House of Commons Hansard #74 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was farm.

Topics

Interparliamentary Delegations
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Bernard Patry Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 34, I have the honour to table in the House, in both official languages, the report of the Canadian section of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Francophonie, as well as the related financial report.

The report concerns the meeting of political committee held at Port-Louis, Republic of Mauritius, from May 10 to 12, 2001.

Committees Of The House
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Werner Schmidt Kelowna, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to present to the House pursuant to Standing Order 123(1), in both official languages, the second report of the Standing Joint Committee on Scrutiny of Regulations concerning the revocation of section 58 of the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Regulations, C.R.C. 1978, c.285. The text of the relevant section of the regulations is contained in this report.

Committees Of The House
Routine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Elsie Wayne Saint John, NB

Mr. Speaker, I move that the first report of the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs presented to the House on Tuesday, March 20, be concurred in.

It is with mixed emotions that I rise today to speak to this motion as it concerns an issue very much in the minds of all Canadians.

The procurement process to replace the Sea King helicopters is one that we have followed for some time but that has only recently seized the attention of the House of Commons.

It was last May 18 that my colleague, the hon. member for Compton—Stanstead, raised the prospect of this government using the contract for political means. At that time, and then an opposition member, my colleague, suggested that the government had a secret agenda, an agenda that involved a specific company. The government said that my colleague's claims were laughable. The government said that there was no plan to place one competitor above another.

Only three months ago the government introduced a procurement process that was biased in favour of one company only. The process introduced called for the lowest price compliant bid to win the day, not taking into account whatsoever fleet commonality or, more important, better value. This was when the treasury board's own guidelines specifically urged all government departments to abide by a best value criteria when launching a procurement process.

I have been told that in the strict legal interpretation of Treasury Board guidelines 9.1.1 and 9.1.2, no laws have been broken. However I must ask a question. Why did the government choose to avoid the generally accepted practices that have guided our military purchases in the past?

No matter whether it was a Liberal or Conservative government in the past, it never followed those types of guidelines. We have been told that it was to expand the number of Canadian bidders. Yet in retrospect it is clear that only one wholly owned Canadian company is in serious competition for any of the related contracts.

That takes me to the second problem I have with this contract, which is the fact that the government chose to split the contract into two parts, one for the basic vehicle and another for the critical mission systems. If I wanted to play politics with this one, like some of my colleagues are, I would vote for that because it would create some jobs in the province of New Brunswick.

When I was taken out to dinner by the company I said that I would only have a bowl of soup because no one buys me with dinner. No one buys me with anything. To this date, no one does. I guarantee that.

I want to also say right here and now that when it comes to the men and women who wear uniforms, we should take the politics out of it. We should give them the tools to do their jobs.

I am not an engineer. I do not have a full appreciation of the technical difficulties that might come to pass as a result of buying two independent products. However we all know the reason this is being done. It is for political reasons because in 1993 the government of the day cancelled the EH-101 and wasted $800 million.

From what we have been told, this is the first such split contract of its kind since the House of Commons has been in place. The assistant deputy minister responsible said that this was the first of its kind, which seems to me to be a very risky proposition. We must give our Canadian Armed Forces the best equipment to do their jobs, not only because it is the right thing to do but because we give them complicated tasks that always put them in harm's way.

I am unsure of the ethical or moral reasons that we would put in place a procurement process that would buy the cheapest helicopter but not necessarily the best. I have for some time asked the government to reconsider the procurement process. One potential bidder, E.H. Industries Ltd., has gone to the length of filing a complaint with both the Canadian International Trade Tribunal and the Federal Court of Appeal on this matter. The company believes that by facing this competition on the lowest price alone, it is at a significant disadvantage.

The House will recall that it was E.H. Industries that manufactured the EH-101 purchased by the previous government. I am sure the House will recall that in the election of 1993, as I have stated, the issue of EH-101 featured prominently in all debates. The House will certainly recall that the Prime Minister held his pen up high and said that he would purchase no new helicopters. Zero helicopters is what was said.

It seems very strange that the only red book promise that has been kept by this government was the one promise that related to these helicopters. The GST, free trade and a range of other promises were quickly forgotten.

I hope the government is not choosing to instigate a procurement process that would prejudice E.H. Industries' helicopter, the Cormorant, solely on the basis that it was the successful bidder 10 years ago.

What makes this issue so important to us all is that the helicopters currently in use are so dangerous. Some of the pilots have already lost their lives, just outside my city. Some of the parents of the pilots came to see me. They asked me to take up their cause and force the government's hand in this regard.

The Sea Kings have given yeoman service to this country for almost 40 years, and they have earned their retirement. I have great compassion for the men and women in uniform who must use the Sea Kings on a daily basis.

