Mr. Speaker, I could say to my colleague that we agree on several points. We agree in particular when you say that we should try to save taxpayers money.
I would like to continue the debate on the motion on the Auditor General's report by reading two sentences to give it a bit of continuity.
On page 597 of the Auditor General's report it states:
We recommend that the department provide complete and accurate information to Parliament on the full cost of using government aircraft to transport users such as the Prime Minister, ministers, and other VIPs.
It goes on to say further:
-the Department, in co-operation with other appropriate departments, should conduct a review of the economy, efficiency and effectiveness of providing government aircraft to transport such users.
I would like to continue the discussion of this proposal on the part of the Auditor General in a pragmatic vein. This is brought forward not just because of the news media talking about the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs spending $173,000 to make two speaking tours. I would like to go further into the background and say that this situation has been going on for years and years. The press always picks it up. It is as if it is a scandal to be flying around in jet aircraft.
Let us go back even further to my own experience in the city of Ottawa in another department, specifically national defence, some 15 or more years ago. I recall at the time feeling very upset when the government of the day offloaded part of its problems on to the Department of National Defence and said: "You fellows take over the running of these jet aircraft. You can take it out of your budget and you can run it and take the flack". I thought at the time it was dirty pool and I still think so today.
What this underlines is that far too often its own politics override common sense. Politics seems to have the effect of saying: "We don't care how much it costs or who carries the load; it will go on".
The whole issue of the use of government jet aircraft, whether it is housed in the Department of National Defence or wherever, illustrates what is bad about government and politics. It also illustrates precisely why the people in our ridings are angry, why they have displayed their anger over the last couple of years and why they say this has to stop.
DND now runs 16 Challenger jets. Why were they purchased in the first place? It is not because 16 jets are needed to run ministers and the Prime Minister around the country and to foreign lands. It is done as a political gesture, let us say, to Canadair, to Quebec, saying it is just money so let us give them a contract and buy these nice Canadian products. We cannot afford to do that given the state of our deficit spending and the state of the total debt.
I am really talking about the attitude of government, not the current government, but all governments one after the other. The attitude seems to be, why not buy a few more jet aircraft, it just costs a few more millions of dollars. That is not good enough.
The Department of National Defence today is absorbing more cuts. It is being cut to the extent that it no longer has the resources required to continue the peacekeeping operations that Canadians and this government continue to expect of it around the world.
I am going to do a bit of very simple arithmetic. If three soldiers for one year cost, let us say $100,000, how many soldiers could we get to reinforce the Department of National Defence where it needs reinforcing, in the front lines with private soldiers and not with general officers, by making a few cuts here or there? The Auditor General's report states that the maintenance of the 16 Challenger aircraft cost the government $54 million a year. I am willing to concede and I think most members are that the government needs several jet aircraft to carry around the Prime Minister, a few VIPs and royalty. Let us accept that.
But let us cut down on the number of these jets. If we could bring down the maintenance costs of this jet fleet to around $14 million we would save $40 million a year. That $40 million a year could be used for hiring soldiers at three per $100,000, to give us 1,200 extra soldiers. Let that sink in a bit. We could have 1,200 extra soldiers for the cost of eliminating the maintenance and overhead of some of this fleet of jet aircraft.
I take another view of this and say: "If I were in business, how would I look at it?" My answer would be: "I need several aircraft to do the things we have just discussed, such as squiring the Prime Minister around. That is legitimate". What are my resources for doing this? I would say: "As a businessman my resources are 16 aircraft, plus in an associated company, the Department of Transport, 101 aircraft".
That triggers me to say that if we have 16 aircraft, all of which we do not need, and 101 others of what sort I do not know in another department, there are probably all sorts of them to spread around. As a businessman I would rationalize all this, look at the inventory and cut down the numbers. We should keep in service only those that are absolutely needed.
The other factor I would consider, if I were a businessman or even if I were the government running this operation, would be the bad press. Every time a flight is taken-some are quite legitimate-one gets bad press. There is no sense in keeping up this nonsense. Get rid of them. Get rid of the bad press and get the people off our backs. The media caters to the people and tells all the nonsense. If I were a businessman or if I were the government of the day, I would look very seriously at this matter.
In conclusion, I recommend that the government look at this seriously, not just the Auditor General's report but the whole situation. It should pragmatically rationalize all of the aircraft being used by the government, sell some to get the cash the government needs for necessary programs, reduce the overhead of government and finally-and this is most important-change the attitude of the government, the members and the bureaucracy toward the use of public funds.