Mr. Speaker, I want to indicate at the outset that I will be sharing my time with the member Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore who is the NDP defence critic and a very capable one.
Before I move to the motion before us, it is appropriate to acknowledge that the member for Saint John, who introduced this motion, has been a tireless, inveterate champion of the needs of men and women of Canada's military service. I want to also say, because I do not get a chance to do this very often, that the same can also be said of my colleague, the defence critic for the NDP, the member for Sackville--Musquodoboit Valley--Eastern Shore.
On repeated occasions in the House, and again and again before his caucus colleagues, he has championed the need of veterans, the shabby treatment that veterans have received from the government. He has championed the needs of families of military personnel, who all too often have lived in shabby housing and have tried to make ends meet. Some of them have had to go to food banks because of inadequate pay. He has championed the cause of military personnel returning from overseas deployment, often stricken with diseases arising out of their overseas assignments or post-traumatic stress disorders. He has also and continues to champion the military women and men who are in active service on behalf of Canada today.
I listened with care to the Minister of National Defence in his earlier participation in this debate. I heard him say--and I am not sure this is an exact quote but I jotted down the sense of what he said--that when we send armed forces personnel into harm's way, we must be sure that they are properly equipped to fulfill the duties that are assigned to them on behalf of their country. I cannot imagine a single member of the House who would not agree with that statement. I cannot imagine a single Canadian who would think that we should be sending the men and women of our armed forces into harm's way without them being properly supported to fulfill their duties.
That was a rather general statement, a vague and meaningless statement. It really does not commit us to much of anything, not as a Parliament, not members opposite as a government and not the Canadian people.
I want to turn my attention to the motion that is before us. I actually endorse heartily the sentiment that stands behind the motion before us, which is much like the sentiment expressed by the Minister of Defence, that our armed forces personnel must be supported to do their jobs. However it is a bit ironic that the motion itself tends to be sufficiently vague as to be not very meaningful. It certainly is not very specific in terms of the steps or orderly procedure the government must take to act responsibly and fulfill its commitment to the armed forces personnel who serve their country proudly and all Canadian people.
I find the motion troublesome because it is very vague. It fails to mention the government's first priority in a very specific way. The government has failed to act on the recommendation of the parliamentary defence committee to conduct a full review to build public consensus on Canada's foreign policy and, within the context of that foreign policy, the support and commitment to our armed forces personnel who must be able to discharge their responsibilities in the context of that foreign policy.
If the motion were just vague I think we could all support it because it would not mean anything anyway. However, if the motion were to be supported by all members of the House, including government members, it might, in a very unfortunate way, let the government off the hook from getting on with what needs to be done, which is a thorough and comprehensive foreign policy review, how our armed forces fits within that policy and how it will be able support our commitments internationally.
I am not interested in letting the government off the hook. We need to unite and, I would think unanimously, to call upon the government to carry out that full discussion about our role in terms of international relations and our defence policy.
I have a third reason for finding the motion before us in its current form to be particularly troublesome this week. Last Wednesday the finance minister appeared in Halifax to talk about the state of the nation's finances and about the priorities for the future. Despite the fact that we are now in the fifth year of budget surplus, that we are way ahead in terms of debt reduction, of where the government's own plan would have had us if the performance of the economy and debt reduction had occurred based on its plan, the Minister of Finance declared we were projecting a budget surplus of $1 billion.
I know it is not specifically cited by the motion, but the recommendation of the defence committee was that there should be an increase in defence spending in each of the next three successive years of $1.3 billion. I think the government is low balling the projected surplus. I do not think there is any question about that. Even if it is remotely correct about a projected surplus of $1 billion, what does it mean to have a motion today that is so vague as not to talk about any facts and figures that relate to a specific international affairs consensus in the country with the military budget that is needed to support our responsibilities? What does it mean when it does not relate to specific expenditures? That is a problem enough. However, what in the name of heavens would it mean if the motion were construed to mean that yes, an absolute minimum of $1.3 billion in each of three successive years must be spent no matter what? It would have the effect of a unanimous resolution in the House, despite the fact that we have a very severe crisis in health care, because of billions and billions of dollars ripped out of our health care system and a royal commission about to make recommendations of how we remedy this; despite the fact that we have commitments internationally in conjunction with the Kyoto protocol that are critically important that we act on.
In the long run the investment will save money in becoming a more sustainable society. However, in the short run are we serious about saying that if there is a $1 billion budget surplus that just in the next year $1.3 billion needs to be spent on defence and not a cent toward our health deficit, our post-secondary education deficit, our severe housing deficit or our continuing disgraceful degree of child poverty?
I think the motion lacks specificity which, I say regretfully, makes it very difficult to support such an open-ended motion and one that is not lodged in the context of these two very important public policy matters. What will be Canada's commitment internationally and the defence requirements attached to it, and what will be the fiscal framework for addressing the deficiencies with respect to our support for the military?
Heaven knows, we are four square in our commitment to replace the Sea Kings right off the top, but we have no indication of what of the plan is within our responsible framework. We certainly are not in a position to make commitments without there being a fiscal framework within which we are making responsible choices among responsible priorities.
We support the sentiment that is behind the motion. However we would have a difficult time rationalizing support for it for the reasons I outlined.