Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in this debate and to follow my colleague from Nova Scotia, who is a diligent defender of the military, as is the mover of the motion, the member for Saint John. She has consistently and persistently been a champion for the men and women of the Canadian armed forces.
For a number of reasons I am pleased to take part in this debate. The motion itself is one which I think sheds a dismal light on the current record of the Liberal government with respect to the Canadian armed forces. I believe there are a number of issues that arise from that record and have to be identified, but more important, where do we go from here? What do we do to improve the lives of and the situation for our men and women in the armed forces?
As it has been noted, we are preparing this week to recognize our veterans on November 11. It is a great reminder of the incredible sacrifice that the men and women of the armed forces have made over the course of our country's long and proud history. For it was on the fields and blood-soaked beaches of Europe and other foreign lands that Canada earned its hard-fought and formidable reputation. The theme for this year's Veterans' Week, which officially begins tomorrow, is “Remembering Our Past, Preserving Our Future”. It is a fitting theme and one to which I would encourage government members in particular to pay close attention.
Time and time again we have heard members of the Canadian armed forces, members of the opposition, Senate committees, former generals and, most recently, even the Minister of National Defence discuss the need for greater funding for our military. The shape in which the government has left our forces in the past number of years gives me pause to reflect on and question the very future of our military. As we look this week at the past achievements of veterans across the great nation in which we live, as we recognize the sacrifices they made in our stead, as we enjoy the freedoms that were afforded to us because of those sacrifices, we should also look to the future and we should do everything we possibly can to address the most dangerous shortfall in defence spending that the country has faced in years.
The sad reality is that the current Prime Minister and his record are sort of the political equivalent of a posthole digger. I say that because the more he takes away, the bigger the hole becomes, and the bigger the hole becomes, the more ground that will have to be made up by the military. This situation, this atrophy that has occurred within the military, is going to take some time to remedy. It is not going to be one big budgetary influx that will allow our military to make up the lost ground.
Some of the startling statistics have already been put on the record but bear repeating. The current Auditor General's report suggests, and this is based on a defence analysis which goes into some detail, that the operational budget of the Canadian armed forces is facing shortfalls of approximately $1.3 billion a year. That, added to the knowledge that we have about $7 billion that has been removed from the Canadian military budget since the government came to office, is truly startling when one looks on the other side of the equation, at how much the military has been able to accomplish, not because of the government but in spite of the government.
The ability of the men and women of the Canadian armed forces to adapt and to do more with less, and the ability that they have to recognize the importance of the task that they have been given, is once again cause for us to stop and reflect and give praise to those brave individuals.
Defence spending has been reduced by 23%, or 30% in real terms, during the government's tenure. Personnel levels have fallen by almost 18,000 since 1993. Reservists have fallen by almost 10,000 during that same time period. The army lost a brigade group of 6,200 reservists and has faced regular personnel problems given the high operational tempo of the last decade. The navy lost 3,500 sailors. The air force lost 7,100 members and went from 260 combat aircraft to 140 and from 128 armed helicopters to 30. The Canadian Forces is facing acute shortages in specialized trades, including pilots, engineers, doctors and various technical trades. Defence spending fell from 1.7% of GDP in 1994 to the current 1.1% today, ranking seventeenth in NATO.
This is all factual statistic information that is not partisan. It is simply information of which Canadian should be made aware. Despite the obvious need, which even the Minister of National Defence has now acknowledged, the department likely will not receive a substantial infusion of resources, given the efforts by the new finance minister to downplay the expectations and the Prime Minister's skewed priorities and pathetic look for some sort of legacy.
After being starved for resources by the government and while facing increasing demands, the Canadian Forces are likely to be victimized again as the internal leadership and the legacy politics of the Liberal Party will obviously trump the need of our soldiers.
This is all to say that when the budget does come down in February, March or whenever the government gets around to doing it, even with all this information available and with the outcry from the many groups, including armed forces personnel have made, it would appear that this is simply not registering.
The federal government has overlooked the needs of the Canadian armed forces for so long, yet we continue to see the human effects that this partisan and callous decision making process by the government has had. A majority of the equipment is in need of upgrading and replacement. The men and women are forced to operate on shoestring budgets.
