Mr. Paul Crête (Kamouraska-Rivière-du-Loup)
Mr. Speaker, I enter this debate as the member for a riding and a region represented by people named Côté, D'Amour, Babin, Dumas, Gagnon, Grand'maison, Laliberté, Landry, Morel, Pelletier and Paré in the UN peacekeeping mission in Bosnia.
Soldiers from the riding of Kamouraska-Rivière-du-Loup and Rimouski-Témiscouata are in Bosnia on a voluntary basis, with the Fusiliers du Saint-Laurent, of the Rivière-du-Loup and Rimouski garrison.
The questions people ask themselves, especially the relatives and friends of the soldiers who represent Canada in this very complex international operation are: is the safety of our troops ensured? Is their role well-defined? When will they come back? In short, is it worth it?
The question regarding the safety of our troops is an obvious one, especially since the operation in the former Yugoslavia is totally different from the previous ones in which the Canadian Armed Forces were involved.
Indeed, maintaining peace like we did in Cyprus and like we are now doing in Croatia is very different from escorting humanitarian aid convoys and protecting Muslim areas, as is the case in Bosnia. Those are totally different operations.
Moreover, the voluntary participation of militia members raises the issue of the role of the regular force and the militia in the context of international operations.
In that regard, the government should take a close look at the recommendations made in 1993 by the Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs.
This committee recommended providing our military with the kind of training that would prepare them for their role in international missions, by creating reserve units for logistics, transport and communications, that would be used for peacekeeping operations rather than strictly war-time operations.
The issue of the security of our troops cannot be dissociated from the transparency and relevance of the mission with which they are entrusted. I believe that we have here the reason for the uncertainty among Quebecers and Canadians about the effectiveness of our operations in Bosnia. Canadian diplomacy which, in the past, has been instrumental in developing the image of Canada as a peacekeeper in the international community, would do well to learn from the past and return to a genuine defence of the cause of peace.
I believe the mission in Bosnia should continue until negotiations are able to reach a settlement. However, it is important for our operations to contribute directly to resolving the crisis and above all to avoid perpetuating the current imbroglio.
I wish to point out that the people in my riding support the Canadian government's involvement in international missions if there is evidence such operations are necessary, our troops are adequately prepared and our diplomatic efforts are effective, because the diplomatic front is also very important.
The people in my riding, and especially the families of the soldiers involved, hope there will be no more of the uncertainty that arose as a result of the Prime Minister's comments that it might be appropriate to withdraw Canadian troops, comments he made in public on his last trip to Europe. Any statements on the subject should not be the kind of improvised remarks that raise doubts about the relevance of operations and their duration.
In the broader perspective of the current debate on our policy on peacekeeping operations, I would favour setting up a multinational force, with Canada contributing more specifically to the mission logistics, an area in which we have developed expertise and which would give us a defensive rather than an offensive mandate.
I believe it would also be appropriate to table regularly a clear and detailed report on our participation in international missions.
Finally, by giving our troops better instruction in the history, culture and traditions of the countries where they will be sent on peacekeeping operations, we can avoid situations of the kind we experienced in Somalia and also in the former Yugoslavia, where not knowing the customs of the country is a major source of friction and undermines the effectiveness of the operations of our troops.
I want to thank you for your attention, and I would like to take this opportunity to commend those members of my riding who have volunteered to help resolve a crisis situation that requires patience, tact, a profound sense of history and, we might as well admit it, a little luck.
Subtopic: Foreign Affairs