House of Commons Hansard #172 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was national.

Topics

Opposition Motion—Minister of National DefenceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Cooper Conservative St. Albert—Edmonton, AB

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Carlton Trail—Eagle Creek.

It is a disappointment to rise in the House on this debate. It is disappointing that we have a Minister of National Defence who has been less than straightforward with the truth, a minister who fabricated something of significance. That fabrication was the role the minister played in one of the largest military operations in Canadian history. As a result of that fabrication, the Minister of National Defence has dishonoured the brave men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces.

What is all the more disappointing is that the minister who did this is someone who has served with distinction. He has a distinguished service record. The minister served his community of Vancouver as a member of the Vancouver police department. He served Canada as a member of the Canadian Armed Forces, where he served overseas on four occasions, including three times in Afghanistan.

The service of the Minister of National Defence is not in question by any member of the House. Indeed, the minister has every right to be proud of his record of service as a member of the Canadian Armed Forces.

However, the issue today is not about the minister's past service to the country. It is about his recent actions as a Liberal politician. In particular, the issue before us is the issue that arose when the minister spoke in New Delhi, where he falsely claimed that he was the architect of Operation Medusa. It is true that the minister played a role in Operation Medusa, and indeed, several members of the Canadian Armed Forces in senior ranks have credited the minister for the leadership he provided and his service in Operation Medusa. However, the minister was not the architect of Operation Medusa.

What is worse is that this is not the first time the minister has misrepresented his role in Operation Medusa. Indeed, during the 2015 campaign, when the minister was then a candidate, he similarly claimed that he was the architect of Operation Medusa. When the minister was called on it at that time, instead of owning up to the fact that he had misrepresented the facts, instead of apologizing, he tried to claim that really, all he was doing was quoting something General Vance had coined. In other words, General Vance had called the minister the architect of Operation Medusa. The only problem with the minister's statement was that General Vance did not take command in Afghanistan until 2009, three years after Operation Medusa ceased.

The Minister of National Defence says that what he said was a mistake. It was not a mistake. It was a fabrication, and it was a fabrication the minister made not once but on at least two occasions. The words of the minister are not ambiguous. They are not at issue in terms of what he really said. Indeed, the minister's words were clear and unambiguous.

The minister said that he was the architect of Operation Medusa, full stop. Not only that, the minister actually physically inserted those words into the speech, according to his own spokesman. What we are talking about here is something that was planned, something that was deliberate.

Why would the minister misrepresent his record of service in Afghanistan? Clearly it was to impress a foreign audience in New Delhi. The minister thought he could get away with it, but he did not get away with it. He now sort of provides a half-apology. I do not know if I have ever actually heard a complete, full apology from the minister. I say that this is not good enough. It is not good enough for the brave men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces. Men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces, every day, are expected to adhere to the highest standards of excellence. They should expect no less from the Minister of National Defence who is charged with leading them.

The seriousness of what the Minister of National Defence did cannot be minimized. We are talking about one of the largest military operations in Canadian history, which the minister claimed he was the architect of. We are talking about the second-largest NATO operation since the Korean War. It was an operation that involved the service and sacrifice of hundreds of Canadian soldiers, service and sacrifice the minister has taken credit for. There is a term for what the Minister of National Defence did, and that term is “stolen valour”.

The fundamental values of the Canadian Armed Forces include duty, integrity, loyalty, and courage. The actions of the minister are the antithesis of those fundamental values of the Canadian Armed Forces. Moreover, they are in contravention of the Canadian Armed Forces' code of values and ethics. They would be subject to sanction, in fact, under section 129 of the Code of Service Discipline.

The actions of the minister have outraged many men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces.

William Sinclair, a 37-year veteran of the Canadian Armed Force, wrote on Facebook, “Minister, as a veteran of 37 years of military service, what the Minister of National Defence has done to the military and to Canadians alike is downright wrong. He has lost all respect, I think, of all veterans of Afghanistan and of all the military as a whole. He should be made to resign his cabinet post as minister. He is a disgrace to the Canadian military.”

William Sinclair, a 37-year veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces, is just one of many.

