Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my hon. colleague from British Columbia for sharing his time with me.
I understand the justice report is about the closure of a number of RCMP detachments. It is important that we look beyond the specific detachments mentioned in the report. For the last 10 or 12 years, the problem with RCMP detachments has been a problem. I live in the small community of Sidney, British Columbia which has a local RCMP detachment staffed by 25 officers.
As far back as I can remember this detachment has been chronically understaffed for a number of reasons. Typically the staffing is short by about 25%. Quite often when it sends out a platoon, two officers will be left with one officer out patrolling in a car. For a variety reasons, from maternity leave to staffing shortages to transfers, the detachment is unable to refill positions.
Why has our national police force been put in this position when it comes to replacing members? Sometimes a detachment will wait a long time to fill positions, as we see in the report. A number of small detachments across the country are being shut down completely.
In the early days of the Liberal government, it all but closed the RCMP training depot in Regina because it was not doing its job. We ended up with a serious situation. For years we had very small number of classes, if any, to train new police officers. Therefore, the backlog was enormous. The shortage of hundreds of police officers created difficulties for RCMP detachments across the country.
What was the government's response? Many reports say that the government chose not put front line police officers on the streets so it could save around $2 billion. The Liberals made a very definitive decision to remove front line police officers because there was not enough training to fill the vacancies. Instead they spent billions of dollars on a gun registry. No one in Canada believes people should be walking around the streets with guns.
Prior to this infamous gun registry, on which the government spent billions of dollars, people were not allowed to carry handguns. If they wanted to move them from their home to a shoot or a range, they had to go to their local police for a permit. In effect we had a form of a registry for handguns with the local police. However, the government, in its wisdom, decided it would spend billions of dollars. How could we possibly spend $2 billion on a database, on a gun registry?
One only has to look at the sponsorship program. It does not take a lot of imagination to see where the money has gone. I am sure we will find out in the years ahead, once we see more audits and information come forward, that a great deal of the money probably went to people who were very good supporters of the Liberal Party of Canada. I have no one doubt in my mind that we will see contracts given to high donors to the Liberal Party. It is kind of the normal way of doing business.
Also, we have been put in a more difficult situation in the last three or four years since September 11, 2001.
Canada Customs is in places to deal with ferry traffic going to the U.S. When people go into the U.S., they are pre-cleared. However, U.S. immigration officials refuse to operate inside Canada unless they have an armed police officer with them. This border crossing is right across from the street where I used to live. The Anacortes ferry terminal had one or two sailings a day, four hours a day. An RCMP officer from the detachment in Sidney had to be with the U.S. Immigration Service.
I note the Senate committee has come forward and said that our Canadian customs people need one of two things. They either need armed police officers with them as they are secure our border or they need to be armed. It is ironic that the government will not give Canadian customs officials sidearms or at least an armed police officer, but it will do it for American immigration officials who work inside Canada. That is unbelievable. That is how it is today.
U.S. immigration workers working at the Anacortes ferry terminal in Sidney or downtown in the inner harbour in Victoria where people go on the Coho to the U.S get Canadian police officers because they will not work unless they are in the presence of an armed officer for security reasons. We do not even do that for our own customs officers.
Where are the government's priorities? The RCMP is chronically underfunded. The government decided to put billions of dollars into a gun registry, which by all accounts is not providing an ounce of benefit other than to some people who may be good Liberals and who are who sending in contracts to the national firearms registry and, lo and behold, getting millions of dollars. How could the government possibly spend $2 billion on a database. I would love to have that contract. It is absolutely amazing.
The government cut back training at the RCMP depot in Regina to a bare minimum. This detachment has been chronically understaffed. This is happening in detachments across the country. Sometimes detachments have to wait six months or more to get a replacement for an officer who has been transferred somewhere else. Watch duty officers at these RCMP detachments have to deal with this problem when they scheduling officers. They have to find a way to cut the number of police officers on a platoon because they do not have the bodies.
In my community, the RCMP detachment was pretty much chronically understaffed by about 25%. It was a very serious problem. The remaining officers had to fill regular shift schedules. Officers also had to be sent over to the ferry terminals because U.S. immigration officers would not work unless they had an armed officer with them. We do not do that for our own customs officers.
This is about priorities. The government needs to focus on its priorities. We have spent a large portion of this spring session on Bill C-38, the same sex marriage bill. Again, it is a matter of priorities. Why are we not focusing on jobs, the economy, getting taxes down, looking at our health care system? The government's priority is focused on getting Bill C-38 through the House.
We have very different priorities on this side of the House. We want to bring forward legislation that will have a meaningful impact to Canadians right across this country. It is about priorities. It is time the government had a look at what it has done for the last 12 years. Anyone could come to the conclusion that the Liberals have their priorities all wrong.