That the House has lost confidence in the Minister of National Defence's ability to carry out his responsibilities on behalf of the government since, on multiple occasions, the Minister misrepresented his military service and provided misleading information to the House.
Mr. Speaker, usually I rise and say that it is an honour to get up and speak, but today is unfortunate in that we have to debate this motion to discuss the comments made by the Minister of National Defence and some of his other misleading comments. There is also a question of privilege that I have already raised in the House on another matter.
Today, opposition members will make the case that the Minister of National Defence has had only a casual relationship with the truth, that he has continually misled the House and Canadians, and that his behaviour is demoralizing our troops and has caused our veterans to be incredibly angry. We also know that our allies are going to have trouble taking him seriously. There is a credibility issue here. We know that the minister's reputation is now damaged beyond repair, and it is a sad state that we have had to come to this point, where a motion is required in the House to ask the minister to resign.
I expect that the Minister of National Defence will get up today and offer an apology. I expect that he will factually state what his service record is. None of us disputes his actual service record. He has served honourably in three tours in Afghanistan and one tour in Bosnia. He was a lieutenant-colonel in the reserve force, and he has always been commended for his service and for the efforts he has put in on behalf of Canada.
The minister will go on to talk about other issues. He is going to try to change the channel so that we are not talking about his comments and his embellishment of history. He is going to start talking about the defence policy review and all the great things the government is going to do, but it is really unfortunate that we cannot talk about those things, because nobody trusts the defence minister at this time.
We will be the voice for those veterans and military members who were first disappointed and then outraged, and are now in dismay and despair over the minister's conduct. It is actually demoralizing our front-line soldiers. Not only are we going to talk about the role of the minister in Operation Medusa, but we will also come to the question of privilege that I have in the House over his misleading comments and the facts revolving around our troops who are in the fight against ISIS at Camp Arifjan and having those danger pay benefits taken away and not returned in their entirety.
We will also talk about the so-called capability gap in our fighter jets and how that does not match up to what members as well as past commanders of the Royal Canadian Air Force have said. We will also touch on the minister's comments in the past that pulling our CF-18s out of the fight against ISIS was something that he never received any commentary on, even though the facts, through an access to information request, prove otherwise.
We know that under the leadership of the Minister of National Defence we have seen budget cuts in two successive budgets by the Liberals, which have reduced the spending and future investments in our military by $12 billion. Now with the minister's credibility completely undermined, by himself, I might add, there is no way that our military trusts him to actually deliver anything in the future for them.
Finally, it comes back to whether or not he has the strength at the cabinet table to get things done, to stand up for our troops, and to deliver the equipment and the budgets that they need to go forward.
One of the best comments that capsulize why our Minister of National Defence would embellish his service record in Operation Medusa comes from retired Lieutenant-General William Carr, who is the father of today's modern air force in Canada, someone we could actually call an architect. He said in a letter to the editor:
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan's search for recognition is a national embarrassment.
To the sailors, soldiers and airmen in the Department of National Defence, his image is, at best, one of an insecure veteran in a field he professes to know. For the good of the Canadian Forces, his departure would be a relief.
That sums up the calls, emails, letters, and social media posts that have inundated my office.
It is critical that we look at the code of conduct the minister is subjected to, both formerly as a serving member of the Canadian Armed Forces and now as the Minister of National Defence. The definition of “integrity” from the Department of National Defence and Canadian Armed Forces Code of Values and Ethics states:
To have integrity is to have unconditional and steadfast commitment to a principled approach to meeting your obligations while being responsible and accountable for your actions. Accordingly, being a person of integrity calls for honesty, the avoidance of deception and adherence to high ethical standards. Integrity insists that your actions be consistent with established codes of conduct and institutional values. It specifically requires transparency in actions, speaking and acting with honesty and candour, the pursuit of truth regardless of personal consequences, and a dedication to fairness and justice. Integrity must especially be manifested in leaders and commanders because of the powerful effect of their personal example on peers and subordinates.
That is there for all to see online. There are tables that actually lay this all out. Table 2 clearly states that it is applicable to all DND employees and all members of the Canadian Armed Forces. People are expected to act above the law, to be transparent and ethical, and to have integrity.
