moved that Bill C-232, an act to facilitate participation in the reserve force, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Madam Speaker, I rise today on behalf of the people of Okanagan—Coquihalla to speak to my private member's Bill C-232, the citizen soldier act. This bill will entitle employees of the federal government to a period of leave not exceeding two months annually for the purpose of training in the Canadian Armed Forces reserve. This legislation does not affect the private sector and private sector employers.
The question of legislating employers to allow training time for reservists with full time employment has been a contentious issue for some time now and, in particular, since the increased contributions in military activity since the early 1980s.
In response to the problem a national organization called the Canadian Armed Forces Liaison Council was designed. It was first established in 1978 with a goal that was not aggressive enough to accomplish its mandate of bringing more employers into agreement with allowing reservists to participate in the Canadian Armed Forces reserve.
In 1992 it was reorganized, given its present name and a new, more challenging mandate. The Canadian forces liaison council's mandate not only includes promoting reserves to the business community, but also advances reservists' concerns to business and works directly with employers in the area of recruitment.
The Canadian forces liaison council has been very successful. More than 3,000 employers have indicated their support of the reserve force in writing, including more than 1,700 who have adopted a military leave policy.
Some employers also pay the difference between military and civilian pay and other employers are even giving two additional weeks' leave for courses in the reserve.
I acknowledge that the Canadian forces liaison council has done a wonderful job. However, its role has been limited to the private sector and there is room for improvement, in particular when it comes to the need for the federal government to take a leadership role in allowing its employees to participate in reserve training.
This first came to my attention in 1994 when the then chief of defence staff, General John de Chastelain, appeared before the special joint committee reviewing Canada's defence policy.
When I posed a question to the chief of the defence staff on this issue he told the committee that the federal government was the worst offender in allowing training time for reservists.
Again in 1995, after the report on restructuring the reserves was presented to the Minister of National Defence and then to the House committee on defence and veterans affairs, I asked the members of the commission, the three commissioners, again to confirm whether or not the federal government was playing a proactive role in allowing reservists the training time they required to participate in the Canadian Armed Forces. Again they agreed with me that the Government of Canada, the federal government, the largest employer in our nation, was not in fact promoting reserve friendly policies in office protocol.
There it is. A contradiction exists. On the one hand the government encourages private sector employers to have their employees participate in reserve training through the Canadian forces liaison council. On the other hand, public service employees are not receiving that same encouragement. Bill C-232 addresses that discrepancy.
When surveying different defence associations across the country about my bill, I received a letter from Lieutenant Colonel D.W. Wright, representing the Royal Canadian Armoured Corps Association. He said that the Government of Canada has provided for limited military leave within the Public Service Staff Relations Act. Employees are permitted to receive a leave of absence for military duty and may elect to receive either their government salary or their military per diem.
He goes on to say that, unfortunately, the regulation is permissive rather than directive and most often thwarted by supervisors who exercise the ultimate discretion.
I will repeat that because it is very important and very disturbing for people who wish to serve their country through the reserve force. He said that the policy is most often thwarted by supervisors in the federal government who exercise the ultimate discretion. Therefore that means the reservists must devote their annual holidays which they have earned through their work with the federal government to meet their training obligations.
It is with this poor record of the federal government in mind that I introduced Bill C-232. This bill does not attempt to supersede the fine work done by the Canadian forces liaison council in the Canadian business community.
The Minister of National Defence, through the Canadian forces liaison council, would still be able to negotiate with private sector employers training time for private sector reservists. This bill does not affect them in any way, shape or form. What it does is directly attempt to address the poor record of the federal government when it comes to reserve training. With Bill C-232 I hope to accomplish three fundamental things: one, to enhance participation in the Canadian Armed Forces reserve; two, to ensure reservists receive the training required for effective augmentation of the regular forces; and third, to lay the groundwork for a national mobilization plan for Canada.
Participation in the reserves can benefit employers tenfold. Through their part time military experience reservists acquire many skills that are transferable to their jobs, including leadership, discipline and loyalty. Often reservists acquire special technical skills which they can use in their specific trade or profession in their civilian life.
Many employers have discovered the tremendous value of reserve training and education as their employees become more productive, more capable and highly motivated. All they ask in return from their employer is to train and upgrade through their military qualifications.
