Mr. Speaker, we are very keen to finally have a debate this evening in Parliament on a decision that is a very solemn one in the life of a country, a decision that weighs heavily on the shoulders of those who must directly or indirectly make decisions putting other people's lives at risk.
We in the Progressive Conservative Party are very concerned by the developments in this conflict, especially since over a week and a half or so ago the American president had a conversation with the Prime Minister of Canada. As soon as the parliamentary session resumed, I called on the government to permit this Parliament, and through it the people of Canada, to participate fully in the debate and in the decision on Canada's role in this potential conflict.
I wrote to the Prime Minister over a week ago requesting a statement in the House of Commons to the members and to the people of Canada on his government's position. I wanted him to share with us not only the information available to his government, but also the positions held by our allies and, to be very specific, the statement made by the American Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, who was repeating at every opportunity, and I quote: “Time is running out”.
Those familiar with diplomatic language and the way governments work were left with no choice but to wonder what these words meant and to try to understand their impact.
I therefore took the trouble not just to write to the Prime Minister, but also to telephone him on Sunday, the day before Parliament resumed, to ask him for two things: my first request was that his government make a statement in the House of Commons, and my second request, consistent with the recommendations of a parliamentary committee, was that a joint committee of the House and Senate be created so that we could hear from the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of National Defence, and the individual responsible for the military direction of Canadian troops, the Chief of Defence Staff, in an appropriate context. Unfortunately, we met with a blank wall, a flat no.
Today, I regret to say, we find ourselves in a situation I can only describe as ridiculous, in which the government tells us it cannot take a position until it has heard from the Parliament of Canada.
Are we to conclude from this that the Government of Canada therefore had no position on this conflict, and still has none? Have things become so absurd that the government elected by the Canadian people, which has traditionally played an important role in these matters, has no position on this particular matter so far? If that is the case, things have reached a sorry pass. We have certainly slipped in our international stature.
The Progressive Conservative Party of Canada would much prefer a peaceful and diplomatic solution to this international crisis. It is not repetitive to say it today. It is not insignificant to say that. We should say that and repeat it as many times as we feel necessary, as a country and as citizens of this planet.
If this proves impossible because of Saddam Hussein's refusal to allow the UN to perform its duties, then we believe that Canada should fully support, under the authority of the United Nations, military action by our traditional allies to destroy Iraqi weapons capable of killing millions of people. That is the position we take.
The President of the United States spoke with the Prime Minister more than a week and a half ago. I asked the Prime Minister at the time to make a full statement to the House of Commons, to explain the position of his government, to share with us the information that he had, to go further, to actually help us interpret the position of other countries that play a major role.
For example, Madeleine Albright, the American secretary of state, has said repeatedly “Time is running out”. For any sensible person familiar with diplomacy and with the means at the disposal of countries, this was a very significant statement. Yet we were left in the dark as to its significance. Even now this government has not offered any light in regard to what exactly the Americans meant.
The government has waited to this day to make its position clear. We have reached a point of total absurdity. If I understand the government correctly, the government has said it wants to hear from the House of Commons before it takes a position. If we understand it correctly, Canada in this whole conflict has had no position, no position until this day? In international affairs it is a very sad moment for Canada to discover that, given the leadership role Canada played in 1991 in influencing the American administration to work under the authority of the UN, we have now abandoned any attempt at influence.
More than a week ago, I asked the Prime Minister, through a letter and a phone call, whether he would not make a statement to the House and whether he would not strike a parliamentary committee to hear from the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of National Defence and the chief of defence staff. We even made this recommendation because it is consistent with the committee report filed in 1994, supported by a majority of Liberals on the committee, that stated very clearly that in these circumstances there should be a standing committee to whom the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of National Defence and the chief of defence staff should report. This is nothing new. This report was in 1994. The government just thumbed its nose at this Parliament and its own majority on the committee and chose to break another promise.
There are many questions in regard to this whole debate. We have to ask what is at stake. What is the best way of dealing with this dangerous situation? What forces and facilities are needed in the event of military action? What is the objective of a military strike and how long will it take to achieve? Is parliamentary support necessary?
I would like to take the opportunity to address some of these issues, first on what is at stake. What is at stake is a moral imperative, that of peace and security for this world, peace and security not only for those who are living peacefully in countries such as Canada and are privileged by our citizenship but also, as other leaders have said in this House today, the peace and security of other human beings with whom we share this world.
What is the best way of dealing with this situation? As I have made clear, the position of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada is that diplomacy of course must be the preferred option. However, should diplomacy fail then the use of force would then become justified.