One of the most heart-rending and gut wrenching experiences I have had as a member of Parliament was when I was approached by a former member of the military who came to my office. He literally had tears in his eyes as he discussed the shame and the lack of morale the armed forces personnel faced when they had to go into a combat zone in Afghanistan with forest green uniforms in a desert setting. He discussed the danger in which that put them and the target that they represented as they stood out in those forest green uniforms against a desert background. The solution of the government was to send them capes, or that they borrow uniforms from the personnel of other countries or that they take paint and put it on their uniforms.
We have a manufacturer, Wear Well Garments, headed by Stirling MacLean. Mr. MacLean offered quite generously to shut down his operations and to manufacture those uniforms if the Canadian government would provide the material and the specs that were needed. That was denied. That would have allowed them to have uniforms in very short order to address this obvious shortcoming and negligent decision that was made by the department.
The lack of funds and the continual use of aging material prevents replacement and long term repair. Just the upkeep also becomes extremely expensive. We need only look at the record of the government in terms of the aging Sea King helicopters. These helicopters spend far more time undergoing repairs than they do in the air. As the senate committee on Canadian security and military preparedness found, the level of funding for national defence is insufficient to meet the many tasks assigned to our military.
The Sea King helicopter program has become the symbol of just how bad it is. The cancellation of that program alone cost over $500 million without factoring in the benefits that would have come from taking delivery of those helicopters, the component parts that would have been made by EH-101 in Canada and the profits that would have been made from future sales of that type of helicopter. It would have been the state of the art equipment at the forefront, at the vanguard of that type of military equipment, the helicopter. Yet here we are 10 years later still looking for the replacement that would lead to the ability of our armed forces to not only carry out their responsibilities, but to pick up the slack for some of the other decisions that were made that are associated to the shortcomings.
We no longer have the degree of capability in our coast guard. The government chose to disband the ports police. All of this to say that it leaves our ports and our coastal communities even more vulnerable. The Sea King fleet is unable to address that shortcoming. In fact they have to live with those problems as well.
The Auditor General, who is an impartial observer of Parliament, an investigator, an individual who all parliamentarians respect to do the good work of being a watch guard for the government in an impartial way, both the Senate and House of Commons defence committees, academics, defence analysts and individuals from across the country have called for additional funding of at least $2 billion in the yearly operating budget to maintain the levels that they currently operate.
Our armed forces participate in many missions around the world and it is clear that there is a cost in terms of vulnerability, respect and capability, given the current state of equipment and funding. Under the substantial financial strain, our military has been forced to do more with less on a daily basis. This has led to a serious deterioration in that equipment and also in the morale.
I spoke earlier about the individual who had approached me about the morale and the shame they felt when on international missions. They work shoulder to shoulder with other countries and they look at their equipment by comparison. They look at their uniforms. They look at the missions with which they have been tasked. They have to ask the serious question as to why their own government would leave them in this situation.
That is not to say that our men and women do not do their job admirably, with great pride and incredible ability, perhaps even more so given the situation in which they are left. Our record as peacekeepers has been as strong as any country in the free world. It is something of which Canadians are proud. It is something that defines us as a country. However the lack of attention paid by the government has left us unable to perform in the current global environment.
Our current military faces great difficulties of being ill-equipped due to sizeable cuts in its defence budget. A year after September 11, it has become painfully obvious that we are slipping in our ability to not only contribute to international peacekeeping and protection missions but even in our ability to maintain security at home. There is a great overlap between the issues of internal security and domestic preparedness, as well as our ability to partake in response to emergencies.
We know that a number of environmental disasters have occurred in Canada that have required the military to intervene. We saw that with the floods in Manitoba and in the Saguenay region. We saw that with the ice storm in Ontario and in Quebec. We know that there have been occasions where the military has stepped in and done an incredible job, for which we have to give it the greatest credit in the world, given its current stretched resources.
An increase the defence budget is obviously needed to reaffirm Canada's commitment to our men and women who take so seriously the defence of this great nation, both at home and abroad.