Notwithstanding his record of service, his distinguished record of service, which no one calls into question, the Minister of National Defence, through his own actions, through his own choices, and through his own hubris, brought disgrace upon himself. As a result, he has dishonoured the men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces. As a result, there is only one thing left for the minister to do to restore his own credibility and to demonstrate respect for the men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces, and that is to resign immediately as Minister of National Defence.

Opposition Motion—Minister of National DefenceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

NDP

Cheryl Hardcastle NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, I know that several people are folding in different aspects of this issue. I hold in very high regard the efforts of the Minister of National Defence in terms of his role as a soldier and as a person who dedicated himself and his bravery to a higher sense of purpose in his military role.

That said, I also understand, as my hon. colleague explained, that there is also the higher sense of purpose to being a member of Parliament here in this House, knowing that we have a Prime Minister who issued mandate letters to all of the ministers that are very much in the spirit and crux of what my hon. colleague described in his speech. I wonder if there is now a concern with regard to there now being several versions of what has happened and that maybe this idea of mere fabrication means that we should be looking again at the conflict of interest issue in terms of quashing an inquiry into Afghan detainees.

I wonder if my hon. colleague can comment on how the evolution of this issue has maybe allowed him to revisit and reconsider the consequences of this kind of fabrication on an actual conflict of interest.

Opposition Motion—Minister of National DefenceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Cooper Conservative St. Albert—Edmonton, AB

Mr. Speaker, first of all, the Afghan issue has been examined at considerable length. I would recognize that the member for Windsor—Tecumseh raises an interesting point that ties in to the various statements the minister has made about his role in Operation Medusa. There was the statement that he was the architect. Then there was the statement that he was not the architect, but played a significant role. Then there is what the Minister of National Defence submitted to the Ethics Commissioner, which was that he was just there in an advisory capacity for cultural purposes and the training of police.

It highlights once again that on the question of Operation Medusa, the minister has been less than forthcoming. It calls into question the minister's judgment and his ability to continue on as minister.

Opposition Motion—Minister of National DefenceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Liberal

Yves Robillard Liberal Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to quote a letter of recommendation from General Fraser concerning the Minister of National Defence:

I rate him as one of the best intelligence officers I have ever worked with—fearless, smart, and personable, and I would not hesitate to have him on my staff at any time in the future. I have advised my chain of command that the Canadian Forces must capture his skillset, and seek his advice on how to change our entire tactical intelligence training and architecture to best meet the needs of future deployed units fighting in extremely complex human battlespace.

When will the opposition stop playing petty politics with this file? Dear colleagues, you are going nowhere and are only serving to sow confusion among Canadians.

Opposition Motion—Minister of National DefenceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

I would like to remind members to address their comments to the Chair.

The member for St. Albert—Edmonton.

Opposition Motion—Minister of National DefenceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Cooper Conservative St. Albert—Edmonton, AB

Mr. Speaker, the only hon. member who is sowing confusion is the hon. member for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin, because no one questioned the service of the Minister of National Defence, his bravery, courage, and his service to Canada as a member of the Canadian Armed Forces. I guess the member for Marc-Aurèle-Fortin must not have heard half of my speech, in which I went into some length about the minister's service.

That is not the issue. The issue is that the minister misrepresented something very significant about his service. As a result, he has brought disgrace upon himself and dishonoured the men and women whom he is charged with leading.

I remind the hon. member that this is not a minor matter. It is a serious matter, and the minister needs to take responsibility by resigning.

Opposition Motion—Minister of National DefenceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Kelly Block Conservative Carlton Trail—Eagle Creek, SK

Mr. Speaker, the motion we are considering today is not something that we take lightly, and believe me when I say that I take no joy in adding my voice to the voices of my colleagues in the Conservative Party and the NDP in asking for the Minister of National Defence to resign.

Despite the fact that we serve in different political parties, it is not hard to respect the courage and commitment to Canada shown by the defence minister. For 28 years, he served with the Canadian Armed Forces. His service record speaks for itself, and the honours he has received speak to the high esteem his colleagues and superiors held him in. This is why I honour his courage, his dedication, and his valour on the battlefield.

However, we are not here to debate the defence minister's military service. We are here instead to debate his ability to lead the men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces. The only question that is relevant is whether or not the minister has the confidence of those whose lives depend on the policy choices that he makes. In this respect, the answer is clearly no.

