Mr. Speaker, as a former defence minister, I had the honour of seeing our brave men and women of the Canadian Forces at work fighting forest fires in British Columbia, cleaning up the devastation from hurricanes in Halifax, doing their job in Bosnia, in Kabul, Most poignantly back in June 2002 I saw them under the most difficult conditions in Kandahar where the temperature was 50° Celsius but one hardly noticed the heat because of all the sand in one's eyes. Over all those experiences no one has acquired a greater admiration than I have for the bravery, the commitment and the dedication of those brave men and women of the Canadian Forces.
I remember battling the bureaucracy once to fight a stupid rule which we managed to change whereby it was said that a soldier who lost his legs in the service of his or her country would get several hundred thousand dollars in compensation, but only if that person was the rank of colonel or above. No one has to be a genius to figure out that most of those likely to lose their limbs would be of a lower rank. We got that through but we had to fight the bureaucracy to do it.
That brings me to my point about the government, because words are cheap. I find the government's actions lacking. If the government were true in its commitment to our brave men and women, it would have taken on the bureaucracy but it has failed to do so. I will give three examples.
First, on the motion by the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore, the government members all stood up like trained seals and voted against the measure which would have brought real assistance to current and past members of our Canadian Forces in terms of their pensions and disabilities. Why did they do that?
The second example was already raised by my colleague. Injured soldiers in Afghanistan lose their danger pay. The Minister of National Defence said a couple of months ago that he would fix that quickly. He has not fixed it yet. The months go by. I know defence. I know the bureaucracy will give him 101 reasons why it cannot be done, but he is the minister and the Conservatives are the government. If they had the will to help those injured soldiers, they would order the bureaucracy to do it and it would have been done some time ago.
We hear nice words from over there. Where is the action? Where is the fight against the bureaucracy to do what is right for our brave men and women in Afghanistan subject to those injuries?
My third example has to do with the vote in the House of Commons some months ago to extend the mission in Afghanistan. Even though I as a former defence minister have huge support and admiration for our brave men and women, I voted against that motion on the grounds that it was blatantly political and exhibited disrespect not only to parliamentarians but far more important, disrespect to the brave men and women of the Canadian Forces.
When we are making life and death decisions, there are two ways to go. Either we do it through the cabinet, the defence minister and the Prime Minister who have access to all the information, or we do it though parliamentarians as they do in Holland. There it takes weeks or months. There are hearings and the parliamentarians then have the full amount of information on which to make an informed decision. Those are two legitimate processes.
What is a totally illegitimate process is the few hours of debate in which parliamentarians were asked to vote with absolutely no information. Parliamentarians were asked to make life and death decisions after a few hours of debate as part of a blatantly political process in which no information was given.
In my view such a move as the Prime Minister made is not only insulting to parliamentarians in asking them to vote with no information on a critical issue, but it is also insulting to our men and women of the Canadian Forces, that their fate would be decided on the basis of a process where those voting yes or no were not given any information.
I will support this motion because no one supports our men and women of the Canadian Forces more than I do. However, I would challenge the government to not just deal with words but to deal with actions. I challenge the government to stand up for those who are injured and not allow their danger pay to be taken away; to stand up to the bureaucracy in terms of the levels of pensions and benefits; and when life and death decisions are being, made to do so with a process that is respectful of those whose lives are put in danger.