumstances should the Conservative government reverse its decision to fund the basic infrastructure of the Pearson Peacekeeping Centre.
Because the Bloc Québécois has always supported initiatives aimed at resolving conflicts through dialogue and mediation, the Bloc Québécois supports Motion M-311.