An Act to amend the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts

This bill was last introduced in the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in November 2003.

Sponsor

John McCallum  Liberal

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Message from the SenateThe Royal Assent

November 7th, 2003 / 10:05 a.m.
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The Speaker

I have the honour to inform the House that messages have been received from the Senate informing this House that the Senate has passed the following bills: Bill C-37, an act to amend the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts and Bill C-50, an act to amend the statute law in respect of benefits for veterans and the children of deceased veterans.

Canadian Forces Superannuation ActGovernment Orders

October 20th, 2003 / 4:45 p.m.
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NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure, on behalf of the New Democratic Party, to speak to Bill C-37, an act to amend the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts.

One of the most important themes of the bill is that it would improve the quality of life of those individuals who serve in our military and, whether they are reservists or not, they have the right and entitlement to pursue good employment and living standards. The bill would assist them in their pensionable earnings and give them a higher quality of life once their service is completed.

I would like to touch on a recent experience that hammers home the importance for us to show leadership and support for our military personnel. I attended the recent commissioning of HMCS Windsor in Halifax, the submarine that will soon go on its first mission to the Bahamas. I was there to show my support for our men and women in service who will be putting themselves at risk. Our community is steadfastly behind them and supporting them, whether it be in correspondence, in goods or in having them come to our city if they cannot be with the submarine itself to view it themselves, so that quality of life is enhanced.

The pensionable improvement in the bill shows that we can as a country afford things that will instill confidence and provide some sense of security in our military personnel. That has been lacking. When we look at quality of life we define it in many different ways. It could be housing for example. We have heard a lot of discourse about the housing conditions for our men and women in the service and what they have to endure on the bases and that their involvement in terms of creating their own communities is often not ideal. They do not have the standard of living that we should be proud of as Canadians. We know we can do better but we have not. I believe we have been making the wrong choices on where to allocate our resources. That is a simple thing we can do to increase the quality of life of our service personnel living in those residences.

Pay is another issue, although when people enter the service their number one priority for entering is not necessarily the pay but that they want to serve their country and ensure that we have freedom and democracy, not only here but around the world. However the pay is something that is important because they have families and their families depend upon having earners who will provide the means so that they can make choices in the future. Whether it be a different education path, experiences, family vacations, personal growth, investments or opportunities, they need those aspects behind them. That certainly has not happened in the past 10 years in terms of the amount that they have been receiving. It certainly should be more and we have been supporting that.

The government has shown that it has not done a good job of providing the right infrastructure investments. We know for a fact that there are helicopters, ships, jeeps and planes that we have to look at in terms of the cost that we will have to pay to provide the right tools and resources.

I know we discussed the fact that we are not a superpower like the United States. I do not think Canadians are comparing themselves to that. They are asking for a government that will provide the adequate support, equipment and tools so that people can be trained, have good morale and we can actually have an element of pride coming not only from the people serving but also from the citizens who are backing them.

That leadership has been lacking. We should not be looking at item after item and what is coming up. We should be showing some leadership, but I do not think that has happened.

We have made those choices. The former minister of finance decided to provide $100 billion worth of tax cuts. We wonder where the money is coming from. We know where it went. We will need to make some very difficult decisions because we have lost those revenues and resources. I think the choices should have been different, and this is a good example.

The pension funds would provide people with some confidence and, I believe, convince youth to enlist and members of the forces to stay in the service because there will be amendments.

It is quite correctly noted that the improvement in pension benefits is driven to some extent by the desire not only to improve the quality of persons currently serving in the Canadian Forces but to assist in the recruitment of new personnel. I think that is important.

I have spoken a number of times about the challenges youth will face because of the lack of direction we have had over the last 10 years. Our youth are concerned about pensions. Many people who are currently employed have vulnerable pensions, such as the employees at Air Canada and other corporations where pensions have not been funded correctly.

We have another group of young Canadians, which goes directly to this issue, coming out of school a lot later in life and more in debt. Because they begin working later in life their pensionable earning years will be greatly reduced, which creates a challenging environment for them. They may not have a sustainable pension to retire early and live out their dreams. Like most Canadians, after working hard they want to retire with dignity. I believe it is important for the bill to provide more security because young people will be faced with this issue more and more.

It is quite a sleeper out there because we have not seen the first wave through, and we will. Over the next 20 years we will see a lot of vulnerable people who will not have the years needed for an appropriate pension. The bill would certainly be an improvement.

However the bill does raise a couple of questions about the pensions and the way they will be set up. It deals with how the government has handled the whole Canadian pension fund. We know for a fact that 30% of these funds can go overseas for investment. The other funds will be invested in Canada. The government will not agree to an ethics screen or a green screen on where those pensionable earnings go. Quite literally, we could have men and women, who have paid into the pension plan, go to places where they have either served against regimes or have seen terrible situations with human rights issues. We do not know, because they only have to report back once every two years to the Minister of Finance himself. I do not believe that is an acceptable situation.

We need to show confidence. According to the new section 25(4) of the act as amended by clause 15, it states that if a contributor with two or more years of pensionable service dies, the survivor and children will receive the annual allowances. After 10 years or more of pensionable service, individuals released from the military for health reasons because they are no longer able to perform their duties would be entitled to an immediate pension.

I congratulate the government and all members of the House who support this because this builds confidence.

We can do things that make sense and that give confidence. At the same time we have to battle it out, like the VI program for veterans' widows who do not get the support they need to keep them in their homes. It is actually a saving to the whole system but the government cannot find the funds to do that. We have a bill here where we can find the funds, which is a good thing, but why can we not find the funds for other things?

I will conclude by saying that this is a small positive step forward. I will not get into all the other different things on which we have wasted our money. If governments make the right decisions and invest in people, instead of tax cuts, we can build a nation that will be much better off in the future.

Canadian Forces Superannuation ActGovernment Orders

October 20th, 2003 / 4:40 p.m.
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Canadian Alliance

Grant McNally Canadian Alliance Dewdney—Alouette, BC

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-37 does talk about quality of life issues. My colleague asks a question about the next leader of the Liberal Party, the former finance minister. In essence, he asks how the former minister can be trusted to ensure that the quality of life issues for our military are improved under his watch when he has been responsible, in large part, for the quality of life problems facing our military personnel right now. I have said before, and I will say it again, that his past record should be an indicator to people about future performance. Given his past record I would say that his future performance will be very poor in this regard and that Canadians should not trust everything he says, which is that he has all the solutions to all problems, because it is simply untrue.

Our military needs to know that should the Alliance have the honour of governing this country, not only have we continued to say that the military will be a priority, but we will make the military a priority in the ways that we have laid out. We will be committed to that because it is the right thing to do.

Canadian Forces Superannuation ActGovernment Orders

October 20th, 2003 / 4:40 p.m.
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Canadian Alliance

Jay Hill Canadian Alliance Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure whether it is appropriate for the Speaker to call relevance. I think that normally it is left to other members to make that assessment and bring the Speaker's attention to it.

The fact of the matter is that part of Bill C-37 deals with changes to the superannuation act governing not only our regular forces now, but with the changes to the reserves, and it deals with quality of life issues. I referred to that during my remarks, as did the Minister of National Defence. I note that this is at the bottom of some of the comments being made by my colleague from Dewdney—Alouette.

Unfortunately, what we have seen from this Liberal government over the past decade is a decline in the quality of life of the people who serve and are willing to put their lives on the line for us, not only overseas but in meeting domestic emergencies here as well.

During question period today, I asked the government a question that really drives home this point. At a time like this, when our men and women are fully engaged in the war on terror, many either going to or returning from deployment overseas, there is great anxiety and worry about loved ones, about whether they will even return and what they will be subjected to while they are overseas. When all of this is going on in the lives of these young families, they are being subjected as of November 1 to yet another rent increase for housing on bases across the nation. In many cases, this housing is in deplorable condition; it is substandard and well below what we would assess as appropriate.

I wonder if my colleague would comment, because he referred to the fact that all of these changes happened under the watch of the member for LaSalle—Émard, the former finance minister. These cuts were made by him. They affected the quality of life of every man, woman and child in our Canadian armed forces families and they continue to affect them adversely. I, like the member for Dewdney—Alouette, am greatly concerned about the hypocrisy of that member at this point.

Canadian Forces Superannuation ActGovernment Orders

October 20th, 2003 / 4:20 p.m.
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Canadian Alliance

Val Meredith Canadian Alliance South Surrey—White Rock—Langley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will not take much time. I would be remiss if I did not put some comments on the record.

I have listened with interest to not only what my colleagues have said, but also to the questions or comments coming from across the floor. I think Canadians need to understand that Bill C-37 is just one small attempt to rectify one small problem in a very large issue; that is the government's lack of support for the Canadian military.

This is not something new. I think if Canadians put their minds back to Liberal governments over the past, it has been a consistent ploy of Liberal governments, present and past, to undermine and underfund the Canadian military. It seems to me it was a Liberal cabinet minister who at one time thought he would put all the divisions of the military under one umbrella and take away the pride in being navy, air force or army. That did not bode well.

The problem in the past with the Liberal government is that it does it without any kind of understanding of what the armed forces are, any debate with Canadians as to what Canadians want and it does it for political purposes, not for logical and reasonable purposes.

Decisions that have made with the present Liberal government have only shown that things have not changed and are not likely to change.