The greatest anger, outrage, and betrayal has come from those brave men and women who served in Afghanistan. It goes without saying that anyone who served in Afghanistan put their lives on the line for Canada. Whether they were in the green zone in Kabul or forward operating bases in Kandahar, there was an imminent threat that they could be killed by the Taliban. The valour and courage with which Canadians served in Afghanistan brought honour and distinction to Canada, and we owe them a debt of gratitude. They are our heroes.

Every society from the dawn of civilization has celebrated military acts of courage, immortalizing the heroes who performed such deeds, whether it was individual acts of heroism on the battlefield or ingenious innovations for strategy or technique. That is why in military culture, the idea of stolen valour is such a taboo.

When our men and women in uniform perform heroic acts of service, they deserve full credit for their deeds. Our entire miliary honour system is based on recognizing individuals for actions that go above and beyond the call of duty. The defence minister has rightly been recognized, through this system, for the work he did. However, when people take credit for the work of others in order to make themselves appear more important, they are attempting to erase the acts of valour that their brothers and sisters in arms undertook.

This is why this deception, as acknowledged by the minister, matters. By claiming to be the architect of Operation Medusa, the defence minister sought to receive full credit for the work of an entire team of senior military planners. As one of the key intelligence officers in the region, he rightly has been recognized for providing invaluable intelligence that assisted those planning the operation. To take credit for being the master planner steals credit from officers much more senior than himself, including officers from other nations. This stolen valour is not taken just from Canadian troops, it is also taken from our British and Australian allies, which reflects poorly on Canada as a whole.

The Minister of National Defence has yet to explain why he has on multiple occasions made this false claim. The two highest-profile examples took place first in the 2015 election campaign, and then in a recent speech in India. In both of these instances, the minister was embellishing to improve people's impressions of himself. The first time was in the election when he was speaking with local media, in order to make himself appear more important to those people who might vote for him. The second instance was when he was speaking to an audience in New Delhi, representing Canada abroad. He clearly was more interested in his ego and reputation than the facts. He knew it was untrue, and now he has had to apologize multiple times for both the deception and the damage it has done. This is, unfortunately, a growing pattern of deception and loose treatment of facts by the minister.

The minister's word in the House of Commons has been contradicted by his officials in multiple instances. The minister told this House that our allies in the Middle East were not concerned when the Liberals pulled our CF-18s from the fight against ISIS. Briefing notes that have come to light since showed that our allies begged Canada to stay in the fight. The minister told this House that the previous government had not provided tax breaks to our armed forces members in Kuwait who were part of the battle against ISIS. This was also contradicted by an Order Paper question that the minister himself signed. The minister has repeatedly argued that Canada faces a capabilities gap when it comes to replacing the CF-18s. This is also contradicted by public testimony of our air force officers in charge of our CF-18 squadrons. The only conclusion that makes sense is that the minister has given up accuracy and truthfulness in exchange for political expediency.

It is no secret that the Prime Minister and the Liberal Party do not respect our military. The Liberal approach to our armed forces has consistently demonstrated that the Liberals believe their political strategists know best, even when they are recklessly putting our men and women in harm's way. This must be an incredibly uncomfortable position for the Minister of National Defence to be in. His entire career was based on serving his brothers and sisters in arms. Now he is the one who has to tell them, with a straight face, that what the current Liberal government is doing is in their best interest. Therefore, it is no wonder that he has decided to play fast and loose with the facts, because the facts do not support the Liberals' approach.

In conclusion, the Minister of National Defence has lost the confidence of the men and women he is accountable for. They do not trust his ability to fight for them at the cabinet table. Their trust in him as an honourable soldier has been shaken. Given the uncertain global climate we find ourselves in, we need a defence minister in whom Canadians have confidence. The minister's loose treatment of the facts casts grave doubts on his ability to manage this important department.

Mr. Speaker, do not take my word for that. Take the words of a retired colonel, Ian Barnes. He said the following:

[The defence minister's] claim that during his tour in Afghanistan in 2006 he was the architect of Operation Medusa is preposterous. [...]

[The minister] has shown by his actions that he is an embarrassment to Canada and is not suitable to hold the position of Minister of National Defence. He should be removed from office.

