Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join the debate on our motion concerning the state of the government's defence policies.
My riding of Prince Edward—Hastings is adjacent to 8 Wing CFB Trenton, one of Canada's largest and busiest air force bases. Many military personnel and employees of the base reside in my riding. I compliment them on their fine work and on being a source of pride for the Quinte region.
Approximately 3,500 military and civilian personnel are employed by 8 Wing CFB Trenton. It is a key component of the local economy. It serves many functions for the Department of National Defence.
Most personnel and equipment used in peacekeeping efforts such as Bosnia and Kosovo pass through the air base. Search and rescue missions are provided by 8 Wing's Squadron 424 covering over one million square kilometres in central Canada. The equipment warehouse for the disaster assistance response team called DART is also maintained by 8 Wing CFB Trenton.
In my response to the throne speech, I referred to a visit by the Liberal chair of the Senate committee on defence, Mr. Colin Kenny, to CFB Trenton in June 2002. In his report he outlined the shocking neglect of the base by the Liberal government. He stated:
We came away with the impression that there is a shortage of personnel, a shortage of equipment, a shortage of spare parts and there are issues involved with (staff) retention that involve more than just salary.
The senator was told on that day that only half of 8 Wing Trenton's 20 aircraft were capable of flying due to a barrage of problems attributed primarily to underfunding. The aircraft technicians simply did not have the spare parts necessary to keep planes in the air.
In a follow-up interview, the senator from Rideau stated that not much had changed. He stated, “These problems are happening at all 15 bases we visited. It's not a question of a lazy base commander, they're all getting the short stick. There are shortages all over the place and not just for planes. Uniforms, ships, housing, training facilities are in dire need”.
One year later in June 2003, the then defence minister came to Belleville for a Liberal fundraiser. At that time he dismissed any suggestion that his government had done a deplorable job of equipping our military, yet he readily admitted it in an interview with the Belleville Intelligencer . He said, “We had difficulties with buying spare parts and not having enough money to buy new equipment”. This is just about as blatant a contradiction as honestly I have ever heard.
We can talk with anyone at Canada's largest transport base today and nothing has changed. Our military is still trying to make do with insufficient funding, obsolete equipment and a government that continually acts like an ostrich or passes the buck.
Despite its importance as a key air transportation location, the Canadian Press in February this year reported that the Canadian Forces faced a $500 million shortfall and some air force personnel recommended closing CFB Trenton or other bases across the country within the next 10 years.
We can imagine how difficult it is to do an important military job when the person cannot be sure that he or she will have that job 5 or 10 years from now. Military positions are difficult enough without having to worry about job security.
I believe that CFB Trenton is the jewel in the crown of our air force bases across Canada. Under a Conservative government our valued military personnel, to whom we owe so much, would be treated with the respect and support they deserve and the motion before the House would do just that in its intention.
Underfunding for the military is an undisputed fact even among my hon. colleagues on the other side of the House. Yet the Prime Minister has the audacity to boast that he has fixed the crisis in defence. I would suggest that he talk with the fine folks at CFB Trenton and ask them personally whether the crisis is over. I have. Or for that matter, ask any of the thousands of people in my riding who live underneath the flight path of these dated military aircraft.
Last Saturday the Ottawa Sun reported that the government is looking to cut a further $700 million from the $13.2 billion budget. Yesterday the International Institute for Strategic Studies revealed Canada's funding of the military is near the bottom of 169 nations when it comes to spending as a percentage of GDP, trailing countries such as Croatia and Guinea. The list is embarrassing. This country and the government should be downright embarrassed that we spend only 1.2% of our GDP on the military.
There once was a time when Canada's military was capably supported. Proudly, a number of years ago we were a middle power which did not have to flex its might but could be counted on to carry its weight on the international scene. Canadians were proud of their role, like a Boy Scout's badge of honour. Yet as Chris Malette of the Belleville Intelligencer pointed out:
If you want our air force, navy and army to be the Boy Scouts, at least have the decency to give them an adequate pocket-knife.
We cannot complete peacekeeping missions if our helicopters cannot take off. We cannot live up to NATO commitments when our submarines have to be tugged into port, and of course not even with our own tug. We cannot transport troops, equipment or supplies without dependable, capable and safe air transportation.
Our C-130 Hercules, the backbone of our peacekeeping and disaster relief assistance programs, are up to 40 years old. Our men and women in the military deserve better. Particularly in light of the millions of dollars of taxpayers' money spent on Challenger jets so the Prime Minister and his brethren can crisscross our country, I say to myself, as do Canadians across this country, where are the government's priorities?
I would be remiss if I stood here and simply criticized the government without offering a few helpful suggestions.
Our defence critic, the member of Carleton--Mississippi Mills, a man of great military experience, has noted that national defence headquarters employs between 11,000 and 12,000 military and civilian personnel, which is equivalent in size to 14 infantry battalions, in a military that cannot afford the personnel to have 14 infantry battalions.
It is time that the government started treating our uniformed personnel as well as it treats the bureaucracy that supports them.
I would also suggest to the government that it update the defence policy which has remained stagnant since 1994. However, if the government remains true to the form that I saw in the House earlier today and since I have been here, I expect only more promises prior to the next election.
My colleagues and I have outlined reasons why we on this side of the House believe the military is in desperate need of greater funding. We do this because Canada does not live in a bubble. Robert Wright of the Canadian Association of Security and Intelligence Studies points out that Canada is still a terrorist target.
Osama bin Laden had publicly identified Canada as a country he believes his followers should attack. He ranked Canada as fifth out of seven countries, and every other country on that list has already been attacked. This is just not simply someone else's problem.
I am not an alarmist and I am not a fearmonger, but the terror threat is real. When the terror alert was raised, fighters were stationed at CFB Trenton so that they could reach our nuclear facility at Pickering within five to ten minutes, and Toronto and the Golden Horseshoe, a region of over 12 million people, shortly after that.
This is why I am committed to properly funding our military. It is not simply in the self-interests of Quinte's economy, employing 3,500 people or more, but more important so that our national security and our ability to contribute to the military and humanitarian efforts around the world is secured.
The government has a responsibility, a duty and an obligation to our military personnel. The military needs the money. It is as simple as that.