Mr. Speaker, I would like to start by congratulating the Minister of National Defence on his presentation. In the course of my speech, however, I will show there are a number of points on which we differ with the minister.
I am not sure whether we should be grateful to the government for initiating a review of our national defence policy, as part of a motion to appoint a special joint committee to consider the document from the Department of National Defence entitled Review of Canadian Defence Policy.
I do not intend to dwell on the pros and cons of appointing a special joint committee. The role of the Standing Committee on National Defence happens to be to deal with the items that together form the mission of this new committee. Without wishing to seem repetitive, is this not just another form of
duplication and overlap, a waste of time better spent making the decisions that are so important to Quebecers and Canadians?
The new committee will have the same consultative powers: the power to summon witnesses, to hire consultants and to print documents. It will also, as the minister said, adjourn from place to place inside Canada in order to get the advice it needs to make informed decisions.
Everything in the committee's structure and operations is a duplication of the Standing Committee on National Defence, thus generating additional costs that, although not necessarily excessive, will not be well received by the Quebec and Canadian public.
It has been said repeatedly that we must reduce public spending, make government more effective and, what all taxpayers would like to see, simplify the parliamentary process to make it productive and cost effective. And lo and behold, here we have one more addition to the government apparatus, and I find that very difficult to accept. All members in this House should try, to the best of their ability, to reduce all unnecessary spending, even the smallest amounts, to prove to our constituents that we realize the financial situation is very serious and that our actions must reflect the commitments made by all parties to their constituents.
I am afraid that, all things considered, I cannot accept the duplication of time, energy and money this special joint committee will represent. The Minister of National Defence said earlier that hon. members were very busy, and now he wants to make them even busier by striking another committee that would have the same mandate as an existing committee.
I repeat that it is the responsibility of the Standing Committee on National Defence to review the document tabled by the hon. minister and to make the best possible recommendations. The standing committee can invite any expert on military or foreign policy issues, and ask pertinent questions so as to develop a defence policy and submit it to the government. Again, members of the standing committee who will sit on the joint committee will have access to the same experts, will ask the same questions and, no doubt, will get the same answers. If this is efficient decision making, then I understand why Canada's debt is so large.
However, the tabling of this motion has one definite advantage: it will force members of this House to discuss the motion itself, but also Canada's defence policy, which is often criticized by the public, the media, some elected representatives, as well as the Auditor General.
I think we all want an exchange of ideas, but also an in-depth review of the role of our national defence establishment. We must look at every aspect of defence policy. Commitments to NATO, the United Nations and the United States are all important elements in this review. Some major changes have occurred on the international scene in recent years; all NATO allies have modified their defence policy and the United States, Great Britain and France have adopted new approaches. Canada has, to some extent, followed the same process by coming up with a new defence policy statement in 1992.
This trend has triggered three patterns in the readjustment of defence policies. First, all countries reduced their defence budgets, which translated into reduced demand and production for the defence industry. This situation severely affected arms producing countries, including Canada, where thousands of jobs disappeared. Quebec also paid a heavy price, since a good part of the Canadian defence industry was centralized in the Montreal region.
The second pattern is more of a strategic nature, since it has to do with evaluating possible external threats, following the reduced risk of east-west conflicts. This risk being now almost non-existent, the threat of regional and even local conflicts has taken a new importance which defence policies must now take into account. Canada shares this view with its allies.
The third pattern is the progressive transformation of international institutions such as the UN and NATO, whose political and strategic missions are being fully reviewed.
In the context of our relations with other countries, we must remember that the role of Canadian peacekeepers was examined during those long debates on the situation in Bosnia and on Canadian peacekeeping missions. The Minister of National Defence also referred to that role in his speech this morning. Consequently, I will not discuss this issue at length.
Other aspects concerning the review of our national defence policy are just as important, but they affect us and our constituents much more directly. I am referring to the national and financial aspects.
The national aspect has to do with internal activity. What role do we want our military personnel to take on inside the Canadian territory? Will our armed forces play a more significant role to ensure our internal security? Will they be called upon to patrol the Canadian coastline to protect us against possible intruders? Will they be called upon to play a more active role in the fight against drugs? Will they be called upon to help monitor fishing activities in our territorial waters? Will they be called upon to be more involved in sea and mountain rescue operations? Will they be called upon to help the public in case of a natural disaster?
Only when the role and the mandate of the Department of National Defence are clarified will we be able to determine the human resources and the material required to fulfil that mandate.
It would be premature to evaluate and analyze possible changes in our defence policy until the Minister of Foreign Affairs, in co-operation with the Minister of National Defence,
takes a close look at our commitments to NORAD and NATO, and also at our involvement in UN peacekeeping missions. In fact, the minister said earlier that officials from those two departments would meet to discuss those issues. So, until the House is informed of the outcome of these meetings, it is difficult to predict what Canada's new defence policy will be.
