Commons debate urges clear stance on Egypt

Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae says the world is awaiting Canada's response to the crisis in Egypt, and that should be to inform embattled President Hosni Mubarak that his promise to leave office in September falls short.

Embattled Mubarak must hear Canada's 'critical message': Rae

An Egyptian army officer atop an armoured personnel carrier tries to calm anti-government demonstrators during clashes with pro-government protesters in Tahrir Square in Cairo on Wednesday. ((Lefteris Pitarakis/Associated Press) )

Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae said the world is awaiting Canada's response to the crisis in Egypt, and that should be to inform embattled President Hosni Mubarak that his promise to leave office in September falls short.

"It is important for us to state today that it is very clear that the steps that have been announced by President Mubarak … are simply not sufficient to deal with the extent of the concern and with the extent of popular reaction to the regime," Rae said in the House of Commons Wednesday night during an emergency debate on the crisis in Egypt.

"It's up to us to say that what has been done so far is not having the effect that we would like it to have, and I think that is the critical message that has to be received," he added.

Mubarak stated on Tuesday that he would not run for re-election in September, but protests raged across Egypt as demonstrators demanded that he relinquish the presidency immediately.

Opposition parties have criticized the federal government's response to the crisis in recent days, saying the Conservatives have failed to "stand for democratic values" and speak out forcefully against embattled Mubarak's regime.

The NDP's Paul Dewar echoed Rae's call for Canada to make a declarative stance urging Mubarak's departure.

"We need to be clear that if we're going to have stability [in Egypt], the person who created the cause for uprising needs to leave," Dewar said.

Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said the priority must be to put an end to violence between anti- and pro-Mubarak demonstrators, calling reports of looting and prison break-outs "disturbing."

"I exhort the Egyptian authorities to react moderately during this delicate period," Cannon said during the debate.

"We urge Egypt to respect freedom of association and freedom of movement for all the political actors."

Earlier, Cannon said he contacted his Egyptian counterpart Ahmed Abul Gheit by telephone and again repeated Canada's calls for an orderly transition to economic and democratic reform.

Cannon said the government has been "preoccupied" with the Cairo street clashes. But he would not say whether Mubarak, Egypt's leader for three decades, should step down.

Ottawa willing to send more planes: Cannon

"The president has indicated he will not run again," Cannon said. "It's ultimately up to the Egyptians themselves to make the decisions that need to be made."

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has told the House that his government wants to see in Egypt a peaceful transition toward the "basic values of freedom, democracy, human rights and justice."

A take-note debate is a motion before the House of Commons — using the words "that the House 'take note' of" — to ask members of the House for their views on an issue or aspect of public policy. No vote is taken during a take-note debate.

Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon says he has sought assurances from his Egyptian counterpart that Canadians in the country will receive all the help they need to leave. ((Pawel Dwulit/Canadian Press))

The House debate comes amid reports of gunfire and explosions in central Cairo on Wednesday as anti-government demonstrators and supporters of Mubarak clashed in the city's main square.

At least one person was killed and more than 600 injured in the violence, according to Cairo medical officials.

The Conservatives have defended Canada's evacuation effort of Canadians stranded in Egypt by the uprising after initial complaints of a lack of communication from Foreign Affairs officials on the ground.

Ottawa has so far organized five charter flights for Canadians wishing to leave the country, but Foreign Affairs said just 449 Canadians have been flown out as part of the government's evacuation plan. Some of the seats were used by American, British, Australian and other nationals.

About 6,500 Canadians are living in Egypt. The Department of Foreign Affairs has also fielded more than 14,000 calls regarding the situation in Egypt, according to a spokesperson.

Cannon said he sought assurances from Egypt's foreign minister that Canadians in the country will receive all the help they need to leave. In the meantime, Canada will consider more flights to transport Canadians "as long as there's a need," Cannon said.

"We continue to phone back those Canadians that have given their phone numbers to us," Cannon said. "We are able to monitor that. That is the reason why we will have people on board that plane."

With files from The Canadian Press