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House of Commons Hansard #96 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was drugs.

Topics

National Flag of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

8 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

All those opposed will please say nay.

National Flag of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

8 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

National Flag of Canada ActPrivate Members' Business

8 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Pursuant to Standing Order 98 the recorded division stands deferred until Wednesday, March 28, immediately before the time provided for private members' business.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

8 p.m.

NDP

Christine Moore NDP Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to come back to one of my questions concerning the contract awarded to the company Xe Services. When I asked the minister for an explanation of this contract, he replied that Xe Services specializes in preparing for dangerous missions and that this service is operationally essential to our Canadian Forces. I quote, “We give our Canadian Forces the best possible training to prepare them for mission success.”

I was not satisfied with that response. Apparently, I was not the only one. In fact, I received an email from a Canadian that I would like to read.

“I live in the riding of Whitby—Oshawa. I watch question period every day. Over the past few months I have become increasingly concerned about the government paying Blackwater to train our troops. I would like to thank you for your questions in the House of Commons on the issue”.

I want to point out that this person, Joseph Uranowski, lives in a Conservative riding, the Minister of Finance's riding. He is asking the very question I asked myself. Why is the government hiring American mercenaries to train our troops?

This issue is troubling Canadians, not just those in NDP ridings, but also those in Conservative ridings. I believe that an explanation is warranted.

I would like to clarify that I am talking about Xe Services, but I could also have used the names Academi or Blackwater. This company has changed its name three times in the past three years because of its reputation. Personally, the fact that a company changes its name every year for reasons that are not obvious does not really inspire confidence. Apparently, this does not bother anyone in the government.

Xe Services—or Academi, its most recent name—is a private American security group which has been at the centre of some very serious controversies. This company was accused of being involved in a shooting in Iraq that killed 17 civilians, including women and children, and injured 20 others.

People working for this company have been accused of killing innocent civilians in Afghanistan. In October 2007, a report prepared by the U.S. House of Representatives revealed that Blackwater was involved in 195 shootings in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 85% of these shootings, Blackwater guards opened fire first.

Because of the Baghdad incident in 2007, the U.S. Department of State refused to renew Blackwater's international contract for the protection of American diplomats in Iraq. The Iraqi government revoked Blackwater's licence to operate on its soil.

Again, we have to be suspicious when talking about these things. But once again, the Department of National Defence is not asking questions.

Then five former Blackwater security guards were charged with 14 counts of manslaughter and 20 counts of aggravated assault relating to their actions in Iraq.

Before hiring this kind of company for the Canadian Forces, I would ask some serious questions. But the minister does not seem to think there is a problem.

It may well be that Canada does not possess all the infrastructure required to train our Canadian Forces and that we have to call on outside agents from time to time. My question is simple. To train our Canadian Forces, has the government been unable to find any company other than the one accused of shooting civilians and violating human rights? How can Xe Services or Academi or Blackwater be the best choice to train our troops? How can the minister let a bunch of American mercenaries who believe they are above the law train our troops?

8:05 p.m.

Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont Alberta

Conservative

Mike Lake ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry

Madam Speaker, first, I commend the translator for being able to keep up with that. That was about a six minute speech in a four minute time span, so kudos for the translator for being able to keep up.

First, the government is committed to implementing the Canada first defence strategy, which ensures that Canadian Forces have the people, equipment, infrastructure and readiness required to defend Canada and Canadian interests, now and well into the future.

The Canadian Forces' most valuable resource is its trained personnel. The CF recognized that there must be a strong focus on updating training and equipment in order to conduct operations and maintain their ability to deploy on short notice within Canada, in North America and abroad. The Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces are taking all necessary steps to ensure that the men and women of the CF have access to the best training facilities available.

When considering the location of troop training and preparation, it is important to choose a location that offers the best training value for the standards that are needed to be achieved. Academi, formerly Xe Services, or Blackwater, has facilities in North Carolina that offer a number of technical ranges and specialized defensive driving circuits. While CF personnel received training primarily in precision shooting and defensive driving, some CF personnel also received training in very important person escort requirements and close quarter combat techniques as part of a close protection course.

Canadian Forces personnel typically provide their own expertise to conduct the training at Academi facilities, with the facilities' instructors providing technical training when CF personnel are not available due to a high operational tempo. The training conducted at these U.S. facilities is highly specialized and operationally essential for a wide range of CF members deploying on international missions, including military police, special forces and army operational support.

