Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Peterborough.
I am very pleased this afternoon to address this motion on the government's leadership with respect to the Canadian forces. I believe that the government has indeed shown tremendous leadership.
Last year the then Minister of National Defence published his report to the Prime Minister. That report, along with Chief Justice Dickson's report on military justice, contained 100 recommendations on how the Department of National Defence and the Canadian forces should move forward to change, to improve and to restore the pride and sense of purpose of the forces.
These reports recommended that action be taken in areas such as military discipline, value and ethics, leadership, the command and rank structure, operational missions, terms and conditions of service, the national headquarters and relations with the Canadian public.
The very comprehensive nature of these changes reflects the extent of the challenges we were facing. At that time the Department of National Defence and the forces were emerging from turbulent years. There were challenges to respond to successive budget cuts, personnel reductions and a very active slate of operations both at home and abroad.
Intense public scrutiny was taking its toll and resulted in the leadership, discipline, command and management, and even the honour of the Canadian forces being called into question. But since that time the Department of National Defence and the Canadian forces have been very busy implementing these recommendations and putting in place many other initiatives.
Before I describe those initiatives I would like to briefly mention some of the many initiatives the government took during its first mandate.
In 1994 the government established the special joint committee on Canada's defence policy of which I was a member. In response to that valuable report the government wrote the 1994 white paper on Canada's defence policy.
In 1995 it was this government that established the commission on restructuring the reserves. I am proud to say that I was chairman of the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs when we reviewed that commission's report. Since then the government has made numerous achievements in implementing necessary changes.
Closer to home, I wish to commend the minister for his commitment to Prince Edward Islanders when he announced the construction of a new naval reserve base in my riding of Hillsborough. This new base is now up and running and is recognition of the islanders' unwavering support for the Canadian forces.
I might just say that in 1939, the day war was declared, every one of the members of the HMCS Queen Charlotte volunteered for active duty.
Before I get carried away with the countless past initiatives, I should revert to the most recent examples of how the government has shown excellent leadership. To begin with, there is almost entirely a new leadership team. Solid leadership is essential to implementing reforms, and every one of these leaders has expressed their commitment to moving the agenda forward.
Another example of these changes is the NATO flying training in Canada program. Under this initiative, which was announced last November, industry partners will carry out most of the functions that are now handled by the defence organization. This project will significantly reduce the cost of training military pilots. It will also mean almost $1 billion in direct industrial benefits for this country.
These are just two types of changes, but there are other major areas of reform that show leadership. For example, the Minister of National Defence responded last October to the report of the Somalia commission of inquiry in a report very aptly entitled “A Commitment to Change”. This report addressed each of the commission's recommendations and indicated agreement with some 83% of them. Of the 28 recommendations that were not accepted, most of the underlying concerns have been or will be addressed in a different way than the commission members specified. But they will be addressed.
In many cases the commission's recommendations were already implemented and others have specific target dates for implementation.
The commission of inquiry requested that the minister report to parliament on the department's implementation of the commission's recommendations. In addition to this report, the minister has asked prominent Canadians to participate in the minister's monitoring committee on change, which will report semi-annually to him on the department's progress.
Another important initiative is amending the National Defence Act to allow for comprehensive change to the military justice system. These amendments, which were referred to the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs, will help to renew the Canadian forces by enhancing the transparency, fairness and effectiveness of the military justice system.
In fact, following this morning's very productive meeting, I expect a favourable report to the House to be forthcoming.
These amendments, the most comprehensive ever since the enactment of the NDA in 1950, clarify the roles and responsibilities of key figures in the military justice system and establish a clear separation between investigative, prosecutorial, defence and judicial functions. The amendments improve accountability and transparency by creating two oversight bodies, namely, the Military Police Complaints Commission and the Canadian Forces Grievance Board, both of whose reports will be tabled in parliament by the minister.
Implementing these reforms is all about being able to maintain multipurpose, combat-capable forces that are able to defend Canadian interests and contribute to international peace and security. Moreover, these reforms are also about ensuring the trust, respect and confidence of Canadians as the forces carry out these tasks.
Because the government believes this policy stands firm, it has also taken steps in the past year on certain white paper issues, such as equipping the forces. For example, among the various capital investments made under our leadership, the government is acquiring four Upholder class, diesel-electric submarines from the United Kingdom.
The government has also decided to purchase 15 search and rescue helicopters for the Canadian forces. The Cormorants have the power, speed and endurance to cope with the extreme weather conditions and vast distances that characterize Canada's unique and challenging search and rescue environment.
Of course, since last year there has been a very busy slate of operations, both at home and abroad.
I do not need to remind members about the natural disasters Canadians faced over the last year and that the Canadian forces took part in all of them. We have recently sent 50 Canadian forces personnel, including 16 reservists and some equipment, to help fight the terrible forest fires in Alberta.
At the same time as undertaking these domestic operations there have also been changes in the forces' international activities.
For example, just yesterday the minister announced that we are sending 20 to 30 personnel and 10 specialized front-end loaders to Italy to assist in the clean-up of the devastating mudslides in the area of Sarno, Italy.
Last December members of the forces returned from serving with the United Nations mission in Haiti, where they assisted in sustaining a secure and stable environment.
Recently Canada agreed to participate in two new missions. In February the government announced that Canada would send the patrol frigate HMCS Toronto and two KC-130 Hercules tactical air-to-air refuelling planes to the gulf as Canada's contribution to possible military action against Iraq. The government has also approved Canadian participation in a new three-month United Nations peace support mission in Central Africa.
From what I have described so far we can see that a great deal of work has been done over the last year. Changes are being made on every front. I believe these changes have demanded strong and effective leadership from the government.
These are changes that will improve transparency and accountability, changes that will improve the quality of life for members of the forces, changes that will ensure the forces can continue to do the job that the government has assigned to them.
I believe that the government has indeed shown and will continue to show leadership with respect to the Canadian forces and it should be commended for that.