I come from a constituency in British Columbia, the province which is most likely to have an earthquake. It is the province that had forest fires during the summer because of our large forested areas, and it suffers from these fires. B.C. has mountains and rivers and is often subject to floods. There is a real need, not only in British Columbia, but in Quebec, in Atlantic Canada and in Canada's north for a strong military support for domestic reasons. It does not always have to be international concerns. However for domestic concerns and events, it would be a great thing to have a strong military presence.

The land forces base in the lower mainland was closed, not for logical reasons but for political reasons. I talked with a gentleman who sat on the committee when it was reviewing the military bases across Canada. He told me that Chilliwack was not even on the list. It was not even recommended that it be closed. However that decision was made between Quebec City and Ottawa. It was a political decision, with no logical background. That is reality.

The Liberal government may be concerned that Canadians will find out why these decisions were made. However, the point is the Chilliwack base was closed. If there were a major earthquake, the airport would not be usable because it happens to be in a part of Richmond that would probably be soup, if it existed at all. How in heaven's name is any military presence going to get to where it is most needed?

I want to suggest that it is time for the next government to really focuses on what Canadians want from their military. Canadians do want our Canadian military to do a peacekeeping role, but they want much more than that.

Canadians want our Canadian military to provide protection for their own country. They want the Canadian military to have the resources to provide domestic responses. I would suggest that Canadians would like to see our military be a place where our young people could find not only employment, but service to their country. As a result of finding service to their country, of giving some of themselves to Canada, in return they would get training which they could use when they left the military.

The federal government should be doing something to help our young people with education. It should not be giving away millions and millions of dollars for an elite few. It should be providing a training ground for many young people who cannot get into the university system. That is a role the Canadian government can play and should play through our military resources.

I am another voice that says the government has neglected our Canadian military. When it wants to cut its budget, where is the first place it goes? It is increasing rents to our military personnel who are serving their country. It is reducing the budget for materials and training that they need. The Canadian military is the first place the Liberal government goes to cut its budget; that and health care. It is time for Canadians to stand up and indicate that this is not good enough and is not acceptable.

Canadian Forces Superannuation ActGovernment Orders

October 20th, 2003 / 4:15 p.m.
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Canadian Alliance

Rahim Jaffer Canadian Alliance Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member is missing the point when it comes to resourcing our military. We are not talking about building up an arms race or trying to compete with other countries that are obviously positioned in a superpower status. We are talking about what Canada can do well in its role as a middle power and one that has been respected around the world, especially when it comes to peacekeeping and when it comes to being prepared in combat ready situations to help our allies. That is what we are talking about.

Even in doing what the armed forces have done so well over the years, the government has failed in resourcing our armed forces. The hon. member should take some responsibility for that because that is what we are debating today. Even though the government has taken a small step with Bill C-37, ultimately we still have a host of issues that are affecting our military. Those issues need to be addressed by the government. I do not know whether it will do that leading into the next election. It has failed the military up until now and I do not expect it to turn any new corner to help it out in the future.

Canadian Forces Superannuation ActGovernment Orders

October 20th, 2003 / 3:45 p.m.
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Canadian Alliance

Rahim Jaffer Canadian Alliance Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to rise today to speak to Bill C-37, an act to amend the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts.

It always gives me great pleasure to rise in the House especially when I see that there is so much interest among so many members to hear my wisdom and what I bring to this debate, namely to take that advice and hopefully use it in the future.

Being from Edmonton, I would begin by identifying the fact that I and others in Edmonton are lucky to have the Canadian Forces base located there. Members of the Canadian armed forces in Edmonton always do a great job as they do right across this country.

I particularly want to identify, as my colleague from Prince George—Peace River did, the work of the Edmonton base this summer when it came to providing assistance in battling fires and helping Canadians to safety in the interior of B.C. and around Kelowna. They put a lot of effort and work into that, risking their lives as usual. I want to acknowledge that because we were all proud of the work they did to help Canadians during that very troubling time.

I would like to focus on what the bill would do and what it would mean for members of the armed forces. This legislation makes changes to the pension benefit scheme provided under the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act which includes a reduction in the minimum qualifying period for a pension to two years, tying benefit eligibility to years of pensionable service rather than completion of a period of engagement in the Canadian Forces, and an immediate pension to a person who has completed 25 years of paid service and has at least 2 years of pensionable service.

As we have heard from colleagues across the House, all members believe that we owe this type of pension benefit to the men and women of the armed forces. They do an incredible job to protect Canadians, sometimes in combat situations, peacekeeping situations and also by promoting our values and interests in helping people realize their freedom around the world. Not many people would ever argue against those sort of changes.

The bill would provide regulation-making authority to adapt the provisions of the act so as to apply it to prescribed members of the reserve force and to deal with other matters, such as elective service, that are presently provided for in the act. It would consolidate a number of the regulation-making powers in the act and would make certain structural improvements to the act, such as moving general provisions that are presently in part I of the act to part IV and making those provisions applicable to the whole act.

On this side of the House we in the opposition are obviously in favour of the bill because it would improve the conditions of our armed forces. We support our veterans as has been shown in numerous question periods, especially on recent issues where we are fighting for benefits for the spouses of veterans.

We also support our military. We have said that on numerous occasions despite some of the things we heard in today's question period. The opposition has always called for better respect for our armed forces by increasing the amount of funding that would be given to the military seeing that we have some huge challenges. I will be discussing those during my speech, particularly equipment and personnel challenges that our military will be facing in the future.

Last spring the Canadian Alliance put out a white paper on defence called “The New North Strong and Free”. We identified a number of strengths and weaknesses, and made some recommendations as to what needed to be addressed to improve the state of our military.

It is our mission statement of how our government should run the defence department and how we would allow the armed forces to once again flourish. The paper contains 33 recommendations. It is unfortunate that after 10 years of mismanagement by the government and the former finance minister, soon to be leader of that party, must take some responsibility for this. He has allowed the military to practically fall apart and we need to take 33 steps to get where it should be today.

Here are some quick facts about what has happened to the military under the watch of the current government. The regular force personnel strength has fallen by 30% since 1993. Our military has no heavy air or sealift capacity. During the 2002 mission in Afghanistan, Canada could not sustain 800 troops for longer than six months. We only put three ships to sea instead of the proposed six.

Most Canadians have heard the dreadful stories about our Sea Kings. This is their 40th year and they will not be replaced until 2007. This is 14 years after the Liberal government had already cancelled the original helicopter contract. Even today in question period the Minister of National Defence talked about how that side of the House was working diligently to solve this problem. Going at this rate, we will probably not see any changes for another 10 years and that is just unacceptable. We have had some serious problems with those Sea Kings.

Our tribal class destroyers are 33 years old and there is not even a plan to replace them. Our CF-18 fighter aircraft have been reduced to 80 from 122. There are no army helicopters to support our troops in the field in an age where troop mobility is a prime concern.

There was, of course, the unfortunate situation recently where some of our troops were killed in the line of duty in Afghanistan. The jeeps were proven deadly for our soldiers because the Liberal government was not willing to properly purchase the jeeps that were required, not only for combat ready situations but in peacekeeping roles as well.

Our men and women go out in peacekeeping roles, but they need to be able to protect themselves. We in the House, and the government especially, need to equip these men and women to do just that and not send them out half prepared to do battle, especially at certain times when they have to protect themselves, let alone the missions that they are on while on the ground.

The former finance minister and the Liberals have dismissed the military as unimportant following the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the U.S.S.R. There has been a real decline in the attitude of the government toward the military because it feels there are no more threats in the world.

Obviously, that has been proved to be quite a wrong attitude to have, especially in light of world events that we have seen. Here in North America all of us know the tragic event that took place on September 11, and the significance of that particular event as we are moving forward in the world and what sort of challenges we face in not only helping to protect people around the world, but protecting the security of North America.

The terrorist attacks totally changed the strategic environment in which Canada operates. This pertains not only to our home turf now, but in the role we play internationally. Our best ally, the United States, has declared a war on terrorism. This is a war that we said we support in Canada and we will do what we can to help stamp out terrorism around the world.

However, from the work that has been done on the other side of the House by the government, it seems that the Liberals have only paid lip service to this particular commitment. They have ignored our responsibilities to our allies in Iraq and have not properly equipped our troops for Afghanistan, which is a shame.

We on this side of the House recognize the significance of what happened on September 11. We have pushed the Liberals to focus on both security domestically and abroad. Domestically, the Liberals have failed, especially the minister responsible for customs, who touts her border policies, but then starves our customs agents of the resources necessary to do their jobs.

I have stood in the House in question period on a number of occasions pointing to the fact that the strength of our military has to be linked to how serious we take security here at home, but the minister continues to dismiss those arguments saying that the government is doing all it can. However, when we look not only at the condition of our military and the resources that it has to do its job, the same can be said for our front line customs officers being starved. They do not have the right resources to protect Canadians.

It is a shame that in this day and age, after saying it was going to beef up border security, we have not seen any of the money that was put aside since the anti-terrorist legislation was passed. No money has actually trickled down to the front lines for basic things like computers and resources for our customs agents. So, domestically the Liberals have failed, especially the minister in charge of customs.

Significantly, the government has also starved our military and its ability to do its job. Let us go over defence funding. Recently in question period, we heard one of the Liberal members on the other side say it was actually the opposition that was not committed to defence. I do not know which planet he is on to suggest that sort of thing.

However, let us go over the government's record because that is where the facts speak much louder than any words that have come across from the other side of the floor.

The former finance minister, soon to be Prime Minister, slashed $20 billion from the defence department since 1993. Mr. Speaker, could you imagine what sort of impact that has had on our military? If government members want to talk about facts and who is committed to our military, let us look at that one. It is a significant number.