Only then we will be able to determine the personnel required. Moreover, future needs should be determined in co-operation with military authorities. Given the circumstances, we should not focus on major policy directions, but rather on administrative aspects, in order to find out what the real implications are.
For starters, the Bloc Quebecois suggests that reduction programs already initiated be evaluated. This includes an evaluation of the decision to cut back on staff, reduce the number of officers and close certain bases. We should know why military equipment is being procured or maintained and determine, with the help of the military, whether such equipment is relevant. We have to make the necessary choices and avoid spending billions of dollars to procure equipment solely for regional development purposes. Often, the costs are higher than if we had relied solely on ability and expertise. Finally, as the Auditor General has repeatedly pointed out, the minister should be made to completely rethink his military procurement policy.
At this juncture, I cannot help but give several examples of this procurement policy which has cost the taxpayers dearly. If this policy is not amended, it will prove to be even more costly.
Take, for instance, Litton Systems of Toronto which was awarded the contract to modernize destroyers, even though it had no expertise in shipbuilding. The $2 billion contract awarded to Litton Systems represented a waste of money since this company was unable to fulfil its commitments owing to its lack of expertise in this field.
Logically, why was the contract to modernize these destroyers not awarded to MIL Davie of Lauzon, the company that built these ships, was totally familiar with their components and had the necessary expertise to fulfil the terms of the contract?
Another example is the $250 million contract awarded to a British Columbia firm for the construction of tracked vehicles. The company based its design on a Swedish model, whereas Bombardier has been building this type of tracked vehicle for decades now. Had these contracts been awarded to companies with expertise in these fields, the government would have saved money. This is what it should be aiming for.
In his 1992 report, the Auditor General refers to major operational problems, in particular with regard to the weapons management policy or military equipment procurement programs. Because of the numerous problems and difficulties that arise, the processing of proposals is delayed and a large number of staff are tied up. Several recommendations make mention of staff problems and specifically, of DND's defence program management system.
In section 17.25 of his report, the Auditor General is openly critical of the program management system, noting that in addition to being ineffective, it generates an enormous amount of work for staff. The Auditor General proceeded to say, and I quote: "The first problem relates to the enormous staff workload needed to implement this cumbersome process. Our analysis of all projects over $10 million identified in the defence services program as of February 1991 revealed that it takes an average of 1,109 days from the time a project is first identified in the DND database until the statement of capability deficiency document is approved. It takes an average of 1,107 days for the program planning proposal to be approved, 1,608 days for the program development proposal, 1,332 for the program change proposal, and 394 days for effective project approval by the Treasury Board. These average times between individual stages of the defence program management system and the number of times these documents are amended and recirculated provide a good indication of the amount of staff effort involved".
Considering the many pitfalls and obstacles, the Auditor General estimates that only a very small percentage of projects proceed through the entire, amazingly ineffective process.
He pointed out, among other things, that all the change proposals to the defence procurement program -and there are many; just think of the frigate contract and the disputes between National Defence, St. John's Shipbuilding in New Brunswick and MIL Davie of Lauzon, in Quebec- are making even more cumbersome a process which already takes too much time and costs taxpayers too much.
The costs associated with such a management process cannot be considered in isolation. Large amounts are involved and, instead of making things easier for the government, it is making things harder, so much so that the government is now avoiding this complicated process and granting gainful contracts directly to companies, like Bell Helicopter of Mirabel for the tactical transport helicopters and Western Star for the light off-road transport vehicle.
I think that if the Auditor General points out serious deficiencies, it is worth looking into the matter. Why is the Liberal Party not acting? No business could survive such methods, it would go bankrupt.
The abnormally high number of higher ranking officers in the Canadian Armed Forces is another example of an overly liberal
and incredibly costly process. How can we justify having 32,999 corporals and 7,631 captains when there are only 9,370 soldiers in our armed forces? There are just about as many captains as soldiers. With only 9,370 soldiers on a total strength of 77,975, the Canadian forces are the most top heavy in the world, relatively speaking, and also the most expensive to maintain.
Would we not be justified in questioning the suitability, the desirability of such an expensive top level? Would it not be better to have fewer officers and to apply the savings to equipping our soldiers? Unquestionably, such a situation calls for corrective budgetary action.
I would now like to move from the personnel problem to the infrastructure problem, specifically to the closure of military bases. This is not the first time in our history that the government has had to close down military bases. Several were closed after the second world war, and again in the sixties, in the seventies and, more recently, in 1988-89 when the Conservative government closed over 13 bases and stations across the country.