In the past few years Canadians have had the opportunity to examine firsthand the role reservists play domestically and internationally. I thought I would take just a few moments to talk about those instances.
Most recently, of course, the ice storm in eastern Canada required the deployment of some 4,000 reservists to the provinces of Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick to assist in humanitarian relief.
Similarly, last year's floods in the Red River Valley required the deployment of some 500 reservists.
On the international scene, 800 UN peacekeepers, or 20% of Canada's entire UN commitment during the UNPROFOR mission in Yugoslavia were reservists, part time soldiers, citizen soldiers.
In 1993 it is interesting to note that Canadian soldiers fought their biggest battle since the Korean war. The battle in the Medak pocket pitted Canadian personnel and French troops against the war-hardened Croatian army. More than half of that proud troop was made up of citizen soldiers, reservists from the militia in Canada.
The Canadians won the battle. It was a true success for our Canadian Armed Forces, for reservists and for the total force operation.
Reservists continue to play an important role in the Canadian Armed Forces as part of the total force. They serve with distinction domestically and internationally and remain a vital link between the Canadian military and society at large.
The federal government, as Canada's largest employer, should create an environment where individuals can explore service in the reserves and serve their country. For example, militia units generally are made up with over 60% of their soldiers being either students, seasonal workers or unemployed persons. These soldiers have very few problems when it comes to finding the necessary time to train. However, once the militia reservist has finished their schooling and finds a full time job, the reality is that their priorities change. They tend to quit the reserves, quit the militia unit, and go into civilian life. They see this option as being easier than juggling their lives to ensure time for work, friends and the militia. These soldiers, in a way, are being punished for trying to keep a regular job and a regular life while trying to serve the government and Canada as well.
This bill is designed to enhance participation in the reserve from all walks of life, not just from the ranks of students and the unemployed. The federal government must take a leading role in facilitating participation in the Canadian Armed Forces reserve. As an employer, government departments and agencies can help individuals balance their careers with a desire to serve their country.
This attitude will filter down to smaller private sector employers. This is a very important point. One of the reasons for this bill is leadership by example. We want the federal government to do what the federal government is asking the private sector to do through the Canadian Armed Forces liaison council.
This will have two dramatic impacts. First, many working Canadians will have the opportunity to consider serving their country part time in the reserves. Second, the reserves and the armed forces in general will benefit from the new pool of skilled tradesmen and people with new abilities entering the Canadian Armed Forces.
Bill C-232 will entitle employees of the federal government a period not exceeding two months annually for training or service in the reserves. I will talk for a moment about the two month period which I have suggested. It is a length of time not to exceed two months.
I picked the two month period because the first training course a reservist must take is the general military training course. It is commonly referred to as recruit training. Some of us would call it boot camp. It is an eight week course and new recruits must successfully complete the course in order to continue service in the militia.
Reservists may receive their recruit training on weekends. Usually it is over an extended period of time, about six months in length. They have to attend recruit training every weekend, or it is offered on an eight week summer course.
Many people interested in serving with the reserves have been unable to commit to the eight week period during the summer, especially when they are employed full time. Some are unable to give up their weekends for a six month period. Others cannot get permission from their employers to take the summer course. Therefore service in the reserves is not an option for these people at this time.
Bill C-232 will enable employees of the federal government and crown corporations to take the initial eight week recruit training course. This will open up the reserve option to many working Canadians who previously could not take that course.
This does not mean that the reservists will want a two month training period every year. In fact reservists would not even have the opportunity to take two months a year. They would still have to apply for a course. They would have to meet a certain criteria. Most of the courses available to the reserves are not eight weeks in duration. In fact the normal period is about two weeks and that is why in my bill I specifically say up to an eight week period.
There are essentially three types of reserve service. Class a is a part time status which involves working one or two nights at the local community armoury and working on some weekends. Training cannot consist of more than 12 full consecutive days. Class b and class c services involve longer periods of continuous reserve employment.
The important point to note is that except for the initial training course most other training and specialty courses are two weeks in duration.
Another important point in my bill is forced generation. If Canada is realistically to look at the mobilization plan outlined in the 1994 white paper, a policy such as this one would have to be put in place.
I would ask for unanimous consent of the House for Bill C-232 to be votable.