Mr. Leonard Hopkins (Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke, Lib.)
Mr. Speaker, in speaking to this motion today, I begin by pointing out that what this motion offers is in absolute keeping with the Canadian peacekeeping policy process. In fact it supports the philosophy which guides our present policy.
It has been and will continue to be the policy of this government to bring before this House all issues relating to peacekeeping. When it has been possible and necessary, that is exactly what this government has done. We recognize the importance of full and free discussion of any proposed deployment of Canadian forces personnel and we attach great value to the opinion which this House has to offer.
It is for these reasons this government has endeavoured to allow for the debate of Canada's peacekeeping commitments at every opportunity. Therefore the apparent objective of this motion to generate discussion and debate of Canada's peacekeeping commitments has already been accomplished by this government.
I note here that we have heard a lot about non-partisan debate from the Reform Party spokespeople tonight. In this House, foreign affairs used to be quite non-debatable and people came to a consensus. It is rather ironic that the spokespersons for the Reform Party were on their feet asking for non-partisanship and at the same time were castigating Liberals in past debates in this House.
Motion No. M-31 calls for a free vote in the House. Our government is derived from the system in Great Britain, the mother of Parliaments. It is called responsible government. Under our parliamentary system responsible government means that the government of the day must make the decisions. Decisions have to be made and sometimes as has been stated they have to be made quickly.
We cannot compare this with the way the United Nations makes decisions because we are in the throes of trying to upgrade and modernize the United Nations and streamline its procedures and that is the right way to go. The way debates are handled in this House, decisions on foreign affairs or any other major events have to be made by a responsible government in the long run. That government is the one that has to live with the decisions.
While we are talking about peacekeeping, peacemaking and what should be done in Parliament prior to a force going wherever to smooth things out, let me emphasize to the greatest degree the appreciation we should have as Canadians for the members of the Canadian forces who go out and do Canada proud around the world. Canadians respond responsibly. Yes there have been a few hiccups along the way, but the hiccups totally disappear when we consider the positive contribution our Canadian forces have made to world affairs and indeed right here at home when disasters occur.
Think back to World War I and World War II and how Canada acted. Why did Canada act? Because there was no United Nations to bring countries together to make decisions. Everybody was drifting off in their own direction and we drifted into World War I and we drifted into World War II. That is why at the end of World War II the UN was founded. Then when the communists started becoming more and more aggressive during the cold war period of the late 1940s, NATO was established, another group of nations coming together for help. That did not exist in the earlier days.
Korea, the first test of the United Nations peacekeeping, was a very successful test in that the United Nations forced the North Koreans back to the 38th parallel.
Canada took part in the Persian Gulf war. It has been into peacekeeping and peacemaking of all kinds over the years. Then there is aid to the civilian power by our Canadian forces.
I want to say here what a debt we owe to those Canadian forces who participated in aid to the civilian power during the Saguenay River disaster. The words of a person who lost their home, lost everything, when he came up to the Prime Minister in the Saguenay area when he visited there were: "Mr. Prime Minister, the Canadian forces have been with us since day one. We don't know what we would have done without them. They have been marvellous".
When we see all this hype about Canadian forces today and all the negative things occurring, let us give those men and women out there a pat on the back. Let us tell them that Canadians should be giving them the credit they deserve for the wonderful work they are doing. The other problems go into insignificance.
Those young families sitting out there tonight may be watching this debate. They have to be thanked, the rank and file of the Canadian Armed Forces who are the very basis of what we are talking about today.
Just to back up what I have been saying, the recent event that supposedly occurred in Hungary with four Canadian soldiers, remember the headlines the first day: "Canadian soldiers assaulted couple, Hungary police say", headlines in a Hungarian newspaper.
After the investigation was made, they found that reports of Canadian soldiers attacking a Hungarian civilian and his girl friend were exaggerated, as Hungarian journalists in the Canadian military now say.
In fact, information indicates that one of the Canadians was himself beaten up in a street fight. Then the editor of the largest Budapest daily newspaper said Monday that the story his paper published on the weekend was not entirely accurate.
I want to thank the Ottawa Citizen for correcting that story. While we castigate the media, when it does admit a mistake and comes forward and corrects a story, it deserves our thanks as well.
I want to emphasize that while we are sending our Canadian troops into all areas of the world, into all kinds of different cultures, different languages, different geographical conditions, different transportation conditions to do a job, for heaven's sake, let the rest of us here at home get behind the spirit of the Canadian forces and give them the boost they deserve.
They are an institution of this country, and a proud one. I want to underscore that tonight while I am on my feet. This country since the very conception of peacekeeping has been an international leader in the field.
Canada's pre-eminence in peacekeeping has resulted from a willingness to act in times of crisis. Indeed it has been our willingness to become involved and our ability to do so quickly that has won us the acclaim and admiration of the entire international community.
This is not to say that this government opposes debate. On the contrary, we recognize that debate is essential, especially when the men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces may be put in harm's way.
Debate on important peacekeeping issues is crucial and the opinion of this House is valued.
That is where this government stands. We have had debates on these issues in the past. There will continue to be debates in the House, but I want to underscore that it is the government of the day that must make the final decision. It is the one which is going to be held accountable, so it will make the decision. If we are going to have responsible democracy in Canada we have to have a responsible government. That means that members of the government respect the government which they support.
Topic: Private Members' Business