The Auditor General told the defence committee that the armed forces will face a $30 billion deficit in equipment by 2012. That is a huge challenge that our military is facing in the future. We are at the bottom of the G-8 and NATO in defence spending, at $7.7 billion per annum.

The government could counter these destructive trends by implementing our recommendation No. 2 that was outlined in the white paper that I spoke about earlier.

It calls for an increase in the defence budget which should be accelerated to provide an additional $1.2 billion per year over and above the increases in the 2003 federal budget bringing the immediate increases to $2 billion per year. It is money that is required right away to bring the standards of our military up to a level where it would have the resources to fight the fights that it may have to take part in through our obligations around the world. That does not even include the commitments we need to make in order to bring the equipment up to par so that we do not have this huge deficit in the future.

We go further in the next recommendation saying that defence spending must be increased to NATO standards. We have an obligation to meet our commitments, especially our international commitments, where other countries rely on us to do so. We are a member of NATO, yet year after year we are failing on those commitments because the government has not put the resources in place, especially when it comes to our military. These are standards that the government, and especially the former finance minister, has totally ignored.

If we are to undo the damage done by this particular government, it is more than just a funding issue. It is a personnel issue and that is what I spoke about when I said there were challenges on both sides, equipment and personnel.

We need to increase the regular force to 80,000 individuals. We have had quite a reduction over the years, but it would be necessary to meet our obligations, especially if we look at some of the challenges where we have troops rotating out of Afghanistan. There is also a call for further peacekeeping resources in Iraq and here at home in getting our military involved in assisting with natural disasters. We need to increase the number of troops. That is a significant problem that we are facing.

The reserves should also be increased to 60,000 from 45,000 individuals. Many of them are army militia.

We must specifically address the different branches of our military. If we look at the different branches, there are some real big challenges in every area, whether it is the army, the air force or the navy.

I will take a moment to identify those challenges so Canadians at home can see the real picture of what we are facing.

We need to expand our special forces in the army, especially the JTF-2. That is something we found over the last little while. We have really been stretched to the limit. Afghanistan has proven the need for these special forces. The JTF-2 distinguished itself there, and there are types of missions that would be very important for us. We must ensure that we address that particular resource, especially the need for which our allies often call upon us to take part in.

We need to pay special attention to the rapid deployment of our soldiers. To that end, we would establish an airborne unit and equip it with the appropriate helicopters. As I said earlier, it is a shame that we had not dealt with the Sea King earlier. It should have been dealt with a long time ago.

Additionally, to fulfill our role as peacekeepers and peacemakers, we need to be able to deploy and sustain a brigade overseas. That is something as we have seen in recent years that has been a real challenge given the current numbers in our armed forces.

We also need to be able to replace old equipment with appropriate new equipment. I spoke a little about that before.

We should also recruit more individuals into the ranks of the army. That proud tradition is something we have to instill again. We have to share that proud tradition with more Canadians when it comes to our armed forces, the work they have done over our history and the work they continue to do. We need to have all Canadians respect and cherish that and actually want to see that commitment remain strong. Unfortunately that is something which I do not think the government has done well in promoting, for Canadians to be proud of that work and sustain that work of our men and women in the armed forces.

Moving to the air force, we need to modernize our fleet of CF-18s and the Aurora aircraft so they can work side by side with our allies. We need to look at the future, including participating in the joint strike fighter project with the U.K. and the U.S.A. We also need a heavy strategic airlift capability to move personnel and equipment throughout Canada and around the globe. As I said, given the challenges we are facing in the coming years, especially if we want to maintain our role as significant peacekeepers around the world, that is something we need to address immediately.

The final part of the military I would like to address is the navy. This is another area about which we have heard different stories. Clearly we need to look at the facts of what has happened and see how we can address them to improve the condition of our navy.

Personnel need to be increased immediately so our ships are no longer understaffed and strained to the limit. We have seen that in recent rotations in Afghanistan. It has been a big personnel problem.

We need a proper fleet of submarines to maintain our sovereignty in the north, but also to be deployed whenever they are needed. The recommendations we have made would have us increase the numbers by three subs on each coast. As well, our ships and the actual equipment supporting them are getting old. We need to replace them and expand the fleet by at least four ships. That is evident by what happened recently in Afghanistan where we had to bring one of our ships back home because of the challenges it had while it was at sea.

I already talked about the Sea King helicopters. There is no excuse; those should be replaced immediately.

I have talked about the record of the government. I have made recommendations. Obviously we on this side are supporting Bill C-37 because we want to continue to make that commitment to our armed personnel and our defence forces. It is something we cannot neglect and we need to be able to support that.

I want to end on a positive note and share a personal story which I have shared before in the House. It is about the pride that many people feel, whether they are recent Canadians or whether their families have had longstanding traditions in the military.

My family was fortunate enough to come to Canada in the early 1970s. I was only a baby. We were kicked out of a country, Uganda, and we were able to flee as refugees to Canada. Canada welcomed us with open arms and gave us the freedom and opportunities where, 25 years after coming here, a son of refugee parents is able to sit in the House of Commons, debate policy and basically try to improve our nation's abilities and become respected internationally. Canada gave us this opportunity.

There is always a real respect from people coming to Canada for its role which people have seen and heard about around the world: leading peacekeeping, leading freedom fighting missions, helping other countries and allies, and helping countries in need. Canada demonstrated that to our family when we came here.

Even though Canada was not involved in a military role in Uganda, it still had troops helping out to make sure people could get out and safely come to Canada. That sort of pride is something I grew up with and heard about from my family, even though we were not directly involved in the freedom that our military forces over history have provided Canadians prior to our coming here. We need to instill that pride in future generations and to Canadians who see the work that can be done and the leadership that can be provided by our men and women in the armed forces. I am proud to be able to speak to their accomplishments up to now.

This particular bill is a small step forward and will deal with the pension changes for our men and women in the forces. Let us look forward. Let us actually make the commitments that are required to continue to make people like myself and other Canadians proud of our military tradition, and to be able to meet those requirements that they are going to have in the future. Let us hope the government will listen to some of the recommendations we have made.

Canadian Forces Superannuation ActGovernment Orders

October 20th, 2003 / 3:40 p.m.
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Canadian Alliance

Jay Hill Canadian Alliance Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, perhaps I am not quite as pessimistic as my colleague from Saanich—Gulf Islands in that we are debating third reading of Bill C-37 today. I hope that the bill will be passed through the House of Commons in the next few days and that the Senate will sit long enough to see it pass through the other place and indeed get royal assent. I think that is extremely important. That is why I certainly applaud the government for belatedly bringing forward this legislation. As I said in my remarks, it should have been done some five years ago, but as we on the opposition side often say, better late than never.

As my colleague says, it is certainly suspicious. Having gone through a couple of Parliaments, I have noted that just before an impending election there are certain hot topic issues that the government has taken considerable heat over during the lifetime of a Parliament and in the dying days of the Parliament we see it bring forward legislation that does have support from all parties and all sides of the House. Then the government rushes it through, with our support, with our assistance, with our help, so that government members can stand up during an election campaign and say, “Look at all the great and wonderful things we did. We do care about our military because we put through the changes to the superannuation act and changed the pensions and included the reserves”, et cetera.

In this case, I will say that I do not care what the reasoning is for it. It is still the right thing to do, belatedly, so I certainly will be supporting these efforts.

I want to comment just briefly on the situation in my home province, the province of my colleague. British Columbia has had an absolutely devastating year. First there were the forest fires and now, as could be noted during question period today, my colleague from West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast has raised concerns about a couple of lives lost, and more feared lost, in the terrible flooding in the lower mainland of British Columbia.

British Columbia right now is reeling. It is bruised and battered. I want to ask my colleague about the specific issue of the removal of regular forces and bases from the mainland of British Columbia.

I think it is unbelievable that this has been allowed to happen and that the base in Chilliwack, for example, was closed down. Nevertheless, that has happened. I would suggest that at a minimum we should have additional militia units, or reserves, in British Columbia, if for no other reason than to react to natural disaster tragedies that occur from time to time, like the flooding and the forest fires.

Despite the fact that the forces from Edmonton did absolutely yeoman service in coming across the Rocky Mountains, getting into British Columbia, and helping to fight those forest fires this summer, I still do believe that communities in British Columbia could be better served with at least additional militia units, if not by having a base there with regular forces on the mainland of British Columbia. The City of Prince George in my riding is one of the cities that has been lobbying hard for that, but so far we have not seen the government move in that regard.

I would put that question to my colleague. What are his thoughts about it, especially given the present disaster situation in B.C.?

Canadian Forces Superannuation ActGovernment Orders

October 20th, 2003 / 3:25 p.m.
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Canadian Alliance

Gary Lunn Canadian Alliance Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to represent the constituents of Saanich—Gulf Islands on this very important bill. I also want to thank the member for Edmonton—Strathcona for switching our times. The two of us switched around.

This is a critically important issue. Bill C-37, an act to amend the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts, would modernize the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act in order to maintain a competitive pension plan comparable to those in the private sector, keeping in mind the unique working conditions of the Canadian Forces.

Up until now, the Canadian Forces pension plan has been woefully inadequate. I will get into some of those details but at the outset I want to take a minute to talk about the importance of our Canadian Forces.

I believe all members in the House would agree with me that the men and women of the Canadian Forces have done an outstanding job serving all Canadians. They have been put in harm's way. As we know, there have been recent fatalities on some of their missions: Operation Apollo, the war on terrorism, the work in Afghanistan and various peacekeeping missions. These men and women are out there serving us and looking after our interests.