These are the words of a retired colonel, and we have heard many other words from veterans and retired members of our military service. For these reasons, this House has lost confidence in the minister's ability to do his job. The only honourable course of action is for the minister to resign. We, on this side of the House, call on him to do the honourable thing.

Opposition Motion—Minister of National DefenceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Liberal

Ken Hardie Liberal Fleetwood—Port Kells, BC

Mr. Speaker, I wonder how many of the people who are quoted from the opposition benches were in the room when plans were being made. How can they say with such assurance that things did not happen or did happen when they probably were not there?

I would also want the member to comment on the fact that there is a site in Canada called Stolen Valour, where veterans stick up for the issue of people claiming things that are not true and discrediting the military in doing so. Perhaps the member can explain why there are zero references to this incident on this site that is set up by veterans to deal with incidents of stolen valour.

Opposition Motion—Minister of National DefenceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Kelly Block Conservative Carlton Trail—Eagle Creek, SK

Mr. Speaker, I cannot speak to intents or why folks have not gone on that specific site, but we have been quoting veterans throughout this debate. I can quote another one, if the member would like. Robert Wortman, a 20-year veteran of the Canadian forces said the following:

[The Minister of National Defence] has no credibility left and so he should resign. I served in the military for 20 years and if someone continued to [mislead] me, trying to take credit for something someone else did, he should not be in a position of trust.

How can anyone in the military trust the minister now?

Opposition Motion—Minister of National DefenceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have been in contact with an Afghan vet from my riding. He has definitely disclosed his disfavour with the comments made by the Minister of Defence. He said that if he had a commanding officer that had operated similarly when he was in the military, the expectation would have been that he or she would resign because of the lack of respect that commander would have.

I wonder if the member could tell us about a conversation she has had with one of her constituents.

Opposition Motion—Minister of National DefenceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Kelly Block Conservative Carlton Trail—Eagle Creek, SK

Mr. Speaker, I have spent some time back home in my riding and this has been brought to my attention. One of the terms I have heard recently in regard to this conversation is “ethical fading”. It refers to an erosion of the ethical standards of a business or organization in which members of that business or organization become used to engaging in or condoning such behaviour.

I would like to remind my colleague and those participating in the debate that there is a national defence code of ethics. My hon. colleague quoted it earlier. Being a person of integrity calls for honesty and the avoidance of deception. It requires the pursuit of truth regardless of personal consequences. We have to pay attention to that.

When we have retired members of our Canadian Armed Forces who see the kind of ethical fading we see today, it creates great angst for them, and it is why we are hearing from them in the way we are.

Opposition Motion—Minister of National DefenceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.

Liberal

Ruby Sahota Liberal Brampton North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Aurora—Oak Ridges—Richmond Hill.

I am pleased to rise in the House today to take part in this debate initiated by the official opposition, which is putting into question the ability of the Minister of National Defence to carry out his responsibility.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the Minister of National Defence for his years of dedicated service to our country: over 10 years as a police officer, over 25 years in the Canadian Reserves, and four deployments to Afghanistan and Bosnia. In our minister, we have a decorated war hero, and this is very uncommon. I am proud to have him as my minister.

The official opposition has been trying very hard recently to downgrade and diminish the image and the reputation of the minister by making all kinds of insinuations.

I have quite a different image of the Minister of National Defence. I remember how honoured he was in November 2015 to be appointed the Minister of National Defence. I remember how privileged and humbled he was to have the opportunity to serve as Canada's Minister of National Defence. I remember a message he sent to me and all parliamentarians three weeks after his appointment, on November 27, 2015, to be exact, in which he advocated how, as a government, we were committed to governing for all Canadians and bringing Canadians together, including all parliamentarians.

He highlighted the Prime Minister and the government's sincere commitment to renew openness and collaboration in the pursuit of the priorities of our country. He appealed to the fact that each of us, as elected officials, had been selected by our respective constituents to act as their voice and their advocates in Ottawa and acknowledged that each of us brought value and informed perspectives to the table.