In spite of it all, the defence infrastructure remains far too big for the size of the forces. With a strength of merely 78,000 members, the Canadian Armed Forces are maintaining from coast to coast facilities that could accommodate 140,000. Obviously, more cuts are needed, especially since several of our bases are obsolete and increasingly expensive to maintain. Also, their strategic value is not the same as it was at the time they were built. So, for all these reasons, the government will have to make a choice and impose a new round of closures.
During the last days of its mandate as the Official Opposition and again during the election campaign, the Liberal Party took a stand for base closures in return for real, concrete guarantees to the communities affected by these measures. As a matter of fact, the Minister of Defence said a few words earlier about the applicable procedure.
Promises were made in the red book to convert surplus military bases in Canada to peacekeeping training and staging centres. The Liberal defence conversion plan reflects a strategic direction based on Canada's foreign policy, a policy in which peacekeeping is viewed as a political basis that the Liberal Party will rely heavily on.
The plan to convert surplus military bases to peacekeeping training and staging centres seems to be an important part of the Liberal Party's foreign policy and their March 26, 1993 press release was very explicit in that regard. So, this policy direction should not be overlooked and action in this area is to be expected.
It is important at this point to denounce holding a special debate on Canada's defence policy when the government has not yet tabled its new white paper on defence.
This position applies not only to the issue of cutting military bases but also to that of training centres for peacekeepers.
We, in the Bloc Quebecois, cannot approve the peacekeeper training centres initiative for several reasons.
First, it would be unrealistic to believe that countries from around the world or NATO members will send their troops to such centres for training. Who will pay the travelling expenses of international troops coming here to train and the costs of transporting their equipment? The UN does not have the resources to pay such costs. Furthermore, these international missions always have extremely tight deadlines. How can one reconcile these deadlines with a stay in Canadian training centres that will cause even further delay?
Second, as the minister was saying earlier, it has been demonstrated that Canadian peacekeepers are among the best trained in the world. So why create a training centre when our troops already enjoy exceptional training conditions on their existing bases? Why should we spend new money to move our troops, who are already training in the field, at less cost, for international missions?
Third, it is dishonest and hypocritical to argue that the creation of a training centre does not entail extra costs for the Canadian government. How can we say that, on one hand, we are cutting spending by the Department of National Defence and that, on the other hand, we are keeping military bases which should no longer be in use open for peacekeeper training. This contradictory message deserves to be challenged by the Bloc Quebecois.
Fourth, Quebec's military bases, Valcartier in particular, play a very important role in preparing Canadian troops for international peacekeeping missions. Encouraging the creation of training centres for peacekeepers-in Cornwallis, for example-effectively means the end of this type of activity on Quebec territory and the loss of significant economic resources. We have no choice but to oppose such measures, for the very foundation of defence department activity on Quebec territory may be affected.
The real solution to compensate communities that will be affected by defence spending cuts remains the establishment of defence conversion committees. The success of these conversion projects is totally dependent on local people taking in hand the economic resources offered by the government to compensate for losses caused by the termination of defence activity and to stimulate the economic diversification of the region affected by these changes.
We are proposing that priority be given to local and regional stakeholders in the military base conversion process. These local stakeholders are in the best position to know how to optimize resources and how to decide on economic diversification projects. We are also proposing that a plan be developed for the economic reallocation of buildings and facilities that will be closed by the Department of National Defence, and then that existing infrastructure be integrated into economic renewal projects put in place by local stakeholders.
Program management, preparation and planning must be transferred to local stakeholders to prevent the federal government from over-centralizing once again. In any case, it is likely that projects favoured by local people would be more valid than those coming from the federal government. In fact, a centralized approach may lead to excessive costs and again to the bureaucratization of government action. The federal government's action plan should not hinder local and community initiatives.
In conclusion, the Bloc Quebecois is reiterating its commitment to the cuts that must be made in the defence department's budget. In my speech, I pointed out several questionable expenses in a costly and demanding management system, and it would not be unreasonable to believe, like the Auditor General, that drastic changes must be made in this area.
Finally, the list of criteria for military base closures was compiled many years ago. Such closures must be done in a rational and irreproachable fashion. When we look at infrastructure, it is important to remember that Quebec only has 13 per cent of the defence department's capital assets. It would then be ill-advised to believe that Quebec bases can be reduced even further, as this would only aggravate Quebec's current disadvantage in this area. In addition, the bases in Bagotville, Valcartier, Saint-Jean and Montreal are operational and essential to military operations as they represent the minimum needed in Quebec.
In closing, I want to state once again my disagreement with the motion to create a joint committee. I would urge instead the government and the department of defence to simplify, instead of complicating, the defence policy review process.
I hope that the minister will have the political courage needed to rationalize the management of his department with intellectual honesty and the enlightened co-operation of all stakeholders.
I would like to commend, in closing, the commitment made by the hon. minister in his speech to carry out the rationalization everyone is hoping for.