Ms. Val Meredith (Surrey-White Rock-South Langley)
Mr. Speaker, as this is my first opportunity to address the House
I would like to congratulate you on your appointment as Deputy Speaker and to all the members of this House on their election.
As the member for Surrey-White Rock-South Langley, I represent the constituency with the greatest number of voters in western Canada. Located on the west coast just southeast of the city of Vancouver, my constituency abuts the Canadian-American border. It contains the city of White Rock, the south portion of the city of Surrey and the southwest corner of the township of Langley. Although the riding is only 250,000 square kilometres, it contains a wide diversity of communities.
Part of my constituency is dedicated to agriculture. A number of large vegetable farms are located on some of the richest agricultural land in Canada. Dairy and poultry farms are located in the Cloverdale and South Langley areas. My constituency also has light industrial areas that provide a wide variety of commercial goods. These industries as well as other small businesses have raised a concern about Canada's national debt and the enormous federal deficit. These business people want their government to take control to reduce spending. They say that if the government wants to increase economic activity then it should work toward reducing taxes and the cost of doing business in Canada.
However, the greatest land use in my constituency is residential. The community of White Rock is located on the shores of Semiahmoo Bay and is well known as a retirement centre because of its mild climate. The area has also attracted a large number of families and as a result there is a growing element of the constituents who commute outside of the riding's boundaries.
My constituency is one of the fastest growing areas of this country, but unfortunately one of the aspects of rapid growth is an accompanying growth in criminal activity. During the election campaign my constituents considered this to be one of the major problems. My constituents have made it quite clear that they expect this government to bring greater protection to society.
My constituents elected me on a platform of fiscal responsibility, parliamentary accountability and criminal justice reform. I would like to thank the voters of Surrey-White Rock- South Langley for their confidence in me and to assure them that I am their servant and I will do everything in my power to accomplish these goals.
However, this evening I am here to speak on Canada's role in Bosnia and I do so as an ordinary Canadian. Like most Canadians, I have read, listened and watched countless stories about the tragedy of Bosnia and Hercegovina. These stories have evoked a wide range of emotion. I have been horrified by the indiscriminate attacks on civilians, especially the children. I have been disturbed by reports of the political strategy of ethnic cleaning. I have been very proud of the role that Canadian peacekeepers have had in Bosnia.
I have also been very irritated at the unwillingness of the political and military leaders of the warring factions to reach a peaceful solution. I have expressed frustration with the UN's inability to take definitive action to resolve this issue and I was outraged when I heard reports of Canadian peacekeepers being subjected to mock executions.
When our troops are subjected to such treatment it is difficult to disagree with those individuals who call for the withdrawal of Canadian troops. At some point we may have to do so, but I believe that despite all the adversity it is critical that Canadians remain in Bosnia. No matter how bad the situation is now, without Canadian peacekeepers the situation would be much worse. Canadians are going to have to decide if they are prepared to live with the consequences of a unilateral withdrawal, a withdrawal that could result in a full fledged war and the genocide of ethnic groups.
If this were to occur, could Canadians sit back and wash their hands of the affair? Could we say that this is not our concern? Are we prepared to accept the fact that we might have been able to stop this, but that we got tired and frustrated?
I know that when we see television reports of children killed we wonder what good United Nations peacekeepers are doing. When we hear reports of entire families being wiped out we wonder what peace Canadian soldiers are supposed to keep. However, without the presence of Canadian and other United Nations personnel, Bosnia would probably be faced with the wholesale slaughter of children and civilians.
This is the choice that Canadians are facing. Do we withdraw our troops and accept the prospect of full fledged war and potential genocide or do we indefinitely commit our troops to a peacekeeping mission where there is no peace to keep?
I do not imagine that many Canadians are prepared to commit our troops indefinitely to an ill defined mission in a country where political and military leaders have shown little inclination to resolve the issue. Many of the difficulties appear to be caused more by the United Nations mandate than by the mission itself.
