Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to join in the debate today.
The proposition before the House today is very interesting. It is as if there was not already precedence in the House of Commons. The House of Commons works on the concept of precedence.
This government and governments before it have allowed soldiers, sailors and airmen to go offshore, either to act on behalf of the United Nations in peacekeeping or peacemaking; or, in the case of the second world war, to go to war; or, in the case of the Korean conflict, to go into another area of live fire and face death. These conflicts were not voted on and have never been voted on in the House of Commons.
We are looking at a precedence. We have given this subject many hours of debate. As a consequence, we keep hearing “Why do you not do this?” We are following the practice of the well-worn and well-tried system of the British House of Commons theory which is to practice by precedence.
This breaks the parliamentary practice. The proposal put forward by the sponsoring member is hypothetical. If we ask a hypothetical question it is generally turfed out. We do not work on hypothetical situations in the House of Commons. We work on real situations.
In looking at the situation as presented, it would and could be unworkable. I do not want to get into a debate on it. I feel it is ultra vires because it breaks the precedence in the House. We believe the energies of the House are best directed toward considering ways of resolving the crisis in Kosovo not engaging in procedural wrangling like this.
The Canadian parliamentary system responsible for deploying the Canadian forces lies with the government. It is the responsibility of the government, through the Speech from the Throne, through the empowerment of the defence minister and through the government as such. We should not go off trying to invent a new form of style in the government at this time.
The opposition should remember that we sent troops to Cyprus, to the gulf war and to the Golan Heights. We have sent troops offshore and many of them at the request of the United Nations. In this case there is an explicit commitment involved. We are a member of a security alliance which has asked us to participate in the action in Kosovo and thereabouts. As legitimate alliance members, we are being asked to participate on that team and we are doing that. As members of this group, and through information from our foreign affairs committee and defence committee, we know it is our solid commitment to take part.
I do not know why we are coming up with all of this cobweb stuff, with a little bit of angel dust on it, when it is not the reality. The reality is that we have a commitment in writing to participate with our defensive alliance. We should make that commitment and we will make that commitment.
I should mention at this time that I will be splitting my time.
The government delivered on this and we said it would have take note debates and have an airing. If there was an airing where we were doing something wrong, it would have been picked up sufficiently by the opposition and the opposition's commitments would be there. However, there has been no such identification of somewhere that we are off on the wrong track. We are on track by being with our allies. We are on track by trying to bring peace to a bewildered and beleaguered country.
We have no plans to deploy any armed soldiers on the ground in Kosovo at the moment. That does not eliminate the possibility of this happening. We always have to keep paratus in front of us as the model of readiness in the infantry.
Very few of our NATO allies have put the Kosovo incident to a vote. The United Kingdom has not voted nor debated this issue. France has not voted. President Chirac decided to intervene and consult the legislature but has had no vote. We are not off centre with our allies.
The motion before us could be a very unworkable precedent if it passed. It suggests that it would be appropriate for the House of Commons to micromanage the aspects of troop deployment in the Balkans, even on simple housekeeping items.
Canadian forces members are currently deployed on nine missions of varying size in the Balkans, each of these managed on a day to day basis by established Canadian forces policies with respect to personnel rotation and replacement. Under the terms of the motion, all of these decisions would be subject to House approval.
The BQ would have the House convene to vote on whether a cook could be dispatched to Croatia. Even deciding to dispatch a rescue team for a downed Canadian pilot could be subject to a House vote. The motion would slow down Canada's ability to respond swiftly and flexibly to the kind of rapidly developing humanitarian crisis that has become so much the norm in the past. The cold war conflicts, of which Kosovo was just the latest example in the Balkans, would draw us in.
None of our current missions in the Balkans were voted on by the House. There is no question that the swift deployment saved innocent lives and, for us, saving lives will always be the priority over procedural wrangling.
Mr. Milosevic's unacceptable conduct predates the current crisis in Kosovo. His use of the Yugoslav army to support fellow Serbs during the war in Croatia and Bosnia materially contributed to the ethnic cleansing that occurred during those conflicts.
Prior to Mr. Milosevic's rise to power, Kosovo was made up mostly of ethnic Albanians who had a constitutional autonomy within Yugoslavia. This right was stripped away by Mr. Milosevic in 1989 and from that point forward he has deliberately worked to impoverish the oppressed Kosovars.
Since early last year his security forces have mounted a campaign in which innocent civilians have been subjected to ethnic atrocities similar to those we witnessed in Croatia and Bosnia. We were part of the European community monitoring mission for the United Nations protection force from 1992 to 1995. More than 1,300 Canadian forces personnel remain in Bosnia at this time as part of the NATO led stabilization force.
Our commitment to peace and stability in the region is well established. This commitment is a logical extension of Canada's longstanding policy of promoting international peace and stability.
A diplomatic solution to the Kosovo conflict has always been the course preferred by Canada and its allies. In March 1998 the United Nations passed resolution 1160 calling on all parties to reach a peaceful settlement. This was followed in September 1998 by UN resolution 1199, that both sides cease hostilities and improve the humanitarian situation.
Regarding parliamentary consultation, on October 1, 1998 all parties agreed that Canada should join our NATO allies on air operations. They proved necessary. We had a second meeting on February 17, 1999. There was hope that a peace agreement could be signed and that our involvement would be consistent with that of a peacekeeping force. On April 12, 1999 when the House once again discussed the events in Kosovo, all parties supported Canada's position to participate in the NATO led air operations.
In addition, both the defence and foreign affairs standing committees held a number of meetings on the developments in Kosovo. There was a joint meeting on March 31 of the ministers of foreign affairs, national defence and international co-operation and they outlined the government's response to these crises. On April 15 the Minister of Foreign Affairs appeared before the foreign affairs committee to discuss the developments in Kosovo. All interested members were invited.
That is involvement of the whole House at all levels.