I applaud each and every one of them for the work they do both at home and abroad. It is not just their work abroad. As we know, during the fires this summer in my home province of British Columbia in the interior around Kelowna, up in the Kamloops area and throughout the interior down in the Cranbrook area, the forces were there. When they are called upon their services are unwaivering.

More recently, the member for Fraser Valley, whose new area will be the Pemberton area, and the member for West Vancouver—Sunshine Coast talked about the recent floods. If the military is required they will be the first to respond when asked to do so.

The forces' commitment to us is unquestionable and we need to offer them the same level of commitment. That is the point that I was trying to make. I applaud all these Canadian men and women. I am pleased we finally have a bill before the House that will modernize the pension act.

I question the government as to why it took so long to bring forward this bill. I hope the bill will actually become law because it is one I support, but we have all been informed that the House will likely rise, adjourn or prorogue on November 7, which is less than three weeks from now. That will be it until some time in the new year when the member for LaSalle—Émard gets the keys to 24 Sussex and tries to come in with a throne speech and do some grandstanding for an election. It is not acceptable.

This bill is just one example of many important issues on which we need to be in this place working. We need to be here looking after the interests of Canadians. We have many critically important issues but this place has virtually come to a grinding halt. Yes, we are here in body, but the problem is that as we look at the government members they are so caught up. The current Prime Minister who resides at 24 Sussex Drive has absolutely no power in the government caucus, and the member for LaSalle—Émard, a backbencher with no tangible power, holds all the real power of the caucus.

Nothing is getting done. This place has become irrelevant. It is so sad. We do not get a clear indication of where the government is going, and there are so many issues that need to be dealt with.

Let me talk about a few of the issues in Bill C-37 and what it would do for the Canadian Forces. Right now under the Canadian Forces pension plan individuals must have continuous service. If there is a break in service they do not qualify. That is not acceptable and this bill would to fix that.

The number of pensionable years of service would bring the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act more in line with the Public Service Superannuation Act. The average salary and the number of years contributions were made to the plan would be used to calculate the pension. The bill provides greater flexibility and is more in line with the private sector, as it should be.

It is long overdue that we actually started providing the same level of commitment to the men and women in the Canadian Forces as they have shown us.

Bill C-37 would give our Canadian Forces early access to pension benefits if they choose. Right now they are not entitled to benefits until they reach the age of 60. Under the new plan, although members the Canadian Forces may have the option of retiring early, between the ages of 50 and 60, at a reduced pension, at least they would have other options available and portable. Under the current plan these options are not portable.

I would argue that the most important component is for the reservists. The reservists, a very significant component of our military, would now be included in the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act. At the present time they receive some type of a gratuity, which is equivalent to some severance pay, but they are not looked after.

Some of these reservists were also out fighting the forest fires in British Columbia and protecting Canadians. When called upon they do not quiver. They are there. It is high time we did the same for them.

Those are some of the reasons for some of the changes we see in Bill C-37, a bill that is long overdue. I have to admit that I am skeptical whether the bill will actually become law. I wonder whether it will be like so many other bills in the past that have died on the order paper and are collecting dust. If that were to happen then all the work that is done in the House becomes irrelevant.

I want to make a few more specific points on why it is so important that we look after our troops. Ironically, as we are here debating Bill C-37, trying to look after our troops, acknowledging that we perhaps have not looked after them in the past, we may not have been treating them fairly and perhaps we could do more for them, where has our Prime Minister been?

I will read a press release from the Ottawa Sun . In reference to our military our Right Hon. Prime Minister said “But it's never enough. They all need more. And they all have plans for more”.

I would like to remind the Prime Minister that the men and women flying the Sea Kings have done an outstanding job. These Sea King helicopters should have been replaced 10 or 15 years ago. I have watched the song and dance year after year in this place about procurement. We still have no idea of what the government is doing. It always says “Wait until tomorrow. It is coming. We have split the contract. The contract has now been put back to the other, the ordinance and the air frame”. It is one thing after the other.

The government is always playing politics to ensure that their Liberal friends get a piece of the pie. It manipulates contracts so possibly some Liberal contributor will get his or her fair share of the pie. It is so wrong.

However, when the Prime Minister wants to order two Challenger jets, which were absolutely not needed, those are delivered. He has the whole process run through the House before the ink dries on his signature when he puts his name down that he wants something. When he decides he wants something, 24 hours later it is a done deal through the back door. That is wrong.

The men and women of the Canadian Forces put their lives on the line looking after our needs at home and abroad. We all know about the terrible tragedies we have had abroad involving these men and women. Their fellow comrades, who stood beside them, soldier on the next day. Their commitment is unwaivering. Where is our commitment to them? Why is it so pathetic? Why are we not giving them the tools and resources they need to do the job?

The Prime Minister leaves the impression that they are a bunch of whiny people who always want more and are never happy. He says we have the best equipment and that we are better equipped than anybody else. Oh yes? Maybe the jet the Prime Minister is on is better than that of anybody else in the area and maybe the equipment in which the cabinet is flying around is better than that of anyone else, but it is sure not the case for our men and women. The men and women of 443 Squadron, the Sea King base in Patricia Bay in my riding, never complain. They are out there and they do the very best job. It is the same on the other coast.

But what do we do for them? Again I look at Bill C-37. Our defence critic has recommended that we support it and I agree with him. He says it is high time we did something, but the government is bringing in this bill only weeks before it plans to prorogue. Everybody in this place knows that on November 7 the Prime Minister is hightailing it out of here. I am not sure if he will be golfing; it might be a little cold for him in Ottawa. He is getting out of here because he does not want to be embarrassed when the member for LaSalle—Émard, who as we know has the real power now, officially gets the power at the Liberal Party convention.

There has been absolutely outstanding cooperation today, unprecedented in the House of Commons, between the leader of the Progressive Conservative Party and the leader of the Canadian Alliance, in the interests of Canadians. I would argue that those two individuals have put the interests of the Canadian people ahead of their own interests and that of their respective parties. That is what we should be doing in this House for our military. We should not be playing politics or playing games.

But the record speaks for itself. It is disgraceful. There is the helicopter replacement program. Also, there are the horror stories we have heard about the equipment our men and women are left with when they are overseas. These men and women are stretched so thin in numbers that they are putting in double and triple time. There have been times when we have had our navy in the gulf and of course there was usually a Sea King on board most of the ships. I have spoken to the commander of the 443. He said he did not have an aircraft in the hangar that he could send out on a ship. Ships had to be sent out without an aircraft on board; then they tried to do a swap overseas. Do hon. members know what that means? Sure, they do a swap when they are overseas, but extra time has to be put in. Yes, there are multiple crews and the military tries to send a crew back, but these people have been worked as they have never been worked before. Their support, as I said earlier, was unwavering. They do not question.

I was on the docks for at least four or five departures of ships to the gulf. I listened to the young men and women with young families who said that they were proud to serve all Canadians. However, where are we? Where are the members of the House for those men and women of the service? We have had a terrible record for the military over the last 10 years as the number of troops have fallen and the budgets have fallen. What is so troubling are the quotes from our Prime Minister, who says they always want more, they are never happy, and they always have a wish list.

I would argue that equipment such as the Sea Kings, with which I am familiar because of my riding, should not be on a wish list at all. It is pathetic that they have to be on a wish list when the Prime Minister, and I keep coming back to this but it is fact, wants a couple of new private jets with marble bathrooms and the works to fly his cabinet ministers around and can have that done before the ink dries on his signature; try to tell me there is not something wrong with that.

Again, the contract was split for the Sea Kings. Originally the contract was up for tender. We have heard this song and dance for so many years now that it is not even funny. We can talk to any military expert: when the contract was split to separate the ordnance and the airframe, it was pure politics. It was not in the interests of anyone. It was not in the interests of the people who fly them. A lot of people pointed fingers, but it was the government playing politics for its friends so that it could control, manipulate and tailor the process and ensure where the contracts would go. That is wrong.

We are going to support this bill, as we should. It is the right thing. It will modernize the pension act for our military people, which needs to be reformed. The reform is long overdue, but I have a great fear about this. I urge the Liberals to show us that they care enough about our servicemen and servicewomen to sit in this House long enough to see this bill get royal assent. I do not think they will. This is just another charade, with them saying they have to get a bill down here or something. Really, it is meaningless, because we are not sure who is in power. One person is living at 24 Sussex, but another one is holding the caucus meetings. One is in charge, but one is not. One has the power of the backbench and one does not.

Canadian people do not care about that. They want to see us make changes in here, but the Liberals have brought in this bill less than three weeks before they plan to prorogue just to waste everybody's time.

If they actually care about the unwavering commitment given by the men and women of our forces, then I challenge every government member to pressure his or her own House leader to make sure we are here after November 7 working on this bill, making sure that it goes to the Senate, and making sure that it gets royal assent. I ask them to show us they care about the men and women of our Canadian Forces.

Canadian Forces Superannuation ActGovernment Orders

October 20th, 2003 / 1:40 p.m.
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Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Here is a Reformer who is going to throw in his two cents, but let us not forget that it was members of the Reform Party that were going to slash military spending. Now, mea culpa , they are back again, “Oh, yes, we have to do this”. This is politics. It is not the reality of the military.

I had an opportunity in recent months to visit two of bases of our forces. Bagotville was one and Greenwood was another. I want to reiterate what members of the forces said to me as a visitor who was there to learn about what it was like to be in the military and what the concerns were.