The final part of this email to all of us is one of the most relevant and most valuable elements of the character of the minister. It states, “With that in mind, I want to personally convey to you that my office is open to all Parliamentary colleagues who want to contribute to our work on defence. I can assure you that the Government is committed to ensuring that the Canadian Armed Forces continues to stand amongst the best military forces in the world, and remains well-positioned to continue serving this great country.· We look forward to working in partnership with you in that endeavour. Together, we will chart the way forward for our men and women in uniform.”

Canadians expect openness and accessibility. We know that these values are central to a free and civil society. They are among the pillars of democracies.

At the very beginning of his mandate, this is what the Minister of National Defence was offering to the members of the House and to the members of the Senate: He is a minister who over the last 18 months has been working tirelessly, day after day, to put together all the necessary elements to ensure the Canadian Armed Forces continues to stand among the best military forces in the world and remains well-positioned, well-equipped, and ready to serve our country.

There are few responsibilities greater than the safety and security of our country. Every day, the women and men of the Canadian Armed Forces undertake vital, challenging, and often dangerous work to keep our country and world safe.

At the beginning of this month, members of our navy return to Halifax after two months in West Africa, helping to strengthen maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea. In February, the Canadian Armed Forces provided assistance to the people of the Acadian Peninsula in northern New Brunswick after that region was hit by a massive ice storm. Recently, the Canadian Rangers in northern Ontario helped evacuate the Kashechewan First Nation as it faced potential flooding. Now the forces have a mission under way to assist the residents of Quebec who are facing the same crisis.

CAF members continue to demonstrate globally recognized leadership skills by helping train security forces in Iraq and Ukraine.

Overseas and close to home, CAF members achieve much more than what can be described in words alone. It is vital that we communicate their work to Canadians. The Department of National Defence reports on that work directly to the public by sharing the data it can via the open Canada initiative, access to information releases, and progress reports on important initiatives such as Operation Honour.

However, as elected officials, we have an additional responsibility to our constituents to obtain information on their behalf about our armed forces. As Canadians, we owe it to our service members to understand and promote the work they do to make this world a better place in defending our country.

That is why the Minister of National Defence has reintroduced key access opportunities for parliamentarians, opportunities that had been cancelled by the previous government, so that we, as the representatives of citizens, can see first-hand how our men and women work to keep Canada safe and secure, and to see how their government is investing in its military.

Until last year, if a member of Parliament wanted to visit a military facility in his or her riding, he or she needed to get the approval of the Minister of National Defence. In other words, in order for a representative of the Canadian people to tour facilities and understand the perspective of Canadian Armed Forces members in his or her own riding, he or she had to appeal not to the leaders of those facilities, those who would know the facilities best, but to a cabinet minister in Ottawa. That is not open. That is not accessible. That is not right.

Therefore, in February 2016, at the direction of the minister, the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces changed access regulations to make it easier for parliamentarians to visit military facilities. This change empowers base commanders and commanding officers of Canadian Forces support units to approve and accept requests for visits from members of Parliament and senators who represent them.

This change respects the knowledge of base commanders and commanding officers of their own facilities. They know better than anyone how to balance security considerations with the obligation to share their work with elected representatives. We have ensured they are the ones making decisions that serve both.

This increased access benefits parliamentarians from coast to coast to coast who represent areas with military facilities. There are many other places in Canada, however, where the physical presence of the Canadian Armed Forces is not as directly felt.

The Minister of National Defence believes that it is vital for all parliamentarians, not just those fortunate enough to have CAF facilities in their ridings, to interact with members of the Canadian Armed Forces. This approach involves more than visiting them where they work at facilities. It also means visiting them during exercises across Canada.

That is why, with strong support from the minister, the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces reinstated the Canadian Armed Forces parliamentary program this year after it was revoked six years ago. To date, 32 members of Parliament and five Senators of all political stripes have participated in events that give them the chance to live and work with CAF members.

In the House today, there are colleagues who have patrolled the Pacific on the HMCS Vancouver and visited CFB Esquimalt. There are colleagues who have sailed from Halifax to St. John's aboard the HMCS Ville de Quebec no later than last week. There are colleagues who will work alongside thousands of army and air force members from Canada and abroad in Alberta later this spring.

This is openness and accessibility, and it is the minister that made sure it happened. He believes that the notion of open and free government is hollow if we do not share our work. He is so proud of the Canadian Armed Forces and of the work of those who sacrifice so much to protect our openness and freedom for Canadians.

