Mr. Speaker, I rise today to take part in this debate. I noticed that the motion deals with the failure of this government to provide political leadership. I am very surprised to see that given the track record of this government. Clearly their definition of political leadership and ours is different.
I am going to be splitting my time with the member for Nepean—Carleton.
I want to highlight a couple of issues and specifically talk about the reserves. Since this government took office in 1994 it has restored public confidence and pride in the Canadian military. We have given the forces a clear mandate to change the way we do business and get a bigger bang for the buck.
In 1994 we produced the defence white paper. We cut the bureaucracy and reduced the number of top military brass. There was procurement reform and 3,000 more soldiers were added to the army. We increased the number of reservists to 30,000. We have re-equipped the forces. This is clearly leadership, not failure.
I am surprised that the hon. member across the way would put such a motion forth. I am not going to dwell on the record of the Conservative Party or the comments we heard during the election from the Reform Party. I want to talk about positive things.
We hear a lot of negatives in the House so I want to talk about the positive things this government has been doing, in particular the leadership we have shown with regard to the armed forces and in dealing with the issue of the reserves and the total force concept outlined in the 1994 white paper on defence.
Beginning with the first principle, reserves are value added because they are so deeply embedded in Canadian society and our Canadian traditions. The militia idea goes back to the earliest days of New France. Citizen soldiers fought off attacks on their country in the 1770s and again in the War of 1812. They were the backbone of national defence after the establishment of the modern Canadian state in 1867. They kept their skills alive at a time when Canadians wanted to think about anything but war.
We have a proud military tradition in this country. One just has to look back to the first world war, Vimy Ridge; the second world war, D-Day and the battle of the Atlantic; recently the Persian gulf. Canada has participated in over 40 peacekeeping operations. This is a record we can be proud of as Canadians.
Canadians fought and died in Korea between 1950 and 1953. They have shown bravery. They were the shock troops of Europe in the first and second world wars.
The reserves in particular are a bridge between the regular forces and the Canadian public. They are made up of the Canadian public all across this country. Most important of all, the reserves are a vital and relevant defence resource implicit in the message of the total force. The reserves are not a frill or some out moded luxury. They are a necessity, an integral part of the Canadian forces. They are able and expected to augment and sustain regular units or, in some cases, execute specific tasks not generally carried out by the regular forces.
The militia has since the 19th century provided individuals and entire units for the whole range of army imperatives. Naval reservists have major responsibility for coastal and harbour defence and naval control of shipping. The air reserve is creating a national pool of trained personnel to supply air force deployments at home and away.
The communication reserve has been a leader in the implementation of the total force. The Canadian Rangers provide a military profile in our vast north and other isolated areas of this country.
During operation recuperation when we met the storm of the century with the largest peacetime deployment of the Canadian forces in our history, the reserves were there. The reserves supplied fully one-quarter of the more than 16,000 military complement which carried out essential tasks in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick. The availability of these reservists demonstrates the value added effect of this service because we could not afford an additional 4,000 regulars to be available on such short notice for such emergencies. I know my hon. friend across the way would agree with that.
I am proud of what the reservists did during the ice storm of 1998 and what they did during the floods in Manitoba and in the Saguenay. I know hon. members feel the same delight as I feel that our men and women are cheered on the streets across this country for what they did.
As the chief of defence staff likes to remind us, the ice storm highlighted one of the Canadian forces' most essential roles, protecting the lives and possessions of Canadians in times of crisis.
I would be less than frank if I did not think and say that these recent operations in Canada have helped with restoring the contract of trust between Canadians and the forces. Reservists are every bit as important a part of this process as our regular forces.
When the government took office it very quickly made it a high priority to reform, modernize and upgrade the reserves as part of the program to improve the overall capacity and operational effectiveness of the entire force.
We need well trained and well equipped reservists, organized and cohesive and logical military structures which use resources more effectively than in the past.
I know it is easier to criticize than it is to provide solutions. The government has been providing solutions since 1994 on this issue. But again we will hear all the negatives. We will not hear the positives because of course that is not the job or the role of the opposition.
We have put a great deal of study into the restructuring of the reserves, including the convening of a special commission. The most complicated aspect of a restructuring program concerns the militia. We have decided to reorder the geographically based districts into brigade groups, organized along functional lines, again showing leadership.
The government is engaged in an evaluation program based on carefully thought out criteria and extensive consultation with the reserve constituency, notably honorary colonels of the reserve 2000 committee. The final decision will not be easy but I know that every effort will be made to make it fair and to make it equitable.
While the complex labour goes on the government has not stood still on other fronts. We have improved equipment available to reservists. The soldier project, Griffon helicopters for the 400 squadron at Borden and the 438 squadron at Saint-Hubert, and the delivery of maritime coastal defence vessels are some examples.
Over the past year we have introduced an improved pay and benefit package for reservists which, combined with the reserve force retirement gratuity, demonstrates the commitment to recognize and to compensate our citizen soldiers for their sacrifices.
With the assistance of the House of Commons Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs we are also examining in a comprehensive way the needs of people in the military. We must ensure we provide an appropriate level of support to the men and women of the forces and their families and that includes reservists. I know my friends and colleagues on the other side would agree with that.
The Canadian forces liaison council is making great strides in protecting civilian jobs and benefits of reservists. There are over 4,500 employees in the databank. Over 3,000 of them have stated their support of the reserves, while 1,800 have agreed to grant military leave to reserve employees.
Clearly we can be very proud of the work our reservists do. Concerning underrating and underutilizing reserves in the past, we are taking care of that. We find them indispensable and they have shown their commitment to their country.