When I was in Bagotville, I took the opportunity to meet some of the spouses of our military members. They did not talk about wanting more pay for their spouses' work. They talked about how difficult it was to lose spouses to a six month tour of duty, to have them come back for a short period and then maybe have them reassigned for another tour of duty. The spouses of our military members talked about the impacts on their families. They talked about the unfortunate increase in the levels of domestic violence within the military family. They talked about the impact on the children who were living on the bases. They talked about the fact that our military personnel got medical care on the base while their families who lived on the base did not. They had to go into the town to get the public health care. They wondered why their entire family should not be handled by the same physician. These are the kinds of things about which they talked.

In Bagotville they were not complaining about housing. They were not complaining about salary. When I met these families altogether, there was significant pride in the military life. There was significant pride in the contribution which they were making to safety and security, not only of Canada but around the world. There was a professionalism that most Canadians would not see and would not appreciate.

When I was in Greenwood at the end of last summer, I was part of a military program where I lived in barracks. I ate with the pilots and crews. I did maritime patrol for a week. I have a new found respect for the military. I met people who were a variety of range in age, but to the people, the dedication, the pride, the professionalism, the need to be better at what they did was very evident across the board.

I can remember sitting in a simulator with many of them who were training. The aircraft they fly on maritime patrol are capable of dropping torpedoes. They simulate tracking submarines and they make decision. The public and members of Parliament should see our military personnel in their work. They are not always engaged in theatre; they are preparing for theatre. They are not always doing some things. One member dwelt on how many bullets they had. Quite frankly, for many of our military, the issue is the impact of six month tours of duty, extended periods of duty and what that does to put strain on the family life.

I wanted to raise that because it is really important for us to understand that our military personnel should not be talked about as inanimate objects. They are people. They are moms and dads. They have children. They have the same concerns, the same needs and the same wants as any other Canadian, but they are in a profession, and the significance of their profession to us is not in question. The issue is that they are there by their choosing, because of their pride, their dedication to their work, their professionalism and military service is what they want to do.

There is no question that there are cases where people have not been able to stay in their positions. Retention of military personnel has been a problem. Recruitment from time to time has been a problem. I do not believe it helps our cause to continue to treat military personnel as inanimate objects. The military is made up of human beings. They are heroes. They are Canadians.

I would hope, as the debate continues in this place, that in addition to maybe mentioning a couple of things about the bill, because the bill is pretty important, that we do in fact deal with this subject with a sensitivity which takes into account the fact families are listening to what their parliamentarians are saying about people in military life. They do not live in squalor. They do not live in poverty. They do not live without the benefits they are entitled to receive. The bill does enhance benefits.

One of the Bloc members raised an issue about transitional provisions, that if people had planned to leave after 20 years and they had 18 years or 19 years in the military, this would cause them some problems. The member did not say, which he should have, that members under the transitional provisions would have an opportunity to stay under the existing plan and would start to collect their pensions after 20 years. They would not have to wait 25 years, as the members said.

Mathematically, if they stayed for an additional 5 years and got up to 25, and went under the new system, obviously their pension would be better.

One thing is for sure under this bill. No pensioner from the military would be worse off with this bill. Every pensioner from the military in fact would be better off as a consequence of this bill. For that reason alone, I am sure members in this place will be supporting Bill C-37.

Canadian Forces Superannuation ActGovernment Orders

October 20th, 2003 / 1:40 p.m.
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Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for Winnipeg—Transcona for the history lesson on the genesis of Transcona.

First, Bill C-37, which is an act to amend the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act, encompasses a number of things. I would note that substantively the House is in support of this bill. However a couple of points were raised. I heard the comments of the Bloc Quebecois this morning on the transitional provisions with regard to those who are already under the current plan and with regard to the widows' benefits, of which I am not sure of the details. I will try to find out.

Just in summary, I would like to remind the House that the bill would make changes to the pension benefit scheme provided under the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act. The key features of the revised scheme are: first, a reduction of the minimum period for qualifying for a pension to two years; second, tying benefit eligibility to years of pensionable service rather than completion of a period of engagement in the Canadian Forces; and third, the provision of an immediate pension to a person who has completed 25 years of paid service in the Canadian Forces and has at least two years of pensionable service. There are also some consequential amendments or adjustments to other acts as a result of these proposed changes.

Again from the debate so far today, we certainly have broadened out the subject matter from pensions for our military and we have heard some very complimentary words about the quality of our Canadian Forces, but not from all. It really concerns me that in this place from time to time we tend to take advantage of the political opportunism to maybe joust on points not realizing that the families of our military are also listening to the debate. They are very interested in what is happening in this place as it relates to our military.

Canadians have heard that we have not taken care of our military personnel, that we do not pay them enough. We do not give them enough bullets to defend themselves. We do not give them the trucks or equipment they need. We do not do this or we do not to that. We do not have housing. After it is all said and done, we have run down the military so badly. It was never the intent, and I do not believe it is in fact the belief of members in this place. There is no question--

Canadian Forces Superannuation ActGovernment Orders

October 20th, 2003 / 1:15 p.m.
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NDP

Bill Blaikie NDP Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today, on behalf of the NDP, to Bill C-37, an act to amend the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts.

I am also pleased to join with members of all parties by way of indicating our support for the bill. I hope the bill will proceed expeditiously and that the benefits, which will accrue to members of the armed forces as a result of the bill, will come into effect as soon as possible.

Many members have already gone into detail, including the minister, the critic for the official opposition and others, as to what all is contained in the bill, and I see no need to repeat that.

It is important I think to highlight at least one of the changes, and that has to do with providing pension benefits to full time reservists. This is something that has been advocated for a long time and I am glad to see that the minister has been able to make this happen, as, I might add, he has been able to make a number of things happen since he has become the minister. I do not agree with the minister on everything, particularly when it comes to national missile defence--and I might have more to say about that later--but we have had some legislation come forward during the time of his tenure, shall we say, in which things that were long overdue are finally happening, and Bill C-50 is one of those things.

There are still other things that could be done to make life easier for those who are concerned about our reserve forces. Recruitment is still a problem and retention is a problem once they are recruited. I am sure the minister is aware of those problems.

I see the minister is in the House. Maybe afterward he could clear up something that came to my attention, because he may have an opportunity in questions and comments to say something. One of the rumours running through the reserves is that the program that provides some educational benefit to people joining the reserve, whereby they get help with their university education, may be cut. People who are in command positions within the reserve are concerned about this. They see this as an important recruiting tool to be able to offer young Canadians who may be considering joining the reserve.

When I asked that question this morning, when members of the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs were at DND, I was told there was no thought being given to cutting that particular program. It would be good if the minister could confirm that and that it be communicated to people in the reserve. There is no sense having rumours floating around that are unfounded, but, if they are well-founded, we would like to know that as well.

The minister said that he wanted to make the forces, both regular and reserve, the employer of choice. Certainly bringing pension benefits up to par with that which is offered in the rest of the public service and the private sector would be part of that. The bill would go some way toward creating the context that the minister desires.

However I certainly would agree with the official opposition critic who talked about the quality of life for our Canadian Forces members while at the same time tolerating this increase in rent. If we kind of take with one hand what we have given with the other, people are not stupid. They do not come away feeling good about it. If the idea is to make people in the Canadian Forces feel more appreciated than they have over the last several years, and to respond to the quality of life report and to deal with some of the things that led in the past to Canadian Forces families having to access food banks, et cetera, then I would hope that the minister would reconsider this rent increase as other things have been reconsidered.

For instance, at one point it looked like a fait accompli that supply and other functions would be contracted out to a British company. I cannot remember the technical name. I know people in the forces called it kibbles and bits, or something like that. That decision was rescinded and the work has not been contracted out.

There is room for flexibility here. If the minister could see the wisdom of not proceeding with this, that would be great.

While we are on contracting out, although it is not quite relevant, I would hope that the Minister of Industry might see the wisdom of rescinding the contract to Lockheed Martin for the Canadian census. It gives one pause that if we can contract out the census to a big American multinational, it is a wonder we are not contracting out elements of our military to an American corporation. We hope we will never see that day.

Those are some of the things I wanted to put on the record. Other members have tried to turn this into a larger debate about defence spending. Of course that is appropriate to the degree that the Chair allows it. I certainly would not want to be the one who would try and do that given my longstanding respect for relevance.

Others have mentioned it and were not chastised. I might also want to put on the record that we too abhor the delay in replacing the Sea King helicopters. I was here when that contract was cancelled. The EH-101s were first proposed by the Conservative government. We had concerns about that contract.

I would hope that anyone who was here at the same time as I was would say that if we had any inkling of the fact that cancelling the EH-101 contract would mean that 10 years later we still would not be anywhere near obtaining a replacement for the Sea King helicopter, we would have said to buy the things. Whatever it was that was objectionable about them, in my opinion it has become far more objectionable to leave our Canadian Forces in the twilight zone that they have been in with respect to the Sea King helicopters for the past 10 years.

This is a dangerous situation. It is a situation that has nothing to do with helicopters and has everything to do with Liberal politics in terms of the original cancellation, but more blameworthy is the fact that the Liberals have taken 10 years and they still have not figured out which one of their friends will benefit from the contract. Until the Liberals can figure that out, it is the people in the Canadian Forces who have to fly this obsolete equipment. That is shameful.

At the heart of this is a very shameful reality. The reality is that defence contracts in this country can be held hostage to ongoing political manoeuvring of the sort that we have seen relating to the Sea King helicopters. It is not only with respect to helicopters that this happens, but this is one of the more glaring examples of how politics can hold up something which should have been proceeded with expeditiously.

