Madam Speaker, I have listened to a number of the speakers today and I find it rather hard not to be partisan. I take it that is the nature of the facilities here. I am only an old policeman, not an English teacher, so sometimes my words may not fit what he would like.
I stand before the House today to discuss yet another issue that has plagued our military and brought undue embarrassment to our country and to the government. Yesterday, the chief of defence staff and the admiral for our navy appeared before the House of Commons Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs to explain why Canada needs to have a submarine capability for our navy. What was truly apparent was what I equate to buyer's remorse. It is like me buying a used car and the salesman neglecting to tell me about the three or four accidents the car has been in, only to have it pointed out when a mechanic is changing the oil and has a look at the vehicle.
In 1993, the British navy pulled the four Upholder class submarines from the water because they were duds. Nothing on these subs operated properly. They were filled with design faults bad enough to frustrate one of the greatest maritime nations in the world.
As a new member of Parliament, I still feel my observations are from the outside looking in. These great military men who appeared before the committee yesterday were essentially gagged and unable to say what they really felt was wrong with the sub program.
I would venture to go as far as saying to the Canadian people that there is no doubt there is a need for submarine capability in Canada's navy. Why would these more than qualified servicemen rally around these four flawed submarines? I feel that it is because the government of the day followed what the rest of the world was doing in a former era. Aside from cutting the guts out of our health care system, it could not put the knife down and, like a crazed butcher, pounced on Canada's military.
We did not buy the subs because they were good value for the money. As the hon. Sheila Copps attested to last night on CBC, if the subs were such a good deal, then why were they still around five years after they were dry docked. Where was the bidding war? Saudi Arabia declined, Spain declined and the Australians decided to build their own subs.
The reason the navy pursued these subs was because it convinced the cabinet of the day, a cabinet, I might add, that was led by our current Prime Minister and then finance minister. However, the navy was told to find something cheap or, as the Liberals would say, cost effective. In other words, the navy was given a budget, told to forget what we need, to forget about worldclass equipment and to just go out and buy the best subs it could with one-tenth of what it needed to accomplish the task.
Our military has a motto. It is known as the “can do” approach and, because they are such good people, they compromised and took on these subs that presented them with challenges even the British navy could not conquer. What was even worse was watching the most recent information about the Chicoutimi disaster on the news networks last night.
We have service people who are risking their career advancement to make sure Canadians know the truth of what happened on that doomed sub. Lieutenant Bryan was described by the Halifax centre as being casual on the phone. What did they want, mass hysteria? Perhaps he was exhausted from what had just happened hours earlier. Lieutenant Bryan states that he had good reception on his satellite phone and that everything he said was repeated back to him, including the words “major fire”. Halifax command said that the reception was not good and yet they could hear the word “fire”, the number of casualties and the fact the sub was dead in the water. However, when they went before the media they called the fire minor.
Lieutenant Bryan also stated that there was a great deal of concern on the other end of the phone line and that he felt that by them repeating everything he had said back to him, it left him with no doubt his words were understood. So imagine, Halifax did not log or record the phone call. How ironic, a case of their words over another.
It is not like the Chicoutimi reached the call centre trying to sell some carpet cleaning services. I say that with all due respect to those in the call centre industry. They were talking to experts in the field of navy operation so how could major be interpreted as minor? It is now up to a military inquiry to determine if the navy did indeed downplay the fires and, if so, whether it was intentional or merely a bad case of communications. Or, perhaps there was political interference to downplay the already plagued sub. Perhaps the government wanted to control the situation to ease the cloud of doom that was being cast over its choice of flawed submarines
Touchy as my statement is, I feel it needs to be debated. It would not be the first time that politics got in the way of the truth. Just look at that napkin contract for the sale of shares in a golf course.
The party across the way has no bounds when it comes to its contempt for the intelligence of the people of this country. The solution to the sub crisis in the country has yet to be discovered. From what we know now, it is clear that Canada should be looking to purchase a fleet of six new off the shelf proven subs, such as those built in Germany. These subs are NATO friendly, environmentally friendly, diesel operated and are being built with an AIP system that will allow them to go under the ice of our northern coast.
When my party is elected to government in the next election, we will remove the gag order on military officials and let them speak freely and allow them to react to our financial constraints. What we need now is a full military review. Underfunding of our forces has taken its toll on our service personnel and our national pride. It has left our forces on the brink of disaster and that is no exaggeration.
Today, after some $850 million spent on flawed subs, we are without a sub program. We have no heavy lift aircraft capability to move our military operations around the world. Rust out threatens nearly every vehicle we own. We have also learned in the last several days that we cannot even supply our soldiers in Haiti with gloves, flak jackets and proper boots. I recall a report that it took nearly 12 years to decide on the purchase of a backpack. And we wonder why we have poor recruitment numbers for our military of the future.
In the last campaign the government said it would add 5,000 new troops to our forces. A quick estimate shows that it takes two years to train a soldier at a cost of nearly $2 billion per year for those members. When have we ever seen the Liberal government increase the defence budget by $2 billion per year? It will not happen. It will go down as just another broken election promise. I say we have to look no further than across the House because that party has gouged the life out of our military.
When it comes to our NATO allies, only Luxembourg spends less GNP on its national defence than Canada does. That says it all about the Liberals' regard for our service people and the defence of our nation. Their decade of cuts and failure to increase the defence budget in significant numbers is a disservice to every soldier that has paid the ultimate sacrifice for our beloved country.