If someone did what the minister did, under the code that both the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces have, that person would show a lack of integrity. Those in service can be court-martialled. Those are the guidelines that are applicable in the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces.
As the Minister of National Defence, as the leader of the entire armed forces as well as all employees, the minister has to be held to the highest standard and has to meet that high bar each and every day. Anything below it is a failure.
The Prime Minister's “Open and Accountable Government” document, which lays out the code of conduct and ethical behaviour of ministers and parliamentary secretaries, says:
Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries must act with honesty and must uphold the highest ethical standards so that public confidence and trust in the integrity and impartiality of government are maintained and enhanced.
This reflects on the Prime Minister. He has laid out in this code of conduct that he expects open and accountable government, and yet the Minister of National Defence has failed to live up to that code.
Everyone is wondering, and I hope that today the minister will explain why he felt he needed to embellish his story on Operation Medusa. This was not just a misspeaking. Video evidence shows that he first said this in 2015, when he was campaigning as the Liberal candidate to become the member of Parliament for Vancouver South. He said it quite openly. We do not know how many times it has been repeated behind closed doors or in meetings where he claimed to be “the architect” of Operation Medusa.
On April 18, in a speech in Delhi, the minister clearly stated it. Again, it was not just him speaking. He actually inserted it himself into his speaking notes. People can get the speech online. It has been checked against delivery, meaning that it has gone through the proper processes of being reviewed by the department and by the minister's own staff. The National Post reported on April 30, “It was [the minister] who personally inserted 'the line about Medusa' into the speech, his spokeswoman Jordan Owens said Sunday.” This was not a misspeaking. This was not an accident. This was intentional, and that is very disturbing.
It has been called all sorts of things in the media. We know that people are outraged. We understand that, because everyone expects the minister to be held to the highest ethical standards. Everybody expects that he will act with honesty and avoid deception. His story, his embellishment, his over-exaggeration of his role in Operation Medusa as the architect has also been described as stolen valour.
I received correspondence from retired Major Catherine Campbell, who served 27 years in the Canadian Armed Forces. She also served 18 years as an employee at DND. She sent a letter to the Minister of National Defence. She wrote: “I have to say that I have great respect for what you did in Afghanistan. I don't know why that wasn't honour enough for you. Apparently, it wasn't because on at least two occasions you misinformed us. You claim to have been the architect of Operation Medusa when, as a major working in intelligence, you had nothing to do with the battle plan. That honour belongs to other soldiers, your superior officers. Now, everyone knows that. Worst of all, everyone in the Canadian Armed Forces knows it and they have lost all respect for you. You know enough of the military to know that you cannot continue to lead the men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces, having lost the respect and trust in this way.
Her letter continued: “I listened to your answers in question period and it was painful. Your response, perhaps drafted by the PMO, was that you made a mistake. A mistake? No, you did not make a mistake. You deliberately and intentionally misled everyone on at least two occasions. You don't get to say, 'I made a mistake and now I'm sorry.' No, I'm afraid there's only one thing for you to do under these circumstances, and that is to resign and make a heartfelt apology to the men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces for having misled them and having been untruthful about the worst thing that a service member or an officer can be untruthful about in the Canadian Armed Forces.
She wrote: “I imagine you've read the manual Duty with Honour: The Profession of Arms in Canada. I recommend that the minister read it again and perhaps then he will understand what he has to do.”
That comes from one of our veterans. Long-serving members who have been there alongside the minister, serving this great country and doing what needs to be done are so disappointed.
Today's soldiers, today's troops, are also being impacted by the actions of the Minister of National Defence. One parent contacted me and asked that I not use his name because he wants to protect his family member who is currently serving. He said: “This morning, I spoke to my son about the matter stolen valour by the Minister of Defence. I have to tell you first-hand that, without any doubt, this is a matter that has directly affected the morale and confidence of Canada's front-line infantry soldiers. There is no greater betrayal to the trust and confidence of soldiers than stolen valour. The minister, by fabricating his role to his country for his own personal gain and profile, has undermined and betrayed the trust of the men and women he is supposed to represent. I wanted you to know this. As the father of a young soldier that would give his life to this country, that this deception has shaken the Canadian Forces, from the minister's office right down to the infantry soldier. If the minister has any remnant of a military officer left in his conscience, he will do the right and honourable thing and remove himself from office.”