If the Liberals want to cancel a contract, that is fine. However, they have to make up their minds about what the new helicopter will be like and get them on stream and into the hands of the people who need them.

The member from the Bloc Québécois said he could not resist the opportunity to speak highly and offer praise to the Canadian armed forces who were helping out during the ice storm in Quebec. I certainly welcome his remarks in that regard. Likewise, I want to take the opportunity to be praiseworthy of the members of the Canadian armed forces who were in Manitoba at the time of the flood in 1997. They were camped out in tents in the parking lot at the East End Community Club in Transcona. That is where they were bivouacked. I had an opportunity to visit with many of them at that time. I certainly want to add my commendation for the work they did at that time and for the ongoing work they do with respect to catastrophes, whether they be floods, fires, ice storms or whatever the case may be.

The minister did say in his remarks that the national missile defence system was on stream. What does on stream mean? We have made our opposition to Canadian participation in the American proposed and American led national missile defence system very clear on a number of occasions in the House. It is part and parcel of what the government has always said it was against, which is the weaponization of space. We are disappointed that the government seems to be proceeding on this without really making it clear what it is up to.

I would hope that members of the Alliance who seem to agree with national missile defence would agree that there is a procedural inadequacy here. If the government is going to participate in national missile defence, it should come before the House and make that absolutely clear. Perhaps it could bring forward a motion and have the House vote on it. It should do something which at least would nod in the direction of parliamentary participation, of parliamentary approval or disapproval of this very significant step.

As New Democrats, our main quarrel with the Minister of National Defence at this time is national missile defence by stealth. First of all the government was not going to have anything to do with it, then it was discussing it, and now it is on stream. This is not the way these kinds of major decisions should be made.

We certainly hope that the member for LaSalle--Émard, who is certainly on stream to becoming the next prime minister of Canada, will make his position clear on this issue so we can have a debate with him and with those who support him about the position that he has taken.

It is pretty obvious that the position of the new prime minister will be one of support for national missile defence because he is making noises that somehow we have to kiss and make up with Washington for our brief shining moment of independence when it came to the war in Iraq. This is one of the concerns that we have had and one which I notice the former minister of foreign affairs has. The price to be paid for our independence on the war in Iraq will be years of acquiescence, of making up, for that independence. It seems to us it was no coincidence that shortly after that the government began to move in the way it has on national missile defence.

I will end there. Perhaps the minister will have an opportunity in questions and comments to respond to one of the things that I raised earlier in my remarks.

Canadian Forces Superannuation ActGovernment Orders

October 20th, 2003 / 12:50 p.m.
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Bloc

Claude Bachand Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the Bloc Quebecois, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-37 today. I will start by saying that I will try to devote most of my speech to the pension fund. I think that is the issue today, not necessarily equipment, although I think that is part of it. Indeed, quality of life for the Canadian Forces also depends a great deal on their equipment, government decisions and especially the perception that Quebeckers and Canadians have of the Canadian Forces.

Unfortunately, I am among those who say that the true worth of the Canadian Forces is not being recognized. The debate is often on the wrong track and centres on equipment or money. Yet, goodness knows, for a few years now we have been pushing for the adoption of a new national defence policy that would set out the challenges, guidelines and parameters for government funding. This could influence the purchase of equipment and change our behaviour on the international stage.

I think this is all closely linked. As I was saying, the true worth of the Canadian Forces is not recognized. I know this first hand. I had the opportunity to train with the Royal 22

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Régiment in Valcartier; the soldiers were being sent to Bosnia on relief. One's view depends on whether one is inside or outside the ranks.

I had a rather full week: the troops got up at sunrise, and went to bed very late in the evening after all the physical and psychological training that comes with preparing for a dangerous mission. Spending a day with the Royal 22

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Régiment preparing for an international peace mission makes one realize this is not fun and games.

I have also seen the PPCLI at work in my riding, during the ice storm. They did not come as tourists. These men and women spent their time clearing roads and chopping wood for those without power. They worked from sunup to sundown. When they left, I told the PPCLI soldiers that we would never forget them. That is why, from time to time in my speeches, I talk about the PPCLI to express my admiration for these individuals.

Training is one thing, but taking part in operations is completely different. I took part in two. As I just mentioned, I accompanied the ninth rotation to Bosnia. So, there had been other rotations before I went. Some of the people taking part in the ninth rotation had already taken part in the fourth and fifth rotation.

Over there, we can see the magnitude of what happened during the war between the Croatians and the Bosnians. One out of every three houses has no roof; there were huge losses of life. The soldiers spoke about the Canadian camps being shelled. Once, they were called to go get children at a school and take them back to the camp so they would be under military protection, but then they were informed that the children were not allowed in the camp. When the soldiers went back out after the bombing, the children had all died outside the walls to the Canadian camp.

There are not just physical dangers, but also enormous emotional stress. That is why, now, it has been determined that post-traumatic stress disorder is a direct result of this kind of situation.

I also accompanied the minister to Eritrea and Ethiopia where the two camps were separated by an international boundary. I saw dead bodies lying amidst mine fields, left there because apparently there was no time to recover the bodies and the whole area needed to be demined to do it. This creates a great deal of insecurity within the Canadian Forces.

We often think that they are tough people, but they are human beings, too. We need only observe their friendship with the local population as they offer a little solace for the horrors these people live through day by day.

Therefore we think that debating this bill to improve the retirement conditions for Canadian Forces pensioners is a step in the right direction. Recruitment is not the only thing that counts. I believe that the current problem is that young people thinking of enlisting have a choice between private enterprise or the Canadian Forces, a federal institution.

They often decide to enlist in the forces for adventure. Nevertheless, some basic conditions must be met: the salary must be good enough and the pension plan as well. I think that the bill before us will improve the situation in many ways.

I think the government has been rather slow in dealing with the reservists. But, as the saying goes, “better late than never.” In its 1998 report on quality of life in the Canadian Forces, the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs recommended “that the Department of National Defence pursue initiatives to put in place a real pension plan for the Reserves,” because they were not previously eligible for pensions.

Consequently, special attention is being given to creation of a pension plan for reservists. Clearly, reservists may have other jobs. Now, if they want to re-enlist, the time they spent in the militia or reserve will count towards a pension at the end of their career, which is very good. I would like to point out how important reservists are, and will be in future, because people wanting to make a career in the Armed Forces are not exactly beating down the doors of recruiting offices.

I know that considerable efforts are under way at the present time to recruit people. In fact, there is a Canadian Forces recruiting centre is in my riding and it is always busy. This is interesting, but when people enlist they need to know what to expect when they retire 10, 15, 20 or 25 years down the line. This is, in my opinion, important.

Now reservists will have the possibility of accumulating pensionable time, so that when they end their career, be it in the Armed Forces or elsewhere, they will have a slightly better pension plan than before, as they would in the federal public service.

Speaking of the importance of reservists, I again think of Valcartier. Several battalions were deployed to Bosnia during my rotation. One of these was wholly comprised of members of the reserve who had been given leave from their jobs and had signed on for a specific length of time for a mission in Bosnia.

They deserve much credit for this, because they sometimes run into problems getting their jobs back. Employers are more or less obliged to let them go, but when they come back, they sometimes find out someone has taken their place. To improve the reform we have before us, far more attention would have to be paid to members of the reserve, because they will become more and more necessary if we accept the fact that there will be fewer and fewer career soldiers.

Consequently, any improvement that can be made to the situation for the reserve strikes us as very important, and Bill C-37 does so by improving their pension possibilities.

There were other difficulties. For instance, the vesting period, which will be shorter. Members had to serve for 10 years to qualify for a pension. The minimum period for qualifying will now be two years. This encourages people to say, “I will give it a try and, if it does not work, I will at least qualify for a pension after two years”.

Previously, members who became disheartened or left lost their pension entitlement. They needed 10 years of accumulated service to qualify. Sometimes these individuals spoke of the forces in less than complimentary terms to those around them, which might have discouraged others from joining the Canadian Forces.

I think there is real improvement. As far as pension portability is concerned, this legal sounding term refers to the ability members of the armed forces now have to transfer their pensions into their registered retirement savings plans. They could not do that before, but now they can.

This is encouraging to people, who think, “Should I ever leave the forces and be entitled to a pension, I will transfer this money into another retirement plan. This way, I will not lose it”. I feel this is one of the strengths of this bill.

Also, with respect to pension eligibility no longer being tied to service, this will apply to reservists as well as to members of the regular force.

Until now, a member who enlisted for five years and later decided not to re-enlist—as I said earlier, there was a provision requiring that they serve 10 years—lost his or her pension. The same was true for reservists. Those who left the forces, saying they had had enough, lost their entitlement. Today, eligibility is no longer tied to a period of service. A reservist will be able to say, “I have had it with the Canadian Forces. I will take a break for a year or two. I have other obligations right now, but I would like to come back later”. Even if the period of service is not continuous, it will be possible to continue accumulating pensionable service, picking up where he or she left off.

This is an idea that would definitely be of interest to people, because it is much more flexible. This way, they would not be saying, after 5 or 10 years of service, “I have no pension rights. That is it. If I re-enlist, I start at zero again.”

In my opinion, this eliminates a problem that goes beyond recruitment. Of course, the federal government cut back funding to the army in the early 1990s, so that we have dropped from an army numbering 80,000 to one numbering around 50,000. As a consequence, we must now emphasize recruitment. What good does it do to plunge into recruiting while people are leaving by the back door, and we have no retention measures? These measures before us today are retention measures, to encourage people to stay in the forces.

