Madam Speaker, unfortunately, what we have been listening to is very much political partisanship. The Conservatives, in particular, have spared no expense in looking into individuals and attacking their character. We have seen that virtually since 2015, and nothing has changed. Even during the pandemic, the Conservative Party remains focused not so much on policy, but on character assassination. I am disappointed once again, but not surprised, by the behaviour of the official opposition.
I was in opposition for many years, as I said before. Never before have I seen an opposition party attack personalities to the degree that this party has in opposition, even at a time when Canadians want us to work together. It is also disappointing to see the Bloc and the NDP join forces with the official opposition. I refer to it as “the unholy alliance”. By joining forces, they are trying to give a false impression to undermine the public's trust in our institutions.
I served in the Canadian Forces, albeit for a short period of time of just over three years. I enjoyed every day that I served in the forces posted out in Alberta. This is a government that has demonstrated a very strong, powerful commitment to the Canadian Forces. We have seen legislation, we have seen budget initiatives and we have seen a Minister of National Defence, who I would argue is second to no other in recent memory, commit to building a stronger, healthier Canadian Forces.
For those who have been following the debate on the floor of the House of Commons or in the committees, I will note what the unholy alliance of opposition parties is trying to accomplish. I suggest that the opposition, collectively, is feeling frustrated, and has joined forces to do what the Conservatives have been doing since 2015. It is quite upsetting that they have chosen the Minister of National Defence once again.
I remember when Jason Kenney heckled across the chamber to say he needed translation for English. That is where things started getting pretty rough for the opposition, and Jason did not want to back down. He wanted to take his shots at the Minister of National Defence.
As my colleague put in a question, this issue is not new. Sexual harassment and abuse of power are very serious issues in the forces. This was true back in the eighties, when I was there. I suspect members will find that they predate that time, and I suspect that they will likely continue. However, there are things we can do to minimize them and hopefully get them out of the system.
We have a Minister of National Defence who understands the members of the forces, so when the Conservatives attack his character, I take exception to it. Virtually from day one they have been attacking this particular minister on a personal level. I note Jason Kenney again, and what I would suggest to be racial comments from him.
Prior to being the Minister of National Defence, he was a detective with the Vancouver Police Department. Prior to that, which is how most know him quite well, he had a role in our Canadian Forces. I will expand on that a little later. He was the first Sikh Minister of National Defence and was also in command of a Canadian Army Reserve regiment. Those are just some of things people will find about the minister if they do a very basic google search. To say that he should relieved of his responsibilities or should step down is just silly.
When I look at what we have been able to accomplish through the leadership of the minister, the investments today and the commitments for tomorrow for members of our Canadian Forces, I will compare that any day to what Stephen Harper and the Conservatives did.
I made reference to the fact that sexual harassment did exist. There is an imbalance. There is the shame and the exploitation. They are very real. The Minister of National Defence has been very clear that we are committed to making the much-needed institutional and cultural changes that the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces need, and we continue to make that commitment.
We have invested in the health, safety and well-being of all our defence team members. We have committed well over $200 million in the most recent budget toward eliminating sexual misconduct. The minister has indicated that we will look for ways in the coming days to ensure there is an independent system established to deal with this issue. The minister has been very clear to those who want to listen and do not have the selective hearing my Conservative friends across the way do that he has absolutely no tolerance, zero tolerance, for any form of sexual misconduct and that we acknowledge the courage of those who have come forward.
Those are not my words. That is the sentiment of the Minister of National Defence and he has made that very clear not only to members of the Canadian Forces, but all Canadians. That is the reality. We have invested money, we have a process system that will ultimately see some tangible results, but that is not good enough for the Conservatives. They say he should have done more. It is really ironic.
I asked the Bloc and the NDP, who say they will support this motion, about the behaviour of the leader of the Conservative Party. That is not a problem for them. I do not hear them saying anything about that. I asked them if they were going to give him a pass and they completely avoided the question. Like the buy-in on this Conservative motion, they want to focus on the minister.
What did happen? Back in July 2015, allegations were first raised under the Conservative government. What is truly amazing is that the leader of the official opposition was one of the individuals who was made aware of the rumours of misconduct. How many questions did he ask on the floor of the House in regard to that? When did he start asking questions? It would be an interesting question for the leader of the official opposition.
