Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to rise today to speak to Bill C-37, an act to amend the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts.
It always gives me great pleasure to rise in the House especially when I see that there is so much interest among so many members to hear my wisdom and what I bring to this debate, namely to take that advice and hopefully use it in the future.
Being from Edmonton, I would begin by identifying the fact that I and others in Edmonton are lucky to have the Canadian Forces base located there. Members of the Canadian armed forces in Edmonton always do a great job as they do right across this country.
I particularly want to identify, as my colleague from Prince George—Peace River did, the work of the Edmonton base this summer when it came to providing assistance in battling fires and helping Canadians to safety in the interior of B.C. and around Kelowna. They put a lot of effort and work into that, risking their lives as usual. I want to acknowledge that because we were all proud of the work they did to help Canadians during that very troubling time.
I would like to focus on what the bill would do and what it would mean for members of the armed forces. This legislation makes changes to the pension benefit scheme provided under the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act which includes a reduction in the minimum qualifying period for a pension to two years, tying benefit eligibility to years of pensionable service rather than completion of a period of engagement in the Canadian Forces, and an immediate pension to a person who has completed 25 years of paid service and has at least 2 years of pensionable service.
As we have heard from colleagues across the House, all members believe that we owe this type of pension benefit to the men and women of the armed forces. They do an incredible job to protect Canadians, sometimes in combat situations, peacekeeping situations and also by promoting our values and interests in helping people realize their freedom around the world. Not many people would ever argue against those sort of changes.
The bill would provide regulation-making authority to adapt the provisions of the act so as to apply it to prescribed members of the reserve force and to deal with other matters, such as elective service, that are presently provided for in the act. It would consolidate a number of the regulation-making powers in the act and would make certain structural improvements to the act, such as moving general provisions that are presently in part I of the act to part IV and making those provisions applicable to the whole act.
On this side of the House we in the opposition are obviously in favour of the bill because it would improve the conditions of our armed forces. We support our veterans as has been shown in numerous question periods, especially on recent issues where we are fighting for benefits for the spouses of veterans.
We also support our military. We have said that on numerous occasions despite some of the things we heard in today's question period. The opposition has always called for better respect for our armed forces by increasing the amount of funding that would be given to the military seeing that we have some huge challenges. I will be discussing those during my speech, particularly equipment and personnel challenges that our military will be facing in the future.
Last spring the Canadian Alliance put out a white paper on defence called “The New North Strong and Free”. We identified a number of strengths and weaknesses, and made some recommendations as to what needed to be addressed to improve the state of our military.
It is our mission statement of how our government should run the defence department and how we would allow the armed forces to once again flourish. The paper contains 33 recommendations. It is unfortunate that after 10 years of mismanagement by the government and the former finance minister, soon to be leader of that party, must take some responsibility for this. He has allowed the military to practically fall apart and we need to take 33 steps to get where it should be today.
Here are some quick facts about what has happened to the military under the watch of the current government. The regular force personnel strength has fallen by 30% since 1993. Our military has no heavy air or sealift capacity. During the 2002 mission in Afghanistan, Canada could not sustain 800 troops for longer than six months. We only put three ships to sea instead of the proposed six.
Most Canadians have heard the dreadful stories about our Sea Kings. This is their 40th year and they will not be replaced until 2007. This is 14 years after the Liberal government had already cancelled the original helicopter contract. Even today in question period the Minister of National Defence talked about how that side of the House was working diligently to solve this problem. Going at this rate, we will probably not see any changes for another 10 years and that is just unacceptable. We have had some serious problems with those Sea Kings.
Our tribal class destroyers are 33 years old and there is not even a plan to replace them. Our CF-18 fighter aircraft have been reduced to 80 from 122. There are no army helicopters to support our troops in the field in an age where troop mobility is a prime concern.
There was, of course, the unfortunate situation recently where some of our troops were killed in the line of duty in Afghanistan. The jeeps were proven deadly for our soldiers because the Liberal government was not willing to properly purchase the jeeps that were required, not only for combat ready situations but in peacekeeping roles as well.
Our men and women go out in peacekeeping roles, but they need to be able to protect themselves. We in the House, and the government especially, need to equip these men and women to do just that and not send them out half prepared to do battle, especially at certain times when they have to protect themselves, let alone the missions that they are on while on the ground.