Between 1993 and 1998, the current member for LaSalle—Émard, the former finance minister, tabled budgets that led to a 23% cut in the defence budget. This figure comes from the Council for Canadian Security in the 21st Century. I find this figure almost unbelievable. Yet while the former finance minister was at the helm, the DND budget dropped to $9.4 billion in 1998-99 and from $12 billion in 1993-94. These cuts represent a trend of an ongoing lack of attention to this important issue.
These drastic cuts have had a very detrimental impact on the military at a number of levels, not the least of which is this steady decline in the numbers who enrol, who participate and who choose to make the armed forces a career; a very distinguished career that it can be. Official department estimates put the trained effective strength of the Canadian armed forces at somewhere between 50,000 and 55,000, well below the currently mandated 60,000.
I have already mentioned the drops in defence spending as a per capita percentage of GDP, falling from 1.7% to the current 1.1%, ranking seventeenth among our NATO counterparts.
Blame for the desperate state of our armed forces lies directly with the government, including the member for LaSalle—Émard, for it was during his tenure that there were a number of choices that had to be made. While all budgets underwent change, the drastic cuts to the defence budget put our personnel and our country at risk.
While he tours the country, speaking of the democratic deficit, he should take a while to reflect on the deficit that he created not only in the military but also in our international reputation, in health care and here in Parliament when he stood and voted against his own words on a number of occasions.
In the red book he talked about having an ethics counsellor who would report to the House. He voted against that on two occasions. He voted against his own words most recently last week in a Bloc motion. There is a credibility deficit when we look at the record and the words of the member for LaSalle—Émard. These are just a few morsels that I refer to when it comes to his record and when it comes to the actions of that member.
I mentioned earlier in my remarks the decision taken by the government to disband the ports police. Under the current funding scheme for our armed forces, there is an even greater emphasis put on the lack of security that exists at our borders. By that I also include our ports. We have witnessed this disregard for safety by the government for a number of years.
I want to spend just a few minutes concentrating on the situation regarding the ports police. There is a direct correlation between the shortcomings, the availability and the capability of our military at ports coupled with this decision that was taken by the government. This is a trend that has been very evident to even the casual observer for a number of years. It is simply not a priority for the government.
When the standing committee on national security and defence issued its report on Canadian security and military preparedness, it included an examination of Canadian ports. I brought this to the attention of the minister back in November of 1997 when I rose in the House to address concerns over the disbanding of the ports police and what it would mean for Canadians and their security. Ports policing is a very specialized responsibility. At that time I told those in attendance that, for all intents and purposes, many of our ports would be open for business in terms of illegal drugs, gun trade and other types of illicit materials.
The disbandment of the ports police leads to greater vulnerability and infiltration for terrorist organizations. When the government disbanded that special unit, in essence it completely got rid of a specialized police force with specific training and extensive authority empowered throughout the Criminal Code, customs and immigration. This was again undoubtedly done at perhaps a great saving in the budget but at huge cost to the Canadian taxpayers in terms of security.
The Minister of National Defence has now admitted in the House and publicly that there is a problem. As the old saying goes, admitting there is a problem is perhaps the first step to remedying it. In this instance we know that the first step in remedying that will require a commitment from this minister to now go to the cabinet table and make a strong pitch to have money returned to the budget of the Canadian armed forces. That commitment still is not clear from the remarks today of members and the minister. The sentiment and the attitude that will be required from the government to shift its thinking and to put a greater priority on this subject matter is not clear.
We know a surplus exists, a surplus that has existed for some time in other areas of the budget. The EI fund, as we know, is carrying a huge surplus which comes out of the pay cheques of working men and women in the country. I say with great confidence that those men and women would be glad to see money go to assist in the revitalization and the reinvigoration of our armed forces.
While the Liberal Party may try to triumph the obvious need that now exists, what it needs to do is act. The Progressive Conservative Party supports providing immediate funds to our military. We are committed to initiatives that would secure our military's future. As we debate this issue today, I urge the defence minister and cabinet ministers opposite to revisit this issue at the cabinet table with diligence. While we spend next week remembering our veterans and our past, let us do all we can to necessitate and ensure that we preserve our future.