Madam Speaker, for 22 years I served in the Canadian Armed Forces, as did the Minister of National Defence and the hon. member for Orléans, who was my boss when I was a unit commander. The hon. member for Orléans was a lieutenant general who commanded the Canadian army.
From 2003 to 2007, I was the commanding officer of an infantry unit. One of my duties was to attend brigade meetings and make decisions. Some decisions were not always easy to make since soldiers depend on the government. Soldiers are not public servants, but the government is their boss.
Every time we were confronted with situations, we had to rely on government decisions. We had to find a way to tell our troops that we did not know what the government was going to decide. We did not know whether we would get the equipment we asked for. We had to await the minister's decision. This type of information has a major impact on soldiers at all levels. My colleague from Orléans knows that full well since he was a commanding officer and worked on reforming the army. He is aware of the challenges. In fact, I read his report.
What happened with Vice-Admiral Norman, who was commander of the Royal Canadian Navy, is important. We need to understand how senior officers like Vice-Admiral Norman and other Canadian Armed Forces commanders think. The rank and file and their commanding officers have to carry out the government's orders and ensure that operations run smoothly and troops have what they need to do their work.
The Canadian Armed Forces were an international laughingstock when they were deployed to Afghanistan in 2003. They showed up in green fatigues. They looked like little fir trees on the Afghan plains. It was ridiculous. That kind of thing is tough for a soldier. Soldiers are proud to don the uniform and defend their country, and they are ready for deployment anywhere in the world, but they should not be laughed at.
Vice-Admiral Norman had to grapple with a serious problem facing the Royal Canadian Navy. In 2014, both of its supply ships, the Preserver and the Protecteur were retired. The former's hull was bad and the latter burned. The Royal Canadian Navy was left with no supply ships, which is totally unacceptable.
The government's short-term solution was to rent a ship from Chile, but the Davie shipyard in Quebec City and Federal Fleet Services, a company that works with Davie, had another solution to propose. They offered to turn a civilian ship into a supply ship capable of participating in military operations. I am, of course, referring to the famous Asterix.
However, the government had already awarded contracts to Seaspan Shipyards in Vancouver. These contracts were awarded six or seven years ago, yet Seaspan has only just started building the ships.
It was therefore urgent to procure efficient equipment at an affordable price. We are talking about hundreds of millions of dollars, but that is reasonable for a ship of this size. Federal Fleet Services submitted a proposal to the Conservative government to build the Asterix. In July 2015, Mr. Harper, the then prime minister, and his national defence minister Mr. Kenney accepted Davie's proposal. It was the best option for addressing the operational problem.
During my time in politics, I have come to realize that people do not understand what “operational” actually means. It is a concept that not everyone can wrap their heads around.
In July 2015, the Conservative government signed an agreement with Federal Fleet Services and Davie. After the election on October 19, 2015, the government changed, and that is when the problems started.
The Asterix, which was a civilian ship, was already at the Davie shipyard, but everyone was waiting. In November 2015, we learned that the Prime Minister's Office wanted to cancel the contract.
Ministers were exerting pressure on cabinet and saying that the contract should be cancelled. They did not want the Davie shipyard to have the contract. Today, in answer to my questions, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Services and Procurement and Accessibility said that they were proud to give a contract and jobs to the Davie shipyard, but that is completely false. First, we are the ones that gave Davie that contract, and second, and most importantly, the Liberals did everything they could to cancel it. We found out that they were plotting to do just that. We put pressure on them and talked about the file publicly. Finally, because of pressure from the media and the opposition, this government reluctantly signed the contract at the last minute on the last possible day, November 20, 2015. The Liberals were really not happy about it.
A few months later, someone had to be punished for saying that this government had plotted to cancel a contract that was extremely important for the operational needs of the Royal Canadian Navy, a contract for the construction of an effective supply ship to support our forces and those of other countries, since we are part of an international coalition.
That took someone who worked for these people in the Royal Canadian Navy and who made that their career. It took someone who does not think like a politician, as I said at the outset. This person is interested in operational capabilities. Some politicians do not understand the word “operational”. When troops are deployed on operations at sea, especially in the navy, proper equipment is needed. We simply cannot cut corners.
Basically, the government could no longer cancel the contract, because everyone, including the Conservatives, Canadians in general and the media, knew what it was trying to do. It was looking for someone to blame. In the SNC-Lavalin affair, the Liberals bragged about putting inappropriate pressure on the former attorney general in order to protect jobs in Montreal. They kept repeating this PR line, saying they were willing to do anything to protect jobs, even if it was illegal or crooked.
In 2015, the Conservatives asked the Quebec shipyard, which had recovered from bankruptcy and had 1,000 workers ready to work, to build an extraordinary ship called the Asterix. However, the current government was being pressured by some other friends in the industry. I will not name those friends today, but everyone knows who I am talking about. Just to make them happy, the government tried to cancel this contract, therefore eliminating 1,000 jobs at Davie shipyard in Lévis.
The Liberals were pressured by their buddies and had to exert pressure for SNC-Lavalin, invoking job losses, even though the president and CEO of SNC-Lavalin himself said that jobs were not in jeopardy. The Liberals, however, could not care less about a wonderful big shipyard in the Quebec City area that employs 1,000 people. That was not important to them. They wanted to cancel the contract to make their buddies happy. The Liberal government could not care less about the jobs, and they could not care less about the operational needs of the Royal Canadian Navy.
When the members opposite go on and on with the rhetoric about being there for our men and women in uniform, I can say, now that I have been here for three and a half years, that that it is a bunch of baloney.
I believe that the minister really wanted to do a good job. I believe that, in the beginning, as a former member of the military, he had good intentions when he undertook the defence policy review. However, there are people in his entourage who thanked him for his fine document and then shelved it so that nothing more would be said about it. That is what is happening now.
We see it with every military procurement contract. Nothing is moving, everything is at a standstill. The supposed investments are non-existent. They have done everything they could to delay the fighter jet contract because they do not want it to go ahead. That is ridiculous.
I believe that Vice-Admiral Norman is paying a high price in terms of his reputation. He is a military officer with a career spanning over 30 years who was commander of the Royal Canadian Navy. That is no small feat. He had even been promoted to the position of vice-chief of the defence staff. He was probably going to be the next chief of the defence staff, the man who could have led the Canadian Forces. However, the Liberals decided to throw him under the bus.
In conclusion, I am asking the government to be honest at least once in its mandate and provide all the documents requested by Admiral Norman's lawyers so that they can mount a proper defence. I am asking the government to stop playing dirty politics.