The former finance minister and the Liberals have dismissed the military as unimportant following the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the U.S.S.R. There has been a real decline in the attitude of the government toward the military because it feels there are no more threats in the world.
Obviously, that has been proved to be quite a wrong attitude to have, especially in light of world events that we have seen. Here in North America all of us know the tragic event that took place on September 11, and the significance of that particular event as we are moving forward in the world and what sort of challenges we face in not only helping to protect people around the world, but protecting the security of North America.
The terrorist attacks totally changed the strategic environment in which Canada operates. This pertains not only to our home turf now, but in the role we play internationally. Our best ally, the United States, has declared a war on terrorism. This is a war that we said we support in Canada and we will do what we can to help stamp out terrorism around the world.
However, from the work that has been done on the other side of the House by the government, it seems that the Liberals have only paid lip service to this particular commitment. They have ignored our responsibilities to our allies in Iraq and have not properly equipped our troops for Afghanistan, which is a shame.
We on this side of the House recognize the significance of what happened on September 11. We have pushed the Liberals to focus on both security domestically and abroad. Domestically, the Liberals have failed, especially the minister responsible for customs, who touts her border policies, but then starves our customs agents of the resources necessary to do their jobs.
I have stood in the House in question period on a number of occasions pointing to the fact that the strength of our military has to be linked to how serious we take security here at home, but the minister continues to dismiss those arguments saying that the government is doing all it can. However, when we look not only at the condition of our military and the resources that it has to do its job, the same can be said for our front line customs officers being starved. They do not have the right resources to protect Canadians.
It is a shame that in this day and age, after saying it was going to beef up border security, we have not seen any of the money that was put aside since the anti-terrorist legislation was passed. No money has actually trickled down to the front lines for basic things like computers and resources for our customs agents. So, domestically the Liberals have failed, especially the minister in charge of customs.
Significantly, the government has also starved our military and its ability to do its job. Let us go over defence funding. Recently in question period, we heard one of the Liberal members on the other side say it was actually the opposition that was not committed to defence. I do not know which planet he is on to suggest that sort of thing.
However, let us go over the government's record because that is where the facts speak much louder than any words that have come across from the other side of the floor.
The former finance minister, soon to be Prime Minister, slashed $20 billion from the defence department since 1993. Mr. Speaker, could you imagine what sort of impact that has had on our military? If government members want to talk about facts and who is committed to our military, let us look at that one. It is a significant number.
The Auditor General told the defence committee that the armed forces will face a $30 billion deficit in equipment by 2012. That is a huge challenge that our military is facing in the future. We are at the bottom of the G-8 and NATO in defence spending, at $7.7 billion per annum.
The government could counter these destructive trends by implementing our recommendation No. 2 that was outlined in the white paper that I spoke about earlier.
It calls for an increase in the defence budget which should be accelerated to provide an additional $1.2 billion per year over and above the increases in the 2003 federal budget bringing the immediate increases to $2 billion per year. It is money that is required right away to bring the standards of our military up to a level where it would have the resources to fight the fights that it may have to take part in through our obligations around the world. That does not even include the commitments we need to make in order to bring the equipment up to par so that we do not have this huge deficit in the future.
We go further in the next recommendation saying that defence spending must be increased to NATO standards. We have an obligation to meet our commitments, especially our international commitments, where other countries rely on us to do so. We are a member of NATO, yet year after year we are failing on those commitments because the government has not put the resources in place, especially when it comes to our military. These are standards that the government, and especially the former finance minister, has totally ignored.
If we are to undo the damage done by this particular government, it is more than just a funding issue. It is a personnel issue and that is what I spoke about when I said there were challenges on both sides, equipment and personnel.
We need to increase the regular force to 80,000 individuals. We have had quite a reduction over the years, but it would be necessary to meet our obligations, especially if we look at some of the challenges where we have troops rotating out of Afghanistan. There is also a call for further peacekeeping resources in Iraq and here at home in getting our military involved in assisting with natural disasters. We need to increase the number of troops. That is a significant problem that we are facing.
The reserves should also be increased to 60,000 from 45,000 individuals. Many of them are army militia.
We must specifically address the different branches of our military. If we look at the different branches, there are some real big challenges in every area, whether it is the army, the air force or the navy.