Now, as for the pension, new people can be eligible after 25 years of service. That is another retention measure. It did raise a few questions when we read the bill for the first time. I had an excellent briefing by the Canadian Forces on the subject. Their people came to my office to explain what happens to those now covered by the plan, that is, those who have been in for 18 or 19 years and who were planning to leave in a year or two, that is, after 20 years, which is the current minimum. The question had come up: “Are we going to tell these people, 'You cannot leave after all. You cannot leave in a year or two because we have changed the law. From now on, it will be 25 years.'” So, they told us that it would be optional for those people. That is very interesting, because there are people who have served 18 or 19 years in the army, and I know very well that they are keen to retire. They know that after 20 years they are entitled to a full pension.

They have told me: “We are against this Mr. Bachand. You cannot expect us to put off our retirement for five years. We have made plans: we were going to leave the Canadian Forces in a year or two”. The bill makes this optional. Current members will have the choice of retiring after 20 or 25 years. It will be their choice and there will be no penalty.

Nonetheless, a newcomer to the Canadian Forces will certainly know from the outset that he has to serve in the forces for 25 years. This is not a double standard. People have said to me, “Claude, be careful. It is like a grandfather clause. Some will have more benefits than others”. That is not the case here. Those who are already in the army can leave after 20 years of service or, if they wish, they can serve five additional years under the legislation. However, new arrivals know that it is 25 years of service. Consequently, when they sign their contract, they do so with full knowledge of the facts. It is no different than those who signed a contract 20 years ago. They knew at the time that in 20 years they could retire. Those who sign a contract today know they can retire after 25 years.

This is also a retention measure because there are people who have served in the army for 19 or 20 years who would like to continue. Letting them accumulate more years of pensionable service, because they would be able to serve for five more years, would be very good because it would build up the pension fund.

Some people like being in the army, while others like it less. In general, however, this ensures that everyone can be satisfied to some extent. This will also satisfy the fundamental needs of the Canadian Forces.

Now, I must warn the government, because terrible things have happened with regard to this veterans' bill. The minister said that he supported the adoption of amendments to the legislation and the regulations. Since there was not enough money, he decided to set aside measures that must be approved, debated and voted on in the House.

In terms of veterans, the government decided to proceed through regulations. This means that the governor in council or cabinet will define the parameters. Also this bill leaves the way open for regulations. The government should be extremely careful here. When regulations are used to bypass parliamentarians, democracy is weakened.

As MPs, we receive representations from all sorts of people, especially when they know we are our party's critic for a given portfolio. Since there is a strong military presence in my riding, many service members come to seen me about issues concerning Bill C-37 before us, and veterans affairs as well. When they hear that people are treated differently because regulatory measures were taken instead of parliamentary or legislative measures, some of them take offence.

A case in point concerns veterans. Ten thousand widows were told they would be getting a substantial benefit in the form of a veterans allowance, the veterans being their husbands who are now deceased, to allow them to keep their homes. They will receive money for housekeeping and groundkeeping. We are talking about 10,000 widows who were told that from now on and for as long as they live in their home, they will be getting this allowance, but the widows of other veterans will not.

There is a major problem when 10,000 women are entitled to assistance and 23,000 others are not. I do hope this situation will be corrected. We in the Bloc Quebecois are working on an action plan to ensure that the 66% of women who are widows of veterans are not discriminated against.

A measure that does not help people who need to stay in their homes looks a bit unfair to me. And that is not even counting the fact that when they leave because they are no longer able to keep up their homes, they often end up in long term care. From then on, looking after these people is the province's responsibility, not the federal government's. And yet it is a federal jurisdiction. For once, when the federal government has jurisdiction, perhaps it could look after it properly instead of trying to interfere in all sorts of jurisdictions in Quebec.

Thus, we must warn the government. If there are amendments to this bill, or if, in the future, there are amendments with regard to amounts of money, eligibility, or qualifying periods, they must be brought before the House in the form of a legislative amendment so that the members of Parliament can discuss them. That way, when we get questions from our constituents, we will be able to give them answers and we will not be at a loss.

It was our distinct impression that all widows were going to get help, because the minister had announced on May 12 that he would be ensuring that all widows would benefit from changes for the better, but that was not so. Over the summer they likely realized that the bill would be a bit steep, so they settled on a figure of $69 million, a reallocation, rather than the total measure, which would have included all spouses and likely would have come to $200 million. The government did not have that kind of money.

We appealed to the minister to ensure that the next budget would include enough money to provide this coverage to everyone. There is one condition, however: that something as important as this not be done by regulation, but rather by legislation.

As for the bill as a whole which we have before us today, we are very pleased to see that the conditions and quality of life of those who will be retiring from the army will be improved. That, I think, was important. Not only important, but helpful for retaining people in the Forces. Not only will they be more interested in enlisting, but they will be more interested in making a career in the Canadian Forces because of all these measures.

Canadian Forces Superannuation ActGovernment Orders

October 20th, 2003 / 12:25 p.m.
See context

Canadian Alliance

Jay Hill Canadian Alliance Prince George—Peace River, BC

One of my colleagues said, “unbelievable”. I cannot think of a better word.

I used to farm out in the real world before I became a federal politician. I farmed for some 20 years. My brother and I, when we were farming our 3,000 acres in the Peace country, recognized that to do the job we had to constantly upgrade our equipment if we were to have any hope of being able to get the crop in on time and get it off on time in the fall. All the armed forces is asking is for something similar.

If we were to have run our farm the way the government runs the Canadian armed forces, we would have been farming with 40 year old little tractors held together with duct tape, binder twine and baling wire. However we did not. We recognized a cost to doing business and we upgraded continually.

A few weeks ago it came to light that the equipment problems of our air force had compromised its ability to carry out the primary function of a maritime border patrol. The Minister of National Defence has resorted to looking to private companies to conduct patrols of our maritime borders because of a lack of money and equipment resources to carry out this function. The most disturbing part of it all was the admission by the defence minister that his department was actually doing this.

Perhaps now is as good a time as any to remind the government of its chronic bad luck when dealing with contractors. I believe it was not too long ago a former minister of defence had to send out a military crew to forcefully board and seize an ocean freighter on the high seas that refused to return Canadian military equipment to port.

For our current defence minister to see no problem with a contractor carrying out a primary national security function, I find deeply disturbing.

The last piece of equipment I will mention today has received quite a bit of media attention in recent days. I am referring to the Iltus scout car, which in its own right has garnered a lengthy history of political interference up until the very end, leading to the delay of its replacement.

Almost 20 years ago the Liberal government of the day decided to purchase the Iltus, despite concerns raised about the vehicle by the army at the time. These jeeps were originally to be built by the supplier in Germany at a cost of $26,500 each. The only problem with this was no jobs were to be created in Canada. At a 250% premium, the government decided to have the Iltus built in Canada by Bombardier at a cost of $84,000 per vehicle. For that much money, we could have purchased the larger armoured Humvees the army wanted, but instead we received a vehicle with no armour protection and a canvas cover and doors.

I am dismayed to say that I and others have been remiss in referring to these vehicles as jeeps. I have been contacted by DaimlerChrysler and told it resents that, and justifiably so. These are not Jeeps. Jeep is a trademark of that company. I am a proud owner of two Jeeps. I have a Grand Cherokee Jeep in the riding and a TJ Jeep here in Ottawa, so I do not want to demean the good reputation and name of Jeep by referring to the Iltus as a jeep.

The Iltus has been slated for replacement since the mid-1990s, yet today we still find them in use within an active theatre of operations. At the outset of this procurement project, four reputable suppliers were interested in furnishing our land forces with new vehicles. However true to form, the Liberal government once again interfered in the procurement process to ensure there were political gains to be made. As a result, there is only one supplier remaining, which will probably be awarded the contract by default.

The remaining suppliers withdrew their bids on the project because of the unacceptable political interference. The most troubling legacy from this interference is that we are no longer afforded the luxury of choosing the best vehicle from a selection of choices. We only have one supplier willing to put up with the government's nonsense.

If the government truly wishes to end its reputation of neglecting our Canadian forces, it needs to demonstrate a true commitment to our military on a variety of fronts. This commitment must be principled and has to be backed up with action and financial resources. With a strong military, Canada can take its rightful place on the international stage once again as a peaceful nation willing to step forward to not only help those in need, but to promote and defend the democratic principles we all too often unfortunately take for granted here at home.

Currently, this is not the case. Canadians have been witness to their nation's declining reputation on the international stage. Canada is no longer a world leader in peacekeeping. We now rank behind more than 30 other countries in the world on the UN list. Due to the overextension of our Canadian forces, Canada is forced to hastily withdraw forces from Bosnia and the Golan Heights in order to meet our commitments in Afghanistan.

At home, Canadians are watching their federal government remain absolutely silent on one of the most important developments affecting our homeland security with the American's implementation of the ballistic missile defence program. The member for LaSalle—Émard, who is patiently waiting to take the keys for 24 Sussex, refuses to indicate his support or opposition to the program, unless the minister can inform me otherwise today. The ballistic missile defence program is set to begin the initial phases of implementation as early as next year.

I just came back from Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado Springs where I had some great briefings with Norad. I can tell members that Norad is in jeopardy if we do not opt into this thing wholeheartedly and work with the Americans to provide continental security through the missile defence program.

My time is over. I would like to conclude by reiterating our support for Bill C-37. However, as I have touched upon, much more needs to be done on many other fronts to improve our Canadian armed forces.

