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.