The Canadian Forces uses Academi facilities for a number of reasons: either the facilities do not exist in Canada; Canadian facilities exist but cannot accommodate the required volume of training; or adverse weather conditions, especially in the winter months, prevent CF facilities from being used. Contracting facilities for short periods of time is also the most cost effective alternative to investing in expensive infrastructure that will be used only a few times a year to meet unique training requirements.

The CF first began using Academi, or Blackwater's U.S. training centre in 1997 and a standing offer arrangement was awarded to the company in 2008 because it was the only facility capable of meeting the operational requirements for the specialized training of CF personnel.

Recently, more private companies have emerged and established similar facilities. With a wider range of options to meet future training requirements, the CF will continue to explore all opportunities to provide our troops with the best training possible.

The issues raised surrounding the conduct of Blackwater personnel, while providing close protection in Iraq in 2007, did not involve the type of training that the CF received at the time, and continue to receive today.

I would also like to emphasize that the Canadian Forces conduct their operations in accordance with applicable international and domestic law. The Canadian Forces stand ready to fulfill the government's vision as a modern first class military, and this government is committed to providing the military with the support it needs so that our troops can continue to do the important work that is asked of them.

At the same time, the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces are committed to making the best use of tax dollars and will focus resources in order to deliver on commitments made in the Canada first defence strategy and to establish the most capable and sustainable defence organization possible.

8:10 p.m.

NDP

Christine Moore NDP Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Madam Speaker, in addition to hiring a company known for having killed civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan to train our troops, the government did so without a tendering process. Between 2005 and 2010, the Department of National Defence spent $7.7 million on contracts with this company. Over $5.4 million was spent on this company after the massacre in Baghdad in 2007. The government does not seem to have asked any questions after 17 innocent civilians were killed. Why did it not hold a tendering process? When I asked my question, the Minister of National Defence answered that our Canadian Forces deserved to receive the best training possible.

Does he consider that having our forces trained by mercenaries who do not respect international laws and who are accused of war crimes is the best training possible? Does he not believe that being associated with Blackwater, Xe Services or Academi tarnishes the reputation of our Canadian Forces?

8:10 p.m.

Conservative

Mike Lake Conservative Edmonton—Mill Woods—Beaumont, AB

Madam Speaker, the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces endeavour to provide our men and women in uniform with access to state-of-the-art training facilities. Access to these facilities has a direct impact on the ability of the troops to carry out their missions and tasks. This training is operationally essential. It contributes to the safety and security of CF personnel operating in potentially hostile environments, such as Afghanistan where roughly 950 Canadian Forces trainers and support personnel are contributing to the NATO training mission.

The government is committed to implementing the Canada first defence strategy to ensure that the Canadian Forces have the people, equipment infrastructure and readiness necessary to defend Canada and Canadian interests now and well into the future. Canadians can take pride in having one of the most professional and best-trained militaries in the world.

8:10 p.m.

NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan NDP Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Madam Speaker, in November we learned from the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism that the government was cutting $31.5 million for immigration settlement services in Ontario. These cuts have been made without giving settlement service agencies the fair warning that they deserve. Settlement service agencies across the province are already struggling due to similar cuts by the Conservative government last year.

These services have a track record of producing results for newcomers, helping to ease their transition to life in Canada. They provide language training, assistance with finding housing, employment services, counselling services, community programming to help newcomers integrate into their communities, skills training and generally form a support network for those who have left everything behind in their home countries.

Despite these invaluable benefits, the government is cutting 5% of the funding to the settlement and immigration funding envelope. That works out to approximately $53 million in 2011-12 and an additional $6 million to be cut in 2012-13. Eighty per cent of the cuts for 2011-12 came out of the Ontario allocation. With the implementation of the new settlement allocation model in Ontario, an additional $20 million in cuts is anticipated in 2012 if the 2009 landing numbers are used. Yet the government claims that no cuts are being made, but rather that funds are just being reshuffled.

Even with the shuffling of funds, we are still looking at an overall cut of $6 million and $45 million in cuts from just two years ago. This shuffling is removing a disproportionate amount of money from Ontario and pitting province against province. This comes at a time when the number of newcomers is at an all-time high. Ontario still receives over 50% of these newcomers, the greater Toronto area being the final destination for the majority of these newcomers to Canada. Rather than respond to the needs of the provinces and these newcomers, the government has decided to balance the books on the backs of those new to our country.