It was serious enough that the leader of the official opposition asked his staff back then to notify the then prime minister's chief of staff, who then took it to the Privy Council Office for a review. In other words, they took the very same steps our minister has taken. The primary difference might be that our minister did it a whole lot quicker than what the current leader of the official opposition did. What a double standard.
Are the NDP, the Bloc, the unholy alliance, saying that no harassment of this degree took place over the last 10 years, that this is relatively recent and that our party is ultimately responsible? There is an institutional issue that needs to be dealt with, and this government, in particular the minister, are committed to dealing with that issue, unlike Stephen Harper and the current leader of the official opposition who both had a chance to do so.
For the members at the standing committee, in particular those from the opposition parties, where was their interest in this issue pre-2015? Did they attempt to study the issue? Often what happens is issues come up and committees will respond to them, departments will respond to them. That is typically what would give the committee the mandate to look into things and to investigate them.
I do not think members are naive. I believe we all understood there was a very serious issue, just like I know there are very serious issues with systemic racism in other institutions, whether it is with the RCMP or the Canadian forces. These issues exist. If the standing committee had wanted to study the issue in a truly non-partisan way, I am sure there would have been far greater progress.
Earlier today, when we had the tabling of reports from committees, we even heard some members comment on how effective committees could be when their members worked together. With the official opposition, policy does not matter. It is how its members can tear down the government and the people who make up the Government of Canada. That is their primary objective, and today the focus is on the Minister of National Defence, again.
I asked a question about the character of the individual. I referred to this quote earlier, a wonderful quote by Brigadier-General David Fraser, who was in charge of NATO's regional command south in Afghanistan back in 2006. His comments reference today's Minister of National Defence. He said:
I have had the pleasure of having Constable and Major [Minister of Defence] work for me for the past nine months on OPERATION ARCHER/ATHENA, Canada’s contribution to the global war on terror in Afghanistan. I must say that Major [Minister of Defence] is one of the most remarkable people I have worked with, and his contribution to the success of the mission and the safety of Canadian soldiers was nothing short of remarkable.
He tirelessly and selflessly devoted himself to piecing together the ground truth on tribal and Taliban networks in the Kandahar area, and his analysis was so compelling that it drove a number of large scale theatre-resourced efforts, including OPERATION MEDUSA, a large scale conventional combat operation that resulted in the defeat of the largest TB cell yet identified in Afghanistan, with over 1500 Taliban killed or captured. 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.
Members in my constituency look see him as a hero, and he was. Literally tens of thousands of people look up to him, and the Conservative Party wants to take him down. They are saying that it is not personal. What garbage. The NDP and the Bloc might be fooled into believing that, but I am not.
Many thousands of people who know the Minister of National Defence do not believe it either. They understand what is taking place today. Shame on the combined unholy alliance of the opposition parties that have made the determination to try to censor a hero, a Minister of National Defence who has brought not only legislation before the House but budgetary measures to increase the funds for the armed forces, which Stephen Harper could not and did not do. I would compare the current minister of defence to Jason Kenney any day.
Do members of the unholy alliance of opposition parties believe there should be no consequences for the current Leader of the Opposition? Had he acted based on the standards that the opposition parties are talking about today, General Vance would never have been in the position in the first place.
At the end of the day, the opposition members had a choice. They could continue their character assassination line, something which they started back in 2015, as the records will show, going after one minister after another with a special focus on some ministers over others. It is not the first time they have called for a minister to resign. On the other hand, they could have actually talked about an issue. After all, we are in a third wave of the pandemic. Canadians are dying because of the COVID pandemic.
Yesterday, a bogus question of privilege was raised by a member who stopped just before Private Members' Business. He still has not come back to finish it. That shows just how important the question of privilege was. I stood and said that it would be a good opposition day motion, because it was on policy. The member wanted to talk about issues affecting the pandemic, Canadians, taxation policies and so forth.
The problem is that the opposition wants to shy away from policy. It does not want that. The official opposition wants to assassinate the character of those within cabinet and try to give a false impression. That is really unfortunate. No matter how hard that focus is, whether it is on the floor of the House or in our standing committees, this is a government that will continue to be focused on the pandemic and on ensuring Canada is in a good position to recover, no matter what sort of approach the unholy alliance of opposition parties chooses to take.
I am very disappointed in the Bloc and the NDP. I hope that at some point they have the ability to justify their behaviour—