In our opinion diplomacy is not a success if Saddam Hussein agrees only to the inspection of a limited number of sites. Security council resolution 687 sets out the terms that Iraq must comply with under the gulf war ceasefire. It is clear in that resolution that the ceasefire is conditional on UN sanctioned inspection of Iraqi weapon sites.
I want to quote from paragraph eight of resolution 687 because it spells it out very clearly:
—decides that Iraq shall unconditionally accept the destruction, removal, or rendering harmless, under international supervision, of all chemical and biological weapons and all stocks of agents and all related subsystems and components and all research, development, support and manufacturing facilities.
The resolution goes on at length but it is very clear.
It is clear from the ceasefire agreement that should Iraq continue to violate UN security council resolutions regarding inspection of Iraqi weapon sites, the use of force against Iraq to destroy its biological, chemical and nuclear weapons is justified.
However, it is not clear, given the answers the Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs have offered today in the House of Commons what diplomatic efforts they have undertaken to resolve the rift that currently exists between members of the UN security council.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs made a very troubling admission today in the House of Commons when asked whether or not we should renew our efforts on the UN front. The Minister of Foreign Affairs had to admit to this House today that if we did that we ran the risk of establishing and defining a rift within the UN security council itself.
Pretending this problem does not exist is not going to make it go away. This is a very serious admission on behalf of the minister and one that this House and Canadians need to know before we make a decision with regard to the future of the men and women who will be involved in this conflict.
What would be the position should Russia and China continue to hold the view that there should be no intervention? Will we provide support for military action by our traditional allies or would we be opposed?
What forces are needed and what can Canada provide is another question. It is unclear at this point what exactly is being asked. Currently only Britain and the United States have committed to military participation while Germany has pledged full political support and the use of air bases.
Of course the world cannot be held hostage by Saddam Hussein and his arsenal of biological weapons.
However, it must be clear to all countries involved what the objectives of a military strike in Iraq are and what the strike will accomplish. Now is the time to be clear on this.
There are those who may not think it is significant. History is full of examples of countries that got themselves involved in conflicts they thought were temporary, regional, limited in time and space but could not get out of them. I do not have to remind members of what the Vietnam experience was for the Americans. Yet some seem already to have forgotten. Why? Because it must be clear from the outset what objective we are pursuing. We have yet to hear exactly what it is. The joint committee would help to establish and clarify that position. I am still hoping the government will come to its senses and establish that joint committee.
What will we offer in terms of capacity? This government has reduced Canada's forces by about 25% since 1994. It is not any coincidence that the American president would not ask for more. He knows full well that Canada cannot offer more than what he is asking. What is the state of Canada's military equipment? These are all questions we have to ask.
What objective will we pursue? I see two obvious objectives. Iraq's air defences and many weapons we have identified would need to be destroyed.
We need to know what position our government will take if military bombing is taken and is extended to a vast area. These are all questions that need to be answered. We also know that time is running out.
I want to know whether or not Canada's Parliament will be involved in this debate. In 1991 there were 71 hours of debate and three debates in the House of Commons. We learned a great deal from the experience of 1991.
I hear the Minister of Foreign Affairs heckling me from the other side of the House of Commons. This is a happy coincidence. Let me quote from Debates of 1990. One member in the House at the time said: “If all of a sudden we are beginning to deploy troops and give them rules of engagement or a mandate that extends beyond the clear definition provided by the UN, then we may also be in danger of undermining the opportunity of the UN to show it must be the place where decisions are made”. That was said by the member who is now the Minister of Foreign Affairs. That is what he thought then.
Let me quote again. A member of the House of Commons said: “Do individual nations, whether they be large or small, have the right to decide when to use force for invasionary purposes? It should not be a unilateral decision”. That was the same minister recorded in Hansard on September 24, 1990. I can only regret that he does not seem to be as forthcoming today.
This is a very important moment in the life of our Parliament and Canadians deserve that many questions be answered. Our party will continue to push so that we have as much information as possible.
We will continue to push the government to answer these questions and put an end to this absurd situation, which I must say I have trouble understanding. I do not understand what this government has to hide.
Why not strike a committee? Why not make a statement in the House of Commons? It is not as though partisan issues were involved. We have just been through a crisis. In such times, neither the leader of the Bloc Quebecois, the leader of the Reform Party, or the Leader of the New Democratic Party engage in partisan politics. Yet the government is stuck in some kind of rut that is frankly difficult to explain.
Given the extraordinary circumstances we are in and the fact that the government has not been forthcoming on this matter, I would like to close my remarks by asking for the unanimous consent of the House of Commons to put the following motion:
That the proceedings be interrupted at this time to permit the Prime Minister to answer questions from members of all parties for the next thirty minutes.