Once again, consistently pitting province against province is not going to solve the deficit. Abandoning these programs is not going to solve the deficit. Newcomers are hard-working people who contribute greatly to our communities and to our economy.

At the federal level, we should be looking for ways to help ease the transition and help these newcomers better integrate into our society. We should not be abandoning programs that have a track record of producing results when the number of newcomers is at an all-time high. We need to ask more from our government. We need to ensure that it is not neglecting the needs of the hundreds of thousands of newcomers in Ontario and across the country.

Why is the government making it harder for newcomers to access the services they need? Will the minister maintain the key supports and services that newcomers need to thrive in our country?

8:15 p.m.

St. Catharines Ontario

Conservative

Rick Dykstra ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the effort the member for Scarborough—Rouge River has put into making her presentation this evening. It is a lot of work preparing for a late show. At the same time, a little history is important to understand why the member is off-track in terms of her statement and her understanding of the commitment that this government has made to settlement services in this country and, specifically, in Ontario.

The previous administration spent 13 years talking about settlement services. It increased investment in settlement services by zero dollars and 0% for the entire time Liberals were the government. When we took office in 2006, we tripled settlement services across the country. In particular, this had a significant impact in Ontario, going from $111 million in 2004-05, to $345 million in 2011-12.

Some would suggest that the increase by this government in 2006 was too aggressive and too quick for communities across Canada and especially in Ontario, because we deal directly with the service delivery agents, those who deliver the settlement services for us. We gave too much money too quickly. Had we spaced that out over a period of time, it probably would have been a more appropriate way to move forward. However, because of the lack of investment of the previous administration, we moved much more quickly. We did so based on percentages. At the time in 2006, close to 64% of the immigrants who came to this country settled in Ontario.

Today, there has been a significant reduction in the number of people who choose Ontario as a place to settle. If the member would like to become a defender of the Liberal premier in Ontario, I would submit that is not necessarily the right thing to do. When we look at where dollars should go, I do not think there is a member in the House of Commons who does not think that revenue and the supply of services and the direct delivery of those services is not done in a fair and appropriate way. It is done on a per capita basis.

We have seen a 12% reduction in the number of immigrants who have come to Ontario. That is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, from the perspective of the overall strength of our country, it is a very good thing. People are determining when they come to this country that Ontario does not have to be their first choice. There are so many other communities in province after province and territory where we see immigrants choosing to settle.

The settlement service funding that the member speaks so strongly about in terms of what it needs to do and where it needs to go has to follow the immigrant. It has to follow those who are settling here. It just does not get dumped into Ontario because she is a member of Parliament from Ontario. It needs to go where the services are needed, where we see individuals and families settling so they can do as she suggested and that is to settle quickly, efficiently, effectively and in a way that means a lot to them in terms of understanding our country.

8:20 p.m.

NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan NDP Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Madam Speaker, the government likes to talk about how it is spending more than its Liberal predecessor. Conservatives like to point out time and time again that they are doing better than bad. That is not a lofty goal to set for themselves.

At the end of the day, the federal government is not doing enough for settlement services across this country. Rather than making drastic cuts to these very important services that support successful integration, we should be funding these organizations to continue the work they are doing. We should continue to support them.

Newcomers continue to help build our country. As a nation, we should be doing all that we can to assist these groups in getting their feet firmly planted so that they can achieve their goals of contributing to their local communities and to our country, their country.

March 14th, 2012 / 8:20 p.m.

Conservative

Rick Dykstra Conservative St. Catharines, ON

Madam Speaker, I find it interesting that the member for Scarborough—Rouge River has moved from her position that Ontario has been underfunded to the position that she is just not happy with settlement services and the funding it receives from the federal government across the country.

Let us focus on Ontario. Ontario received 66% of the funding while only receiving 55% of the immigrants. If she is suggesting that Ontario needs to be favoured over every other province and territory in this country, I do not understand the premise of her argument. If she is suggesting that settlement services need to be fair across this country, as a member of Parliament from the province of Ontario, I use every opportunity I have to defend and ensure that settlement services are fair in Ontario. I submit, however, that when it receives 55% of the immigrants who come to this country on a yearly basis and 66% of the funding, that is an inequity, an imbalance and unfair.

On this side of the House, we are about fairness and ensuring that the delivery of services by whatever department or ministry we are talking about is the same in Ontario as in Quebec or any other province in this country.

8:20 p.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly, this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 8:24 p.m.)