Opposition Motion—Minister of National DefenceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

Luc Berthold Conservative Mégantic—L'Érable, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her speech.

I may have some questions for her, but I would first like to remind her why we are here. We are not here to talk about the member's military history or the kind of army major he used to be. We are here to talk about his role as a politician and about the fact that he, by his own admission, exaggerated his achievements as a soldier. That is inexcusable in the army.

Since this morning, I have been listening to the speeches given by all of the members opposite, and I think that it is shameful that they are hiding behind the army, the men and women who are currently serving. The members opposite are talking more about the army than about the minister's behaviour. They are making the same mistake as the minister by using the army to try to defend the indefensible.

Winston Churchill said, “We are masters of the unsaid words, but slaves of those we let slip out.”

Does my colleague agree with the minister who said that he was the architect of Operation Medusa?

Opposition Motion—Minister of National DefenceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Ruby Sahota Liberal Brampton North, ON

Mr. Speaker, actions speak louder than words, and that is exactly what the minister has been doing. He has been acting. We have not seen a defence policy review in over 20 years. There are many governments to blame for this, but it took 20 years and the current minister to do a defence policy review. In my riding, I held consultations, and several veterans and members of the Canadian Armed Forces showed up for that consultation. They thanked the minister, who is taking action in order to protect our men and women in the armed forces, to make sure they have what they need to protect Canadians.

Many have come forward. Chris Vernon, chief of staff of Operation Medusa, called the minister “a critical member of the planning and design team”. Retired Major-General Lewis MacKenzie said that he considered the minister to be one of the architects of Operation Medusa.

Opposition Motion—Minister of National DefenceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

Luc Berthold Conservative Mégantic—L'Érable, QC

But has he thought about what he said?

Opposition Motion—Minister of National DefenceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Ruby Sahota Liberal Brampton North, ON

These are people who were in the room, Madam Speaker. These are people who know what they are talking about.

Opposition Motion—Minister of National DefenceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

Conservative

Luc Berthold Conservative Mégantic—L'Érable, QC

But is he sorry?

Opposition Motion—Minister of National DefenceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

May 8th, 2017 / 5:30 p.m.

Liberal

Ruby Sahota Liberal Brampton North, ON

The leader of—

Opposition Motion—Minister of National DefenceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

NDP

The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

Order. I would remind the member for Mégantic—L'Érable, who just asked the question, to be respectful and allow the member to answer the question. If he has another question, then I would suggest that he stand and ask it.

Questions and comments, the hon. member for Windsor West.

Opposition Motion—Minister of National DefenceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Madam Speaker, actions do speak louder than words, and the problem is that the minister, through no fault of anyone else, has put himself in this situation by claiming that he took different actions at different times. I have listened all day, and I also heard the minister speak. It is not the fault of anyone, other than himself, for being in the situation of having three different scenarios. We have yet to hear from the minister as to what the truth is with regard to his actions, which are pertinent to his job and credibility, among not only his colleagues here but the military service. Using his military service as a shield for Liberal actions is a rather insulting way to go about apologizing.

The minister has claimed that (a), he played a key role as an intelligence officer; (b) was a reservist working on capacity building for Aghan police; or (c) was the architect of Operation Medusa. Was it (a), (b), or (c)?

Opposition Motion—Minister of National DefenceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

Liberal

Ruby Sahota Liberal Brampton North, ON

Madam Speaker, the minister has apologized, and we must move forward from this. He has apologized and remains focused on making sure that our brave and women are equipped and trained to face the difficult tasks ahead of them. It was stated that he was one of the architects and part of the design and planning team by those who were leading this operation. I believe the minister has done a great service for his country where this operation is concerned.

Opposition Motion—Minister of National DefenceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

Liberal

Leona Alleslev Liberal Aurora—Oak Ridges—Richmond Hill, ON

Madam Speaker, I would like to continue this debate by focusing on one of the more substantive issues that have been brought up today and to further expand on some of what the Minister of National Defence has already said. I would like to take this opportunity to discuss the importance of Canada's fleet of fighter jets and the need to ensure this capability continues while meeting our commitments at home and abroad.