The Minister of National Defence has repeatedly said that unsafe helicopters will not fly, but cannot explain why our choppers go down in places like Hawaii, East Timor, and even on the coast of Nova Scotia. If we cannot predict when a Sea King is safe, how then do we know which ones to fly? How can the minister make this guarantee?

At the end of the day, I believe the Minister of National Defence and the Minister of Public Works and Government Services will have a lot to answer for in this process. I believe the Canadian people are sick and tired of the government playing politics when it should be watching the backs of our Canadian forces personnel and doing what is right for them.

When I was mayor of Saint John I did a number of major capital purchases, so I can speak with some experience when I say that this contract process is wrong. It is unfair and places bidders at a significant disadvantage. Whenever we have the public challenges to a procurement process, as we have seen with the maritime helicopter program, we know that something is amiss.

I am pleased, therefore, that in the next sitting of our parliament the other place will undertake a committee of the whole to review this entire process. I applaud our colleagues in the other place for their diligence to duty and their courage. It is my hope that in the consideration of the Sea King and the challenges we face in replacing them, we look in the mirror and recognize we have a duty larger than just helping out some of our friends.

Page 30 of the procurement study also refers to the fact that the Government of Canada should convene a national round table on shipbuilding in Canada with a view to establishing a national shipbuilding policy. We brought that report in asking for a national shipbuilding policy in June 2000. We said there should be a naval shipyard in Canada where we would build all our navy ships. We should not be buying used submarines in London, England, only to find out they cannot float, then pay $800 million to try to get them to float. That is an insult to our men and women in uniform.

Having sat on the defence committee since 1993, I am really worried when I see what the government has done and the politics it has played with our military. The duty of government is clear. The recommendations of this all party procurement study by the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs are clear, and our job is very clear. There was unanimous all party support for the procurement study of June 2000, yet here it is June 2001, a year later, and the government did not even listen to its own people who chaired the committee.

I say let us do what is right. The government has not done anything that is right when it comes to the military. Men who flew home from Kosovo were asked to take their boots off so they could be given to those men who were getting on the planes to fly to Kosovo. If we cannot afford a pair of boots for our men and women in the military, that is a shame.

I am ashamed of what we are doing with the helicopter procurement process which is being used. I ask the government today to please take the politics out of it, put out a tender, allow everyone to bid, and then bring in its recommendations.

Committees Of The House
Routine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Greg Thompson New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Mr. Speaker, the part of this equation that the Canadian public does not understand is the $497 million it cost the taxpayer to buy out the lawsuit. When the present government cancelled the original helicopter deal after the 1993 election, it did so at a huge cost to the taxpayers. It cost taxpayers a half a billion dollars to cancel a deal which the Liberals raged against in the election, for no other reason than pure politics.

I want to ask the member for Saint John for her impression of whether or not that is the number, and how many lives the cancellation of this deal has cost? When can we expect helicopters, given the present set of circumstances under which we are operating and given the government's position?

Committees Of The House
Routine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Elsie Wayne Saint John, NB

Mr. Speaker, defence has been determined that over $800 million has been spent because of the cancellation of the EH-101 contract. Now not all the Sea Kings can be replaced. There will be fewer helicopters than what we had when all Sea Kings were flying.

I have major concerns. When we put the amount of money which has been spent trying to keep these old helicopters flying on top of what it cost to cancel out, it will cost taxpayers more in the end to get a helicopter that cannot fly the distance a Sea King can. I have major concerns about what is taking place here today.

Committees Of The House
Routine Proceedings

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, it seems to me that what the hon. member for Saint John and her colleagues are saying is quite true, that this was the object of some politics in 1993. I remember it very well.

There were good reasons to be against the EH-101 contract, but the fact remains that the Liberals having cancelled that contract and having paid a very hefty price for doing so, then did not do what should have followed from that, and that was to act expeditiously to get some other helicopters. That is the main point here, not trying to relive 1993.

The biggest fault of the Liberals is not that they kept that one election promise. They kept it not because they are promise keepers but because they wanted a few high profile promises to keep so they could then break a whole bunch of other promises with impunity. However that is neither here nor there. The real tragedy of this is that they have taken eight years to replace the EH-101s and we are still a long way off from replacing those helicopters.

That is the real tragedy, the real crime which has been committed by the Liberal government. The people who depend upon those helicopters in the armed services and people who might depend upon them in various situations will still be waiting years from now thanks to the fact that the Liberals did not complete the process. When having cancelled the EH-101 contract, they should have then proceeded expeditiously to replace them with other helicopters.

