After two days of debate in the House of Commons last week over Canada’s role in Haiti, it was clear that the three major federal parties agreed on one thing: the country stands behind the United Nations and the United States in their efforts to move peacekeeping forces into the perpetually troubled country. Just how far behind, however, depended on who was speaking. The liberals were adamant that Canadian troops should let the United States have first honors—and incur the greatest risk—by entering the country on its own. The leaders of Haiti’s military government, said Foreign Affairs Minister André Ouellet, should know that if they do not leave office, “they will have to submit to the firm determination of the Americans”—and, he added imprecisely, “other countries.” Bloc Québécois members countered that Canadians should not take part at all unless Haiti’s deposed ruler, JeanBertrand Aristide, signalled his approval first. The Reform party’s position was that Canadians should not be there under any circumstances.
One of the most controversial speeches came from Reform MP Bob Mills (Red Deer), one of the party’s foreign-affairs crit-
ics. Mills suggested that Canada should consider a range of largely self-serving criteria in deciding whether to participate in peacekeeping ventures. Two of the factors he cited were “Canada’s economic ties” with the country in question, and its geographic proximity. By those measures, Mills said, Canada should not send troops to either Haiti or Rwanda.
Although liberal MPs hooted and jeered at Mills’s remarks, the government’s response to the Haitian crisis indicated their own thinking was not all that far removed. A foreign-affairs department official in Ottawa privately conceded that his counterparts at the state department in Washington were “very peeved” at Canada’s relatively small contribution to the UN operation— 100 RCMP officers and 600 soldiers. And only a day after Mills’s remarks, Ouellet announced that Canada may soon rethink its peacekeeping commitments in the former Yugoslavia because of demands in Haiti and Rwanda.
In fact, the tone of the debate underlined a new reality in Canadian politics. In the past, successive Canadian politicians and governments have taken pride in describing the country as a leader in UN peacekeeping efforts. Now, increasingly, the country’s leaders seem cool to the idea that Canada should be a leader—or even, for that matter, a follower.
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