As the outgoing commander of United Nations peacekeepers in Bosnia stated, it is fine for the politicians and diplomats to pass these wonderful resolutions but they do not mean very much unless they are accompanied by the willpower to carry them out.
We have to give our peacekeepers the authority and resources to carry out their mandate and perhaps Canada and the United Nations need to redefine the rules of this mandate. However, is the mission itself worthwhile?
For those who believe that Canada should withdraw its peacekeepers I ask them whether they are prepared to abandon the people of Bosnia to the mercies of the factional leaders. A glance at history has shown that over the last 50 years we have
had too many instances of people's lives being left to the mercy of dictators and despots.
Today, people say that if we had intervened in many of these situations earlier, we might have saved millions of innocent victims. When one considers the events that have already occurred in Bosnia with the United Nations presence, imagine what a future without the United Nations intervention would mean for the people of Bosnia. One wonders if today's ethnic cleansing will become tomorrow's genocide.
I do not believe that Canadians are prepared to condemn the people of Bosnia to such a fate. Our intervention, no matter how troublesome or frustrating, certainly is preferable to permitting the genocide of one or more of the ethnic groups in Bosnia.
It is obvious that the only acceptable way to resolve this conflict is through negotiation. Unfortunately, it appears that the various factional leaders have little incentive to resolve the issue.
Some would even suggest that the presence of the United Nations peacekeepers has provided the leaders of the various factions with an excuse not to come to a quick resolution. They would suggest that all sides should experience the effects of a full scale war so they can fully appreciate the horrors of such warfare. This they argue would give the negotiators the incentive to reach a peace agreement. Perhaps it would, but what would be the cost in human lives?
Tens of thousands of Bosnians have already lost their lives in this conflict and thousands more will likely die. However, the toll would likely have been in the hundreds of thousands without our involvement. Unfortunately we must wait for the various leaders to reach a settlement on their own.
Canada and the rest of the international community must continue to pressure the warring factions to reach an acceptable peace. We have to impress upon these leaders that military victories resulting in territorial gains will not be internationally recognized. We have to impress upon them that the prize for their aggression will be a total isolation from the world community.
I think that Canadians recognize the fact that Canada cannot afford to be the peacekeeper to the world. It is a credit to our military that we are in such popular demand for the role. Our reputation as peacekeepers is unparalleled and it is a good reputation to have. Nevertheless Canada does not have the money to send its troops into every dispute.
Reality dictates that we have to pick and choose our assignments. The planned review of the Canadian Armed Forces is a good step in determining the extent to which Canada should be involved in these missions.
Canadians are going to have to decide just what resources we are prepared to commit to these endeavours. It is a noble role but such nobility does not come cheap. It is the Canadian taxpayer who will have to decide the extent to which they are prepared to underwrite these missions. However, this is for future roles.
The reality of today is that rightly or wrongly Canadian troops are in Bosnia. It is also reality that this is not a great situation to be in. We have asked our peacekeepers to attempt to keep a peace that does not exist. As our troops attempt to keep three warring ethnic groups from killing each other, we have found that we are ending up being hated by all three sides. We really have entered into a classic no win situation.
Critics of Canada's presence in Bosnia can probably list dozens of valid reasons why we should not be there. In return, I can offer only one good reason why we have to remain. It is for the simple reason that without us the situation would be a lot worse. These people are dependent upon the UN force to keep them alive.
It is an unfortunate reality but Canadians are showing a greater concern for the fate of the Bosnian people than their own leaders. This concern or compassion may force us to make an occasional impractical decision, but it is also a virtue that makes this country such a wonderful place to live.
Canadians have been fortunate to face precious little political violence in their history. We do not have to worry that when our children are outside playing in the snow some artillery shell is going to land in their midst and kill them. Perhaps it is for this reason that Canadians should be in Bosnia.
We need to do whatever we can to help the rest of the world achieve peace. We must keep a window open for negotiations to take place in the hope of a peaceful resolution. We have to show them that we care.
Subtopic: Foreign Affairs