Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in this debate.
Today, we are talking about laissez-faire. Is it the Bloc Québécois' laissez-faire in the area of defence that we are talking about? This is a federal party that has no military procurement program for the Canadian Forces. This is a party that turned a blind eye during the 13 years the Liberal government literally abandoned the Canadian Forces, particularly in the aircraft sector.
The number of available aircraft has been cut in half since 1993. And amongst the ones that are left, many are not flying. Some have reached the end of their service life and others are not in operational condition.
Yet, the armed forces are asked to carry out humanitarian and military missions. The military is also asked to help at the national level, such as during the ice storm, the flooding in Saguenay or the Vancouver Olympics.
It takes some nerve to present such a motion when, in the past year, our government has taken concrete and positive action to give the Canadians Forces the tools they need to accomplish their missions. My Bloc Québécois colleagues will agree that this is an area of federal jurisdiction. It is therefore essential to give the Canadian Forces the equipment they need.
Furthermore, over the course of this year, we have launched an aircraft procurement program, because it is a fact that our Canadian Forces are in dire need of tactical aircraft, strategic aircraft, helicopters and rescue aircraft, but fortunately, with our Canada First strategy, we will be staggering purchases and fitting them into our budget, somewhat in the same way as car payments are budgeted.
As a government and as a country, we need military equipment to fulfill our obligations here and abroad.
I would simply recall that the C-17 contract is a $3.7 billion contract. This is the first time that a government is requiring dollar for dollar reinvestment in Canada. Each dollar paid out for a military contract with a private firm must be reinvested here, in Canada, in our high tech sectors. That is one thing.
Another thing is that, over the last year, Public Works and Government Services Canada has invested more in Quebec than it has ever done in the country, to the tune of $350 million for Pratt & Whitney in Longueuil, for the benefit of the Canadian and Quebec aerospace industry.
I am proud, I must say, to be part of a government that makes sure it procures, in an open and transparent manner, sorely needed equipment that will do the job for the Canadian Forces.
As the Minister of National Defence pointed out in his recent appearance before the Standing Committee on National Defence, years of pent up demand for investment and recapitalization is driving the current procurement agenda. It is putting major pressure on our government to shorten delivery schedules and streamline the acquisition process. While the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces process billions of dollars worth of capital assets, past governments have failed to invest the funds needed to keep them in working order.
Years of underfunding have created a difficult situation. We have an enormous backlog to manage. Our equipment should have been replaced a long time ago. For example, I flew to Kandahar in January on a Hercules airplane. Some planes in that fleet have now been decommissioned, as they have reached the end of their useful life. The C-17s we are about to acquire are multipurpose aircraft; they can be use tactically as well as strategically, and they will allow us, as we go about replacing the Hercules, to continue meeting our obligations.
We must acquire additional capacity and this was completely neglected by the previous government. That was not a good idea for the simple reason that it has forced us to keep on spending year after year. Such spending, however, is not an investment. We spend more buying spare parts than we would investing in new equipment.
The Conservatives want to ensure the equipment is kept modern, so as to reduce maintenance and operation costs and the need to buy spare parts. The budget will be more or less the same, however, we will have modern equipment. Most of all, the Canadian forces will have the equipment they need to carry out their mission. We have undertaken to establish the defence equipment needs for the years to come and to determine the best way for the Canadian industry to contribute to a secure future for our country. We are doing all this in a sustainable and affordable way.
Defence procurement involves mainly three departments: the Department of National Defence, which defines the needs; the Department of Public Works and Government Services, which manages the contracts; and Industry Canada, which ensures there are industrial spinoffs. As I mentioned earlier, this is the first time that a government says “dollar for dollar”: a dollar for defence procurement equals a dollar invested in high technology sectors in Canada.
In our effort to make procurement in a smarter and more effective way, we are also trying to buy more commonly used products. This reduces the need to develop costly prototypes and adaptations and allows the procurement system to respond more quickly. We buy equipment already available, functional and efficient equipment that meets the needs of the Canadian forces.
Before, we used to have specifications five inches thick, and it took years, sometimes up to 15 years, to purchase military equipment. Luckily this time is past. Now we define strategic requirements in terms of performance—a performance specification, as it were. The requirements are defined and the Canadian forces are in the best position to define their needs. From there we turn to the suppliers to see what they have to offer to meet those needs.
This way we can avoid protracted departmental procedures resulting in hundreds of pages of long and detailed technical specifications, as I have already mentioned.
The contract for the C-17s, recently signed, is an excellent example of the way in which our government does things well and fulfils its commitments. It is also good news, not only for our military—men and women—but also for Canadians as a whole. In fact, next August, only 14 months after having announced our intention to procure four aircraft, the first C-17 will land at 8 Wing Trenton. This process was completed very quickly. We are in great need of these planes.
This morning, I attended the meeting of the Standing Committee on National Defence. Douglas Bland, Chair of the Defence Management Studies Program at Queen's University in Kingston, said that four C-17s was really a minimum. In his opinion the debates should be about the number of planes. He even said that we should have acquired more planes—8, 14 or even 16 of them. Still, we have to take into account the taxpayers’ ability to pay.
We have four C-17s, four planes that are necessary and that are a tried product. This is not equipment that will give us any surprises; it is proven equipment. This is very comforting, considering these planes will be used on humanitarian missions and in emergency situations.
Our Canadian forces will no longer have to count solely on our allies to be airlifted when responding to crisis situations. Not only must we sometimes rely on our allies, we must also sometimes turn to foreign countries whose planes are not necessarily in good enough shape to guarantee the safety of our military or the passengers who board them.
Canadian forces will no longer have to wait years to have the equipment they need to do the job today.
As part of our government's new Canada's first defence strategy, our vision of a three ocean navy, a robust army, a revitalized air force and a responsive special forces, we are giving our soldiers, sailors, airmen and airwomen the tools they need to succeed.