I will take a moment to identify those challenges so Canadians at home can see the real picture of what we are facing.
We need to expand our special forces in the army, especially the JTF-2. That is something we found over the last little while. We have really been stretched to the limit. Afghanistan has proven the need for these special forces. The JTF-2 distinguished itself there, and there are types of missions that would be very important for us. We must ensure that we address that particular resource, especially the need for which our allies often call upon us to take part in.
We need to pay special attention to the rapid deployment of our soldiers. To that end, we would establish an airborne unit and equip it with the appropriate helicopters. As I said earlier, it is a shame that we had not dealt with the Sea King earlier. It should have been dealt with a long time ago.
Additionally, to fulfill our role as peacekeepers and peacemakers, we need to be able to deploy and sustain a brigade overseas. That is something as we have seen in recent years that has been a real challenge given the current numbers in our armed forces.
We also need to be able to replace old equipment with appropriate new equipment. I spoke a little about that before.
We should also recruit more individuals into the ranks of the army. That proud tradition is something we have to instill again. We have to share that proud tradition with more Canadians when it comes to our armed forces, the work they have done over our history and the work they continue to do. We need to have all Canadians respect and cherish that and actually want to see that commitment remain strong. Unfortunately that is something which I do not think the government has done well in promoting, for Canadians to be proud of that work and sustain that work of our men and women in the armed forces.
Moving to the air force, we need to modernize our fleet of CF-18s and the Aurora aircraft so they can work side by side with our allies. We need to look at the future, including participating in the joint strike fighter project with the U.K. and the U.S.A. We also need a heavy strategic airlift capability to move personnel and equipment throughout Canada and around the globe. As I said, given the challenges we are facing in the coming years, especially if we want to maintain our role as significant peacekeepers around the world, that is something we need to address immediately.
The final part of the military I would like to address is the navy. This is another area about which we have heard different stories. Clearly we need to look at the facts of what has happened and see how we can address them to improve the condition of our navy.
Personnel need to be increased immediately so our ships are no longer understaffed and strained to the limit. We have seen that in recent rotations in Afghanistan. It has been a big personnel problem.
We need a proper fleet of submarines to maintain our sovereignty in the north, but also to be deployed whenever they are needed. The recommendations we have made would have us increase the numbers by three subs on each coast. As well, our ships and the actual equipment supporting them are getting old. We need to replace them and expand the fleet by at least four ships. That is evident by what happened recently in Afghanistan where we had to bring one of our ships back home because of the challenges it had while it was at sea.
I already talked about the Sea King helicopters. There is no excuse; those should be replaced immediately.
I have talked about the record of the government. I have made recommendations. Obviously we on this side are supporting Bill C-37 because we want to continue to make that commitment to our armed personnel and our defence forces. It is something we cannot neglect and we need to be able to support that.
I want to end on a positive note and share a personal story which I have shared before in the House. It is about the pride that many people feel, whether they are recent Canadians or whether their families have had longstanding traditions in the military.
My family was fortunate enough to come to Canada in the early 1970s. I was only a baby. We were kicked out of a country, Uganda, and we were able to flee as refugees to Canada. Canada welcomed us with open arms and gave us the freedom and opportunities where, 25 years after coming here, a son of refugee parents is able to sit in the House of Commons, debate policy and basically try to improve our nation's abilities and become respected internationally. Canada gave us this opportunity.
There is always a real respect from people coming to Canada for its role which people have seen and heard about around the world: leading peacekeeping, leading freedom fighting missions, helping other countries and allies, and helping countries in need. Canada demonstrated that to our family when we came here.
Even though Canada was not involved in a military role in Uganda, it still had troops helping out to make sure people could get out and safely come to Canada. That sort of pride is something I grew up with and heard about from my family, even though we were not directly involved in the freedom that our military forces over history have provided Canadians prior to our coming here. We need to instill that pride in future generations and to Canadians who see the work that can be done and the leadership that can be provided by our men and women in the armed forces. I am proud to be able to speak to their accomplishments up to now.
This particular bill is a small step forward and will deal with the pension changes for our men and women in the forces. Let us look forward. Let us actually make the commitments that are required to continue to make people like myself and other Canadians proud of our military tradition, and to be able to meet those requirements that they are going to have in the future. Let us hope the government will listen to some of the recommendations we have made.