Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today and comment on the motion moved by our friends in the Progressive Conservative Party and provide the Bloc Quebecois' position. Each time a motion is presented before us, we as legislators must put things in context and ask ourselves about overall priorities.
As legislators we are called to vote on a number of different issues here in the House, including those related to national defence, but also on all of the federal government's responsibilities. In the current context, we are being asked to increase funding for National Defence.
This morning, I was looking at a study done by the Canadian Council on Social Development. According to the study, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of children living in poverty in Canada since 1989. I would like to remind the House that in 1989, the government said it would solve this problem once and for all. In fact, the number of poor children in Canada has risen steadily since 1989. Many people may say that this has nothing to do with the issue that we are discussing today; however, as legislators, we must realize that if we put more money into one area, other areas suffer. This is the kind of choice we must routinely make.
If I were to ask parents of poor families if they thought there was more need for money in the form of transfers to the provinces, rather than for National Defence, I am sure that 90% of them would say, “We want help. We believe that National Defence is less important”. This is what polls indicate.
I do not mean to say that there are not needs at National Defence. I have been the defence critic for two years now, and I am fully aware of the department's needs. However, when it comes to voters—those watching us from home, or listening from work—polling indicates that when we ask them if this spending is necessary, they do not think that it is. Voters would rather we solve the problems with employment insurance and the premiums they have to pay. They do not think they should have to pay so much, but that would mean less money for the government. There are always choices to make.
They are calling for more money, but the cabinet is reticent to give more money for National Defence. I would say to the government that if it stopped interfering in areas of provincial jurisdiction and looked after its own areas of jurisdiction, it would have an easier time finding money.
If we look at this government's interference with the millennium scholarships, and in Quebec, with the Canadian flags, the Minister of Canadian Heritage inundating Quebec Canadian flags, not to mention the sponsorship scandal, there are costs involved. The government is handing out substantial amounts to its friends, especially in Quebec. I think that 70% of the money invested in the sponsorships was designed to convince Quebeckers of how great the federal system is. If the government spent less on invading provincial jurisdictions, and investing it in exclusively federal areas, its own jurisdictions, perhaps we would not need to have this kind of debate here.
Moving to the political component of national defence.The current defence policy has been in place since 1994. The fundamental question we must ask ourselves is: can we afford to do everything? When I say “everything”, the white paper on defence was clear. It mentioned three or four very important missions. I think the international role ought to be maintained. Participating in peacekeeping missions is important, and it is Canada's role to meet such international obligations.
There are many ways of ensuring the defence of this country. The navy defends the country through maritime patrols; the air force defends the country through NORAD and through airspace control over North America. Disaster relief is also very important in this country. I think for example of what happened in the Lac-Saint-Jean area, or in my own riding during the ice storm. We were proud and relieved to see Canadian troops come and lend a hand when we needed them.
But when we look at the overall mission of DND, we can wonder how many more billions would be necessary. I will remind hon. members that in response to a question I put to him last week regarding the use that would be made of the money, the Minister of Defence candidly said he did not know yet what exactly it would be used for.
I agree that there is a lot to do. There are many gaps to plug, because it is true that things are not going well at the Department of National Defence. However, it is a matter of priority.
Where are we going to invest? If we give an additional $2 billion or $3 billion to the Minister of National Defence, where exactly is that money going to go? Where are we going to begin to plug the gaps?
I fully agree that the Department of National Defence does not have enough money. Just think about the navy. At present, and this is no joke, there are ships that cannot put out to sea simply because there is a shortage of seamen. These ships remain in the ports, they cannot leave because there are not enough seamen in the Canadian Navy.
As for the air force, in 1994, the Department of National Defence said that it was important to take part in the defence of Canada's air space. At the time, 120 F-18s were bought. Now, we will be left with 80, because there is not enough money to maintain 120. Worse still, the F-18s that are being mothballed will be cannibalized. This means that some components will be removed from them and installed on other aircraft. As we can see, the air force is also experiencing problems.
Similarly, everyone agrees that the army is also running out of energy. I can personally attest to that, because I had the honour of spending time with the Royal 22nd Regiment last year. I spent time in Bosnia with members of that regiment. This was a unique opportunity to talk to soldiers and officers. These people are running out of energy. They leave on far away missions, for long periods of time. The core of the issue is the frequency of these postings.
From 1960 to 1980, I believe there were about 20 international missions. Since then, there have been close to 80. These people are sent abroad for six months, they come back home for a short period of time and then they are sent back again, often on a peacekeeping mission or on a more aggressive operation, such as the one in Afghanistan. So, it is obvious that the army also has a problem.
Lastly, the demand is virtually endless. The Americans invest some $400 billion yearly in defence, while Canada, a country ten times smaller, invests some $11.8 billion. Proportionately speaking, the equivalent for Canada might be $40 billion for National Defence. Obviously, however, public opinion might well be opposed to that. A jump from $11.8 billion to $40 billion is barely feasible; it would mean close to 25% of the budget for National Defence. That is absolutely impossible.
Some policy decisions will have to be made, therefore. At the moment, the government is being faulted for making policy choices on a case by case basis. When some disaster arises and some need absolutely has to be met, then the reaction is “we'll put some money there” and then then they shuffle the financial deck again at National Defence, with its $11.8 billion budget.
We feel that this ad hoc method can no longer be continued, because it is a bottomless pit. Before investing any more money, Quebeckers and Canadians need to be asked what they expect of the army. In the end, it is the taxpayers who decide. It is not up to the member for Saint John, the member for Halifax, or the member for Calgary East. Nor is it up to the Minister of National Defence alone.