I am sure all parliamentarians recognize that situational awareness and the capability to respond over Canada's vast land mass, maritime approaches, and airspace are vital to exercising Canadian sovereignty. Canada's CF-18 fleet provides significant support to that awareness. I also remind the House that numerous times in recent years our fighters have intercepted Russian bombers capable of carrying cruise missiles that were exported beyond advanced fighters. In fact, they have been intercepted with a frequency at times nearing that of the height of the Cold War.

Beyond Canada's borders, we also have a responsibility to do our part to defend the continent at large. We need to be on guard not only for Canada, but also for our closest neighbour and ally, the United States. This defence relationship, known as the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, is fundamental to our mutual security.

As chair of our Canadian NATO Parliamentary Association, I would like to also assure the House that our membership and commitment to the NATO alliance is also very important and highly valued by our allies, particularly with respect to our upcoming mission in Latvia as one of the framework nations.

It is important to understand that other countries' military are not the only threat we face. Since 9/11, NORAD has been prepared to defend against attacks involving civilian aircraft. NORAD also played a major support role for high-profile events like the Vancouver Olympics, as well as G7 and G20 meetings both in Canada and the U.S. Whatever the assigned mission, our forces need the capability to act as and when required, and recent events underline the very real need to be able to intercept aircraft to control Canadian and continental airspace.

Unfortunately, Mr. Speaker, Canada's current fleet of CF-18s is aging and needs replacing—

Opposition Motion—Minister of National DefenceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Madam Speaker, on a point of order, just so it is not confusing for the public, for the official record, it is Madam Speaker. I know Mr. Speaker is continually referred to, but it is Madam Speaker.

Opposition Motion—Minister of National DefenceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

NDP

The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

I appreciate the intervention from the member for Windsor West and I understand as well that sometimes the speeches are already written and I do not take any offence.

The hon. member for Aurora—Oak Ridges—Richmond Hill.

Opposition Motion—Minister of National DefenceBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

Liberal

Leona Alleslev Liberal Aurora—Oak Ridges—Richmond Hill, ON

My sincere apologies, Madam Speaker.

At the time these aircraft were acquired in the early 1980s, the government bought 138 fighters, with a plan to fly them for 20 years, yet here we are today, over 30 years later, and we are still flying these jets. The passage of time and usage has taken its toll on these aircraft, and our original fleet is now reduced from 138 to 76 airplanes.

There is no question that the women and men of the Royal Canadian Air Force have done and continue to do great work with the resources they have been given. The Canadian Armed Forces is also doing a tremendous job risk-managing our ability to simultaneously meet our NORAD and NATO commitments with the current fighter fleet. However, the reality is that we now face a capability gap in meeting these commitments. The challenge is that the older planes are less reliable and are more difficult to maintain. Maintenance hours relative to operational available hours have increased significantly, and to keep the aircraft both operationally capable and safe for our pilots, they must regularly be removed from the flight line more often to be serviced.

Maintenance of any aircraft is important, and unquestionably, the government will continue to apply additional resources to the CF-18s and is doing so now. Even with the application of additional resources, there comes a point at which the risk becomes too great for the government to accept. If we do not move quickly to supplement and replace our fighter capability, we will be left with limited flexibility to respond to both domestic and world events and limited capability to fulfill our multilateral obligations.

We have been clear that the risk of relying solely on a more than 30-year-old fighter fleet is one our government is not willing to accept. To be a reliable partner and ally, Canada must ensure that we meet our NORAD and NATO commitments. Canada's fighter capability now and in the future must be able to defend Canada, defend North America, in partnership with the U.S., and support international operations. There can be no debate. We must act now to ensure the current and future viability of our fighter fleet.

As this government announced on November 22, we are taking a three-step approach to addressing the capability gap.

First, we announced that we will launch an open and transparent competition to replace the CF-18s. Given the time it will take to conduct such a competition to acquire a permanent fleet, we must also explore an interim solution to supplement our current CF-18 fleet. That is why, on the same day, it was announced that we would explore the potential acquisition of 18 new Super Hornet aircraft to supplement the current CF-18s for an interim period, until the transition to the permanent replacement aircraft is complete.

As part of this exploration, we are in discussions with the United States government and Boeing--