That capsulizes what people are feeling about the minister's comments on Operation Medusa.
We also have to go to the question of privilege that I raised in this House over the minister's misleading comments on tax relief and danger pay benefits provided to our soldiers at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait, and how it also applies to others. If members will recall, I have been raising this in the House for some time. It started with bringing it to the minister's attention privately. Then we brought it up at committee. Then we asked questions here in the House. He continued to say that he was going to take care of it and did not.
There actually had to be a motion brought in from the Conservative side, which received unanimous support, to reinstate the danger pay benefits to all our troops who are fighting ISIS. The answer to my Question No. 600 on the Order Paper, under the minister's own signature, clearly states that it was the Liberals in September 2016 who took away the danger pay of already deployed troops, who went there under the understanding that they were going to receive upwards of $9,000 in benefits, which have been removed. The minister continued to say it was the Conservatives who took away these benefits.
The Conservatives were not in government in September 2016. The Liberals were. The minister's answer, dated January 30, proved that the benefits were there, effective October 5, 2014, when the Conservatives were still in power, to September 1, 2016, when the Liberals took them away. The minister actually put out a press release saying that they restored them, but they did not. They only restored half of them.
We received letters from various soldiers who are serving over there. They sent a letter and there was a blast out to everyone here in the House. It said that our troops in Kuwait right now are feeling despair at this point because they do not feel valued or recognized for the risks they are facing and the hardship placed on their families here at home while they are deployed.
There is another issue I would like to raise. This information was received through an access to information request. It has to do with when the Minister of National Defence ordered our CF-18s to return home from the fight against ISIS, that we stop bombing ISIS terrorists, and that we bring them home.
The minister was over in Iraq meeting with the Iraqi defence minister and other government officials on December 20. On December 21, he met with the Kurdistan regional government. He said in an interview in The Globe and Mail on December 21, 2015, “I haven't had one discussion about the CF-18s”, not one, and yet, our access to information request clearly stated, in a wire that was sent home on December 22, in writing a summary for December 20 about Canada's Minister of National Defence, “the Iraqi minister of defence was clearly focused on Canada's decision to withdraw its CF-18 fighter jets from the coalition air strikes, asking the [Minister of National Defence] to reconsider this decision on numerous occasions”. On December 21, he said it was never once brought to his attention.
We know he was going to Erbil to meet with the Kurdistan regional government, but we know on October 21, 2015 that the chief of staff to the Kurdistan regional government said, “It was bad news for us.” Then on November 22, the foreign affairs minister of the Kurdistan regional government said, “We'd like to keep the air strikes.” This is all public information on the discussions that they had with our Minister of National Defence. He keeps saying that our allies were ecstatic about our pulling out our CF-18s. Again, it is misrepresenting the facts, misleading Canadians, and undermining his own credibility.
Finally, I want to come back to this issue of a capability gap of our fighter jets. We know that it is a fabricated issue that the minister invented to try to make commentary on why we need to sole-source Super Hornets. Lieutenant-General Michael Hood, the commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force, said in committee that there is “sufficient capacity to support a transition to a replacement fighter capability based on the ongoing projects and planned life extension to 2025 for the CF-18." He also stated on November 28, “We were comfortable as an armed forces in meeting those”—NORAD and NATO commitments—“with our extant fleet. That policy has changed with a requirement to be able to meet both of those concurrently, as opposed to managing them together,”—which we've always done as a nation—“thus the requirement to increase the number of fighters available.”
Finally, we had 13 former commanders of the Royal Canadian Air Force who have written that purchasing the Super Hornets is ill-advised, costly, and unnecessary because there is no capability gap.
As members can see, the Minister of National Defence has a long track record of misleading this House and misleading Canadians, to the point that now Canadians do not believe him. We know that our troops no longer trust him and are demoralized. Our veterans are outraged that he is no longer taken seriously by our allies.