Canadian Forces Superannuation ActGovernment Orders

October 20th, 2003 / 12:15 p.m.
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Canadian Alliance

Jay Hill Canadian Alliance Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, I must say at the outset that I certainly appreciate the opportunity to speak to this very important legislation as the minister has just outlined. It will improve the pension benefits of members of the Canadian armed forces.

This is the first opportunity I have had since becoming the national defence critic for the official opposition to speak to defence related issues in the House of Commons.

In 1998 the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs released a report on the quality of life in the Canadian Forces. The report contained a recommendation that members of the reserve force in our military should also be eligible to receive benefits under the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act. Today, five years later, legislation to implement this recommendation as well as modernize and enhance pension benefits is finally working its way through Parliament.

Overall, the legislative changes contained within Bill C-37 are welcome. For that reason the Canadian Alliance will be supporting this progressive initiative that should have been done many years ago.

Once the legislation comes into effect, members of the Canadian Forces will be offered pension benefits which are more in line with what is offered to employees of the public service and the private sector. The new superannuation plan will calculate pension benefits using years of pensionable service instead of terms of service.

The legislation will allow members to obtain early access to benefits from the age of 50. Members who decide to leave the Canadian Forces will also be allowed to take the value of their pension with them. Members of the reserve force will finally be able to receive a proper pension benefit.

The inclusion of the reserve force is perhaps one of the more important changes contained within the legislation. The reserves have always been a critical component of our Canadian armed forces. It is about time the government acted to put in place some sort of substantive acknowledgment of their contribution to our military. I have always been more than a bit upset with how our reserves have been treated in the past.

I have already referred to my concerns about adequate communications with the contributors, the pensioners, in the future. My concern was not so much with consultations, which I readily acknowledge the minister mentioned in his remarks have been conducted up to this point. There has been widespread consultation, and I do not dispute for a moment the facts as the minister presented them that contributors and by and large stakeholders both in the reserves and the regular forces are very supportive of this legislation.

My concern is in the future, perhaps when the present minister is no longer the minister, that communication and any future regulations would actually be required to be communicated directly to the people that are affected. It is not necessarily today or even tomorrow, but years in the future.

Not long ago I was contacted by one of our true wartime heroes, Cliff Wenzel, a veteran who fought during several conflicts as a pilot in the Royal Canadian Air Force. He has also been awarded several decorations resulting from his service to our country. After serving some 20 years in the air force, Mr. Wenzel decided to apply for early retirement on a reduced pension and continue his involvement in the air force as a squadron leader in the auxiliary reserve.

For some strange reason still unknown to Mr. Wenzel, after some 40 years he was denied a reduced pension because his early retirement was deemed not in the public interest. According to the government, spending 10 years in the air force reserve was not in the public interest. This has left Mr. Wenzel with absolutely no pension, after spending a total of 30 years in the air force, 20 years in active regular service and 10 years in the reserve. Let us be clear. Mr. Wenzel served 20 years in the regular air force, another 10 years in the reserves, and the government has deemed his service to our country does not qualify him for an early reduced pension.

Unfortunately, over the past while there have been quite a few cases that are similar to Mr. Wenzel's where our veterans have received no benefits from the Canadian Forces. Major Bruce Henwood discovered to his amazement that he was not eligible for lump sum compensation after losing both his legs in Croatia. Last year the situation of Lieutenant Colonel Al Trotter was raised in the House by my colleague, the member for Kamloops, Thompson and Highland Valleys, after he was denied a prisoner of war pension supplement.

These instances of outright neglect by the government unfortunately seem to be all too symptomatic of its overall disregard for our Canadian military. The government's disdain for our military extends beyond its poor treatment of our veterans even to the men and women who presently serve in the Canadian Forces.

As recently as last week I launched a campaign with the help of a military spouse, Ms. Sheri Gauthier, to protest impending rent increases for military housing units on base provided by the Canadian Forces Housing Agency. Sadly, many military families living in those housing units are forced to sacrifice their quality of life as all too often the homes are in disrepair and well below acceptable housing standards. Yet the government is imposing on many of the units substantial rent increases well above acceptable provincial levels.

It is simply unimaginable what some of our military families have to put up with when living in housing on base. Many of these families are tired of keeping quiet about the shoddy housing they are provided with. However the majority refuse to speak out for fear of reprisal.

If members of the House need further evidence, they need only travel down the road and visit CFB Rockcliffe, only a few minutes away from Parliament Hill. At a time when homelessness is such a serious concern, extra housing units at this base were offered to homeless individuals in the Ottawa area. However, if we can believe it, these homes are in such poor condition the city of Ottawa would not allow the homeless to move into them. It must have been quite disheartening for the military families who still reside there to be deemed to be the exception to the rule.

The long term neglect of our military personnel on the part of government needs to come to an end. The men and women who serve in the Canadian Forces are our military. Without them we cannot defend our borders, protect our country and assist those in need at home and abroad.

If the government wants to improve the sorry state of the Canadian Forces, it needs to stop its sorry treatment of our military personnel. To do this, the government should start by doing three things. First, it could start by paying our military personnel better wages. Second, it could start by investing in properly equipping our military with the tools they need to do their job. Third, the government needs to start giving our Canadian Forces personnel the proper respect and recognition they deserve for their hard work.

I was reading the local paper this morning at home before I came to work. I noticed in the letters to the editor section of the Ottawa Citizen that one of the letters talked about the moving service for the two soldiers who tragically recently lost their lives, Sergeant Short and Corporal Beerenfenger. I will quote from the letter in the Ottawa Citizen of Monday, October 20, 2003:

Lieutenant-General Rick Hillier, commander of the army, presided over the service and spoke with dignity, respect and compassion. A powerful speaker, he uttered the most truthful words: “It is the soldier, not the politician, who is the hero. It is the soldier, not the bureaucracy, that gives us democracy”.

That jumped out at me because I thought no truer words were ever spoken and only adds to the issue that I have with the government on how it treats our military.

The legislation we are debating today, Bill C-37, makes a positive improvement to the benefits our military personnel receive. There is no question of that. However, yet again I would argue that more needs to be done.

Men and women starting a career in the Canadian Forces certainly do not expect to be paid lavish wages. They do expect to be paid a fair salary that will allow them to maintain a reasonable lifestyle. With ever-increasing cost of living expenses such as car insurance, gas and now even rent, the salaries paid to our military personnel are being stretched thin. The government must ensure that the salaries paid to our Canadian Forces personnel are adequate and properly reflect their hard work and their service to our country.

We need only reflect back a couple of years ago. An exposé was done on one of our national newscasts and I do not remember whether it was CBC or CTV. It revealed a sad and humiliating spectacle of Canadian Forces families going to get their groceries at local food banks. They did not have adequate remuneration to actually buy groceries for their young children and I thought how sad. I know there have been improvements made since then, but much more needs to be done, and I think the minister would agree with that.

The men and women of the Canadian Forces do not ask for much, I argue. Day in and day out they perform their duties and carry out the tasks assigned to them and fulfill missions given to them by our government. All the while our Canadian Forces do an exemplary job and consistently exceed expectations. All they ask for in return is some recognition by their government of their job well done.

Earlier, I mentioned Mr. Cliff Wenzel, a retired air force pilot who wants more than anything else just some recognition by his government for his service in the reserves. He wants his government on the record stating that the 10 years he spent in the reserves was in the public interest.

Those in the military today want their government to be proud of the work they do, not ashamed of the fact that our military occasionally might have to use physical force to save the lives of innocent civilians while serving on peacekeeping missions overseas.

The folks who serve in our Canadian Forces do an excellent job. I cannot understand why the government will not give them more money so we can have resources to help those in need around the world.

Another area of improvement for our Canadian Forces involves a serious investment on the part of the government to provide our forces with the tools they need to do the jobs to which they are assigned. The equipment deficiencies of our military are so extensive that I could go on at length highlighting the serious need for reinvestment. I simply do not have enough time to go down the almost endless list of things that need replacing.

Instead, I will touch on the more important equipment procurement priorities. I appreciate that the minister is listening to my remarks. Perhaps during questions and answers he could bring the House and Canadians, who are watching the debate, up to speed on where we stand with procurement of some of the essential needs of our armed forces.

I, like so many others, have been going on ad nauseam about the maritime helicopter project. It still serves as the best example of a bungled procurement project to replace the fleet of aging Sea King helicopters. Our navy works tirelessly maintaining these aircraft to ensure they are safe and available for use when they are needed. The cost to keep these helicopters in the air well past their shelf lives is in the tens of millions of dollars a year.

For the past 10 years, ever since the government came to power in 1993, the pilots who fly these aircraft and the technicians who work to keep them in the air have been waiting patiently for their government to purchase new replacements. Needless to say, if the outgoing Prime Minister had not, “with a single stroke of his pen,” cancelled the original replacement contract, our service personnel would not have been left waiting for new aircraft and we would not be continuing to spend outrageous sums of money in an attempt to keep 40 year old helicopters in the air.

Likewise, the air force is confronting a similar problem with its primary workhorse aircraft that we continue to deploy around the globe, the C-130 Hercules. Currently, two-thirds of the fleet has been grounded periodically due to maintenance problems. The bulk of these planes, similar to the Sea Kings, are approaching 40 years in service.

Has the government stepped forward to address this serious problem? I would argue, not really. Instead of putting plans in place to purchase new replacement aircraft, the Minister of National Defence is scrounging for used parts, specifically airframes and the shells of the aircraft to keep them in the air.