Mr. Speaker, I move that the first report of the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs presented to the House on Tuesday, March 20, be concurred in.
It is with mixed emotions that I rise today to speak to this motion as it concerns an issue very much in the minds of all Canadians.
The procurement process to replace the Sea King helicopters is one that we have followed for some time but that has only recently seized the attention of the House of Commons.
It was last May 18 that my colleague, the hon. member for Compton—Stanstead, raised the prospect of this government using the contract for political means. At that time, and then an opposition member, my colleague, suggested that the government had a secret agenda, an agenda that involved a specific company. The government said that my colleague's claims were laughable. The government said that there was no plan to place one competitor above another.
Only three months ago the government introduced a procurement process that was biased in favour of one company only. The process introduced called for the lowest price compliant bid to win the day, not taking into account whatsoever fleet commonality or, more important, better value. This was when the treasury board's own guidelines specifically urged all government departments to abide by a best value criteria when launching a procurement process.
I have been told that in the strict legal interpretation of Treasury Board guidelines 9.1.1 and 9.1.2, no laws have been broken. However I must ask a question. Why did the government choose to avoid the generally accepted practices that have guided our military purchases in the past?
No matter whether it was a Liberal or Conservative government in the past, it never followed those types of guidelines. We have been told that it was to expand the number of Canadian bidders. Yet in retrospect it is clear that only one wholly owned Canadian company is in serious competition for any of the related contracts.
That takes me to the second problem I have with this contract, which is the fact that the government chose to split the contract into two parts, one for the basic vehicle and another for the critical mission systems. If I wanted to play politics with this one, like some of my colleagues are, I would vote for that because it would create some jobs in the province of New Brunswick.
When I was taken out to dinner by the company I said that I would only have a bowl of soup because no one buys me with dinner. No one buys me with anything. To this date, no one does. I guarantee that.
I want to also say right here and now that when it comes to the men and women who wear uniforms, we should take the politics out of it. We should give them the tools to do their jobs.
I am not an engineer. I do not have a full appreciation of the technical difficulties that might come to pass as a result of buying two independent products. However we all know the reason this is being done. It is for political reasons because in 1993 the government of the day cancelled the EH-101 and wasted $800 million.
From what we have been told, this is the first such split contract of its kind since the House of Commons has been in place. The assistant deputy minister responsible said that this was the first of its kind, which seems to me to be a very risky proposition. We must give our Canadian Armed Forces the best equipment to do their jobs, not only because it is the right thing to do but because we give them complicated tasks that always put them in harm's way.
I am unsure of the ethical or moral reasons that we would put in place a procurement process that would buy the cheapest helicopter but not necessarily the best. I have for some time asked the government to reconsider the procurement process. One potential bidder, E.H. Industries Ltd., has gone to the length of filing a complaint with both the Canadian International Trade Tribunal and the Federal Court of Appeal on this matter. The company believes that by facing this competition on the lowest price alone, it is at a significant disadvantage.
The House will recall that it was E.H. Industries that manufactured the EH-101 purchased by the previous government. I am sure the House will recall that in the election of 1993, as I have stated, the issue of EH-101 featured prominently in all debates. The House will certainly recall that the Prime Minister held his pen up high and said that he would purchase no new helicopters. Zero helicopters is what was said.
It seems very strange that the only red book promise that has been kept by this government was the one promise that related to these helicopters. The GST, free trade and a range of other promises were quickly forgotten.
I hope the government is not choosing to instigate a procurement process that would prejudice E.H. Industries' helicopter, the Cormorant, solely on the basis that it was the successful bidder 10 years ago.
What makes this issue so important to us all is that the helicopters currently in use are so dangerous. Some of the pilots have already lost their lives, just outside my city. Some of the parents of the pilots came to see me. They asked me to take up their cause and force the government's hand in this regard.
The Sea Kings have given yeoman service to this country for almost 40 years, and they have earned their retirement. I have great compassion for the men and women in uniform who must use the Sea Kings on a daily basis.
The Minister of National Defence has repeatedly said that unsafe helicopters will not fly, but cannot explain why our choppers go down in places like Hawaii, East Timor, and even on the coast of Nova Scotia. If we cannot predict when a Sea King is safe, how then do we know which ones to fly? How can the minister make this guarantee?
At the end of the day, I believe the Minister of National Defence and the Minister of Public Works and Government Services will have a lot to answer for in this process. I believe the Canadian people are sick and tired of the government playing politics when it should be watching the backs of our Canadian forces personnel and doing what is right for them.
When I was mayor of Saint John I did a number of major capital purchases, so I can speak with some experience when I say that this contract process is wrong. It is unfair and places bidders at a significant disadvantage. Whenever we have the public challenges to a procurement process, as we have seen with the maritime helicopter program, we know that something is amiss.
I am pleased, therefore, that in the next sitting of our parliament the other place will undertake a committee of the whole to review this entire process. I applaud our colleagues in the other place for their diligence to duty and their courage. It is my hope that in the consideration of the Sea King and the challenges we face in replacing them, we look in the mirror and recognize we have a duty larger than just helping out some of our friends.
Page 30 of the procurement study also refers to the fact that the Government of Canada should convene a national round table on shipbuilding in Canada with a view to establishing a national shipbuilding policy. We brought that report in asking for a national shipbuilding policy in June 2000. We said there should be a naval shipyard in Canada where we would build all our navy ships. We should not be buying used submarines in London, England, only to find out they cannot float, then pay $800 million to try to get them to float. That is an insult to our men and women in uniform.
Having sat on the defence committee since 1993, I am really worried when I see what the government has done and the politics it has played with our military. The duty of government is clear. The recommendations of this all party procurement study by the Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs are clear, and our job is very clear. There was unanimous all party support for the procurement study of June 2000, yet here it is June 2001, a year later, and the government did not even listen to its own people who chaired the committee.
I say let us do what is right. The government has not done anything that is right when it comes to the military. Men who flew home from Kosovo were asked to take their boots off so they could be given to those men who were getting on the planes to fly to Kosovo. If we cannot afford a pair of boots for our men and women in the military, that is a shame.
I am ashamed of what we are doing with the helicopter procurement process which is being used. I ask the government today to please take the politics out of it, put out a tender, allow everyone to bid, and then bring in its recommendations.