Committees Of The House
Routine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Elsie Wayne Saint John, NB

Mr. Speaker, from the information we have been receiving through national defence, it could be the year 2007. Some have said 2005. Think about that. That is unbelievable. We are not going to have any helicopters flying at all. I cannot believe that anyone—

Committees Of The House
Routine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

An hon. member

He said we do not need them.

Committees Of The House
Routine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Elsie Wayne Saint John, NB

Who said they do not need them? That is sad. I cannot imagine how the members on the government side can sit there with smiles on their faces and not be worried about jeopardizing lives of people in the military. I cannot believe that I see that happening in the House this morning.

Committees Of The House
Routine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Joe Volpe Eglinton—Lawrence, ON

Mr. Speaker, this is a wonderful place for bombast to be continued. I recognize that a lot of members engage in it so that the practice will not go into disuse. However, in the course of generating the necessary requirements for engaging in bombast, we sometimes overstep the bounds, as I said the other day, of reason.

We have on the table an order that will be delivered for 15 search and rescue Cormorants which will replace some of the equipment that the members opposite are saying is obsolete, even though it is still functional.

For the member to suggest that there will not be a delivery of equipment that is world class, necessary and appropriate for Canada's needs is to engage in bombast of the worst variety. Maybe she should reflect on the negatives that she is putting forward by perpetuating this perception and a wrong-headed view of what is going on.

Committees Of The House
Routine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Elsie Wayne Saint John, NB

Mr. Speaker, I am glad I have this opportunity to respond. It shows that those on the government side do not understand what has been happening. What he is talking about now is the replacement of the Labradors, not the Sea Kings, which are still flying, and they are going to have less numbers than before.

Do members want to know what happened to the fishing problem in Newfoundland, for heaven's sake? The government did not have Sea Kings that could look after the 200 mile limit. Foreign ships were coming in and dragging the bottom of the ocean. All these things have had a negative impact, and they sat there. This has been strictly politics, nothing more than that.

The only reason the government and those who were elected in 1993 said they would cancel the EH-101 was because they thought it was a popular thing to do, not the right thing to do, to get votes.

The government should go and talk to those men and women in the military like the rest of us do and see how they feel. They are not allowed to come in here and say anything. They are not allowed to open their mouths, so I am here to tell the government what they are telling us.

Committees Of The House
Routine Proceedings

10:25 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is encouraging to hear the hon. member for Saint John try to clarify some of the misperceptions and the misnomers about what happened.

This contract was cancelled in 1993 for blatant political reasons, and it has been perpetuated. The real crime in all of this, to use the hon. member for Winnipeg—Transcona's words, is the further delay, the further politics which are going on with deliberate attempts to not buy the same helicopters, and having to display some hubris or eat their own words. We have an attempt to split the contract to somehow try to avoid buying the same helicopters.

The hon. member opposite spoke of the Cormorant. That was the stripped down version of the EH-101. The Prime Minister can talk with great distinction about the costs that are being saved. What about the cost in human lives? What about the cost of those airmen and airwomen who are flying them? What about the costs of those who are at jeopardy at sea or in some emergency situation and these current helicopters are unable to aid them the way they are supposed to?

Committees Of The House
Routine Proceedings

10:30 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Elsie Wayne Saint John, NB

Mr. Speaker, what my hon. colleague has stated is the exact the position we are in.

I am going to speak from the heart. The hon. member referred to the fact that we are talking about lives. I want all members in the House today to think about their own child or grandchild who may be a pilot on one of the Sea Kings. We would not want a family member to be a pilot on one of the Sea Kings today.

If we want to continue to do peacekeeping, we must equip our armed forces with the best tools available so they can do what they need to do.

Committees Of The House
Routine Proceedings

10:30 a.m.

Scarborough—Rouge River
Ontario

Liberal

Derek Lee Parliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, we have begun today in routine proceedings with a motion to adopt a defence committee report that was tabled not long ago in connection with helicopter acquisitions by the military.

It is clear from the debate so far, although we have really only had the one speaker from the Progressive Conservative Party, that the PC Party still appears to be apologizing for the EH-101 helicopter deal that was in place in 1993. It has been indicated that the contract was cancelled for political reasons. My recollection was that the contract was cancelled for what we regarded as blatant profligacy.

At the time the contract was in play, Canada had a $43 billion deficit, not to mention the accruing debt. Financially it simply was not sound. The equipment that was intended to be purchased, was a helicopter that many regarded as very capable and multi-tasked in terms of its role, but really a Cadillac capable of filling many different roles and perhaps more roles than we needed. Therefore, the decision was made by the Liberal government, which was elected in the fall of 1993, to cancel the contract.

Committees Of The House
Routine Proceedings

10:30 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Cancel the pay raise.