It must be understood, once and for all, that in a democratic system the citizen is the one who pays the bills. It is the people working today, those who see on their cheque stubs on a Friday that they have paid so many hundreds or thousands to the government. They are the ones to decide what kind of army they want in Canada.
The government, however, has a responsibility to tell them “This is how we see it” and to submit various scenarios to them. The public can then react and say “We, as taxpayers, think that makes sense.” This is not often done. The only things the taxpayer sees written up in the newspapers are scandals.
Speaking of scandals, I would invite the minister to exercise greater control over his department. There are scandals. This morning, we learned that $8.5 million was spent to send submariners to England to learn how to operate submarines.
As for those submarines, that is a whole other matter. We purchased old British submarines. Personally, I do not believe that Victoria class submarines can be considered the latest. These are old British submarines and we have had all sorts of problems with them. Every time they go out to sea, they have to come back to dry dock for repairs.
We may wonder, with respect to a new National Defence policy, if we need submarines. This is a significant expense for the department. The problem is that decisions are being made based on the white paper from 1994, and a great deal has changed in the past 8 years, particularly since the events of September 11.
Everything has changed. Even the Canadian army's special forces are evolving, which was not the case in 1994, because they did not yet exist back then. They did exist, but very minimally. In 1994, Canada's armed forces were viewed quite differently from the way they should be viewed today. For these reasons, I wonder if we really should be proceeding on a case by case basis.
There is also the whole debate about specialization. This is something that is even being debated at NATO. I will be accompanying the minister to Prague in two weeks, and I thank him for the opportunity. Clearly we cannot ask Lithuania or Estonia, which are small countries, to make as big a contribution as the United States, whose NATO contribution exceeds everyone else's. We cannot ask that of them.
More and more people are asking, “Could we not specialize”? Similarly, we could ask ourselves this legitimate question in Canada. Could we not specialize in certain areas?
There are many options and, unfortunately, decisions are made on a case by case basis. When something happens, we say, “We must invest here, so let us cut there”. But, if Canadian voters had a choice, it should be the government's legitimate choice. The government should listen to the taxpayers and challenge the idea that the Canadian Forces must do everything. Do we need this many ships to patrol three oceans? Do we need submarines capable of patrolling under the polar ice cap? We must not forget this is what they will used for as well. Do the Canadian Forces still need tanks? Will there ever be another war in which Russian tanks will face American and Canadian tanks? We could ask ourselves this kind of questions.
The military doctrine has changed. Many things have changed. Do we still need as many F-18s to patrol Canadian airspace and North American airspace? These are questions we must ask ourselves. There may be many people who disagree with the minister.
As regards the army—and this is very good for that force—people have a great deal of respect for what we call peacekeeping missions. They are somewhat less impressed by aggressive missions, such as in Afghanistan. There is unquestionably a sense of pride, and if we ask these troops to take part in an aggressive mission, they will certainly do so. It is their job. They are capable of doing it, even though their turn comes again very quickly.
As regards peacekeeping missions, most Canadians agree that this is one of our areas of specialization, even though Canada may now rank 30 in terms of what we contribute to such missions.
However, Canadians, and particularly Quebeckers, are much more peaceful and they have no problems with peacekeeping missions. They would be prepared to say “We will regularly take part in peacekeeping missions”. This is one type of specialization. This may require a reallocation of resources from one area to another. It may also require a budget increase.
If the government explains very clearly to voters the reason why it is asking for a budget increase, and if it is for a legitimate reason and the public agrees, then the minister could legally and legitimately go forward. However, this is not what is happening. The government is using a piecemeal approach. If we must send troops to Iraq tomorrow, resources may be taken from elsewhere, as was done in the past, including from fixed assets or future projects.
I want to go back to another very important example. I am referring to Sea King helicopters. As regards replacement, they actually made two calls for tenders: one for the platform and one for the integrated system. For the benefit of those who are listening to us on television, it is as if one said “I will order a Chrysler, but I will put a Ford system in it”.
According to current studies, this will cost $400 million more and a number of companies say they are not sure it will work. Certain things that have happened within the department as a result need looking carefully into by the minister.
I have already referred to the $8.5 million for the people to learn about submarine operation in England. Then there is the $400 million for helicopters, and I am sure there are other places at DND where the minister could put things in order a bit.
Before getting involved in any kind of injection of cash, it is important that the House of Commons form some idea of what the voters want. Once choices have been made, the government will be able to say what the cost will be and how it will move its money around in order to respect the public's wishes. That is how things need to be looked at. It is up to the public to decide what kind of society they want to have.
The conclusion, in my opinion, is obvious. If the 200,000 families living in poverty were asked whether they agreed with investing in the armed forces, or would rather see transfer payments to the provinces make their lives easier, I think they would opt for the latter.
The government will have the very weighty responsibility of submitting things to the taxpayers that will gain their approval, and get them saying “Yes, I agree with paying for that”. After, when the government goes ahead, the taxpayers' reaction will be “We got value for money, and we are very pleased. That is what we want our army to be like”.
Certainly, the government will have to make some strong arguments. Like it or not, national defence is not high on people's list of priorities. If the government wants to improve that, it will have to explain the kind of army it wants, listen to the public, and then take steps to ensure that those views are reflected in what it does with the Canadian Forces.
I will be pleased to respond to questions from my colleagues. I trust that I have made a worthwhile contribution to this debate.