Foreign Affairs Committee Called Back to Ottawa
August 2, 2006
By Peter Van Loan, MP, York-Simcoe
This past week, the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs (on which I represent the Government’s interests as Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs) returned for a special meeting to deal with issues relating to the crisis in Lebanon. The meeting took place at the request of Opposition Members (initiated by the Bloc Quebecois) who wanted to be critical of the Government’s efforts in the evacuation of Canadian nationals from Lebanon. However, by the time we gathered on Tuesday of this week it was apparent that Canada’s evacuation efforts from Lebanon were immensely successful. Over 13,000 Canadian had been evacuated from Lebanon without any mishaps. This was done notwithstanding Canada’s distance and the tremendous effort that was required to lease boats, airplanes and the like to carry out the evacuation.
While some in the media managed to find a handful of the 13,000 who were critical of the Government and the evacuation, it’s important for Canadians to know that the overwhelming majority of those evacuated were appreciative of the Government’s work and success in carrying out this difficult undertaking.
Since the evacuation had been so successful, the Opposition Members instead decided to change the subject of the committee meeting to deal instead with the general conflict in Lebanon and what Canada’s position should be. In my role as Parliamentary Secretary, it was my job to quarterback and advance the Government’s position at the committee.
We initially heard evidence from the Minister on the successful evacuation, as well as a very effective explanation of Canada’s position – including that Canada clearly supports a sovereign democracy (Israel) defending itself from attacks by a listed terrorist group (Hezbollah). The Opposition moved to short-circuit the meeting and have a motion discussed immediately. As a result, many witnesses who were to testify before the committee – people who had been carrying out humanitarian aid for Canada in Lebanon, the International Red Cross, as well as many representatives from the Lebanese community – were prevented from giving evidence. The committee was deprived of evidence on the humanitarian situation, individuals’ experiences with the evacuation and the support of many Lebanese Canadians for Canada’s position. All those witnesses were denied an opportunity to be heard by a vote of the Opposition Parties intent on railroading towards a motion to criticize the Government. They apparently wanted to make a decision immediately – like a court, passing judgment, without bothering to hear any evidence.
In this context, it became my job to lay out Canada’s desire to see a peace in the region that was sustainable and to recognize that Canada has historically and consistently taken clear positions of principle (whether it be WWI, WWII, the Suez Crisis in 1956 that led to the invention of United Nations Peacekeeping, or our involvement in NATO.)
The Opposition called for a “neutral” or “balanced” position, I indicated that Canada has never been “neutral” with regard to terrorism. A moral equivalency that treats a sovereign democracy under attack by terrorists, as equal to terrorists, was not a position in the Canadian tradition.
In fact, United Nations resolutions have repeatedly called for the disarming and disbanding of Hezbollah in South Lebanon so the Lebanese government can take effective sovereign control. Had those resolutions been implemented, the current conflict initiated by Hezbollah attacks on Israel could never have started.
Through a series of motions in the afternoon designed to attack the Government, the central issue became a call for a ceasefire. A Liberal motion called for an immediate ceasefire. An amendment that I put forward asking that it be an immediate ceasefire “that is sustainable” was defeated by the Opposition. As I indicated to the committee, ceasefires that don’t last cannot be relied upon by civilians, and don’t lead to long term peace, do not resolve an issue. Canada could have spoken loudly in terms of seeking sustainable peace in the region. The Opposition and their desire to score political points rejected this.
To my surprise, the Opposition even rejected another consensus-building effort. I put forward a motion, identical to the one that the European Union had adopted earlier that day, which called for “an immediate end to hostilities to be followed by sustainable ceasefire.” To my amazement all three Opposition Parties again voted down this motion, instead choosing a less-balanced ceasefire motion that neglected the issue of long term peace and ignored the importance of working together with other allies in the global community.
At the end of a long day, in hot and steamy Ottawa (temperatures were well into the thirties both inside and outside the House of Commons) it can be fairly said that the work of the Foreign Affairs Committee was coloured more by the Opposition’s partisan desire to get a quick motion on the record, rather than the Government’s desire to undertake the hard work of striving towards sustainable peace in Lebanon and the Mid-East.
While it is difficult to summarize eight hours of committee work and procedural maneuvering, I am pleased that I had an opportunity to advance firmly, and with pride, Canada’s principled commitment to peace, to freedom and democracy, to opposing terrorism, and to showing leadership on the world stage.
With world affairs being as they are these days, being Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs has meant that I’ve had very little opportunity to take up the chores that I have neglected on the farm, let alone relax there and enjoy this wonderful summer we’ve been having.